I think the most perfect joy I have felt in my life has come from hitting tennis balls. It took countless hours of relentless practice, hours of yelling, hours of frustration, and I never got anywhere near great, but somewhere along the line my muscles learned what to do, and I could hit. I could have that moment of grace, feel the total connection of will, racquet and ball and hear the hissing, perfect pok as the ball snaked back over the net. I loved hitting an ace. I loved watching opponents helplessly chase balls I hit. I loved chasing down a shot someone thought was a winner and slamming it back across the court. I loved fighting every point, game, set and match.
I love tennis.
I suppose I am one of the last generation that learned to play with a wooden racquet. My parents had five or six piled in the closet, and they would drag us kids to the courts to thwack the hell out of dead balls. Years later, when I got better and a little obsessed and had saved up to buy my own fancy racquet (my teenage expenses fit in three neat categories: car, tennis, other) I still liked to play with an ancient, rusting Wilson aluminum beast that had survived from early days. It weighed a ton and the sweet spot was smaller than small, but if you were good and precise, it let you hit the ball like a freaking hammer. It was perfect for Monica Grunt Tennis - the game my high school teammates and I invented to play after practice. The rules were simple - you had to return every ball (we played across three courts), you had to hit as hard as possible, and you had to grunt on every hit. We'd play until they shut the lights out.