Ask 10 competitive tennis players how their relationship with the game is, and the expression “love-hate” is bound to come up. Sure, it’s the cliché of all clichés, but tennis is really the epitome of the love-hate one can have with a passion.
Take Andre Agassi as an example. In his autobiography, he talks about how he hated tennis for the longest time, but came to realize how much he actually loved it for what it had given him. And obviously he was just so freaking good that some of his best wins must’ve been moments to love living.
For just any player at any level though, the sport is conducive to driving even the best of them crazy. A lot of times you’re out there alone, every point and shot selection can feel so important; these and other reasons make tennis a tedious game to be infatuated with.
Despite how it sounds, the adversity people face (or create on their own) in tennis is quite valuable. I’m barely in my 20’s, but I myself have already lived numerous tennis experiences that have shaped my perspective on other areas of my life.
Two different matches I played in two different venues this fall somehow connected in my mind to reaffirm the values of counting blessings, overcoming difficult times, and not treating sport like a job.
The first match was a loss at an invitational at Yale. I play college tennis at Sacred Heart University and every fall we take part in a string of individual tournaments to keep competitive and get ready for the winter/spring season. Yale is one we play every year, and I had one of my more depressing on-court experiences at this year’s edition.
Leading up to the last day, I hadn’t won a match in singles or doubles, but they were all at least competitive.
On the last day (a Sunday) I played a consolation match against a guy from Yale. He was a very good international player with professional ranking points who was on his game, and I was a domestic player with no tour level wins who was not on his game.
To make a long story short, he ran through me in about 40 minutes. It was 40 minutes of forced errors, unforced errors, screams, eye rolls, and overall pessimism on my end, and 40 minutes of serene shot making, composure, and respectfulness on his end. I left the court dejected and full of self-doubt, and it traveled with me over the next few weeks.
Fast-forward a couple of weekends and my team’s playing a dual match against UCONN at my campus. In between this and the infamous loss at Yale, I had a few decent outings, but nothing that broke me out of my funk.
Against UCONN, I was set to play third doubles and sixth singles.
In Division I college tennis, there are seven points up for grabs—one for each singles, and then one that belongs to the team that gets at least two out of the three doubles matches that are played.
So we start with doubles, and I’m playing with a freshman from Italy on our team. It’s his first college match start, and I wanted to just have fun anyway, so we kind of set a tone of having lots of fun with this one. UCONN is the favorite in this scenario, so why not take it to them and go big, right?
Another long story short, we play loose, but with a lot of effort and taking some risks, and we end up with a 7-5 win that clinches the doubles point for our squad. Everyone was excited, we had something of a crowd there to watch, and it was the most fun I’ve had on court in years.
I go back to the Yale loss and the UCONN win because they intertwined to create a great teaching moment for me. Through the hardship that followed the first loss, and then with the triumph of a small but significant victory, I saw the ideal of ‘knowing better days are ahead’ come to fruition. Of course this happens in other parts of life all the time, but having this sporting experience really hammered it home and made me feel validated as a player again. It’s something that I’m happy I was able to learn from, and I hope everyone gets to experience overcoming similar obstacles in their own lives.