I remember the play like it was yesterday, it was the 2009 U.S. Open semifinal in the third set, Roger Federer stood at the deuce side to return a serve from Novak Djokovic, which he sent with a backhand slice down the line. Federer the No. 1 seed darted left to retrieve Djokovic’s counter with a cross-court short ball before sprinting to a drop shot at the net then scurrying to the baseline to destroy his opponent with a tweener passing shot that brought him to match point. Novak stood stunned at the net.
I’ve been replaying points like the legendary 2009 U.S. Open in my head for the last month to keep my sanity. I’ve re-watched old tennis matches to stay entertained. I imagine playing tennis to remind me why I love the sport I’ve enjoyed my whole life.
A month has gone by; four weeks without listening to former major league players aggravated and yelling from press boxes as if they could be heard by players on the field. COVID-19 has deprived the world of sports. No touchdowns, no balls or pucks thrust into nets, no umpires calling out “Game, set and match,” or referees throwing blue bean bags, at times it’s unbearable.
All the hours spent watching and yelling at the T.V. All the players’ names you memorize. The jerseys you buy for your team, or your favorite player, even if it was overpriced.
Even the arguments that you have with friends while watching a game over whose team is better. The excuses like “It’s because of the weather,” or “The sun was in their eyes.”
I miss the adrenaline from watching professionals pouring their hearts out on the court. I miss being absorbed in the match, feeling what they feel as they empty their emotions. Like roaring with Rafa Nadal after he pulls off an incredible banana shot and left in awe with Roger’s ballerina-like footwork, I imagine feeling the swoosh of John Isner’s serve pass by the returner, Simona Halep’s relentless style.
I even miss the traffic passing through route 57 and seeing the Angel stadium filled with fans. Devotees that will buy overpriced hot dogs, pretzels, and shirts for their kids that cost a day’s work, knowing they’ll grow out of them faster than you’d think.
My desire to feel the adrenaline of sport is not exclusive to tennis. I miss being close enough to a batter that you can see the torque of the swing and hear it crack off the bat. See, the catcher cut a ball off midair. Or watch a baserunner sliding into home plate grinding to get there before the ball.
I miss watching a quarterback throw a tight spiral, as all noise disappears for what seems like forever until it reaches the wide receiver’s hands, and you feel the snap of the ball making contact with the gloves, and suddenly all noise returns to the world. Players scoring touchdowns and dancing from excitement, while the crowd goes insane and everyone from the stadium to the people at a bar hug each other in celebration.
Sports aren’t just something to watch when you are bored, they are something with which you connect. So, grab a soccer ball and kick it around, practice grappling with a large pillow, find ways to connect. I grab a racket and ball and bounce it on the strings, volley against a wall. I may not feel complete, but finding a connection helps fill the void.
Whether it’s the sound of a ball hitting a baseball glove that reminds you of playing catch with your parents, or the passion you show towards every point, down, bat, etc. to the team of your hometown, sports makes us human. It connects us. I cannot wait until the pandemic is behind us, and players like Federer and Nadal can return to the court.