| By Carole Blake

I absolutely LOVE playing tennis! My mom was a club tennis champion in Baltimore in the 1930s, and she actually played tennis on the last day of her life at the age of 83. I learned the game at the age of 10 at a summer camp, and I’ve been playing socially ever since.

According to Wikipedia, “Historically speaking, the expression 'Tennis Anyone?' was said to represent the uncaring attitude of the upper class in England in the 1920s …who were so fixated on themselves to the extent that they relieved their own boredom with games such as tennis. It was a way of saying, 'I don't worry about things outside of my own small circle.'"

Between 1922 and 1935, Humphrey Bogart played juveniles or romantic second-leads in drawing room comedies. He is said to have been the first actor to ask, "Tennis, anyone?" on the Broadway stage.” Particularly interesting to me is Wikipedia’s explanation of the origin of the word “love” for a zero score:

“It is possible that it derives from the French expression for ‘the egg’ (l’oeuf) because an egg looks like the number zero. Another possibility comes from the Dutch expression ‘liets voor lof doen’, which means to do something for praise, implying no monetary stakes. But the most accepted theory on the use of ‘Love’ comes from the acceptance that, at the start of any match, when scores are at zero, players still have ‘Love for each other’. This feeling obviously goes away as the match progresses.” And as I tell you my “tennis tale of woe” you might wonder how the word “love” ever found its way to the court…at least MY court!

When I was a young mother in my 30s, I joined a tennis doubles league and was thrilled that I could actually do that once a week even though I had two children ages three and one. It was my escape…and great exercise too! The girls I played with were challenging and fun…and competitive as well. I loved it! (There’s that word again!)

CUT TO (movie-talk, since I’ve been somewhat involved in the film industry in my life, and it’s my quick way of making 20 years go by) … me in my 50s! After a 28-year marriage and an amicable (sort of) divorce, my wonderful new guy and I moved to a "gated condo community" on Long Island with a swimming pool, gym, clubhouse, and yes, tennis courts! What else could you want? Well, I made lots of new friends, played on their tennis team (that would be the “A” Team, naturally), and was invited to join a local indoor doubles tennis game with several of my teammates as well as some other local women. And so, 12 years later, there were nine of us who shared the cost of an indoor court on Friday mornings. Some had 15 shares; some had 18; some had six; you get the idea! I had 15 shares, so of the 32 Fridays on the schedule, I played in just about half of them.

Now let me briefly describe my “tennis style." Although I can hit a pretty deep ball, I’m certainly not what you’d call a “hard-hitter." I do, however, have a really great dink shot. For non-tennis players, a dink shot is an unexpected soft return so that the tennis ball drops abruptly after crossing the net. It’s generally quite difficult to get to it, and therefore, is usually a winning point. I don’t do this all the time, because that would really be obnoxious, and sometimes it’s just not all that easy to do! I also tend to place the ball so that if my opponent is heading to the right, I will suddenly hit it left. That often works pretty well. As for my total win/loss column, I would honestly say that in my life’s tennis history, I’ve probably won a lot more than I’ve lost. Not bad for a woman in her late 60s.

A few days ago, I got an interesting phone call. It was from one of the women in my Friday doubles game. She was calling about collecting the deposits for next year even though there were five months left to play in this year. After the normal phone pleasantries, she informed me that since several of our players had suffered injuries recently (sprained ankle, sore wrist, etc.), it has “been decided” that we should invite more women to join our game, and therefore, of my 15 shares, we would be giving eight of them to new (healthier) players. I asked, “Is everyone else giving up eight shares?” And she responded, “No, just you!” Hmmm. Very interesting. And then she proceeded to tell me that of course everyone “adores” me, but my game is just not hard-hitting enough, and several of the women were quite unhappy about the ‘style’ of my game. Wait a minute! Am I in high school right now? I looked around. No ... it’s not high school. After a pause, I told her that I’d like to think about it, and that I would get back to her by tomorrow. “Sure,” she said.

I immediately called one of my “Friday Tennis Women” with whom I have a friendly relationship and asked her if she had known about this. She said that she did not, but that she did notice some ‘faces’ being made recently when I was on the court. Wow! And I used to think I was so perceptive! I then spoke to another woman from our game, and she confirmed that she had known about this, but was very upset and angry about it, but what could she do? Obviously, nothing!

At that point, I spoke to the original caller again and informed her that I no longer wanted any shares next year, and also that I did not want to finish out this year (I had seven playing dates left), but would like to get reimbursed for those dates. She was nothing but polite and said she’d check and get back to me. The next week, I received a check in the mail reimbursing me for most of the games I was scheduled to play in this year.

I would have thought that I’d be really upset, maybe even to tears, but honestly, I wasn’t! The next day at lunch, I told a couple of my friends—also tennis players—and they were nothing but supportive. I was immediately invited into another game, and then a nearby Friday tennis league welcomed me in with open arms. I think I was relieved actually. Maybe there was a part of me which had felt the negative vibes all along. Whatever it is…I’m really okay! When I shared this story with my 40-year-old daughter—mother of my three grandsons—she made a very wise comment. “Mom,” she said, “This kind of thing only happens with women! Men don’t do this!” And I think she might be right!

I still love my girlfriends, however, and I still do love tennis! I look forward to getting out there ... in the winter, spring, summer and fall ... and running around the indoor or outdoor courts, hitting deep shots, hitting short shots, putting the ball away, and yes, doing my little dink shots.

So now I say again with great love and affection ... Tennis Anyone?!!!

Carole Blake

<p>Carole Blake may be reached by e-mail at <a href="mailto:cbpoems@optonline.net">cbpoems@optonline.net</a>.</p>