Many consider baseball to be the quintessential summer game, but to my mind, tennis runs a close second, and unlike baseball, you don’t have to round up two whole teams in order to play. Simply grab a partner, a couple of rackets and a can of balls and head to the nearest court. If you’re feeling really ambitious, grab three friends and play doubles.
But hold on a minute . . . not so fast. What is that you’re wearing? First you need to make sure you’re properly attired for the court. From Grace Margaret Morton, circa 1943:
“For tennis, the correct attire is a dress with a round or V neckline, short or no sleeves, and a knee-length or shorter pleated skirt. Sometimes shorts are preferred. The garment will be of cotton pique, broadcloth, linen, or sharkskin. Generally the costume is white rather than colored, to keep from distracting other players on adjoining courts. White canvas shoes and white anklets are suitable footwear; and a tennis cap, a visor, or a simple ribbon will keep the hair in place or shade the eyes.”
Once you’re decently dressed, the next step is to get a clue about the game–not only the rules of play, but the etiquette. Eleanor Boykin (1940) advises, “[T]he traits a person shows in playing games reveal his character and breeding. And the qualities needed in games are the same ones needed for decent living–fairness, honor, self-control, willingness to abide by the rules, zest tempered by restraint, and the ability to win or lose with good spirit. If you cannot muster up any interest in a game, you had better stay out of it. A halfhearted player who does not keep his mind on the game, is forever asking, ‘Oh, is it my turn?’ and plainly does not care how things turn out is an annoyance. The ideal player . . . tries to win, yet he is not so eager that he jumps in ahead of his turn or claims victory before the game is over. When you win a game, gloat if you must, but in secret; don’t crow. When you lose, take it cheerfully; don’t blame the referee or the sun in your eyes, or your opponent’s tactics.”
Miss Boykin adds a special note for ladies: “A girl should not expect special privileges or waiting-on or to be provided with equipment merely because of her sex,” she warns. “If she is not willing to pick up her own balls she does not belong on the tennis court.”
Finally, playing tennis for fun is all well and good, but when you go on vacation, beware landing in a tennis-happy resort town during the week of a major tournament! Reaching back to the turn of the twentieth century, a writer bearing the pseudonym “Jenny Wren” writes of tennis tournaments, tongue-in-cheek, “Have you ever visited a resort in the midst of a tennis week, when the grand tournaments take place? Tennis is a delightful recreation for a time, provided you have a good partner and good antagonists, and you are playing under a moderately warm sun; but when you hear, see, and play nothing else for a week, when the conversation is ‘tennis,’ when no one appears without a racquet in his hand, when all you have to listen to are criticisms on the courts and balls, grumblings against the handicapping–well, you begin to hate the very name and wish you could injure the man who invented it. You grow tired of watching the same thing day after day, the men who spend their lives in tossing balls across to each other, the sea of faces, turning backwards and forwards at each stroke with the regulation of a pendulum.”
I guess there are some advantages to not living near Wimbledon or Forest Hills or any facility grander than the humble courts at the local park.
Besides, how can anyone scoff at a game that includes the most endearing of scoring terminology: “Love-Love!”