Tennis Memories

12:06 March 28, 2018
By: Keith John Paul Horcasitas

Playing tennis is such a fast-paced and fun sport. While I tend to do better playing ping pong even after long periods of time may elapse in between competition, I actually was on the Junior Varsity tennis team in high school. Br. Eugene was my De La Salle High School English teacher as well as our tennis coach. He not only could help us in prose but with tennis, he kept us on our toes! 

It was fun to learn how to serve and improve on my backhands shots – which were my weaknesses. And when playing doubles, I had a hard time learning that the outer perimeters were “in,” as compared to when you play singles, as well as when “let” really applies in a game – as can occur when a served ball hits the net and drops over onto the opponent's side but is not an active ball. 

There was nothing like the thrill of making an “ace” while serving the ball on the first try like Pete Sampras did in the past and Roger Federer can still do so well. My hero back in high school was Bjorn Borg, the long-haired Swedish dude who also gave me a reason to avoid haircuts! I will never forget being glued to the television the night of the “Battle of the Sexes” between Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs in 1973. While Riggs got whipped 6–4, 6–3, 6–3, it really raised people's interest in the sport! 

Johnny Carson from the Tonight Show used to always attend the annual tennis tournaments at Wimbledon in England, where they still use a type of grass court. It was fascinating to see those ever ready “ball boys” so diligently help retrieve loose balls at those games and to be able to be so close to those superstars! And it was amazing to witness the intensity involved when someone like Jimmy Connors or Andre Agassi would have a temper tantrum or a shouting match with the umpires! In high school, it was fun for us to play on the clay or “rubico” courts they had at Audubon Park and feel like we were in a special setting. 

Also, when I was in high school, my older sister, Helen, used to work at Security Sporting Goods that was located on Carrollton Avenue near Xavier University in New Orleans. Helen even used to help re-string tennis rackets at the store, which was so cool to watch being done. This was back in the early 1970s when mainly wooden tennis rackets were still used – before the lighter aluminum ones became so popular. 

During the summer before starting high school, I would sometimes join my buddies to play tennis at the free and open courts that were then located on the Newcomb College campus – right next to Tulane University – where us guys could get some great views of the college gals. How many “crushes” back then coincided with those “love matches” we'd had – when the score was tied or at a match point of 40 – 40. 

And who could forget those great tennis matches between Chris Evert, whom I really cheered for, and Martina Navratilova? They had such a great rivalry but kept respectful of one another most of the time. Maria Sharapova certainly keeps spectators alert not only per her graceful strides but also by her infamous grunts! It is also such a joy to watch Venus and Serena Williams in competition with one another or together on a doubles' team creaming another duo. 

When the kids were younger, I used to just hit tennis balls with them outside our house on the street. We would pretend to have a net but mainly just have fun seeing how long we could keep a volley going. It was neat how well the kids could return a very fast-like serve I'd hit, and we made a game of seeing how far the kids could return the ball in distance – sometimes, over our neighbor's roof! 

When I used to work at the Baton Rouge General on the Skilled Nursing Unit, I would love to tease Marty, a Physical Therapist, since he would brag about his tennis prowess despite the rather portly sized figure he had back then. After all the back and forth banter in between patient care conferencing, we finally set a date for a match between us two. 

So we met at the Highland BREC Park Tennis Courts one night after work and even had some family members join us as cheerleaders! I was rather rusty in my play but always thought I could pick up my vintage “Wilson wooden racket,” like with ping pong or playing pool, and just return to my old form of playing well – or so I thought I would. 

No sooner had we started playing than Marty went on to meticulously decimate me 6-0, 6-0; we didn't go for a third round! I had a few match point opportunities but couldn't believe how gracefully Marty could move around and had this skinny guy darting from one side of the court to the other per his well-placed shots! It was a very humbling experience, and our kids got to see their Daddy whooped! 

While I am more of a maintenance jogger nowadays to stay in shape and hardly have played tennis in a long time, I still have my old faithful wooden Wilson racket in a press to keep it from getting more warped – the same racket that I used when Marty blasted me with his newer aluminum racket. 

Like my dad used to tell me when I played little league baseball for many years that certainly applies also to tennis: “Keep your eye on the ball!” It helps also if you can “return the ball well that you have been eying,” like Br. Eugene used to indoctrinate in us and like I had a hard time doing when Marty was serving that night when he won the bet! 

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