Mike Limpag

Fair play

ALL this watching of the Australian Open is making me miss home.

No, I’m not talking about Australia—never been there. I’m talking about tennis and the things the sport has taught me.

Oh how I miss tennis.

I’ve been pegged as a football nut—an expert even—even if I can’t tell a 4-4-2 from a 4 x 4—but football was a sport I picked up late.

But tennis was my first love.

Growing up a spit away from a tennis court—and a couple of spits away from the football field—my first introduction to sport was being a pulot boy in tennis.

We didn’t have ball boys—at least when I was growing up. Ball boys pick stray balls on the court, a strange phenomenon in our place, pulot boys fetch the ball that lands miles away from the court—in the field, or the pineapple plantation.

Tennis and football were the top sports in our place.

That’s why I picked up tennis.

No I didn’t learn the game from teachers, nor from experts. I learned the game from 30-somethings who, after receiving the balls we picked, decided to rest and gave us their racquets.

Some of us eventually got good at it. Some made the varsities, while others became good weekend warriors.

Tennis, too, turned out to be a something more.

When I got home in 2001, I slew my demons with a Prince racquet.

My football teammates were too busy finishing their college degrees, and the basketball court—which was three spits away—never appealed to me.

So I whacked tennis balls. From morning, till noon, till sunset.

We called it “boarding,” a term, which I learned, is alien to Cebu. I’d whack the balls as hard as I could, sometimes intentionally hitting it over the wall, as far away from the court as possible.

There is something therapeutic in hitting a ball so hard against the wall, I guess. You give it your best shot, and it just keeps coming back.

And you try again and again.

You punish yourself with your choices, why not punish yourself by choice?

Rafa and Roger were nobodies then. Ditto with Her Royal Loudness, Maria.

So I went five sets with Pistol Pete in Flushing Meadows, with Thomas Muster at Roland Garros, with Goran at Wimbledon and Andre at the Rod Laver Arena.

I think I also won a Davis Cup back then.

One of my favorite routines was the “serve, drop and run.” You serve on the deuce side, so it always bounces back to your backhand, then you gently slice it just over the line on the wall that represents the net.

Of course “the other guy” always gets it, so you scramble from the baseline to the net to catch the ball.

And then you do it again. And again.

And sometimes, after hitting the wall so often, you’d break down the walls in your head.

Damn, I miss tennis.

GROWING FAMILY. Our group of columnists just got bigger. Back in 2007, only three of the original six were left but now, we have the perfect lineup.

We got everything covered.

We have Match Point for tennis and just about everything, Last Round for boxing, Chessmoso for those who love chess, Tee Time for those who chase little balls, Stage Five for those who’d rather shoot them.

Those who want to hear about the serious stuff has All Write, while anything else, it seems, is Fair Play.

Now we have On the Run and it’s not for those on the run—its for the thousands of runners out there. Happy reading!!!