THEATER REVIEW: "The Last Match"

Sports-as-life metaphors fly as fast as overhead smashes in Anna Ziegler’s “The Last Match,” in its world premiere through March 13 at The Old Globe’s White Theatre.

Gaye Taylor Upchurch directs.

The dramatic action is limited to one undersized tennis court, two players and their significant others, but Ziegler manages to pack both tension and philosophy into this 90-minute four-hander.

Tennis superstar Tim Porter (Patrick J. Adams) and Russian challenger Sergei Sergeyev (Alex Mickiewicz) are doing battle on the center court of the U.S. Open semifinals while their significant others watch from the sidelines. They speak to us as the match progresses, of game psychology and the pressures, insecurities and joys of professional tennis.

Tim has won the U.S. Open six times, but that hasn’t dimmed his drive for yet another title, though his mid-30s body occasionally reminds him of other options – like retirement.

Sergei, in his 20s, may be the next big thing in tennis. If willing can make it so, he will be – girlfriend Galina (Natalia Payne) is pushing (and yelling at him) to think like a champion. Sergei has the usual challenger’s fear of the champ.

Tim’s wife Mallory (Troian Bellisario), herself a former player, now a coach in her mid-30s, has something else on her mind: she is eager to start a family. Tim wants a family too, but isn’t quite sure he’s up to retiring from tennis just yet. “This is the only home I’ve known,” he says. “This is all I’ve done. If I leave here, I don’t even know my own name.”

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a pro athlete, “The Last Match” will give you a good idea. Ziegler, once a player herself, seems to have a good handle on all aspects of professional tennis: the exciting but scary nature of being a player on the way up, the all-consuming requirements of being – and staying – at the top, and the difficulty of deciding when to leave the mountaintop.

Adams and Mickiewicz are great mutual foils, both on and off the court, letting us see both the confidence of the superstar and the hopes and doubts of the possible future champion.

We all know Bellisario’s Mallory, who speaks for all the golf widows and football wives out there, trying to both support the athlete (or fanatical fan) while maintaining something like a normal family life.

Payne’s Galina is a pistol, if perhaps a bit of a Russian stereotype. But she is fun to watch and injects some welcome humor into the tension of the game.

“The Last Match” was developed last year during the Old Globe’s New Voices Festival. It’s a fascinating vicarious trip through the world of professional tennis, not concerned with action as much as the psychology of both players and the game.

The Details

“The Last Match” plays through March 13, 2016 at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm

Tickets: (619) 234-5623 or theoldglobe.org