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Confessions of an aging tennis player

2017-05-19 22:41
En härlig sammanfattning av SM i Göteborg skriven av tennistokiga Robert Ricken
  • Uppdaterad: 2017-06-16 19:40

The players came to Göteborg from small towns and large cities situated throughout Sweden. They came by car, plane, bus, train and tram. They came from every background: doctors, farmers, businessmen and tradespeople. Whatever their background, they all shared one passion, playing competitive tennis. Some 600 tennis enthusiasts, men and women, converged on the Göteborg Lawn Tennis Klubb ( GLTK) in Göteborg, Sweden, on the first week of April, to compete in the 2017 Swedish National Veterans Tennis Championships.

I am an American citizen residing for the past 15 years in Pitea, Sweden. I am also an avid tennis player, having competed on my high school and College teams while growing up in the U.S. I designed and built a tennis club in Woodstock, New York, and enjoyed many years on the tennis courts with both of my parents and my ( Swedish) wife and 5 children. It has truly been a wonderful family affair.

This year I had the pleasure of competing, for the 4th time, in the national veterans tennis tournament, age 75 class. Starting with the "youngsters", age 35 and over, successive groups of players at 5 year age intervals do battle on the courts to determine Sweden's best veterans tennis players of the year.

Tennis requires that the serious minded -- young and old -- must carefully develop a style of play which enhances his or her unique technical skills, physical strengths and mental capabilities. But to continue to have long term success on the court, players must adjust their game periodically to accommodate their constantly changing capacities. One must be as nimble mentally as he is physically........ adapt or perish is the rule for survival. Each player competing in the tournament has been required, over the years, to pay attention to diet, cardiovascular health, physical conditioning, tennis technique, and strategy. Otherwise they would not have survived the vigorous challenges of tournament tennis.

In addition to physical conditioning, aging players must also be concerned with training older muscles to do what those muscles no longer want to do. A vigorous maintenance routine is needed in order to keep mind and body fit, not an easy task , but the joy of playing the game drives us forward. Every player who competed in this years semi-annual event has their own method for keeping fit. Besides my weekly tennis play, I swim one kilometer three times a week, helping me with my aerobics, flexibility, strength and stamina. But everyone has their own formulae.

As this years tournament began, the players entered the GLTK tennis center, were greeted by the friendly staff, and given a few gifts and mementos as a welcoming gesture. Some players were dressed impeccably in designer warm up suits, carrying the latest in tennis bags and equipment. This group , often cleanly shaven ,walked crisply and with purpose.. Some contestants were more casual, wearing shorts and sweatshirts designed more for comfort than style. And others looked more like homeless vagabonds, unshaven, well worn, moving with a slow pace, belying the determination they brought with them onto the court. But five minutes into each match all differences in appearance disappeared, as the warrior instinct took hold, and each player fought valiantly to survive another round of play.

The audience watching the matches consisted mostly of other contestants and their families and friends, waiting for court times to be announced. Everyone was welcoming and friendly, enjoying the shared moments at this years bi-annual event. As seasoned veterans, we play mostly for our own satisfaction, but we also encourage our fellow competitors to succeed and we all enjoy the camaraderie. Bragging rights are earned by fighting hard and playing well, whether in victory or defeat. A loss to a higher ranking player is considered a worthy showing, more perhaps than beating a lesser player.

In comparing the play of the different age groups, those ranging from ages 35 to 50 were somewhat equal in their skill level and physical capabilities. Their play looked almost the same as what you might see on television when Federer plays Nadal, power, grace and athleticism being the norm. The level of play was very high in this age group, many contestants having previously played professionally, and competed in Davis Cup play.

But changes could be seen amongst the older groups. Clearly the ageing process slowed the players and forced them to change their tactics, elevating brain power over muscle power. The use of clever drop shots exposed those whose legs and conditioning were suspect. Elegant, accurate passing shots blunted serve and volley tactics. Overhead smashes were returnable, as the masters of tactics took control.

When players from the much older age groups took to the court, everyone could see the bandages and braces used to hold ageing bodies together. But the bandages were viewed as badges of courage, rather than signs of frailty. The players brought passion to the court, along with clever tactics, and showed a willingness to push their bodies beyond natural limits, even if it meant risking injury and perhaps the end of their tennis careers.

There were only a few players in the 85 and older class, proud survivors of a nation’s tennis warriors. They could still hit the ball with determination, but shuffling legs could not carry them far. Nevertheless, there was great dignity in their performances, and one could see flashes of the high level of tennis expertise that they once possessed.

One might ask, "why go through the long hours of training, the physical pain, and the demanding mental discipline? What do we hope to gain?"

I'm certain each of us had his own motivation. However, wandering around the courts, watching the competitors courageously fighting to advance to the next round of play, it occurred to me that on some deeper psychic level, we were not just wearing ourselves down, but actually building ourselves up, while being nourished by the physical and mental challenge. Real life appeared to have offered us another opportunity to feel young and vital, once again, as we strived for excellence in our performance. And perhaps, more importantly, we felt the exhilaration of engagement with our own inner strength. We were placing lifetimes of passion on public display at the GLTK Tennis Center and, as a consequence, we experienced a psychic regeneration, as a sense of community was being shared.

I feel honored to be part of this group of veteran tennis players, and thankful for being graciously accepted in their inner circle , while watching the grace of retiring players being replaced by a new group of veterans, who will carry this honorable Swedish sporting tradition into the future.

Rob Ricken, Piteå

Skribent: Håkan S

Sveriges Tennisveteraner - Tennis
Louise Björkhager, Lidnersgatan 10
11253 Stockholm

Tel: 0706-70 05 24
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