You don’t want your goal to happen at all costs. You want to make your goal happen. If we didn’t want to make it happen, then winning would be enough. Winning is not enough in itself, because then why do some wins mean more than others? Beating opponents we perceive as our equals, or better than us, are the wins that mean the most. Winning a tournament means nothing to us if we cruise through every match.
We know that not all wins are created equal, yet we teach winning as the main goal. Winning big games should be the goal. Big games are different for different people; for me, it’d be a Futures Title, for Federer it’d be another Grand Slam Title. But the feeling is the same; in our own worlds, we’d consider those big wins. We want to beat worthy opponents because those opponents test us and make us perform well, which is fun. Any player can experience a big win if they get in a match where they have a 50%, or less, chance of winning.
To win Wimbledon, a tennis player must put in insane amounts of practice and have a natural minimum talent level. But if a high school player can perceive any of their wins as “big wins”, then those who play at higher levels are really just better at doing the same things. No high school match matters in terms of being a professional tennis player, but they still matter to the high schooler playing, and that’s valid.
We need to separate what tennis has to offer us from what man does. Tennis can only offer us the opportunity to search for our athletic potential. Man offers us more tangible things like money and notoriety. We cannot confuse the two and expect to be happy.
Tennis is invaluable to the world because it gives us the chance to become, discover, and change ourselves. We must all learn basic technique and strategy, but then we are free to play whatever percentages we want; the real world only offers few people this choice. We can face pressure situations, physical thresholds, and mental boundaries every time we step on court. Falling to and overcoming these obstacles again and again are the experiences we truly value as athletes.
Man can offer us things tennis cannot. Man gives us money, fame, societal standing, and acceptance; tennis does not know the difference between a beginner and Roger Federer. Tennis is an equal opportunity employer. Man is fickle, and cares outlandishly too much about results that are not truly within the control of the athlete.
As a society we need to make clear what tennis has to offer us versus what man has to offer; confusing the two only dilutes both. We need to understand and make clear that when a player pumps his fists he’s celebrating his own achievement in holding his nerve and executing his plan; he is not celebrating the misery he just caused his opponent. The thoughtful athlete plays to prove himself through tennis, not to prove himself in the minds of other men. If we approach tennis thoughtfully, it can exercise our spirit and mind as much as it does our body.