Within walking distance or a short bike ride from our place in Thunder Bay are a number of tennis courts. I pass by them and am reminded of another era, the 1970s when most of these courts were probably installed and tennis was booming on the global stage. The big stars back then were Bjorn Borg, Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Billie Jean King, and Chris Everett.
My father and his buddies had a blacktop court installed on their old communal property that we called Three Acres. He painted the lines himself, and his foursome of dads played every weekend. It’s where I first swung a racket, not very well. I’ve played tennis all my life, but never really embraced the sport until the last five years. Now I can’t get enough.
But when I pass these courts, I can see that others have had enough of tennis. None of the courts look used. Most are in disrepair. Tennis has lost its luster for many. It’s one of those sports where you need a lot of reps just to be able to hit the ball decently, and a lot more reps to compete in a match.
Each court I pass is empty. Some are a shared resource belonging to a homeowners’ association—the three courts at the Colony, the two courts on Windmill Point Road. Some solo courts sit neglected on the long back stretches of the lakefront homes.
I harbor this fantasy that I’ll discover someone practicing their serve or hitting balls slung by a machine on one of these courts, a court that is magically restored—and I’ll have found my new tennis friend.
It hasn’t happened. There’s never anyone around. The courts are neglected, the lines faded, weeds grow between cracks. Some still have nets, many don’t.
But then Harriet and I are walking down to the beach and I stop to take a photo of the court at the house right next to the beach access. The house was built about fifteen years ago and it’s over-the-top in almost every way and it has a tennis court in good condition. Never seen it being used.
I walk up to the gate of the property at the top of the driveway and snap a photo. I feel a stone in my shoe. I stand on one foot, remove my shoe, shake it out, and at that moment the owner turns into the property. She lowers her window and greets us.
We introduce ourselves (her name is Kathy) and tell her we live two houses down. Harriet’s the one who asks if there are any tennis players living here.
There aren’t, Kathy says. Maybe her granddaughter, who wants to learn. But then the miracle: she says we can use the court anytime.
What!? I ask her to confirm what she just said. That someday I’ll knock on her door and remind her she said I could use her tennis court?
Sure, she says. Someone should use it.