It’s time for a Friday flashback. Today, that ‘flashback’ focuses squarely on tennis. I used to have that pillowcase shown above. Fact: I had just about every Boynton object made. They amused me. (Along with any ‘Far Side’ comic.) And while my Boynton music collection was fairly strong, I had a particular fondness for all things tennis.
Ahh… tennis. I love it.
I’ve spent hours on the court. Hours hitting against the wall. Hours in pursuit of a better backhand. When I was young, I subscribed to ‘Tennis Magazine’ and poured through the pages for tips and ideas. When I had to tackle a ‘personal project’ at school, I sewed myself a tennis dress. And, years later, when I broke my ankle, being told by the doctor that tennis was ‘no longer an option’ reduced me to tears. I love tennis.
Which is why those who love me know to leave me alone during the Wimbledon fortnight. Usually, I’m glued to the television. I listen to the commentary, try to ignore the grunting, and sometimes shout-out encouragement. I used to feel every shot with those athletes. Used to, as I have since mellowed with age.
During this tournament, they’ve been running an advert with Andre Agassi. He talks about the loneliness of the tennis player. How there’s no coach, no teammate to pump you up after a bad shot or a bad game. And (generally) the crowd sits respectfully on the sidelines, at once both cajolling and cheering the players on. But it is something to think on, this loneliness. All of your practice, all of your conditioning, all of your guts are brought to bear between those chalk lines. The greats – and the commentators – talk about ‘relaxing’ on the court. It’s true; relaxing into your rhythm is one of the most important aspects of play.
But, relaxing and playing your game applies to most things in life. To look an opponent — or an opportunity — in the eye and rise above the missed-timed hits and the wrong-footed volleys. To overcome that moment when you know you’re being outplayed, when you know your opponent is better/faster/stronger/smarter than you are.
That’s what I root for when I watch these players now. I root for them to play their own game. And to know their capabilities so well that when they can’t play their game, they can step out of their comfort zone and make the adjustments to it to get back into their rhythm. I know I can’t make the shots for them. Can’t get them to see the opening in the court I can because I’m sitting on my sofa watching from a wide camera angle. I can’t return the hard-to-return serves; I’d be hard pressed to even comfortably stand at the line. But I watch. And I feel. And I will them to not feel lonely, to bring to bear all of their practice and conditioning during the match. To fight on. Because that is what it takes.
Rooting for anyone in particular this fortnight? Glad to see Bartoli and Lisicki in the Women’s Final. Should be an excellent match. And, without really going out on a limb, I think it will be Djokovic and Murray in the Men’s Final. I really, really like Djokovic – but gosh, I hope Andy Murray takes it. I probably will weep regardless.