Wimbledon carried me through three weeks in my Amsterdam hospital bed last July, and the US Open promises to similarly distract us during Hurricane Dorian. My husband and I are avoiding cable’s increasingly voluminous storm programming by toggling between Amazon Prime and hours of recorded tennis matches.
Our admiration for Naomi Osaka– a little shaky as she seemed to pout her way through the year — grew after her third-round US Open win with her gracious sharing of the court interview with her 15 year-old opponent, Coco Gauff.
One of the highlights of Wimbledon was Coco’s astounding first-round win over Venus Williams, her idol. Now, we’ve joined the #McCoco train, cheering on the doubles team of Coco and @CatyMcNally. Them kids was having fun until they were pounded by (the unlikely doubles pair) Victoria Azarenka and Ash Barty.
Venus herself held forth regally on the cover of the New York Times Sunday Magazine last weekend: the accompanying article made clear her role in championing tennis, and black women, and all women over the course of her still-active career.
Watching tennis connects me with my dad. He picked up the game in our first foreign service post, Caracas, where one of the perks of diplomatic life was access to the Venezuelan Altamira Tennis Club. Dad continued to play when USIS moved us to Italy: in Rome, he and the Deputy Chargé D’Affairs played on the Ambassador’s Residence courts; in Colombia, he played at the Country Club de Bogotá. When he was assigned to the State Department and we lived in the States for the first time, Dad sought to get my sister and me involved in tennis on weekend mornings at the Montgomery County Junior College, but the effort didn’t pay off: we were on the Potomac Woods Pool swim team in the summer and doing school activities the rest of the time. When we moved to Madrid, his final post before I returned to the US for college, Dad continued his tennis schedule without us.
Tennis was Dad’s Sunday morning activity. This South Dakotan farm boy didn’t have the affinity for collective religion that our mother did: the church was a focal point of her small-town Minnesota family life. While Dad put on his tennis whites, Susie and I put on our party shoes and followed Mom to whatever English-speaking Protestant church was available in the Roman Catholic countries of our childhood.
Dad’s tennis habit followed him out to Cape Cod when he and Mom retired. When they were still living in Boston, he enjoyed outdoor tennis up the hilld from the part-time condo in Sea Pines in Brewster. When he and Mom left Boston to settle permanently at the Cape, the Sea View courts in Orleans were his summer turf, and the Norseman Health Club in Eastham was his winter home. Tennis was his weekly exercise and regular connection with a group of good men. The survivors came to Dad’s funeral.
In my adulthood, I’ve had enough tennis lessons to make most people a good tennis player: most people, but not me. Same goes for golf. I understand the technique — I teach exercise, after all, and danced for many years — but there’s something about keeping calm and just doing the work that evades me. I call it performance anxiety. Oh, and I pout. I’m not what you’d call a good sports partner. But I learned to love a tennis tournament.
Dad watched tennis like other men watch football or baseball. He parked himself in his blue recliner in the corner of the TV room to drink it in: the Australian Open in January, Roland Garros in May, Wimbledon in July, the US Open in September. When I visited the Cape, we’d watch together. the new names in early rounds, the champions as the field inevitably narrows; the unexpected great shots, the disappointing losses; the murmuring of the aging players in their new roles as commentators. More often, I felt Dad’s companionship while my husband and I watched the tournaments in our home in upstate New York. Dad died before we re-located to Florida, and somehow I think he’s got a much better seat where he is now.
Dorian appears to have ignored us, so I’m settling in to finish the US Open with my father.