There was just one week left till the tournament began. I was starting to get the pre-tournament jitters. But I know I had done everything I could have in preparation for this event. I worked the hardest I ever had, dedicating all of my time and effort into my training for this past month. Every single day I was out on the tennis court, under the scorching hot sun, giving it my all. After ever practice session, I came off the court dripping in sweat. I was as ready as I could have been.
It was now only three days until the tournament began. The pressure was building up. Not only was this the last tournament of the year, but it was also the most important. The winner of this tournament got to play in the U.S. Open. This would be a dream come true for not only me, but for every junior tennis player in the world. Everyone comes into this tournament ready to go, in an effort to end their year on a high note. Each player in the draw worked very hard throughout the year, and earned their spot in this tournament. This was going to be a very tough battle.
On top of all that, I had a lot of expectations going into this tournament. My parents and my coaches had high hopes for me. Lots of college coaches were also going to be there looking for new people to recruit. So it’s safe to say that the pressure was on.
Before leaving for the tournament, my coach tells me, “Good luck Leah. You’re ready for this. Believe in yourself and don’t let all the hard work we put in go to waste.”
My parents tell me, “We wish you all the best Leah! Make us proud!”
The last thing I wanted to do was let them down.
There was now only 20 minutes till my match started. I was pacing at the site of my tournament. I have been playing these tournaments for 10 years now, but this was the most nervous I had ever been for a tennis match. I had my headphones on, listening to music, and trying to focus. But I couldn’t. For some reason, my mind kept wandering off to all these negative thoughts. What if I lose? My ranking would drop so low and no colleges will ever want me! What will my parents think then? What will my coaches think? What will my friends think? Oh no. I needed to stop. I needed to get these negative emotions out of my head if I even wanted a chance to win.
Just then, the loud speaker rang, “Leah HURLEY TO THE TOURNAMENT DESK” interrupting my awful thoughts, thankfully. But for some reason, as I was picking up my bags to head down to the court, I felt so unprepared all of a sudden. I didn’t know what was happening but I didn’t have any time to process it. It was game time, whether I was ready or not.
Right in the warm up I could feel that something wasn't right. None of my shots were going in, I wasn’t able to move my feet, nothing was working for me. I was not able to play freely. Something was restricting me and I did not know what it was.
When the match started, it was not any better. I was getting so frustrated with myself and I was rushing myself. I wasn’t thinking, I was just brainlessly swinging my tennis racket, hoping the ball would go in. But it wouldn’t. I was trying everything I could to try and get out of this situation. But nothing was working. It was as if I had some sort of a mental block. I was not myself, and I didn’t know what was wrong with me.
“Game. Set. Match.” the umpire announced.
I lost the match. It all happened so fast. I was confused and shocked. I was the higher ranked player. I was not supposed to lose this match. But I did and it felt awful.
I felt my eyes fill up with tears as I went up to shake my opponents hand. As I was exiting the court, so many thoughts rushed through my head. ‘How did this happen? Why did I let this happen? I could have played better. I should have played better.’ All the hard work from the past two months leading up to this match just went down the drain. I was furious at myself. I was upset with myself. But worst of all I was scared. Scared of my parents disappointment. They paid a lot of money for me to be here and I let them down. This was the worst feeling in the world.
It was two days after the match and I was on my flight back home. There was not a moment in the past 48 hours that I did not think about the match. I was trying to figure out what went wrong, but I couldn’t think of anything. If only I could go back in time and redo this match. But I couldn’t. This would just be something that I would have to live with for the rest of my life.
When I got back home, my parents tried to hide their disappointment in me, but I saw right through it. Of course they would be disappointed. They should be. I’m a failure.
I went straight up to my room, closed the door and just sat on my bed. I sat there for a really long time, just thinking about everything. My dad always says “everything happens for a reason,” but I saw no reason for this happening to me.
Couple hours go by, and I hear a knock on my door. It’s my brother. He comes in and sits next to me on my bed. We sit in silence for what feels like forever, but was probably only a few minutes. Then he starts to speak.
“Listen to me Leah,” he begins, “I know how tough this is for you. But you need to let it go. You learn more from the losses than you do from the wins, ok? You need to take the positives from this match and just forget about the rest.”
I start to tear up. “But there was so much riding on me for this tournament. I was supposed to do well. I let so many people down,” I mumbled.
“That’s the thing. You put so much pressure on yourself to do well, but sometimes you have to understand, you’re only human. People have bad matches. You can’t be in perfect form all the time. No one is, not even Roger Federer,” he responded.
“I know people mess up, but this was at such a big stage. It was so important for me to do well...” I muttered.
“You’re still so young Leah. You will face much bigger challenges in the future. Soon you will look back on this day and be thankful that it happened. It may not seem that way now, but it will. And please don’t worry about our parents. They will love you the same, regardless of how you do in a dumb tennis match” my brother said.
He was right. I put too much pressure on myself coming into this tournament, so I was bound to crumble under it. Looking back it it, that is probably why I froze up when I got out on the court. I was blinded by all the pressure and expectations, that I forgot to enjoy myself out there. After all, the reason I have played this sport for such a long time is because I love and enjoy it. I needed to look at the bigger picture. At the end of the day, this was just a tennis match. I will be playing many more tennis matches in the future, and will face many more difficult moments like these. And this moment, this feeling, will help me in overcoming those hardships I face in the future.