The Tennis Curmudgeon


2 Camps, No Fire, No Girls

For reasons that can’t be explained here, I went to football camp and tennis camp in successive summers about three decades ago. Educational? Fun? Weird? Sure.

Punchline first: I was lousy at both to begin with, got better at both camps, but still rotted. But I did meet …

THE GREATS

At The Don Budge Tennis Campus, five-blessed-time World Champion Don Budge gave us brief lectures on form.

At the Contact Football Camp, called that because none of the others had sufficient insurance to allow hitting and potential catastrophic injuries, NFL Hall of Famer and five-time all-pro offensive lineman Dan Dierdorf reminded us that we were morons. He obviously didn’t INTEND to remind us we were morons. He said it was good to see us out there working hard while other kids were relaxing during their vacations.

And, yes, when you’re standing in Pennsylvania’s summer heat and humidity on a field with almost no grass on it, and your sweat is mixed with a crust of the dust you’ve been rolling in, being reminded that others are enjoying this beautiful summer day is like being reminded that, yes, you’re a fuckin moron.

Nonetheless, we all learned …

METHOD AND PRACTICE:

At first, tennis instructors winced when I showed them how I hit the ball.

Then they looked at each other like there was a lot of work to do.
And then they dutifully gave us the basics. Top spin. More top spin.

When I made mistakes in football camp, the drill instructors looked at me liked I was on trial for killing their children.

And there was precious little they could say when you asked how you’re supposed to get through or around an offensive lineman who is bigger, stronger, quicker and all around better.

“Go low.”

I understood.

It sounded nicer than “be better.”

And it sounded a helluva better than “go the fuck home.”

Which brings us to …

SPIRIT

The tennis instructors laughed when we, on the bad court, made fun of each other’s total absence of skill. No, as you’ve guessed by now, there wasn’t a shitload of laughing on the field at football camp.Just an insane amount of work. And an insane amount of sweat. Did I mention the Pennsylvania dust?

And burned into memory is the time I stepped on this guy’s hand. In cleats, of course.

You’re standing there, crouched, quickly running in place with arms out blocking, the instructor points one way or the other and you drop, roll once, plant your outside foot and stand up prepared to roll again in the same direction or back the other way.

Except I was getting exhausted and sloppy at the end of the second practice of the day and, without paying nearly enough attention, planted my outside foot on this guy’s hand as I stood up.
“You got three knuckles,” he said, indicating where three of my cleats (plastic) drove in.

He half-smiled and shook his head at my palms-up apology and kept running the drill.

“That’s just the game of football,” he said, rubbing his hand.
But he was just one of many …

OTHERS

My roommate at tennis camp liked the Grateful Dead. And he liked to get stoned. Not in the room. With his friends.  He also was far more talented than me and worked pretty hard on the court, wearing out the soles of relatively new shoes. He seemed to spend a pretty good amount of time gluing the soles of these shoes and lamenting the absence of appropriately aged hot girls.

He also tried to hit on the college-age female counselors, ALL of whom were attractive. And they smiled and laughed like: 1. they weren’t remotely interested and 2. there was nothing new about too-young rich kids hitting on them.

I can’t remember anything about the football camp roommate except that he was from Michigan. Yes, I know, that’s very helpful in forming a picture. A football player. From Michigan. Imagine.

As for girls, there were none. The closest thing was a collection of magazine pages taped to the wall of one of the other player’s dorm rooms. From a distance it looked like porn, but up close none of it was what I would call sexy – more like someone had looted photos from a gynecologist’s office.

HOW WE PLAY THE GAME

In tennis camp, good sportsmanship was given some attention, although it was already obvious at that time that the professional men’s game was dominated by tantrum-driven pricks.

The rules were generally followed, players who taunted others were told to stop, and I heard a few of the better players lecture others that you don’t argue calls on the other side of the net. It sounded just a bit quaint but reasonable.

At football camp, some Pennsylvania high school sent half its team in.
And camp was held before the date when high schools were allowed to start their training camp.

Which meant these guys didn’t give a fuck about the rules. (Technically, what they were doing may not have violated the letter, but of course the word “technically” really means fuck you, we got away with it.)

BIG WISDOM

In football camp, I learned that being relatively large is relatively meaningless if you’re not quick or talented. And self-preservation, which some people regard as sanity, could be interpreted as a serious lack of commitment on a football field.

In tennis camp, I learned one of those amusing lessons that applies to sport, life, and the whole lot:

“Play up.”

PJ

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