It was the greatest rivalry of the century, and arguably the most anticipated match of a lifetime — Kim Jonghyun, world number one and the champion of the U.S. and Australian Opens and Wimbledon, was up against Choi Minho, master of clay and world number two, for the first time in Roland Garros, a bit too early into the tournament. This was a deciding match for Jonghyun; if he lost, it would mean missing the chance to snag the elusive French title for the fourth time in a row and risking his number one status for the first time in 128 weeks.
"Shit," Jonghyun mumbled as the realization hit him. He'd been waltzing his way through tournaments all these years yet always been struggling with the French. This had to be his toughest match yet, though, as he was down 4-0 in the third set, with him and Minho having a set each to themselves.
"Scared, Kim?" Minho asked just when Jonghyun had already positioned himself for the big serve. Jonghyun gulped down hard and gripped the ball tightly.
He released the ball into the air, drew his racket back, poised himself for an American twist, and braced himself for what was to come.
Jonghyun bolted from his bed. He had the same dream again. This had been his routine these past few weeks — dream of the 2010 quarter finals match against Minho, wake up regretting every tennis decision he's made from that point on, wonder if playing tennis was all a mistake, then check his phone for any news on the training or exhibition matches from his trainer. The calls and messages for exhibition matches had been steadily decreasing, and he was now at number three, a far cry from where used to be months back.
It was funny how a simple unforced error became his greatest downfall.
He was leading Minho by a set then, and they were at 5-2 in the third set. It was his service game, and he was two points away from winning the match. A service ace and Minho's features had gone from determined to exhausted. Jonghyun was going to win this, he was sure of it, and he just needed another point to win the match.
He tossed the ball in the air and served. It's a fault. These things happen, he told himself. It was probably the tension and excitement at work.
Another service and he's charged a double fault.
The rest of the match was a blur. He chose to forget what happened next, at least. The mere thought of coming so close to beating Minho for the French title was enough to send him to the deepest pits of regret, after all, and no way in hell was he going to allow himself to go back to his old, regretful self.
He came to this year's French Open with only one thing in mind — regain his number one status and beat Choi Minho in the finals — and that was exactly what he was going to do.
"Fancy seeing you here, Jonghyun!"
He came to the courts relatively early to set his mood, but he didn't expect to find Jinki here. Jinki, now seeded first in the tournament and second in the world, was one of his longstanding rivals prior to meeting Minho. Jinki was a good man — he was fair, a pretty good drinker and a quiet practice buddy. The only thing Jonghyun didn't like about Jinki was that he beat him in the Australian Open a couple of months back.
"Hey," Jonghyun said, offering a small smile. He gave Jinki a pat on the back. "Why are you here? Your match isn't until tomorrow, right?"
Jinki nodded. "Yeah, but I thought I'd check out some matches. I mean, I miss seeing you on clay." Jinki's voice drifted off, and he fixed his gaze on the ground. It was amusing, Jonghyun thought, how Jinki could be so blunt yet so mindful of what he says. It was also crazy, to a certain extent.
"Creeper," Jonghyun sneered, then let out a chuckle. Jinki shook his head, a smile slowly surfacing on his lips.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm a creeper, alright."
There were three more hours until the match began, so Jonghyun invited Jinki for coffee. Just one cup, Jinki reminded him, because they shouldn't be drinking too much coffee before a match. Jonghyun shook his head and chuckled. If he said anything else, he wouldn't hear the end of it.