Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sizing up my Competition

I started playing tennis four years ago and now I play on a mid-level women’s doubles team (4.0 level for you tennis players). There is a lot of variation in skill at this level. You’ve got former high school champs getting back to the game after twenty years. There are women in their sixties who have been playing tennis their whole lives. And enthusiastic middle-aged newcomers like me. So when my partner and I walk out onto the court for a match we really don’t know what to expect.

The first thing we do to size up our competition is check out how they look. Now, I’m not a physically intimidating person. By that I mean I am short. And not particularly buff. Almost everyone I face on the court is either taller or more muscular than me. So if you walked onto a tennis court and found that I was your opponent, you probably wouldn’t feel too worried. But in tennis, looks can be deceiving.

I found that out the hard way when my partner, Susan, and I were matched against a pair of wealthy-looking babes in their late fifties. Lipsticked up, with diamond tennis bracelets dangling from their wrists, the gals limped onto the court with their knee braces and ibuprofen. You knew they wouldn’t be able to do much sprinting. “Let’s just have fun, girls” they called as they popped open the new can of balls. I grinned confidently at Susan and murmured, “Let’s move the ball around. Make ‘em run.”

Yeah, right. Our opponents may have been older and less agile, but we were the ones doing the running. They placed their shots with the precision of surgeons. If I charged the net, they lobbed it over my head. If I hung back, they executed a perfect drop shot. They had spin, they had angles, and they had strategy. By the end of the first set, Susan and I were panting and dripping with sweat while our opponents’ lipstick wasn’t even smudged. After that match, every time I faced an older woman with a knee brace I knew I was in deep trouble.

So, now, when I meet my competition and see that they are 34 years old, six feet tall and as toned as Maria Sharapova, I tell myself not to worry. I’ve got a trick or two up my sleeve that might surprise them. I’m even thinking about getting my own knee brace.

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