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Louisa’s October 30-2015

In late October, I started writing about tennis at age 80. Not much editing, just getting the feel for the lines, the words that line up with the actions on court. Let me know what you think.

BALL MACHINE
Visualize the court.
The aerial view.
Six boxes boxed in by two narrow alleys.
A net, two net posts, a center strap to keep the net three feet high at dead center.
The net posts raise the barrier up-up-up only six inches.
A factoid to remember when you aim your shot down the line.

If you are facing the net, facing the oncoming ball just stroked by your opponent, the small box on your right is the deuce court.
In tennis, deuce means the score is even-up.
The numerical marker for deuce is 40-40.
The word “deuce” comes from the French, and looks like a cousin of the word deux.
In France, where Deuce belongs, when the score is 40-40, the chair ump whispers “egalite,” which means equal, or equally balanced.
All this word-lore circles like net-karma around the big tennis court in the sky, because a deuce in the game applies pressure on both players.
To win a deuce-game, you need two points in a row.
You feel the pressure when you’re behind and you shift to the ad court.
One lost point and you are toast.
If you are shaky, off your game, if you are a 3.5 and your opponent is a 3.5 also, then winning the game could take five minutes, back and forth, deuce-ad, deuce-ad, until you’re short of breath and your legs ache.

I was off my game last Wednesday.
I was serving for my team.
If I won the deuce-court point, I would lose the ad-court point.
If I lost the deuce-court, I would win the ad-point.
My partner gritted her teeth.
I felt hate as she stalked to the net.
My partner plus two opponents made it three against one out there.
I felt the pressure.
My arm got tired, my service motion got sloppier, we lost the game.

And that’s why I’m taking tennis lessons.
That’s why I’m signed up for this ball machine class.
The time is 8AM.
The setting is the Magnuson Tennis Center in Seattle.
The court is blue, easy to see the ball.
The weather is perfect. No wind, no sun, superb lighting.
The teacher is trim, fit, sharp, thirty-something, wearing beige slacks, a matching sweater, and white court shoes.

A good teacher starts a class with who’s on the court.
We stand in a circle.
The teacher asks for your name, your tennis history, your favorite shot.

My favorite shot is the lob.
There are eight people in the class.
Four women and four boys. The boys gang up on one court.

The drill is Hit and Recover.
You start at the center, at the baseline, the spot marked by two flat plastic discs, one pale yellow, one orchid purple.
You get 4 balls.
You move from the center.
You hit a forehand.
You dance back to the center, the purple disc.
You hit another forehand.

The teacher demos the movement.
Four quick steps.
One long step.
He takes the sideways stance, with 90% of his weight on the right leg.
The right leg rests on the right knee.
He makes it look easy, no pain in those young knees.
Any kid can do this.
Unless the kid is 80 years old.

I move half as fast as the teacher.
My knee buckles with the weight.
I miss the shot.
On the way back to the disc, I devise a survival strategy.
My goal is to get through the next 45 minutes without falling.
If I put less weight on the knee.
If I use shorter steps to approach the ball.
If I start early.
If I stay calm, keep my cool, because I am closer to death than anyone on this court.

Meanwhile, my buddies are whacking forehands like Djokovich on the telly.
Will is late fifties, a badminton player, iron-gray hair, and muscular arms.
The ball explodes for Will.
Dennis is starting out, he has talent, good hand-eye coordination, his eyes are glazed over, he’s hitting winners, a religious experience.
David, close to my age, is having the same knee troubles.
David and I are brothers of the knee-joint.

Targets.
The assumed targets for the ball-machine are the deep corners of the singles court.
All the hitters are aiming down the line.
Except for me.
I’m aiming at the alleys.
I’m aiming short, and my balls are going out.
To me, singles is a memory of myself at 55.
I shall play no more singles forever.
Now it’s senior doubles or working out, drilling like Federer, because his tennis made him millions.

So I check with the teacher about my misses.
He reminds me about the grip.
I’m using a continental, it goes back to my wood racquet days.
The modern forehand, hit with the new whippy racquets, requires the Eastern or maybe the semi-Western.
I’ve been trying to use that grip for a year.
You can see the new forehand grip on the Tennis Channel.
Where those players are 50-60 years younger.

I’m hitting into the alley because of an assumption.
The assumption is senior doubles, played by me and three old people.
Sometimes they serve and stay back.
If you return the serve to the singles corner, they hit it back.
If I return the serve to the alley, short, with spin, they don’t get to the ball.
So in the ball machine class, while I’m doing Hit and Recover, I’m formulating a strategy for success in senior doubles.

One, you eyeball the oncoming shot—forehand or backhand?
Two, you do the split step (ouch, say the knees).
Three, you get your racquet ready, up and parallel to the net.
Four, you point at the oncoming ball with your left hand.
Five, you move to the ball—four steps minimum.
Six, you beg your knees to bend, lowering your center of gravity, so when your body turns, your weight will transfer into the shot.
Seven, you keep your eye on the ball at contact, holding your intense gaze until the ball crosses the net.
Eight, you follow through like Djokovich, wrapping your hand around your neck, kissing the inside of your elbow.

My ball misses the alley by eight inches.
I check with the teacher.
More topspin, he says.
Using his hand-wrist-forearm, he mimes a follow-through.
Near the end of the follow-through he turns his hand and forearm 90 degrees.
The hand started straight up, it ends with the palm flat.
That’s how you get topspin, he says.

At the 45-minute marker, we practice volleys.
Working under the SCA—the singles court assumption—the class hits hard down the middle.
Working under the SDA—the senior doubles assumption—I hit into the alleys.
My major problem remains.
Too old. Too slow. Long recovery time.

I am old.
I have much to learn.
But here under the soft lights against the blue courts at Magnuson, I am having fun, grateful to be here, at this time, with this racquet, with these ancient knees, slicing forehand volleys, dumping them just wide of the alley.
But sometimes they go in.
Point for the good guys.

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