The German word "auftstieg" means "promotion" or in this case advancement to a higher league. Our two week stay in Germany was not only vacation, I was also there to take over the number one position on the tennis team and hopefully help the team at TC Parkhaus Wanne-Eickel in advancing to a higher division. And thanks to my extremely well playing team mates (and maybe a little bit because of me) we won our league and reached our goal. Aufstieg!! (Click on photos for larger size)
In the nineties I played professionally in the German league for five years during the summers and was extremely lucky to end up with a great team. I had an incredible amount of fun with the team at THC Muenster back then. We won most of our matches because we had an amazing team spirit and ten times more fun than the other teams. After each match we had a huge party at the club. As soon as the matches were completed in the afternoon we started drinking beer and didn't finish until midnight, or later. I could tell you many stories, some more embarrassing and hilarious than others, about the wild people at that club. It was during these years I played together with Robert but unfortunately we lost contact for more than ten years after I retired from playing professionally. But I was once again very fortunate this year in coming to a nice team with great people and good players. I've never been a money whore, one that only plays for the team that pays the most, and always valued the people and treatment quite high. I figured that seeing Robert and his family and playing some tennis would be a good experience for the whole family. And it sure was.
The first few days I practiced a lot and felt tired. I'm no longer used to playing for hours each day in blistering heat. The weather was extremely hot and humid which I was not used to after living in Sweden for a few years. It's also very different to compete in tennis on a high level than just sitting in an office. I can show up tired or hangover at the office and get through the day just fine. That doesn't work on the tennis court. It's immediately noticed if there's something wrong. Depending on your body to run around the court for hours is very different from hanging out at work. If you're not in great shape on the slow clay courts, you have no chance of beating good players. My team mates, Tobias, Michael, Olaf, Robert, and Thomas, were all cool guys and great players. Sasha and Markus also played a some matches earlier in the season and were of course also part of the team although they didn't play after I got there. We practiced together for a few days in the extremely hot weather to get ready for our first match. Since the other guys had been doing a great job during the rest of the season I was only asked to play the last two matches, supposedly the most difficult ones.
As the first match got under way it was clear that we had a very good chance to win. We were up 3-0 in matches when I stepped on the court for my singles against their number one guy. It turned out to be a very long match since I played like crap, especially in second set. This was a bit embarrassing since many people had shown up to check out the Swedish player who had been flown in to help the team out. I won the first and lost the second set after horrible play. I think the people wondered what the hell I was doing there on center-court. Third set was better and I won it fairly easy even though I played far from good. My game was totally off and I felt tired as hell so I only won because I was stubborn and fought as hard as I could. All the other guys won their matches and since we swept the six singles matches we didn't have to play any doubles. My team mates all played well but I felt a bit awkward since I had not played nearly as well as I could. The celebration was light since the next day was a workday and as I was sitting there having a few victory beers I told myself that in the next match, the most important one, I would kick some ass.
We had ten days until the next match so I practiced almost every day, did nice day trips with the family, and enjoyed our stay at Château Sibbel. There was lots of talk at the club about our upcoming match. We had to win in order to advance to a higher league and my team mates seemed fired up and ready for the challenge. I hadn't seen the players on the other team but after seeing my team play I was very confident of our chances. We had strong players from number one to six and also some good doubles teams. Dieter, our coach, really wanted us to win and had made some nice arrangements for our last and decisive match. This match was not at our club so he arranged a huge double sized bus and filled it with supporters. The big day arrived and after we had warmed up and got ready to start the matches the other team looked puzzled as the large bus pulled up and our supporters poured out and took over the club. It was an amazing sight which gave us all a nice boost. Thomas won his match very easily, 6-0 6-0, but Tobias and Olaf had to work harder. Tobias struggled in first set despite playing very well but won second set easily after winning the first in a close tie-break. Olaf's 6-2 6-3 was convincing but it was a really close match, especially in first set.We had hoped for a good start and were excited after winning the first three singles. I stepped on the court feeling much stronger than the previous match and ready to wear my opponent down. Robert and Michael played on the courts next to mine and Roberts opponent defaulted after losing the first set because of injury. That meant 4-0 in matches and we only needed one more to defeat the other team. Our supporters were of course happy and cheered us on in the hot sunny weather. The cold beer they were drinking also made them even happier:-)) This time I played at a more normal level and felt good on the court. I won the first set fairly easily and was ahead in the second. Michael was playing on the court next to mine and we were both aiming to win our matches and give the team that decisive fifth team point. Michael beat me to it by a few minutes after some great play and lots of pumped fists. I won 6-2 6-3 and closed out the single matches by giving the team a 6-0 lead.
There were lots of happy faces on and off the courts as we high-fived each other after our superb performance. I barely made it off the court as I was given the first beer from some happy team mates and received congratulations from all our supporters. We had an official champagne toast and took a photo of the whole group. Now it was time for the next two big events. 1/8 final in the Soccer World Cup. And believe it or not but it was my home country competing against the host Germany. And later in the evening we had Mexico against Argentina. The trash talking had started in the morning and continued throughout the day. I had earlier been pictured in the paper a couple of times and done an interview regarding World Cup and Sweden's chances. Germany were of course the favorites and I gave our team a small chance to win. The party continued with tons of beers and everyone was in a brilliant mood. What more could we ask for? Beautiful sunny weather, a sought after victory for the team, an important World Cup match coming up, and nice people all around us. As we were heading back to the club for more celebrations we could of course not take the chance of getting thirsty in the bus so we stopped at a gas station, made a classy entrance, and bought beers for the ride. This reminded me of THC Muenster 15 years ago when every match meant a huge party.
I felt small as I got to the club in my Sweden cap and entered the restaurant. There were 200 Germans in the restaurant who wanted Sweden crushed and I was for sure the only one cheering for my country. I had packed my Swedish flag but wisely told myself to wait a bit before I took it out. The match had barely started before Germany scored and the people went nuts. The Swedish team played like crap and I discretely removed my cap and moved outside to play with Daniel after Germany's second goal. The Germans were nice and didn't rub in their victory to much although they kept singing "Schade Schweden, alles ist vorbei!" ("Too bad for Sweden, it's all over") over and over again. Germany played great and we played like shit so they deserved to win. The celebrations continued throughout the night but I had to take it a little easy since Daniel and Sandra was there. It's not that Sandra won't let me drink but her pregnancy makes her very tired and requires me to look after Daniel a bit more in the evenings. In the middle of our celebrations Sandra also discovered that she had lost her wallet. Not good timing so I had to spend an hour on the phone canceling all her credit cards. This was a small disaster since it forced me to slow down on the drinking for an hour while I canceled all her cards. After lots of beers and German victory songs, the party moved from the club to Château Sibbel for more drinks and the next soccer game. Unfortunately Mexico lost a very close match to Argentina despite a great start and everyone cheering for Mexico. We finished off the evening in the garden at Château Sibbel and really enjoyed ourselves. It was a perfect ending to this season and our vacation.
Thanks to my funny and skilled team mates Tobias, Michael, Olaf, Robert, Thomas, Sasha and Markus for playing well and more importantly, making me and my family feel at home. Also thanks to Dieter, all the people at the club, and everyone else, for taking such good care of us. Also thanks to our sponsor Bayer, with their excellent slogan "Jetzt Lieben", for their support. And last but not least, a huge thanks to all the supporters who joined us for the last match and gave us such great support.
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