Getting back into the game (of tennis)


For many years, the only times I got hold of my tennis racket was when I was moving from apartment to apartment. At each new location, I would put the racket in a corner of a closet in the hope that one day I could get it out and play.

Last week that day arrived.

It was a warm summer evening when I stepped onto the courts at Fairfield Ludlowe High School for my first lesson in 30 years. The last time I did this, I was 13 and I was wearing tubular socks, striped sports shorts, and a terrycloth shirt. At the time, I was playing on a court at Fairfield Warde High School (then Andrew Warde High) and worried a lot less about how my body was going to feel the next day. With such a time lag since my last lesson, there have been many changes in the sport, not the least of which is technology. When I left, wooden racquets were losing ground to the graphite versions, which helped make the game much faster today.

On my last adventure in the tennis world, I was joined by instructor Shirley Avril and another student Andrea Stimmel, both from Fairfield. Stimmel had also recently returned to the sport after 28 years. Since the start of the summer, she has been attending adult clinics offered by Fairfield County Tennis, which operates the recreational tennis program for Fairfield and a number of other towns in the county.

“Not only did I need lessons, but I was hoping to meet other people to play with,” Stimmel said.

I got to see the benefits of a refresher course, especially as it prepares one for casual or even league play. The same goes for Tom LaDue, director of corporate communications for the United States Tennis Association, which is the national governing body of tennis. “Tennis is a sport for life,” said LaDue. “It attracts players of all ages and abilities.”

The association has many programs aimed at putting people back in the game and keeping people in the game, including those who won’t necessarily find themselves competing at the New Haven Open at the Connecticut Tennis Center in Yale this week. or in the United States. Open at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY, starting next week. Tennis is a growing sport, according to the association’s website, which notes that more than 28 million people across the United States played tennis last year. In Connecticut, more than 10,000 people, ages 18 to 65 and over, participate in the USTA Adult League game.

Maybe they could add one more to the count soon.

Here are the highlights from my last lesson, along with some tips on how to get started.

What is that? Tennis is believed to have been around for thousands of years, gradually evolving into the game we know today. You can play indoors or outdoors in singles or doubles. It requires a tennis court and balls and is played with a racket.

Fitness Level – Depending on how you play, your opponent’s expertise, and your skill level, you can either increase the intensity or decrease it. As the USTA notes on its website, “the game of tennis can be adapted to any age, environment, condition or disability.” Its adapted tennis program, for example, strives to bring all kinds of physical, developmental and situation challenges onto the court.

“I had people who wanted to run more and others who wanted to be technically strong,” said Avril. “Ideally, this is good technique and exercise. You don’t want to feel like you have to go to the gym again after playing.”

What to wear – For my 2013 lesson, I eschewed 1980s fashion for running shorts and a short sleeve running shirt, as well as running shoes. If you are starting or returning to sport after a long absence, I would choose clothes that are comfortable and do not interfere with your movements.

To learn more
Interested in returning to tennis or returning to sport? Visit the USTA website,, as well as, which will connect you with other players or leagues in your area. If you want to find local courses and programs, visit, where fall registration is expected to begin soon.
More interested in watching tennis than playing? Then check out the competition at the New Haven Open, which runs through August 24, by visiting You can find information on the US Open, which begins next week, by visiting

The Experience – Throughout the hour-long clinic, Avril worked to get Stimmel and me back in shape. She worked hard to get our shots back into shape, our serves going in the right direction and our feet moving quickly on the court. I didn’t embarrass myself, but I certainly have a long way to go before I acquire the right technique. It was a busy hour of exercise. I was often out of breath, thanks to the quick bursts needed to return shots and cover all corners of the court. My strength and agility were put to the test, and my arms and legs were definitely trained. My heart felt it the next day, and there was a little pain in my right arm. Next time I have to remember to stretch before class. The ultimate goal is to use the lesson to develop skills so that you are ready to engage in high energy tennis matches. What was unexpected was the mental benefit of a little competition. Most of my workouts these days are just led by me and offer very little opportunity for a challenge (beyond the occasional road running). I enjoyed my few games against Stimmel and remembered the pleasure of having to react to the unexpected.

Health Benefits – Tennis, like other exercises, helps burn calories, while allowing people of all ages to improve their agility, strength and mobility. Various sources indicate that an hour of tennis, played by a 160-pound person, can burn around 600 calories. With its bursts of activity and short recovery breaks, the pace of the game mirrors interval training, which has been shown to be particularly effective for cardiovascular fitness. It was also fun, which made it a great stress reliever after a busy day. Since it’s a sport for all ages, it’s a great way for families to stay active together.

Whatever you do, take it easy.

“Start off slow and maybe go play for 30 minutes,” LaDue said. “A few days later you can go up to 35. With tennis you can do whatever you want.”

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