Lessons learned from an unexpected doubles tournament

Tennis is a big part of my personal life.  Playing competitive level matches since 2006, I have won a few tournaments in the “club” level.  Ironically, I have never played in a doubles tournament ( never a fan of doubles game, and often complain about not even getting sweaty), nor have I played in a game organized by the companies I worked for (tennis might be such a “minority” sport that didn’t get much attention).

I broke both rules last week.

It was the 1st “3M Open” tennis tournament – featured only doubles matches. One of my colleagues in the lab signed me up for it.  We have played together a few times in the past but never played doubles as partners.  For both of us, the original goal was very clear –

“Enjoy the sunshine and have some fun. “

In the end, we brought the “3M cup” back home by winning three straight matches in a row. When I look back today, the experience was 100% memorable. But “fun” is not the appropriate word.  Instead, it is more of the mix of drama, pressure, heartbreak, teamwork, and a sense of relief.

Let me tell you why:“I am a terrible doubles tennis player, but doubles  is a team game”

The final in this tournament was one of the worst tennis matches I have ever played in my life: Missing overhead smashes left and right,  almost no winners,  and feeling super tense standing in the baseline. Doubles tennis took away my biggest strength – the footwork. Basically, there are 4 players occupying almost the same space as 2 players, there is simply not much moving required.

We won it anyway, by the smallest margin ever (10:8 in the 3rd deciding set).  Why?  I give credit to my partner. He stepped up big time, particularly in the 2nd set after we lost the 1st.  During the deciding set, both of us were nervous as the score was tight: five all, six all, seven all, and then eight all.  I made a clean volley drop shot, making it 9-8, then he finished the game by making three consecutive overhead smashes.

I believe we have built the trust in the short 1.5 hours over 3 matches playing together.  Both of us made mistakes, but there are no complaints. In the end, I know he is the partner I can count on, and I believe it should be vice versa for him.

It felt quite sweet to be part of an effective team.

“Who really cares if you are bad?”  – battle against my own baggage

It didn’t take long to realize I am the only person playing competitive tennis regularly, among all 16 participants.  The first two matches in our journey were not competitive. Then, my expectation was a raised to “I gotta win it”. Folks were joking “You didn’t belong here”.  Ironically, I actually took it seriously at the time.  Most of my thoughts were like “I can’t lose it, it will be too humiliating”.

Folks were joking “You didn’t belong here”.  Ironically, I actually took it seriously at the time.  Most of my thoughts were like “I can’t lose it, it will be too humiliating”.

After we won it, I definitely felt a sense of relief by avoiding an upset.

When I look back now, those unconscious thoughts became my baggage. It was complete non-sense.  Who really cares about my bad performance, besides me?

Injury is heartbreaking. Very very few things are more important than healthy body

One of my close colleagues suffered a serious achilles injury on the court. I saw it happen in real-time and my mood instantly went down. I didn’t know it was achilles at the time but knew it might be bad.

I felt really bad for him.  The game was also on the line – a crucial point in the deciding set of the semi-final.  He was out of position at the time, and stretched his body a bit too much. My speculation is he might not get enough warm up.

This also reminded me of several injuries that have happened to me on court. Most of them are ankle related, and the feeling of physical pain will still remind me – “Take care of your body!”

It is so true. Losing the healthy body, even temporarily, was a painful experience. It cannot be compensated for making lots of money, nor making a big impact in social circles or within an organization.  Investing in the health should be put in the same if a not higher priority, than invest in the career and financial assets.

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