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Push It

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0-2. Love-forty. The solid ground was pushing me up, and the fence was keeping me in. It wouldn't let me out until I was done. The white lines streaked the ground, begging me to hit one straight down them. The red, green, and white swirled as the tiredness pushed me. Sweat snaked its way through my hair and down onto my forehead, and dropped to its salty death on the ground. I wasn't going to let the fatigue get the better of me. I was ready to fall, but I had to keep going. Inside, I felt something traveling through my blood. It pulsed and swelled up like a balloon. Don't let her get the better of you! You really are better than that. I was ready to burst as I lost yet another point to a girl I couldn't bear to lose to. I guess I can't say that North Rockford's tennis team was at the top of my buddy list. It was pretty far away from my school, and I hoped I hadn't come all the way there to lose. She came into the match like she knew, deep down inside, she was better than me. When we started, she smiled at me like she pitied me deeply. It was a kind of smug look of "Hah, you think you're actually better than me? You better hope I'm not in a bad mood today." The eyes always were kind of squinted, but looked bored. The eyebrows were raised, and he/she would never look you in the eyes. You could half expect them to roll their eyes or something. I knew better, it was just a strategy some people used to create fear. Personally, I thought it was kind of a jerk-y thing to do, and never did it myself. It would be difficult for me to think that I had made someone think I was a jerk when I wasn't. Anyways, I took the cute and harmless look, like they could pound me to my knees crying, so they wouldn't try as hard. (I never knew if that ever worked or not) I hated when people used the 'smug' look, because you never knew if they actually were a lot better or not. So most of the time I ignored it. Her serve was average, so were her other shots. But in one way, she was just like me, relatively consistent and hungry for a win. The weather wasn't helpful either. What had started out as a comfortably warm day had turned into a cold and cloudy day. I hated feeling so warm but still freezing from the cold. Shaking angrily and uncontrollably, I was ready to burst at five to nothing and let the first set slip away.

"Come here," the coach barked at me, "Now you listen and listen good, this girl has an average serve, an average forehand, backhand, and volley. You know you're better than her. But she's like you, she's consistent. You guys are going to have some long volleys, but remember, you can attack, too! All you need to do is try! Your serve is better and so is your backhand. You have better footwork. Hit it where she's not! Don't be afraid of offense!" She looked as though she was ready to burst, she knew I could beat that girl, but she had gotten to me. I honestly wasn't sure how, but I knew it wasn't enough to beat me. "Don't be afraid to call it out! You can do this!"

'Am I really better if she can mess me up this much? Tennis is my sport, I have to do well. She can't beat me in only two sets, I'm going to push it to a third.' "Come on! You can do it!" Some other girls on the team cheered and I felt the pressure to beat her horribly for this set. There was no way she would win that fast. I let the anger out, fast and furious. I attacked, fighting for my dignity of the first ranked tennis player on my team. I always felt weird when I was like this, because I never considered myself particularly 'competitive'. Sometimes I wondered how I looked when I was like this, but wasn't distracted today, I was fully set on winning. My score climbed up to four nothing, and I knew I had done what I could. When I thought about it, if she was just like me, then I should be able to bother her just as easily. And I did. She was broken down at that point. You could see her slowing down a little bit, and every shot only had half the heart. So I proudly finished off the second set. Now that we each had one, the third set would decide. But oh no, suddenly there wasn't any time for a normal third set, we had taken too long on the first set. I feared I had let out all of my energy in the second set. Sweat dripped down my face and neck, and threatened to lose the grip I had on my racquet. Anger pulsed through me, gnawing me away. I had to show her that I was better! So we went on to play a super tie-breaker (why it was super, I had no idea). First one to sixteen wins, but by two. We began. By this time the whole team was sitting at the edge of my court waiting, watching for a mistake. I couldn't bear to let my team down, not after I had fought so hard to stretch out the match. Not after they had all worked so hard to do their best against the other team. Not after they all thought I was a really good tennis player. I could not let them down. My coach, Mrs. V watched proudly from the side and my mom, though trying to hide behind the pine tree, was watching, too. It was off the side of the court, in a grassy, shady spot. She thought that by hiding behind the tree, she would make me feel better, but not distract me. I turned out that it felt more strange and distracting to have her hiding than to have her sitting in plain view. All the same though, I could hear her cheering from the inside. I always felt cheated when she didn't come, so I was more than just excited that she had come and stayed. I felt stronger and energized, both excited and nervous to impress my mom. I was going to do this! I thought maybe the win had upset her and she would come down easy, but I couldn't be sure. The points climbed one by one, 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 4-0, 4-1, on and on. Every point was closer to winning, or losing. Then the points started to become longer and longer. Teammates began to count the number of times the ball went back and forth. Finally, it came to 15-13, my favor. The finish was so close, I could taste the hope and suspense hanging in the air. But I let myself become too proud, and let my two point lead drift to none. 15-15, 15-16, she just could not win this point. They counted 34 times the ball went over the net and then a mistake. The ball landed itself straight into the net. Everyone exhaled. 16-16. We challenged each other to a point where neither of us could take much more, but both had decided that we were so close to getting what we wanted that neither would quit. 19-18 in my favor. I was kicking myself for letting my chance slip away before and wasn't ready to let it slip again. I served, carefully, not ready to give up a point to a serve, and luckily, it went in. I was furious at the ball, ready to kill it, slam it down the line. I realized my attitude might lose me the point and calmed down just in time as she returned the ball in a soft shot that would have gone out if I had returned it as hard as I wanted to. Surprised by my gentleness, she lobbed the ball back to me. I carefully returned it, not too hard, not too high, not too low. She gave it back just the way I hoped, like a mirror image of what I just did. I saw where she was and the perfect opportunity to win. It was the perfect spot for a slow-mo in a movie. I shook a little as I nailed the ball, screaming it down the line. Unprepared for my shot, the girl couldn't return the ball before it bounced out. I felt myself shiver as I let my anger go. Although I was shaking, I felt immensely relieved to have finally finished. Honestly, I was so excited, I could have started yelling or screaming, but I thought better of it, and instead smiled. A cheer erupted from my team and a sigh from my coach. I trotted over to the net to retrieve my water and officially end the match. My sweaty palm reached out to shake the other girl's hand, but nothing reached back. The girl picked up her water bottle and racquet and left. She looked annoyed and angry that a person like me would dare to beat her. As she walked off, I saw her toss her head away from the court and go to her parents. At the same time, my team rushed out and created a 'tunnel' for me to run through. Although I can say I almost collapsed in that tunnel from exhaustion, I felt the pride of my team, my mom, and my coach. 'Nice job's and 'that was awesome's burst out. I came over to report my score to Mrs. V, who already knew it, but still wanted me to talk to her. She smiled a rough grin, her short brown hair with blonde highlights swinging around as she gave me a monster hug. Her small brown eyes shimmer a little as she smiles. Huge arms squashed me before she let me breathe again. Her voice was quiet, but quick, and excited, "Wow! I was afraid you wouldn't pull that off! I was afraid she'd get to you, but wow, you guys just kept going back and forth." I could see that she admired me for trying to win back the game I wanted so much, "I didn't want to tell you this, but your game was the deciding factor of whether or not we won! If you hadn't we would have just tied, but that wouldn't have been any fun!" She always was a little competitive when it came to final scores. She pretended that she wasn't, but she was obviously excited I hadn't lost. (She said that she would have been proud of me whether or not I won, but I wasn't that sure).

So we went home singing on our bus, for our first 'away' match of the tennis season. I sat alone in one of the green seats. I felt a little sick as we rode home. I stared out the window, counting telephone poles. I knew my team was glad I'd won, but no one ever bothered to say more than "Nice match," or "Aren't you tired? That looked like a tough opponent,". Finally, one girl, Elizabeth, turned around.

"Hey, what was that like?" Elizabeth played exhibition, so sometimes she didn't get to play. She wasn't that bad, it was just our team had more than we needed.

"Well, I got really tired, I mean, it was really long," I said, not paying much attention, "It was kind of tough when I lost the first set, but then I got the second set. I don't know, it was just tiring to play that long."

"I believe you! You were playing forever! Some of those points just kept going back and forth, it was a long time. That never happens to me, my partner and I never have long matches at all. That's cool, though, that you can play that long. I get so tired, you know?" Her brown eyes sparkled as she smiled back at me. "Some other girls were saying that they thought you played really well,"

"Really?" I didn't really believe her, I was sure that the girls had only been there because they had to. We got in trouble if we weren't cheering for someone, so I figured the tunnel was all forced, too.

"Yeah, really! We all really wanted to see you win! Her parents were being pretty negative, they kept telling her that certain shots were out when they weren't. So, we shouted louder when you scored, it was fun actually."

"Wow," I said, but mostly to myself. I never felt like anyone was actually watching me. Most of the tennis girls didn't even talk to me, except when they had to. One of the other girls started to talk to Elizabeth, so she turned around again. I felt my eyes sting as I looked back out the window. I was shocked that my teammates had been supporting me completely, not because they had to. I felt the cheering then, but I wondered if I'd done better if I'd known that they were actually cheering from the heart.

As much as I'd like to say that there wasn't a lesson to the story, there was, at least for me. I knew that I should listen to myself. If I thought I could do something, I could. If someone was trying to frustrate me, I should make sure they didn't, so I didn't have to sit through another long match like that. I think I felt the most from the air. It was sort of like a little bit of electricity buzzing around. I felt the hopes on my shoulders, that we would win the whole match. I felt the internal cheering inside, I knew that I could win any tennis match I played if I remembered that I was playing for my whole team. I think I also felt the sadness and disappointment of coming so close and failing at the end, like the other girl probably felt. I'll never forget the time my team helped me so much to show that I could really play a mean game of tennis. I think I found some more confidence that day and I found so much pride inside of myself. Bursting to show who I could be and that I could prove myself. I knew that there would be more matches like that in the future, but for now, the thing I felt most strongly about was believing in myself and persevering through my match. Okay, okay, truthfully, the thing I felt most strongly about then, was sleeping, but I felt so pleased that I had found my inner strength, I just couldn't help falling asleep.



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