Yesterday, the ever-opinionated and often-controversial Pete Bodo over on Tennis.com wrote a piece entitled “Rafatigue.” Though his piece focused solely on Rafa and the inevitable feeling his domination has brought to clay season, I found myself relating. But for me the feeling of fatigue isn’t limited to Nadal–right now it applies to pretty much all of tennis.
Gosh, that’s a pretty terrible thing for a self-proclaimed tennis writer to admit, but as I sit down and try and write something deep and insightful about the sport in this here sacred place that I consider my tennis home, I find myself a bit, well, drained. The dirty truth is that I haven’t watched all that much tennis this month, at least not compared to my usual load.
There are excuses, of course. There are always excuses. My computer is old so I’m trying to only stream when I absolutely have to, which limits a lot of match options. I was back “home” in Greensboro the past two weeks dealing with some family and personal issues, which really cut into my tennis watching and writing time. I’ve been prioritizing other things–things that will bring in more money–in a desperate attempt to get my life and finances together before my fast approaching birthday. (I don’t handle birthdays well. I don’t like checking in with myself. I don’t do milestones. I don’t like to be aware of time passing, unless it’s like get-me-to-the-end-of-this-day-so-I-can-get-a-drink time.)
But I think there’s more to it than that.
Even when the tennis is on, I don’t feel like I’m really watching. I don’t feel as invested as I usually do, don’t feel attached, don’t feel the drama. Today I had the Tennis Channel on and had told myself I would write about a match, but even the roller-coaster of the Gulbis-Nadal match barely registered on my radar. It just existed in the background as a daytime soap opera would while I write, or as an infomercial would on a hungover Sunday morning. It was just there. Just noise. I couldn’t feel it.
Every once in a while I’d check Twitter or hear a cheer from the crowd and look back at the television and really ground myself with what was going on. I gave up hope on writing about it, thankful that anything goes on this site, that I wasn’t under a “real” deadline, that the mind-wandering was okay. Amy and Juan Jose are flexible and patient with me. You guys have always seemed okay with a reflective essay in place of a match report. This was good, because today, for me, the blurred forehands and backhands on my archaic television screen were just that–tennis strokes between tennis players on a tennis court. They didn’t have much context for me, and I’m pretty much only about the context.
I wondered to myself, and now here, how much I should worry about this. Perhaps this is all just one long post-Roddick hangover, perhaps this is because I’ve been feeling down lately, or perhaps this is just the general fatigue of the never-ending season. We’re all bound to have spots of the season that don’t captivate our interest as much. Maybe I’m just “normal,” whatever that means in the tennis universe.
Most sports echo a season of a television show, all building to one epic season finale, but tennis is a lot more like real life. There are bigger days and there are smaller days, there are days you’re at your best and days you’re at your worst, there are days you win and days you lose, and yet no matter how high the high or how low the low there’s always the reality of tomorrow. A new tournament starts, and with it comes a new chance to pull yourself up or be brought right back down to earth. Each week defines your reputation just as much as each new week gives you a chance to completely redefine it. It’s exhausting in that way, in that it never really ends. (But on my good days, I consider it refreshing.)
I’m going through a big transitional period in my life, trying to get healthy both mentally and physically after a rough patch and trying to figure out where I go from here. I identify as a writer now, which in the grand scheme of my life is still a rather new revelation. I’ve tried and failed at a lot of things the past year or so, but now there are glimmering signs that maybe, just maybe, things are falling into place. For me, there’s almost as much fear in that as there is in the failures. To take on new challenges, ones that seemed audacious and disastrous just weeks ago, is terrifying. There’s the fear of being judged, the fear of not being able to deliver, the fear of the unknown, and the fear of how I will handle all of this fear. For a moment, staying put in my panicked day-to-day-low-expectations existence seems like the only safe option.
But I can take the lessons that tennis has taught me and apply it to this situation. If it doesn’t work out, if I lose in the first round or get a bad call, or even if I’m forced to retire, there will always be another tournament. I realize that I’m probably stretching this metaphor thin, but it is something that easily gets lost in the rubble of the do-or-die, day-to-day, all-or-nothing narrative that seems to surround everything, both in tennis and in life. Try your best. Believe you can win. Move on if you don’t. Work harder. Repeat.
For so many years tennis was my escape from my everyday life. It was where I went to recharge my batteries. Now that I’ve scrapped together a life that revolves more and more around tennis, I’m beginning to learn that I will occasionally need to recharge elsewhere to make it work. There is a point of diminishing returns, both as a writer and as a fan. It’s important to take care of the basics and then go from there.
So tonight I will crack open a bottle of wine and watch as one of my favorite television shows, even in the bad years, “The Office” finally ends its run. I’ll escape to a place where there is a happy ending, where there is no tomorrow (in the non-apocalyptic sense). I’ll get wrapped up in the fiction. Tomorrow morning, I’ll wake up and I’ll turn on the Tennis Channel and I will try again.
And when all else fails, I will remember that the French Open is nine days away. I get butterflies just thinking about it.