By Lois Vidaver
Buffalo is a sports town. We cheer on our football and our hockey and our baseball teams with gusto – both inside and outside their venues. But there is another sport some of us still cling to. Some is the operative word here; admittedly, we’ve not found many other die-hards.
I’m talking about tennis, a year-round favorite at the Vidavers’ house.
Many of us recognize the names of the four Grand Slam tournaments played annually in the United States, England, Australia and France. But in our living room, on our TV, the lesser ones located in exotic locations like Dubai, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Jamaica fill in the rest of the viewing time.
One of the things that attracted me to my husband all those years ago was the fact he liked tennis. No, actually, more like he loved tennis. A wonderful player, he even looked the part: tall and slim with a right arm inches longer than his left, a result of the multitude of serves pounded and shots returned on various courts in Southern California.
We hit it off because I was a tennis nut myself, having taught the sport at a Catskills summer camp while in college. I remember being outraged when a couple of preteen campers who were talented players decided they would rather spend time at the stables than thwacking a tennis ball across the net. What were they thinking? Imagine choosing horseback riding over tennis.
Growing up in the Forest Hills neighborhood in Queens, where the U.S. Open tournaments were held to great fanfare every fall, I accept the fact that the antics of celebrity stars are ingrained in my psyche. Arthur Ashe with his graceful demeanor played off the likes of Jimmy Connors with his fan-busting enthusiasm and John McEnroe with his explosive courtside manner.
They fascinated me.
I began seeking out public courts, slamming my balls against a concrete wall when I couldn’t find a partner. I really worked at developing my backhand; it was definitely my weakest shot. You have to remember, this was in the days when we actually used only one hand on our racket to swing at our opponent’s shots. Whenever the two-handed grip came into style, I must have been dozing on my couch. Like a 119-mph serve bursting from Serena Williams, I did not see it coming. (I must admit, it still seems a little wimpy to me.)
Our daughter surprised us one year with a trip to the newer National Tennis Center at Flushing Meadows Park, also in Queens. It was a wonderful visit. Still agile enough to climb into the upper, upper stands, we enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere. Andre Agassi was the star and made the day bright with his out-of-control shock of hair and neon tennis duds. If you remember, he was the one railing against the long-held traditional all-white dress codes required at England’s Wimbledon. For sure, tennis has had its share of pioneers as well as rebels.
Scheduled for Jan. 14, the Australian Open will be a great way to begin 2019, watching the tournament in all its warm-weather glory. The French Open takes place starting on Memorial Day, May 27, and beyond. July 2 brings us “Breakfast at Wimbledon,” played at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, when we serve strawberries with clotted cream like the Brits do. The U.S. Open begins Aug. 27, runs for two weeks and includes the Labor Day weekend.
I don’t know about you, but our plans for several holidays are already made for next year, thank you very much. You know where you can find us.
Lois Vidaver, of the Town of Tonawanda, grew up watching the U.S. Open in Queens.