One of the great things about tennis is that the sport can provide us, regardless of our age or ability, with some tremendous moments and memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.
What’s your most memorable moment to date? What tennis-related moment brings a smile to your face? Was it that first new racket? That great, off-balanced shot you hit to win the match, or meeting your tennis idol? Whatever it was, it was special, important, and will stay with you forever.
I’ve been playing and teaching tennis for over thirty years and in approximately 70,000 hours on a tennis court, and hundreds of other hours around the game, I have accumulated quite a few “memorable tennis moments.” I remember distinctly when I got the “tennis bug,” when I first went to the U.S. Open and my first win over a ranked player.
If you’re like me, you have hundreds of such memories and it is these memories, and the search for others, that keeps bringing us to the courts. At any time, we might come up with a spectacular shot that we will never forget, make a great comeback from the brink of defeat or meet someone on the courts that will change our lives (I met my wife on the tennis court).
With so many great memories it’s difficult for me to deem just one as my most memorable, but I recently experienced something that will always be in the top two or three. It was late on a Sunday afternoon and I’d been on the court for 10 hours in the hot sun and was tired. I was getting ready to call it a day and eagerly anticipating that cold beer that tastes so good after a hot day in the sun (actually, those cold beers after a hot day on the courts would probably rank
among several of my top ten most memorable moments).
I’d closed the door to my office and was on my way out when three of the club’s members ambled over to the courts. They explained to me that their fourth couldn’t make it and wondered if I would fill in. Needless to say, I was not particularly eager. I was tired, stiff, not to mention thirsty, but the cold beer would have to wait.
I unlocked my office, grabbed my racket and met the three men on court 1. Sixty minutes later, I walked off the court having experienced what will forever be one of my most special experiences on a tennis court.
What made that hour so special was not the quality of play, because it was not particularly high. It was not the excitement of the match because I have no idea who won. No, what clearly made this game different than any others was the cast of characters I was on the court with. On the opposite side of the net there was, on the forehand side, 84 year-old Bill and on the backhand, 87 year-old Bob. My partner at the net was “the kid,” 79 year-old Ben. Yes, I said 84, 87, and 79 years-old.
That’s 250 years combined and, if you throw in my 42 years on earth the grand total of all the players on court #1 that Sunday was 292.
I was partnered with “the kid,” Ben, for a number of reasons. First, because he had just taken up the game a year ago, and second, because he had recently had knee and hip replacement surgery and the others figured that, at my youthful age of 42, I could make up for his lack of mobility.
As the match began, all three men assumed their “ready position” which, in their 80's, didn’t look a whole lot different than their general posture. Bill and Bob both stared me down, though, at their ages, I was not particularly certain that they could see that I was preparing to serve. Just to be sure, I yelled out as I tossed the ball, “Okay, here we go!”
The points were long, strategic, and usually decided by a winning drop shot or lob. There was no power for two reasons. First, most players in their 70's and 80's cannot generate much power and more important, players of that generation learned a different type of game than we see today.
Bill, Bob and Ben are from an era where points, games and matches are decided by the more strategic player, not the one that can hit the ball the hardest. The “physicalness” of the game was non-existent so our match more resembled a game of chess and was a test of finesse and creativity.
In between points, during extended change-over periods, and at least one bathroom break for each player, (myself included), good natured trash-talking was at a premium. Both Bob and Bill telling Ben that his “new parts needed oil,” Ben teasing Bob about his “hot date” the night before with 79 year-old Pat, and all three telling me that, “fifty years ago,” they would have wiped up the court with me.
Now as I mentioned, I have spent a good portion of my life around tennis and have had a countless number of memorable moments but I cannot remember a time where I had more fun on a tennis court than I did that day with Bill, Bob and Ben. The sheer fact that, at their ages, they were still playing, and enjoying tennis immensely, was fantastic, but it was more the camaraderie
that the three shared, and allowed me to participate in, that made the match so memorable.
These men, and many others around the world, play tennis for the sheer love of the game. There’s a very special bond that groups like Bill, Bob and Ben share. Who wins and who loses is irrelevant. These players are so far removed from their egos on the court that they are able to laugh at their mistakes and are truly playing for the "love of the game."
Bill and Bob had played for many, many years, certainly at a better level than they play at today,
but it didn’t matter to them. There was no sadness in the realization that they “used to” be able to hit a particular shot or reach a certain ball. Quite the contrary, they were more than happy, even grateful, that they were still able to get out there and hit the ball around a bit.
Then there’s Ben, who just started tennis a short while ago and is like a kid in a toy store. He has
his new racket, high-tech shoes, his state of the art knee brace, and is training for, and counting
the days until he is eligible for, the 80 and over tournaments.
I think we finished two sets, but amidst the talking and laughing, we all lost track of the score and claimed victory. I finally got to my beer with Ben, Bob and Bill joining me. We traded “war stories,” did a bit more trash talking and then all walked out to the parking lot and waited for Bob’s wife to pick him up. Bill informed me that “Bob doesn’t drive any more because he doesn’t see so well, as you probably noticed by his line calls.”
While we waited, I learned that the reason their fourth, John, couldn’t make it was because, at
age 91, he had just passed away. It was John’s father who had started this group 60 years ago with Bill and Bob’s fathers and another gentleman whose name escaped them.
Through the years, Bill, Bob and John would fill in when needed and eventually, as each original
member passed away, their son would take their place. John had been playing with another fellow named Jerry and , when Jerry died, John was the one that literally got Ben out of his rocking chair and onto the tennis court. “We needed a fourth,” Bob said, “so John convinced Ben to get off his fat butt and take up the game.” “Best thing that ever happened to me,” said
Now we have to find someone else”, said Bill sadly. As Bob’s wife pulled up to the club, I found myself asking if I could join them? They all smiled at each other and Bob said, “If you think you’re up to it kid.”
NOTE: I’d like to devote a future column to some of your most memorable tennis moments.
Drop me an e-mail using this form and tell me your most memorable tennis moment. Maybe we’ll share it with