I am writing this from my husband’s computer.
Why? Because if I write from my own laptop, I will be tempted to see if somehow, Novak Djokovic was able to come back and beat Tomas Berdych, after being down 3-1 in the third set.
Why does this matter? Because if somehow he won, I will be tempted not to write what I am about to write.
Well, for now, anyway.
I quit tennis.
Those of you who know me know that I love tennis. So you’re probably asking “WHY?” Or, you might (not without reason) be wondering if I am bratty enough to quit tennis because my favorite player lost a tennis match.
I’m pretty bratty, but I’m not that bratty, I am happy to say.
No, the reason I have decided to quit tennis is a little closer to home. I’ve decided to quit because I don’t like the person I become when I watch tennis.
More specifically, I don’t like the person I become when I watch Djokovic play tennis.
This is by no way Djokovic’s fault. Well, in a way, it is. The thing is, it would be maybe easier to not turn into who I not-so-affectionately call “Nicole Hyde” while I watch a match of his, were I only a fan of his tennis game. But I’m also a fan of him as a person – as a person I admire very much and feel is worth emulating.
Somehow, when I watch him play, I feel like I’m watching my child. Or my husband. Or a very close relative or friend. It’s no longer a matter of points, of forehands and backhands, of the thrill of the sport. It’s about something a bit more visceral. I become so invested in his matches that I feel like I will die if he doesn’t win.
You don’t know how much I wish I could turn this off. Reading this confession makes me cringe. I’m going to be 40 years old very soon. This sounds like something a toddler would say. Or a preteen. Or a teenager. Certainly not a married mother of two who has a very fulfilling life outside of tennis. If you don’t know me that well — or, maybe, if you do, and I don’t blame you at all — you might be thinking, “oh my GOSH. It’s only a game! It’s not that big of a deal! What on earth is wrong with you?”
I wish I had a good answer to that question.
I don’t know what is wrong with me. I don’t know why I get like this when I watch him play. But the sad fact is that I have been like this since I first started watching tennis.
My parents will tell you that when I was very young, I idolized Chris Evert. When she lost a match, they tell me I became very sad, and they had to give me a “pep talk” to cheer me up. (I don’t know what I was like when she won. For some reason, I don’t remember that at all.)
I stopped watching tennis until I was about 14 years old. Chris was still playing (though she would retire the next year), but I actually rediscovered Martina Navratilova and became a bigger fan of her than Chris. But the one who became my absolute favorite was Stefan Edberg, a quiet serve-and-volleying Swede who was very cute. (I admit, the cuteness was what first drew me to him. I did mention I was a 14-year-old girl, right?)
As it turned out, Edberg won Wimbledon that year, and I was thrilled. I hopped aboard the Edberg train and kept riding it for years. This wasn’t easy because Edberg wasn’t a dominant champion. He didn’t attain the world number 1 ranking until 1990 (and that year he lost in the first round of Grand Slam tournaments twice). I do think in retrospect that it made his victories maybe a little sweeter for me, because they were by no means automatic.
In 1990 I discovered Pete Sampras, and he would become my next favorite. He was far more dominant than Edberg, although again it took time for him to achieve that number 1 ranking. But I was so excited about his game, and his wins, that I made sure to record every single Grand Slam final match he played, because I wanted all his victories on tape. (One year, my mom even recorded a Grand Slam final between Sampras and Andre Agassi because I was away at college and couldn’t do it myself. I didn’t even ask her to, she just did it. What a mom. 🙂 )
One thing I know is that I lived and died with Sampras’ matches, just as I did with Evert’s, just as I did with Edberg’s. I remember some of their more painful losses with astonishing clarity. I remember Edberg’s loss to Ivan Lendl in an Australian Open semifinal, after he held a match point and double-faulted. I remember a complete beatdown Edberg took to Boris Becker in a Wimbledon final. I remember his loss to Jim Courier in an Australian Open final, after he had completely destroyed Courier in the previous year’s U.S. Open final. (And I liked Courier.) As for Sampras, I’ll never forget his loss to Courier (again) in the quarterfinal of the U.S. Open the year after he won it for the first time, and I’ll never forget the heaps of scorn piled on him after he confessed that the loss took the “monkey off his back.” I’ll never forget a loss to Agassi in the Australian Open final not long after his coach Tim Gullickson had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. I’ll never forget his loss to Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the semifinals of the French Open that same year — especially because I had been convinced that Sampras was destined to win that year.
There’s something kind of sad, in my opinion, about the fact that I remember these losses, and how they affected me, years later. I know I fell into funks with each loss. They ruined my day, and sometimes my week and even my month.
Fast forward a few years to the present time. My favorite player Djokovic is, again, the number one player in the world. And I can remember his painful losses, and there are even more than my other favorites (maybe just because they’re more recent). His loss to Roger Federer in the semifinals of the French Open in 2011 – ugh, that was heartbreaking, especially because it broke an unbelievable winning streak, and also because he won the other three Grand Slams and would have won the calendar year Grand Slam, something no man has done since I think 1968? Yeah, it’s that rare. The final of the French Open last year against Rafael Nadal. That one hurt because he had started turn the match around, winning the third set and going up a break in the fourth, and then play had to be suspended and Nadal came back and won the fourth. The Wimbledon semifinal the same year against Federer — when the wheels came tumbling off the wagon after a strong first set. The semifinals of the Olympics, again the same year, against Andy Murray and then the bronze medal match against Juan Martin del Potro, completely removing him from the medals podium. Need I even say how awful that was?
This year there have already been 3 painful losses (okay, the only 3 he’s taken, not counting the match he was playing a few minutes ago, which I’m still not going to see what happened) — none of them Grand Slams, just painful because they happened.
It seems something insidious has happened to me. Every additional loss that Djokovic takes hurts more and more. But it’s gotten worse. Not only has every loss plunged me into a funk, but it has turned me into a person I just don’t like.
I hope that people generally think of me as someone who tries to live by “do unto others.” That’s how I try to live my life. I want to live the way Jesus lived. I may never heal someone that is sick or lame or dying, and I will probably never bring someone back from the dead. But I try to be someone that others can rely on to pray for them, to say comforting words when I can, or just to cry with people who are hurting.
I am sorry to say that I am the polar opposite when I watch a match Djokovic is losing. I become a bratty child. I shout. I pound my fists on tables and sofas. I shriek. I cry. I feel like throwing things (and I often just hold myself back from doing so). In short, I lose control and I act like a toddler who isn’t getting her way. When I am on Twitter, I have noticed that I need to apologize in advance for my behavior. Of course, the people who are also tennis fans and Djokovic fans in particular probably don’t care. But if they are fans of his opponent, or if they don’t care about tennis at all, I can’t help feeling like they are pretty annoyed by my shenanigans. Some have claimed they find them amusing. Maybe. But all I know is that if I saw that sort of behavior (and I have), I would think to myself, “Grow up already.”
I have tried and tried to understand why I act this way over a game. A game that means absolutely nothing in the big picture of life (except of course to the thousands if not millions of people involved in the game personally – the people who make a living from the sport in some way). I have tried to figure out why this one player leads me to act like this. I have tried to detach myself. I have tried to watch and not get overly rattled, not get depressed, not become bitter, not become foolish.
The thing that I have come to realize is that I cannot do any of these things while I am actively watching the sport.
I suppose I could just say, “Well, I just won’t watch Djokovic’s matches.” The thing is, I am and have always been a one-player sort of woman. I care about the sport as a whole, certainly. But I have always needed to have one favorite player to make me really care. Without that one player, I’m really just sort of going through the motions. Sure, I can absolutely watch other matches and have a blast doing so. But it’s all just kind of leading up to when Djokovic will play and what will happen at that point.
So I’m taking the step to remove myself from the game entirely. I know this will seem like a drastic step to a lot of people. I know some of you will think I’m overreacting, that I’m not that bad, maybe that other people are worse. That may be true, but the fact is that I hate myself when I act like this. I don’t like the way it feels, and I don’t like the way I feel about myself.
I’m sure I will come back, at one point. Maybe I’ll even watch the French Open… though I doubt it. I know it would be taking a huge risk to not watch — hey, maybe my favorite player will finally win! But I know full well that even if that were to happen, the full match would turn up someplace online, and I could certainly watch it then.
(Perhaps now would be a good time to mention that I’m quitting live tennis, because that’s what turns me into a monster. I don’t go crazy when I watch matches in which I already know the outcome. Funny thing, that!)
I thought about unfollowing everyone on Twitter whom I follow mostly because of our common interest in tennis, and specifically Djokovic. I really did seriously consider this. I chose not to, for two reasons. Number one, I really like you guys, and I would like to continue seeing results of matches. Number two, I think it would be just as simple not to read tweets during tennis matches. I’ve got plenty of ways I can use my time instead, anyway.
So there you have it. And now I’m going to post this, BEFORE I find out what happened in Djokovic’s match today. And if he somehow won… I’m still quitting. If he lost?
All the more reason for me to quit.