I grew up in a predominantly sport loving household. My father, an avid tennis lover, having played state-level tournaments in his teens and early twenties, tried his best to toughen me up and make me sporty as a child. Much to his disappointment and my happiness, I failed graciously at all competitive physical activities. While in school, when asked to choose co-curricular pursuits, I chose poetry over basketball, dramatic arts over tennis, and debating society over karate. Don’t get me wrong! This isn’t a tale of a failed effort at breaking gender stereotypes. The fact of the matter is I am not biologically built to even stand out as average in any kind of sport. All of 153 centimeters, a poor body mass, and being prone to exhaustion at the slightest physical exertion do have its cons. Good thing—he never pushed me beyond what was fitting.
Fast forward a few years and I grew up and found myself falling for a man who values his job as much as his hourly dose of tennis at the club every evening. At an initial stage, there would be significant debate at the dinner table—whether we binge watch a television program of my choice or see reruns of Federer’s best shots. To put things in perspective, I have now come to enjoy being a spectator of tennis despite how much I detested being pushed to play the sport as a child.
So what resulted in this transformation?
The first trigger was the sudden realization that there’s art looming over all forms of sport, and tennis is no exception to that. Let’s go back a year in time. Roger Federer was set to play against his nemesis, Rafael Nadal, in the Australian Open men’s final. Watching them play, I found a close resemblance with things that I hold close to my heart. Federer, who was yet to be hailed as the greatest of all time (GOAT), outshone Nadal in spite of his fearsome play. You pit a 17-time Grand Slam winner with someone who’s won it 14 times and what you see is nothing short of art. Federer and Nadal’s diametrically opposite style, technique, and culture were very much a battle of unspoken words on a 78 x 27 feet court. The Swiss man’s breathtaking victory over the Spaniard for a match that went on longer than three and a half hours was dramatic to state the least. The victor’s demeanor opposed to his opponent’s aggression was lyrical to witness. I found poetry, drama and debate, all enclosed in one format.
The second trigger took place a few months later. My partner was ecstatic with regard to my newfound liking. He obsessed over turning that liking into a mature understanding of the game. We came back home from work every day and watched the likes of them all—McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Navratilova, Steffi Graff, Agassi, and the Williams sisters, among several others. This went on till the month of June. Come July and it was time for Wimbledon, the oldest and popularly regarded as the most prestigious of all tournaments. By then I’d seen recorded matches of all the great players, was well versed in all linguistic technicalities of the game, and could effortlessly differentiate shots. All in all, when it comes to a general discussion of the game at social gatherings, today I can give pundits, self-proclaimed or otherwise, a good run for their money. Getting back to the point, we watched every telecasted Wimbledon match on getting back home from work last year. Keeping with the tradition of Wimbledon, we had strawberries and fresh cream to snack on, and to jazz things up further, we’d often open a bottle of Jameson Irish Whiskey or Chivas Regal to set the mood for the game.
The final trigger was induced by 23-time Grand Slam winner, Serena Williams. I’ve always been in awe of her—while reading up on her fight against societal odds, her powerhouse of strength and determination, or her stamina extraordinaire. I can only try and successfully fail to come up with the right mix of words which acknowledge her and her sister Venus’ lasting influence on young black athletes. She smashes stereotypes like no other and in my opinion she’s been a torchbearer for women’s empowerment for the longest time now. She has won a Grand Slam while on her first trimester of pregnancy and proved that motherhood and scaling professional heights need not be opposed to each other. Her husband, Alexis Ohanian, who’s no boy-next-door, but the cofounder of Reddit, recently stepped down from his position to give fatherhood a priority. It was reassuring to see him carry out parenting duties on the stands during Fed Cup while mommy Serena was busy playing. I took a deep breath and calmed myself down. While Ohanian’s busy shuffling between parenting and investing in LA-based startups, he should look into setting up crèches for working mothers who need not necessarily have the kind of support he offers Serena. Wishful thinking, admittedly, but why not?
There seems to be a fair amount of optimism at the end of this story. I’m all set for Wimbledon 2018, having transformed my aversion into a new found love. I’ll have my table ready with enough fresh cream, strawberries, and a whole lot of whisky. What about you?