There’s a new tennis doubles team in town. We’re either the new (or old) Venus and Serena, or a state-of-the-art Lucy and Ethel. Too soon to tell. Last week I started tennis lessons with my friend Patti. But after a 10+ year layoff, it’s clear tennis at age 57 is a whole ‘nother game. And it sure ain’t yoga. One session in, I already have tennis elbow. And until yesterday, every muscle in my body hurt. I even discovered one on the bottom of my foot (I’ve never noticed before) that aches.
It all started a few weeks ago, when Patti called to ask if I would take tennis lessons with her. She was looking for an activity to add to her fitness regimen and decided tennis would be a good choice. She and I were both decent players (and good athletes) when we were younger, so we assumed it would be a fun and (relatively) easy sport to pick up again. We brashly began calling ourselves Serena and Venus, and discussed our future doubles championship career.
To start, we settled on a weekly drop-in hour-long group tennis clinic at the local tennis club with Martin, the dashing Argentine instructor my son had when he was younger. We were told that a maximum of eight people were allowed each session, with usually four or five “chill” women about our age showing up. (As I recalled, Martin attracted mostly women to his classes, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic.)
Our first day was exhausting. And that was just finding shoes. Patti and I set off around ten last Tuesday morning for DSW and almost immediately found the perfect shoes. They were cute, super comfy and matching (hers in blue and mine in black). We giddily took photos together and were all set for our purchases when one of us thought to ask whether the shoes, besides looking good, were actually made for tennis. No, our perfect shoes were “cross-trainers” which (1) did not provide the right ankle support (important at our age), and (2) would make marks on the tennis court (possibly getting us thrown out at the club). OK, fine.
Thus began our grand search for the perfect tennis (as in actually playing tennis) shoe. After multiple phone calls, Google searches, two trips to the tennis club and one to Sports Chalet, we each found a comfortable pair of tennis (as in actually playing tennis) shoes that were not nearly as adorbs as our DSW shoes.
Our two trips to the club also reminded us of the need for chic tennis clothes (especially knowing the population likely to show up at Martin’s classes). Wanting to look good while not wanting to spend a fortune, we headed to Marshall’s and found some cute, low-cost, little tennis skirts and tops. We finally stopped for lunch at two.
The day of our first lesson, Thursday at 10 AM, fourteen people showed up. Martin apologized, explaining that it was a freak occurrence and the eight-person maximum would henceforth be strictly enforced. Thank God, I thought, I don’t want to share court time with all these people.
Martin opened with drills. We lined up and returned balls (forehand and backhand) to Martin, who was furiously hitting them at us. We then ran through obstacles on the sidelines and back and forth between opposite sides of the court. I was irrationally ecstatic to be back on the court and I threw myself into the drills with reckless abandon. I hit! I ran! I dove! When I found myself noticeably pooped, I looked at my watch. It was 10:10. Dear Lord, I still had 50 minutes to go. I then said a silent prayer of gratitude for the twelve other people who showed up, giving me longer to rest between shots.
Our first group competition was “Around the World” which involved hitting the ball inbounds and then running as fast as possible to the other side of the court. I actually won that competition, beating an 8-year-old kid in the finals. But that only fueled my delusional self-perception of youthfulness and invincibility.
We ended with some doubles drills, where Patti and I were partners. There was a competitive element (which always spurs me to stupidity) whereby victorious teams were dubbed “queens” or “kings” until knocked off their throne by another team. Fresh off my earlier “Around the World” victory, I took it upon myself to return a shot extremely well hit down the line on my side of the court. My immediate mental calculation had me easily reaching and returning the ball, thereby keeping our royal hopes alive. I lunged for the ball, suddenly realizing my body was not moving in sync with my brain or my calculations, and next thing I knew, my legs buckled and I went down in a heap, the most spectacular wipe-out of the class. Fortunately, my only injury was to my ego (although I suspect Martin was secretly impressed with my hustle).
The next morning, Patti (who is older than I am, I should add) called to chat about our tennis lesson and what a blast it was. She said she was tired after class, but was not particularly sore. We talked about our lesson next week, and potentially adding some additional practice sessions.
What I didn’t tell Patti was that I was still in bed when she called, and that I could barely move. My right elbow was throbbing, and the thought of playing tennis again made my brain hurt.
Luckily, a few days later, my body has recovered. I returned to Sports Chalet and bought an elbow brace for my arm. And I think I learned a few lessons (other than tennis) last week:
I’m not twenty anymore (or thirty or forty, for that matter). I need to take things a little slower. I don’t need to win all the competitions. Diving for balls and running all out, all the time, is no longer in my best interests. In fact, it’s pretty senseless.
Warm up first. We sat there on the bench waiting for the class before us and then dove right in before warming up. I have thirty sore muscles to prove it.
Watch my form. My dad was my first tennis instructor, and he was a stickler for good form. I’m sure he was turning over in his grave last Thursday watching me make weird awkward shots with no attention to proper form and motion. I’m sure that’s one reason my elbow is already hurting, as sound practice and motion not only enhances my game but puts less stress on my body.
Have fun. In spite of all the follow-up pain, it was a joy getting back on the court. I’m hoping that, with some age-related adjustments to my game (cough, cough), I can continue to play for years to come, (my dad played into his eighties) and that Patti and I will be more Venus and Serena than Lucy and Ethel.