There are few things as beautiful and as reassuring as the solid sound and feel of stepping into an incoming tennis ball, catching it on the rise and driving it back on a straight line about an inch above the net. You don’t hit the ball with your racquet; you hit it with your body.
I was something of a farm boy tennis champion in high school. Our rural Michigan school had nothing of a tennis tradition and was generally unable to compete with the Ann Arbors and North Farmingtons of the world. The courts served as parking lots in the winter and by spring they were oil-stained and filthy. The coach was a pleasant old history and civics teacher who had never picked up a tennis racquet in his life, but he made sure that the locker rooms were open and that we made it to our matches on time.
We, a half dozen of us, were a tight knot of dedicated athletes who were hell-bent on becoming tennis stars. We practiced religiously – working out until dark in the summer and getting up at 5:00am on cold Michigan winter mornings to hit balls in the gym. I lettered three years in tennis, was team captain and fought Larry Ortwine tooth and nail for the #1 singles slot. My main claim to fame was that I once took the brother of a former state champion to match point in the quarterfinals of the state tournament… before choking and eventually losing the match. No one from our school had ever made it that far.
High school is long gone but I’ve continued to love the sport and I camp out on the couch with popcorn whenever a major tennis tournament is on TV. Lately, my teen-age daughter and I have taken to the local courts for once-a-week hitting sessions, and the joy of playing tennis has seeped back into my old bones. Even though I can barely stoop to pick up a ball on the ground any more, I’ve become sufficiently inspired to attempt a major tennis comeback.
I mean, really, how hard could it be?
I’ll start out quietly with the Tuesday morning Geezer Leagues. I’ll lay low, rock the brackets and dispatch those bandy-legged old coots before they know what hit them. I’ll leave them chattering and complaining amongst themselves and nodding over in my direction. Eventually however, they’ll wander off to McDonalds for an extended breakfast and forget all about me.
Having won the senior tournament, as reigning Champion of All Geezers I’ll enter the County Open where I’ll sweep past the best of the high school stars, small-time collegians and local tennis pros in straight sets. Unfortunately this will put me on the radar, but it will also earn me a spot in a regional qualifying tournament.
At regionals, I’ll begin to run into some trouble… but only because the other players have younger legs, bigger serves and a better familiarity with the modern, large-headed composite racquets. I may just go ahead and lose the sectional championship game on purpose, so as not to draw more attention to myself – all the while gaining valuable ranking points. By July or August I should be ranked in the top five in the country… good enough to enter the official qualifying tournament for the U.S. Open.
Winning the U.S. Open at 62 years of age will be huge. The fact that an old man takes out Roddick, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic in successive five-set matches will be the talk of sports. I’ll be on the Jim Rome Show and SportsCenter. The uproar and media attention won’t die down for months, making it very difficult for me to concentrate on training for Wimbledon.
After the Wimbledon victory (using my old high school wooden racquet) life will explode. My face will be on Wheaties boxes. I’ll fly off on expeditions with Bono, I’ll wear specially designed Stella McCartney sun glasses and grant a series of exclusive interviews with Ophra in her plush high rise Chicago apartment. I’ll be spotted in a speedo in the South of France, walking on the beach with three supermodels and will be invited to Marlon Brando’s island for some mixed doubles. I’ll probably date Lady Gaga. And then at the height of all the excitement I’ll announce my retirement, write my autobiography and go off on a book tour.
I don’t know why I didn’t think of this earlier.
© 2012, Jeff L. Howe, all rights
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