A girl named, “June” almost cleaned my clock during a three hour match on the tennis courts this afternoon. As the temperature soared to 90 degrees, she sent me left, then right, then shot up a high lob that I lost in the sun. Her serve, always precise and with a punch, aced me in the opening game. The first set ended quickly at 6-3 in June’s favor. At the changeover, she sat and rested on the bench, sweetly sipping her water. I paced, nervously bouncing the ball on my racket and taking quick swigs from my Starbucks.
What I haven’t told you is that we were playing doubles in the Senior league. Doubles. But our only real opponent was that tall, strong girl with the short haircut and big tooth grin. My partner and I changed positions hoping for an advantage. What we received instead was more of June’s arsenal. Suddenly she was sending my serve down the alley with her deft, inside-out, one-handed backhand or whacking low volleys at my partner at the net. There were times I felt she was reading my mind as she moved into just the right position before I even connected with the ball. I was unnerved.
At 4-4 in the 2nd set, I started giving her back what she was giving us: a myriad of shots that defied predictability. She never hit the same shot twice in a row. Never. So, during her next service, I purposely gave her three, different returns: a drop shot, a backhand deep down the middle, then a high lob cross court. While we did win that game, what amazed me was that at Love-Forty, she still served my partner a wicked angle and fought hard through an almost five minute point. We barely closed a 7-5 win in the 2nd set.
By the 3rd set, June was getting tired and it began to show. I made myself not look at her. Forced myself to stop admiring her game and start playing mine. I sent every ball that I could to her partner. More than three hours later, drenched in sweat, we finally prevailed. As June extended her hand in congratulations, I ignored it and instead threw both of my arms around her and hugged hard. It was a hug of both relief and sheer admiration. You see, June is just shy of 80. I want to be her when I grow up but I have a long way to go.
Precious story, Helen! The good news is, it’s still early in May, you have a long way to go until June, so keep practicing! More importantly, enjoy the process. That’s why they call it “playing tennis.” When you’re June’s age, you’ll be even more satisfied with lesson you learned from her.