Although it has been about twenty years since I last played a match, the racket immediately felt right in my hands when I picked it up today. The swing motion is ingrained in my muscle memory the way any task is when learned at an early age. I've heard it takes 10,000 hours to perfect a skill and I'm sure I played at least that much tennis from age 10-16. In the ensuing years I've tried hockey and golf and I've enjoyed the process, but neither have ever felt natural. My skating stride is choppy and I have virtually no stick handling skills, but I can get around the ice and mix it up a little bit. My golf swing works and I can keep from embarrassing myself most of the time, but it's manufactured and mechanical.
The tennis swing, however, is pure joy for me because it's natural and organic and because it's inevitably interwoven in my memory with the close friendships I shared at an early age. I bought two rackets with the hopes of rekindling the magic of those young days.
After I bought the rackets today I called my good friend Jay to talk to him about it. Jay and I spent a fair amount of time playing tennis after Justin had moved away. We were in high school so soccer took up much of my time during the school year, but tennis was still something I enjoyed quite a bit, though not at competitive level. We had a good laugh about the time he chucked his badminton racket across the gym, high up into the bleachers. He recalls that I was taunting him mercilessly during our gym class match and that's the reason he launched it. I don't remember taunting him, but I don't doubt it either. I'm sure I was a knucklehead about it. My head was swollen because that semester I was the first student to ever beat Mr. Amato in a match.
The racket skills acquired in tennis transferred well to the ping-pong table as well. Justin had a table in his basement and when we weren't playing tennis, we were banging ping-pong balls around. When Justin moved, the table was transferred to my basement and it resided there for several years before making its way to Jay's college house where it lived a glorious outdoor life of hosting beer pong before eventually succumbing to age. Whenever we get together there is always a ping-pong match and there is always an underlying tension to the proceedings. We try to act casual, but each one of us badly wants to be the house champion and have bragging rights until the next official match. A few years back there was some controversy when we all took a cruise vacation and the ship hosted a ping-pong tournament. Jay appeared to score the final point in our championship match, but the tournament referee (not me) ruled Jay had served out of turn and the score was restored to deuce. My subsequent victory and first place medal is still under protest. However, no rackets were thrown overboard. I handled this one a little bit better.
Justin tells me his daughter is a helluva ping-pong player now. She only recently discovered it, but apparently has the hand-eye coordination to be very good. Parents, I can tell you this: Teach your kids Ping-Pong at an early age, it is an extremely valuable social skill. At any gathering, Jay, Justin, and I can beat 98% of all players, and it is a good thing to be "the guy" at the party. In my 40 years I've been beaten one time at a social gathering. I have compared data with Jay and Justin and they confer with this data as well.
Now that I've got the rackets I'm going to start playing again. I've been looking for something to keep me in shape, but more importantly, I've been looking for a way to make some social connections since some of my greatest memories revolve around tennis and the people I was with. I know the friendships will never compare to those early times, but if they are only half as good I will have made a great investment of my time and energy. I just hope I don't tear my achilles while being run around the court mercilessly by a 70 year old who slices everything.