My dad is one of the biggest reasons I started playing tennis. First, I saw him come home on Saturdays or Sundays from weekend hacking and thought he looked like he had had a good time. Second, my siblings and I often got my dad cans of tennis balls for his birthday or for Christmas. These are some fun memories including wrapping a can of Pringles in attempt to trick our dad into thinking it was yet another can of tennis balls. Third, he put some old racquets in a coat closet that my older sister and I would use to play mixed doubles against our basement wall complete with chalk lines and a chalk net.
My earliest memory of professional tennis was the 1982 Wimbledon final in which Jimmy Connors beat John McEnroe to claim his second Wimbledon title. I remember thinking it was odd that my mom was pulling for Connors while my dad and older brother were rooting for McEnroe. I decided to pull for Connors because I wanted to annoy my older brother. In 1985, Boris Becker’s Wimbledon win and my successes against the basement wall with my sister convinced me to ask if I could take some tennis clinics/lessons. My dad’s years of playing likely helped my case.
These are the remnants of the courts my dad and I played on so many different weekends over the years
I’ve been playing tennis off and on since the summer of 1985. My most frequent sparring partner, doubles partner, and practice partner has been my dad. We even currently play in a league together. I have as much fun talking to him driving to and from our league as I have while playing. I think he is hitting the ball better now than ever even if movement for both of us is a bit harder than it was in the 1980s. I remember in 1999 attending the Hall of Fame tournament championships in Newport, Rhode Island. After the match ended, I bought a copy of one of Bud Collins’ books for my dad. He inscribed it, “To Ed, Number One in Louisville! Bud Collins.” Who am I to disagree with Bud Collins?
My own three kids have all shown some interest in tennis. I have not pushed the sport on them. We on occasion do some 10 and Under Tennis hitting, but for the most part they just love seeing me at matches and practice when I am coaching. It is a great feeling seeing them there too. Any or all of them might get into tennis further or they may simply be happy that I enjoy tennis.
My oldest child has accompanied me on several occasions to get my press credentials at the Cincinnati Masters event. In 2013, she proudly told an early arriving European journalist that Venus Williams was her favorite player because “Venus is also a planet!” My middle child is non-verbal. Tennis has helped me to communicate with him. He will point to pictures of tennis players and make sure that I notice them as well. We then share some smiles. He also will grab me and bring me toward the TV if tennis is being shown. My youngest child will periodically show interest in 10 and Under Tennis but also ask me, “Can we learn pickle-ball because we’ll be beginners together?”
People we care about love to do various things. It could be chess or volleyball or any number of other activities that help to draw a child and parent together. Tennis for me has helped me to spend a lot of great times with my father and with my own children. Whatever else tennis has given me in terms of fitness, fun, and at times frustration, these times with my family are the best gifts I have received from this great sport.