At the conclusion of my second ever adult tennis tournament, the Beverly Hills 5.5 division, I had one major belief of mine about tennis and all of sports confirmed: IT ALL COMES DOWN TO HEAD AND HEART. Borris Becker used to say the fifth set has very little to do with tennis, and now I fully know what he meant. What it has to do with is who battles more, who wants it more, who maintains composure, and who is willing to believe and go for it when it matters most.
I knew going in to Saturday morning that I would need to win three matches in about 24 hours if I were to come away with the trophy. I was scheduled to play the quarters Saturday morning, the semi’s Saturday night, and the finals Sunday morning if I made it. Having watched several of my prospective opponents, I was struck by how equal we all were. None of us was good enough to blow the other off the court. The matches would be close, and they would come down to a point here or there.
It would all come down to who competed best.
Very similar to the top level of the pros (at a SLIGHTLY different level, however).
My quarterfinal match on Saturday morning turned in to everything I did not want it to be: an absolute marathon and war. In the third set alone, I had to call the umpire three times because of my opponent’s line calls. It tested every ounce of my physical and emotional reserves. Once I saw him begin to cramp at 3-3 in the third, though, I knew it was mine for the taking. At that moment I fully got how tennis is a one-on-one battle, and so much of it comes down to who is willing to pay the bigger price.
After prevailing in an epic 6-4 in the third battle, I went home and got horizontal and got has many fluids and foods in my body as possible. When I showed up for my semi final match that night, every muscle in my body was on the brink of cramping. I came armed with tons of Gatorade and ridiculous amounts of bananas. Every changeover I was chugging fluids and downing bananas.
When I found out that instead of playing a three hour morning match, my opponent had a walkover, I thought I stood zero chance.
After winning the first, I got down early in the second and decided if I were to have any chance at all in the decider, I basically had to tank the rest of the second set. I lost it 6-1, but had a tough time re-starting and quickly found myself down 4-0 in the third.
It was at that moment that I made the conscious decision that I refused to go down easy. It would have been so easy, quick, and painless to lose two more games, but thinking of what Rafa would do, I battled back and won 6-4 in the third!
I am still not sure it was worth the pain.
That night I could barely sleep from over-exhaustion. I was sure I would have absolutely nothing left for the finals. I especially felt this way when I agreed to do my opponent a favor and play the match at 7 a.m. since he had to be at work.
When I got myself out of bed at 5 am. And it was still dark, I deeply questioned whether any of this was worth it.
But, I finally decided I had not come this far to go away easy. Thank GOD, I won the finals in straight sets 6-3, 6-3. Thank GOD it was a short, and relatively painless match. But at 3-3 in the second when I faced 5 break points and had to battle out a 10 minute service game, I did have to dig deep. I did have to compete. I needed to use MY HEAD and HEART. I broke his will.
For there was very little difference in tennis ability between any of us in the draw.
As Becker said, the difference did not come down to tennis.
I find this to be true beyond the tennis court. What makes Cliff Lee so incredible in the playoffs? When he goes in to Yankee stadium and blanks them, it is because he BELIEVES he will and THRIVES off pressure. What makes Kobe or Lebron who they are? It is not merely God-given talent. It how hard they work and compete. It is their heads and hearts.
I would venture to say that is also probably true of amazing CEO's or fathers, or mothers or teachers or doctors. It always comes down to doing OUR very best. Pushing ourselves to the limit, whether we we or not. As long as we compete OUR best and use our head and hearts, we can be proud.
I bet it is true in almost EVERY area of our lives.