"A lob in tennis (also called Great Horse, in Italian Cavallone) is hitting the ball high and deep into the opponent's court. It can be used as an offensive or defensive weapon depending on the situation."
A master of my emotions and expert on mental health in general, I consider it my duty to challenge myself. I encourage my clients to do this so I feel it is only fair to reciprocate in kind, however private my trials may be. Believing that growth is guaranteed through strife, I push myself in many ways. One of them is tennis.
A professional masseuse years ago, my mother once traded massage with a woman who taught tennis. When I was eleven, this woman taught me and I loved it. I never played competitive sports nor have I ever considered myself a competitive person. I was always last to be picked for any game in gym class. Okay, second to last. In the fifth grade, Angie, a developmentally delayed girl with bottle cap glasses and a drooling problem beat me for dead last. Her legs splayed behind her awkwardly when she ran. I know this because I studied her at great length while running behind and remember the determination and strain it cost me to beat her. Though she acted like she did not care, my heart ached for us both when captains were picking teams. I always hated the whole thing. Hence, the idea of purposefully playing a sport in my free time repulsed me and I have since considered myself fundamentally different from those sporty types. When I was eleven, tennis with Ms. Wetzle challenged this concept over one summer and as I see it now, she changed my life.
To be clear, I learned tennis from Ms. Wetzle when I was eleven and only played in lessons over one summer. Then, I took beginning tennis in college at twenty-six. I have enjoyed hitting with willing friends and a few boyfriends that were way sportier than me. In recent years, I joined a racket club on two separate occasions to distract myself with social exercise from the pain of separation from those boyfriends. At this club, joining the United States Tennis Association is a thing. It is hard to play without being asked to compete and promised that it is fun. The following is an account of some of my experience since joining the USTA.
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She must have been half my age. I saw her once practicing with her coach who might also be her dad. They were on the court where I would be competing that day. She had her hair piled on the top of her head in a carefree bun, and wore not the preppy, tight tennis attire but thin, baggy warm up pants. The elastic cinched around her calves unevenly like a thug made her look confident, if not better, at least younger and certainly cooler than me. She had earbuds in so I asked the man feeding her balls if he was warming her up for USTA. He said he was not and asked if I had a match there, if I needed the court. I was nervous and he was friendly. I replied, “Yes, but my opponent isn’t here yet so I’ll just watch till she arrives, if that’s okay? I’m just glad I’m not playing her.” I pointed to his protégé and she removed an earbud, looked curious, then smiled silently. That was two months ago.
Despite what I remembered about her, when she arrived to play me today I was not overly concerned. I won yesterday against I woman I felt could be my double. We both played hard and scored great, long points. It was hot and still through the late afternoon. Agony. Our match lasted better than 2 hours and if she had not shared her granola bar, I might have needed an ambulance. I got her in a ten-point tie break. I was painfully nervous throughout the match. Black spots dotted my vision. I could not get to the top of my breath. Early on I decided to just hang my mouth open in lieu of trying to calm myself with even breaths through my nose. My legs were unreliable. Usually solid, they shook like jelly and when I tried to sip from a paper cone, I needed two hands. At home, I couldn’t decide to shower or
vomit so I planned to vomit in the shower. If I had, that would have been a first. I felt sick until around eleven then, refreshed and pleased with myself for winning, I slept hard for semi-finals today.
When I signed up for the Santa Fe Open I did not realize I would be playing more than once. Truth be told, I saw that money could be won and impulsively registered not understanding that only higher levels win money. I also thought that when I read the email a week ago, “the Santa Fe Open is just around the corner!”, the corner would be much further away. So, winning yesterday and surviving my nerves meant I was already a champion.
At 9:30 this morning I felt mostly calm. I repeated to myself: I feel good, this is good, this is fun, fun, fun, fun, like a mantra, hoping my demon nerves would not return. Fun. Fun. Fun. Fun. Fun. We warmed up for five minutes as we were told by the officials, then started to play.
It started in the first game. With a harmless little pop her ball sprung into the clouds and I felt like a clown. Running forward, pedaling back, skipping to the side, turning around, bolting to the back but, I hit it. Backatchya! Ha! Ha! Then again, so effortless, she sent it into the clouds, and it went on like this for two sets. I know, I’ll just smash it out of the air like I’ve seen on tv. I remember that my ex-boyfriend would lob the ball at me like this and chuckle. I thought it was cheap, lazy and arrogant. Over and over, pop, into the sky. I would turn my back and refuse to play. If I would have gotten over myself then and tried a little more with him I might know better how to handle the lob princess but I did not. Consequently, I am not very good at smashing it out of the air like I have seen on tv and I could not make the ball into the court. So, I decided to get it right off the bounce, keep your eye on it, I told myself. I managed that strategy a lot but she always got it back into the clouds. Is this allowed? I wondered. How does she sleep at night? I thought, truly puzzled. I guess she wants to win like this. I could not believe it.
Early on I shouted to her across the court, “I feel like we’re playing in a circus!” and regretted it. It sounded catty, and that is not me. So, I tried to soften my comment by using French, “it’s like Cirque du tennis!” But she just smiled calmly and I lied about how much fun I was having.
By the end of the match I was growling loudly with every return and screaming how frustrated I was. She won both sets. Then she won the tournament in our division, grade level, or whatever you call it. Now I am writing about it to make the whole thing feel like a useful growth experience (which is psychobabble for a shitty fucking time) and consider my expertise in emotional regulation. Also, I plan to practice lobbing because that is how one wins at my level, obviously. One pro promised she would hit a wall with her strategy. I would like to be that wall.
One thing is certain. I can no longer convince myself or anyone else that I am just not a competitive person. All I can think about is Rocky. Please drive carefully because that will be me, earbuds in, hood hanging low, jogging down 285 to eye of the tiger. Move over princess, the lob queen is coming to town.
Meira Petersen is a Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LPCC). Meira received her Master's degree in Counseling Psychology from Southwestern College in Santa Fe, NM.