For the Love of Tennis

Today chatted with someone at work that I used to play tennis with, and he said to me “Hey, you gotta make time for the things you love. Don’t tell me tennis isn’t one of your loves.”

The first tennis match I watched was the Bank of the West Classic. It was junior year in high school and our summer tennis coach had given two of us all day tickets. It was the era of Steffi Graph, Monica Seles, and Martina Hingis. I can’t remember who we saw that day, but what I did remember was we left early. We wanted to make sure we got back to practice. When our coach saw us on the courts, his mouth dropped open… it was expensive to get all day tickets for two and here we were back on the courts eager to play.

Flash to last Friday, Albert and I are looking for parking (free after 6pm) on the Stanford campus to attend this tournament again. We splurged on the only available quarterfinal seats we could get to watch Serena Williams take on Ana Ivanovic. I had eaten at work, as I recall that they never serve good food here and brought a thick wool jacket for the stands as it gets cold at night. Albert brought snacks from work in his backpack and dinner from Asian Box at Town & Country Village.

A long walk down to Will Call and then a longer walk back to Gate 1. We climbed up the stairs to our seats, behind the baseline where it’s easier to see the lines. The sun set with beautiful orangey rose colors as Serena and Ana began to warm up. As I watch the court I’m filled with nostalgia.

This and opening a can of tennis balls = Nostalgia

This and opening a can of tennis balls = Nostalgia

I started playing tennis in middle school. I don’t remember how my parents decided on tennis, maybe it was because we were learning it in PE class, but they signed my brother and I up for tennis lessons at Lydecker Park. There a sassy African American lady named Barbara taught the introductory group. There were 3 courts at the park. Once you were good enough, you got to move to the far court where the advanced students were taught by John, who was an older gentleman who always wore a hat that looked something like this:

Barbara and John introduced me to the world of the USTA. They encouraged us to enter tournaments and taught us the strategy of the game. I’d play almost everyday against the garage when I couldn’t find anyone to play with.

In high school I desperately wanted to make the tennis team, however I didn’t know when tryouts were so I missed the first year. That summer I played everyday in preparations for tryouts the next year. Try outs come and go and I find myself on the varsity team playing doubles.

During the next summer I subjected my parents to driving me to play novice USTA matches. While I didn’t get ranked, much to the annoyance of my Tiger mom, I was close. In school, I came back strong junior year and made it to the coveted third singles string position. That year I also had my first car accident and my mom made me quit the tennis team and get a part time job as a barista to pay for the damages. Instead of playing tennis all year, I moped and learned how to make lattes.

Senior year I got to play on the Varsity team again, but it wasn’t the same…

In college I’d go down to the tennis courts to watch the collegiate team play. My computer science partner Long would sometimes meet me there. Junior year we found ourselves taking the advanced tennis class together. I never quite felt like I was doing as well in the class as he was, and wanted to quit. I confessed this to Long, but then I remember him saying to me “I’m only taking this class because you’re in it too. You’re doing great.” During projects we would bicker back and forth, but generally he was the best. I still wonder what ever happened to him since we fell out of touch when he graduated.

At my first big corporate job I discovered the company tennis team as a means to leave work on time and have some sort of life outside of work. My favorite part about joining the team was that we’d always go out to eat after practice or games and through that I discovered many delicious Japanese Izakaya places in the South Bay.

Loud cheering fills the Stanford Stadium and I’m snapped back into the moment. Looking up I see that Ana has stretched Serena so far that she must have slipped and is in a full on splits position. Not only is Serena extremely strong, she’s flexible. Who knew?

The game continues and I’m convinced that Ana is faking an injury to throw Serena off her game. Nevertheless Serena wins in the third set. It’s 11:30pm and we stay to watch some of the doubles match but fatigue is sinking in.

Before we go, I tell Albert we need to take a selfie of us and the court first, and he claims he doesn’t know how. WHAT?!?!? Even C-lister celebrities know how to take selfies. I force him to use the self facing camera and we’re off to the races trying to get both our faces in frame. If I’ve done humanity and technology any justice today, it’s teaching Albert the proper framing of a selfie. Huzzah.

I haven’t played tennis in several years, but there is this wonderful feeling of clarity when you are completely focused on the game and where everything else fades in priority. A series of actions and reactions that get you to a singular goal. I’ve also meet fantastic people along the way through learning and playing. I do need to make more time for the things I love and tennis is definitely one of them.

Leave a Reply