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July 08, 2014

Rose Simpson: When tennis was my everything

Rose Simpson's column appears every Tuesday morning on the OttawaStart Blog. She also blogs at Rose's Cantina.

It pains me to hear Canadian journalists who are predicting that tennis will be elevated as a sport in this country now that we've had two Canucks in the Wimbledon Finals.
Little girls and boys everywhere, they say, will be donning designer togs and heading for the courts hoping to one day bond with movie stars and recording artists.
They totally miss the point of tennis.

This is a sport that is a journey not a destination.
Rarely do young tennis players make it past being much more than club players. To do so would require a total commitment of physical, human and financial resources.
For some players, it's good enough to win bragging rights during the club championships. For most players, it's just the beauty of a summer's day that attracts them on to the court.
I came to tennis, to the Rideau Tennis Club, during my darkest days, and the people there brought the light back into my eyes.
I had played a little in my 20s, then gave it up to chase Mr. Big around the country and have babies. I came back to it in my late 30s after Mr. Big left me and the kids.
I'd been isolated in my marriage and I needed to find a community and I found it at the Rideau.
At first, I was very nervous. I'd lost all my self-confidence during the breakup of my marriage, but I was soon brought into the fold by Gary Revine and his gang, who played tennis with tenacity and verve, then retired to the balcony for a few pitchers of beer.

At first, I started out tentatively, dipped my toe into it, playing round robins on Saturday morning. There I found a few nice people to play with, people who didn't judge if you missed a shot.
I became a half-decent player. I didn't enter tournaments because I didn't have the nerve for it. I would always, always fold under the pressure.
So I became a club player, the type of person who gets up every Saturday to play in a round robin, the person who is happy to sub in during the weekly morning matches.
I always marveled at the old guys and dolls, who played into their 80s, enduring 40 degree heat, showing stamina that few of us youngsters could muster.
There was Jean Southworth, who I first met back in the Ottawa Journal days. She was old back in the 70s! She continued to play tennis into her 80s, showing up on the top balcony hoping to find a partner. I loved playing with her even though she couldn't move very well. People chuckled at her, but I warned them, don't get the ball anywhere near Jean or she'll smash it in your face.
There was Jeffrey, a British chap who had actually been the head of a mission on one of the British colonial islands. Jeffrey was well past his expiry date, and yet, there he was sun tanning around the pool all day, drinking his two pints (he got cut off after that) in the evening. Jeffrey loved to get "tight" and some of us helped him by pouring him an extra beer from the pitcher.

And there was Mort and Rosemary Katz, stalwarts of the club. Mort was a legendary doctor in town who gave all the kids their allergy shots. He would sit around and discuss the importance of steam cleaning your vegetables to rid them of pesticides. Didn't seem to matter. Mort got cancer anyway.
The Rideau was full of beautiful people and characters.
And I loved every minute of being a member.

Unfortunately, my dream of tennis died when the club went up in smoke after an electrical fire turned the 100 year old clubhouse to ashes.
That was a low point for many of us. Our friends flew off to other clubs, and a hardy few continued to fight the good fight. The bar was gone, the canteen went up in smoke, but the spirit of the Rideau continued.
After that year, I quit the Rideau. I couldn't stomach its sadness.
The RA Centre took it over, and like the phoenix it was, it rose from the ashes.
I haven't played since.
I stopped playing tennis ten years ago after meeting Scott, who had two bad knees and wasn't interested in spending his whole summer watching me putter around on the courts.
It had been hard enough finding another love, I wasn't going to make him a tennis widower.
Tennis is a total commitment, you see.
Don't try to cancel on tennis, not even once. You will be spurned forever.
I tried going back a few times, but it never took.
I suppose tennis for me was a moment in time.
It saved me as a person. As a lonely divorcee, it made me feel I had a place in the world.
Watching Wimbledon this week, I was brought back to that moment in time, when tennis was my everything.
I shuddered as Genie Bouchard's game fell apart this morning.
And then I went back to my life, which doesn't include tennis anymore.
Thanks Genie, for jogging my memory.
Until next year.

See also: Ottawa Sports Guide
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