I fell in love with professional tennis when I was about 7 or 8, in 1975. My mother and sister were watching a match between Evonne Goolagong and Chris Evert. Although I had heard both womens names and knew Chris was world number one, I knew nothing about the game itself (scoring, rules). I was perplexed that although Evonne took the first set, she lost the match (yet she lead 642 to Chris's 366.....I didn't get the 6-3, 4-6, 2-6 part yet).
What I loved was the contrast in styles. Evonne was a carefree shot maker, all magical spins and unbelievable gets. Chris was poker faced and methodically perfect. How could I not root for Evonne, even though I had no clue what was going on? I was instantly hooked.
I think I first fell in love with Goolagong's slice backhand. It was such a thing of beauty and grace. I have loved all the great slice backhands since then (Wade, Navratilova, Mandlikova, Notovna, Sabatini, Mauresmo, Henin and most of all Steffi Graf's). A great slice backhand is nearly indescribible...the arc of the stroke, the ball nearly clipping the net and skimming to the other side before it skids away from the opponent and dies.
Even before I understood the game I loved the drama. Individual sports allow you to focus on a players personality and how it comes across on court (Mary Pierces tic's, Steffi always wiping her face, Serena putting her hand out to say 'calm down'). I always fell in love with the fabulously talented, but neurotic/nervous wreck players who rarely basked in the winners circle. It is such great drama to watch these players and hope they can over come their mental hang-ups and WIN! Goolagong, Mandlikova, Sabatini, Novotna, Pierce, Wade, Capriati...you never knew when they were (are) going to fall apart or blow a lead...or keep it together and take a great match. I guess I love their vulnerability and can relate to it. Chris, Martina, Steffi and Hingis in their dominating primes never held that much interest for me. I think the only true dominating 'winner' that I ever loved and rooted for was Bjorn Borg, and it turns out he was as fragile as the next person when push came to shove.
As I learned more about the game I got caught up in the rivalries and this is what has kept me hooked since.
As for actually playing tennis, I started hitting balls against my garage door soon after catching my first match on tv. What I love about playing is the feeling of hitting a perfect ball...stroking a topspin, single hand backhand and watching it spin away from me and land. Knowing I nailed the shot as well as I possible can...pretending I am on centre court and the crowd is gasping!