Anyone for Tennis?

I’ve always loved tennis. The problem is, I’m completely rubbish at it. Which is why it took me seven years to pluck up the courage to start playing social tennis at my local club. I was afraid I would be so bad relative to everyone else, it would be embarrassing.

And that has honestly been the case quite often. But it’s also been lots of fun and I’ve met some classic characters. To set the scene, here’s an interaction that took place during a ladies doubles match a few weeks ago. I’ll call my partner Ethel and I’ll call one of our opponents Granny Dawn. First of all, Granny Dawn is past her physical prime and struggles to move around the court as a result. When we knock up before a match starts, it is customary at this club for two players to hit to one another using half the court, while the other two players do the same on the other side of the court. As I’ve mentioned, I’m not very good, so for me to control my shots so that they land nicely in the middle of the one half of the court, is often impossible.

But when you knock up with Granny Dawn, unless you hit a perfect shot that is neatly placed directly in front of her (which is what I try my utmost to do), she won’t even contemplate hitting it. And that’s when she tells me that I “really need to try to hit the ball to her”. Thanks for clearing that up, Granny Dawn! I totally thought the idea was to hit all over the show!

So, anyway, Ethel and I were playing a match against Granny Dawn and another lady when Granny Dawn hit a terrible shot at net which prompted the following:

Ethel (quietly, to me – actually not that quietly as Granny Dawn is fairly deaf): “You know, when Dawn was younger, she used to be brilliant at net. Really, really fast.”

I’m thinking that I can’t imagine such a time (although, to be fair to Granny Dawn, I’m so useless I don’t even dare to stand at net in doubles) and that it must have been before the Rinderpest, but I’m curious as to how old these women who are still playing some mean tennis, actually are, so I say:

Natalie: Really? That’s impressive. How long ago was that, Ethel?

Ethel: Well, put it this way, I’ve been a member here for 58 years.

Now, Ethel is way too sharp to give me enough facts to allow me to calculate her age, but suffice it to say, these ladies have experience behind them. I try to make up for my lack of skills and experience by chasing down almost every ball. During the same match, I hit the worst loping lollipop to Granny Dawn in tennis history. Granny Dawn swung her racquet at my terrible shot and completely missed, but it was such an awful shot, I could hardly blame her, so I apologised. Ethel doesn’t tolerate apologies on the tennis court so she turned to me and said:

“Don’t apologise! It’s not your fault she can’t see the ball!”

Here’s another classic from Ethel from a different doubles match in which we were playing opposite Granny Dawn. Granny Dawn had hit an unplayable lollipop to me which I’d tried my best to return but failed hopelessly. Instinctively, I apologised. Ethel immediately looked slightly annoyed, turned to me and said:

“Don’t say sorry! You can’t return a crap shot like that!”

I have to say that I am honestly very fond of Ethel. She was on duty the first day that I came to social tennis in May this year. Being on duty means you are in charge of allocating people to doubles matches as and when players become available. I thought I was dutifully waiting my turn, when Ethel approached me, wanting to know who I was. When I told her, she replied that she would never have known I was there to play social tennis because I was “sitting in the wrong place”.

“Come sit here!” she ordered and I obediently moved from the bench I was sitting on to a chair about four metres away. This was apparently the “waiting to go on the court” section of the club. Right.

Ethel and I got chatting and I told her that I was useless but that I was hoping that, in time, if I played regularly, I’d improve.

“Don’t worry” she said, “there are alot of people here who think they are stars, but they’re not!”

I liked Ethel instantly and I think she likes me because the chance of me starting to believe that I’m a tennis star, are slim to none.

I also try to make up for my lack of skill by fetching lots of balls. (Being several decades younger than everyone also makes me feel kind of obliged to do so…) Ethel approves of this behaviour and as a result has declared that I am “well brought up”. She doesn’t necessarily think the same of a poor, pimply preteen youngster whose father drags him along every Saturday to play with the oldies. And she lets me know this. I can’t help but feel sorry for the kid. I’ve seen him wearing a bright red jersey with an ostrich on the front that was clearly knitted for him by his granny. Manners or no manners, high school aint going to be a picnic for this little guy.

Other members of the social tennis scene think a whole lot less of my upbringing. And have told me so. A few weeks ago, my partner, as well as one of my opponents, a two metre tall German woman, stopped play and called me to net to lecture me on several aspects of tennis etiquette. I don’t mind being filled in on unwritten rules, like passing the ball under the net – my balls frequently get stopped by the net as I seem to be unable to consistently keep them low enough on the ground, so I confess that I have resorted to gently hitting the ball over the net instead.

“It’s just good manners,” I was told. Apparently, passing the ball over the net is tantamount to screaming obscenities on the tennis court, from a manners perspective. I actually have heard the f-word coming out of an extremely frustrated granny’s mouth during play…

Anyway, I’ll be back this Saturday to hit some more lollipops and to listen to some more lectures on my lack of manners and my undignified up-bringing. At least one can blame one’s parents for those things 🙂

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