Friday, October 10, 2014

Tennis for All

This is why this blog exists. We love to hear from those in the real community tennis world. This is what it's all about. 

The following are writings sent to us by Meredith Harrington, Scarie Merrie.

Tennis skirts! I looooove tennis skirts! Okay, really, who the heck cares about tennis skirts? This is a blog. Blogs should offer pithy advice or something upbeat everyone can relate to. Mine is mostly memoirs, or musings. But this time I decided to write about my life saving emotional retirement gift to myself. Tennis, and what it’s done for me.

There are no rules for blogging, except keeping it clean and honest. Some of my followers would ask with disgust, isn't tennis an elitist form of recreation? That I’m discriminating. Yes, and no. People play tennis at private clubs, public parks, and if they have a court in their own back yard, they skip tennis barn fees and head out back. Tennis is not elitist anymore. Tennis is neither segregated, or gender specific.  Look at Arthur Ashe, Donald Young, the Williams sisters, and James Blake for turning a once all white sport into a widely integrated one. As for gender equality, bravo to Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King and Venus Williams for coming out of the closet in a very public arena. As of this writing, no known male gay players have admitted their sexuality.

Anyone ever play truth or dare? Until my most recent employment, I’d never heard of the game. When introduced to a group of residence hall advisors, I told them 3 things: I’d once climbed Mt. Everest, I was a published writer, and a tennis fanatic. They didn’t believe the Mt. Everest claim, nor did they believe that I’m an award winning author. Shame on them for not reading my fiction! But, they were dead right on the tennis claim. I AM a tennis addict, after a 20 year absence from the sport. I’m also recently retired, and feeling guilty that I have a lot of time on my hands. At first, unsure which path to take next, a part time job, or volunteer work, I waxed and waned. After all,  I’d been forced into retirement by the economy, and although I’m not rich in money, I am wealthy in friends. Was I meant to return to the work force, or sleep in every day? As I wondered and worried, I took up tennis with a vengeance. Already playing once a week through a league I’d started, I wasn’t new to the game. But I wasn’t necessarily in shape to play 3 times or more a week. I came off the court with back ache, sore feet, and very tired. 

But it was all good. Without advice from a doctor, I was doing exactly what he would’ve suggested. Keep physically active – it’s good for the heart, and staves off depression. Plus, I’m with people for two hours every other day, instead of hidden away in my house, licking my wounds. I’m interacting with all sorts of women, some in their 40s, some in their 90s, all for a common cause. My mind is still sharp, free of life’s niggling doubts. Instead of poised over a keyboard, they’re wrapped around a racquet handle.  When on the court, all I think about is balls, court presence, strategy, and placement.

Which brings us back to the subject of tennis skirts. Sure, I could play in shorts, or yoga pants, or cargo pants, but I’m a well-toned 62, and tennis skirts, with an amazing array of styles, colors, lengths and ruffles, allow me to feel young and girlish again. Used to be, only white apparel was allowed on tennis courts. White shirts, skirts/shorts/slacks, white shoes, and white visors. Not even a skirt with red trim was acceptable. Why?  Or better yet, how did we go from Chris Evert wearing only white to Serena Williams wearing fuchsia with black lace? Borrowing this quote from “Quora” on the Internet: “Every Tennis player will have a particular apparel sponsor and the sponsors are the ones who generally decide what the player should wear cause (sic) they are going to sell the product on his name and they are paying him/her for letting them do so.” Hmmm. I’d always wondered, but never protested. I’m enjoying flashes of color on courts. I’m surprised how happy it makes me feel.

“Quora” continues: “Market demand will always be for new type of colored sports outfits [‘] cause [the] number of people going for all whites is way less than supporters of color. Sponsors can sell more products if the favorite player of someone is wearing the colored outfit. As a result the sponsors will make players wear the outfit that are designed by their designers taking into consideration the players [‘] personality and the market demand. Also unlike earlier, now tournament organizers don’t have any rules in regards with the clothes of the player, which (sic) is because many sponsors must have requested them for the same. Again Money talks here. So there is absolutely no problem for marketers and players to wear colored clothes… Wimbledon is one of the very few tournaments that has strict rules about only whites and the players have to follow that.”

I too own 2 white skirts, one made by Athleta with pleats, and one with red stripes, which I bought on sale and then it promptly ran in the dryer. I own 8 skirts in all, but usually wear 6 of them.  I also have 2 pair of court shoes, 1 of which starts to hurt as soon as I tie the laces, 1 tennis visor, 2 racquets, both made by HEAD, 1 grip glove, 1 headband that I no longer need as my hair is short, and 6 pairs of tennis socks in Marine green, neon lime green, pink, white, neon yellow, neon blue, and red/white/black in color. I have a thing about my socks and skirts. I'm very particular about when and what I wear, kind of like the quirks that pro athletes have, insisting on eating certain cereals before a game, or Tom Brady, who, when younger, refused to cut his hair mid-season. I can only wear certain color socks when I play certain teams. It'd be bad karma for me to say what color socks I wear for then, but the same goes for my skirts. In addition, I cannot wear a new skirt for an important game. Bad karma. The skirt must first be worn and coordinated with a matching top at a noncompetitive game.

The mere words “non-competition” are a misnomer in themselves. A noncompetitive tennis game doesn’t exist. All games of tennis are competitive, unless you specifically specify that you just want to “hit.” Once you start keeping score, the competition begins. Some of my friends swear they just like to play, but I think deep down they want to win.  The only time I refuse to keep score is when I play singles with my son. I don’t need to score. I always lose! Caveat? I was the one who introduced him to the sport, you’d think he’d cut me a break, wouldn’t you? 

My weekend team, played with good friends, laughter and women of all ages from 42 to 86, was begun 3 years ago with two women, myself and my best friend. I wasn’t happy playing singles, and so I began to recruit more players. Although we don’t brag online afterwards what our end scores were, we are competitive. Some of us more than others. We did have a tennis teacher who played, but she’s injured. We also had a former weightlifter but she fell in love and spends all her free time with her new some.  We miss absent members, but life goes on, as does tennis.  Sometimes, we cut ourselves a break, and after an hour and a half, head for coffee.

It's true that we’re at odds with the name of this team. Team Ruffles v. Team Viking. I hold out for Viking, as 3 of us are giants at the net.  My best friend holds out for Ruffles, as she loves the look. We now number 12, members who float in and out, playing singles, doubles and Canadian. We play both Saturdays and Sundays, outside, all year long. The only time we don't play is during rain, sleet or if the temp is below 10 degrees. You'd be amazed at how quickly you warm up when you're running around a tennis court. Platform tennis, another racquet sport, expressly played in the winter months is as invigorating. Team Viking members are not crazy, even though last winter, when our regular courts took down their nets, we brought our own!

Anybody can tell that by looking at my skirts, I am NOT a ruffles sort of person. I like pleats. Pleats are orderly, and drape nicely across one's butt. I’m an orderly person, and own a light blue pleated skirt made of a very soft silky cotton by E Ellen, a red pleated Athleta that is shrunk and short, a black pleated silky Athleta with pink trim, and most recently, my first Lulu Lemon in black pleats with white dots and a white waist band. I also own a black pleated Bolle with green trim, a very short Adidas bright blue running skort that doubles as a tennis skirt, a white pleated Athleta, a pink knit Bolle with navy trim, and, finally, a neon yellow ruffled Athleta. I think I should be the poster girl of tennis skirts. I didn’t set about collecting so many skirts. There were sales, eBay slightly used skirts, and then a few times when retail therapy came into play (no pun intended).

Next come my tights. When it's cold I wear footless tights. They are white, white/black horizontal stripes, leopard, and bright blue and bright pink. I never wear capris. I don't understand capris, other than for fashion sake. Not every woman benefits wearing such a tight, especially if you play inside. If you play outside and it's frigid, pay a little more and keep your ankles warm, ladies! When it’s very cold out, I add running tights to the mix, a turtleneck, fleece hoodie, and windbreaker. Nothing that I know of as yet, keep the tootsies warm, except hot packs.

As for my shirts, I have all colors and styles, stripes and alligators, men on horseback and one dragonfly.  All I care about is that my shirts are comfortable, cool when it’s hot, and warm when it’s not.  Winter gloves I never wear, but I’ve tried fingerless gloves, which keep only the hands warm, not the fingers. I’m sure I’ve not doing my arthritis any favors, but my reasoning is that I will play tennis until I can’t play tennis anymore.

I am very particular about my balls. The only kinds I like are Gamma, ProPenn and Dunlop. I even like the 4 ball cans, as there’s always that darn 3rd ball that quickly flies over the fence. I also don’t insist on new balls every time I play. I think instead of the waste of once used balls. My dog doesn’t like them, so instead I reused them until they no longer pass the bounce test. I used to be superstitious about score sheets. At first, I could not touch the sheet, write on the sheet, or look at my final scores. In just one year, I've made progress! Finally, I don't perform ridiculous "hand ear slap knee" signals just before I serve. So what if I bounce the ball 3-4 times before hitting? I use that time to catch my breath!.

Playing tennis is serious business in my book. Not a grunter before I serve, or or a crystal reader before a game, or one refuse to play with certain players, I am just so blessed to be out on that court, why be particular about who you play with?   I love tennis, the sense of accomplishment and pride I feel when I've played really hard, and, of course, winning. Tennis is not just about me. My partner came for a reason, and it’s my job to assist her so we can play in harmony. Not bicker or hold grudges. Most definitely, win.  Sometimes I have low scores, and I beat myself up for a while, but the better I get, the more I play, the less times there are that I do poorly. Thank heavens! The thing is, in tennis, singles or doubles, someone has to lose. Although America doesn’t like its youth to lose, encouraging that everyone’s a winner, the fact is that there are winners, and there are losers, and have been for centuries. Losing should make you strive to do better. Winning should keep you humble, because most likely, you started at the bottom, losing more times than you admit.

I prefer doubles tennis, which for those readers who know nothing about the game, means there are 4 players on the court, two on each side of the net. Winning each game is dependent on each of the partners playing well, being awake and alert, and having court presence. When you play doubles, you cannot steal all the balls and run all over your partners' side of the court unless she wants you to. That's not really playing doubles. That's playing singles in a doubles setup. That's running yourself ragged in a very short time. Court presence is knowing where to stand when your partner is serving and trying to gain the net. Court presence is also always being where your partner is not, in case the ball is hit where no one's home (empty area). Not only might you get hurt but it's very bad form not to play by doubles rules during a doubles game. You have a partner for a reason. Use her.  Alas, the end score never shows how hard you worked to hit that baseline ball, or return a cross court close to the net. Instead, it only shows who won, and who lost. Eventually, if you stick to the sport, you will experience winning more than not. 

I try to pay it forward when new members come on board. I was new once, and actually was told I couldn't join a league because my inexperience would make fellow players play down. The audacity and cruelty of that comment has never been forgotten. So, I try to give tips, and always, always compliment my opponent and partner when they get a good get. These compliments come from the heart, and my heart is in the game.

For the past year I have shown immense improvement in all areas of my game - so I've been told by team captains. But I’m not done yet. For instance, I am no longer afraid to play net, even slamming the ball across at close range. My best moves are what my partners call "Merrie hits", backhand alley shots, and severely angled cross court forehands. I have not learned to slice yet, and my serves are still soft. My retirement budget does not allow for private lessons, but group lessons help here and there. If only I could learn to toss the ball higher, I believe my serves would hit the opposite court with more force. 

I’ve learned so much in the past 3 years since forming my own team and joining others. I’ve ventured out into captaining two teams through two seasons. I have been humbled, learned to appreciate myself more, and de-stress. I believe, for now, retiring was a good move on my part, and I’m very happy with my decision. My legs are strong, my heart is healthy, and I feel, after playing for two hours, invigorated.  Best of all, I've played with black women, Indian women, and every week, a 97 year old, and occasional evening round robins with men. Tennis offers almost more diversity than the United Nations!

Tennis can be fun if you allow it. It’s hard work, perfecting a serve, or cross court shot, or returning a lob.  Everything in life is work, but when you’re retired, the only difference is that you are not being paid to play. I had my doubts in the beginning, constantly telling my partner, when I missed a seemingly simple shot, “sorry, sorry, sorry.” Either I wasn’t following the ball, or I was standing in dead man’s land. What I forget is that Tennis is the only game in the world that gives you love. Remember that, and also, please don't wear capris if you're playing with me.  

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