Outside the bare walls of my room, the world is falling apart. Buildings are up for lease, the economy is barely a concept, and houses are no longer homes. No one believed it would come to this, but here we all are gripping tightly to an imaginary rope of hope that has yet to be pulled out of the darkness. Who would’ve thought the world would forever be changed following a death by an undercooked bat?
I, like many others during the initial scare of the virus, had to return to my childhood home where my parents and younger brother were waiting with open arms—mostly my parents though, let’s be honest. Everything appeared to be the same; my school work continued tirelessly, my internship was as demanding as ever, and my house was the same except for the living room furniture which was rearranged again.
It was Friday, March 13 when I packed up my dorm room at The College of New Jersey and ventured home to the one square mile town that I call home. It was the day that my team was supposed to face our rivals: New York University. We were prepared for this match since our last encounter in the Fall 2019 season where we lost 4-5 overall. We were excited all week leading up to the match, even the men’s team was ready to cheer us to victory.
At first singles, I would have faced one of two girls. They were practically interchangeable for the first singles position, although they each have dissimilar game styles. The first girl, we’ll call her Cassy, has a wicked one-handed backhand and a serve that has me stretched to the edge of the court to receive. The second girl, Ashley, plays off of her opponent’s strengths and forces a more mentally challenging match. They are both excellent competitors and I was ready for them both, especially because I would face them as a team at first doubles.
When the match was cancelled the night before, my entire body flooded with anger. I thought of my teammates and how hard they worked and how excited they were and how prepared they were for our victory.
Then I thought of my own game, and that’s when the anger really kicked in. I didn’t realize how upset I was that the match was cancelled and our season was on standby until I thought of how I had been playing the best tennis of my entire life. I was eating and sleeping and training like a professional athlete in college, and on court I was unstoppable.
I think I was especially upset because I had no idea why everything was suddenly being scrambled up and served well-done at the local but not too infamous diner around the corner. Sure there were conversations on campus about a “coronavirus,” but none of us took it more seriously than things that were happening on campus.
Either way, I had no control over returning home and giving up the rest of my season, and eventually, I made peace with that. That is, until the fall semester crept up and Coach announced there is no season to look forward to anymore.
I didn’t care when the school announced online classes because we had already finished a semester that way. I didn’t care that my organizations were gathering online only because there was no other choice.
But tell me, how could I not care that I wasn’t playing tennis in the fall? Let’s travel back in time for a second to my high school self trying to pick out the right college to attend:
The biggest factor in my college decision was tennis. I was receiving offers from all three divisions all over the country, and I had no idea where to start. I was going to be the first person in my family going to college, with my brother just two years behind, so we were all learning the process together.
I went on tours, stayed overnight, met the teams… I did everything to narrow down my options as best as I could. Eventually I realized that who I am as an athlete would not be satisfied with going just anywhere. I didn’t want to be just another collegiate athlete that reminisces to friends about the good old days but whose name isn’t remembered beyond that. I wanted to earn titles and be interviewed, and have teammates who are just as motivated and competitive and driven. I wasn’t going to be just another D1 player for the sake of being a D1 player, I was going to play D3 and make a name for myself.
And that’s exactly what I did.
Freshman year I earned both the conference’s Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year awards, and I went on to become Player of the Year the following year as well. I was on track to becoming an All-American and getting in the 100 Wins Club. Coach was even preparing me to set the record for most career wins after I set the record for most freshman wins in a single season in my first semester.
I was doing everything I set out to do as a collegiate athlete, and for once in my life I felt nothing but love for the sport. Then Coach calls with the news of a cancelled fall season, and suddenly the lights shining around my name are disconnected from its power source and go dark.
I will no longer have the chance to set all-time winning records or win Player of the Year all four conference seasons. Even making it to the 100 Wins Club is out of reach. Now’s probably a good time to mention that this whole time I’ve been on track to graduate early too, so all of these timely achievements were becoming especially trickier to accomplish with just two semesters left and no sign of a season in the near future.
I think the worst part of it all is that other sports had eventually started up again. Not only college football, but there were even schools that allowed tennis to have their conferences and their ITA tournaments and their regularly scheduled matches.
At this point, all I could do was stay in shape and stay motivated and stay at the same level until my conference and my ITA tournament and my regularly scheduled matches got the green light. All of this while aching at the thought of other schools playing and competing and improving.
I had to stay in exactly the same place while the tennis world around me continued on.
I shouldn’t complain about any of this, though. Not the cancelling of the seasons, not the abandoned athletic achievements, not the shadowed name that I was just starting to make for myself.
Outside my stunted tennis career, the world is falling apart. Buildings are up for lease, the economy is barely a concept, and houses are no longer homes. How could I complain about tennis when families are being shredded for every last bit of their humanity they have left.
I wonder how many other athletes experience this same guilt for hating a pandemic that has only taken away their identity. I wonder if they feel the guilt as greatly as I do when I remind myself that I’ve lost so little compared to others. I wonder if the guilt and the pain and the sticky feeling of being glued to the same place I was nine months ago will hurt less to think about in five, even 10 years from now.
It’s quite a wonder how much an undercooked bat actually affects the world, but all I know is that none of us ever really wondered enough to find out in the first place.
Liya Davidov is an undergraduate student-athlete at The College of New Jersey. She studies journalism and professional writing as well as creative writing, and will be graduating in December 2021, a semester early from the rest of her class. She plays first singles and doubles on the varsity women's tennis team, and was also named captain at the start of her sophomore year. Off court, she is a board member for multiple organizations on campus, and working two ongoing internships. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.