From Marilyn: I’m taking this opportunity to let you all know that today is Ellin’s birthday! Happy Birthday! Many more to come!!
Once or twice a year I binge watch tennis on TV, usually Wimbledon or the U.S. Open. My family was not into sports although we religiously watched Yankees baseball and Grand Slam Tennis. Even my father knew the names of the top tennis players. We all knew the strengths and weaknesses of these players’ games. We could do play by plays with the best of the sports commentators.
So watching tennis now in the summer or fall, brings back memories of happy hours of family togetherness.
It also brings back memories of my brief foray into tournament tennis. I joined a local tennis club in CT near our summer-house with my then husband, Larry. We both took lots of lessons and practiced as much as we could, I only played doubles but Larry could play singles as well. We became reasonable mid-level players.
For years, our summer social life revolved around the tennis club, The Easton Raquet Club. We made lots of friends both on and off the courts. Our kids hung out at the club with us and with the other tennis orphans.
The club sponsored lots of tennis tournaments, for different levels of players. One year, we had a mixed doubles tournament, only for club members. It was more of a social event than the serious tennis that was usually played there at the upper levels. The teams were made up of one strong player and one equally weak player from the club. So every strong player had a handicap. I was chosen as the handicap for one of the club’s strongest players.
On paper, I really was one of the weaker players at the club. I had terrible form, no power and a wimpy serve. However, I was scrappy. I could get to most balls, I had a decent net game and I could place my shots fairly reliably. So my team annihilated most of our competition. We made it into the finals against a really good team. The final match was staged professionally. We played on our ‘center court’ and the whole club was watching. We had an umpire, ball boys, linesmen and a score keeper. Just like on TV. It was nerve-wracking and I was terrified!
It was an amazing event, the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing what it’s like to play professional sports. People applauded and whistled and ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ when I made a tough shot or hit a winner. It was energizing and exhilarating. I understand how the enthusiasm of the crowd gets transmitted to every cell of an athlete’s body.
We won the tournament. I became something of a celebrity overnight. But I was never underestimated again as a player … and no more tournament trophies in my tennis career.
Since my moment in the spotlight, I’ve watched tennis differently. I see the matches from the perspective of the players’ minds. I think about what is going on in their heads. And so much of tennis is psychological. You can see players psyching themselves up or tripping over their demons. The crowds can also energize and motivate a player. It’s exciting to be part of a crowd that is visibly effecting a favorite player. There’s a palpable dynamic between crowds and players.
My one day in the limelight changed my perspective. So I can understand how spending everyday in the limelight can dramatically effect an athlete or even a celebrity. It’s not just your ego that grows. It’s your desire to hear the cheers and live up to your fans’ adulation.
This is true in a theater as well as a sports arena. I have more experience with theatrical audiences but my one athletic crowd experience gave me a taste of the athlete’s crowd fix. It’s powerful. I remember it vividly after more than 35 years!