This is the eleventh article in a series by Craig Cignarelli, who is traveling with a sixteen-year old girl for her first pro tournament.
My coaching duties are over, and tomorrow we head back to Los Angeles. I’m ready to return to my home courts, which stare out over the Pacific and play host to Hollywood’s stars and a few aspiring athletes who see the horizon as something attainable. We’ve left something of ourselves on these Caribbean courts– curiosity, effort, sweat, along with the bumps and bruises of an unfortunate accident. However, like the infamous pirates once here before us, we’ve pillaged some things too, from this place by the sea.
The kid qualified for her first pro event and had set points against a solid veteran and former top 10 ITF’er. She now understands her current competitive level, the varieties of playing styles this tennis world offers, the consistency and pace required to surpass the 10K events, the fragility of women’s game, and she witnessed professionalism in a new light.
During post-match gym workouts, she watched heavy-legged girls snail-crawl on stationary bikes while muscle-bound men performed flat-out sprints on electric treadmills. She saw poorly-performed dynamic stretches and physios who controlled their layer’s every move. We had many discussions about dietary habits when confronted with never-ending buffets and tourists who seemed more focused on breaking caloric records than satiating hunger. She learned how five days of intermittent deluges can interrupt adrenal preparation like a policeman knocking on a car window at make-out point. After practicing with some of the men, she is more aware of the difference between the men’s and women’s ball, because here, men don’t hit to workout, but rather, to work. She saw strokes that flowed and others that looked like second grade cursive, and how some players floated gracefully above the court while others appeared more statuesque. At moments, she witnessed dives, slides, grimaces, screams, tears, and elation – these are the articulations of professional athletes, ones which inspire her to continue on.
In readying herself for the second week, she slipped on a wet marble floor and banged her head into unconsciousness. She now understands what a neck brace and a stretcher feel like when pinned to her spine, and how she’ll react to adversity, and more importantly, the level of fear she can withstand when faced with a hospital bed in a foreign country and an unfamiliar language. She knows the terms CT Scan and X-ray and IV drip in ways that sixteen-year old girls shouldn’t know. She knows what an absence of memory feels like and innocently wonders why some people would choose it. I asked her to write her thoughts about these two weeks and she consented. So, in closing this series, here are the uncontaminated words of a young woman’s first experience trying to tackle the world stage:
So I’m going home tomorrow. So many things have happened to me during this trip. I have learned so much, and I also have experienced some pretty crazy stuff. From travel issues to playing new people to hospital visits.
The only difference between the girls here and the top juniors is slightly more competitiveness, more consistency and maybe some better movement, but little else. Along with learning about the tennis, I have learned some other valuable life lessons.
I slipped and fell on my head during this trip. I passed out twice and the doctor diagnosed a severe concussion, forcing me to stay in a hospital overnight. Whoever thought it was a good idea to put marble floor in a tropical climate is probably about 2 IQ points from being a baby ape. One thing I really learned from this was a sense of responsibility for myself. I had to stay calm during a time of much fear and confusion. I could hardly remember my address and I had to keep my head on because I am just here with my coach. Overcoming anxieties in future tournaments will seem easy after this situation!
Traveling can be scary for a sixteen-year old, and with all the added bad stuff, it was tough. Instead of succumbing to the fear and craziness of life on tour, I will rise to the challenge. I will rise to the challenge because that is who I am, and that is what will be the driving force behind my success.
Although the hospital bill may live longer than the wounds, the lessons will far outlast them both, and for that, this first journey into professional tennis was well worth the investment. I hope it was informative for anyone who took the time to read it, and for those who did, thank you!