Our teacher was an athletic man who taught himself how to play tennis. He came from a background of ice hockey and baseball. He loved teaching my sister and me because we were also athletic. It was the era of Billie Jean King, who was from nearby Long Beach, CA. She loved to rush the net and hit volleys, so our teacher decided that we should learn that style of play, too. That was not very common way for girls to play the game. He also that we should learn all about spins and thought that “topspin” was the future of tennis and we worked hard getting the feel of that aggressive spin. We even learned the American Twist serve which had a wicked bounce when it hit the court.
We weren’t very excited about our tennis lessons at first, but we couldn’t wait to try out our new wooden tennis rackets. My mother saved “Blue Chip” stamps from her weekly grocery shopping trip. She had us help “stick them” into her “Blue Chip” books. When they were filled up, we went to redeem them and my mom picked out two “Blue Chip” tennis rackets for us. Looking back now, I know that they were not high quality rackets by any means, but to us, they were very special.
So off we went to our lessons, with our “Blue Chip” rackets and two cans of tennis balls. We also took our own personal drink thermoses of lemonade/orange juice mix with lots of ice cubes. It was summer time and always hot in T.O. when I was growing up! Then one day our tennis teacher introduced us to a new sports drink: Gatorade. It was made for athletes and was just coming into the marketplace where we lived.
Carrie and I stayed after our scheduled lessons and played lots of doubles with the other kids from the classes. Our teacher made sure we got lots of practice playing games and eight game pro sets. The tennis balls we used were white in color and opened with a “key” attached to the bottom that you had to turn and unwind the metal lid, just like tuna fish cans in those days!
Because we were used to playing baseball with the boys at the park, we had no trouble hitting the tennis balls over the net AND over the chain linked fence at the courts. But if you did hit it on purpose over the fence, you had to run and retrieve it and miss a turn. When I became a tennis teacher years later, that was one of my pet peeves. I could always tell those Little League players trying to hit “home runs” with their racket and tennis balls! I would tell my students that I didn’t want anyone breaking my record of fourteen shots hit over the fence! My record still stands!
I don’t know what eve happened to our old “Blue Chip” tennis rackets. I need to try and dig up an old black and white photograph to see it again. We eventually moved on to other, better rackets of the time: Tensor and the Wilson T-2000 that Jimmy Connors made famous. We kept practicing, got a little better and began playing in some local tennis tournaments. We were hooked. Open Tennis began in 1968, the year we started playing. Open Tennis meant that the amateurs and professionals could play together in the same events. Prize money was beginning to grow. In 1968, we also purchased our first color television set and watched Billie Jean King on TV that summer during Wimbledon. It’s hard to believe we have been playing tennis for fifty years. And it began with our “Blue Chip” rackets!