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Amanda Peet Struggles With Her Tennis Game


Encounters

The actress, a star of the new series “The Romanoffs,” also tries not to spill secrets about the “Game of Thrones” finale.

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Amanda Peet playing tennis in Midtown Manhattan with her coach Sanjin Kunovac.CreditCreditNina Westervelt for The New York Times

Amanda Peet’s first ball smacked right into the net. So did the second. The third? That one whammed right into the groin of the Sanjin Kunovac, her tennis coach.

“I’m so sorry,” she said with a shriek.

“We haven’t had our children yet,” he said, trying to straighten up.

It was a recent Thursday afternoon and Mr. Kunovac was giving Ms. Peet tennis lessons at the Manhattan Plaza Racquet Club on West 43rd Street. He had arrived with his fiancée, Kat Sorokko, another tennis coach. (A few days earlier, he had proposed, spelling out I <3 U in red and yellow tennis balls. He showed the video.)

Ms. Peet is known as an actress (she appears in the new Amazon series “The Romanoffs”), but she is also a playwright. She met the tennis couple when she was researching “Our Very Own Carlin McCullough,” a play about a tennis prodigy that had its premiere at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles this summer. They served as technical consultants and professional hand-holders.

Ms. Peet, who wore a gray sweatshirt, blue leggings and a high ponytail, is a wobbly tennis player. She played as a child, then moved to soccer and basketball when she realized she wasn’t very good. But she had promised Mr. Kunovac and Ms. Sorokko she would get out on the court with them. They could move from holding her hand to tweaking her grip.

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“It’s really horrible to love something and suck at it so much,” Ms. Peet said.CreditNina Westervelt for The New York Times

“I need two coaches,” she said. “That’s how bad I am.”

“First thing we’re going to do is 20 laps around the court,” Mr. Kunovac said. Ms. Peet, a 46-year-old mother of three, replied with an obscenity.

The Racquet Club’s tennis bubble was puffily futuristic and starkly lit, with thwacks and grunts coming from the other courts. Ms. Peet has a tennis grunt, too; it sounds like the scream of a woman who has stepped on her cat.

She warmed up with some halfhearted stretches while Ms. Sorokko rewrapped her racket in gleaming white tape. Then Mr. Kunovac started her on some groundstrokes. “I’m really excited to torture you,” he said. That’s when the groin shot happened.

Once he’d recovered, they went back to forehand groundstrokes. Ms. Peet struggled with footing. “The second the forehand comes, I’m like, it’s over,” she said. She has decided that a weak forehand, which she has, and a strong backhand, which she also has, “is the sign of a true neurotic.”

She is a competitive person (she showed a scar on her forehand, a reminder of a scene in “Brockmire” in which she’d insisted she could catch a full beer can), but when it comes to tennis, she knows she can’t compete.

“It’s really horrible to love something and suck at it so much,” Ms. Peet said, as she went to fill a paper cup with water. When she had emptied it, she repurposed the cup as a dunce cap.

Next, she practiced volleys. Her arms were like spaghetti, sometimes overcooked, sometimes a lot more al dente. Still, her net game was solid and the ball smacked from racket to racket more than a dozen times before a passing shot ended the volley.

Ms. Peet is married to David Benioff, a showrunner for “Game of Thrones.”CreditNina Westervelt for The New York Times

In her episode of the “Romanoffs,” Ms. Peet plays a woman who is about to become a grandmother, and while she doesn’t look it, maybe she was feeling it. “I am seriously out of breath,” she said, lying down on the court to rest. “If I have a heart attack, tell my kids I love them.”

The father of those kids is David Benioff, a showrunner of “Game of Thrones.” Mr. Kunovac and Ms. Sorokko are fans. As a thank you for their help with the play, she got them small roles in the show’s final season, shot somewhere near Belfast, in Northern Ireland.

“Beyond incredible,” Mr. Kunovac said. “The costumes were amazing.”

“It was hard to go to the bathroom,” Ms. Sorokko said.

And no, Ms. Peet can’t spill any finale details except to say that she has a lot of anxiety about keeping it a secret.

As she stripped down to a T-shirt, Mr. Kunovac and Ms. Sorokko rallied with each other. Ms. Sorokko hit a couple of trick shots through her legs. Ms. Peet hit the water cooler.

She mentioned that she is also collaborating on a film script with the Duplass brothers, with whom she worked on the HBO show “Togetherness.” She has been working through draft after draft. But she still thinks that “writing is easier than tennis,” she said. “And that’s saying a lot.”

It was time to practice her serve. “Oh God,” she said. “It’s a little hard because I’m shortsighted. I know that sounds like an excuse.” It did sound like an excuse. She bounced the ball a few times. “This part looks good,” she said, “the preamble.” Then she tossed the ball high in the air and whacked it way past the baseline.

“You have moments of excellence, and then you have this,” Ms. Sorokko said, teasing.

There were more faults, more errors, but eventually Ms. Peet found a rhythm and began to call for balls. “Don’t overthink it!” she said to herself. “Quick, without thinking! Quick, without thinking!”

She had finally entered a flow state. “Flow states are very difficult for Ashkenazi Jews,” she said.

Ms. Peet is also a playwright. “Writing is easier than tennis,” she said, before collapsing. CreditNina Westervelt for The New York Times

She finished off the lesson rallying with Ms. Sorokko, at one point nearly clipping her in the head. “Apparently, you like to take people out,” Mr. Kunovac said. “It’s the ‘Game of Thrones’ in you.”

The session ended. Ms. Peet collapsed on the sidelines. “If you lived in the city, I’d be in much better shape,” she said.

“If you were a real student, you’d pick up balls,” Mr. Kunovac said.

“I’m so Hollywood,” Ms. Peet said. But she hauled herself up, ponytail swinging, and went to gather them.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page ST8 of the New York edition with the headline: Amanda Peet Struggles With Her Tennis Game. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe



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