After leaving a career in music (classical guitar) because of a hand injury, David Linebarger earned a Ph.D. in English at the University of California, Davis. Currently a Professor of Humanities at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, his publications include scholarly articles on Wallace Stevens and Modern Music, poetry in over 25 journals, and two chapbooks: War Stories (Pudding House) and Bed of Light (Finishing Line Press). His recent works of creative nonfiction on famous tennis players can be found online in Cagibi and Another Chicago Magazine. His current book project is entitled Tennis Players as Works of Art.
I first started playing tennis as a junior in high school after playing baseball for two years. My brother and I learned tennis by going out to the public parks and hitting tons of balls with our friends in San Jose, California. My brother then went on to become an All-American tennis player at UC Santa Cruz and has taught and played tennis his entire life. Since I was pursuing a career in music as a classical guitarist, I did not have time to play college tennis (wasn’t all that great a player, anyways!). After a hand injury ended my career in music at 21 years old, I hardly played tennis at all for almost three decades while I went back to school to earn a Ph.D. in English on the way to becoming a Professor of Humanities. When I started playing again, older and wiser, I fell in love with the artistry and demands of the sport.
In my early fifties, as a 4.0 player, I made a bet with my wife. If I could ever win a 4.5 singles tournament, she would buy me tickets to attend the US Open. A couple years after that, I won three of these tournaments in a single year (2010) and was ranked #1 in Oklahoma in 4.5 singles. After I attended my first US Open in 2016, I was inspired by what I saw there and thought I might try to write some about tennis. I had been publishing a lot of free verse poetry, but was growing tired of this type of writing. So I just started writing short “prose poems” on famous tennis players, revising them again and again for hours on end for about a year till I began to see an exciting new path forward in my writing. At about the same time, I started playing my first national tournaments in the mens 60 division. In 2017, I played 8 tournaments and was ranked 31 in the USA. Seeing all these older players, many who had impressive tennis careers, playing and competing hard later in life, has been almost as inspiring, for different reasons, as watching the pros play at the US Open. If you ever want to be inspired, just go watch a couple of 80-year old players battle it out on the singles court.