Sunday, January 22, 2006
FOR LOVE OF THE GAME
(This was something i wrote for our Creative Writing class a few years ago. The teacher assigned us to write about the topic "Memorable Experience of Acquiantanceship Graduating into Something Deeper" [quite a mouthful, eh?], and i really didn't want to write about something deep and mushy so this was what i came up with. I guess it's also my rather haphazard effort to explain how i got into tennis and why i continue to play, despite wrecking my racquets [4 or 5, at last count] periodically.)
It was the summer of 1998.
A memorable summer for me, as it was quite an eventful one. I had just come back from a church retreat. I also went to Banaue to see the terraces (and accidentally did some spelunking in Sagada). I was about to enter graduate business school.
And it was my first time to pick up a tennis racquet.
Our coach, the Butch Bacani, was this stern-looking, in-your-face, no-nonsense kind of guy on the court, but off the court, he had a carload of green jokes and hearty guffaws. When it came to teaching us clueless souls on the basic points of tennis, he was a virtual slavedriver. In fact, he could easily be a Marine sergeant had he put on fatigues instead of tennis whites.
He barked at me, "Look at the ball!"
I looked at the ball as he released it gently, softly, from his grip; looked at it as it floated lackadaisically through the air, rotating like it didn't feel the urgency to land any time soon; and looked at it as it bounced and made a slight imprint on the soft shell court.
Throughout this time, i was mentally rehearsing Butch's (oops, make that Coach Butch's) litany of instructions through my mind. "Hmm. . .quarter turn. . .knees bent. . .early backswing. . .plant your left foot. . ." Then i swung my racquet as hard as i could.
Nothing but air. Clean as a whistle. I had missed completely. The ball might as well have travelled to Saturn.
He barked, "What are you doing? One more time, look at the ball!"
Again, i did as told. I swung. Swoosh!
Alas! Nothing but pure, arid, sweaty air.
Coach Butch had gone bonkers at this point. "Gaddemit!! Are you blind? Look at the #@$*&#+ ball!!!"
I repressed the urge to shout at him, "What do you think i'm doing, you idiot?" Instead, i gave a barely audible mumble, "That's what i'm doing."
Things did NOT get much better after. In no time at all, he was calling me "Jack", i.e. the title character of the movie starring Robin Williams as an adult with a fifth-grade IQ.
Yet, i did not get discouraged. I pressed on, and before long, tennis had taken a firm grip on my attention. I was on the courts as often as i could, and i raved about the sport to my friends.
Many years have passed, and thankfully i have improved since that unpromising start. But i am in no way saying that i am already adept at the sport. Au contraire. The tennis trainer i work with cringes at my backhand stroke, just like the way one would cringe if one drank a bowl of coconut water only to realize it was Datu Puti vinegar instead.
I remember one particularly frustrating session. The burning heat of the sun was bearing down on us, and my sunblock (which smelled like synthetic butter, for some strange reason) was melting off. Hands on my knees, gasping for air, grinding my teeth, i felt like a greasy marinated porkchop. I told Valeng, the trainer, "This game looks so easy, but it is damnably difficult to play!" I found myself empathizing with Sisyphus. Poor dude, pushing that boulder up the mountain for nothing! Poor me, swinging away like mad and nothing much to show for it!
Friends have asked me what i loved most about tennis; and frankly, i am at a loss what to reply.
It certainly is not the social aspect (i hate playing doubles). None of my closest friends play the sport. And it is horribly expensive.
Then, it came to me.
When i'm out there playing, it's just me, my opponent and the ball. No coach to tell me what to do, no teammates to demand passes (like in basketball). I'm in full control of my destiny. I have no one else to blame for my miscues and my defeats. To win, i have to out-think, outsmart and out-manuever my opponent all by myself.
This reminds me of the saying, "If it is to be, it is up to me." So be it then.