A Spot of Tennis [nov 2016]


The depressing thing about tennis is that no matter how good I get, I’ll never be as good as a wall. – Mitch Hedberg



After two decades and change of having given up on practicing the sport, I finally gave tennis a new spin yesterday. Like almost everybody else, I gave up on the racket and feltball for the perfectly valid reason of being abysmal at it. Tennis, being online or on TV every given day, entices by being a highly attractive sport to watch with larger-than-everyday demigod athletes doing battle on the glorious, immaculate, UHD courts of the ATP pantheon.


You watch tennis and immediately become immersed, though only vicariously, in its aura of gobsmacking athletic excellence and precision ball movement. Those velvety felt spheres, those gleaming carbon instruments of top-spin destruction. Who wouldn’t want to have a go at this resplendent sport?


The come-down is then standing on an actual carpet hard-court, holding a racket and trying one’s very best to A) actually hit the ball instead of flail at empty air B) not hit it into the ground directly C) not kathwerk the felt fiend haplessly into the net D) not to torpedo said ball into yonder fields beginning a good dozen meters behind the service line E) not lobbing it across the net in the very high arc of an octogenarian tennis mummy.


All of these four basic-seeming objectives are rather difficult to achieve and, numerically, already suggest that the average beginner will only be able to initiate the tender beginnings of a rally one times in five. And that even then it will be on the level of a soft, pathetic, milque-toast shot which looks as though one were playing tennis, ideologically speaking, under a communist regime where the main goal [as per the dictatorship of the proletariat] is to share the ball equably, rather than to gain any positional advantage within the on-going exchange. Let alone to grab as large a share as possible of the means of [point-]production for oneself.

So, yes, Tennis is a marvelously difficult sport.


However, I’ve been watching it so intensely for the last five or six years, forming multifarious opinions on the panoply of world-class players and their styles of play, reading sparkling pieces of prose by Wallace and that other English Gentleman [who ended up not writing a book on it, ah, yes, Dyer!], listening to my good friend’s foray into the sport that, at long last, exasperated me to the degree that I decided to buy a racket. At a discount. Which again, as should be obvious, is a long shot from actually making for a court with balls and game face. It took more than a year to magically arrive at that point.


    From a personal perspective, Tennis is also always the sport that has been casting a long shadow over my own favorite among racket games: badminton. Though the former has garnered much more global acclaim, it is the latter which, to make the old metaphorical workhorse do an extra mile, is more democratic. The equipment costs less, the courts are more affordable and so is club membership. Nor does it frustrate one’s early efforts with a perversely high degree of difficulty. Within no time, rallies of a decent length  and with some appreciable degree of fun begin to occur. At the professional level, the sheer speed, athleticism and deceptiveness [trick shots!] of the world-class shuttler makes this sport, in my shambolic opinion, quite a bit more attractive than tennis. Except that the dearth of camera angles and absence of all-around spectacle diminish its attractiveness for the casual viewer, as well as the ardent fan [such as myself].


At any rate, the hitting session [if it can be called such], went reasonably well. Much fewer balls than expected opted for A, B, C or D, leading to mini rallies from the beginning. Rallies absent of pace, power or placement, I hasten to add. Still, contrary to my expectations, I did break a sweat. Not just from the bit of running that was done, but also from wielding around such a mighty racket. I must say, swinging a big old scythe of carbon&string hither and tither is a very pleasing sensation, even if the balls do not at all comply with one’s mental trajectory. Apart from the hitting, what seems the most difficult aspect to begin with is body placement. I found myself perpetually in the wrong spot: either the ball was almost smacking me in the noggin and I had to bring the racket up as a pure measure of self-defense. Or the low bounce on the carpet [there is always somebody else to blame, even a lowly carpet] left the ball with so little altitude and coming down so early for its disastrous second bounce, that often a time I found myself lounging sideways and/or forward to even just get the string-bed to connect with the felt; no matter what might happen thereafter.


Fortunately, my good friend and otherwise badminton partner SPD had precious pieces of advice for me to try to eliminate the worst of my shortcomings so that our playing session wouldn’t be entirely reduced to ball retrieving.

Speaking of which. Given amateur level there is the curious matter of the court eventually becoming ever more perilous because dotted by balls all over the place. And players running out of balls to serve and play with. So that one finds oneself, at the latest after every third rally, scurrying around the rectangle, either neutralizing danger spots by expediting balls to the back of the court or pocketing them for up-coming serves [into the net]. At any rate, I do wish to pursue my new found racket misadventures for the foreseeable future. I cannot think of a better age than 38 to finally kick off one’s glorious tennis career. Especially after being gifted D. Wallace’s String Theory….





About tmabona

writer, reader [bolano, DW, bellow, deLillo], runner, badmintoneer
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