Me (the tennis player) vs. COVID-19
Match played: March 2020
Venue: World Stadium
Audience: Seven Billion
I don’t know where to start the story of this incredible match. The most difficult and important part is that I didn’t fully understand the characteristics of my opponent. I had no idea from where he came; I had no clue how he developed and what his strengths and weaknesses were.
What I did know was that he started in qualies and advanced little by little, beating every opponent on the way to the main draw. And I would be waiting there in the finals.
Many people told me that COVID-19 won a crown, but I don't know where. They advised me to not get closer than six feet because it could end very badly. How do I approach this kind of match? That was the question my coach and I were trying to answer.
It is not the same as playing Roger, Rafa or Novak, whom I had played many times winning a few. I would be playing an unknown rival, one that was full of confidence after recent victories.
According to my coach, the most important thing was to focus on the things I can control, like the intensity of my training, eating healthy, and sleeping well. I will enter the final with the maximum amount of energy possible. I will be well-prepared for a long and strenuous match that could last for 14 days, or more.
My coach also told me to believe in myself, work out the points, be patient, and to create opportunities to win the points.
I knew I would lose some points, but I was ready to accept that. I wanted to learn from the experience and make the necessary adjustments to do better.
My doctor’s advice was to wear gloves and a face mask for the toss. Even though it sounded a little strange, I decided to follow his advice.
After a good breakfast and warm-up, we headed to the World Stadium for the big Championship.
As we were getting closer to the venue, we could hear the noise from the crowd. I thought it was packed, but I was surprised when I walked onto the court and saw the place empty.
The noise was coming from many small speakers in the stands.
Each speaker represented a country with its flag, and the cheers came in a variety of languages.
The energy inside the stadium was electrifying and that made me feel at home.
There was no referee in the chair, but a monitor with their image. The lines were controlled electronically.
It was just me and COVID-19 ready to play the final.
I won the toss and chose to serve.
I was totally dominated in the first set. I was surprised with the speed and unbelievable spins; I had never seen something like that before. I looked vulnerable at the moment , but I thought that I should keep calm and be patient. The match was going to be a long one and I knew I would have my opportunities to compete against this monster. But for every point I would win, he won four. As a result, COVID-19 won the first set 6-0.
During the break between the first and second set, I remember telling myself not to worry, that it was just the first set and that we both would start from scratch in the second.
I changed my shirt and went out feeling fresh for the second set.
I started making some progress getting into the match with some tactical adjustments, including keeping him away from the net and improving my court positioning. One of the keys was to find extra time to hit my shots, be patient, and attack at the right moments.
That was enough for me to win the second set 6-4. The crowd watching the match on their televisions all over the world had such an emotional reaction that it sounded like the speakers were about to explode.
There is hope!
Now, after 10 days of great intensity from both of us, it came down to the third and deciding set.
The energy was very high. At this moment it didn’t matter who got the best shots, but who had the most desire to win and who could stay focused during the important points.
The third set didn’t start as I planned and COVID-19 went up 3-0. During the changeover, I told myself that it was only one break of serve, and I was sure that I could break back at any moment.
I also noticed that he was running out of energy.
Even though my breathing was labored after twelve days of intense battle, I still had a lot of energy. I came out of my chair to start the fourth game of the third set with confidence and determination to keep competing hard until the end.
Little by little, I was able to turn around the score and get to 6-6 to force a tiebreak.
My goal in the tiebreak was to play every point with my heart, and not give up any free points. If he wanted to win, he would have to earn it.
The tiebreak was very intense with both of us focused on every point . Finally, we got to 13-12 with me serving for the match.
Many thoughts went through my head in the 25 seconds before that I served. I thought about the importance of my family, friends, coaches and everyone that had helped me to get to this important moment. I remembered we were all joined together in trying to win the match.
I stood on the baseline and served with confidence, believing in the tactics I had chosen, serving to the body and then running to the net. I then hit an overhead so fast that it finished him off.
The whole world went out to the streets with the understanding that it doesn’t matter how strong and complicated a rival may be. If we try our best and stay together, we will come out victorious.
Salomon is the Co-Director of Tennis at Christopher Morley Tennis in Roslyn. He is a passionate tennis coach that with his unique and creative way of coaching has been making a great impact in the lives of many of his players around the world for more than 25 years. He is a Sports Science Teacher and a Master in Tennis and High Performance Coaching from Wingate College in Israel. He is author of the book Salomon’s Tennis Wisdom. You can reach him at Zenmaster18@hotmail.com or by visiting www.Salomontennis.com.