It was a steamy hot evening, and my friend Sarah and I arrived at the courts wearing our much-discussed skorts, attire, we felt sure, made us look like pros. Sarah started bouncing the balls up and down to make sure they were still fresh, and I pretended to know how high fresh balls are supposed to bounce. Then she asked me if I kept my balls in my bloomers and, because I had no idea what she was talking about, I got the first inkling I might be over my head with Dr. Sarah Bozeman, black diamond snow skier, slalom water skier, half marathon queen, triathlete, former cheerleader, and all around talented (and competitive) girl.
But we started to rally and things went well. She hit over the net, I hit over the net, she hit it back to me, I hit it back to her. My racquet felt good. My arm felt good. And every few seconds you could hear that satisfying pock of the ball bouncing off the strings.
One of my favorite things about tennis is that satisfying sound. It only happens when you hit the ball right in that sweet spot, when your racquet feels like it’s springing back almost on its own.
My dad was the one who taught me what that felt like. He got me interested in the sport around the age of 10 when we went to Clear Lake for a week one summer. It was a resort town in Riding Mountain on the western edge of Manitoba and I think the Kaprowys were feeling pretty fancy to be there. At least I know I was, in no small part to my new black sunglasses with fluorescent orange arms that I wore exclusively on my head like an inconvenient hairband.
Every morning we would ride our bikes to get hot cinnamon buns from the bakery, and every afternoon my dad would take us to the tennis courts. Somehow we had racquets that we must have borrowed and somehow my dad knew how to play really well.
So he taught my little brother Matthew and I, and I remember badly wanting to be older and much, much better at tennis so I could be gorgeous and limber like all the tanned teenage girls on the courts beside me. Their families owned cabins nearby, I felt sure, the big windowed ones on the lake. They weren’t, I felt sure, staying at the campground in their sweaty pop-up camper and peeing in the middle of the night on the scratchy juniper bushes.
Despite the envy and the rash, I instantly loved the sport and its simple rules, loved how it felt to sail the ball over the net and place a good shot.
Upon returning home and with the snowy onset of fall soon to follow, our interest in tennis waned. But when I got my driver’s license at age 16, it came back with a vengeance and Matthew and I spent that summer driving to the bumpy asphalt courts in Charleswood. That’s when we started getting good at tennis. That’s when, sniff, we learned how to pick up the ball by rolling it up our calf with our racquet. Bending over was for losers.
Tennis is such an interesting sport because your ability is so at the mercy of whomever you’re playing. If they are terrible, you play terribly, but if they’re good, your technique improves tenfold. Of course, if they’re really, really good, things unravel quickly and you start to swear a lot and swat your racquet at pretend flies. This is what happens when I play with my husband, who was the captain of his high school tennis team (insert swoon here).
Turns out, Dr. Sarah Bozeman and I were extremely well matched when we finally met on that hot evening. Granted, she remained a lot prettier thoughout the hour, while I sweated like Mel Gibson at a bar mitzvah, but I’ll take ugly as long as I’m not a loser too. Actually, to be honest, I did lose, but not by much and hopefully that will be a one-time thing.
The best part was just getting a chance to chat while we were rallying. My best friend Kristin and I used to do this for hours while playing badminton in my back yard. It’s the kind of conversation that is pleasant, covers lots of subjects but none too deeply, and somehow encompasses the very essence of summer itself.
So I can’t wait for the next time. My skort is washed. My balls are bouncy. And it’s game on, Dr. Bozeman.