Keeping The Ball In Play
An avid league player enjoys tennis not only as a great form of exercise, but as a form of community, too.
When I graduated from college, I was armed with a creative writing degree and a vague interest in journalism. More importantly, I was equipped with six summers of teaching tennis.
My first year out, in addition to applying to over a dozen graduate programs, I taught the game I love and realized that once you’ve graduated, keeping up your skills can be tough. If I hadn’t been teaching 30 hours a week, my game would have worsened considerably. I couldn’t afford to pay for indoor court time in Pittsburgh half the year, and I simply didn’t have the contacts.
Prior to graduating, there had always been some commitment to tennis. Formal obligations began in elementary school with clinics, and ended with my college career (I was a modestly decent player at Carnegie Mellon University, Division III.)
The informal commitment was omnipresent, like the tacit agreement my siblings and I had with our father that tennis was just a part of our life. My dad, a strong 5.0 player himself, started us with his old racquetball racquets against the brick wall of what would become my elementary school. He shinnied up to the roof of the one-story building to retrieve countless balls. He was patient, encouraging and made it fun — likely why I still love playing.
My first real challenge in keeping my game up came in graduate school. After eight years of team tennis with daily practices and regular match play, journalism school was a tough year for my game. I knew no one other than a college teammate who was only home for the summer, and my attempts with Craig’s List resulted in a few uncomfortable sessions with men who had seriously overrated themselves. Still, I managed to hit fairly regularly with a strong undergrad who I nearly accosted when I saw he had racquets sticking out of his book bag.
After graduate school, I moved to Durham, N.C., where my fiancé was going to law school, and there came a time when I knew I had to focus on a career as a writer — though the thought of getting back into teaching tennis was tempting. I had to figure out how to play on my own with the distractions of a day job, marriage and all of those other grown-up responsibilities.
The answer came in the form of USTA League Tennis. The first few months I lived in Durham, I casually asked around if there were people who liked to hit, but didn’t really find consistent tennis buddies until I met a woman who captained numerous teams. She came along as a referral from a referral from a friend, and she turned out to be a tennis godsend, completely embedded in the local scene. She wasted no time in scooping me up into numerous leagues.
Since then I’ve played everything from 4.5 women’s singles to 9.0 mixed doubles. I’ve also supported a grassroots tennis club, and play indoors during the winter months. I’ve made close friends, played in a few tournaments and can proudly say that my game hasn’t suffered too, too much since my days as a college athlete.
At times it can be frustrating, however, since it’s not all solid topspin and depth. Though I have found some strong partners who hit a quality ball and like to practice directionals, many of the people I compete with did not play in college or even as children. Most are incredible competitors, however, who just happened to catch the tennis bug later in life.
So my tennis world is now filled with an eclectic mix of hitting styles. The unorthodox strokes can be maddening; I’m not going to lie. But the wonky serves and mis-hit winners come with women who have better mid-court games then many of my college teammates.
And it’s wonderful. I’m now a bit more well-rounded. I have also come to enjoy the game as not only a physical outlet, but as a form of community as well.
I think of all of the players I’ve hit with since childhood and wonder how many are still making time each week to get on the court. As my father has always said, tennis is a lifetime sport, and at 27, I’m just getting warmed up.
See all articles by Elizabeth Shestak
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