It's a scorching day in Durban but this doesn’t seem to be bothering the woman on the tennis court.
Scooping up the ball with her racket, she bounces it a few times then up into the air it goes and she strikes it with the suppleness of a teenager.
Watching Joan Warren in action, delivering serve after serve, you’d never guess she’s just five years away from 100. But one thing you quickly realise is the plucky 95-year-old is something of a legend at the Windsor Tennis Club in Glenwood.
As she ambles into the clubhouse after her game, friendly shouts of “Hello, Joan” come from all corners.
Even though she’s taking things a bit easier these days and playing fewer matches, she’s still a regular visitor to the club. She comes for the company and to watch the games of fellow members.
“I started playing tennis in primary school. No one asked if I wanted to play – I would just always put my hand up,” Joan tells us as we chat on the veranda of the clubhouse.
At school it was hockey she played most of the time but as she grew older tennis “took over”. And she’s happy to share her wealth of knowledge with the club’s younger members.
“Now and then I’ll give a few tips and say ‘I think you must do it like that, you know’,” she tells us.
Joan treasures the friendships she’s made over the years both beside and on the court – even though, at her age, she’s seen many come and go.
“But I’ve always had someone to play with,” she says.
Many are keen to know her secret. Most people her age are hobbling along with walking sticks or Zimmer frames and here she is at 95 still tearing around the tennis court. So how does she do it?
Joan doesn’t attribute her longevity to any particular health habits – in fact, she says, she eats whatever she likes.
“I don’t eat a lot but I eat what I want,” she says.
Joan doesn’t feel she’s lived all that long. The years just “came marching towards me”, she says with a shrug.
“I wouldn’t say I’m grateful for my long life; it’s something I just accept. I must have done something right.”
Still, she adds, she sometimes struggles to get her head around the idea that a whole century isn’t far off.
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“Sometimes I wonder if my dad may have got the dates [on my birth certificate] completely wrong!”
Joan, who was born in Cape Town in January 1927, has fond memories of attending school in the Mother City suburb of Observatory where her love of tennis took root.
But she was always a bit of a rebel. She gets a naughty glint in her eye as she recalls how she and her high school friends “convened” at a particular tree to smoke in secret.
“But the habit didn’t last long,” she adds.
She and her late husband, Charles Warren, moved to Durban when he was transferred by the navy. She’s lived here so long she can’t remember exactly when their move happened.
“My memory isn’t what it used to be,” she admits, although her eyes twinkle and her razor-sharp sense of humour is still very much intact.
Her husband didn’t share her passion for tennis, she says.
“Just as much as I love tennis, he loved running. He completed at least 10 Comrades marathons.” Sadly, Charles died at the age of 56.
“He was a wonderful man.”
Joan was a full-time homemaker but after her three daughters flew the nest, she started working as a clerk and retired at 65.
The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown were a big shock to the system, Joan says – especially when the restrictions meant she couldn’t even visit her tennis club.
“We’re told: ‘Stay at home!’ I found it tremendously frustrating – I couldn’t do anything and I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere.”
It was a tall order for someone who is such a free spirit. In her younger days Joan travelled the world – England, the United States and Australia. She says it’s impossible to pick a favourite.
She mainly went with friends because her husband wasn’t a big fan of travel.
“I’d very much like to go to Australia again because I have family there but I doubt it will be possible.”
During lockdown she had to be content with staying home and watching TV or reading all day – she loves murder mysteries and detective novels.
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“My house is full of books but I’ve read them all,” she says.
Fortunately every so often one of her friends arrives with a new book for her.
And of course when a big tennis tournament is on, she’s glued to her screen.
She doesn’t miss a Grand Slam and Spaniard Rafael Nadal is her favourite.
Joan keeps abreast of the latest developments in tennis and is “sorry” that Serbian star Novak Djokovic couldn’t take part in the recent Australian Open because he hadn’t been vaccinated against Covid-19. She was looking forward to watching him play, she adds.
At her age, Joan doesn’t have much patience for rules – she just wants to get on with her life and her grandchildren often get upset with her because she refuses to act her age.
“They say I shouldn’t drive anymore – nonsense! If I don’t do it, I won’t get anywhere.”
Besides, if she can’t drive, how is she going to get to the tennis courts?