Just a Game
Tennis is only a game, they say. Of course it’s a game — enjoyable to play and watch, to talk about the tennis stars, to look at results and compare statistics, to dream.
When I am on a court and I see professional players hitting their shots next to me, I am in awe. It’s not just the form, the speed, or the precision they employ. No. I listen to the sound their rackets make when they strike the ball. When young boys and girls who play the game well are on the other court (and I mean real young, like maybe twelve or thirteen), limbs long and thin, bodies still unwound, acne peppering their faces, I feel embarrassed. They are at a level I cannot achieve. The sound goes: hush… and I know it is indeed special.
I started playing tennis in high school and with interruptions I played all my life. The game took a new dimension after I retired. I play almost every day since I have more time than ever before. Honestly, I don’t have any reason to do anything I don’t enjoy. I don’t do pushups or sit-ups, I don’t stretch, I don’t run, and I don’t lift weights. I do not like to be on a diet and a glass of wine is a trusted companion of mine most days after seven pm. Tennis is my only exercise, my chance to stay more or less fit.
The more I play, the more I want to play, and I want to be better. And maybe I am. I learned to focus. I read articles on strategy, and I pay attention to how my opponents position themselves on the court and communicate. Before, I would just react.
Equipment is important, of course, and so are the sunglasses I wear, the liquids I drink, and the shoes on my feet. It’s best when you look sharp on the court.
Since I play a lot of doubles, the partner I have is key. In one of my favorite tennis stories, I asked a higher ranked player what to do to win in doubles. ‘Choose a partner who’s much better than you,’ he said (jokingly). Selecting a partner is not only about his ranking or level of play. In doubles the partners have to understand each other, move in tandem, and encourage and motivate each other. We have to be complementary. If my forehand is better, I should play the forehand side. Over time, my partners become my buddies — all of them.
All this might seem trivial to someone who was professionally trained (and whose sound when striking the ball screams perfection), but I guess that most amateur players like me move and hit by instinct. I am proud I learned to think on the court.
Finally, I arrive at the topic of winning. I tell myself that tennis is just a game. There is no monetary reward at the end of the competition, yet there are winners and losers and I will come up on top or I will fail. After playing I drink some water, go home and watch a show on TV. Or work in the garden. Or read a book. All is forgotten, and then, the next day or the day after, I go back. The game starts anew. When I win, I walk around with a spring in my step. I congratulate my partner and my opponents and I joke. I am in a better mood. Life is somehow rosier overall. ‘Ask me if I won,’ I tell my wife when I come home. ‘How did it go?’ she asks. ‘I won!’ I reply, and I love saying that.
This summer my team won the USTA tournament for Columbia and qualified to participate in the ‘Mid-Atlantic Sectionals.’ Winning teams from several areas along the East Coast will play against each other. Tomorrow I’ll get in my car and drive to Richmond VA, for the occasion — three days of playing and competing! It is a team effort and if we win, we will go to the ‘Nationals!’ I am very excited and I think it is a big deal.
I know this is not as important as the 44th wedding anniversary that my wife and I are celebrating today, or what my son does at work, or the little beautiful girl my daughter adopted six months ago, or the novel I published last year.
So I was thinking: without tennis, how would I feel, what would I miss?
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