They Can Act. But Can They Serve?

A lively meditation on mortality and time, “The Last Match” takes place in the minds of two players during a hard-fought United States Open semifinal. Mr. Bethel plays Tim, an aging American contemplating retirement. Mr. Mickiewicz plays Sergei, his volatile Russian challenger. Ms. Upchurch has decided that while neither actor will need to try an ace or even hold a racket onstage, but both have to look like they could.


Alex Mickiewicz preparing to return a serve from Wilson Bethel, his castmate in “The Last Match.”

Cole Wilson for The New York Times

In the interests of authenticity, Ms. Carillo, resplendent in a Billie Jean King T-shirt and baseball jacket, gathered the actors together and taught them a few tricks. She showed them how to test the tension of the racket by hitting it against the palm, how to swat a ground ball and make it leap into your hand, how to strut back to the baseline after a successful point.

“You give them a little attitude,” she said. “It’s a ritual.”

She also showed them a delaying technique Maria Sharapova uses. “Pick at your strings,” she said, “that’s a good one.”

Though Ms. Carillo won the 1977 mixed doubles title at the French Open, partnered by her childhood pal John McEnroe, she was quick to downplay her expertise. “I didn’t play long and I wasn’t that good,” she said. “I grew up playing on the same courts as McEnroe. He was doing things I’d never seen anybody do.”

She remembered when she was 12 and he was 10, sitting him down and telling him, “You are going to be the greatest player in the world someday.”

“And he looked at me and said, ‘Shut up, you don’t know what you’re talking about.’”

The actors seemed a lot less skeptical. Throughout the morning they toggled between eagerness and mild embarrassment as they quizzed Ms. Carillo about the life of a pro and practiced her techniques.

Natalia Payne, who plays Sergei’s fiancée, Galina, and who had never held a racket before, seemed a little overwhelmed. “As a first-time player on a court at the United States Open, start high, get Mary Carillo to train you, those would be my tips,” she said. Then she hung her head.


Mary Carillo with the playwright Anna Ziegler at the U.S.T.A. Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Ms. Ziegler’s play, “The Last Match,” takes…

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