For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to pick up a tennis racket. Maybe it’s because my dad used to hang a tennis ball on a string above me as a baby. Maybe it’s because I was named after Andre Agassi. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because I’ve always loved this sport.
If the United States wasn’t in the middle of a pandemic right now, I’d be back at school at Babson College in Boston, training and competing with my tennis team. Man, my team is the best. We talk every day on a group chat or FaceTime; they’re my closest friends. I’m a senior this year. But life isn’t normal, at least not yet, and instead of being in New England, I’m in Miami taking my classes online from home and training on my own. Our tennis season was cancelled a few months ago; it didn’t come as a huge surprise, but it was still a blow. My last chance at playing could be the spring season, if we even have one. I think back on the days I complained about practice but there’s nothing I would want to do more right now.
Perspective is a funny thing. Just a few months ago, I was quarantined in my grandparents’ apartment away from my family, having trouble breathing, scared and lonely and completely depleted of energy. I wondered if I’d ever play again. My brother and I were both sick with COVID-19 in late June, and after watching him stave off the illness, it was my turn to battle it. When you’re young, it’s easy to think that anything could happen to you and you’ll be OK. This virus taught both me and my brother that that’s not true -- at all.
Those days in my grandparent’s apartment were some of the loneliest, worst days I’ve had in a long time. I was sick with shortness of breath, I lost 10lbs in 10 days, and there was a night I thought I was going to have to call 911 because my breathing was getting worse and worse. I couldn’t taste anything and it really freaked me out. I had no energy. I couldn’t get out of bed. All I could do was lay there and watch YouTube or TV and text my friends. I desperately missed human interaction and connection. I’ve never been a reader, but I actually started reading during this time -- I even finished a Harry Potter book. (Better late than never!)
As I started recovering, I couldn’t get my mind off tennis. I watched my old matches to lift my spirits, hearing my teammates clapping and cheering for me through my laptop speakers, the roar of the crowd, seeing myself fit and healthy. I started appreciating everything so much more. I wondered when the next time would be that I would pick up a tennis racket and be able to race across the court again. I visualized it, imagined how satisfying it would feel.
My Dad was the first person I played with once I was healthy and strong enough to step back onto the court. He was so happy, and so was I. Being outside and hitting for the first time in what felt like eternity was so, so great.
I’m stronger physically and mentally now, and surprisingly -- at least, to myself -- training more than I expected. I missed tennis when I was sick, and I miss my lost fall season with my Babson team. I want to play tournaments again. My goal is to train as much as I can until my job prohibits me from doing it.
Tennis has taught me so much in life -- it’s taught me about friendships, perseverance, and patience. It’s taught me about discipline and has helped foster a competitive spirit. And, it turns out, it’s helped me as I start to navigate the business world, too: this summer, I started a remote internship at a large financial institution. I had been looking forward to living and working in New York, soaking in the experience, and playing local Universal Tennis Rating tournaments outside of my corporate schedule. Things changed and I’m instead interning remotely from Miami, but it’s been great. Lessons I’ve learned through tennis have benefited me here, including preparation and thinking on your feet, skills that will make or break your tennis game. I’ve even been able to connect with leaders at the company about tennis and establish common ground. For me, tennis has been much more than just a game -- it’s been about opening doors and providing a constant challenge to strive for better. I want to learn as much as I can.
What’s become clear to me over the past few months? Don’t take anything for granted, enjoy the time you have on the court, and keep in contact with the people who matter to you. It’s important to stay in touch with your friends and loved ones; you never know how lonely they might be feeling or if the quarantine isn’t going well for them. The virus has taken a lot away from us, but it’s also revealed important things as well. I like to push myself. This experience has pushed me in ways I didn’t see coming.
As told to Emily K. Schwartz by Andre Libnic.