Grandpa Anderson (we called him Mr. A) often said, “There are lots of ways to win at tennis.” My Uncle smiled as he described seeing his father in action. Mr. A relied on placement, not power.
At the end of a match opponents walked off the court shaking their head in disbelief, replaying the shot just over the net Mr. A dropped into an unreachable corner. He used that stroke to win Chicago area tournaments.
Mr. A taught our family a love for tennis that became part of our DNA.
Early on in our relationship I discovered with delight that Bill Wright, my father-in-law, also loved tennis. One evening, as he and I dueled each other in the Illinois summer heat, we noticed a couple of terrific tennis players on the court next to us. Dad Wright walked over to them and challenged them to a game of doubles. Surprisingly, they accepted. As we chatted before getting started, they told us each of them had won all kinds of tennis awards in high school and currently were key players on their college teams. Dad Wright and I threw a glance at each other – we were headed for disaster.
Our opponents focused on hitting with as much power as possible. At first, they hit several balls out of bounds and there were several double fault serves. They became angry and frustrated at these self-imposed lost points and that affected their focus. It showed us, too, that they had not played together as a team.
And then something unexpected happened. The lights went out and it was time to go home. Remarkably, at that moment, we were ahead, although we had not yet completed a set. Our opponents congratulated us on our “unexpected” victory.
A few years later Dad Wright and I were on our way to a tennis club in Florida. He had set up a doubles match with two mid-seventies gentlemen. I looked forward to this match, but mentally planned to take it easy on them.
They won the first set 6-3.
I told Dad that this was just a fluke. “We need to play another set. At the very least, we will wear them down.”
Things got worse. They won the second set 6-2 and had not worked up a sweat. On our side of the net, the older gentlemen had me chasing tennis balls all over the court – they wore me down. “What in the world?” I thought to myself. “I never saw this coming.”
They worked well as a team and knew how to cover for each other. They anticipated every move we made. They placed the ball at will in unreachable positions. They never became flustered. They encouraged each other. They did not brag or boast. They stayed focused. They played with confidence and made few mistakes.
That match reminded me of Mr. A’s words many years earlier – “There are lots of ways to win at tennis.”