Oct/17

31

My Favorite Tennis Partner: My Mom

My mom died on Sunday. She often accompanied me to the US Open on my favorite days, either the first or last day of the Qualis. And even though she didn’t know any of the lower-ranked men and women we watched play, she was always an avid and joyous fan. Once my friend, Jeff Salzenstein, who was playing in the Bronx Challenger, stayed at my mother’s house in Rye, New York when I lived with her after coming home from graduate school. I remember Jeff and I lying on her tv room rug as we watched Jimmy Connors play Johnny Mac in a heated seniors’s tour event in Texas where Jimbo walked off the court mid-match because he thought Johnny Mac had made fun of him.

My mom and I played a lot of tennis together and unlike Jimbo, neither of us ever left the court in anger. My mother and I once won a mixed doubles tournament at the public courts I grew up at in Harbor Island Park in Mamaroneck, New York. My mom had no backhand; a weak serve and a car accident which ruined her knees made her slow to cover the court. But I covered a lot of her side and much to both of ours’ surprise, we won.

I wasn’t a tennis player growing up. I was a basketball player and my mom had once received a marriage proposal from the greatest Jewish basketball player of all time, Hall of Famer, Dolph Schayes. But my mother didn’t take much interest in my basketball playing in high school, only coming to one or two of my games. But when I played tennis in college at Cortland State in upstate New York, she came once to see me play at West Point against Army.

There was something about tennis for my mother. She was very proud of my son, Callum, who will probably be the real tennis star of the family. When Callum was 5 or 6 he used to hit mini-tennis with my mom and Callum has a big topspin forehand so I had to tell him to temper that shot when he hit with my mom. She died at age 87 and the last year was a real struggle for her as she broke her pelvis in one fall and her neck in another. She went from walking miles with me down along the beach at Playland Park in Rye to having to walk gingerly with a walker to finally having to be confined to a wheel chair at the end of her life.

But wherever we went together, Cape Cod, Naples, Florida on one vacation, Delray Beach on another, we would play tennis together. Near the end, I started hitting non-compression tennis balls with her, the same balls I used with Callum till about the age of 8. And my mother loved going out and playing tennis, even if her balance was faulty and finally we had to confine our hits to mini-tennis. She used to vacation each winter for two months in Delray Beach at the old Laver Club off Linton Blvd. and her tennis pro was none other than Chris Evert’s little sister, Jeannie Evert. And Jeannie and my mother became friends, while she took her lesson, Jeannie would tell my mother about her husband who died early from an uncommon disease and about her kids.

I remember my mother kept playing tennis even as the Prince racquet I bought her with the narrow grip because she had small hands, flew out of her hand because her arthritis of the wrists and hands impaired her ability to hold onto the racquet. She hit a one-handed backhand until later in her life, she started hitting two handers for the added strength. Sometimes she’d hit an outright winner against me and even though I tried to chase down the ball, we had to laugh when I couldn’t get a racquet on it.

I remember my mom kept playing tennis for many years even after she had double knee replacement surgery at age 65. I have had many tennis partners in my life. I’ve stood across the net from many kids as a teaching pro as well as men and women, and in competition, friend and foe, pro and amateur, players of many races, ethnic groups and ages, but none for me will ever match the fun and closeness I experienced while playing with my mom. It was always an honor and a pleasure, mom, to play tennis with you and in my eyes, I never saw you double fault or make any unforced errors.

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23 comments

  • Joe Blow · October 31, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    Sorry for your loss.

  • Dan Markowitz · October 31, 2017 at 9:18 pm

    Thanks Joe, I feel a hole in my heart, but I needed to write this post. It made me remember some of the fun and bonding my mom and I had with a sport that I loved and she started playing only when she moved to the suburbs from the Bronx.

    But as Scoop has said here many times at Tennis-Prose, you can have lots of different partners in tennis and they don’t all have to be at your level or close to it. Sometimes you just play with someone else out of love.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 1, 2017 at 8:51 am

    SINCEREST CONDOLENCES TO THE MARKOWITZ FAMILY. WONDERFUL TRIBUTE FROM THE HEART TO OUR SOULS.

  • jg · November 1, 2017 at 9:21 am

    Dan, my condolences as well, I remember your mother well, and I will never forget Mike Simon commenting that your mother looked “hot” as she was walking down Taylor’s lane and a bunch of us drive by ( and We let him have it all during high school and reminded him it was Dan’s mom). I too remember hitting with my mother at Harbor Island ( public red clay courts) and thinking her strokes were impeccable for someone who rarely played and much better than my fathers and Dan’s who were self taught ( which is not to say you can’t be self taught but they just didn’t do a good job) but played a lot and were competitive. Sounds like your mother was still relatively active later in life which is good.

  • Chazz · November 1, 2017 at 10:07 am

    My condolences, Dan. That’s a really touching tribute.

  • Duke Carnoustie · November 1, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    Very sad news indeed, though I always say that I hope my mom passes before I do because no parent should have to endure the loss of a child. Wonderful how tennis was such a big part of your relationship.

  • Dan Markowitz · November 1, 2017 at 1:58 pm

    Thanks for the support and appreciation for this piece on my mom. Duke, I could never imagine seeing my child die. This was bad enough and my mother did lose her first child when he was only one and the doctor told my parents there was a 25 % chance that any other child they had would have the same disease that killed their first child.

    My dad didn’t want to have any more kids, but my mom persisted and they had two more, including me, so I’m glad she did.

    Jg, I always thought that was you who made that remark on Taylor’s Lane. I’ll have to check with Bill Wolf to see if he remembers because I’m not in touch with Mike anymore.

    My father’s game was all self-taught, as was my mom’s for the most part, but my father played a pretty sound game of doubles and he still thought he could take me when I went off to law school when I was 25 and he was 63. We played two sets on public courts, of course, in DC and I beat him like 1 and 2 and I never saw him look more injured as after that defeat. He had no backhand either which probably goes to show you that the backhand without proper teaching is the hardest shot to hit well, especially when self-taught.

    Losing my mom is very tough. Her quality of life in the last year was not good and I think she wanted to go because she was so embarrassed and dismayed with the limitations in her life, but even so, there is no replacing or substituting for a mom.

  • jg · November 1, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    That was totally Mike Simon, I think Inmay have been driving ( but not sure of that)
    Someone should compile a book of fathers v sons matches, my kids still have a tough time with me and they are very good players ( 5.0’s), when do you think Cal will be able to take you ?

  • Dan Markowitz · November 1, 2017 at 6:02 pm

    Jon,

    Callum has already beaten me, but when I play him on fast indoor courts I still win, but it’s usually close. On the clay, or Har-Tru, he takes tie-breakers off me and usually beats me in baseline games. My style throws him off and his serve until recently, contributed a point or two a game to me. But his serve is much better now working with Fritz and I suspect if I don’t pick up my game (I may need foot surgery for arthritis I have in it and missing cartilage in my ankle) or if my movement gets worse, it’s curtains for me.

  • jg · November 1, 2017 at 6:35 pm

    I hear ya, I have had foot surgery on both feet for the same thing, similar to the toe surgery Hewitt had on the big toe. It’s the wear and tear, I suspect most tennis players have foot issues later in life. Scoop turned me on to Yonex shoes which has helped and changing them every 2 months or so.

  • Dan Markowitz · November 1, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    Wow, you change them every two months! You must play a lot. I’m leery of getting the foot surgery because what they do–I don’t know if they did this to you–is they fuse a joint in your mid-foot, but it’s a joint the doctor says is not a joint that moves very much. But since my foot is flat from my deltoid ligament being over-stretched, they also shift the heel of my foot and put fortification on that ligament.

    Were you in a boot for six weeks? That’s what I would have to do and then they say you can start hitting and moving around 3 months after surgery.

  • jg · November 1, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    They put 2 new joints in my toes, I had them done about 2 years apart, my doc said out for At least 6 Weeks ( boot for 2) with PT after 4 weeks, my balance was way off at first, I started hitting after 7 weeks full movement after 10 but not one hundred percent, it takes about 6 mos. for 100 percent, I now have bone spurs in Achilles! You fix one thing and another pops up! My advice is to get the surgery while you are young enough, my father waited too long to get knee replacement and now he needs wheelchair, knees are shot.

  • Dan Markowitz · November 2, 2017 at 11:03 am

    All posts always lead back to surgeries or Angelique Kerber or Brydan Klein. Poor Brydan, he lost again first round to his nemesis, Matthew Ebden. He can never beat that dude.

    Another thing I remember about playing tennis with my mother is how she used to curse under her breath when she missed shots or couldn’t get to balls. I’d say to her, “Mom, don’t get so upset. This isn’t Wimbledon” or “Mom, it doesn’t matter how many you miss. One good shot will wipe away all the misses.”

    But it hurt me to see how down on herself she could get just by going out and hitting a few balls. She enjoyed herself, but she got embarrassed by the misses and her inability to get to balls like we all do, but I thought, “Wow, I just wish she could enjoy herself more.” Which I think about myself at times too for sure.

  • catherine · November 2, 2017 at 11:39 am

    Dan,
    I was sorry to hear about your mother, but it seems to me she had a pretty good life and you’ve been left with memories which will stay with you always.

    It’s possible your mother enjoyed hitting balls more than you thought at the time. Maybe you’re projecting a bit – your own sensitivity about enjoying yourself I mean.

    I’m not sure if that comment about Kerber was aimed at me – I’ve probably a few more things to say about Angie but I can assure you I’d never have dreamed of writing them here which is a post about the death of your mother.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 2, 2017 at 2:22 pm

    Dan, you should have suggested tossing her racquet :) It vents frustration very well. Take it from a guy who has tossed his racquet a couple of times :) Could even have consulted with her about tactical ways to throw the racquet without cracking the frame :)

  • dan markowitz · November 2, 2017 at 7:28 pm

    No Scoop, you knew my mom a bit, her schtick was not tossing her stick except when her arthritis got so bad that it involuntarily flew out of her hand at times.

    Catherine, I know my mother enjoyed our tennis sessions together, but she didn’t like to do poorly at anything so if she felt she wasn’t playing up to par, she could get upset and a I tried to allay her disappointment.

    I wrote this tribute to her that I am going to give at her service tomorrow that explains that dynamic we had on the tennis court a little further:

    “Mom’s Tribute”

    I may get teary up so forgive me if I can’t finish this tribute to my mom. I had a very close relationship with her for a very long time. I really loved her. She was not an easy woman, but whatever she did from making us our nightly dinners when we growing up to going on the many car trips to faraway places like throughout Europe and to Florida, Montreal, Maine and California that my father loved to take us on, Mom gave it her all.

    My father also loved to play tennis and he got me into it as well as my mother. When he died, my mother and I continued to play wherever we went together: Naples and Delray Beach, Florida, Wellfleet, Cape Cod and Montauk as well as many courts in Mamaroneck. When I was a teen, we won a Mixed Doubles tournament together at Harbor Island Park and that cemented our tennis sessions together.

    Mom wasn’t a particularly good player, but if she were playing particularly erratic on a certain day, I would hear her start to utter curses under her breath. She didn’t want to concede to the arthritis in her knees and hands or her trouble with her balance. She enjoyed hitting a clean stroke, particularly a backhand, which never came easy for her.

    But there was something else going on; another dynamic at play: and that was that my Mom never wanted to disappoint me. Not even on the tennis court. She thought if she didn’t get enough balls back in play, I would grow bored. I tried to assure her that my interest in playing with her was not so much to get a workout, but just to share some time together in a place where we both found solace.

    But those tennis sessions together were emblematic of how she always looked out for me and paved the way for me to pursue the interests I wanted to pursue and attain a step up whenever she could lend a hand. This is how she staked me the money to attend graduate writing school or buy a house and buy into one yoga studio and build another.

    It got very tough the last year of mom’s life. This very proud woman not only couldn’t play tennis any more, but a lot of the other activities she took for granted also escaped her. I would look into her eyes and tell her, “Mom, I love you,” but she’d ask me, “How can you love me when I’m like this?” Our relationship, built upon us doing together so many activities and having conversations about many and varied topics, ground to a much slower and sadder pace.

    Still, I miss her terribly. It’s hard to replace a mom, especially one so attuned to what made me tick and determined to do everything she could to give me the best chance at having a go at my dreams. Mom was a lot of things: a beauty pageant contestant at Hunter College, a teacher, a world traveler, a lover of books, music and theater, but her greatest role was that of a mother. I’m quite sure that’s what she would say she valued most in her life.

    As a parent myself now, I know that it’s easy for your dreams for your child to color how you guide your child. But mom’s greatest skill as a mother—and why I loved her so much—is she let me decide what I wanted to do and then she supported me wholeheartedly. That took tremendous caring and conviction and mom had an abundance of both of those qualities. So when I say goodbye to my mom, I am not only saying goodbye to a woman I loved very much, but also to a woman, who along with my wife, was my greatest advocate and supporter. And like the theme song to one of our favorite movies, To Sir With Love, says, “That’s a lot to lose.”

  • Gans · November 2, 2017 at 11:52 pm

    Dear Dan,
    I am sorry about your loss. I lost my father in 2007 and had to rush to India overnight from Louisville. I flew all the way with a heavy heart alone in that 30 plus hours journey. I know the feeling. So many thoughts come and go. First month is the most difficult.

    I still look at my dad’s and my father-in-law’s photos and greet them both every day before I step out to work. It reminds me of two things:
    1. All the love and good qualities they both possessed.
    2. That nothing is permanent. We will face the death one day.

    I remind myself of that every day. All this that we consider as significant are insignificant. And all that we shy away from looking are probably worth caring more.
    Time will heal.

    I loved your writing as usual. Your mother is proud of you!

    Love,
    Gans

  • Dan Markowitz · November 3, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    Thank you, Gans. I appreciate the personal message in your condolences.

  • Stephen Warren · November 5, 2017 at 8:52 am

    I hate how this phrase has taken on a sarcastic default these days, but truly Dan,’thanks for sharing’. Sincerest sympathies.

  • Dan Markowitz · November 5, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    Thank you, Stephen. I had second thoughts about writing about my mom on a tennis site, but I felt I wanted to examine our relationship a bit and how tennis, watching it playing it together, really meant a lot to both my mom and me.

    I’m glad a number of you didn’t feel it was out of place and enjoyed delving into this weighty subject matter. I feel I got some nice support and it reinforces how I feel this site, in some ways, is like a secondary family. We fight, we laugh, we rejoice, we disagree, we meet on common ground and learn new insights, so in this environment I felt it was alright to air my mother’s piece on Tennis-Prose.com.

    Thanks.

  • scoopmalinowski · November 5, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    Feel it was a very special touching feature and it is related to tennis so of course it fits perfectly here. The weightiest of personal subject matter. Wish you didnt have to write this ever but thats life. It is actually an unforgettable simple touching read. RIP Mrs Markowitz.

  • Dan Markowitz · November 5, 2017 at 7:46 pm

    Thanks, Scoop.

  • Thomas Tung · November 13, 2017 at 3:38 am

    Hi Dan, just saw this — my condolences to you and your loved ones. Your mom will always be your biggest tennis fan, and you will always be her biggest tennis fan.

    Sometimes, the perfect tennis player has nothing to do with form or smarts, but everything to do with what that person is.

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