A few nights ago, I played in my first USTA 3.0 singles tennis match.
Here is how it went down.
I woke up match morning in a funk that flourished as the day progressed. A combination of work woes, financial stress and overall Monday malaise depleted my energy and sucked out every ounce of self-confidence I had.
In other words, I was in no mood to play.
Nonetheless, in the late afternoon, I showered and dressed in my most appropriate tennis garb, which includes a lime green sports bra worn under a grey Nike tennis tank, blue “carwash style” skirt cut and tied on the side, camo arm band on my left wrist. Since my 55 minute commute to the San Francisco Tennis Club involves 20 minutes of walking and 35 minutes of Muni, I layered leggings over the skirt (sounds odd, but it works: the shorts of the skirt sit under the leggings, the “skirt” part flaps over), a thermal over the tank, a leather jacket over that, and Birkenstocks on my feet. I carried my sneakers and racquet in my vintage 70’s bag.
As I walked downhill to Muni, Pandora punk pounding in my headphones to psyche me up, I was a nervous wreck. I would have been nervous anyway, but I would be playing on court 1, right below the club café in the viewing area.
People would be watching.
Would I be able to get my serves over the net?
Would I be able to get any balls at all over the net?
Would I be able to win any games?
Would I be able to manage to win a single point?
I arrive at the club an hour before my match-time, and shoot the shit with our team captain and the doubles team that would be playing on the court next to me. This helped. A lot. We laughed and gossiped and pumped each other up. Our fearless captain added, “I don’t give a shit if we win. It’s just a game. We all have enough stress in our lives. Have fun.” At which time Julie, one of our doubles players, appeared with a giant glass of wine. Not Gatorade. Wine. To drink before her match. And calm her nerves so she could have fun. Turns out she has a glass of wine, or vodka tonic, before every match. I’m thinking she’s on to something.
I reach down into my bag to pull out my tennis shoes, and spot a penny under the table and pick it up. Is this a sign? I put it in my bag, march over to the cafe bar, and order a rum and diet coke with a cherry.
At 7:15, we file down to the courts. I wiggle into my “ball sack” – an ingenious elastic belt with a “sack” to hold service balls (I just don’t like stuffing them into my skirt/shorts/anything). I take a sip of my cocktail. I breathe.
My opponent arrives.
Turns out I played her in a doubles match a few months back; she and her partner CRUSHED us. And it was awful.
She recognizes me and remembers. She is smug. She knows this will be quick and if she’s really lucky, she’ll be able to catch the end of the Warrior’s game and maybe get away with not washing her skort.
She wins the spin for serve. Of course she does. I fail to return her first two. Badly.
I take a long breath. I remember the penny. I look up at my team captain.
And then it happens.
I return her next serve. And her next shot. And the next, and next, and next.
Almost three hours later, our match ends. 7-6, 6-3.
I am drenched in sweat. My legs feel like vermicelli. My rum and diet coke is a almost empty and has left a condensation ring on the plastic table near the court bench.
I am exhausted. I am exhilarated. I am shocked.
I won. I fucking won.
Everything else melted away. My work woes. My financial stress. Everything.
Did that lucky penny have anything to do with it. Does luck ever help?
Maybe it made me relax. But it was all me. I focused and fought.
Sometimes we make our own luck.
I remember what our captain said about not worrying about winning. “It’s just a game” she has said over and over. She is right. But tonight, winning that brutal match made me feel, well, not like the loser I felt like all day. I was a winner. It felt, and still feels, goddam great.
And that is everything.