Three times a week, my 93-year-old father plays a very special kind of tennis.
“Social tennis,” he calls it. The guys he plays with are amazingly durable men, most of them in their eighties and nineties. They play doubles, and not one of them has served and volleyed since the Nixon administration.
You can hear their game as you approach the courts, the steady “pok……pok…..pok” of polite, unhurried points.
It’s kind of like oversized ping-pong. These guys have good strokes, and if tennis courts were the width of bowling alleys they might have made it at Wimbledon, back in the day,
But tennis courts are a lot wider than bowling alleys, and as for chasing the ball on those wide shots….well, it just doesn’t happen. And some of them consider it rude to hit an outright winner.
Not exactly a page from Federer’s playbook, but it works for them.
I was watching these guys play on a blisteringly hot morning last week and after just one set, a few of them were tapped out. They were down to three players, so they were desperate for a fourth.
You guessed it - they turned to me. “The Kid,” as they call me. (I’m 63.)
Just like that, a racket was shoved into my hand, and I was drafted into the game I’d barely played in 15 years. My father and I were partners, and on top of that, I was serving! Didn’t even take any practice serves. Here it comes, guys!
We won the first three points. I was proud of myself. I kept the ball in play, didn’t try to pass anybody. It was kind of fun. Figured I could show these guys a thing or two, once I loosened up.
Then it happened - a drop shot, to my side of the net. I’d pulled a hamstring a few weeks earlier and it was just about healed. I’d been careful not to do any running, until I saw that drop shot.
I rushed to return it, a 1973 impulse that my 2019 body paid for. It felt as if the muscle had been ripped off the bone as I limped to the sidelines, where I flopped on a bench, breathing hard.
I’d violated the number one commandment of this brand of tennis: Thou Shalt Not Run . The correct way to handle a drop shot is to wait for the ball to stop rolling, then pick it up.
My father, who still moves like a young leopard, came over to check me out with another player, a 90-something retired surgeon.
“Sorry guys,” I said, clutching my throbbing thigh. “I’m out.”
“Make sure you ice it,” the surgeon said. (Which I’m pretty sure counted as a house call.)
And as I limped home for Mom’s sympathy, an ice pack and a couple of Aleves I could hear that inevitable sound, fading in the distance:
The game goes on, even though I can’t.