Tennis and tea under the trees.

The privilege of an invitation to a private clay court in a prestigious neighbourhood came through one of my dear clients. A fortuitous cup of tea, with said client and a friend, led to chatter about how and why we now live in The Netherlands and thus, my love for sport and in particular, tennis. The question was then asked if I would ever consider filling in for the “ladies club” on a Monday afternoon, in the event that one of the regulars was not available. I jumped at the opportunity, not only for the venue but also out of curiosity to get to know these “tennis club ladies who lunch” in this beautiful area of the country.

Back in the early days of our marriage, when our children were still small, Darling would fairly often play golf, this when he was no longer playing serious hockey. Needless to say, golf is a long game with often an even longer final hole, the proverbial 19th… Whenever I suggested that this was not as enjoyable for me and the children, as it so clearly was for him, I was hastily assured that this activity was vital for the newly established business as it was all about “networking”. Apparently the best networking, for men, seems to take place whilst spending hours in the blazing sun, howling wind or driving rain, usually walking in solitude, searching for the small dimpled ball that requires tremendous skill to arrive at it’s desired destination: the bottom of the cup. This cup is located on a pristine patch of hallowed grass, more closely studied, repaired and cleaned than the pride of Persian carpets in any living room!

I digress from my tennis tale to the long days of golf…!

Ever since arriving in our new country, I decided to establish my own network of locals, opting against seeking out fellow South Africans, not because I don’t like my own tribe, but more out of curiosity to get to know the new tribe and to learn their language and their customs.

I started out by becoming a member of the local gym or sportschool, as it’s called in Dutch. I also very readily signed up as a member of the local tennis club where I attended the social gatherings of the “tartoernooi” and the “wijntoernooi” in order to establish a sense of whom, what, how and where. What a truly beautiful tennis club, located in the Groenendaal  wandelbos, not far from our apartment. 14 clay courts surrounded by magnificent trees – what’s not to love about that?! I have been a member and an “invaller” for two different competition teams ever since and thoroughly enjoy the flexibility of this format.

Fast forward to our nine months of wandering around the world. We found ourselves back in South Africa for the summer months, in a suburb of Johannesburg where our dear friends so generously allowed us the use of their office/home (that was not in use given the covid conditions) as our isolation bubble. On one of our morning walks, I saw a tennis-gear clad lady emerge from a car parked on the sidewalk. Not being familiar with the suburb, I was oblivious to the fact that there was a tennis club there so I stopped and enquired of her as to the possibility of playing as a visitor. To my delight, the kind lady asked if I would care to join in with her group, should they have a gap. The gap came about the very next day via Whatsapp message which sent me jogging up the road to another old friend to borrow a vital piece of equipment, a racket!

I have so enjoyed the opportunities that tennis has presented to make new acquaintances, simply by my natural curiosity and willingness to ask. I find the liberty of age so rewarding in this regard as no longer is ego in play, rather the pleasure of sharing a bit of a run around, smacking a ball over a net and nothing more competitive than a decent serve and an ability to play a few half decent shots. Of course, there is still no escaping my competitive nature and a small frisson of nerves accompany me on any of my spontaneous requests to play tennis with total strangers, but the desire to win is far less important than the chance to play, thankfully.

I’ve read that tennis is one of the sports that is good for alzheimers sufferers as it offers a number of benefits, most notably the increased brain power: “From alertness to tactical thinking, tennis enhances the neural connections in your brain.” Better hand-eye coordination: “You can improve your agility, balance, coordination, reaction time and more.” The other noted benefits of this fine game are “reduced stress, stronger bones, strong heart, strong leg muscles, leaner body and higher fitness.”

Whilst I am no championship player and neither are my tennis acquaintances, I believe that we are on the right path in this long road of aging by staying active to the best of our ability.

So it was that I came to play on a beautiful tennis court in a beautiful suburb, with ladies much my senior but who still afforded a good couple of sets of this very sociable game called tennis!

I hazard a guess that a lot of this generation’s tennis enjoyment actually revolves around the post match refreshment, in this case a small glass of wine to set the tone for the evening ahead – the leafy canopy provided the ideal setting for the tennis version of the golfers 19th hole, where just as much networking takes place!

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