There’s nothing quite like the smell of a new can of tennis balls, the momentary sense of amazement when hitting the perfect drop shot, the feeling of unraveling a tattered, highly discolored grip, the joy of holding up a single finger to signify that your opponent’s shot is out, or the pressure of a sudden death tie breaker. Over the past few weeks, I have come to realize that tennis is a game that I truly love, no pun intended!
I started playing tennis when I was five years old—about the same time when I decided that it was too scary to move up to a higher level in gymnastics. My mom had played tennis in college, and she encouraged me to give it a try since one of my friends was also planning on taking lessons. After my first lesson, I was thrilled that I could hit the ball by holding my racquet with just one hand and that my ball could reach the rafters in the indoor facility (although I later realized that you didn’t get any bonus points for hitting the ceiling). It was also quite promising that after each lesson, my parents allowed me to get a snack out of the vending machine—because who doesn’t feel the need to pig out after a successful workout?
In high school, tennis was not just a weekly activity. I joined my high school’s tennis team, which had been the goal of my short tennis career. With every tennis lesson that I took, every ball that I hit, and every brightly colored Nike hat that I purchased leading up to it, I believed that I was one step closer to achieving that goal. In my freshman year, I was fortunate to have made the varsity team, and as the years progressed, I continually rose up the ladder. The dreaded August pre-season practices, challenge matches, and nerve-wracking, gut-wrenching, nail-biting third sets were always overshadowed by the inside jokes among my teammates, the bagels after 7-0 wins, the apparel that we all could not wait to wear around school on match days, the end-of-season parties at my coach’s house, and the four varsity letters that I received.
During my senior year, I was paired with one of my best friends—the one with whom I had taken lessons when we were five years old—as my doubles partner. It was crazy to see how we had gone from little girls who pretended to play the guitar with our racquets to teenagers who could work together on the court and derive winning strategies. That year, for the first time in my school’s history, our team won the District Finals, sending us to Hershey to play in the PIAA Girls’ Tennis Championships. For us, this was an incredible achievement, celebrating not only our hard work throughout the season but our commitment to the game as well. Tennis was literally what we breathed, ate, and slept—in fact, our coach instructed us to picture hitting winners in our sleep. We were victorious in our first match in Hershey and advanced to the semi-final round. After an extensive three-set match, my doubles partner and I pulled out a grueling win! Unfortunately, our team lost 4-3. While it was upsetting to come so close to a state title, my time in Hershey encompassed my tennis career; I played with my best friend, my parents surprised me and watched me play since they previously had to hide behind bushes for all of my other matches upon my very strict orders, and I ended my high school career with a medal around my neck—in addition to new apparel!
At times, tennis had been a source of great frustration in my life. After I got back from states, I took a year off from playing the sport. It had been such a time-consuming and mentally challenging aspect of my life, so I decided that a break would be good for me to focus on other things. When I would pick up my brother from his tennis lessons, watching people hit would make me suddenly feel the need to text my coach and ask to set up a lesson, but for some reason, I could never get myself to send the message.
Ironically, during the past two summers, I worked at a day camp as a tennis specialist. I found that my job served as my passage back into tennis. I was on the court every day feeding balls, creating games, running drills, and modeling different shots. My summer life was always consumed with tennis, but what made this different was that it was noncompetitive.
Upon coming to the University of Delaware, I decided not to formally pursue tennis during my freshman year. I did, however, bring my racquet and a few cans of balls in hopes of just hitting around with some of my new friends—that was, if I could successfully navigate the campus to actually find the tennis courts, which I will embarrassingly admit, did not happen until this year.
I thought that I would most likely never play tennis for a team again. But, my feeling changed earlier this year. Looking to get more involved on campus, I perused the list of different clubs and activities. I wanted something that fit my interests, would help me meet new people, and would be most importantly, fun. I stumbled upon Club Tennis on the list, and it brought back all of my amazing memories. After looking on their website, stalking their social media accounts—because what college student today does not possess FBI-worthy skills—and examining my schedule, I decided to do what any independent undergrad would do: I called my mom. Looking back on our phone conversation that day, my mom tells me that she was shocked that I even entertained the thought of Club Tennis, as she had been my source for guidance when my love of the game started to diminish. She encouraged me to go for it as I had nothing to lose.
I am so happy to say that after practicing my serve every day leading up to tryouts, trekking to the courts at Newark High School, and strategically coordinating my tennis skirts with my Nike hats, I am officially one of the newest members of the University of Delaware Club Tennis team! As I am writing this blog post, I have been on the team for exactly one month, and it has been one of the best months of my college career. Not only has tennis served as a form of exercise, but it has allowed me to strengthen my skills, enabled me to meet people and build friendships, escape the stresses of everyday life, and make me a more confident person. So, as the semester is still just beginning, I encourage you to use me as an example. Try to find something that will bring you as much joy as Club Tennis has for me. There are an infinite number of clubs, activities, and social events available to you. Don’t be afraid to take a risk, step out of your comfort zone, or rekindle a previous passion that you thought you had given up. After all, you may find that your “love” is out there waiting for you to uncover it!