Staff Sports: Carly takes a swing at tennis


For years, I distinguished myself in icebreaker discussions with three go-to fun facts: I go to Gunn, I write for The Oracle and I do track and cross country. The sports I participate in have been an integral part of my identity since freshman year, making it all the more unfortunate that runners have gained a reputation for not playing a “real sport,” and furthermore, being incapable of branching out into any of the so-called “real sports.” Thus, I set out to disprove this unfair stereotype by challenging myself to join the girls’ tennis team for a week and discovering if I had potential to become the next Serena Williams.

A little background about myself: I have very weak hand-eye coordination and even weaker arm strength. For whatever reason, I chose to try out a sport where both hand-eye coordination and arm strength are very important.

The tennis coach was delighted to hear of my track experience and assigned me to lead the warm-up run before practice. The speed training drills were the one and only time I was able to display any semblance of competence during my first day. Otherwise, my hand-eye coordination was as atrocious as I’d feared. Once, instead of sending the ball forward and over, I sent it straight up into the air with my racket and legitimately whacked myself in the face with a tennis ball. Note to all aspiring tennis players: Tennis is infinitely more enjoyable when you can get the ball both over the net and inside the court, a lesson I’ve learned from accomplishing such a feat roughly one-fourth of the time.

The undisputed highlight of practice, besides coming to terms with my own ineptitude, was using the ball machine. A tennis ball machine is essentially a contraption placed on the opposite side of the court that spits balls out at regular intervals, roughly mimicking the movement of a ball hit by an opposing player. The goal is to hit as many balls as possible using different kinds of grips—semi-western or “pancake” grip for forehand and continental grip for backhand. Although my proficiency with the ball machine was questionable, I soon fell into a comfortable rhythm of running back and forth and counting the seconds between balls. There truly is no high like getting in a perfect backhand against the ball machine, which I can confidently say after having exactly one such incident to speak of. For those of you with private tennis courts and thousands of dollars to spare, I would highly recommend getting a ball machine of your own. Alas, as a person of limited means, I had to bid the ball machine—and my temporary fellow teammates—adieu on my last day of practice.

After a grueling week on the courts, these are the lessons I have selflessly gathered through my own blood, sweat and tears for anyone hoping to try tennis or any new sport. First, do not, under any circumstances, forget to bring sunscreen. I only survived my first practice unscathed thanks to the generosity of the other players. Speaking of which, rely on your teammates! I learned as much from the exceedingly kind, knowledgeable and patient players as I did from the coach himself.

Next, learn the rules before you come to practice. This seems self-explanatory, but for people like me who once saw tennis as simply ping-pong played on the ground, it is absolutely essential. That being said, after a week of tennis practice and the efforts of many long-suffering fellow players, I still do not fully comprehend the rules of tennis and I probably never will.

My final verdict: I am probably not the next Serena Williams, and using my arms in any athletic capacity is definitely more tiring than running five miles. Overall, though, I had fun and will definitely be coming back to use the ball machine in my everyday life. For anyone looking to add exercise or excitement into their lives, my greatest piece of advice would be to just try a new sport, whatever it may be. You may end up surprising yourself along the way.