Jake Potrizeebi, 82, and Lito Guerrero, 80, both of Melbourne, have played tennis more than 100 years combined. They try to play several times week to maintain balance, eye-hand coordination and strength.
“Tennis is such a wonderful sport and provides a social life with your friends. It keeps you nimble,” Guerrero said as the two recently played in a senior doubles open play match at the Norm Holmes Tennis Complex at the City of Melbourne’s Fee Avenue facility.
“I’m just impressed that I can still play,” Potrizeebi quipped. He plays six hours most weeks.
An estimated 21.6 million Americans play, nearly half women, with the average age of players rising to above 40. The non-contact fast-paced sport is played on a court with a single or two players on each side of a net using cord-strung rackets. Players try to earn four points by getting a felt-covered bounceable ball into the opponent’s side of the court so their opponent(s) cannot make a valid return of the ball. Players can also lose a point if the server commits a double fault if the ball doesn’t go over the net into the diagonal square, or is out of bounds twice in a row. The serve ball is thrown into the air and hit overhand.
In tennis scoring, love means nothing, and points are scored as 15, 30 and 40. When both teams earn 40 points, it’s called deuce and the winner must make two consecutive points, the first called the advantage point. The ball can be struck as a volley, in the air before it bounces, or after it bounces once.
Players compete in a single game, a set of generally six wins and a match, composed of the best of three or five sets. The victor must win by two games. The rules are complex and haven’t changed much in the two centuries of play.
The game began in the 1800s in England as a lawn game. The Tennis Industry Association reported three million new players in 2020 alone, up 44 percent from 2019, reportedly because the game provides social distancing.
“Tennis is great for seniors because it keeps them going and it’s relatively low impact on joints and knees,” said Chris Cymbolin, the senior recreation supervisor for tennis for the City of Melbourne. With 15 courts at the Fee Avenue complex, senior doubles are offered four mornings weekly.
Jim Slate, 74, of West Melbourne began playing tennis 15 years ago when he retired. “I enjoy the fellowship and good exercise.”