By David Lieberfarb
I started playing pickleball about three years ago in Central Jersey. We have a competitive, yet congenial group of men and women, mostly between ages 60 and 80. We usually set up two courts on half an indoor basketball court, and our evening sessions usually draw enough players to keep both courts fully occupied.
Not so well attended are our early morning sessions, especially Fridays at 7:40 a.m. We often are lucky to turn out four players, and Thursday nights find me checking the messages on my phone to see who might be playing in the morning. My policy is to show up regardless, and if no one else appeared, I would opt for a visit to the weight room. If one other person arrived, we might set up a net and hit singles for a while, but our lack of precision shot-making makes singles less satisfying as either exercise or competition.
One of my favorite regulars, an attractive younger woman (for me that means early sixties), was the only other player one wintry day. We smacked the plastic ball around for a while, and then I suggested that when the weather warmed up, if it was just the two of us again, we could try going outside to a nearby tennis court and test our skills. Neither one of us had played tennis in years, but the idea appealed to her. I bought a can of balls, found an old racket in the closet and stowed them in the trunk of my car.
Sure enough, before many weeks went by, the opportunity presented itself. It was a spectacular spring day. She and I were the only players in the gym. We waited a little while for latecomers. We hit a few shots, and we agreed to try tennis.
We drove to the park, found an empty court, popped open the brand new can, grabbed our rackets, took a few warmup swings and stepped to our places on the opposing baselines.
Why did she look so far away? I lofted a lob in her general direction. The high bounce of the new ball took her by surprise, but she managed to retreat and hit a similar floater in my direction. A gust of wind caught it. As I considered whether to run in and volley it or backtrack, I got caught in the no man’s land of indecision. Wind is never a factor in our indoor pickleball games.
Everything felt unfamiliar. The weight of the racket, the wind, the high bounces, the distance we had to run as we sprayed shots all over our court and the adjacent ones.
I didn’t want to be the first to surrender, but after about 10 minutes I yelled, “Wanna go back to the Y?” She agreed without hesitation. We drove back, set up the pickleball nets again, and returned to our comfort zone.
Afterwards, my companion said, “It was so embarrassing. I can’t believe we couldn’t get a decent volley going.”
And on that note, we stowed our tennis rackets ’til another day — maybe forever.