Tennis and Life – A Wonderful Story

Wall Street Journal sports columnist Jason Gay has written the finest story involving tennis you’re likely to read:

For 40 years, my father, Ward Gay, was a tennis coach, at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School in Cambridge, Mass., the city where he grew up. When he started, rackets were wood. The No. 1 men’s player in the world was Ilie Nastase. My dad studied tennis bibles written by Rod Laver, Bud Collins and Harry Hopman, and taught himself the rest through years of little victories and mistakes.

He liked natural gut string, one-handed backhands, the serve-and-volley, the chip-and-charge. He was also a science teacher at the high school, and he enjoyed how tennis was a game that rewarded mental acuity as well as physical skill. His favorite tennis maxim was the well-known adage he borrowed and passed on to every player: You’re only as good as your second serve…

My dad admired the pristine grass at Wimbledon and the red clay at Roland Garros, but the kind of tennis he really adored was city tennis. Cracks in the hard court. Rusty chain-link fences. Holes in the nets. Trucks howling by on the street. Country clubs weren’t his thing.

Tennis was for everybody, he felt…

In early March, just days away from the first tennis practice of the season, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

He resigned from coaching the team. He told me about it matter-of-factly, but stepping away after doing this for so long had to have been devastating. Spring afternoons on the hard court had been a ritual for him, a sanctuary…

Last Thursday, Aug. 21, in a Boston hospital that overlooked a pair of beautifully ragged tennis courts on the Charles River, my dad died. He was 70 years old.

The next day, my brother and I walked down the street to the courts we grew up on. We pulled out a couple of our father’s old rackets we’d uncovered in the garage, and hit like we used to hit when we were young. Dad had given us and so many others a sport we could play for the rest of our lives, but his reach was much more than that. We ran with our rackets back, ready for anything.

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