The game we played back in Taiwan was closer to baseball than to tennis. We served with the gay abandon of Roger Clements; it was by pure chance that the balls landed in the service box. Our swings would have made Barry Bonds proud; more often than not the balls homed into the fence or the net. Our rallies – when they occurred - were fierce but short.
After two hours of doubles we would sit over a beer and try to solve the problems of the world. The time at the bar was as long as the time on the tennis court.
I had been a part of this group, which met every Monday and Friday, from the time I had moved to Taiwan from India. Right till the time I relocated in Dallas twelve months ago – a swift 25 years – we could not figure out whether we played tennis so that we could drink beer or whether the beer was an excuse for tennis.
Apart from this one indecision, the group helped me and my wife to overcome culture shock and adjust, on arrival, to a new life in Taiwan. Those who have left their familiar surroundings and moved to a new country know how long it takes to adapt to the way of thinking and living of the host country.
My wife,Mona, grew close to the spouses of my tennis buddies. We the tennis couples, as we came to be called, planned our social calendar together. Every week the four couples would troop to a different restaurant and try out various ethnic cuisines. Most memorable of all were the trips we took overseas to resorts in Thailand and Malaysia.
Tennis players must be like heat-seeking missiles. Within weeks of arriving in Plano, I ran into a fine set of players who played the game for the fun of it. Elmer Saunders added me to what he calls “ e- collection of tennis players”. Had he referred to it as his “stable” of tennis reserves it would have been fine, especially in a Texan context.
Then Fred Gonzalez invited me to join his group. This group plays tennis at the unearthly hour of 7.30 on Sunday mornings. Fred and his friends blend the social elements of my Taiwan friends with the friendly seriousness of Elmer’s e-collection: between every changeover of sides, we sit on the bench and, as we sip our water, we banter, or tell a joke or narrate an incident which occurred during the week. At the end of the game, as we walk back to the parking lot, we talk about bad knees, the tricks our ticker plays on us and the prima-donna attention we must pay to our prostrate. Fred, Dan Lovett, Henry Venturoni, John Scheidel and Ron Ternosky have the sense of humor, the detachment and the attitude of acceptance that nature gifts to those who enter their sixties.
My new friends play the traditional form of tennis, not a blend or re-mix or a cross between tennis and another sport. Their eye-hand coordination is so good that they keep returning whatever I hurl at them.
In desperation, I wrote to my friends in Taiwan for advice on how to handle such consistency.
One of my friends promptly e-mailed me, “I have found that madly charging the net while making strange noises and flinging my racquet towards a gaggle of intense lady players on the next court can be quite effective. Please let me know how my advice works!”
On the first opportunity I got, I readied my racket like a tomahawk, did a pirouette in air, and let out a war cry. Unfortunately my racket did not make contact with the ball on its flight to the next court.
The ladies on the adjacent court took no notice. The expression on my partners’ faces seemed to say: now what was that?
Another friend from Taiwan wrote. “Try this shot. It has always worked for me. Just grip your racket like the left hand grip on a golf club, keep your right shoulder parallel to the ground as you kick with your left foot and twist the racket like a serving shot in ping pong. Clear? Good luck with it.”
A third cautioned me not to try drop shots. His reason:“ drop shots can be lethal to the Achilles heel/tendons/knees/lower legs of players in their sixties.” He did not know that my sixty-ish friends play like thirty five year olds.
After that I did not act upon on the advice my Taiwan friends continued to e-mail me generously. Instead I tried to adapt my game to that of my new friends’.
In making me part of their stables, Fred Gonzalez and the Sunday Group have helped me to ease into my new setting.
Once again tennis has turned out to be a key to friendships and an antidote to the traumas of re-location.