It’s been a while since I spent Spring Saturdays cold and shivering or baking and sunning on May mornings, waiting for the next court to open and hoping I didn’t lose too quickly. High school boys’ tennis hasn’t changed all that much in forty years.
No one is good enough to complain as much as the boys do after every miss (and there are ten or twenty misses for every winner, but one winner is all it takes to justify smashing, slamming and excessively spinning their way through unforced errors – thus, a boy’s life explained). When they miss they still stare at their racquets as if betrayed by a $200 instrument, and then just as quickly fondle and fidget with misaligned strings with the affectionate attention to detail of an aspiring lover.
First serves are as close to 100+ mph as possible, with 99% just missing by inches, or feet – it doesn’t matter. Second serves average 35 mph, but only 25 mph toward the end of the match. It still takes too long to prepare for the first fault – rocking incessantly, bouncing the ball six, ten, fourteen times and tucking and pulling and scratching and wiping in a ceremony certainly learned for nothing this common and comedic could be innate.
Better players still carry multiple racquets in color coordinated bags, and they never need the second, third, or fourth iteration (and you wonder if they actually do match, or does one of them belong to their mother). Grips as now wrapped in white instead of the black or brown of my day, but somehow they remain pristine and unscarred.
Foot faults are as common as acne. Style dominates technique. And imitation is no longer fashionable as it was for us – copying Jimmy Connors or Bjorn Borg or John Newcombe and their idiosyncrasies as well as racquet selection.
Most of the boys are at ease with their own obnoxiousness. They expend so much energy with so little to show for it. But they don’t care because it’s energy they have in abundance, and little corresponding talent.
Coaches are nicer today, but just differently so. They hardly yell insults like they did in my day – mostly at me, it seemed. Sexist insults are absent (or confined to the locker room, which boys tennis doesn’t have, so it takes place in those impromptu team meetings by this or that tree, or the unfortunate and unaware coach who decries the team’s lack of effort beside a garbage can buzzing with flies and bees, dancing from apple core to banana peel and Gatorade bottle).
That is, nothing much has changed in forty years (except for the overwhelming odor of Axe body spray in the air – everywhere).