I started playing when I was 7yo and did group lessons until I was 10.
I was watching tennis on TV all the time one summer and this one time, my dad was driving past some tennis courts where lots of kids were having lessons. He noticed me watching them and signed me up for group lessons for the following term. It was probably the only time in my life where I willingly went to participate in something without giving it a second thought. I had never played before so I didn't know what to expect or know how good I could be.
In my first lesson, I was shown by an assistant coach how to swing a forehand and then he got me to do it. He fed me 5 shots and I hit EVERY single shot over the net! I surprised myself and the coach, who wasn't convinced that I had never played tennis before. The assistant coach told the head coach what I had just done and I was quickly taken aside to join the head coaches' group. After 3 months, I was put into an older group, which meant that I was hitting with 11 and 12yo kids. I was so scared of them because (to me) they were hitting the ball really hard and I was nervous that they would hit me. I know that they didn't like me because every time we had to pair up, no one wanted to go with "the little kid." Anyway, what I had over the "big kids" was that even though they hit harder than me, I could still get the ball back over the net more times than them. I learned to play smarter. I didn't grow up to be very tall at all, so those early experiences came in really handily!
After a year, I was invited to join the head coaches' training squad. This was for kids who showed tournament potential. I had seen some of those kids hit just before their training and I had dreamed of one day joining them, but maybe not until I was in high school. So there I was, a Year 4 kid, hitting with 13, 14, 15yo teenagers! I wasn't as scared of them anymore because of my first experience hitting with older kids. I did that squad for two more years and played regional junior tournaments.
The next step, however, was being invited to join a State training squad. I was so happy to get an invitation in the mail. It was like getting a letter from Hogwarts haha! Sadly, I was forced to decline the invitation because the timing of the squad clashed with classes that I had to do outside of school. I wanted to drop those classes and play tennis instead but my parents wouldn't allow it. My parents said that I could join the State squad once I was in Year 8. I was somewhat placated by that. After all, it was only another 2 years. It felt like a lifetime!
When the head coach heard that I had declined the State squad invitation, he was quite dismayed. He had to write in to the State tennis association with a list of potential players, get a scout to come down and watch us play. Of the 10 names that the head coach gave the scout, only 3 invitations were sent out. It was me, another boy (who was better than me - he always beat me in tournaments!) and the best girl in our group. We were all 10yo at the time and were good friends. I didn't know any of that and felt so bad. If the head coach only knew how badly I would rather be training than doing educational classes! So he suggested to my parents that I do private lessons instead. He felt that I had outgrown his squads and needed more special attention. The other two kids were already doing private lessons. The head coach made a sales pitch to my parents telling them that he could take me to a professional level and that I could play tournaments around the world like his son does (or rather, did). My parents said that they would think about it to his face, but later in the car, said that the coach was just trying to make money off of us. That was the last time that I was ever at his coaching school.
I didn't give up on tennis. I kept playing. I used to hit against the wall EVERY SINGLE DAY. When I started attending private school, they offered tennis as a sport. You had to go through a trials process and any kid who was anyone (not all, but most) attended one of those 7 private schools and played tennis for them. I was at one of them. I passed the trials easily and made it into the top team but took note that I was also in a team with State-ranked kids. They were REALLY good. We practiced twice a week and played against one of the other private schools on Saturdays. There was surprisingly a lot of bitchiness amongst the boys in the top team. I was the target of a lot of abuse because I wasn't State-ranked and didn't play tournaments that offered junior ranking points.
We played an inter-house competition at the end of every year and I was the top player for my house. I beat two of the State-ranked players, who were ranked 2 and 3 on our school team. We won the cup that year! So amazing! We didn't have a strong team either and not everyone on the team actually played tennis as their chosen sport. It was pretty rag-tag. But what some of the lower-ranked guys lacked in technique and finesse, they made up for in tenacity and persistence. It was such an honour to play alongside those guys. I was never invited back to join the State squad because I had no one to vouch for me anymore. I didn't care so much. I still had 4 years left of high school and was just happy to be playing as often as I liked at school.
I'm going to stop there with my story because it's already gone past the thread title, which was, "when did you start playing tennis?" and I've already answered that haha.
I'll leave it there by saying this: I'm not the sort of person to give up easily, but I don't think I would have believed in my ability for tennis as much today if I hadn't hit those first 5 forehands over the net 26 years ago in my first group lesson.