Words: Garrett Leight
Photos: Matthew Johnson
From the age of ten until I was twenty, I played tennis every day. Actually, “played” is not the right word. It would be more accurate to say that I trained every day for ten years. There’s a little exaggeration in there of course. In those ten years, I didn’t hit a tennis ball for a month in total. That’s what it takes to get to where you think you are going to go as a kid. Kids will believe anything I guess. Thousands of kids hitting thousands of balls for thousands of days in a row all with the same dream of winning the US Open, though I always envisioned the more prestigious Wimbledon for myself.
Looking back on the whole thing, that’s kind of what it feels like, a dream. It’s just a distant memory of my past that I struggle to put into context. Not to take anything away from myself, I did earn a scholarship to a Division I college. So you could say the 10,000 hours certainly paid off. But I often try to put into perspective what the difference is between the pros and me. There’s no way it’s experience; they couldn’t have played more than me. It can’t be coaching; I had one of the best coaches in history. It’s not athleticism; I know I can play most sports better than 95% of the ATP tour. Yet even at my peak my talent and mental toughness paled in comparison to Vladimir Filip’s, the lowest ranked player in the world right now, coming in at no. 2118.
So we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars and hours to find out that I never had a chance of reaching my goal. I’m not taking anything away from sports. I like who I am today because of competitive sports. I guess I’m just a little bitter. I want to wake up at 5 am to go warm up for my 8 am match at Flushing Meadows. I want to know what it’s like to check in for a match in a major tournament. Is it different than the juniors? Do you still have to check in fifteen minutes before your start time? I don’t think they hand you a can of balls and send you onto the court walking side by side with your opponent. Or maybe they do? I’d kill to get triple bageled on those hallowed grounds. But I’m old now. I don’t even watch the matches. I hate it really.
I recently picked up some sticks and start hitting again. I’m overweight but I’m still pretty good, so it’s a good workout and looks cool to passersby. But I don’t like the ATP or the WTA. Not even a little. Sampras was my favorite. I actually saw him the other day and didn’t feel compelled to say anything to him. Sad really. When I saw Rick Rubin I ran over to him and thanked him for shaping my childhood. I guess it just sounds like I was never meant to be a professional athlete. I’m just one of the unlucky ones athletic enough to make some waves but lacking the intangibles to make it. On a different day I could be singing a different tune for sure. There were many beautiful moments, many big wins on big stages. Lots of long drives and long talks with my dad about what I did wrong and what I did right. Tennis took me to Venezuela, Costa Rica, Hawaii, Chicago, Palm Springs, Fort Lauderdale, San Antonio, Tucson, and Kalamazoo. For those of you that know, those are actually relevant cities for major US junior tournaments. Anyway, I saw these photos on my friend Matthew’s Instagram and I thought they were beautiful. I was hoping I’d find the words to match these photos. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. But these are the only words I could come up with today when thinking about my feelings about tennis.