Barbara Youel | Towpath Member | Contributor
“Late to the Ball” by Gerald Marzorati is a coming of (older) age story of a former professional reader and editor, who decided to become a competitive and match-ready tennis player on a national scale. As a fifties-something player, Marzorati challenged himself by engaging coaches, trainers, friends and opponents to find skill and meaning in this game. Despite his fear of a late entry to tennis, where (according to him) his years were approaching “the anteroom of the aged,” he was eager to learn and expend both considerable time and money to find that if he plays better, he will win more. “That’s how you grow. And growing is what playing is all about, ultimately, or should be, “ urged Coach Krill.
It’s a great story, told in a conversational style, and full of references that proves he has decades of literary and scholarly prowess. But before you think this is all too academic, he takes us through all the familiar angst and anguish of the novice tennis player. We will recognize our own struggles on the court – you know – the brilliant “all planets in alignment” shot to a candidate for the all-time tennis bloopers on YouTube, no less.
Marzorati passes along all kinds of tennis tips from tennis pros to professors.
1. “To hit a tennis ball well, so many things have to go right. And then you have to be ready because it is coming right back at you, and you have to do it again.”
Oh yeah……….this just about covers the big picture! Should we stop reading now? But wait, there’s more…
2. “…top tennis players could anticipate where a serve was going by picking up not the ball’s trajectory or even the motion of the racquet but by glimpsing tiny shifts in an opponent’s torso early in the service motion.”
Reminds me of that sixties’ tune – “Easier Said Than Done”…
and, my favorite…
3. “If you want time to slow down, become a student again.”
Seriously, this just about sums up Marzorati’s love affair with tennis. It may explain why youngsters will never be old enough to drive, or graduation is so far away or…. you get the idea. Apparently young people are so busy learning all sorts of things, they feel that life’s in slomo –nothing will ever come to fruition. So if you are in mid-life or later and think time is zooming by way too fast, go out and learn something new, whether it’s tennis, some other sport, a new language, cooking, philosophy or memorizing all the state capitols (you never know when Jeopardy is in your future).
I have been pondering of late (just an expression but it works here) my coming to this wonderful game of tennis some 15 years ago (in mid-life more or less, but who knows how long I will live?) and then starting to run 5K’s “late in life” 5 years ago. Recently I ran a 5.5 mile relay in the Akron Marathon, something I have never done before and never even thought about doing. When some said I had come to running (or even tennis) “late” I began to question that assessment and asked myself if that’s a view from a wide-angle lens or microscope. When I hear players new to tennis say that they are “late-comers” to the sport, I think they reflect a relative notion, one they may be comparing to the lucky youngster given tennis lessons at age 5 or some high school or college wunderkind. But are the newcomers really “late?”
When you are ready to improve your serve, develop your forehand, tighten your volley, or run faster, the readiness IS all…and you are never late. Learn something new and put Father Time on a slow burner. The time is now and it is just right.
Oh, and Mr. Marzorati, I don’t think you are late to anything.
* Gerald Marzorati is former editor of the New York Times Magazine and has written about tennis in the New York Times and on NewYorker.com. He is 63. Late to the Ball (Scribner - 2016) is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and public libraries.