Walking onto freshly painted tennis courts on a warm spring day, wearing a white skirt matched with a white visor and Prince bag in tow, equals the epitome of a tennis player ready to serve some fiery hits. The culture surrounding the sport of tennis adds a daunting flavor of competition and elitism. Whenever I walk onto my local tennis courts, I cannot help but wonder what brought me to playing this game. When did playing tennis turn into an unconscious sensation of feeling unworthy to even hold a racket?
My tennis career began 4 years ago in high school when I realized that I needed a sport on my resume to make myself appear more competitive while applying to colleges. I recall my first day on the tennis team. I showed up to practice wearing a random outfit consisting of leggings, a t-shirt, and sneakers. As I approached the courts I noticed my teammates wearing cute tennis skirts, fancy tennis shoes, and special tennis visors. At that moment I wondered, “What am I doing here?”
Initially, I had thought tennis would be an easy sport to become mediocre at and it would score me points for athleticism on a college application. I was in way over my head. Tennis consists of more than just hitting a ball back and forth. It took me weeks to just understand the scoring system. For someone who was used to the mundane scoring systems of soccer, football, and basketball, I had no idea that tennis would use scoring language such as 15, 30, 45, love, deuce, add-in, add-out, and so on. My tennis coach thought it would be a good idea for me to play doubles for my first game, and I thought it would be a good idea too as I would have more of the court covered with another person. I was completely wrong. We ended the game scoring 0-6 (which is BAD), and I realized I don’t work well in a pair.
I wish that my story included an instantaneous glow-up, but I lost 0-6 many more times after this game. However, I did slowly move up in the ranks. By the end of the season, I had learned how to score properly, I played a game to a tie-breaker, a girl I played against used her tennis racket as a weapon against me, and I had been crowned with the position of #1 Singles player and MVP of the team. I am not Serena Williams or Naomi Osaka, but I did overcome a lot of adversity on the courts. I will never forget the time I played against a girl who scoffed and looked me up and down at the fact I had only been playing for a few months; I proceeded to win the game and she used her racket to attack the scorecard.
I continued to play on the varsity team during my senior year of high school, but my skill set became laughable while we played against other varsity teams in the area. I am almost positive that some of the sets I played lasted only a few minutes because I lacked a lot of what the other schools had. The other schools we played were well-endowed, they had matching tennis bags, team parents who understood the scoring, and the key here, money. A consistent theme in tennis is money and elitism. Even though the sport has been tearing down some of its walls over the past few decades, such as letting women play against men, or allowing women to wear what they want, such as Serena Williams, it is still a sport that drips wealth.
Now that I am no longer playing on a team, and deemed an unprofessional tennis player, I have been able to observe the sheer anxiety-inducing and competitive nature of the sport from a new perspective. Even when I am merely practicing some serves at a court, there are eyes everywhere. Almost every time I play, someone will ask me if I’d like to play a tiebreaker, or they’ll ask me where my racket is from, or they will tentatively ask me what level I am… If I am a professional tennis player. It always jerks me out of my bubble I usually play in.
I dare to ask, what is up with my fellow “unprofessional” or “intermediate” tennis players? How can there still be elitism and utter shallowness between us, when we all are playing at public courts and we do not have mansions with fancy garden courts and people who fetch tennis balls? I thought I was on an even playing field after leaving the world of competitive high school tennis, but that was far from reality.