Forgotten Parts in the Life of a Professional Tennis Player
As professional tennis players, we travel constantly to tournaments around the world. Whenever someone hears that, the automatic response is somewhere on the lines of “wow that is so cool, you are so lucky” and as much as I agree, there are a lot of parts people are not aware of that go into this. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely grateful for the life I have, the experiences I make while traveling to many different countries are priceless, but after seeing other players going through the same struggles and talking to some of my friends on tour, I have decided to paint a better picture of all the things that go into our daily lives.
Just like any new journey, the start is fun and exciting. It is easy to focus on the fun parts of the travels, meet new people and experience different cultures. There is no expectations, it is easy to not feel the pressure when you’ve got nothing to lose. Yet, after a few months or a year on the road, you start feeling the down sides of it.
Unless you are in the top hundred and guaranteed to play the Grand Slams and top tournaments where you know your constant yearly schedule, the rest of us spend most of our time with last minute planning depending where and what tournaments we are able to get in to. Not only that it costs exponentially more to book your trip (especially overseas) just a few days prior to departure since we have to wait until 10 days before the tournament for the final acceptance list, but the long days of flying, not knowing when you will be coming back and time difference takes a toll on us. You are not nearly as fresh and rested as if you were to play it at home. I know what you’re thinking, I shouldn’t complain since most of us are in the same boat and have traveled from afar to be there, but I’m not describing this in comparison to another player, but to better explain all the things that go into before and after you see us playing on court or hear we have made yet another trip to a “fun” place.
That is another thing. These places might sound fun when I tell you where I’m going but the reality is that most of the time I don’t even get a chance to see it. Every day I spend hours on court, and most of the time is wasted by waiting on your turn or trying to steal another 30 minutes in between someone else’s hits as the courts are always packed, and even when I’m not on court, I need to do my recovery and rest, there isn’t much time for exploring, unless I have an extra day after the tournament. Yet, some of these countries we go to aren’t even safe for women to walk alone, so unless I have someone to go with, I end up staying in the hotel even on my day off. Then there is the food issue. Half of the countries I have traveled to this year, from Thailand, Ecuador, Mexico and many more, I have gotten sick and a stomach virus on multiple occasions. Some of that is the water, or the food, or the way they prepare it depending where I’m staying, and even though I have gotten really careful with what I put in my body especially while traveling, some of the things are just outside of my control.
Constantly changing hotels, packing and unpacking daily as I would sometimes check out before the match since I wouldn’t know how the match would go and I have another tournament to get to right after I’m done with the one I’m playing, it becomes exhausting. There are days where I wake up and I don’t even know where I am, since most hotel rooms look the same. It’s a scary feeling. Sometimes it happens that the hotel you’re staying at gets sold out as I’m constantly checking in and out and I have to find another one. Not going to lie, things like these make you feel homeless at times – just there, sitting in a lobby with your bags on a random evening not knowing where you will sleep that night or where you will go the day after tomorrow.
Sacrifices. This is a big one. So many sacrifices all around, some already mentioned, but the biggest one being away from your loved ones. Tournaments don’t go around holidays or special dates in your life. While others are spending holidays with their families, we are by ourselves in yet another hotel room. This one is a bit different for me now as after everything that has happened the past year, I don’t feel like I truly have a home or a place I’m running back to but man do I miss my people and my friends. Luckily, I have amazing friends in my life who are understanding of this lifestyle but time flies by and before I know it, months and years go by since the last time I’ve seen them.
It might be unlike any other, but this is our job. Yes, it is what I love and what I’m passionate about, I wouldn’t be doing it and sacrificing so much if I didn’t love it, but it doesn’t mean it is easy. There is so much stress and anxiety that goes into it. There is the stress of defending points (yes, they do expire) while trying to get more. It is so easy to get sucked into chasing points and it makes you so results oriented which never helps you perform better. The anxiety before matches – especially that first match after you’re traveled the world to play it and want to make it worth it, because once you lose, you’re out, so theoretically you could have traveled across the world to lose one match. Most of us are financing ourselves and this life is far from being cheap in any way. However, of all the sacrifices, money is the least of it. It is the mental and physical exhaustion and having to find a way to do it week after week that takes the biggest toll, and the fact that most of us travel alone definitely doesn’t help.
When traveling by yourself, you have way too much time to think and get in your head about things and when you have a bad week, or multiple in a row, that never, ever helps. That’s when the doubt creeps in, and with the lack of confidence in yourself and in who you are, it feels like anyone out there can beat you and then the fear of even stepping on the court sometimes comes in. It all spirals. Confidence is a huge part and when you’re playing well and winning, you feel like you’re on top of the world, but one bad loss, and it feels like all comes crumbling down in an instant. You have to be your own coach, therapist, keep yourself accountable and it is hard to see the progress at times, especially without having any consistency most of the year. It is easy to get in your head with thoughts “I’m not getting better; I’m not playing well; I’m not ready…” and so hard to focus on the process goals without having someone there with you to help you see a clear picture as the negative voice inside of us is a lot quicker to take over than the positive one.
This life is lonely, it is tough on many different levels and it really takes a toll on you in a physical and even more mental aspect of it. However, it makes you tough and stronger than you ever thought you could be. The experiences, especially the bad ones that teach you a lesson, are priceless and you get to meet some wonderful people from around the world while doing what you are passionate about. At the end of the day, no matter where in the world, how different the place or hotel might be, the court and the game we love, the competitiveness of it stays the same so it all comes down to who is able to put aside everything that has happened off the court and find a way, and if not today, then we try again the next day. Finding the balance is not easy, but it sure is worth it.
It’s very difficult to pour your heart out and not appear like you are looking for sympathy. Your writing achieves that very well, bringing us into your world from the side never considered by most.
Thank you for this insight, I hope it results in better understanding of your life from those who envied it and greater admiration of your strength by all of us who love you.
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Thank you, truly means a lot ❤️