Different!

Yesterday I read something about how clear is the tennis players path and how it is easy to see if you are good enough or no. That everyone should start playing at the age not later then 7, play national tournaments, play junior tour, make it on junior grand slams and etc. If you don’t you probably should not be doing this. Bulls***t !!!

Well I don’t think it is right, not everything is so easy. I know many players who did not play junior tour, I know couple of top ten players who did not play junior tour, I know some players who did not even try to be professionals till later in career.

So today I decided to write how I started to play tennis. Cause it was also far from perfect.

I was born in a family that had nothing to do with sport, my grandma was a doctor, grandpa lawyer, parents teachers. Nobody had nothing to do with any sport.

I wanted to be a doctor since age of 2 probably, played piano, was singing and doing everything that was not connected to sport. In fact my mom had anxiety attacks if I ran with kids and got sweaty.

I was ten years old when we came back from Russia to Georgia. Was walking with my dad and really wanted a very big ice cream. My father did not want to buy it to me, so to distract me he said he would show me how kids play tennis in a small tennis club. We entered that tiny club with three courts. It looked huge, that’s what I thought back then, but actually it is tiny club with three tennis courts, one locker room left over from soviet union and two benches for spectators, also left over from soviet union. Two years ago when I was in Georgia I went to check on that club to see how it is doing, and it is turned to a trash dump, it is broken down, and useless, I wanted to take over it and try to do something out of it, but there is zero interest to this sport in my country. ( I will write about it later, cause this topic deserves a separate post).

Anyway, there was one woman coaching in that club and she asked if I wanted to try to hit couple of balls and I said why not, took the huge racket had no idea how to swing it, but somehow made all my shots perfectly in the court and the excitement I felt while doing so can not be described by anything. Shortly, obviously I wanted to start playing tennis and my father could not resist me, so we ended up setting up my twice a week practice in the group of kids.

As we went home and told my mom this sensational news, she was very negative about it, and of course she did not want me to be involved in any kind of sports, also she thought it is time spent for nothing-which I could use more profitably on other things, but she tagged along, since she thought I would get bored and quit tennis very very soon. ( That did not happen, did it?! ) 🙂

So my tennis way was different from all the written down, classic ways.

In fact very different.

So I started playing when I was 10, twice or three times a week. In a group of children of different age and different level. We practiced with balls as old as rocks and in winter practices moved to a volleyball courts which were colored yellow, blue and red and was impossible to see the ball, It was freezing as there was no heating obviously and we had practices or at 6 in the morning or at 22 in the evening. (that was only two options) There were 9 people on the court at least and sometimes I am shocked how I even managed to learn how to put a ball over the net!

Then when I was twelve I actually wanted to try myself in summer Georgian tournament, nothing special, memorial, it was school break so I had time. I won it… That was it…by that point I was done with anything in my head except tennis. I won a tennis racket shaped pink clock, my first ever prize, it was on my wall for 18 long years, till someone, somehow threw it away! By the way I am still mad about it!!!!

So after that enormous success of my life (that’s what I thought), I insisted to my parents that I wanted to do tennis more seriously, which they of course did not really believe, but again tagged along. I changed a coach and started to practice in a group every day six times a week, we installed cable television to have Eurosport channel in TV so I could watch actual tennis players. By that time I was thirteen!

So as you see at the age of thirteen I just started to play tennis for 90 minutes a day every day, without any fitness or international tournaments or anything! I even have no clue why I thought this is okay. My parents had no clue how to raise a tennis player, or an athlete, we had no clue if this was right of wrong, we just did it.

So I practiced and played Georgian tournaments till I was 18! the only international 2 tournaments I played in my life was European Championships, as when you become number 1 or 2 in your country, they send you for free in summer to European Championships. But that was it!

No junior tour, no international tournaments. Nothing from classic tennis player pathway!

In fact my mother always insisted on not stopping my piano career, fairly I used to be very talented!

I also had to study. So till the age of 15 I did practice only once a day in a group. So obviously that already killed my chances of being next gen phenomenon! In fact I never heard anything positive about me in my home country, cause I always was considered as least talented player, who just works hard, but never plays tournaments and nobody really understood why I even try so hard every day. (Just by the age of 25 I realized I should not listen to those people)

Then at the age of 16 I was already sick and tired by doing 3 things at the same time, and I clearly wanted to play tennis! It sounds very ambitious coming from person who played one hour or ninety minutes a day in a group, but as my excuse: I did not know better at that time and I thought this is enough and I really wanted to play! So I told my parents that I quit piano and everything and I need to practice twice a day and do fitness and all of that! My mother hated that day! We had huge fight and nobody was ready to compromise, but this time I got what I wanted and actually had it my way.

I started practicing twice a day and doing fitness! For two years I was practicing my butt off, preparing for god knows what as I had no money to play tournaments! So from age of 16 till 18 I was constantly getting ready, still have no clue what I was preparing for that hard!

Our academy president was so sorry for me trying so hard , that they tried to put me in the University in America to at least somehow use my skills! It was all set up, I had to go in fall, to VCU university, study, play university tennis. I passed SAT, everything was ready, documents were filled out. Everything was going smooth, until one day I did not read up that I can not play professionally while I study and that’s when it all crashed down on me, it seemed to me like it was the end for my tennis professional dream and I started to have huge anxiety attacks, 2 month without sleep, horrible mental problems.

I could not sleep, I could not eat, I could not even play tennis. So my sister got very scared for me, very sorry and everything that older sister can be. She put me down and told me that if I don’t want to go to America, I should not. It is okay to have a dream and she will support me as much as she can to help me to achieve my dream! And that was true, she did. As much as she could. (more about it later, cause this deserves several posts).

So I bailed on American university, I let many people down as I bailed on them in August, before the start of the year and made many people angry! But I did not care, cause it was decision that made me who I am today and decision that I never regret, up until now!

My sister stood by her word and when I was 17 she actually gave me some money to play my first 10k event which was luckily in Baku, Azerbaijan, 6 hour drive from Tbilisi. It was very cheap to play there and easy to get, so it gave me chance to try myself out.

Bad part is that my sister gave me all the money she had, unfortunately all she had was not enough for professional tennis player 🙂 she gave me ambitious 200 usd and sent me to my first 10k.

I remember it like yesterday, there was McDonalds next to tennis club, and since I did not have enough money, two cheeseburgers three times a day was great solution for a week and a cheap one!

I was counting on getting prize money from the tournament to pay the hotel and was calm as a Buddha and as happy as one can be.

I played final of singles and I won doubles. It was insane for me, as I did not need much to go over the top in my head. I believed in myself so blindly back then, I guess if you had given me WC to main draw of a Grand slam I would probably achieve something there too.

So prize money was more then enough to pay hotel and go back home! I even had solid left over from my prize money to buy myself a new Adidas red outfit, which I wore on every match for like two years after that! I loved it, it was my earned! And nothing tasted better then that.

Then that tournament followed up by two 10k tournaments in Georgia! Where I played one semi final and one final, and reached my career high ranking of 669 after my first three tournaments played. I was happy, I thought it is great and I was confident as never that I would be a very cool tennis player very soon! Of course I had no clue how hard it is or how to get to the top, but later on that…

So… This is only the beginning of my way, and I will continue to write all of it, it is just enough for today.

All I wanted to say by writing this is that: not every person is the same, not everyone comes from same conditions, not everyone has the same amount of money, not everyone comes from sport civilized country, (my country just recovers from hungry years, nobody cares for tennis), not everyone has sports environment and you can not put the same stamp on everyone and make your conclusions on how good or bad they are! You have to know all the story! Where they come from, how they achieved what they achieved! Everyone has their own goals! Not everyone wants same things! And everyone deserves a chance, if they try hard and are willing to give it all. In sport or any other thing in life!!!

Have a great weekend everyone!

ავტორი: Sofia Shapatava

I am tennis player, who travels the world. I want to share stories about my personal experiences, travels and a lot of other things. I have a lot to share and I am willing to share. I want to write the ugly and pretty things that happened to me along the way, throughout of my ten year travels and my life in general. Hope it will be fun. :)

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