Another year has begun, and being a tennis fan – and an Australian, I am in the midst of tennis TV overload as the first Grand Slam tournament is underway in Melbourne.
When I am asked on the odd occasion who I admired growing up, most people expect me to rattle off names of famous writers and are a therefore a little surprised that the person I most admired in my formative teenage years was a tennis player – Monica Seles. Although I never once wanted to play professionally and I always wanted to be a writer, the choice may seem odd to the uninitiated.
I suppose I could write a long dissertation as to why she inspired me, but I shall keep it short. When someone only a few years older than I (she was 16 at the time – I was 12), bursts onto the hitherto genteel tennis scene, plays the game in an extremely unorthodox way – with two hands off both sides, grunting in exertion, and attacks with such fierce and precise power off both wings, I couldn't help but notice.
Here was someone who understood the rules of the game and then subverted them just enough so she could be true to who she was. Yet what always impressed me more that the physical aspect of her compelling game was her unsurpassed mental approach. Never before had I seen someone respond to pressure by being more aggressive, by aiming for the lines, by not playing safe. When the chips were down, she would become even more dangerous. Who does that?! For most, this is counterintuitive. Watching the tennis players of today, those who share this trait with Seles are extremely rare. Mental fragility seems abundant in its stead.
As a writer, I suppose you could build the analogy - of practicing and performing, continually improving the craft with the hopeful goal of making it to the professional stage – and then on to the glory of book deals, decent sales, solid reviews – with that of a tennis player or any professional athlete in general. They say the mental part of sport is the most important – especially when athletes are comparable in their physical prowess. For us creative types, it’s all mental!
So as I sit myself down, working assiduously on my writing, I sometimes think of Seles’s indomitable spirit and tenacity and it spurs me on. It provides the kick-in-the-pants I need to forge ahead and to never give up.