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I am, at heart, an introvert.
It’s not that I don’t have friends (I have a few) or don’t like people (some of you are perfectly pleasant). It’s just that, on the whole, I prefer the company of myself. Aside from seeing my husband, which I enjoy, I can go for days without any significant human interaction — other than the nice woman at the 7-11 who sells me Diet Coke — and be perfectly happy. Sometimes it seems as if I’m going to collapse into an introvert’s black hole, where no social gesture can escape once it crosses the Evite horizon.
That’s not to say I’m taking advantage of the soft real-estate market to see if I can afford a private little shack in rural Montana. I do enjoy the company of others. Just not, you know, all the time.
So it’s not a complete surprise that I found myself out on the town for my 40th birthday. It started reasonably enough at a little sushi place with my better half and three good friends. Then we moved on to drinks at a different restaurant, including a few more people.
And next thing I know I’m on the dance floor at a nightclub, alongside a surprising number of guys who I believe haven’t climbed down off a disco box since 1993.
Obviously, I was feeling a little heady — perhaps even dotty, considering my age — which would explain why I ended up talking some tennis smack with a friend and fellow player who’s beaten me on court the last six (or seven) times we’ve played. And those would be the only times we’ve played. Yet I publicly declared that, come September, I would beat him in a challenge match.
A few points about tennis and me:
It’s not the first sport I ever played — like most rural kids in 1970s America, Little League baseball took that distinction. But tennis was the first sport I played that I was really good at.
Not dreams-of-professional-success good, but definitely drive-around-Kentucky-in-the-family-van-playing-tournaments good. I had great serve, as long as I remembered to get my ball toss high enough. My forehand was adequate, though it would break down under pressure.
My backhand, though — my backhand was a thing of Borg-inspired beauty, if I may say so myself. That was the shot around which I built my game, the shot that gave me a little glow inside every time I hit it.
Unfortunately, I didn’t play as much in college and by the time I moved to D.C., I stopped playing altogether, instead spending my time around guys who danced on disco boxes.
About 15 years passed before I seriously picked up a racquet again. Even though the strokes came back with some practice, they didn’t come back the same. When my mother met some of my tennis friends a while back and the talk turned to my adolescent sports career, she asked me, ”Is your backhand still better than your forehand?”
My tennis friends think my mother is really funny.
While my backhand may be a shadow of its former self, rediscovering tennis has been one of the better parts of my post-30 existence, and not just because I met my husband on court. Tennis is a sport that fits well with my inner introvert.
Most of the world goes wacky for team sports — football, soccer, basketball, baseball — all of which bore me both as a player and a spectator. (I’m not going to say anything bad about rugby, though, lest I unexpectedly find myself at the bottom of a sweaty and unshaven gay scrum.)
Those sports all center on the idea that there is no ”I” in ”team.”
I prefer the idea that there is no ”U” in ”solo.”
On a tennis court, I’m alone. It’s an opportunity to solve a problem — whether it’s how to beat the player on the other side of the net or how to not beat myself. When I win, the joy is all mine. When I lose, I have no else to blame. It’s a beautifully self-contained, black-and-white scenario — a nice respite from the murky grays of the outside world.
So, come September when I step on court for the match I set up with my own big mouth, whatever the outcome may be it’s nobody’s fault but mine.
When he’s not working on being co-publisher of Metro Weekly or blogging about tennis and other subjects at buggblog.com, Sean Bugg is considering that he might want to hit the gym a little more often before September rolls around.