Updated: Jun 7, 2022
"The tears just come," she said. "I try really hard not to cry on the court, and I knew whether I won or lost. I feel happy really and sad, I don't know how to handle it.
"I hate myself for crying. - Coco Gauff
It came as no surprise that Iga Swiatek continued her 35 match winning streak when she beat Coco Gauff in the 2022 women's singles final 6-1, 6-3, in just over an hour. Iga has been solid for a long time and seems to only get better with each match. What was surprising is how much watching Coco Gauff sit alone, court side, quietly crying, really struck me. I was watching a replay, I already knew Coco lost. I stopped what I was doing and sat there watching as the camera zoomed in, uncomfortably close on her face.
It reminded me of one summer tennis camp in particular, when I was about 10 years old.
Here's some background for you. At the beginning of the school year, my parents and teachers decided I should skip from 4th grade to 5th grade.
No more swing sets and monkey bars, I was now with menstruating girls and pubescent boys, on the "big kid" playground.
There was a long line of trees that divided the elementary playground from the middle school playground. On one side of the trees, I could see my 4th grade friends, playing and laughing on the playground equipment. On the other side of the trees were the 5th grade kids, my new friends. Except they weren't. I wasn’t supposed to be there. I was too young, and I looked more like a 10 year old boy, a total tomboy. Needless to say, I was bullied pretty bad.
After school, I would spend countless hours hitting tennis balls on the wall. Tennis became my best friend.
School was so bad, I couldn't wait for summer. I would sleep in, eat Lucky Charms, watch tennis (The French Open), the Price is Right, and the Brady Bunch. Then in the evenings, I'd hop in the family station wagon, and go to the Jewish Community Center for tennis camp. I loved it! It was the only place I really felt good about myself. The coaches were so nice, and my hours hitting on the wall really showed.
There was a super cute boy at camp, maybe 13, and I inevitably developed a crush on him. I was so happy when he would ask to be my partner for King of the Court. We were an awesome team! It was the last day of camp, the last time I'd see him that summer. While we were picking up balls at the end of camp, he walked over to me. Butterflies fluttered in my stomach and I thought, "Maybe he wants my phone number?" He nonchalantly picked up a few balls, moved in close to me and said, "Do you think your big sister would go to a concert with me?"
I was crushed.
I was good enough to play tennis with, but when it came to asking a girl to the movies or a concert, it was all about the older girls. I may have had a better forehand, but they had more important things, like boobs.
I wanted so badly to be older. I wanted time to hurry up so I could be old enough to go to a concert. I wanted boobs! I kept it all inside until one day, I finally broke down and spilled everything to a close family member. She was so kind and listened so compassionately. She hugged me close and said, “It’s ok honey, everything is going to be fine. You’ll grow up and be tall and beautiful. I bet you’ll even be homecoming queen!” Letting all that sadness out was such a relief, and I'm lucky I had a safe place to do it. Her words were very comforting, but being patient was so difficult.
As I sat on the couch, watching Coco cry, I couldn’t help but remember that summer. As an adult I can see what she’s accomplished and it’s incredible! She should be so proud! She’s going to grow in experience and strength, and she’ll be a grand slam champion someday! I felt her pain, frustration, and sadness. If only she were older, stronger, and more experienced, maybe she could've won. I'm sure she heard, “Be patient,” “It’ll happen,” “Give it time,” but it still hurts.
It’s hard to be patient in our journey. We’re continuously growing and learning. Perhaps it’s those incredibly low points that drive us to progress. I work really hard at tennis, I play a lot, practice a lot, watch a lot, and study a lot, yet still make some of the same mistakes over and over. It’s difficult when you define yourself as “a good tennis player,” because what happens when you’re not good, when you have a bad day, when you lose a French Open final? It can really rock your self confidence.
Coco is truly a remarkable young woman and there’s no doubt in my mind she’ll continue to accomplish great things on, and off the court. She just graduated high school, which helped her realize she’s more than a tennis player. She’s an intelligent young woman, she has a great support system around her, and she can be an inspiration to us all.
If I can share some advice to young boys and girls, struggling to fit in, wishing they were older, better, cooler. Just be patient, it will all work out. I know how it feels to be young, frustrated, and sad. Be true to who you are, and as long as you’re a good person, it’s going to be okay.
You can be the ripest peach, but there will always be someone who hates peaches. This doesn’t change, even into adulthood. Heartbreak still happens, challenges still happen, and unfortunately, even bullying still happens.
I don’t know what I would’ve done without tennis. It got me through some really hard times in my life. If we can take anything away from watching Coco’s heartbreaking loss, let it be this-
Give yourself patience, time, and grace, and it will all work out in the end.