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A Valentine's Letter to Tennis

Rafael Nadal practicing at the inaugural 2014 Rio Open
Rafael Nadal practicing at the inaugural 2014 Rio Open
Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

With Valentine's Day now in the rear view for 2014, it seems the perfect time to reflect on just how much as a person I've grown to love, appreciate, get frustrated by, and at times hate the sport of tennis over the past 25+ years. It is truly my first love in life, and has been since the day I first picked up a racquet as an 11 year old child following my Dad out to the neighborhood park. Like all great loves, there have been many trials and tribulations along the way, moments of pure ecstasy and agonizing pain (both physical as well as emotional), and lessons learned on the court that carry over into real life. What I'd like to do here is take you on a brief tour through my journey as a player turned coach, written as someone would write a Valentine's letter to their significant other, so here goes....

Dear Tennis,

It seems amazing to me that nearly 30 years have passed since we first met, and how so much of that time has passed in what seems like a blink of the eye. I still remember with perfect clarity the first time Dad took me out to the neighborhood park as a pudgy kid who had spent too much time playing video games and scarfing down junk food, and that wooden racquet he stuck in my hand that instantly felt like an extension of my arm. Maybe all the years of baseball and soccer leading up to what had so far been a summer of sloth helped, but I don't ever remember not feeling natural in your presence. I remember all the years of high school tennis where I really began to cut my teeth and figure out my game style, which turned out to be pretty much the opposite of the touring pros I idolized at the time (McEnroe, Connors, Agassi), and to figure out how to manage my temper and overcome my nervousness and self doubt, because as it turns out you bring out the competitive beast in me like nothing else can.

I remember the elation of being picked up by a small Division I college just after my high school days were finished, and how I chose that particular one for no other reason than to exact revenge on the head coach of a conference rival who I'd met in a tournament semi-final and who cheated me like crazy while generally acting like an ass in front of one of his own players while doing so. I remember hooking a guy from Youngstown State at match point in a 3rd set tiebreak during my college days and how horrible I felt afterwards, vowing to never do that again. I'm happy to say that I have never cheated a player intentionally since, although I also remember the double bagel beat down I suffered the very next day after that which serves as a constant reminder of what ultimately happens to those who cheat the integrity of the game.

I remember the wrist injury that I suffered during my senior year that I truly thought spelled the end for me as a competitive player, and the 5 years I spent out of the game that always left me feeling empty inside without really knowing why because I was already burned out from years of competition before the injury.

I'll never forget the article I read in the local newspaper one day about a guy who had built up his local ladder to 200+ players and deciding that must have been you directly talking to me, inviting me back to the game in such a way I could not refuse. From that first match where I was somehow able to find my way back from 2-5 and double match point down in the 3rd set to pull out a 7-5 win to working my way all the way up to the #1 spot and holding onto it for 6 consecutive months, that ladder re-lit the fire within me and it has only grown stronger since.

The ten years that followed my time on that local ladder have been nothing short of amazing, and I can never thank you enough for that. I've since gotten certified as an Elite Professional by the USPTA, coach a team of high schoolers that I truly enjoy being around, run a local WTT league at my home club, and compete in the USTA with a terrific group of guys I would and have literally bled for. Over the past 25 years you've given me countless injuries (wrist, ankles, back, elbow), suffered countless agonizing defeats, yet have also taught me so many valuable lessons about persevering through difficult times, and have delivered me some amazing victories along the way as well. Winning the 2006 World TeamTennis National Championships and making the finals of the 2012 USTA Nationals being right up there at the top.

So after all these years I will close this letter simply by saying thank you for the past nearly three decades. Through every victory, defeat, and injury you've taught me so much already and I can't wait to find out what the next three decades have in store for us and what other lessons you have to teach me along the way.

Sincerely,

Sean