It’s nothing fancy – just a local tennis and swim club, where we can spend time exercising as a family. My 14 year-old daughter is thrilled about the workout equipment and yoga classes. My 11 year-old can’t wait to use the pool. And my 16 year-old finally gets to take tennis lessons, which he’s been requesting for ages.
This weekend, however, the kids went off to visit their dad, and I headed to the club alone, racquet in hand. There was a drop-in tennis group, and tonight would be my first time joining them.
First of all, I am not a newb to the tennis world. I have been an avid fan of the sport since the Williams sisters first made a splash and opened up my eyes to a sport that quickly became one of my favorite addictions (after soccer, of course). Do I play tennis? Occasionally, is what I always answer. Of course for me, occasionally meant dusting off my racket once a year or so and playing a clumsy match against other unskilled opponents. A couple of years ago, I discovered a local Meetup group and have ventured out a number of times for drop-in matches at local parks. It can be a lot of fun.
However, tonight’s tennis group was all about technique. After a few of my shots went wild, one of the more experienced players explained the difference between approaching the ball with my racket open or closed. Then another player, who turned out to be a tennis instructor, pointed out that I stopped short on every hit.
“Trust your follow-through,” he said. “It should be kind of like a golf swing.” I looked at him blankly. I had never played golf. “Or like a baseball swing.” He demonstrated a two-handed backhand, not stopping short as I had, but swinging the racket all the way through. Aha! A lightbulb flicked on in my head. I had played softball for a few years as a kid. I understood how to swing something all the way through to hit a ball. I just didn’t know I could do that in tennis, too.
Then the instructor introduced me to the Best Thing Ever. AKA, the ball machine. I had never used a ball machine to practice tennis before. For the first few minutes, I swung awkwardly, forgetting all the technique tips. The ball flew wild, to the left and the right.
But here’s the great thing – no one else was on the court to see me fail. I could try again and again, and try different things, and there was no criticism. I got to be my own coach.
“Okay now,” I told myself, switching into auto-coach mode. “Two handed-grip. Approach with a closed racket. Trust your follow-through.” The Machine spit out another ball. And THWACK! My backhand sent the ball sailing over the net for a perfect shot. The Machine pitched me another, and THWACK! Another incredible shot.
And suddenly, I had found it. The sweet spot. That place inside me where flames ignite, and passion takes over. It was Machine and me versus our grand opponent, the Court. My mission: backhand the heck out of each ball and land them inside the lines. And I did, again and again.
THWACK! Take that, Venus and Serena! THWACK! Take that Sharapova! THWACK! Take that, Azarenka and Clijsters! THWACK! THWACK! THWACK!
I was in the zone. I’m pretty sure that someone else was waiting to use the ball machine, but my new-and-improved backhand and I were locked in a relentless battle. I hit the ball over and over. When I failed, my mental coach yelled at me to make the correction and get it right. When I hit a successful shot, I cheered silently. The Machine and I kept going until the club was closing and the staff begged me to quit. Okay, I’m totally kidding. When the mosquitoes came out, and the court lights flickered on, I finally decided it was time to give the Machine a break. I drifted home, high on tennis elation.
The next morning, I woke up and groaned. I could barely move. I felt like I had thwacked myself all over with my racquet. I could have rested until the soreness went away, but I had another, more intense tennis group lesson scheduled that morning. So I did what any sane person would do – popped a couple of Advil, grabbed my pretty pink racquet, and headed back to the club for another hit of one of my favorite drugs.