(In honour of today’s Sports Day, a true sports story)
“Match point,” he called out.
The standing crowd hushed as he threw the tennis ball high in the air. As my short white skirt swirled around my bent knees, I tightly held my tennis racket ready.
Although usually not a competitive woman, this game I wanted to win. Especially since my opponent, the man now smugly awaiting the return of his high-speed serve, was the one who’d taught me all I knew about tennis.
When I met that guy, he’d been participating in amateur tennis competitions for years. Amazed that I’d never even held a racket, he insisted that it was high time that I did. He claimed that anyone can learn.
As I’d always struggled with coordination, I rather doubted that. He even began to doubt it after several lessons. As we volleyed back and forth, I struggled to hold the racket correctly while simultaneously making a run for the ball. Part of my challenge, as all lefties will know, is how to perform a new skills one’s own best way from a right-handed teaching method.
In time, I hit the ball right back to where he was standing. He, on the other hand, intentionally put it exactly where I was not. At the end of each lesson I was wet with a running sweat whereas he looked like he’d been on a leisurely walk. It took me awhile to realize that one primary purpose in tennis is to make an opponent run.
One learns quickly from a better player. Even though I could not serve well, making contact with one of his smashing serves ricocheted my return with minimal effort, and an intensity I could not have achieved on my own. Frequently, though, I tripped on my stiff shoes while running backwards, as I reached for a ball that bounced just beyond my racket. Yet, to our mutual surprise, I crafted a phenomenal back swing, both in unique leftie style and in strength.
My tennis skill development was occasionally hampered by life events, like the births of our back-to-back baby boys. Eventually, after driving around until they both fell asleep, their daily afternoon nap provided us with over an hour for scored tennis games, even if the game was mostly 40- love, in his favour. Our toddlers awoke to the sound of swooshing, volleying balls.
After years of playing, I became, in small part, somewhat decent competition for him.
But, on this particular day, we were playing an impromptu tennis game while our lads played in the adjoining playground.
I was playing exceptional well. We’d never even reached match point before in a set. Perhaps it was my response to the gathering crowd of onlookers, who all seemed to be rooting for me to win. Whenever I made a point, everyone quietly clapped.
As the high velocity ball arched toward my court, all eyes of the hushed crowd watched its trajectory arc, silently cheering me on.
His triumphant voice rang out –
Throughout all his years of persistent and patient tennis instruction, my coach had not neglected to teach me the most fundamental sport skill of all-
Losing with grace.
(The following ad was chosen for its uplifting message on playing sports )