The beads of sweat slowly drip down my face. I can feel the heat baking the back of my neck. I can barely stand because I am so fatigued. I step up to the baseline, realizing that this is the last time I will serve in a junior tournament. As I look around, I can see the playground I used to play on as a child before matches, the indoor racquetball court that all the tennis players would warm up on amid rainstorms, and the benches my friends and I would sit on while trying to calm our nerves prior to competition. Everything felt so familiar, like home. In a sense, it was home.
I had been coming to the same tournament sites ever since I was 10, accumulating wins, losses, and in hindsight, memories. It was a bittersweet moment when I stepped up to the baseline to serve, because I knew I was having to say goodbye to the past 10 years of competing in Florida.
I now play varsity tennis at Boston College, but I first embarked on this tennis journey first when my mother brought me to the tennis court at age 6 and began teaching me the sport. She was the top-ranked player in the Soviet Union as a junior and later became a coach when she moved to the United States. Her background made her a stickler for perfect technique, work ethic, and focus. As a 6-year-old, I was oftentimes more curious about the butterflies flying around than the drills she was forcing on me. My lack of desire to play created resentment between my mother and me, making home life difficult at times. She urged me to work harder, run faster, and keep hitting until my forehand shot was perfect. At the time, tennis was tedious work that I hated and at multiple points I wanted nothing more than to quit, but that just simply could not be done.
From an early age, I was mature enough to understand how much time and effort I put into tennis. I could not let it go only because it was difficult. My mother spent hours and hours in the sweltering heat trying to teach me the best technique while attempting to make tennis enjoyable. As I grew older, I learned to appreciate her dedication to her sport. I recognized that she was the sole reason that I became the tennis player and person I am today.
My father also played a crucial role in my career alongside my mother. He supported me at every match, from the moment I began playing tournaments at nine years old to my last junior match at 18 years old. I always looked to him during my matches, because he knew when to calm me down and when to push harder. He, too, was tough on me as a child. He never accepted excuses or lack of effort. I have him to thank for instilling in me a fearless mentality, and for helping me gain the courage to never give up. Even when I was losing, I knew that winning was never off the table.
My father always used to tell me to never be scared and only hit harder if I ever felt pressure. Without my parents’ commitment and support, I would not be at BC today. I am forever grateful for their belief in me. They are the reason I was able to meet some of the most talented and passionate girls with whom I was able to create everlasting friendships.
I was always thankful to have a group of girls in my life who knew how challenging tennis was. They were my cheerleaders at tournament. We shared the same dream of playing tennis at a collegiate level. We, together, went through the hardships of overcoming injuries, dealing with the college recruitment process, and trying to balance our schoolwork and tennis. On the court, due to our desire for success, we were enemies and battled each other. We didn’t, however, let competition create tension. Off the court, we consoled one another after a disappointing loss or celebrated with each other after a sensational win. These girls became both my biggest fans and my toughest competitors. They made me resilient and tough. Their success became my success.
Most importantly, tennis brought me to BC, a place where I knew I would thrive. All the memories, wins, losses, tears, sweat, heartbreak, and exhilaration were left behind. I said goodbye to tournament sites that I knew like the back of my hand, and to girls with whom I competed. Though my goodbye to junior tennis was bittersweet, it was also freeing and exciting.
There are matches that are etched in my mind, driving me to keep playing and improving. All the tough losses and comeback wins contributed to the person I am today. They have made me a fighter—determined, spirited and happy. I carried all those attributes to BC, and have grown tremendously since. Growing up, the characteristic I liked most about tennis was that it was an individual sport, where I relied on no one but myself. Yet, since coming to BC, I realized that what makes competing so much more special is having someone with whom to share the memories. I no longer play for myself, but for my teammates who motivate and empower me everyday. As I head into my second season, I know that with every step, every shot, and every match, my teammates will be on the sidelines, cheering me on.