Up or Down

In my family, playing a sport has always been mandatory. My grandfather, mother, aunt, uncle and four cousins all played competitive tennis, the majority of them through college. My dad jumped on the bandwagon after he met my mother and both of my brothers played. So I started playing with all of those fanatics as early as four years old. I played soccer, basketball and softball as well. But as time went on, my sports dwindled down to two'softball and tennis. The time came to choose which one I would continue in high school and I chose softball, maybe because I grew up watching my brothers play baseball, maybe to be different from everyone else in my family (a path I commonly follow) but truly because I loved it more. When my brothers informed me that softball was 'not for me,' I grudgingly switched to tennis. My mother was thrilled, my brothers just nodded in approval, and I remained ambivalent. I didn't dislike tennis, but it was not my first choice and I would never treat it like my mother had. I only played once or twice every two weeks, in Converse All-Stars and jeans, my hair down, and my brother's very old racquet my only accessory. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I made my middle school team, not realizing that everyone who tried out made it. However, I was introduced to tennis in a positive way. I won almost all of my matches 6-0, 6-0 (which I haven't done since). Although my opponents weren't the greatest challenge, the too-easy wins fueled my interest. I wanted to improve, so I started playing more and more. I've always been very competitive, and when my mother started entering me in tournaments, that competitive fire only burned brighter. Tennis became my sport. I got a new racquet, a new bag, shock absorbers, new shoes, clothes devoted only to playing tennis, and an awful sunglasses tan. I took lessons once a week. I played with my mom, with my friends and with my parents' friends. After church, I could finish schoolwork in minutes, leaving me time to play at least an hour of tennis a day. Whether I played because I liked the sport or just to be busy, I enjoyed playing. I liked being outside, I liked hitting balls, and I liked the company that came with it. However, despite throwing myself into it, I never really loved tennis. To this day, I do not consider it one of my 'passions.'

Nonetheless, if you're going to play a sport, why not try to be good at it? To improve my game this past summer, I attended John Newcombe's Tennis Ranch, or as it is affectionately called, Newk's. I played 10 to 12 hours of tennis every day and could never get enough. I would wake up early and go warm up with my cabin mates. I loved the feeling of the sun rising and slowly heating my skin. After lunch, instead of watching Wimbledon in Newk's lodge, I grabbed my friends for a round of doubles. I loved the rush of adrenaline I got from hitting a good shot. At night, after the all-camp kickball games, I would play tennis with my favorite counselors. I loved the unending energy I had. One night, I even played under the lights in a spontaneous tournament we created. I never got tired of playing. I never hated tennis. I was sore, bruised, cut, and had terrible tan lines, but I didn't care. I loved what I was doing and wanted to stay for another week, then another week after that. When I left tennis camp, I only wanted to go back'not just for the amazing friends I made of campers and counselors alike, but for that feeling I had had while playing an unlimited amount of tennis.

Now that I have been away from Newk's for 7 months, I have lost almost all desire to play tennis. I have entered four tournaments since tennis camp and have done well in none. One particular tournament almost made me quit the sport for good. I was playing a San Antonio tournament against a girl that was not bad, but I had her beat easily. I was up 5-2 in the second set, forty-love in the game. Then it was suddenly deuce, and before I could recover, my lead was cut to 5-3. Each game continued exactly like that. I would get up forty-love, then lose the game. I ended up losing the match. I can't even remember losing each point, but I can remember the rollercoaster of emotions I experienced. I would get the lead, pump myself up for the next point, knowing that I had three chances now to win the point'just get it over with. And then I would lose. I screamed my own name in frustration, swatted at the air with my racquet and pouted around the court. I couldn't understand how this could happen. For weeks, I had trained, prepared, and drilled so I could come to a tournament and win. How could I keep getting ahead and then just blow it? What was wrong with me? I knew how to play tennis, didn't I? Then it would start all over again. The excitement at winning three consecutive points, then the overwhelming frustration at losing four consecutive points and the game. I now dread these tournaments.

It's not that I despise tennis. Tennis and I have an unending love/hate relationship. I absolutely love playing for fun or just hitting with friends, without realizing that I am exerting any effort or even improving. I've only come to despise playing in tournaments. Ironically, the very thing that drew me to tennis now pushes me away. I wish to play with my family, but, unfortunately, they all know so much about tennis that it ends up becoming another time where I am being instructed. When I go out to hit with my mom, we start off saying that it's just a fun hitting session. But then I'll hit a crosscourt forehand out and I hear from the other side of court, 'Remember to swing through the ball!' and the illusion is shattered. The moment I hear a criticism in this situation, I want to stop because the fun has suddenly been drained from the game. It's not that I can't handle criticism. When I have a lesson with my instructor or hit with my coaches, I have absolutely no problem with their telling me to add more topspin. That is their job. They don't step out of that boundary, and I expect the same from the other end of the spectrum. I appreciate my mother's insight when we go to tournaments and a coach is not there, but when we go hit for fun, the 'teaching moments' just turn me off from the game.

Like so many other contradictory feelings I have toward tennis, it is both my outlet for anger and my constant companion. At times when I am exasperated or angry, I can vent on that fuzzy yellow ball. When I need an excuse on the weekend to make myself busy, the court is waiting for me. It is also my net to catch me when I can't fall anywhere else. It is the place I can breathe, connect to nature and mindlessly exercise. I love it with all my heart, but I can't help but become frustrated with the time it consumes and the ups and downs it brings to my life.

On the butt of every tennis racquet is a brand. On a Wilson racquet, it's a W. On a Prince, a p. On a Babolat, a half-striped (up), half-solid (down) oval. At the beginning of every match, to determine who serves first, a player spins her racquet and as it falls, the other calls the direction the brand will land. On a Wilson, she calls M or W. On a Prince, it's p or d. On my racquet, a Babolat, it's up or down'of course.





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