by Greg Akers
I recently picked up my tennis racket for the first time in years. I like to think that I used to be decent at the game; I was at least mostly competitive. I lettered in varsity three of my years at Collierville High School in the early 1990s. And then I went to college, worked for a living, got married, had a kid, etc. Didn't see many tennis courts for the last decade and a half.
When I picked up my racket again this June, it was Gabriela I pulled from the scabbard. Literally. That's my racket's name. Gabriela. I'm not joking.
I've had Gabriela — a Prince "Graphite COMP XB Oversize" — since 1993. I named her after Gabriela Sabatini, the Argentinean women's tennis player, one of my favorite players ever.
In fact, while we're talking about it: My three favorite players of all time are, in quite certain order: 1. Steffi Graf, 2. Michael Chang, and 3. Gabriela Sabatini. It's no coincidence that all three were at their peak in the same era — the exact time I hit sports puberty. (It's the same reason my favorite hockey team remains the Calgary Flames; right place, right time.)
Anyhoo, I bought Gabriela after a tennis teammate sat on and broke my previous racket, named Steffi (the racket, not the teammate).
Steffi laid to rest and Gabriela crowned in her place, my racket and I commenced to wreak a reign of terror over Shelby County high school tennis — well, it's easier to remember it that way than how it actually went down. We won some and lost more. But Gabriela and I were in tune. We smashed forehands and spun the yellow off some backhands. We aced opponents with our ferocious serve.
And then I graduated and my game went to pot. I relocated to three or four states over the years, but Gabriela always made the move with me. Not because I was playing but because there was always the promise that I would again someday. I still felt the tennis in me.
I still do. I've picked up Gabriela again and have played about four times in two months. This is progress. My serve, once the strength of my game, is garbage. I'm so out of shape I'm sucking wind like a Swiffer Vac any time there's any kind of rally. My right knee may blow out any minute now, even if I'm just sitting at my desk. I used to joke that Gabriela's color was "thunder purple." These days it's more like unforced-error purple.
I've been asked if I'm going to get a new racket. Gabriela's over 15 years old. Technology has come a long way since she was on the market. If I had been using even a 10-year-old racket in high school, it would've been aluminum. That just sounds ancient.
But, I will not consider retiring Gabriela. She may break down, but, then again, so might I. We're in this together.
I'd love to hear if you've got a favorite piece of sporting equipment, if only for the normalizing of my behavior.