During one of my first tennis tournaments, I was faced with a very hard decision: cheat or lose. This was the day that I learned cheaters never win.
Tennis is a little different than other sports because rather than having referees, the players are responsible for calling balls in or out, and they also have to keep up with the score. If a ball bounces on the line, the ball should be counted in. Because there are no referees or judges to watch the game, technically a player can call a ball out that was actually in so that they could win the point. In a normal match, there are eight games, and to win a game you must win a certain amount of points.
I was on a roll at my tournament. I had won three matches in a row and only had to win one more in order to get first place in the consolation bracket. After resting for about thirty minutes, the man who was running the tournament called my name. I went up to the desk and the man gave me tennis balls and told me what court that I was playing on. I began confidently walking to the court, sure that I could win my last match.
My opponent took her time coming to the court, and it was very clear that she thought she was going to win as much as I did. The girl had short blonde hair that was in a ponytail and she was wearing a black visor with a matching tank top and skirt. She swung her hips as she walked and held her racket over her shoulder; she basically radiated confidence. All I could think was “Wow, she really thinks she will win, I can’t wait to beat her.”
The game started and we were tied for most of the match. My opponent started to win more and more points, and I quickly started to get nervous. The game had been going on for over an hour, the hot sun made it feel like my skin was on fire, and I was so tired that I probably could have fallen asleep right there in the middle of the court. Although I was beyond ready for the match to be over, I wanted to win even more than before.
I began to play even harder despite the fact that I felt like all of the energy in my body had been vacuumed out. My serves were getting much harder to return, I smashed the ball every chance I got, and I never let a ball pass me without giving it everything I had to get to it.
Finally, my hard work was starting to pay off and I took the lead. At this point, all I had to do was win one more game to win the whole match. It was now her serve. She lightly tossed the ball up in the air, lifted her racket, and hit the ball with more force than usual. The ball seemed to glide across the court and it did not bounce very high making it harder to get to. I managed to run to the ball before it double bounced, but I hit it too hard and angled the strings on my racket down so it went straight into the net. I was off to a rocky start. Her second serve was not as good as the first one, but I hit the ball into the net once again. The third time she served, I whacked the ball and it went way out of bounds. Right when I thought I had it in the bag I started to play horribly. The last point of that game seemed to go on forever, but she ended up winning. The score was tied again.
We took a small break before the last game that would determine who was going to win. I could not feel my body and felt very lightheaded, and giving up seemed like a great idea. My whole team gathered on the bleachers next to my court so that they could watch me and cheer me on, but it only made me more nervous. I stalled the beginning of the last game by taking a long drink of water and pretending that my shoes came untied so that I would have to tie them again. Once I felt like I had a long enough break, I grabbed my racket, the balls, and slowly started to walk to my side of the court.
I threw the ball in the air and perfectly served an ace, so I was ahead. I did not serve so good the next time, so my opponent was able to smash the ball back to my side, but I still returned it. We rallied for a while, then I got the winning shot. I served an ace once again, and all I had to do was win one more point to win it all. I did not get my next serves in, so she got the next point. She also got the point after that when she called a ball that I hit out, but I saw the ball hit the line. I asked her if she was sure that the ball went out, and she glared at me and said “Yes. I’m positive.”
The score got to deuce: whoever won the next point would go home with a medal, and the other would leave knowing they won so many games but nothing to show for it. I bounced the ball on the court a few times before I served. My heart was beating out of my chest. I threw the ball up and hit the ball so hard that it was my best serve of the day. However, she was able to get the ball back over. We hit the ball back and forth and I accidentally set her up for the perfect shot. She smashed the ball and it went so fast that I barely caught a glimpse of it hitting the line, and my first instinct was to shout “OUT!”
She threw her hands up at me and started to argue that the ball was in, and I knew that it was, but I wanted to win so bad so I stood by my decision. Luckily nobody else witnessed the last point so nobody could take her side.
I went to the desk to report our score, and the man handed me a medal. I was so excited about winning until I had the medal in my hand. I kept staring at it trying to be proud of myself for winning, but it did not feel right.
My team congratulated me as we got back on the bus and headed back to our school, and this added to my guilt. When we got back to the school, our coach gave a speech like he does every time after we play. His speech this time was about how proud he was of us for being honest while we play because he saw many other players that were cheating and arguing against every call.
Although I won, I felt like a loser. I thought that winning was the most important thing about my sport, but I realized that integrity was way more important. I learned an important lesson this day: although losing comes with a terrible feeling, you should always play fair and be honest.