A while back, I can’t even remember when exactly, I took a deep breath and tossed most of the trophies I had won in my youth. It wasn’t as impressive a collection of hardware as you might expect. A good portion of them were participation trophies handed out by an overzealous Little League coach who I toiled under for years. This isn’t to say I never won anything, occasionally I earned an award for doing something other than paying a registration fee. Most of those trophies are now taking up landfill space as well, but among that subset of trophies that I actually earned, was a small collection of little golden men swinging a tennis racket like you see in the picture above. Thinking about it now, I realize I’ve mostly forgotten about my little flirtation with tennis. It was a long time ago, but, seeing as it is Wimbledon week, or apparently “Wimby” week as they’re calling it at ESPN, I thought I’d try to relive my tennis heyday.
If you asked me when I was about 10 years old if I played tennis I would have told you that I did, but then you would have realized that what I really did was hit a ball against our garage door with a racket ball racket. A successful “match” might entail not losing my ball in the rain gutters or not doing permanent damage to the light fixture between the garage doors. I also was a big fan of televised tennis at this point, although about the only tournaments I remember being on the air were the four majors. Wimbledon, which I would have spelled with a “t” at that point, was an especially big deal. Breakfast at Wimbledon was a prime television occasion.
I think I might have been a Boris Becker fan. I can’t say that for sure. I was definitely anti-Stefan Edberg. I had such disdain for Edberg, in fact, that I claimed, without a shred of doubt, that I could easily return his serve and possibly beat him at tennis. I was serious (Keep in mind I’d still never actually played tennis at this point). I would get into arguments with my sister about it, and then she would use it as an example of my stupidity when talking to one of her friends. He thinks he can beat Stefan Edberg, and then playing my role I would insist that I could. Belated apologies to Stefan Edberg, I can say with some comfort now that you probably would have bested me.
In response to all this tennis talk, or perhaps in an attempt to save the garage door, my parents asked me if I actually wanted to try playing tennis–for real. I had a pretty busy sports schedule at this point. Baseball, golf, my miserable soccer career may or may not have been over, basketball, the only time to fit some tennis in would be the summer after baseball was over. I decided I wanted to play, and not long after that I showed up for my first lesson. I did not bring my racket ball racket. The woman had to grab me a tennis racket out of her car or something, and we got started with her showing me the different tennis grips. I was immediately bored out of my mind.
I think I know now that I liked the idea of playing tennis more than I actually liked playing tennis. When I was hitting the ball against my garage door, I could be as good as I wanted to be in my mind. When I actually got on the court and I realized there were boundaries, that my serve wasn’t that great, and that I’d rather be playing golf, it lost a good bit of its luster. I stuck with it for a season, maybe two, and as my discarded trophies would suggest–I wasn’t awful. I quit at just the right time when any natural athletic ability I had was about to be swallowed up by kids who actually played and practiced the game with some discipline.
I remember years later, maybe toward the end of high school, I was hanging around with some kids who I played golf with, and one of them brought up a kid who had quit playing golf with us to focus on tennis. He’d become a very good tennis player, and this surprised me a little bit, because I remembered playing tennis with him when we were both just starting out. He was a few years younger than me, and while he could hold his own with the older kids, I would have hardly called him a prodigy. I expressed some doubt about the level he had attained by saying something like, “he can’t be that good if he lost to me.” Then someone else said, “That’s like saying Tiger Woods isn’t good at golf, because I beat him when he was three.” We all got a pretty good laugh out of that, and it was probably the last time I ever thought of myself in terms of being a tennis player.
I guess my interest in tennis has waned considerably since my brief burst of enthusiasm in the late 80s, although I still pay attention to the same tournaments. I’ve given up any incarnation of the game, though. I don’t even know what became of my tennis racket, which I never returned to the coach who loaned it to me on the day of my first lesson.
I feel like this post should end with a list, and I’m thinking that I’ve disliked far more tennis players than I’ve actually been a fan of over the years. So, here’s my list of top-5 tennis villains.
- Ivan Lendl
- Roger Federer
- Stefan Edberg
- Michael Stich
- Jim Courier