Not to say I don't have my uniquely "Jamey Dee Moments" on court. Picture it:
I played varsity tennis in high school and for the computer club in college (the team was no longer funded). In addition, on and off through the years I have played in many weekend warrior tournaments with varying degrees of sucess. After having to be carried off-court during my last two tournaments for cramping (not enough potassium!) and heat sickness, I took a long (several years) layover from competitive tennis. Summer of 1997 I started playing mixed doubles competitively again. This time around, I'm playing for fun, not glory. :) It makes a big difference!
There are few things I love as much as smacking the ball across the net against a couple of my guy friends. Hanging out with all the guys on the boy's team, I learned to love playing in the toe-to-toe, whale-it-as-hard-as-you-can-from-the-baseline style. Playing against other women is a matter of endurance and patience--and patience is not something I have in abundance.. Playing against guys is a matter or redirecting power; playing against women, you have to manufacture your own power.
Up until I quit playing singles competitively, my signature was a blistering two-handed backhand and a world-class serve. Such modesty, eh? But the truth is, I skated through games on my serve for several years. It was not unusual for me to get 18 or more aces in a match. The bad part was that my net game deteriorated as a result--I didn't need it. I would always be there, ready for the return, but it just didn't happen. Then, after my wrist injury took some of the pepper off my shots, I had lost some of my vital skills.
Injuries and mental exhaustion really took away my love of the game for a few years. It took me a few years to understand the problem; the truth is I had come to HATE playing singles. Rallying across the net was heaven. Doubles was fun; putting forth effort for my partner wasn't a problem. Putting for the effort for ME was a different matter all together. I'm just not a person who likes to keep score; I don't mind losing if I can have a few minutes of brilliance on court. For me to play singles aggressively, competitively, I had to go to a place inside myself I didn't like, I had to become a person I didn't care for. My best singles was played in a white-hot rage. And while I didn't become one of those ranting, raving types you sometimes see on court--the truth was that INSIDE that was exactly what I was doing.
with a bad perm)...
There is a defining moment when I quit singles. It was a local tennis tournament with double elimination. I had fallen in the second round and worked my way to the semi-finals, i.e., finals of the losers' bracket. (The way I always thought of such moments was, "one match away from a trophy.") I had played mixed doubles as well and lost in the finals the previous evening.
It was 8:00 AM on a Sunday morning in the middle of a Florida July. Humidity was in full flower. Because the main bank of courts was full, my opponent and I were sent off to some outlying courts a couple of blocks away. I was not a happy camper that morning. Every joint hurt, I hadn't gotten enough sleep and I could think of several thousands places I'd rather be than under the heat of a midsummer morning. My mixed doubles partner was supposed to show up and provide moral support, but he pulled a no-show, whereupon my opponent's entire family was gathered to watch. I felt utterly and totally alone.
All my shots were off. I was hitting long by a huge margin and the more I tried to correct, the worse I got. I had the beginnings of a pain in my wrist, a disconcerting jolt everytime I hit the ball.
The games flew by. I lost the first set 6-0 before I even had time to settle down. The second set went no better. I was down 0-5 before I knew it. I hurt, I hated where I was, what I was doing, how I was doing it, my partner for not showing up and my opponent for showing ME up.
0-6, 0-5. I thought to myself, "Dammit, Dee, do you want to see an 0-6, 0-6 score next to your name in tomorrow's newspaper? Quit playing like an idiot." It was my serve. I had nothing left to lose.
There is a moment I sometimes have on court, a feeling that has become ever rarer as time goes by. In my own mind, I think of it as "the hammer falling." It is when everything falls together, when you can do no wrong, when you're Babe Ruth pointing at where you're going to hit that next homerun, that certainty, that unquestionable KNOWING that you can pull off a miracle. The hammer started falling with that serve.
I served four aces in a row. 0-6, 1-5. Hey, at least one goose egg was erased! My opponent looked a little shell-shocked, but still confident. She had 4 more chances to finish me off. All she needed was one more game to end it. But the hammer was in my hand and all those awful shots I had been missing by several feet were now painting the lines. The momentum had reversed and she was the last to know.
But that wrist pain that had been nagging me was steadily creeping. The unsettling jolt of pain was spreading to my last three fingers. By the time we played a tiebreaker for the second set, it was getting hard to hold the racquet.
0-6, 7-6(7-5), 5-0...it was my turn to finish it. Each serve I hit was now sending agony down into my hand and up to my elbow. I actually dropped the racquet several times after serving. The hammer had fallen, but fallen too late. I had the skills at my disposal, Lady Luck had been with me, but my body was failing me. I thought about taking the default, ending the suffering, but I had come too far. Anger was ebbing and despair was setting in.
I had always had glass wrists and ankles. I regularly taped up the wrists when playing matches. I took a minute between games to tape my racquet to my hand.
My opponent made good of her opportunities. She came back as I did. It came down to 0-6, 7-6(7-5), 6-6. We played the tiebreaker and I fought as hard as I could, but I lost it 6-8. I dropped my racquet where I was, shook her hand, and packed up and left, cradling my wrist against my chest. It was 12:15. We had played for roughly 4 hours and 15 minutes.
Monday I made an appointment with the doctor. I spent the next 6 weeks in a wrist splint. "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome" was not the common term then that it is now...
My love for tennis has rekindled in the past two years. As I mentioned, I've played a tournament or two (three to be exact) in the past year and have a much lighter attitude towards the whole endeavor. My decrepit old bones don't scoot across the court as nimbly as they used to, but it's fun to try!