What’s the secret to aging gracefully in tennis? “Never play anyone younger than you,” an elder statesman at my club once told me with a smile. “You’ll never feel like you’re slowing down.”
It’s advice I’ve mostly taken to heart. Truth be told, it hasn’t been difficult to follow. As I’ve moved through my 20s, 30s and now 40s, my opponents and doubles partners haven’t had much choice but to age alongside me.
As youngsters, we bought wooden racquets, learned old-school Eastern and Continental grips and kept our forehand stances carefully closed. If we wanted to be taken seriously, we were told, we had to come to the net.
Like others from that pre-Millennial era, my game evolved. My grip traveled west, my racquets expanded in size and I retreated to the baseline like everyone else. I even started smacking that once-exotic shot, the inside-out forehand, for a few winners. I felt like I was learning new tricks and keeping up with the times.
At a certain point, though, you have to branch out. In recent years, I’ve found myself facing a younger set of opponents. They’re not in their primes, exactly; most are 30 and up. But the 10-year difference can make it feel as if we’re playing entirely different sports.
If you’re around 30, you grew up watching Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams. You might have started with a wide-body racquet and strung it with a spin-boosting polyester. You probably whip the frame across your body like a windshield-wiper and think that a closed stance is about as useful as a wooden-racquet press.