A Legendary Intro to Tennis
Many of us remember our first tennis coaches. For Don Meisel, it would be nearly impossible to forget.
As a kid, Meisel took lessons from legendary New Jersey teaching professional Eve Kraft, a pioneer in tennis who helped bring community tennis to life.
Tennis in the 1950s and 1960s looked a bit different than it does today. At that time, the sport mostly existed at private clubs. But Kraft saw the benefits of tennis and thought it could greatly improve the local community. She began the Princeton Tennis Program in 1954, and began offering tennis to a wide audience.
It was a major benefit for Meisel, who moved to Princeton in 1960.
“My mother was a tennis player and wanted me to take lessons,” he said. “I remember we had to bring a can of tennis balls to the first day. And I remember the first lessons being in her backyard.”
He also recalls the many early lessons he learned on-court.
These days, Kraft is remembered as an advocate for the sport — someone who challenged the status quo and taught the sport in a fresh, new way. But what she isn’t remembered enough for is the quality of the programming.
“She was an amazing teacher and really taught the fundamentals of the sport,” Meisel said.
Meisel is a frequent player around New Jersey, but it hasn’t always been that way. He stopped playing in 1980 and went more than 30 years without picking up a racquet. He only picked it back up in 2014, but re-discovered his love for the game as soon as he began playing again.
Quickly, the fundamentals came back.
“Everything from the grip to where to be on the court...she honed in on those areas,” he said. “Years later when I picked tennis back up again and started playing more frequently, the basics that she taught were the things that came back fastest. It’s like second-nature. I got a good foundation at a very young age, and it paid off.”
Meisel is now actively involved with USTA League (he even captains teams) and plays as often as he can with friends at Mercer County Park. Recently, he discovered his old tennis workbook that Kraft gave to him when he began in her class.
“It’s amazing to look back at it and flip through the pages,” he said. “I can still see all of the drills I completed and the dates that I finished them. Her signature is on a bunch of the pages, signing off on the drills. It’s a nice piece of history and something I’ll hold onto.”