An Unwanted Win

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Tennis is everything to me-it’s my life.
A worn Wilson tennis ball skids to a stop at my Nike shocks. The sticky sweat clings to my musky brown bangs hanging on the sides of my freckled cheeks. My loose ponytail of brown hair rested upon my broad shoulders; its ends tickled my spine. My racquet hung loosely at the side of my body. The swinging black net wobbled in balance, unable to decide which side to lean towards.
My opponent flashed a toothy grin at me as she approached, showing off her purple braces. But her smile didn’t reach her hazel eyes, dead… defeated. Her mutter of congratulations echoed in my throbbing mind. The slaps of her pink Skechers came to a stop as she stood before me. I avoided her penetrating gaze, staring at the ground as I saw her outstretch her hand, decorated with Barbie pink fingernails, out of the corner of my eyes. The crowd chanted and bellowed my name as the stadium erupted in applause. But, it didn’t feel like a win to me. I didn’t deserve her congratulations. I felt like a total fraud.
I wanted so much to love this game again. Without the pressure, the expectations… tennis had been fun. As a tennis player, people didn’t see me as an 8th grader. Or as a girl with stick limbs and mud-colored hair. I wasn’t someone’s little sister. I wasn’t a daughter. I was a tennis player. A champion. This court understood me, chose me to be who I am today. Here, I was beautiful. I was a tennis player. And I played to win.
But now, tennis felt so different… foreign. As the wins piled on and I rose in the rankings, my mom started talking about all the money I could make if I turned pro. My coach started talking about colleges… scholarships… my future. Suddenly, to everyone, the game wasn’t about having fun or helping me do my best anymore. No, now it was like tennis was a job. It was as if it was all about the money… the awards… the fame. The pressure built and now when I play I can’t concentrate. I’m starting to lose so many easy games and my rankings just keep falling, but the pressure just keeps growing.
I looked up into the stands. My coach looked proud, telling everyone that I was his student. But, didn’t he see how I missed that one killer serve? Didn’t he see how many times I kept hitting the balls into the net? Nothing but net. My parents were grinning with pride, my mom jumping with excitement. Why were they even here? They knew nothing about tennis. There was a time when my parents didn’t care and didn’t even come to the matches, arranging me into a carpool. A time when they actually told me that tennis wasn’t everything and didn’t believe me when I told them it was. Now, my tennis schedules, winnings, and sponsors were like their constant obsession. It wasn’t always like this.
I glanced back down at her outstretched hand as she impatiently waited for a sportsmanship handshake. This wasn’t tennis to me anymore. This wasn’t why I played. I don’t want this win! I dug my uncut fingernails into my clammy palms, fingers curling into a fist. Tracing the cracks on the court with my eyes, I skidded backwards, running toward the locker room. The tears clouded my eyes as a stunned silence fell over the confused crowd. Feeling my hot tears roll over my rosy cheeks, I whispered a quiet “I’m sorry” to everyone… to myself. I shook my head. I was wrong. Tennis wasn’t everything.





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