Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Game, Set, Match

So, Steph and I started playing tennis. I love tennis. Well, the truth is, I love sports for the most part... I'm a big Troy University Trojans fan, an Auburn Tigers fan, a Florida Gators fan (yes, you can be both...), a Cincinnati Bengals fan, a Baltimore Orioles fan, a Colorado Avalanche fan, a San Antonio Spurs fan, a Dallas Maverick fan, a Lance Armstrong fan, a Phil Mickelson fan and anyone who can complete the true Ironman Triathalon--well, call me a fan of that too.

But thats football, baseball, hockey and basketball... sports I don't do well. Golf? Yeah, I've seen it played. Tennis, though... tennis I can do.

I started playing when I was 14, back in the summer of 1990. That was the year that 13 year old Jennifer Capriati started at Wimbledon (is it a sad thing that her fansite as the address of "broken-tears.org"?) I fell in love with Jenn, one of my first true celebrity crushes (behind Nancy McKeon, Alyssa Milano, Debbie Gibson and Paula Abdul) and so I decided I would play tennis too. I saved up about $20 and went down to Geneva's Wal-Mart (a town about 8 miles away... imagine being 8 miles away from a Wal-Mart now...) and bought me a blue and orange (War Eagle!) Wilson tennis racket. Didn't even have a cover.

Samson had a small, two court tennis area next to the high school. The court was, however, gravel and concrete, like you'd see in a parking lot. The nets were kinda worn, and when I arrived there with my new tennis racket to play, I had two problems... first of all, I didn't have any tennis balls. Stupid me didn't even think to buy them, in my excitement to own my first racket. Secondly, I actually didn't know how to play tennis. Well, the first problem was easily solved... I found a few old tennis balls aroudn the court, all looking a little worse for the wear and feeling a little deflated. As for the second issue, why would rules slow me down? I went onto the court and started hitting the three balls I found. I hit them to one side... then walked over and hit them back. This was mind-numbing entertainment, but I felt cool. I was playing tennis... sort of.

For the next few weeks, I tuned into HBO's coverage of Wimbledon... in 1990, both Stefan Edberg (in his final Wimbledon) and Martina Navratilova (who beat out Jen Capriati in the semis) won championships. And I learned how to play... the game rules, the sets, lets, lines, love, matches, ad-in, ad-out, super-sets and so on.

Well, now that I knew how to play, finding an opponent was a little harder... so the summer wore on, my tennis phase slowly faded and in the fall of 1990, I was a sophomore in high school, and the year went by. In the summer of 1991, however, I took off with tennis. My nemesis became my good friend Ryan Frary, who lived just down the street, and we played just about every day. He beat me usually, but I put up a good fight for the most part. And that summer, I dropped 20 pounds, got contacts and suddenly, found myself not so dorky. Who knew.

Summer of 1992, everyone was playing tennis. I had started a movement, with Ryan along side. Both of us did routine work on the court, fixing the net, sweeping the sand that was in a small pile in the middle, and in July of 1992, I found 15 other people who wanted to play in a tournament. Each paid $5, with the winner recieving $30 and the rest of the funds going to buy some yellow paint for the court's lines... and I used string to mark in, and in the blistering South Alabama heat, I painted lines. You might ask "Why not paint at night?" and to that I answer "Because the one working light wasn't very bright, and only shone on 1/3 of the court."

So people like Marcus "Juice" Williams, Nathan Catrett, Jon Aplin, Bren Finch, Wade Rials and others all played in the tourney--I killed Nathan in the first round, but unfortunately became the victim of the tourney's biggest upset--I dropped a 2.5 hour, three set monster to Jason Lambert, who then went on to lose to Wade Rials, who beat Ryan Frary in the finals. This was actually the final usage of my old orange and black Wilson racket (the first one was put to pasture after I realized it was crappy), because a few days later, in a huge serve, I accidentally swiped the racket across the ground and it sliced the strings. So, I had to go out and buy a neon and green Dunlop.

Let me tell you of this court--I had mentioned it was asphalt. Which means lots of loose gravel, and lots of sliding. That one summer I actually went through two pairs of tennis shoes, both ending up with holes in the bottoms of them because of the court. And the back fence? I'm not exaggerating when I say it was a 15 foot chain link fence that was no more than four feet from the back line. And that meant lots of slamming into the fences when dropping back for shots.

My favorite victory, however, came in doubles. I was teamed with Ryan Hutchison against the cocky Bren Finch and the very cocky Wade Rials (who had just won the tourney days before), and we were down 5-1. So, Ryan and I won a game finally. And another, and another. And we ended up winning the set 9-7, finally just destroying their will and egos. It was a beautiful thing.

Anyway, I played in college, for fun, not on the team, still loving it. I liked to play Wookiee in tennis--he was easy to beat. You just had to frustrate him in the first few games, then let him take over his own self-destruction. Was it bad that I lived to watch that happen?

Well, after college, I played Michael Nipp, Tom Johnson, Shawn Sharp and whoever would play, but after a while, the fervor died down, until my racket lay dormant in my trunk long enough to have the rubber grip wrap literally disentigrate into my hands when I picked it up.

I've been telling Steph we needed to play, and finally, last week, we started to. She's actually not bad... I was expecting to be chasing balls all over the court, but she can rally like a semi-pro... at least, for a few hits. I bought a new grip today, so the old one is gone, but I've still got the same racket I played with in high school... its neon green and black, with a dollar sign painted on the strings. No kidding.

So, I ask, do any of you play? Tennis, anyone?

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I forget the url to my website so I searched using my name and found this. Dood I had forgotten all about that. It has been a long time.

    I am still playing tennis. I am a sports minister now so I play quite often. I hope to play ALTA next year.

    Anyway, hope everything is well for you. Check out my blog. I use this service so just search my name. It is good to hear from you.

    Wade Rials


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