Constanza Baeza Valdenegro
A young tennis player makes a decision
The usual tennis rigour became incompatible with the hours of science and history at some point in his daily activities. A strict schedule controls every single moment in a tennis player’s day, and an abyss between his passion and school was rising in front of him. His grades weren’t poor but showed the figures of someone who was making early efforts in his life. Sometimes you could see him very concentrated on a book, but two hours later his desk was empty. The tennis hours started before the school duties ended. Nights were filled with homework and obsessive analysis of tennis videos, and he was dealing with the small pieces of free time in quiet resignation.
Some of his classmates practised sports too, but none of them had reached his level of commitment. He played football and basketball in pursuit of infantile power, feeling strong and mighty with the idea of being good at many sports, but team experience wasn’t interesting and soon he went back to the solitary moments brought by the small yellow ball. His middle-class background made him question the road he was taking, but his parents never complained, and when they were told he had talent, they knew that they had to give everything to help their son chase his dreams. His poor federation and the neglected tennis courts of his country weren’t obstacles either. He used to think that all these things made him stronger and aware of the effort one makes in tennis.
He saw many junior players falling to the pressure of tennis life. He heard many professional players saying how much they hated tennis. He saw promising players give up and study a degree, in a radical change of plans. All those stories were a reminder of the importance of having more options beyond tennis. Not every junior player becomes professional. It took him several years to admit it. He used to think that it wouldn’t happen to him. His parents had talked about the possibility of university life if he felt overwhelmed. To hear that was very irritating for him, but over the years he accepted the idea of a backup plan if tennis was too absorbing. But there was no reason to think he would choose university. He was never really focused on the subjects he had to study in school. Only history kept him interested. He enjoyed learning about his own country and the world. But he knew he wouldn’t be a historian.
The time to make a decision had arrived. The juvenile passion was becoming a certainty, the very first certainty in his life. After a long conversation with his parents, the idea of leaving school became a solid resolution from his young will. Every day he had to deal with the heavy routine dictated by too many activities and he could see the moment when he would have to choose the road he was looking for. It was a definitive idea: he had to leave school to focus on tennis only. The trophies and medals that decorated his room with their shiny presence were the backup for his commitment to tennis. He was ready for the next step.
His classmates threw a small party for him. There were jokes about being the world number one and winning Grand Slams. Always aware of his effort, they were supportive and helpful. They knew they had different lives. ‘I have no time’ was the usual answer when they invited him to parties and activities. It sounded like an adult language they didn’t know yet. He became a man too soon, being taller and stronger than his classmates, and everything made them think that he would choose other things in life, not the future they were waiting for. The nationwide tournaments and the first trips abroad gave him a certain degree of maturity. He could see the world with fresh eyes, the eyes of a young soul who has to grow up too fast. The skinny legs and the pimples on his boyish face were a reminder of his youth, but there was an adult spirit inside him, waiting to show the world all the dreams, all the things he could do.
He knew they would forget him. They would follow another path, towards the graduation party, a busy university life, soporific offices. They would have yearly reunions and would talk about marriage plans, sorrows, success, parenthood. He didn’t even know if he would ever have a friend on the court, considering how solitary a tennis player is. He was on the road to the uncertainty that sports offers. But there was no way back. He had everything and nothing. He had to try and chase his dreams.
His compromise was to keep studying the things he wouldn’t learn in school, getting the basic knowledge required and taking exams. His school would help him through online learning. There were also tutors working for the tennis centre, with the young players catching up on all the things they were skipping. But learning had a different significance for him. He learned to hit a yellow ball and run to the net before he could even read. The serve, the score, the tennis legends, that was all he knew.
The Monday after the party he showed up on the national tennis centre with his usual walk, fast and awkward. There was nothing else in the world to do. No school, no more breakfasts in a hurry, no homework. He was ready to enjoy that breeze of freedom, but something scared him too. A strange feeling paralysed his movements with an unknown cause. Was he scared? He didn’t know where he would go, but he was ready from the very first time he held a racket. He took a deep breath and felt the fresh air of the sunny morning. The other players were warming up. They saw him and waved enthusiastically. He smiled and walked towards them. He was prepared for what was coming. There was no way back. It was too early to feel the weight of his decision. But there was no time to think about it, because the very first thing he had to do that morning was to improve his weak serve! AQ