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Noah Rubin’s “Behind The Racquet” with Despina Papamichail • Tennis | 10sBalls

Editor’s note: 10sBalls thanks Noah Rubin for giving us permission to repost these great stories.

“It was a random summer. My best friend back then was like, “Come to the tennis court, Despi. The court is beautiful,” and I was like, “Okay.” Since day one, it just started like this — I liked it. 

I liked tennis because it was an individual sport. I wanted the responsibility on me. You could either win or lose, but because of your own fault. I liked the sound of the ball. I like that you have a racket and you got to hit it so you need more coordination. There is not something specific that threw me into it, but the whole thing — I love the whole thing. The competition, the screaming, the match after match.

Being a defensive player, I was winning a lot from the mistakes of the others. I had to change into an aggressive player. They were pushing me to be aggressive, and then I lost my game because I don’t think players should change their games.

We started the tournaments the year that I was 18. 350 with so much pressure of winning, and I start losing. I was not sleeping, I was dreaming that they would take off my contract. I was on court. I was suffering. I had no one to rely on. My coach is there, but still, you’re young, you’re in these academies. They give you the young coaches where they don’t really know as well.

You question if you’re doing the right thing. In my case, I really enjoy playing and I love tennis, so I was never like, “Oh, do I want to do that?” because I knew.

My doubts were like, “Am I able to…” On one side, you know you can, and then on another, you’re like, “Yes, but I’m not winning as expected.” At 18, I was already 350. The academy, they were like, “Okay. Contract here. Contract there.” At such an early age, coming from a family where no one plays sport professionally, no one taught me how to manage pressure. I was all by myself, getting all this pressure, all this, “Oh, I have to be this ranking. Oh, I have to do this.”

Deep down, I always believed in myself, and I always knew, like, “Okay. Maybe I have some pressure. It will be a bit difficult, but there will come a time where it will turn.” I was always believing in me. I was always a pretty logical person.

Suddenly, they wanted to change my maturity as well, which was no problem. When you don’t win, it’s tough for the coaches to take responsibility. They’re always like, “No, because she doesn’t hit. No, because she’s not mature. No, because ….” You’re talking with an 18-year-old girl. I was pretty mature for my age. You can’t really put all the blame on her. 

Of course, now I’m more mature. I’m pretty sure if, back then, I had a coach who knew that my game will always be a bit defensive, but we have to change certain things, then I think I would take it differently as well.

I don’t want to blame anyone, because that’s how it is. We don’t know how it would have been, but I’m pretty sure that they didn’t do it right in that way, because you cannot change the nature of some players. I will always have one worse shot than the other. I will always be more defensive than some.

When you’re 18, you want to be famous and, of course, a good tennis player, but you focus not on the process, just on the results. Right now, I’m seeing it more. If I do these things — certain things — if I improve myself, if I do this and that, then I will have a chance to be in the top 100. I will do it because I love it.

I’m 28 years old and I’ve been losing money throughout these whole years. I went through operations. I went through mental issues, I guess just like everyone, but I’m still here. I could have quit. I’m a pretty smart girl. I could have gone to the university or done many things, but I really love it. I’m just like, “Okay. I will enjoy the process, and I will play, and I will improve as much as I can, and let’s see where my limits or my money or whatever, where it will bring me.”

Despina Papamichail (@despipapamichail)


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