Originally created 07/06/06

Patient instructors impart tennis skills



Within five minutes of the opening statements for my first tennis lesson I learned that footwork and hand-eye coordination are key to the game.

I'm doomed, I thought, after hearing one of the tennis instructors at Newman Tennis Center give opening tips about the game.

Hand-eye coordination has never been my strong point. I was the last one picked for volleyball or any other team in physical education class in school. If an object is flying in my direction, I'm more likely to get out of its path than to try and catch it or, worse, actually hit it back.

Plop me in front of a computer to do research or write a story or edit video footage, or get me to spell a word most people have never heard of, or even to cook a down-home Sunday dinner or teach a kid to read - all of these things I'm comfortable with.

Still, Venus and Serena Williams had long piqued my interest in tennis, and the center was offering free lessons on Thursdays, so I signed up.

The trainers, Jim Irish, David Robinson and Mike Williamson, are good. One had us bounce the ball 20 times on top of the racket and then on the court. Of course, my balled rolled away after the second bounce.

After we got familiar with the ball and the grip of the racket, he taught us the three steps to the forehand - backswing, contact and follow-through - and later the backhand, the serve and parts of the court.

Watching the instructor and visualizing the steps in my head made it seem simple to hit the ball across the net. Well, it wasn't. I consistently hit the ball high into the air or missed it.

Dick Hatfield, the manager and director of tennis at the center, said my lack of sports experience was the reason for my problems with the game.

"Tennis uses the striking skill, but also catching and throwing skills. Catching skills are very similar to striking; when the ball is coming to you, you're thinking hand-eye. It's not the same, but the concept is the same, the idea of following the ball and returning it," he said. "In order to have the success you want would require more time, practice. But you can do it. Tennis is a great sport to help self-confidence."

He said I can do it. I don't believe there's anything I can't do. Still, not connecting in the correct way after being told exactly how was frustrating. I was determined. Because the instructors quickly picked out the good from the bad, they split up the class so the not-so-good players could receive individual attention. Guess which group I was with. The individual instruction was helpful. I was amazed at how patient they could be at saying the same thing over and over because it would take people - especially me - awhile to do the steps exactly like they said and make it work.

I'm no pro, but by the end of the lessons I could bounce the ball on the racket without it falling off. During games, I missed a few balls here and there, but now I hit more than I missed - many that actually went over the net! And it was fun.

"Are you ready for Wimbledon?" my uncle asked me soon after the lessons.

Sure, I was ready for Wimbledon years ago - to sit in the stands.

Maybe I'm ready to play doubles with some friends, but not Wimbledon. I'm not even ready for a local tournament, but I will be soon. Especially with all the money I spent on outfits and equipment. Just wait.

Reach C. Samantha McKevie at (706) 823-3552 or samantha.mckevie@augustachronicle.com.

GET SWINGING

Newman Tennis Center

3103 Wrightsboro Road

Free lessons for adults once a month. A series of six lessons are offered 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursdays for $48. Private lessons cost $20 for a half-hour; $40 for one hour. Call (706) 821-1600.

The Club at Raes Creek

3206 W. Wimbledon Drive

Private lessons cost $60 an hour for nonmembers; $50 an hour for members. Semiprivate lessons $30 for one hour. Call (706) 738-4122.

MACH Academy at Fleming Tennis Center

1850 Chester Ave.

Lessons for groups and individuals. Adult clinics are held from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and cost $32 a month. Youth clinics for ages 5 to 18 are held from 6 to 8 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays and 2-5 p.m. Saturdays and are $100 per month. Individual lessons for adults and children cost from $30 to $50 per hour, depending on the skill level. Call (706) 796-5046 or visit www.machacademy.com.