I started my company Tennis-Bargains.com around Summer of 2010.
It so happened it was around the same time that my first tennis teacher Ronald E. McDonald of TennisUSA past away.
Ron had taught me my first formal lesson of tennis at Arlington Parks and Rec. About 15 years later, I joined USPTA and this Sept I decided to renew again. Pass on the torch to another kid who wants to learn I guess. Sharing the memory of them, so that they can live on 15 mins of fame, through this short blog post.
Also a tribute to "Morry" (a dear friend and retired Navy officer) who stuck with me all those summer vacations while I came back to DC from Georgia Tech. Weekend morning tennis was the smart way to play. Morry taught me that, patience and never stop moving those feet!!
**Check out the Tennis Courts used by Top Tennis Pros as a kid** Ever wonder what their home childhood courts look like? - check out this cool feature from NY Times.
Today - I just wanted to take a bit of time to reflect and share how Tennis began for me.
Partly because I get asked the "how tennis started for me" question so many times, but also because I wanted to highlight two specific old men that were huge influences on me and my tennis game. Without them, I probably would have lost Tennis to time and school work.
Thank you, Ron.
Thank you, Morry.
Coach Ron McDonald - TennisUSAYes, that was his real name "Ron McDonald". He first taught me when I was a teenager at a summer camp. Probably around 6th or 7th grade, he contracted for Arlington Parks and Rec. Teaching a bunch of kids at Thomas Jefferson Middle School. We had a couple older high school / college kids doing an internship or summer job helping out in our little summer tennis camp.
It was held in the morning I remember. Because after lunch I'd come home, hope on my Packard Bell Pentium 1 PC and play Warcraft II all afternoon on battle.net until my parents would make me do something else.
God, I loved those days. The A/C blowing cool air, me gulping down with a full bottle of Snapple Fruit Punch in one long continuous sugary gulp. After a long day of tennis, it was bliss. Summer days were always the best!
|Wilson Matrix SPS Graphite|
Dad and I drove down to a sports store across the street from Eden Center - it's now the Hong Kong Palace where dim sum is served. I still remember going to my closet and found a tie-dye t-shirt with the words "Rad Tennis" scrolled in citrus colors. I wanted to be sure the store attendee knew I was one savvy 12-year-old that REALLY knew his sport ;o)
At the time, I didn't want my parents to spend too much money. So I just opted for something basic. Just long enough for the class trip and tournament. As a 6th-grader on his first field trip out to Front Royal for the end of the year trip, I was freaking excited! The teachers had announced a small tennis tournament that would be held for those who wanted to sign up. It was Doubles, and I was eager to learn. My parents signed me up after that. I was hooked!
My dad at the time also purchased a Prince Graphite (probably a bit too expensive for either of our novice skill level and to the ire of my mother when she saw the price tag). But there we would go and practice at the neighborhood courts at Lyon village or another tennis court with a few cans of balls.
I remember at one point when I was in the local dollar store. On the side aisle with all the misc nick-nacks was a plastic wrapped (not in a can) pack of three tennis balls (probably meant for a doggie toy) and I thought JACKPOT!! LOL :oD
|Kei Nishikori and Michael Chang|
US Open 2016
Emulating my idol's style - Michael ChangOther kids had their own K-mart rackets and a few were not sure what hand to use. Ron would say, well if you want to be like Jimmy Connors, he was left handed!
Then Ron would look at me, so kid: who do you want to be like? My dad answered for me: "He's the next Michael Chang!". Ron smiled and looked me over. Alright, you gotta be fast then. Michael runs everything down. Ok then, I thought, that's what I'll do too.
It was in 1989 when Michael at the age of 16 won the French Open to the surprise of the world. It was a tumultuous summer with the events of Tienanmen Square having just occurred. The skinny kid with the thunder thighs would become a world champion with all eyes on him.
Yes, I even own a pair of Reebok Pumps :) Remember those?
Joining Tennis Lessons and Beating the Class Prodigy
I remember there was one boy in the class...a smart-alec with glasses who had taken tennis lessons before, and was very eager to show off.
My most memorable moment was the last day of class, we had a mini-tournament and I was paired up with him. I remember the last point when I won, he just dropped his racket and stood there. As I was leaving to go home, I remember him still gawking at me - jaw wide open as I rode home in my dad's car. It was one of the most satisfying wins of my life.
St. Agnes School and Tennis in Alexandria
I remember a few years later when I was in High School, I sought out tennis lessons for some reason. It was probably on a website. TennisUSA: weekend clinics and lessons. I begged my parents to sign me up.
A few weeks later, when I got there, I was the only teenager. Most of the adults were in their 30's or 40. I remember one fella, I think he was French "Donald Duck". He asked me how old he looked, I said 24? No, I'm 30 he told me as if that was supposed to impress me that he could still keep up with me running around the court.
There was one funny instance when one of the women in the class that played in the mixers with me (BYOB said Ron, "bring your own balls"). But she must have mistaken my age because of all out of nowhere she began asking me how I hit with so much topspin and if I could show her. She seemed to follow me around an awful lot I thought to myself. Then one day, I was talking to another player and mentioned a class I was taking in high school. "High school!?" she said, and the gig was up.
Next week the cougar MILF had switched to a different group. I always seemed to have that way with older women =D
In Memory of MorryA few years afterward, I have driven over to TJ again. My mom asked a couple retired men with gray hair if her son could hit with them. One of the men suggested, why don't you hit with Morry here - I'm just about out of energy!
Morry was a tall, thin Japanese-American who seemed to have the frame of a marathon runner. He told me he had retired from the US Navy just a little while ago and was now enjoying his summer free time on the tennis court. Morry was very nice to me and indulged me with weekly hitting sessions. Each Sat morning that summer, we would get up early around 8 or 8:30 to hit. We would always play just one set. Morry would exclaim, that one set is all he had in him!
It was he that introduced me to Towers Park - played on court 4 at the back corner. Each summer when I came home from college, I would call up Morry's home phone.
Hello! You've come back?! Yes, I was back that summer but was also taking MCSE classes during the weekdays. He was very understanding, even when I had a museum date with a summer intern in DC and was trying to rush out of there to win quickly and get read. He told me, you NEVER serve and volley!
After winning match point, I told him I had to hurry off to show a friend's friend some museums. He squinted. Ohhh so you have to give a DC tour huh? That's too bad. I told him, no I don't really mind (not saying it was a pretty intern girl I was giving a tour). Ok, same time next week then?
Yep! and I hurried away to shower. That was a fun summer for me* Old places, new faces.
Summer Tennis Mornings
For the next 2-3 years, we would meet each summer and each time I would beat him just ever so slightly at that set we'd play. However, the last summer I saw him, we played on two courts of singles with 2 more of his retired friends. Ok winners to court 1 and loser to court 2 ok? I was able to beat his other friends, but the last round robin match was against me.
I think perhaps it was only a 10 or 15 point tie-breaker out in Fairfax. He won his last match against me. I saw a satisfied look on his face. He played a very strong net game and forced errors from me. I wonder if it was because his friends were watching or perhaps because he had evolved his game. He had told me each summer he trains for the Senior Olympics and I think his specialty was distance running.
The next summer I came back home and tried to call his home phone, it was disconnected.
He had probably moved, or wanted to savior his last victory over me and then retired from tennis :)
Rest in peace, Morry and Ron - wherever you are in that big tennis court in the sky.
Funny how we remember the little things.