John McEnroe stood ready on the other side of the net, and as I bounced the ball before serving to start the match I allowed myself a ridiculous thought:
I can beat this guy.
I actually believed it, because if you don't believe you're invincible when you're 18 years old, you'll never believe it.
I believed it even though McEnroe at 15 was a junior star on the rise - far and away the best tennis player ever to come out of Douglaston, New York.
Me? I was an avid but limited tennis player and a local gardener for hire, cutting lawns and hedges by day - including the McEnroe hedges!
I was also tapping out short stories by night, believing that one day, I'd get a novel published.
So here Mac and I were, face to face for round one of the local club tournament in 1974.
I served the ball, and didn't even see it come back to my side. I heard it, but I didn't see it. Oh boy.
That game was over in a flash, and then it was John's turn to serve. The ball had so much spin on it that it seemed egg-shaped as it sizzled past my ear, time and again.
The battering continued. If this had been a prize fight a sympathetic referee would have stopped it, but you just keep going in tennis. I couldn't win a single point.
In no time John was up 6-love, 5-love, 40-love. Triple match point. He served the ball. I swung blindly at it and smashed it right back to him, low and hard.
It was a great shot. Hey, accidents do happen. John was so startled that he netted the ball. We looked at each other.
Neither of us could believe it. I had actually won a point.
John screamed to the high heavens. He'd wanted a perfect match, and my lucky shot had wrecked it.
''John,'' I said calmly, ''come on. It's hot out here. Finish me off.'' Which he did, on the very next point.
He won that tournament, of course, with the rest of his opponents going down like so many bowling pins.
Three summers later, he won the French Open mixed doubles title with my sister, Mary Carillo. Right after that, John roared into the semifinals at Wimbledon, and the rest is tennis history.
As I shook John's hand after our disastrous match I realized my dream for a future as a professional tennis player had officially gone dark.
Good thing about dreams is, you can have more than one. And my dream of getting a novel published burned hotter than ever.
I was an underdog, plain and simple, and that's not a bad mentality for a writer to carry. Twelve years after that McEnroe defeat, my dream came true with the publication of my first novel, "Shepherd Avenue."
John, thanks for helping set me on my true path.
And just when I think irony is on permanent vacation I learn that John's son Kevin recently published his debut novel, "Our Town."
I know what it takes, and what it takes out of you. So I say this to Kevin McEnroe, 41 years after his dad clobbered me on a tennis court:
Fall to your knees and thrust your hands toward the sky, the way your old man did in his moments of triumph. This is your Wimbledon.
Charlie Carillo is a TV producer and a novelist. His website is www.charliecarillo.com