Saturday, October 07, 2023

Tennis: The Love Sport

—Poetry by Michael Ceraolo, S. Euclid, OH
—Photos Courtesy of Public Domain


Sadly there is no film extant for some
of the early subjects of the forthcoming poems,
so imagination will be needed
to conjure up their playing styles and quirks

Thankfully there is no film extant
of the poet playing tennis,
so one can conjure or not regarding
his adventures on the court

Forget association football
(I agree with the wise man who once said
it's impossible to like any sport
where it's actually considered a good play
to get hit in the head with the ball)
Tennis is the beautiful game:
power and finesse
sound strategy with superb execution
sound strategy with failed execution
infrequent unsound strategy
a clock before the start of every point
but thankfully no clock on the finish
the whole-is-sometimes-greater-than-the
of some championship doubles teams
Let's take an idiosyncratic journey
through the centuries and the game's marvels
(and occasional shameful episodes),
along with a few personal reminiscences


The sport had been around for hundreds of years
in various manifestations
before it was invented again
in the early 1870s
by the soon-to-be-promoted-to-Major
Walter Clopton Wingfield,
                                      who patented a
New and Improved Court for Playing
the Ancient Game of Tennis,
to be played on grass though eventually
other surfaces would also be used
Soon after the rules were codified:
some of Wingfield's were used, some excluded,
and that is largely the game played today


Not Lottie Dod either
Charlotte Dod hated the diminutive
foisted upon her by the time's sportswriters,
though she never said anything publicly
during her long lifetime
She personified the word prodigy,
first partnering with her sister Ann in doubles
at age eleven and playing against adults,
winning Wimbledon all five times she played,
taking two years off in the middle of that run
for sailing and other pursuits
having lost only a handful of matches in her career,
she looked for other mountains
literal and figurative to climb,
her accomplishments in other activities
can be the subjects of different poems

and already a two-time Wimbledon winner,
Charlotte Dod decided
to take on three top male players,
accepting the accepted handicap of the day:
she would start each game two points ahead
and would be given a couple do-overs per set
Absent Wells' time machine,
and with no film of the matches
and no play-by-play to say
whether she would have won any or all
even without the handicap,
no one can say for certain
But I wouldn't have bet against her


She was neither the first nor the last
to fall under the spell of her publicity,
and why would she not have;
                                           after all,
sportswriters had christened her The Goddess,
so she challenged Big Bill Tilden
(No word has come down on whether
she was given the standard handicap
of the day for male-female matches)
But even outside Greek mythology
goddesses are occasionally humbled,
and losing six-love is the ultimate humbling,
especially if she had been given the handicap
She then forewent the second set,
telling Tilden "You hit too hard"
Battle of the sexes now tied at a set apiece


Fifteen Olympiads to be exact,
in which thirteen Games were held,
though, inexplicably,
the game was a demonstration sport
not once but twice during the period,
as though something new needing to be introduced
But tennis had been a part of the Games
from 1900 through 1924,
after which a pissing contest
between two groups of mandarins
over whose version of amateurism
would prevail caused its absence,
the acceptance of professionalism
made that debate moot


The huckster/hustler was thirty years past his prime,
but he still knew how to draw publicity,
playing the part he had assigned himself
to the best of his ability,
starting with the Mother's Day Massacre
of the champion from Australia
But in the made-for-television event
he would more than meet his match
in a fellow American,
going down to defeat in straight sets
One lesson from that night
not learned yet now fifty years later
is that women are as capable as men
of playing best-of-five-set matches,
but the other lessons were absorbed
Battle of the sexes now standing
at two to one in favor of the women


Today’s LittleNip:

It’ll just be me and you and the twenty tennis balls that we will have nearby in case you decide to keep sending them flying into the river.
―Grace Hitchcock,
Hearts of Gold: A Historical Romance Novella Collection


—Medusa, thanking Michael Ceraolo for today’s poems from a series he’s working on about tennis. Michael has been popping into the Kitchen on a fairly regular basis since 2015.
 Michael Ceraolo

A reminder that Vincent Kobelt
will be reading at African Market Place
in Sacramento today (Florin Square),
and tonight the second of two
Voices of Calif. readings
takes place at the Natomas Library.
For info about these and other
upcoming poetry happenings in
Northern California and otherwheres,
click on
in the links at the top of this page.

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