Tara Tarapova

With my purty pink racket in hand, I entered the gym. I haven’t been in a high school gymnasium, well, since high school. Do they all have the same smell? What is that, a special air freshener only sold to high schools? Eau de sweaty foot?

As soon as I walked in, my racket was the talk amongst the girls. Where did you get a pink one? Why, Target, of course. $18 and change. Did I remember to buy balls to practice at home? Of course not. Another trip to Target in order then… oh, the humanity.

Mr. Instructor, an almost dead-ringer for Paul Giamatti, showed us how to hold our arms (always straight), bend our knees, wait on the balls of our feet with our rackets always, always perpendicular to the court. Arm back, transfer weight from one foot to the other, strike through the ball and finish with the racket up in the air in front of the opposite side you started on. Simple.

Yeah. Real simple.

Then there were the drills — bounce the ball on the sweet spot into the air, down onto the ground, off the rim. You would have thought we were all being tickled incessantly with the amount of laughter echoing against the hidden-in-the-wall bleachers and the oh-so-high glass ceiling. Balls bouncing all around, from one end to the other. We didn’t know which was ours most of the time.

Then the hitting. One tosses, the other hits, two catch the balls that mostly made it over the net.

“Tara, remember to follow through,” he said. “And stop bending your elbow.”

I’ll get tennis elbow, he said. Well, I already have it, according to the doctor. From tennis? No. From computer mousing with one hand exclusively. I kid you not.

While playing, I realized that tennis, like many things, is filled with lessons for life:

  • I paraphrase “Grease 2”: when you play an instrument (or sport), it’s better to play with a group than with yourself. ba dum dum
  • Laughter is the best medicine — it’s good for the soul and the cough from my cold was significantly diminished the following day.
  • Teamwork makes things fun — we were all in the same boat and we made the best of it, cheering each other on when we actually hit the ball properly and got it over the net without scraping the ceiling with it.
  • Practice makes things better and you more able to handle the next flying orb coming your way. React and recover. He kept saying that over and over. When the ball comes, react, hit it, then get right back into your stance so you’re ready for the next one. And the next one. 
  • And no matter whether you win or lose, just enjoy playing the game. Take the victories when they come (even the little ones, like not hitting the ball consistently with the rim). They’ll help you get over the agony of defeats.

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