We didn’t have a tennis clinic today, it being Memorial Day and all. Last Monday we played outside for the first time and, since it was my first day back from my butt sprain, I showed up with more than my usual share of performance anxiety.
Playing outside is nothing at all like playing inside – it’s almost a different game. First of all, there’s an intimacy that’s completely missing when you’re outdoors. You are no longer contained within netted walls and a bubbled ceiling – the space around you seems to go on forever. And there are so many things happening around you – unfamiliar players showing up on adjacent courts, town workers mowing and weedwacking – it takes way more energy to concentrate solely on your game and the people you’re playing with.
Also to contend with are the elements and variables. There’s sun and wind, two impediments that are in mercifully short supply indoors. There are bugs. There’s the train noise. There’s debris on the courts. I have to literally lift up my sunglasses for Gina to see my eyes rolling when she hits that crazy ass return of hers that no one can ever get to. It didn’t take long for me to remind myself that I’m happiest as an indoor girl.
Early on, Laura the Tennis Pro declared it was No Death Grip Day. We were all reminded that when we’re readying ourselves for our returns, our ground strokes, even our serves, our racquet grips should be light – as if we’re holding a baby bird. Not as if (in our usual fashion) we’re dragging our four-year-olds down the supermarket aisle in a mad rush to meet the school bus.
I assumed this added obligation would just about do me in. As if keeping our balls away from our neighbors on the next court isn’t enough to worry about, now I have to treat my racquet with kid gloves?
You already know the moral of this story. I lightened my grip and started hitting my best returns ever. Ever. Deep, fast, hard. It felt as if someone else was hitting for me. Someone who understood how much power there is in a gentle touch. Someone who did not feel like they have to prove something with every swing. Someone patient and easygoing, with an inherent trust that balls and racquet strings will always meet, just as they’re meant to. And an inherent understanding that the world can actually turn on it’s axis all on its own, and maybe, just maybe, her job is not to hold on so tight after all, but instead to let go.