It’s Roland Garros now in France – tomorrow is the men’s finals. It made me think of the last time I played tennis – it was with my son on an abandoned tennis court.
We had a perfect Indian summer weekend – the boyscouts were camped in the woods across the valley, the sun shone with all its might, and I went to play tennis with my son and got sunburn!
We went to the tennis court that used to belong to someone in the village – now abandoned for at least 25 years.
The tennis court is surrounded by an orchard. The wire fence has collapsed under the weight of vines, and the small apple orchard that once must have been part of a quaint garden is now overgrown and unkept. The court itself must have been excellent quality when it was built, for although gravelly and with a couple weeds poking through, the lines are still visible and the footing isn’t too bad. The net is tied to a fence pole at one end with nylon rope, and at the other end it’s attached to the sagging doorpost with the rest of the metal wire running through the top. It’s held up in the middle by a large crate, which is handy when you hit it with a ball – it bounces the ball back at you.
From the village, the court is invisible. You can only catch sight of it at a certain angle from the dirt road that leads out of the village past the crest of the hill – the road that runs parallel to the golf course on the other side of the valley. And you wonder as you see the tennis court in the middle of a rampant tangle of wild grape vine and long grass – “how do you get there?”
I call it the “Beam me down, Scotty” tennis court. In fact, there is a small path that dips steeply down from the dirt road, a path that you can easily miss if you’re not looking.
My son and I played for about 45 minutes – long enough to give me a nice sunburn on my nose. We don’t keep score. We just hit back and forth and are careful not to hit the balls out, because once it leaves the court, a ball is irrevocably lost. Usually we bring our dog along to find lost balls. But today we went alone – and we lost a ball. Since we only had two to start with, it made things tense at the end.
When I got back home, my husband asked who won the game. I forget that he’s a professional athlete and a game is something with a beginning, middle, and ending complete with score, winner, and losers. I replied that I (Venus Williams) did very well against my son (Rafael Nadal) and that there was no score – we just played. My husband does not ‘get’ playing for fun. My son and I are not competitive, and fun, for us, is hitting the ball back and forth and getting all out of breath and laughing when the ball hits a rough patch or plant, and bounces crazy.
The tennis there is sort of a obstacle tennis, where you’re never sure what kind of bounce you’ll get, and you have to be on your toes (and careful not to slip). The neighborhood kids use the court for a clubhouse, for goofing around, and for playing tennis and so far, no one has damaged the court and the net is treated like some antique, religious relic. It’s strung and unstrung with care, the frayed rope replaced when broken. The crate in the middle is never moved. Sometimes I wish the village would buy the property and turn it into a proper public tennis court. That would make the games better, but take some of the magic away.