Baby Steps Season 2 – 15

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Where was it that nice guys supposedly finish?

I can’t really write a Baby Steps post on this of all Sundays without acknowledging the events at Wimbledon, and not the ones in the OP either.  It was another heartbreaking final Sunday in London as Roger Federer once again fell short against Novak Djokovic.  Roger seemed to be playing much better this year than last – his semi-final against Murray was an epic performance – but once again he fails to land his 18th Grand Slam.  As ageless as he looked through the Murray match, you can’t help but think he’s running out of chances.

On the opposite end of tennis’ career spectrum is Maruo, half Roger’s age and fighting just for the opportunity to be a pro.  Before that quest begins, though, there’s the morning after the night before to deal with, and Nat-chan wastes no time in sharing the news that she and Ei-chan are now a couple. Some have the understandable, “What – you mean you haven’t been one all along?” reaction, but for others the official announcement is a fairly big deal – especially given the timing.

The one who’s going to be hit the hardest by that news, though, won’t arrive until the second day, and before that there’s the matter of a first-round match.  The opponent is Yakabe Tadanori, the #36 ranked junior in Kanto, and he presents a bit of a problem for an opponent in juniors who loves preparation as much as Ei-chan does – he’s had a massive growth spurt since the match Ei-chan watched on tape, and transitioned from being a defensive baseliner to a part-time serve-and-volleyer who comes over his backhand fairly often.

Growth spurts are an occupational hazard in boys’ tennis (this years Wimbledon Boys’ champ has shot up to 6’10”) but the real point of this match is to show just how quickly Ei-chan can adjust now.  Once he sees that his template on Yakabe-kun is off it takes a couple of games for Ei-chan to adjust, but he soon realizes that all the recent changes in his opponent’s game have left him vulnerable – he’s not comfortable at the net, not moving that well, and he’s reluctant to hit anything but a slice off his backhand when he’s pressured.  Ei-chan does what Ei-chan does – he isolates vulnerabilities, then relentlessly attacks them, and once the initial adjustment period is over he makes quick work of Yakabe.  And every STC player manages to survive the first day.

It’s on Day 2 that the real drama begins, all of it off the court.  First off, Sasaki and Kageyama arrive to cheer Maruo on in his critical second-round match (which he must win to advance to the All-Japan).  Naturally, Himeko-chan is the most devastated of anyone at hearing about the happy couple – though like Kageyama, I do have to wonder how she didn’t see it coming.  It’s funny how in all the time we’ve known Iinchou-san, she’a always been crushing on Ei-chan – but Kageyama has always been by her side.  Kageyama is a good friend and a great wingman (for both his friends) but the guy isn’t made of stone.  If you watched these events play out and thought maybe they weren’t the worst possible developments for Kageyama, you weren’t alone.

All of that takes a back seat when Typhoon Ide sweeps into Chiba.  This is not a guy who’s capable of a quiet entrance, and he always seems to be at the center of the action.  On his way to his second-round clash with Maruo, Ide-kun happens by an accident, where a young boy has broken his leg.  He stops to help, but because Ide doesn’t do anything halfway he stays with the kid all the way to the hospital and as a result, is more than a half-hour late for his match with Maruo.  Ide’s friends (he has an entire posse) are apoplectic, but Ei-chan takes the nice guy route as usual – he agrees to wait until Ide gets there to avoid seeing his opponent defaulted.

Did Ei-chan do the right thing here?  I think it’s legitimate to debate that, but for my money he did – despite the importance of what he gave up in doing so.  The nice guy act isn’t an act with Ei-chan, it’s just who he is, and I suspect he’d have felt entirely wrong about advancing that way.  As a reward, though, he has to face by far the largest and most hostile crowd of his young tennis life – the already popular Ide having become a folk hero as his friends blab the news of what he’s done.

Ei-chan asks exactly the right question – “Isn’t this almost like a professional match?”  Dealing with crowds and distracting opponents is a big part of succeeding as a professional tennis player, and learning to successfully block out a hostile audience a vital component of a player’s development (just ask Djokovic).  This is just one more step for Ei-chan to take, another type of challenge to confront – it’s not remotely fair that he should have to fight the crowd when he was the good guy who made the match even possible, but fairness doesn’t enter into it.  It’s all part of the deal where Ide is concerned – this is an opponent quite different from any Ei-chan has seen before, but a kind he’ll need to be able to handle if he wants to make it as a pro.

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  1. M

    I thought that much of this episode was a little too cheesy with the kid's accident and Ide staying with him, promising to win. That being said I did really like the end result, the match having a large crowd and overwhelmingly favoring Ide. It could be interesting to see the crowd view Maruo as the villain of this particular tennis story and how they react when he inevitably puts up more of a fight than expected for an unseeded player against the 5th seed. Maybe he can convert a few of those random people to root for the underdog in the process. People love underdogs.

  2. e

    Lesson of the day (and of the previous night): Maruo-kun, expect the unexpected :D. And with such a build-up with focus on your 2nd opponent here we can only anticipate a match to remember. Stay strong Ei-chan, stay strong and believe.
    Content-wise you've covered all the basis and I agree with mark's comment about Maruo being cast as the undedog with even a dash of villian by default (!) in the light of Ide's heroic aura…
    Hence I'd rather highlight a few visual clues:
    a) Nat-chan wearing deep red for her match. Top of her game in any way indeed >D. Feel da powah.
    b) Yukichi's crazy print taste is going strong. Possibly his strongest outfits run so far – and there were like… 4 of them this week alone and all different – ? I can't remember these from the manga atm, but if they're Pierrot's doing I bow to them… you don't go the extra mile on a budget on such minor details if you don't love the show XDD.
    c) colour omen: Class Rep's dress' hue is almost the same as Kageyama's 2nd t-shirt layer (or trim): pink vs lilac pink. So close yet so far at worse. Almost there at best. I support the latter. Go Kage go :,>.
    d) I had this impression while reading because of his design and attitude but seeing Ide in full colour now… he really feels like a Maruo and Natsu's mix to me. It's like glimpsing the fuuuuutuuuure :,D.

  3. E

    Damn, that really looks like a loss for Maruo, it really feels like they were setting up for a Shiki-esque tragedy here. Dealing with such crowds seems to be an important step forward for Ei-chan though, as an underdog in a pro tennis tournament I think a lot more people would be cheering for veterans when he enters the pro scene. This is a kind of a mirror match with nice guys facing each other so it'll probably be pretty sad no matter who loses ^^''

  4. f

    okay i have to say that i like anti hero more than hero like ide, you know, characters like vegeta, light yagami, and lelouch vi brittania

  5. N

    Yukichi seems even more upset than Sasaki-san over the news that Ei-chan and Nattchan are now dating, though in his case I guess what bothers him most is being kept out of the loop

  6. Exactly. He spent the night in the same room as Ei-chan and Ei-chan never told him. Of course, I suspect he wasn't planning on telling anyone till Natchan spilled the beans.

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