The Evolution of My Tennis Friends

Tennis has been an important part of my adult life because like skiing, I really didn’t start until I had finished high school and college. My hometown in Montana had tennis courts while I was growing up, but they were weed infested, cracked and crumbling concrete afterthoughts next to the public swimming pool. No one I knew ever used them.

I took intramural tennis my last quarter at Stanford, along with poetry and an engineering class called The Galactic Club—clearly I was sailing through the end of my college career. But after I left and began my sales job in deepest, darkest Iowa, tennis became the pastime of choice. A handful of friends I made in Iowa happened to be tennis players, and thank god—otherwise I might be writing about playing Yahtzee right now. 

The owner of Hampton Trading Post, who sold Nutrena Feeds, was an avid and skilled tennis player. His son and daughter-in-law played in local tournaments, and I dated the daughter-in-law’s brother. We all played an extraordinary amount of tennis, primarily because I wasn’t creative enough to think of anything better. It was the beginning of a love affair—and not with the brother I was dating, but with tennis.

I moved from Iowa to an office job in Kansas City, Missouri and tennis became my weapon of choice to get out and meet people. There were public courts on Westport Plaza near my apartment, and I would hit against the backboard hoping for a partner. A nice slightly older man asked me to hit with him, and it turned out he was recruiting for his escort service. He was an excellent tennis player, but I turned down the job offer. Maybe I shouldn’t have, because the Kansas City job bombed, and I was soon job hunting. That hunt landed me another sales job in Denver.

I loved Denver. And my love of tennis and skiing carried me through my tenure in Colorado as I renewed a friendship with Gary, an old (we were young, but our friendship was old) Stanford acquaintance. Gary skied AND played tennis (a two-fer) so we spent a lot of time together. He was a much better tennis player than I, but it was fun anyway, and I wasn’t gunning for Wimbledon. I joined a health club that had tennis, and met a really nice young woman similar in age to me. She was the first friend I ever had who caught her husband in bed with her “best” friend. I still think it was crazy—she was the nicest, cutest, sweetest, kindest person—why anyone would cheat on a person like that, I’ll never understand. She happened to be from Kansas City, and introduced me to Wolferman’s English Muffins.

My tour of duty lasted about a year in Denver until I transferred again to Minneapolis. Gary from Colorado introduced me to Larry, another skier/tennis player, and we have been friends, tennis opponents and doubles partners for over 40 years. I joined what was then known as Northwest Racquet Club and held a membership there for almost 20 years, until it became clear getting married, raising kids, working, going back to school, and running a household didn’t leave me enough time for “life.” That changed as the kids grew up and our business changed, so I picked up tennis again at 54 years of age.

 It’s been so much fun! I joined USTA and filled in for a woman who couldn’t make it to the USTA Senior Women’s 3.0 National tournament with her team, so they invited me to join. It was the depths of the recession, and money for a trip to Tucson wasn’t in the budget, but I went anyway! Best decision ever. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience. My partner, Sheila, and I won all three of our matches. We were so focused that in the room we shared, I slept in the forehand bed and she was in the backhand bed—the same sides we played during the day. Sheila ended up working with us at Interlinx as a software developer, and I continued playing tennis!

One summer Sheila, the woman I had subbed for, another couple and I went to Tennis is Life Camp at Gustavus College in St. Peter, MN. I had only ever been to 4-H camp and this was like being a kid again! We played tennis for at least six hours a day, ate at the school cafeteria and stayed in the dorms. SO MUCH FUN! The best part was being able to drink without worrying about getting into trouble…

I stayed with USTA tennis for quite some time. That association is the one that hosts the US Tennis Open in the fall. They hold league play at various levels and age brackets, so matches are competitive. Mostly it’s a way to have team tennis and play regularly. Besides the fluke early in my USTA career when my team went to Tucson, most of my teams were, shall we say, on the lower end of the rankings. I played with the most interesting women— educators, a doctor, lawyer, public television manager, a writer, women between jobs and careers. They all were working women because the teams I chose scheduled matches in the evening—I was working, too, so it made sense.

My husband Scot and I played in some mixed doubles leagues, and were a decent team. Scot in his day was on his college tennis team and was a stronger player than I—he just didn’t play as much as me. He was good, but erratic. Scot hadn’t played in a while and I convinced him to join me in a mixed doubles league. We were playing our match and Scot’s serve was everywhere—when they were in they were killing. I was at the net waiting for his serve to the man, the woman was at the service line in the ready position. Scot’s serve was like a missile, but to the wrong player—his serve hit the woman right where her hand gripped the racquet. OMG, he broke her finger!! And she was a surgeon! And was she pissed, let me tell you. We did all we could, but done is done. She never spoke to me again.

And while I am telling stories on Scot, there was the time we were having a friendly match among family—my niece Karen, my sister Bernice, Scot and me. Scot and I were playing together. Scot called a shot in. Karen called it out. Scot and Karen were both analytical types, and they both insisted they were right. Bernice and I just looked at each other in amazement. Scot and Karen quit playing the game, so Bernice and I quit, too. Afterwards I confronted Scot on it—he was the “adult” in the situation and should have conceded. After all, it was just a friendly game. So he ended up sending Karen flowers and chocolates—but I don’t think he ever admitted he was wrong.

One year my son Tom and I played together. He was so indulgent and kind, but definitely got more frustrated with my playing than Scot did.

Then I retired from my regular day job and the whole universe of senior tennis opened up! I could play in the early morning, or take a clinic mid-day! It got a lot cheaper after I joined the Senior Players Tennis Club. As a member I got senior discounts at the tennis clubs and there were multiple open tennis groups all over the cities. And in many instances, I was one of the younger seniors playing on any given outing! Our MWF 7 am group ranged in age from 90s to late 50s. Imagine that!

I found park and rec senior tennis groups all over the country—pick up tennis in Scottsdale, McKinney, Tx, Steamboat. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and when I want to play tennis, I can usually find more than a wall to hit against.

On my bucket list is to hit all four tennis Opens: I’ve been to the French Open at Rolland Garros, Wimbledon in London. I was supposed to have been in Melbourne, Australia for the Aussie Open but Covid… and I have yet to go to the US Open in New York.

And now that I am old(er), I have, through my tennis friend Larry, found pickleball! When our hips and knees and elbows and shoulders are wearing thin, pickleball fills the gap that slowing down on the tennis court demands.

It’s all good.

All my tennis friends are good.

Life is good.

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