My Tennis Story


The first time I remember playing tennis was on a red clay court at a club where my father taught tennis in Bayside, NY.  My vague memories are of me holding the massive wood racquet in two hands and somehow connecting with every ball.  I must have been four or five.  Little did I know my father was a well known amateur and was once nationally ranked in the top 5 of doubles.  I didn’t know that only two years previous, the open era began, allowing tennis professionals the chance to make big money playing tennis.  All I knew is that people were excited to meet my Dad and loved to watch him play tennis.

My family moved to Kings Point in the late 70’s and we had enough room in our backyard to have a Har-Tru tennis court constructed.  I played on that court every chance I got.  I fell in deep love with tennis.  With my increased skill, was also a desire to play against others, so at the age of 11, my father put me in a Junior Development program at Valley Tennis.  The club allowed students in the JD program to play ladder matches on any unbooked courts from Friday nights through Sunday.  I played every Friday night and Saturday, playing anyone who was there.  Valley closed the next year and I had to look for another club that ran a junior development program. 

My father played in the Senior Doubles at the US Open at Forest Hills.  The tournament matches were played on the club's Har-Tru courts, but Forest Hills was famous for it's grass tennis courts.  I wanted try playing on grass.  My father wasn’t able to find time to play with me there, but he entered us into a Father-and-Son tournament.  We played at the Meadow Club in Southampton.  I didn’t fair very well and my father only played one other Father-and-Son tournament, but both were played on grass.  I had my wish, I played on a grass court.

The next place I played was in a bubble! Shore Tennis had 3 bubbles over its 7 Har-Tru courts.  I loved this club and was able to take lessons from a former student of my father's.  It wasn’t the only time I was able to learn/play/work with one of my father's former students.  This club had an open court policy and I never left!  At 15, my dad stopped paying for lessons for me, so I went to work for my former pro.  I worked at the summer camp and was able to play after camp for free.  It was the last amazingly fun experience I had with tennis. After that, tennis got serious.

I never played on my high school team, and I regretted that, but I had reached a place where tennis stopped being fun, and I hated the hard tennis courts we played on.  I didn’t play again until March of my freshman year in college.  My mother had encouraged me to take my tennis racquet with me to school, I never knew when I would want to play tennis again.  But I “walked-on” the try-outs for the tennis team.  I made the team, and I played number two singles and number one doubles.  I remembered how to play!  The tennis courts in the gym at Southampton had a strange, but incredibly fast mat. With my big serve, I was tough to beat.  Other teams would come to play us and they would complain about the gym's surface, but I liked it!  We practiced on the outdoor courts which was a hard surface, there I finally learned how to play on a hard courts.

After college, I started teaching tennis in Roslyn, NY.  The club mostly had indoor Har-Tru surfaces, but in one of it’s facilities they had the newest thing, a carpet with rubber pellets covering it.  It had a Har-Tru feel, but the rubber bits would fly everywhere.  I enjoyed the surface to play on and I liked the fact that you didn’t get dirty playing on it, but I hated the rubber bits.  Most people came to like the surface more then Har-Tru, but I still loved the green clay, it reminded me of my tennis court.  I even had the luck of returning to Forest Hills to play with a young lady getting ready for the Federation Cup.  I finally was able to play on the grass courts at Forest Hills for a solid week, we played sets, I got hammered!  For all my experience with tennis, I still was not in great condition, and I quickly got tired.  I was in teaching shape, not playing shape, there was a great difference!

Physical issues stopped me from playing tennis at 30 and I needed to get my shoulder repaired and cleaned out of bone chips, I wasn’t able to play for years. Life forced me back to teaching tennis, and in my 40’s I went back to teaching. My shoulder was better, the courts were better and teaching was fun again.  That didn’t last too long, I hated watching others have a great time playing tennis while I was stuck feeding balls to beginners.  It made me sad.  After 3 years, I was through teaching others tennis and my body was racked with pain from my hip and lower back.  It was then I focused on health and fitness.  In five years, I somehow got in the bet shape of my life, I was more fit then when I was young.

One summer day, I bought a can of tennis balls and went to Cedar Creek Park.  There I started hitting again the wall and it was pure joy! I returned as often I as I could and started really hitting the ball well, my body allowed my to play for hours.  Two hours hitting against a wall is an intense workout and I got very good.  I focused on learning how to hit like the top ranked pros of the day, and it was Novack Djokovic's style that clicked with me.  I focused on footwork and racket speed and my groundstrokes became lethal for the first time in my life.  People would watch me hit against the walls, impressed with the sound of the ball.  It was like a prize fighter with a speed bag, I hit hard and fast.

On one of my luckiest days of my life, a older gentleman asked me if I want to hit with him and his friend.  I said no at first, I had only bad experiences playing socially with people.  Cesar asked again, and this Filipino doctor’s smile convinced me to go on the court and hit.  So I did and I didn’t miss a ball in the two hours we played.  He told me that a group of guys met and played tennis all the time and he took my cell number.  He called me and I played a great deal, averaging 20 hours a week.  The cracked hard courts at my local park have become my favorite courts that I have ever played on.  For the first time in 25 years, I get to play tennis.

I think back to all the courts I’ve been blessed to play on, I love them all.  Each surface and place holds special meaning to me, and now I enjoy playing on any surface, I don’t care where and what it is.  The blessed temple of the tennis gods welcomes me each and every time I enter their cathedral and I feel reverence for the game and those who choose to play it.  Thank you Dad for this most amazing gift, I will always love tennis with all my heart and all my soul.  


Gary Schwartz