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The ravages of time (and tennis)

It’s been waaaaay too long since the last post, but I’ve been really busy. And creatively bereft.  But, since I’m using words like “bereft” again, tonight seems like a good one to get back on track. Luckily, the topic is quite easy.  How time can just throw you a curveball as you get older.
You see, I’ve been playing a lot of tennis in the past year, and tennis is the only sport that I ever was really good at.  Sure, I’ve played basketball, baseball, golf and other sports in my life, but at about the age of 13 or 14, I became obsessed with tennis in the way that only a 13-year-old kid can become obsessed with something.
And I’m talking total, fanatical obsession.  Reading Tennis magazine religiously.  Researching new racquets when they came out. Memorizing which pro used which racquet, shoes or even strings, for pete’s sake.  I mean, I even remember that American journeyman Jay Berger used to use a metal Prince racquet strung to about 80 lbs. and featured a serving motion that started with the racquet on his shoulder.  Why do I remember that?  Damn if I know, but it’s in my noggin. And I usually can’t remember where my keys are. Go figure.
The obsession easily transferred to the court.  In my teens, I was playing about 200 times a year…and not via pre-arranged classes or any parental involvement.  This is a bunch of kids meeting at the local muni courts and hitting for a couple of hours, in the blazing heat and freezing cold.
I played tennis almost nonstop until I was 18, at which point I went to college and got involved with a host of other things.  I played tennis from time-to-time, even serving as an occasional practice partner for a member of the UNC women’s team. Sure, she kicked my ass, but she was cute and appreciated my inability to give up before I was an absolute puddle on the court.
By the time I left college, I was playing tennis less and less.  After the first desk job and a move to a very sparse tennis environment in Spartanburg, SC, I shelved the racquets until about two years ago, and it’s been good to get back out there.
What hasn’t been good is that my game hasn’t come back in force, and I’m often completely frustrated.  Add 15 years of rust plus the same number of years behind a desk, and I’m slower, flabbier and often just plain awful. By my standards. Because I can remember when I could shape shots, control pace and fire serves. Now, I’m lucky to hit one shot per game that feels right.
The thing that burns me up, though, is that I’m now playing guys who profess that they are relatively new to the game. About a week ago, I lost a league match to a guy who said that he started playing “about a year ago.”  I’m a friendly guy, so I had told him about playing as a kid, and I wonder if he was just feeding me a line to get under my skin.  Since I don’t fall for mind games, it didn’t affect me that much, but he did win handily (6-3, 6-4).  Granted he was about 25 and in much better shape, but his strokes were way to polished for a relative newcomer.
In the days since, that “about a year ago” statement has eaten at me, though.  Could you catch up to where I am in just a year? Was he just being an a-hole (to be fair, there is a lot of gamesmanship out there).  Regardless, hitting shots erratically is one thing.  Backsliding to where I’m within reach of a relative newbie is another.
Oh well, I have another match tomorrow night.  We’ll see if I play someone else who just started playing in March.  Hopefully, I’ll win that one.  If not, there’s always golf.
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