So I am stepping on the court, with the attempt to boost up my energy level. I try to pump up myself and get the right mindset. I try to convince myself that I am full of energy, excited to play match and very well prepared.
Nevertheless, every step on my right foot reminds me gently on the heel injury and puts a shy grimace of pain on my, a bit worried face. I squeeze my teeth and pretend that I am perfectly fine. I do so by doing couple of kangaroo jumps.
I see my opponent, the unranked domestic player (that’s how my mind perceived him). Probably taller than me (I’m 191cm), wearing one brand clothes from head to toes (probably sponsored by government), he stands and moves as 10 times Grand Slam champion.
So much confidence in his posture, moves. How is this possible? Where does all this come from?
I find myself trapped in these ridiculous thoughts and quickly let them go. I take out my racquet, get the wrist bands on and put the powder on my hands. Ready to go.
Referee says couple of very well known words before every match, which I never listen to, tosses the coin and let me choose to start serving first.
Warm up passes in an instant, I feel comfortable hitting from the middle and blasting few serves without any pressure. The next thing you know, referee calls “Time” and “Play”. I am diving into this match with some unknown feeling. Seems like I have never done this before.
Surprisingly, I start this battle with a very good focus and high level tennis. Opponent can’t adjust to my game, making few errors and quite quickly I am 3/0 up in the first set.
However, I feel something isn’t right, it’s just too easy. I anticipate that he will raise his level very soon so I try to stay even more focused and to work hard for every single point like my life depends on it.
Few minutes later, couple of exchanges later, I lose first set 6/3. This can not be happening. I don’t feel that I dropped my level, he just started playing better. But to lose 6 games in a row? No way!
I break his streak by holding serve to even the score at 1/1 in the second set. Battle started to evolve. We are exchanging heavy strokes from the baseline, interrupted by few net play moves by both of us. He demonstrates great hands and skills all over the court. I try to stay focused on my serve and to look for chances for a break.
Everything seems ok. I felt heel pain every now and then, when reaching some tough balls, quickly stopping and changing directions, but I rose above that pain and played hard like nothing is wrong. Still deep inside, I know that my movement isn’t that great. I am a bit slow and careful with my steps.
I am 4/3 down in the second and serving. 0/15. I am going for the biggest first serve down the “T”. As I am reaching high with my body and racquet to smash the ball, I am only focused to hit the fastest serve in the match. I push my body a little bit extra. As the ball is leaving my racquet I get the feel as someone is stabbing me with a knife in my low back. The pain is 10 times more intense than the heel pain. I manage to stay on my feet after my “bomb” and with some miracle win the point after hitting the next shot. I collapse on the ground and call for a doctor.
Until this very day I don’t know what happened then. It must have been some pinched nerve. Doctor gives me treatment on the court and I continue to play, anxiously expecting that pain again, which greatly affects my game.
Few moments later, I am shaking hands with my opponent. 6/3 6/3. Very disappointed, with frown on my face and a walk of a wounded soldier, I leave this steaming hot field of battle.
I can’t define my feeling. Some mixture of being depressed, frustrated, discouraged and defeated. But the feeling that fills my exhausted body the most at this moment is the feeling of failure. Is this all a big failure? Am I a big failure?
I didn’t have too high expectations for this tournament but I was quite confident in spite of my heel injury. I believed that I am prepared to fight against these young players. I trusted my guts that I should follow my passion to play again. I felt that I was much more experienced than before and that my newly built mental strength will enable me to overcome any obstacle on the tennis court.
Boom! Wake up! Get real for a second. I finally realize the truth. All this is much tougher and harder than it seems. Coming back to compete on this level requires long process of preparation, amazing determination and a bit of insanity. I thought I had all that.
Not quite. Not yet. But still I manage to tell myself that I am close. I am actually now one more step closer to my goal. I am more aware of what I need to do and to which level I need to get to give myself more chance.
I know that first I need to recover completely. Now not just from my heel injury but also from the low back pain. That’s a must. Then when 100% healthy, and only then, I can give myself another chance to fight in another battle and come out as a winner.
The true feeling I have at this moment is that I tried to climb the hill, which turned out to be a huge mountain. Not any mountain. Mount Everest. Only this acknowledgment by itself knocks you down so hard that you almost don’t have an option to get up or even look up.
However, I find a way to take a different view. I don’t look at the top of the mountain. I look at those first cliffs I have to climb. That first forest I need to pass. The first river I need to cross. I see the first steps. I see the small steps. I get some wild energy inside me. I start feeling that firing spite inside my chest. I feel the heart beat. I feel that ice-simmering anger under my skin.
On the outside I look calm, cooling down while doing my stretching after the match. On the inside… I am more determined and more hungry than ever.
I will come back. Stronger. Faster. Better. I will not stop here. One battle lost. Plenty to come. Mountain with many beautiful spots and views is waiting for me. What is there to lose?