The Secret Lives of Tennis Players
I have no idea where my wristbands keep disappearing to. I even got the brightest neon green color you could buy, but I still can’t ever find them. What I did know is that we were playing tennis tonight, and that’s all that mattered.
“Cleared for tonight,” Greg texted me earlier that hot Saturday afternoon.
It was hard to imagine that we were going to pull a match off with the growing laundry list of work and chores. I was quick to respond, “I’ll be there right at six.”
When I pulled into the parking space at the club, I expected us to be the only two cars in the lot. For the past two months it’s been a ghost town, obviously.
When I opened the door I was almost knocked over by the sweet smell of wild honeysuckle that grew at the back of the lot. Man, it brought me back to summers of being a kid again.
But the lot wasn’t empty - it was filled with cars, and I could see people playing tennis in the distance. While walking down to our court, I saw the glow of string lights from the golf club patio that sits at the far end of the club, behind courts 11 and 12.
“Is the pool open? Cause it sounds like a pool party.” Greg said when I stepped through the gate onto the court. It occurred to me that this was the first time in months I’ve heard a gathering of people. No, not a gathering of people fighting over meat and toilet paper, but people actually having a good time.
We spent the better part of an hour on the first set. I could tell Greg was going for the kill tonight - he hadn’t beaten me before. He was keeping the points short which I don’t like. I was a little careless in that first set, and I lost it. There was a lot on my mind.
I had gotten an unexpected text that morning from a new stringing customer, and took two new rackets in the shop. I didn’t even look at the cost of overnight shipping to get the specific strings here. I just clicked it. It felt right.
I still hadn’t been able to restring my own racket. Still haven’t decided on what string to review next either. I was procrastinating, I guess.
The new shoes were still so grippy and hard to slide on the soft new clay, and the full bed of gut creaked after every point - it was getting brittle. There were plenty of distractions - from the party to the sound of a lawnmower in the distance. But, it was time to get back to reality.
I started to play the game I wanted, and started lengthening the points. The gut had so much power and it’s spin was fizzling, so I dialed it back to 80% effort on the forehand to get more air on the ball and more control out of it. I took it back to the basics and started working the ball around the court, and you know what - it worked, and I took the second set 6-2.
It sounded like the drinks were starting to flow at the party behind us. You could smell the burgers on the charcoal grill, followed by smoke that hung in that sky. The music was louder and laughter more frequent. You could almost smell the beer - and I know for a fact that I could almost taste the beer I was going to have when I got home.
Soaked from the humidity, I asked Greg if he wanted to do a 10 pointer to decide the match or do a 3rd set. He firmly responded, “Let’s do another set.”
I don’t blame him, who would want to leave this place?
I found myself noticing the details of everything again. The warm air of the day was refreshed by a clean dry front that was coming through. I looked up and stood in awe of the changing clouds above, it was something you just couldn’t make up.
“Can you fire up the lights?” Greg asked the guys next to us that had just finished their match, they were closer to the switch. The halogen lamps hummed as they warmed up, changing color from a sea green to a bright white. I could feel the energy, and I needed it.
We were doing something I never expected that evening - we were going into a 3rd set, under the lights.
He had match points a couple of times in that 3rd set, but I kept to my strategy and wasn’t ready to give in. I found myself searching for the last dry spot on my shirt to dry my palms after every point. “If I only had my wristbands,” I thought.
And just like that we were in a 3rd set tiebreak.
I was quickly down 3-5 and shaking my head, but I knew he still had a long way to go. Somehow, that gut held together and I won the next 4 points in a row.
I walked to change sides and Greg said something that didn’t make sense at first. “Nice playing tonight,“ as he put his racket in his bag. I was confused.
“I thought we were doing a 10 pointer?” I said.
Greg said “Nah, you won it.”
After almost three hours of being distracted and in my head, I was finally feeling focused and was ready to win. So much, that I didn’t even know what the score was.
I hadn’t even noticed that the loud party had ended and the parking lot had already cleared out. I looked at the time - 8:40 PM. I said I would be home by 8:00.
I was so thankful that tennis has been there for us during these unprecedented times of COVID-19, and even though we still have so much longer to go until it’s back to normal, I finally felt like we were on our way.
“How are we the only ones out here?” Greg asked as we closed the gate and shut the lights off. “Are we the crazy ones?”
Some might call us crazy for being out there that late, for doing what we do. But even with all the distractions tonight and the periods of sloppy tennis. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Yeah, I’m ok with that.