Saturday, November 5, 2011

Tennis Anyone?

I had not played a game of tennis for well over 30 years. But there I stood on court number eight, trying desperately to remember the rules of the game, where to stand at different times in the game, and the sequence of scoring, not to mention etiquette. It seemed like a recipe for certain embarrassment. Certainly, it was prime time for my tremors to shift into high gear. It could've been due to a multitude of causes. The tennis racket in my hand felt unfamiliar, more like one of those hand-held bug zappers than a carefully tuned, graphite "weapon". In addition, despite the sun and cloudless sky, it was chilly to be outside in shorts and a T-shirt. And, of course, there was my Parkinson's disease. These three formed a killer combination.
Beginners in most endeavors are recognized as such and given lots of leeway. But those who return to the game of tennis, even after a significant absence, have nothing to blame, except the typical human frailties of age, injuries or ailments. I had my "trump" excuse ready at hand. Entering the "arena" to meet the remainder of my foursome I had fully intended to blame my anticipated lack of skill, style and tennis knowledge on PD. However, after noting that each of the other three players was at least 10 to 15 years older than I was, I gave up that pretense.
Along with the lack of recent experience at the game, I had also forgotten the importance of having the right clothing. Each of the other players wore perfectly appropriate apparel. Fortunately, it was a cool morning, at least by Palm Desert standards, so I had an excuse for my mismatched wardrobe. If the tennis security patrol had been diligent they would've noticed my laughable attire; an old pair of blue shorts with the word, "NAVY", emblazoned in bright yellow on one leg, a white, long sleeve T-shirt with a totally useless pocket on the left chest, and a wine colored Tiger Woods golf cap to top it all off. Despite white Nike socks, complete with "swoosh", and an ancient, weathered pair of white tennis shoes, I would not have been accused of wearing "tennis whites"!
But my lack of sartorial correctness was nothing compared to the obvious contrast in tennis rackets. Mine was a very recently purchased Walmart "Wilson" special that had come with three tennis balls, two wrist bands and an elasticized headband (supposedly to reduce the risk of sweat dripping into my eyes thereby spoiling a baseline smash). The total I had paid for my "complete tennis needs" lacked a zero when compared with the rackets held by other players for which they paid at least $200 more. It could've been worse. It was a good thing that I had not been able to find my wooden racket that I purchased in 1972.

Now tennis is a strange game with odd rules and peculiar vocabulary. Perhaps this is derived from its upper crust beginnings in 19th century England. The most confusing aspect of the game is scoring. I never understood why scoring the first point equaled 15, the second, 30, the third, 40, and the winning point, "game". Tennis also has the peculiar distinction of being the only circumstance in which "love" means nothing.
Needless to say, my return foray onto a tennis court was not a return to my 20s. Dashing about like one of the frantic rabbits that populate the bushy areas near our complex, I accomplished little in terms of successfully returning the ball over the net. But I did get a good workout, as it appeared that I was the only one doing any sweating. Good thing I had my wristband! I managed to lose, and simultaneously embarrassed my partner, in every game until I was partner with "Ace". Ace was the community ringer who played tennis at the level significantly higher than anyone of his neighbors. He had earned his name honestly. Playing on his side of the net we won more than we lost. It only occurred to me later that, despite my ineffective leaps and lunges, I had rarely touched the ball during any of the games. The typical line shouted by my teammates was, "Good effort!"
When we were finally finished, my fellow players were very kind and did not openly laugh about my rather futile efforts at regaining my former tennis prowess, such that I remember it. Oh well, I got a serious 90 min. workout and actually enjoyed the games. Leaving the court with my partners’ promises of return matches and untrue pleasantries such as, "Good game, Bob", I struggled to disguise the grimacing from my tortured muscles as I headed for home. I would need the next five hours to sleep and recuperate in order to stagger back to the courts for my next tennis humiliation at 4 PM. I wondered aloud how this was doing any good for my Parkinson's disease.


  1. Hey Bob, nice post, especially the quip about tennis being the one place where love means nothing.



  2. I know how you feel - tossing the ball up with a shaking left hand makes my serve a very interesting part of my game!