Friday, February 10, 2012

Melancholy, Brooding, and Tennis

Tennis is a lonely sport.

It's a game of introversion.  Introverts hate it because all you can do is think.  Extroverts hate it because you ultimately curse at the umpire or the crowd or the air when you lose a point.  John McEnroe...well, need I say more?

What does this have to do with Italians or Jews, you ask?  Not much, except that this was my sport.  I could have been good.  Maybe not "Federer" good, but when I was a teen, I broke the top 50 in New England.  I could have been better but Andre Agassi was my hero.  My doubles partner and I took his "Image Is Everything" campaign very seriously, often dressing in our matching denim shorts with hot pink Agassi-style shirts.  Spandex, too.  But, like Agassi, I thought too much, brooded too much, and became melancholy too quickly on the court.  It got lonely out there.

Perhaps the most riveting moment of tennis came in the Round of 16 at the U.S. Open in 1991 when an aging Jimmy Connors -on his 39th birthday- went head-to-head with young Aaron Krickstein.  I was there in the nose-bleeds, cheering Jimmy on, as he stole the crowd from Krick and ultimately won the match.  It wasn't until years letter, when I saw a re-run of the match, that I realized who the loneliest person in the stadium actually was:  Krick's father, Herb.  Even as Krick wins a point, his father's melancholy keeps him tensely tugging at his own neck (watch at minute 3:30).

Krick had his dad.  His dad had no one.  Unfortunately for Herb, Connors won that day.

We Jews are not known for our athletic prowess.  We're not usually the favorite to win at sporting events.  So, it's really f***ing exciting when we do!  That's why we love Sandy Koufax; he was the Muggsy Bogues of baseball, both alone and lonely in their climb to the top, both anomalies on their own turf.

I love the picture below.  Jews and basketball.  There's a sadness in each of their expressions that seems to say, "If you want to win, you have to be okay with loneliness."

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