I had my first tennis class last week.
Yes, after years of being a couch-sitting tennis fangirl I actually got on a court with a racket in my hand.
The local gym has a wonderful tennis facility and offers a short run of free “never ever” tennis classes, obviously in hopes that newbies will catch the bug and continue on with the paid lessons.
The group is small, just four students. An older gentleman, me and two women who had definitely been on a court before. Compared to the old guy and me, they were practically the Williams sisters.
We started out easy, learning the continental grip and the swing for a forehand… starting low, racket angled, following through over the opposite shoulder.
I’ll admit, I got a little cocky. “I got this,” I thought as I swung my racket around on the side of the court.
Then balls were introduced into the mix.
We stood in a line on the side of the court as the instructor tossed balls across the net. She started with one close to where we were standing, then one to the center of the court and finally one on the opposite line.
One of the Williams sisters went first. She hit neat forehands as she loped across the court. Sure they didn’t all land in the service box, or even in the court. But they all went over the net and she looked very athletic.
I was next.
The truth is I don’t have a lot of natural grace. I’ve never been agile, nimble or sprightly. These are all qualities that are extremely useful to possess when playing tennis.
The first ball came at me. I lunged forward, swinging wildly and forgetting all about my grip, follow through or which end of the racket was up. And of course I completely missed the ball.
“That’s ok,” the peppy instructor called as she tossed the next ball, “That’s a tough angle.”
I recovered from my miss just in time to remember that I needed to move to the center of the court and take a few clumsy steps to my left.
By some miracle I hit the ball, but I think it was pure luck. There certainly no technique involved.
I traipsed over to the far side of the court, managing not to trip over my own feet, and hit the third ball. It sailed over the net, narrowly missing the instructor’s head before flying completely off the court.
The peppy instructor jogged up to the net and gestured me closer.
“You seem a little anxious when you approach the ball,” she said kindly. “Just relax and let it come to you.”
I had noticed that Venus (or was it Serena?) had calmly waited for the ball, which bounced nicely into the range of her racquet. I, on the other hand, was either on top of the ball and falling over backwards to avoid getting hit or stretching to reach it, almost falling on my face..
But the thought of relaxing made me laugh. “Of course, I’m anxious,” I told her. “I’ve spent my whole life as the fat kid in gym class. Balls scare the hell out of me.”
I’d like to report that I got better during the ninety minute session. That by the end of the class, the Williams sisters and I were rallying with ease, chuckling over my early attempts as we executed beautiful slices, lobs and volleys.
We did rally, sort of. But there was no ease. At least not on my part.
My attempts at the backhand were marginally better than the forehand. And with a little practice I was able to successfully maneuver the little drop hit move you use to get the ball into play about 80% of the time.
But it was clear that there is no Roger Federer in my blood.
On my way home that night, I realized that this class is the first time I have every voluntarily participated in a sport. I not only participated, I had fun and I’m going to go back.
So even though I don’t see a tennis career — or even low-level amateur competitions — in my future, the class has already been a huge success.