Tennis, anyone?

Regular patrons who have stayed awake throughout reading my blogs have pieced together a few clues to my likes and dislikes, one of these being my enjoyment of playing tennis.

I am incredibly fortunate to live in an area where tennis can be played every day of the year.  Even on those few mornings that are too cold for me, most normal people would find the brisk temperature refreshing and rewarding.  There are literally hundreds of courts throughout the area with a great many of them being both public and free.  It’s a perfect storm to feed my tennis enthusiasm; my playing time limited only by the availability of enough playing companions.

But I wasn’t always that enthusiastic.

Time to hop into our convenient way-back machine.  I’ve added extra seating since we used it last time owing to the reading ranks swelling a bit.  Watch your elbows and hang onto your hats.  Hope you didn’t eat just recently!

I spent most of my youth playing baseball and football with the neighborhood kids.  Any old field would do.  Those of you who have shared similar childhoods don’t need to have the fun described for you and if you didn’t do that stuff when you were young, even the finest wordsmith won’t make that time alive enough for you.

Just as I was cracking my teens, my Dad asked me out to a tennis court to play.  He would strike the ball to me and I would take a whack at it and miss.  And miss.  And miss.  Once I actually hit the ball and it went flying several courts away.   Over time, I was able to hit the ball consistently – into the net or over the fence behind my Dad (Home Run!).

What a stupid game.  Who would ever want to play this?  Can’t we just go inside and shoot pool?

To his credit (and my despair), he kept bringing me onto the courts.  One day, while pigs flew overhead and Italian Ices were being served way down in the fiery depths, I hit the ball over the net but within those dopey white lines.  Wow!

My Dad promptly hit the ball back which I whiffed on (naturally – I may have still been celebrating).    As I got better, I would eventually give Dad a more difficult time, but I played most of my tennis on hard courts and he always played me on clay, where he would devilishly craft shots that would make me run like a cartoon character and ultimately ground me into submission.  Still, from that humble beginning began a long-standing enjoyment of racquet games; tennis foremost.

During my high school years, my best friend and I would play each other constantly on the various public courts around the city or at the high school.  That competition traveled with us to college at UF where we were fortunate to live in a dorm right across from about a half-dozen tennis courts.  It was during my time at college that I finally retired my classic Jack Kramer Autograph wood racket (the kind you screwed into a wood frame when done to prevent warping) and bought my first graphite racket (I think it was a Wilson Sting).  My buddy and I spent considerable time on those courts, but still found enough time to also play ping-pong (oh, pah-don moi…table tennis).

Now, our table tennis matches were legendary.  While it would be immodest to say we were unbeatable, it would only be slightly inaccurate.  Within the dorm, there were few who could consistently beat us, so we often “held” the table.  We invested some of our precious spare money in “real” Butterfly ping-pong paddles (not the sandpaper ones) and we ultimately ended up spending most of our time battling each other.  When we split up after a year or so in that dorm, I think he might have been leading, 535-533, but I may have lost count at some point.  He then went on to become an aerospace engineer, build a software company and retire a multi-millionaire, but he can no longer beat me at tennis, so we know who ended up more successful!

Table tennis and tennis are almost incompatible sports.  Everything in table tennis is wrist and instant reaction.  Tennis is about arms and legs and anticipation.  Later on, when I dabbled in racquetball, the differences were even more pronounced, as my tennis-style made me look like I was in slow motion but my table tennis or racquetball swing took away all my power in tennis.  My poor brain!

I settled on tennis and have been enjoying that exclusively for the past 25 years.  I’ve had fun playing singles, doubles, mixed doubles, charity tournaments and leagues (although people seem to forget to have fun in leagues).  It’s an opportunity to spend two or three hours outside in the sun and beat the living heck out of your body.  It’s forced me to adapt some regular stretching exercises into my routine every day, even when I’m not playing, just so I can stay limber enough at my advanced age to play a hard game with the guys.

I’ve been remarkably fortunate in avoiding major injuries.  A popped tendon (no surgery), ankle sprains here and there and the one surgical job on my shoulder (from an arthritic issue rather than the more familiar rotator cuff or labrum damage).  I think the longest layoff I had beyond the surgery was maybe six weeks.  Not too bad in that amount of time.

Up to a year or so ago, my Dad was still trying to get me on the courts with him.  He had a few nagging injuries by that time and promised to “take it easy”, but I am nothing if not my father’s son.  Our competitive nature always makes us do something…let’s just say unnecessary.  OK, foolish.  So we didn’t get out to play (we just need to go fishing more often).

I often like to think back and marvel at how much I enjoy playing this game now, considering how much I disliked it back when Dad first got me on the court.  In fact, I better finish this up.  Tomorrow is Thursday, which means my regular game is scheduled for the morning.   Should be a beautiful weather day and I’m looking forward to a fun and exhausting time.  Who would ever not want to play this?

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