good morning! For those of you confused about the hoddle picture - this is Iga Swiatek. World No. 1 and reigning French Open champion.
Today’s TOTD is one I listened to back in 2016. It was en route from London to Sussex. My tennis team at the University of Westminster was travelling to play another team. It was our first competitive match. On the way there I had listened to the Beach Boys.
I lost my singles that day 6-1 6-1. That loss was soon made up for. I hated losing that match. I learned a lot about myself that day. But what I most remember is how much fun I had with my friends. They are the first image that pops into my mind when I think of Brighton.
On Septmber 13 I wrote a hoddle on my unceremonious return to competiive tennis following a 6-4 6-1 defeat in my mixed doubles league.
There were a few points I mentioned: Tennis is my first love. I ceased to prioritise it. I began involving myself in it again. Joined a tennis league. Lost 6-4 6-1. I was so nervous, so rusty.
I closed with this: “This is going to be a bit of a longer process than I anticipated. But I have to be patient. And play lots of tennis.”
On Sunday my tennis partner and I won the mixed doubles division in our league. That first match we played was the only one we lost.
Here are our results after that first match:
- Won 10-1 (Super set because of time)
- Won 6-3 6-4
- Won 6-3 6-2
- Semifinal: Won 6-1 6-2
That match was the semifinals of our tennis tournament, and it was important to me (and I believe my partner also). Our opponents were the team we had first played against.
I knew we were better. My partner knew that too. And we proved it.
Back in September nothing had clicked. But I figured out this league. No one knows how to play doubles. But me? I love doubles, and I’m a damn good doubles player. No one stood a chance. Not least our semifinal opponents.
I told my partner: “I want to [redacted] destroy them”. And we did. 6-1 6-2.
Here are my two singles results from September - October:
- Lost 2-6 6-4 10-7: My first singles match in over two years. I was encouraged. I did not play my best. I almost beat a player who hadn’t lost at this point. But I dropped my level in the second set. It felt like a missed opportunity. I hated it.
- Lost 2-6 3-6: The worst match of my life. My opponent wasn’t good. I played awful. At one point I punched my racquet strings so hard that blood streamed from my knuckles. At least it wasn’t my head (tennis players are crazy). I wanted to go home. I never wanted to play tennis again. I thought the worst possible things about myself.
Historically I am a better doubles player than I am a singles player. It has nothing to do with ability or skill.
The truth is I feel lonely when I play singles.
Andre Agassi once said, “Tennis is a lonely sport. Probably the most lonely”.
“You’re out there with no team, no coach and no place to hide. That’s why tennis players not only talk to themselves, but answer.”
When I formed my tennis team in my postgraduate days I felt okay playing singles because my teammates watched me when I played. I didn’t feel as lonely then.
But most of the time, I just wanted to vomit.
(I stopped singles this year to focus on doubles. Mainly because I had a shoulder injury that made serving extremely painful)
I thought about that singles match for a long time. I thought about never playing again. I flew to London feeling so unconfident. I played against one of my best friends from my university days. He was part of that tennis team I formed and one of the two or three best players I’ve played - and we have a good rivalry. We only played an hour (I couldn’t serve). But in that hour I felt a lot of things.
My love for tennis had been cast anew. I felt great remorse. I felt a lost opportunity. And wasted years. But in that hour I remembered how good I am. My forehand was deadly. My backhand just as sharp. If I played this well - with a bum shoulder - I can win this DC mixed doubles league.
Mixed Doubles final: Won 2-6 6-3 10-2
This hoddle was written on 26 November 2023. A Sunday.
I was hyped for this final. But I was nervous. Too nervous. And I played poorly for most of it.
“Should I throw up?” I asked myself.
I wondered if vomiting would reduce some of that anxiety I had carried the entire match, by which point we were down 2-6 3-1.
“No, I shouldn’t,” I answered.
I couldn’t breathe. Honestly, I couldn’t. I tried my best to hang in there. To not give anything too cheap away. My partner carried me. She’s the hero of the story, although in my narcissism she has been relegated to a solitary line in this plot.
We were the better players. There was no question about that. And we turned it around, and we won.
I stepped up my game when I needed to. We were up 5-3 in the second set and I wouldn’t let us lose that match.
And how lucky I am that my game improved at the same time as when our opponents crumbled.
We shook hands. They said congratulations. We said thanks.
I know I should feel proud about winning this league.
This is the first tournament I’ve ever won. I’ve won a lot of matches. But never a tournament. The victory felt anticlimactic.
Now I am back home drinking coffee. Remembering tennis, the journey. The joy I felt when I picked up a racquet. The passion I feel again when the racquet calls me to hold it.
Truthfully, I feel more relieved than proud. I scarcely breathed in the 90 minutes of my mixed doubles final. It would be another two or so hours again until I could breathe normally again.
I played like [redacted]. That is the truth.
Here’s the thing — I am not happy. I love tennis. But, lately, when I step on the court I am only reminded of the player I used to be (a 4.5 tennis player) and the player I need to become again.
Today isn’t about a trophy. It’s about a step towards that goal. I played poorly. My partner carried me. I am grateful.
Now it is about seeing a doctor to examine my shoulder. Hopefully it is okay. Then it is back to tennis. Back to playing against better players. To being the player I used to be.
From 13 September: “This is going to be a bit of a longer process than I anticipated. But I have to be patient. And play lots of tennis.”
Fitzie’s track of the day: Wouldn’t It Be Nice, by The Beach Boys
And now for your links:
Dan KP remembers Terry Venables
Charlie Eccleshare ($$) asks if Lo Celso is the solution or a ‘false dawn’
Long Read: On the fall of the Chinese Super League