If we’ve been at the same barbeque over the summer holidays, you will likely have had the unfortunate experience of being cornered by me to talk about my latest obsession… tennis.
I will not have waited for the topic to come up in conversation or first asked what you’ve been up to. My approach is rather uncordial and has all the subtlety of a five year old in the playground: “I like tennis. Do you?”
If the answer is yes, I see it as a green light to unabashedly discuss—at length—anything from Coco Gauff’s shoes to Sabalenka’s forehand to Rublev’s tongue (IYKYK).
If the response, however, is no, I see it as an opportunity to convince you of the merits of playing, watching, living and breathing tennis.
I am obsessed with the sport, you see. What began as an innocent hobby during lockdown has evolved into nothing short of a life passion. Would I go so far as to say that tennis is part of my personality? Thirteen days into the Australian Open, sleep deprived from late-night matches and writing this article with mellifluous summer commentary in the background, why yes I would.
It’s a personal evolution I didn’t anticipate but one I have enthusiastically embraced. And that’s half the fun: the enthusiasm. I see my kids declare their passions from the mountaintops all the time. “Oh my god, mum, a horse!” My daughter will scream each of the 25 times we pass an equine friend on a road trip. “Obi-Wan Kenobi is my favourite,” my son randomly announces to strangers.
Meanwhile, we adults are supposed to keep these passions quietly to ourselves. Further, there’s an expectation that our passions will have been more or less decided on in early adulthood. It was exhilarating for me to discover otherwise. If I can fall in love with tennis in my late thirties, what else might the future hold? What other passions will I discover? Life is full of wondrous possibilities.
Would I go so far as to say that tennis is part of my personality?
This is the point where I explain that despite feeling the most about tennis, I am not actually any good at the sport. But embracing mediocrity on the court is all part of my tennis journey. When else in my life can I perform poorly without feeling tormented by self-loathing? Certainly not in mothering. And I don’t think my boss would appreciate it if there was any correlation between my backhand performance and my editing skills. And yet, I can consistently hit balls to the neighbouring court and, apart from the unlucky players on said court serving me looks, no one cares.
The thing about hitting balls to neighbouring courts is that you then must go and retrieve them. Add to that the actual playing of tennis—darting across the court and belting balls etc—and you’ve got yourself quite the workout. For a woman who can no longer go on runs thanks to a lengthy posterior labour, and who attends reformer classes because she thinks she should but constantly zones out and has to have the instructions repeated, I am thrilled to have found a form of exercise that doesn’t feel like a mild form of punishment.
Beyond the physical benefits, the sport has fostered new relationships in my life—namely with my brother-in-law, who patiently texts with me throughout matches to explain obscure rules and indulges me by sending links to tennis podcasts and cute merch (bless his cushioned socks). I’ve created solid friendships with the women who endure my attempts at the sport each week at our training sessions. And let’s not forget the parasocial relationships I have with my role models Coco, Ash and Naomi, and the slightly disconcerting (to my husband) one I have with injured Italian Berretini.
I am thrilled to have found a form of exercise that doesn’t feel like a mild form of punishment
If you’re currently rolling your eyes thinking, ‘Oh look, another person having their tennis awakening,’ then you’re spot on. While it may seem like I single-handedly discovered the sport, more than 1.4 million Australians participated in tennis over the past year. During the pandemic, data from 173 venues that used Tennis Australia’s online court booking system showed that bookings more than doubled between May 2019 and 2020.
The Australian Open, now the “biggest” event in the Asia Pacific region, has contributed significantly to the sport’s rising popularity. Speak to any local court and they’ll tell you that their bookings surge in January when the event is held.
Add to the mix the launch of the Australian Open into the metaverse, the Netflix docuseries Break Point, the emergence of the preppy ‘tenniscore’ trend, and the fevered water cooler discussions about Alcaraz’s biceps, and you might say that my passion is something of a cliché.
Which is fine by me. I am a mediocre, clichéd tennis tragic and I want the world to know it.