“No, Daddy,” a face appears over the net. There is a certain combination of weariness, exasperation and indulgence that can only a small child can bring to bear on its allocated grown-up. “You aren’t supposed to hit it so hard I can’t get to it.”
I explain again that this is exactly the point of tennis. Practically the only point of tennis. The Platonic ideal of tennis shots, I declare, is the ace. Sending the ball so hard-
“Yes but how am I supposed to hit it back if you do that?” I pause, and feel suddenly ridiculous. The carbon fibre tennis racket. The whites. The sweatbands. The engineered tennis shoes. I let the professional-quality ball drop from my fingers and look at her; a simple t-shirt with butterflies, a skirt that won’t last the summer, sandals that rub so her Mum put socks on her. I tap the net with my racket, her head wobbles goofily and she laughs. At me, at herself.
Right. OK, let’s play properly. I head back to my line. She scampers back to hers, twiddling her fat plastic racket. I send the ball straight up and scoop it, underarm, on the descent. It arcs lazily to her, enjoying the sun on its belly, and she catches it a double-handed wallop that sends it squirling into the fence.
“There,” she declares. “Better.”