Lawn Tennis is originally tagged as “The Sport of Kings and Queens”. Like Golf, it is universally regarded as “The Gentlemen’s Sport”. This is the reason why it is dead quiet during play and players are expected to act with a certain air of grace.
I played competitive tennis for about ten years and to be honest, the original tag or universal regard on tennis has not always been portrayed on and off the court. Sometimes, the air of grace loses its presence in the sphere of an extremely competitive setting — crucial for either a nation’s pride, university pride or personal pride. Pride is pride no matter what kind, and I am also guilty of straying away from such air of grace one way or another.
And just when I thought I already passed such stage of occasionally contributing to the sheer volume of high-flying emotions in between points, I lost my temper in a tournament last week… not just once or twice but many times.
Our team was defending three titles – two golds and a bronze. And we had opponents who were very hungry to take it all away from us. The line-ups of all the teams changed except ours. We did not have reserved players on the bench and we barely had 15 training sessions prior the tournament. But all our opponents seemed prepared and ready to take us all down. I would lie if I say that I did not get intimidated.
I was scared. I just had an appendectomy operation and I could not run for drop shots without a training girdle on. At the same time, we knew we were not physically fit and mentally prepared for the tournament. What we held on to instead were prayers, encouragement from one another and faith in God who is sovereign over everything.
I am blessed to have teammates who would remind me to smile despite the pressure, busy work schedules and body aches. We were also blessed to have all the undeserved support that we need to prepare for the tournament including those who provided our gears and training fees, our understanding bosses who allowed us to practice before going to work, and our trainers who were there with us until the final point of the tournament.
But the circumstances, fears, undeserved provisions and gratitude which should have resulted to meekness and humility from my end were unfortunately kicked out of the field because pride and the right-to-self kicked in.
During my championship game, an opponent and some people at the courtside taunted me several times with words I do not want to quote anymore. And I had that ugh-this-is-so-annoying moment. I was suddenly and inappropriately distracted. During a deliberation about one crucial call, somebody from our opponents’ team, who was not a coach or a player, entered the court. That’s when I blurted out in an annoyed tone, “Uh. Excuse me? What you’re doing is not allowed here.” The guy pretended he did not hear me and stayed inside the court until the umpire gave the call in favor of our opponent. It was so frustrating because even the linesman and referee saw that my shot was in.
I tried to compose myself but my momentum went down. From 6-4 up, we caught ourselves in a match point in favor of our opponent. This was when I told God, “Lord, I will just give up. There’s a play-off anyway. I’m no longer in the mood to play. I’m done.” I failed to respond appropriately in the situation. Obviously, that kind of attitude did not give glory and honor to the living God. I was only thinking of myself and what I was feeling instead of playing the match by faith.
For some unbelievable reason, I got a forehand volley winner (which rarely happens!) during their match point. Then my partner’s shots became more aggressive and consistent. Yes, we won God made us win that game with an excruciating 8-7 (7-3) score.
After the game, while my teammates were congratulating us, I apologized to them for my negative attitude. I was ashamed. I had to apologize to God above all. Martin told me, “Yeah, I noticed. Your shoulders and head were down and you did not want to fight anymore. But that’s okay. Next time, learn your lessons.”
My partner and I could not believe we won that game. We were like: That’s definitely not us but God showing His mercy and favor on us.
So Lesson 1: Play a match not out of your feelings and frustrations, but by faith in God (see also: Hebrews 11:6).
Click here for a short clip from the MVPO 2018 Awarding Ceremony
The next day, during the Men’s Doubles Championship game, I caught myself suddenly yelling angrily at the umpire and silently badmouthing the referee because of bad calls, neglected foot-faults and uncertain decisions on crucial points. Yes, I missed Lesson 1 out of ignorance and arrogance. At that time, we were able to defend one gold (for Mixed Doubles) and one bronze (for Women’s Doubles) already. We were one win away in keeping our standings last year. But for some shallow/worldly/self-centered reason, I was pushed far over the edge yet again.
We were like Americans playing in the Stade of Roland Garros. We could not fight the home court presence and crowd (which apparently had a loud drum set and thrice as much cheerers). Unlike high-end tournaments however, we did not have a Hawk Eye System to challenge the calls.
I lost my cool to the point that the Holy Spirit had to sit me on a chair beside a tree so I could pray and relax. My palms were sweating. The battle was not only on-court; there was a battle within me on how I should react gracefully in a seemingly frustrating situation.
I was teary-eyed at 7-all tiebreak. I could not handle the tension quietly and at the same time, I could not leave my teammates just so I could isolate myself from such pressure. I had to be there, firm and strong for them — cheering them up in a way that is encouraging and not insulting to the opponent and their crowd. However, I failed to respond appropriately again. Once I furiously shouted, “Come on, ref! That’s a double hit! Don’t tell me that’s their point again?!”
Indeed, pride kicked in. I found myself hungry for justice and revenge because I felt that I was right and they were wrong.
So Lesson 2: Christ-like character should be revealed victoriously, not delineated in defeat, in competitive situations.
My teammates We lost the game with a heartbreaking 7-8 (4) loss. When I was trying to comfort my teammates, one of them said to me, “It sucks to lose but I am happy and thankful. I was able to give my all for God. God knows why we had to lose today and they had to win. I don’t know what that reason is but we can trust that it is the best.”
His response was humbling.
The world may say that we have failed to defend our standings from last year. The world may also congratulate us with the medals we have received. But more than the standings and medals, I would like to express how grateful I am to the Lord for the privilege of competing with a team that is not only supportive on court but also even kindhearted off court. Aside from God revealing so much of my characters that need pruning, He also blessed friendships and built camaraderie between us.
More than the wins and the losses, I am thankful to God for the talents He has blessed us with and the opportunity to love others and share prayers with it.
To God be all the glory.