There was a time in my life, not insignificant, when tennis occupied a place of prestige. During the summer, I would wake up, eat breakfast, and run to the tennis courts just a few blocks from my childhood home. Not much can compare with the sound of the opening of a new can of tennis balls on an early morning summer day. I would buy new balls every few weeks just to hear that sound, and to smell the scent of the three vacuum packed balls (green, never any other color). There was always something promising in the opening of a new can of balls, as if it afforded me a chance, finally, to be better at the game.
My first tennis partner was my brother, who, although a bit younger than me, was possibly a better tennis player. He had the strangest serve, one that was, at least for me, unreturnable. He was able to serve a curve ball, if such a thing is possible. His serve would send the ball spiraling slowly onto my side of the court, and I would almost always fail to return. Nothing angered me more at the time, and I remember the two of us having explosive arguments about the rules of the game. It was not uncommon for us to come to blows, leaving us both in the worst of moods for hours. Occasionally I would win a game, even a set, but I really had to work for the win. We would play for hours, take a break, then play again later that afternoon.
As I got older and my game evolved, my regular tennis partner became my oldest and best friend. He was also a good player for me, as we hovered around the same level. By this time, we were both over 21 years of age, so we would play a few sets then set out for Carnsie’s Irish Pub to split a pitcher or two of beer, maybe add some wings. As we got older the sets became fewer and the number of pitchers seemed to increase. One of the last times I remember playing him was the morning after a hellish rainstorm. We arrived at the court to find the fence locked. I climbed and jumped over. While waiting I went to my side of the court and started bouncing the balls. Dave quickly climbed the fence, jumped, and slipped on the wet grass, falling hard. I could tell immediately that he had hurt himself, but our relationship being what it was, laughed and pointed out his fall. He finally got up, hobbled over to his side of the court and beat me two sets to zero. Later that day he went to the doctor only to discover that he had broken his tailbone. I was beat by a tennis partner with a literal broken ass. It was not my best performance, but it was my most humiliating defeat.
It’s been about twenty years since I’ve picked up a tennis racket. I’ve always missed the game, but life seemed to get busier as I got older, so there was no time to play with regularity. Now I have a fifteen year old son and a ten year old daughter, and I am trying to get them interested in the sport. When my wife and I approached them about the possibility of taking tennis lessons they were not totally against the suggestion—a positive sign in our house. So, this summer, in part to celebrate my reaching 50 years of age, I’m going to once again pick up a tennis racket ad play with my family. Only this time I hope no one breaks his ass on the court.