This morning’s men’s tennis final between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic was one of the best tennis matches I have ever watched. I was at the edge of my seat the entire time, suffering through every long volley, deuce and break point. The two players (Djokovic ranked number one in the world, and Nadal ranked number two) are exceptional at their sport. Even if you are not a tennis fan, the way Nadal and Djokovic play makes you want to watch them play forever. After nearly six hours of playing hard, Novak Djokovic won and was titled Champion of the Australian Open. Now, before you start thinking that I am a sports fan who can quote rankings, know the past winners of the last three Wimbledons, and answer the $400 question in the Tennis category on Jeopardy, let me confess that my relationship with tennis has never moved too far past the crush stage.
My first tennis lesson was when I was 14 years old. My brother and I signed up for summer classes just to get out of the house. Our tennis instructor was a twenty-two year-old bronzed, athletic, honey-eyed dreamy college boy. I was smitten and thought that maybe this was going to be my sport. I got all A’s in gym class, but that was for having enough athletic ability to put on some gym clothes, tie my own shoes and avoid getting hit by a classmate or sporting equipment. Perhaps I hadn’t tried hard enough and this beautiful tennis instructor was going to help me discover my hidden tennis prowess. After a few weeks, it was clear that if I had any hidden talent, it was not coming out. But, I did enjoy watching my instructor from across the court. As I daydreamed about our future life together, the tennis balls gently bounced past me and he would say, “Hey Idalia, let’s get the lead out!” Sadly, summer ended and me and tennis went our separate ways.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I continued to flirt with tennis for a while. I actually bought a couple of rackets, tennis balls, and one of those cute short skirts like the ones the Williams sisters wear. I bounced balls on the tennis courts of every apartment building I ever lived in, at least once, but I can say that I never played a game where I actually kept score.
My affair with tennis became the most intense when I broke off a five-year relationship. My heart was broken and who best to mend it but my old faithful crush. This time I was going to be more committed to tennis, and to show my commitment I paid a bunch of money for classes and drove 40 minutes at 8 a.m. on Saturdays to play with other beginners. All those years of pretending to play had paid off because my cute, single, bronzed instructor said I was too advanced for this class. Huh, maybe I had talent after all! My new dreamy tennis instructor encouraged me to continue playing and even suggested that I join him at the tennis club. There I met REAL tennis players who actually kept score. I watched my cute instructor win a couple of matches and THUMP THUMP, I was head over heels in love with tennis. My instructor and I went out a couple of times and even hung out with real tennis players. When he asked me to play in a couples game, I was thrilled! As I stood on my side of the court I felt like one of the pros I had watched on t.v. But, my euphoria quickly evaporated when the first ball swished right by me before I could react. It was embarrassing. I could almost hear the echo of my first instructor saying, “Hey Idalia, let’s get the lead out!” But, try as I might, I could not return the balls. Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, one of the balls hit me squarely in the face. Before I knew it, because I never mastered the keeping score part, it was over. And so was my courtship with tennis and its dreamy instructor.
My tennis rackets are now dust collectors that might give future home buyers a certain impression about my athletic abilities as they freely rummage through my closets. And yes, tennis is flirting with me again using the dreamy Rafael Nadal to get me back. Nadal’s skill, passion for the game, sportsmanship, good-looks and heart-melting personality have made me a fan. Luckily, with age comes wisdom, so my tennis rackets get to keep their jobs accumulating dust. But, my dear tennis, please let’s remain friends because our on-again off-again relationship has been good for me. Today, as I watched Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic play their best, even in the 5th hour of play, I realized that if they have the ability to push themselves beyond their mental and physical limits, I do too. So today, Rafael Nadal was my motivation to get out there and run 2.3 miles. I didn’t give myself a pass for having my period and didn’t make an excuse for just getting over a cold, but I got my butt out there and ran in January weather. Would Rafa not train because it was cold outside? Would he take a day off if he had his period, or whatever?
Tennis and I have agreed that a deeper relationship between us is impossible. We have agreed to continue to see each other casually, as friends, and make the best of what we have to offer each other. For now, I’ll just keep watching and cheer for Nadal from the soft seat of my couch, and gain inspiration from his beautiful frame game.
I pray that you will find inspiration in unexpected places.