The Giant That Is Tennis
Growing up, I wanted to be a part of the elite class of athletes who run the fastest, hit the hardest serves, and fall on their knees in ecstatic victory. This is the class of professional athletes who grace their athleticism on the tennis court. In tennis, there are no teammates to pass the ball to, no coaches to bludgeon ears with cursing, and no one but yourself to rely upon. Independence is what caught my interest in the sport of tennis. I wanted to feel every bit of passion that showed on the exhausted faces of Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras-but so did millions of other kids my age.
A single country does not dominate tennis, but it’s a universal competition where no one knows where the next star will emerge. This means that millions of kids share the same dreams as I do. We all want to live in the top ten rankings of professional tennis and play the sport we love for the rest our lives. The way that professional tennis works is that there is only a single person who holds the position of best tennis player in the world. So when you have billions of kids all striving for that one spot of glory, it’s both mentally and physically exhausting to you.
A tennis quote used by many coaches says, “Tennis is 80 percent mental, 20 percent physical”. At first you may be wondering how that could be when tennis is a strenuous physical sport. In reality, there are an abundance of thoughts that travel through the mind of a tennis player before, during, and after a match. Before a match begins you might glance at your next opponent, size him up, do a mantra to calm yourself down, remember past plays, test your reaction time, remember the last time you won/last to your next opponent in a previous match, or make sure the grip on your racquet is even. During a match, you will be thinking about how strong your opponent is mentally, if their forehand is their better shot, placement of first and second serves, what games you need to win on serve, whether you need to break serve to win a game back, how your opponents footwork is doing, or whether or not the frustrated outcry you gave after missing a shot will affect your focus. Even with all of these thoughts going through your mind before and during a match, the post-game is the make or break period for any tennis player. If you come from a loss, this is the time that you need to shrug off your emotions. Many times you will want to sit alone and sulk, wondering how the heck you lost when you outplayed your opponent. You may even reason that your opponent must have cheated you. Dwelling on the losses and struggles dissipates the fun in tennis. All of this results in many players leaving the sport and allowing tennis to become the beast that controlled their youth.
Physically, tennis is vastly different from any other sport. It consists of short accelerated bursts of energy to go five, ten, or fifteen feet to a ball that will inevitably come back. You are constantly on your toes, trying to anticipate where the ball will be hit next so that you can have energy for the whole match. When you are not playing you must train for quickness and strength. You simply hope that what you train off the court will translate into endurance and strength on the court. Stamina is high priority when the scoring of tennis means that a match could last for three or four hours with only short breaks between games and sets.
Also, a tennis player has a strange relationship with the ball. The tennis ball is the center of all the mental and physical efforts in tennis. Physically, it’s the small fuzzy victim of your penetrating anger to be tattooed on its forehead. The tennis ball runs away from your powerful strike as it’s sent back to you; you can almost hear it wail in excruciating pain seconds after you drive your racquet into its twisted face. The tennis ball taunts you and all you want to do is destroy it. It comes at you mockingly with its white smirk surrounded by nappy yellow hair, laughing because it knows it’s just going to come back again and again.
In tennis, no matter how hard you train to prepare yourself mentally or physically, there is always someone out there who can beat you on any given day. You must be strong enough to take the hits, fall on your knees in anguish, and pick yourself up again in order to come back stronger. It’s a life of let downs, but it’s also a life of constant improvement. Growing up with tennis is challenging because of the difficulty and hard work it takes in order to fulfill the dream to become great. Sometimes, it doesn’t even matter how hard you work to be the best, you simply can’t be the best.