Saturday, March 12, 2011

Old Lady Tennis

Blond Tumbleweed sent me an email at 5:30 AM asking if I wanted to take her place at tennis yesterday morning. It seems she missed a step on her way downstairs and took a little spill. I would normally jump at the opportunity to play for her, except that I was already scheduled to play and I already didn’t want to.

I had my own injury going on. A pain and stiffness in my hip that seems to come about from writing. Well, from sitting. Dr. H has diagnosed it as Gluteal Amnesia, a term that I thought he’d just made up to amuse himself or humiliate me, but I googled it and it appears to have, if not widespread notoriety, at least familiarity among a few sports coaches and practitioners. (Laura the Tennis Pro has also been diagnosed with GA. It makes me feel a lot less old and decrepit to have the same malady as a 32-year-old athlete.)

I urged Blond Tumbleweed to come to tennis despite her injury. I told her how much pain I was in from my hip problem and reminded her that Curly Tumbleweed was coming off a respiratory infection that has left her sinus cavity so clogged up she can’t hear and it would be surprising if she could run at all without coughing up a lung.

On Fridays we play on Court 5, at the very end of the club. Court 4 usually remains empty for the whole time we play. The older women who used to play on both Courts 3 and 4 last year have winnowed themselves down to a single court (3) this season, so we are down at the end all by ourselves.

The three of us confessed our disabilities to Kelly (our fourth) and she reminded us that she has had a torn ACL or meniscus or some other knee related problem for the past year. Since we were all injured, I suggested we just play a nice game of Old Lady Tennis and call it a day.

This group that plays together on Friday is a high testosterone conglomeration of power hitters despite their all being middle-aged women. Aside from me, everyone was an athlete in high school, many in college, and a few have even joined women’s soccer and volleyball leagues as adults. Balls fly around the court at crazy speeds. I usually just pray a lot.

But we all agreed to play mellow tennis and I instantly felt better about not having to worry about running after speeding bullets or leaping tall buildings in a single bound.

Blond Tumbleweed served first and Curly Tumbleweed returned. The ball whooshed past me so fast in each direction I barely had time to register that a point was going on.

“That’s not OLT!” I said, using what I considered a clever code for Old Lady Tennis so that the old ladies playing a court away would not be offended.

“What?” said Curly T, ears entirely clogged with week old mucous.

“Never mind,” I said.

The game went on like that for an hour and a half. No one played like an old lady except, of course, for me.

“That wasn’t an Old Lady Serve!” Kelly yelled out as she received a serve from Curly Tumbleweed that nearly knocked her over.

“Shhhh!” I said, trying to protect the feelings of our Court 3 elders.

“They can’t hear us,” said Blond Tumbleweed.

“What?” said Curly again.

Curly Tumbleweed and I took the set, and maybe played the best tennis we ever had as partners.

“Do you have that?” I’d yell back to her as a ball ripped past me.

“What?” she’d say, running up and hitting it.

I play better tennis when I’m injured. It doesn’t make any logical sense, but I think I do certain things that garner a better outcome. I pay attention more, because I know I’m going to be slower to react. I don’t run after crazy balls, but try and take them in a smarter (safer) way. I make sure I’m completely stabilized before I take a shot. And maybe most critical, I keep my expectations (about winning) really low.

I watch the Court 3 ladies play and I love how confident they are. No one is reckless. Their points go on forever.

“We belong on that court,” Blond Tumbleweed said to me after the set was over. She pointed to the old ladies and I shushed her again.

“They know they’re old,” Curly Tumbleweed said.

“And they know they’re better than us,” said Kelly.

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