For some reason I signed up for the tennis league at the club. Played the first match, seemed to go a lot easier than I thought it would.
We had a bad stretch of weather and hadn't played in a while. Got an email to schedule next match. Got there a few minutes early, decided to stretch out as that's the one ingredient most people conveniently forget. Ran the lines a bit, reminded of my younger self 30 years ago.
We warmed up briefly, started play. They stuck us on the back courts, away from most players, except the clinic on the courts across the way. I was relaxed and focused. Possibly from multi tasking all day concentrating on the reports and trying to get numbers to match and write code and attend meetings and cooped up all day.
Out on the courts, free as a bird, my mind was quiet. I had glasses on and could see the ball early. Got to the ball in plenty of time. The balls hit to me were not hit hard, they had some air and took a while to get there, so I could run to each ball, track it down, hit a steady shot back, nothing fancy.
I tend to run down every ball and get everything back and this match was turning out that way. Would hit the ball side to side, down the line, hit it short, make him stretch, run to each shot, keep the ball low. Each point ended with a well placed shot, not powerful, just well positioned.
Although the weather was warm, humid in fact, sweating through the shirt in no time, I didn't feel slightest bit tired. The first set ended quickly, 6-0.
Next set, we were tied 1-1, I went up 2-1. We chatted between games. Although a competitive match, it was friendly, the thought of losing never entered mind. I have never played this focused, where the ball went where it was supposed to, every single time, without much thought or effort, the only points I lost when the ball went slightly out, going for the line and just missing.
Not sure people realize how much I trained as a kid. My coach Cid, during private lessons, would have me hit 25 forehands cross court, ball had to land behind the service line, in the box. Miss one, start over. Then down the line forehands. Next, backhands, cross court and down the line, 25 balls or start over. Volleys, overheads, serves. I enjoyed the lessons more than matches. My career record did not match my level of play during lessons. Perhaps no pressure, maybe better focus, no fear of losing, not sure.
The match I was playing was similar. I could hit the ball all day long, didn't want it to end. But it did, 6-1 in the second set. We thanked each other, good match, play in the club tournament, see ya next time.
In all my years, I never hit the ball that well, consistent, precise. I may have only lost a handful of points overall. Although 30 years have passed, I could sit out there all day chasing down balls, getting everything back, without getting tired. Perhaps a form of meditation, mind and body in synch, running on instinct, getting lost on the courts. I think that's how I got through high school now that I think about it.
After school, every day, at the club 3:30 till dark, then worked at the club sweeping the courts. Or practice on the High School team or with the other Juniors in town with a coach from Bolleteri (now IMG). Tennis was life. School was a barrier to get through to get on the courts. I disliked the school environment since the 8th grade, not fitting in all that well, except for a hand full of people that knew me and my humor. Every day I played tennis and worked out, ran, weights, jump rope, weekends too.
This match made me think of the good old days, when the outside world didn't matter much, outside the courts. The only thing that mattered was tennis. Training, practicing, playing. Trying to improve. Challenging better players. Getting stronger. Winning. Losing. Play again. Climb the ladder.
When I'm on the clay tennis courts, running around, focusing on nothing in particular, I abandon the real world, as the racket becomes an extension of the arm, the legs move on their own, the mind quiets down, perhaps an inner game of chess, floating around near the baseline, I chase down every ball, every time.
Tennis is life. I grew up on the courts. Where life's problems disappear. There are no limits on the tennis courts. It felt good to be home, if just for an hour.
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