Monday, July 7, 2008

Tennis, anyone?

Sunday's epic battle at Wimbledon between Federer and Nadal took me back to my youth. My parents were avid tennis players, and all of us got lessons at Cumberland Youth Foundation, the recreation center to which we belonged. When we moved out of town and built our house in the country, Mom and Dad decided to put a tennis court right in the front yard -- really, instead of a front yard. Morning and night, someone was hitting a few balls; I remember many evenings where we played until we couldn't see the ball anymore.

All the Grand Slam events were must viewing at our house, but especially Wimbledon. The problem was that the men's final took place on Sunday morning, so usually by the time we got home from church we'd only be able to catch the last set or two, if we were lucky. I seem to remember a couple of occasions where we stayed home from church to see the match, but perhaps I'm only channeling my wishes from those days.

When I became interested in professional tennis, the age of Ilie Nastase and Jimmy Conners was just ending, and the age of John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg was arriving. I learned to play with a wooden racket that I kept in a press, and I remember vividly the controversy over the larger composite rackets that were starting to appear on the professional circuit.

The match at this year's Wimbledon brought back memories of a time when pro tennis was at the center of American sports consciousness, when as many people talked about it and followed it as followed pro basketball, for example. Even though we weren't watching, legends were being made and genius was happening on the courts of the world. Sometimes a great rivalry can regenerate interest in a sport; is Federer-Nadal that tipping point to bring tennis back from the well-groomed lawns of the rich into the mainstream of the middle class, as Tiger Woods did for golf?

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