Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Another sport

While the rest of this city is deliriously consumed by some sort of ice sport (a game that is about to reach its zenith in mere minutes, a longwinded end to an equally lengthy and tiring series), it seems appropriate to discuss a different sport, one more suitable for the season - tennis.

Tennis was a constant presence in our household, which seems strange and bourgeois considering we lived in a rural prairie town. My father loved it, my uncles loved it, and my brother and I loved it. Since we were old enough to play we had our own racquets, mine a bright blue with rainbow strings, only gently worn due to my pathetic wrists and weak arms. My French uncle was a serious player; he strung his own racquets and had white shorts, and played actively well into his fifties. During boisterous family reunions my ears would perk up when the conversation would turn (as it often did) to the hope and disappointment around Michael Chang, probably the most successful Asian tennis player of all time. Chang, who would later develop thighs of steel, won the French Open at seventeen. The discussion would continue with comparisons, assessments, and debates about many of the greats - Edberg, McEnroe, Lendl, and Borg. Conners, Courier, Muster, and Becker. Or maybe it was Navratilova, Graf, or Seles.

My great was, and remains, Pete Sampras. He was never the dreamiest of the bunch and certainly not the loudest. He was the champion of Wimbledon, a failure on clay, and a classic player that was the antithesis to the flashier, long-haired Canon Rebel-peddling baseliner Andre Agassi. When preparing to serve, he would take three tennis balls from the ball boy or girl, examining all three in his hand carefully before selecting as he felt the fuzzy ones were the best to hit. One of my most memorable birthdays was when Sampras defeated Agassi in the Wimbledon final in 1999. Sampras had finesse and the game was an exhilarating combination of serve-and-volley, tennis whites, and strawberries and cream. It was magic.

As the rest of the city winds down from an intense few weeks of sticks and pucks, I will be sitting back with a lemonade, thinking about that amazing match in preparation for the All England Club next week. Care to join me?