It’s tough when you’re not even the hero of your own story.
After the calm comes a storm, almost literally for Ei-chan. The unexpected just keeps happening – his first opponent faces a massive growth spurt and switches his entire play style into that of a serve-and-volley (just like Takuma!), Ei-chan has to trash his data on the guy. Luckily, he’s already skilled enough to wipe the floor with him after a little down time for adjustment. This match is mostly to remind us how far Ei-chan has gotten, even as an unseeded player, and also preparing us for the huge stakes ahead – Ei-chan NEEDS to at least make it past the 2nd round for the tournament. His opponent of the first match should really be the least of his worries.
And indeed it is – the star of the episode is undoubtedly Ei-chan’s second opponent in the tournament – a bright, charismatic guy called Yoshiaki Ide. He’s that one guy in class that unintentionally attracts all the attention and is liked by pretty much everyone. Baby Steps lets you know why – the guy is just a ridiculously nice person. Personality-wise, he’s closest to Nat-chan. They’re both people driven more by instinct than anything else, and have this positive effect on everyone around them, smiles aplenty. Perhaps this is why Coach Aoi made Ei-chan player her in a match a few episodes back…?
Ide has a little something else though, this strange ability to ‘perform when he most needs to’. In the tensest of situations, when all eyes (and most likely cheers) are on him, he makes the cut and does something incredible, something beyond his usual limits. Ei-chan finds himself doubly unlucky when Ide finds himself the center of attention yet again, being an absolute sweetheart by accompanying a scared, injured boy to the hospital at the possible expense of his own match. Ei-chan has a chance to grab a default win, but we all know it just would not sit right with him either, to win something he may even rightfully deserve if his opponent literally can’t fight for it.
Ei-chan has dug his grave a little deeper though, at the cost of being his usual, upstanding self. Ide is clearly in the advantage here – even if their skills are rather on par Ide already has that special entrance to give him an extra push where he may need it. Play-wise he’s indeed similar to Nat-chan, but Ei-chan doesn’t find too much trouble adjusting to him and has a clear advantage….until Ide begins to warm up to his situation and starts being really serious (and risky?) with his plays, earning the applause of the cheering audience while Ei-chan obviously plays for the Away team.
This match is going to be about learning how to deal with tension – like Ei-chan himself says, this is what a professional match is like, masses of cheering audiences and all. He needs to learn how to deal with extensive pressure, loud audiences that may or may not break his focus. Perhaps a little luck, because clearly he doesn’t have too much on his side.