TORONTO — Take it from High Park tennis players: you can play tennis in Canada all year round.
Set in the heart of Toronto’s biggest park, the public courts have created tennis players so devoted, they actually shovelled snow off the courts to keep playing through the winter.
Sam (who declined to give his last name, but is seen smiling in the picture above) and Andres Ramirez, a 21-year-old who immigrated to Canada from Colombia three years ago, were part of a team that shovelled out heaps of snow last winter from the courts.
“There were about 10 inches,” said Ramirez. “It took us three days to shovel the snow.”
“We were lucky – none of the old guys got hurt. Andres got a little sore though,” said Sam, laughing.
Ramirez, being one of the younger players of the High Park regulars, is used to the rolling with the quirky personality-driven vibe that seems to define tennis in the park.
In fact, the unconventional atmosphere is part of the draw.
“Lots of great stuff happens here,” said Sam. “Nothing really bad, but peculiar let’s say.
“But that’s all part of it, that’s part of the magic.”
Sam, a longtime player who spotted the courts while walking on a summer day with his son three-and-a-half years ago, was drawn back to the game after getting a glimpse into the quirky dynamic of the characters he found there.
That, and the unpredictability on any given day, including the afternoon of the big snowfall where they ended up playing tennis in freezing cold weather with a young couple, exchange students from Japan.
“They came with their tennis rackets by High Park looking to play tennis and we had half the court shovelled and so we just finished the service box and the volley areas, and they played with us,” said Sam.
“Isn’t that one in a million? Unbelievable.”
While the park has been host to memorable moments for both, Sam and Ramirez also point to the practical side of playing at public courts, which is that it helps both men continually improve their game.
“Years ago, I was a real scrub,” said Sam. “Just a terrible, terrible player. But after playing with better players, I got a lot of assistance and it brought the level of my game right up.”
With a steady cast of regulars and players always ready and willing to hit, the courts offer an environment that’s looser than club play, a factor that has its ups and downs (boisterous on-court spats are common, for instance), but both believe that there are lessons to be learned on the courts that aren’t always just about tennis.
“Sometimes it can get a little crazy, a little sketchy, and you just gotta go along with it and let it slide off your back and not take it seriously,” said Sam, who admits that he can get fired up now and then, but enjoys learning to take it all in stride.
“You’re supposed to live and learn, so that’s part of the process,” he said.
And both concur that the experience has always been entertaining and positive in the end, especially for Ramirez, who literally learned to play on these courts, starting the game just two years ago.
“People are real, real nice,” said Ramirez. “Even when I was just started playing and wasn’t good at all, could barely hit a ball, people were like, just come out, we’ll teach you,” said Ramirez.
“So I tried it and I like it, so now I come almost every day.”
“There are wonderful characters here,” said Sam.
“And Andres is my best buddy – put that in,” he added, laughing again.