Fair Warning: Long story...but one that brought back some very, very good memories.
I've been through four stages of getting hooked. Oddly enough, three of those centered around or were influenced by class or race/gender issues.
As a toddler, my mama and some of her similarly-situated, dirt-poor friends would trek down to the local park's sole tennis court and bat the ball around whilst us kiddies attempted to entertain ourselves. IF one of us would/could successfully find a tree to fertilize (rather than wet ourselves
)...they would let us use their ratty wood rackets. Talk about an incentive to become potty-trained. Odd reward system...but it was my first exposure to the game and it certainly was a treat. Still is! But in the 60s, "real" tennis was the purview of the very rich and completely outside my family's world. The fact that my (generally speaking) un-athletic mother bothered is somewhat of a mystery to me...except that it ultimately was a cheap way to pass some time doing something outdoors that exhausted the kids! The rackets were surely second (or third or fourth) hand, the balls scoured from the woods and used many times over, and the public courts...in sad, sad condition.
Then, as a tween, my father and I would sit glued to the TV on Saturdays for whatever "sports" one of the Big Three Networks would favor us with coverage. Fortunately for us, that was another (prior) Golden Era for tennis: Ashe/Borg/Connors/McEnroe and King/Evert/Navratilova. It had everything: class, crass, barbies and butches. S&V, two-handed BHs, woodies and "metal" rackets. White and yellow balls. While I think we're also in another "Golden Era" (at least on the mens side with Fed/Rafa/Djoke/Murray), it simply cannot compete with all that was going on in the 70s. And, as a female native-Richmonder, I cannot even begin to acknowledge the contributions of Ashe competing on the world's greatest courts and the whole Virginia Slims/King v Riggs stuff.
During the summer when I was a rising HS-junior, I got a stray phone call from a woman specifically hired to "start" a tennis program at a traditionally black HS. She'd apparently asked each of the PE teachers who could "hit the ball over the net AND keep it in the court" and my name had been served up. I'd already interviewed for and been offered a small after-school job at a department store in the "cool" local mall. After a very long dinnertime conversation with my parents...during which my father relayed his own personal HS/job/athletics conflict...we all agreed that I should "try out" for the team. What we didn't know was that there weren't any tryouts; anyone who survived the 95F workouts on asphalt (yes, not even concrete) courts...was "in." Our country-club coach ran our *****es off for a solid week before we even touched a racket or hit a ball. Then we worked on our "toss" for days before ever serving the ball. And the thing she told us before our first match was that we were going to learn how to lose, because we were going to lose a lot.
And we did, lose a lot...but we won way more than people expected us to. We were fit, had reliable serves and were gracious in losing...and winning. To this day, I am still tennis-fit, have a reliable serve (same damn toss!) and hope my opponents consider me gracious regardless of the scoreline. Hooked, hooked, hooked.
Took some time off during college, early career and intense "dating" (that "netted" me my dearest)...but finally picked it back up in my 30s. After age-ing out in some very organized volleyball (more my teammates than me), my intended said....you've gotta find something competitive. Found a small, county-sponsored league (that they, sadly, run no more), I got the bug again. Ten years later...and I haven't looked back. Sometimes, much to the chagrin of said dearest.
Tennis is my fitness regime, therapy session and has provided two of my very best adult-acquired friends. It is a lifetime sport, one I can play with my own very young children and my neighbor's visiting 75+ yr old mother. I find enjoyment of it at so many levels. Sure, some of the USTA and formal league crap can be just that...crap. But the bottomline for me is...it'll be something I can take to my grave. And I hope my family is smart enough...to bury me with a racquet and a fresh can of balls. Not sure if I'll be playing with St. Peter or the Devil but...eh...first ball in, guys, ok?