It was 1975, only my second year of playing and the era of Jimmy Connors. As Tennis magazine had written at that time, brash was where it’s at.
A new age in the sport was coming, the once-traditional age where formality and all-white garments were slowly replaced with loud colors and matching attitude. Like so many others totally consumed in this hype, I had then falsely believed that the swagger mindset was part of the presentation.
Because of that, instead of concentrating more on acquiring the needed skill set, I was more eager to play to an imagined audience inside my head.
Those early years of taking to court and imagining the oohs and aahs with every backhand winner (which wasn’t really many), rather than focusing on the percentages needed to win a match might have been the wrong perspective for the sport but I had thought, who cares? Brash was where it was at.
I didn’t have formal training. Close friendships with Davao’s pros (some of whom eventually became top players in the country) had gifted me endless access to tips and tricks, drills, and hitting sessions. By today’s standards, only the rich can afford these.
All these and spending a small fortune on tennis magazines and sports video rentals bolstered my strut and confidence even more. I felt daily practice on the city courts plus all of the above were sufficient. Thus, I was always understandably excited for my first match.
Another beginner by the name of Eris Cabrera (God bless his soul) was my adversary across the net, and we were warming up. As was customary, a warm-up of about five minutes until the ref said “time” was in effect. It was also here where one could study and gauge the skill level of the opponent, whereby strategizing at the same time how to proceed in the match.
I thought that this guy was slow, not to mention older. I knew him well. He was a soft-spoken man who married my sister’s best friend, and were high school batch mates together. So I thought ahead, this could be an excellent after-dinner conversation after I’ve beaten the hell out of this guy.
Well, as fate would have it, I was terribly humiliated, one and love. All I could remember was endlessly talking to and blaming myself and not at all focused on the match. Of course, I also blamed my opponent’s coach, who had continually shouted instructions to his dutiful ward, his voice sounding like a commentator detailing my impending doom. However, in fairness to Eris, he was a picture of the cool and Zen-like opponent who had always had something to counter my every move.
Years later, whenever I become over-confident, I think again of that match. It had become a baseline life lesson in times of both brash and incertitude.
Whenever things start to go awry, and I implode into self-doubt and confusion, I press the pause button and think of only this.
Inasmuch as all setbacks have an ending and results do not really matter, I might as well be tripping instead on the journey. Brash and being rash is reckless trips to bring in any quest. Breathing in and collecting your thoughts inside a quieted mind are always the best companions to getting there. I can’t wait to zone out for life’s next match.
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