I am no longer blogging here at Little Nuances, but I would love for you to join me on my author website www.leewarren.info.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Tennis Lessons

I started playing tennis when I was 12. I loved the strategy, I loved the feel of the ball when it hit the sweet spot (when it actually happened), and for some unknown reason, I felt like I was supposed to live a portion of my life on a tennis court. I spent many hot summer afternoons and evenings trading shots with my best friend. We'd watch the professionals on television, and then go out and mimic their shots and mannerisms. Not very well, mind you, but we tried.

As I've mentioned before, I was extremely shy as a child, and with the exception of writing, I had precious few other places in which I felt comfortable. The tennis court was one of those places, and after smacking the ball around for several summers, I felt like I had progressed enough to try playing on the high school level. Of course, I had no idea whether that was true or not, but I wanted to find out.

So, during my final summer before high school, I practically lived on the tennis court. My friend and I practiced in a park by his house. I can still see the two courts in my mind. They were dark green, with a chain link fence disguised as a net. A basketball hoop hung on one of the fences that bordered the courts and often weeds sprouted through the cracks on the courts. One of the courts was set in the side of a hill, so it was surrounded by a cement wall. We preferred that court for some reason. I think it was because the ball made a cool echoing sound every time we struck it.

I attended my first high school tennis practice at the beginning of my sophomore year (I know I'll sound old when I say this, but back then, high school started in 10th grade—not 9th). I was immediately enamored with two players. Both were seniors. Both had the latest in tennis racket design (one graphite and the other aluminum—most of the rest of us, myself included, were still using wooden rackets). And both were named Jeff. They played tennis on a level I'd never seen before. They took full cuts at the ball and somehow kept the ball from flying over the fence and into traffic—a skill that I certainly hadn't mastered at that point. They were doubles partners and each of the remaining members of the team were paired up to practice with them. I learned more during that year from them than in all my other previous years on the court combined.

They worked together as a team—complete with hand-signals that indicated when one player was going to poach or stay put. And they were quick to teach the rest of us what to look for and how to position ourselves. Their teaching didn't pay immediate dividends, but it did provide for some comedy.

I remember garnering up the courage to poach during one particular practice session against them. I probably should have abandoned ship when I saw that the serve my partner hit resembled a helium balloon, but I didn't know any better at the time. One of the Jeffs—the one who typically crushed balls from the baseline—stepped into a forehand while I was poaching and the ball was on me quicker than anything I'd ever seen. As I attempted to bail out (I must have looked like a guy who was desperately trying to avoid getting shot) the ball found a nice cushy spot just under the ribs on the left side of my body and I went down in a heap. The ball however bounced off my body and found its way over the net for a winner. After everybody saw that I was okay, laughter filled the courts—including from my own mouth—even though it hurt to laugh.

I watched the two Jeffs play matches all season and my game progressed. As I headed into practice the following summer to prepare for my junior year, my Mom did something that still touches me. She was a single parent, and I know that she didn't have any extra money, but somehow, she found a way to buy me an aluminum tennis racket. I still have it. It's a brown Wilson Triumph (here's a picture). I have no idea what she gave up to buy that racket for me, but looking back, her sacrifice means more to me with each passing year.

I didn't set the world on fire during my junior season. After losing the two Jeffs, our team wasn't good enough to compete against the other major high schools, and I ended up being ranked higher on our team than I should have—which meant that during singles matches I played other highly ranked players from opposing teams. I think I won one match that season, but I teamed up with a new guy on the team in doubles and we were pretty good.

Going into my senior season, somebody else made another sacrifice for me. My dad found out that I had my eye on a Head Graphite Director racket. He bought one and gave it to me shortly before the season started. I still have that racket too (here's a picture). I used that racket for a number of years until the frame snapped one day when I hit a serve.

By then, I had developed a good serve, and my doubles partner and I were playing at a high level. I was still ranked higher than I should have been in singles events, but I ended up focusing on doubles because I knew that my partner and I were onto something. We ended up losing in the quarterfinals of the state tournament that year.

I never became a great tennis player, but I learned some incredibly important things during my high school tennis years—lessons that are worth remembering all these years later. I learned that love leads to sacrifice, and that a good work ethic includes teaching others how to perform to the best of their ability.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...