Those of you who are into professional tennis might be laughing at my blog title. Im sure pro tennis followers have seen tons of legendary matches, thats probably why they follow tennis to begin with. But let me tell you a little bit about my experience with it.
For two years I have hated tennis. Loathed it. Partially because I never quite understood it, it's really long and we are almost always indoors because Kentucky weather is insane. But something happened to me this year, and I started loving tennis. I think the rules and the unique way they compete as individuals and yet as a team finally clicked in my mind. This year felt a little more charismatic too. I still would generally never consider an indoor match to be the most epic I ever photographed though, until last night. Outdoor tennis- gorgeous. Indoor tennis... basically feels like the same picture over and over on a blue back drop in greenish yellow lighting. But I don't even care because last night was so epic.
Keeping in mind I am no official writer for UK Athletics, and my understanding for sports statistics is limited, here is my version of yesterday.
Its the match that will get either UK or Clemson into the Sweet 16: a dreary day, cloudy and rainy and gloomy. Five minutes before we are set to start outdoors it starts lightning and then pouring, so everyone dashes indoors and we start 15 minutes later in a hurry, no national anthem, no player intros, just who's on which court and then tennis.
Doubles was a battle. Jomby and Lai were playing on the first court and being insanely verbally harassed by Clemson players on the bench in the corner. Uk ended up losing the doubles point and it was clear that Kevin Lai and Tom Jomby were very angry.
So Clemson is up 1-0 at the start of singles. Yesterday should have been Jomby's 100th singles win at UK, a feat only a few before him have achieved. It was also the day of his graduation and his parents were in from France. About 10 minutes into his match, something snaps in his foot and he is done. What should have been his 100th win and one of the most legendary days of his life, ended in a heartbreaking forfeit. Heartbreak isn't even a good enough word to describe the agony on his face when he hobbled outside to be alone. The defeat in the air was so thick it was hard to breathe.
So Kevin Lai takes the court that Jomby had just left, an hour before he was expecting to, feeling surprised, shocked and unprepared I'm sure. Clemson is up 2-0 and they only need two more singles wins to end the thing and move on the the sweet 16. Another UK player loses and another wins, so its 3-1. Kevin Lost his first set, and I was so sure we were going to lose the whole thing. I almost prewrote my caption I was so sure we would lose.
But then something happened. You could almost feel Kevin's demeanor change. Jerry Lopez won so that put us at 3-2, and its like you could feel Lai's mentality change. He said after it was all over that the day had been so much more about mental toughness. I've ran marathon's and I don't think I understood mental toughness until yesterday; seeing this guy cramping, beaten down, harassed by the other team, and distraught after watching his teammate and doubles partner suffer the most agonizingly gut wrenching disappointment, flee the building sobbing, and then return to cheer on his team pounding his shoe into the bleachers and screaming at the top of his lungs.
I can't lie guys, when Kevin Lai finally won, I cried. It could be because I was PMSing, but I think there is just something about watching some guy, who looks like he has nothing left, like he just wants to give in so he can go home and ice his legs, decide not to. Thats what we call digging deep my friends.
So its 3-3. I don't think the Boone Tennis Center has ever been so loud. There is one match left, and Grant Roberts won it easily. He was so calm, until it was over, and the entire team dog piled him on the court. And so ended the most amazing tennis match I have ever born witness to. A bunch of guys throwing themselves on top of each other in one big pile on the middle of a tennis court, laughing, maybe crying who knows. And then Jomby hobbles over with some help and just throws himself down on top of Grant. He may not have gotten 100 but his team did something incredible, and you can tell thats enough for him.
There is just something about a human spirit that refuses to quit, that will not be crushed. I think that is why we as a population love watching sports so much.