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Men sentimentalise sex and sport: seek salvation in one or the other or both. Unfortunately perhaps for the reader, this is a short paean to the latter.
After the age of 12, particularly in these times when the transformation of the athlete from working class hero to corporate shill is complete, it requires practiced denial not to be cynical about professional sport and professional sportsmen. Which is why I want to tell you about Rose Park in Washington, DC. I live six short blocks from the park — really an extended dog run and a couple of playgrounds for the pampered pets of Georgetown, the city’s smartest, smuggest neighbourhood. It also features three public tennis courts, among the city’s best and attracting a high standard of tennis bum. As a fitful, lazy graduate student I spend much more time at Rose than I do at the library.
In racially segregated America, Rose Park was designated “for coloreds” only, an impractical dictate given its Georgetown location but in force until 1949. Washington, DC, self-segregates by income now, the rich huddled together in Georgetown. But the courts are a model of inclusivity. For all the sedate doubles I’ve played at Rose with economists from the World Bank, the heads of thinktanks, lobbyists and bureaucrats, I’ve hit with homeless recovering alcoholics, a bartender from Tunisia, limo driver from Cameroon, waiter from Indonesia. I’ve hit with young college players, with overweight old men who wield light, large-headed racquets, with people wearing the latest Federer shirt or Nadal shoes and others who play in their work trousers on their lunch hour. Sometimes I don’t hit at all but chat for hours on sunny mornings about religious belief, marital infidelity, illness, death, politics, literature, the importance of the off hand in the one-handed backhand.
Contemporary life can seem little more than a series of transactions, every encounter a calculation of potential profit. Rose Park, to me, is the opposite: a world marked by generosity and the unalloyed pleasures of aimlessness.
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