The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Serving up aces

Five years ago I wrapped up my first men’s tennis season as a sophomore at Elk Grove’s Monterey Trail High School just as spring subsided and summer’s sizzle started cramping unfit calf muscles. I reluctantly joined the team as an alternative to volleyball, which was so overcrowded that players were cut before tryouts. I played tennis as an alternative to everything until my graduation in May 2011.

On Wednesday, April 24, I will wrap up my final season as a City College tennis player. My doubles partner and I will travel 40 miles east of Santa Barbara, Calif., for the 113th annual Ojai Tennis Tournament, taking my competitive sports life along with it. Here are the most significant moments of my tennis career:

Spring 2009: On an exceedingly bright day I am playing on a public court at Jones Park, which is tucked into a middle-class neighborhood in Elk Grove. Across the net from me, absent shoes, is
my close friend Nicolas Bravo.

“I can do that, too!” I yell at him.

Nick and I have decided to become the best tennis players, not only at Monterey Trail High School, but throughout history. Armed with $15 Wal-Mart racquets (mine a red-and-black Wilson model, his a blue-and-black Prince) and a few months’ tennis experience, we forgo footwear and run stop-jerk around the 78-foot-by- 27-foot, cement-made power sander of a court with cotton socks for protection.

We are not exceedingly bright.

At home, a few hours later,a dull, growing pain makes its way across the soles of my feet. I remove my socks and realize why: The soles are not there, seemingly rubbed out the way an eraser smears errant pencil marks up and off a piece of paper. Made real by observation, the pain suddenly sharpens, and an entire week passes before I lose my penguin waddle. Tennis lesson No. 1: Arrogance will (literally) tear you apart.

Spring 2012: Alex Wolski is tall, lanky and the fourth-best player on Modesto Junior College’s men’s tennis team. Right now he’s busy keeping his bleached-blond hair in shape and running me side to side on the MJC tennis courts. On the midcourt bench sits three empty 24-ounce water bottles; they say he’s doing a pretty good job.

By this time I attend City College and am the same rank as Wolski. He and I are in the final set of a best two-out-of-three tennis match. Wolski currently up five games to two, one game away from winning the match on a deliciously smoldering afternoon.

Suddenly Wolski starts feeling the heat and begins hitting out more than in to end the rallies, though I like to think my relentless retrieving has something to do with it, too.

Eventually I fend off enough of Wolski’s cannonball serves (launched by his approximate 6-foot-3 inch form) and coax enough mistakes off his racquet to claim five games in a row, winning the final set and the match—the best comeback of my college career.

We shake hands at the net and Wolski walks toward the exit gate looking supremely angry. I turn toward the bench and flash an open-mouth smile at the sky. Then I follow Wolski’s path to meet my team.
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MJC’s tennis coach shakes my hand as I exit, “Hey, good match,” he says.

“Thanks, Coach,” I reply. Tennis lesson No. 2: Perseverance’s sweat will get you wet respect.

Spring 2013: After two very blustery days, this Thursday morning at the City College courts puts on an exhibition of perfect tennis weather—no wind, searing on-court heat and nary a cloud for miles.

The head of City College tennis Coach David Griffin is busy on the north side of a court smacking balls at me with all his might as we work on volleys (intercepting the ball before it bouncwes on my half of the court).

“Forward, David,” he instructs. “Stick the volley with your feet.”

Forty minutes of this pass as we work on hitting overheads, which is exactly what it sounds like. Some 150 times I raise both arms in the classic tennis “trophy” position and hammer down airborne balls as soon as my black Wilson Blade can reach them.

“Relax your grip on the racquet, David,” Griffin continues. “Wiggle those fingers.”

Soon, I’m bent over breathing on the sideline. I tell Coach it’s too bad I’m only allowed two years of community college tennis. He echoes my disappointment.

“Yeah, it always happens—soon as I get someone moving in the right direction, they’re gone,” Griffin says. Then he laughs, “But you’ve made a lot of progress. I don’t think you’ve ever hit so many solid overheads in your entire life.”

We hear the entry gate open. Two girls, tan and European, enter. They’llbe part of City College’s tennis team for spring 2014. Griffin turns his attention to them, ending our practice session with the words every player from every sport wants to hear: “I’m real proud of you, David.”

Final tennis lesson: Pride earned is dedication served.

Lessons learned, I pack my bags and leave the court.

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