At 4:45 a.m., the alarm shocks me into consciousness. I get dressed by the light of the cable box, then head to the kitchen. The coffee maker is noisily sucking up the water I’d poured into the reservoir eight hours earlier. I fill my go-cup, grab my car keys from the pewter bumble bee hovering near the door, and step outside.
The road is empty. The stoplights that will soon make rush hour a series of grinding stops and starts are flashing yellow.
The tennis club’s parking lot is mostly empty. I walk inside. The bright white ceiling hangs over the court like a full moon. We pop open a can of balls. I swing through my forehand like a rusty hinge. It’s 5:30 a.m. This will be my tennis life from now until April.
I started playing “early birds” tennis at a local club about five years ago. We take the courts at 5:30 a.m., play until 7 or so, then shower, dress, and head to work. It’s cheap–as much pre-dawn court time as you can stand for a few hundred dollars a season–and at that hour, tennis doesn’t interfere with anything except my physical and psychological well-being.
I’m a night owl by nature. The first time I played at 5:30 a.m., I thought, “This isn’t too bad.” But by 2 p.m., I was ready to collapse on the floor of my cubicle. Since then, however, I’ve managed to recalibrate my circadian clock.
This season, I’ll be working to make my forehand more of a weapon. One key is staying low, which is easier said than done before dawn. The kick-serve is my other project. You don’t get much bend in a back that has been on the rack for the preceding seven hours, but I’ll do what I can.