It's been 18 years since I started playing competitive tennis(my Freshman year in high school, and the one and only year I played. More on that in another blog), but if you count all the swings I've had, and the roots to where it all started, it's heading on 23 years now.
Seriously, it all started on oak garage doors with a brick divider, an inherited T-2000 that my brother played with, and my imagination.
Growing up, I was a Boris Becker fan. Absolutely loved the guy. McEnroe and Connors were fine, and awesome players, but I grew up around men's men, and Connors and Mac were scrawny pissants in my eyes(not like I said it like that, but you get the picture). Boris played with a fire in his eyes, served hard as hell, and fought for every point. Plus kicking Lendl's ass always provided great entertainment. Man, I hated Ivan Lendl.
So what would I do? Starting at about 10 or 11 years old, I'd bring that old T-2000 out to the driveway and be Boris Becker, and would ALWAYS be facing Lendl. We had two garage doors with a brick divider in the middle. The driveway was built where it went probably the equivalent of half a block, so there was plenty of room to play(What can I say, my Dad built a kick ass house. You should see the underground fort he made for the kids out of an old diesel tank). The rules were simple. I "served" the ball(serving at 10 years old, when you are not a phenom, is a misnomer. It's more bouncing the ball and hitting it. I learned to serve at like 13) to the "opponent"(garage door). I'd keep hitting till the ball bounced twice or either of us "won a point". "It" won a point if the ball got past me, the ball bounced twice, or if I hit the divider and it went to the side(the equivalent of an out). I had only two ways to "win"...If it "hit" it out(meaning if it ricocheted too far into our yard without bouncing on the driveway), or if I hit it accurate enough to make it roll back to me. That helped my accuracy over the years.
I played every spring and summer starting with the French and ending with the US Open(No way I was starting with the Australian. It was January and I am from Illinois). Always did 3 out of 5 sets(so that started way before my buddy Brian), and since I lived like five feet from the Mississippi River(Not really, but we lived off the bluff from the Mississippi, so we had the river weather. If it was 80, it'd be 100 where we were. If it was 20, it was 0 where we were), I was playing outside in some horrendous heat, and in jeans, as I mentioned from yesterday. I would play for hours at a time, Becker would "win", and I'd come in soaked to the gills and a glass of lemonade waiting from Mom.
Later on, it was Sampras and Agassi when Becker and Lendl went by the wayside. I would be Sampras and go hours against Agassi, and had Mom give me a glass of lemonade. Once in a while, Dad would watch outside and just smile(Even tough guys have have a soft spot), and I'd wave and get back to the "match".
I continued this practice even after I was long gone from the team. There are just traditions you don't want to totally end. I'd say it ended around 18 years old(even though the imagination thing ended around 16 years old, for obvious reasons), and it was a nice little run. I learned how to hit a ball this way, but it allowed me to have an imagination, and we should all be allowed to do that.
I went home a couple months ago for personal reasons, and I completely forgot my racket. I would've liked to have one more go at the garage door. With Dad gone, Mom's going to sell the house one day, and I'll never have that time back again(Or the time Dad planted real ivy on our fence in our yard, and I could pretend it was Wrigley Field for 9 innings). Still, even if I can't get it back, I can definitely remember where it all started.
Most players had top notch lessons or academies, and the best equipment. I had Connors' old steel monstrosity, a garage door, and an imagination.
I'll pick my situation any day of the week.