How many games of tennis are there in a match?
Over the last two weeks I've made some time at the end of the day and over the weekend to watch the Wimbledon semi-finals and finals matches. Yes - I’m aware that the Wimbledon tournament has finished and yes, I knew the outcome of the matches, however I do like watching a bit of tennis. We were spoiled on our ‘peasant TV’ (one without SKY and Netflix) in that Duke screened these matches live. Woop woop - what a treat! We recorded several matches as I especially wanted to see the mammoth semi-final match between John Isner and Kevin Anderson – all 6 plus hours of it! Over the weeks and days afterwards, I’ve progressively watched my way through the men’s and women’s finals and I’m always astounded by the mental tenacity of the players and how they overcome their self-talk to recover from thirty-love down to take out a game. Or in Kevin Anderson’s case, keeping on pushing to win 26-24 in the final set when it's two sets all - how close is that? And what a mammoth win for him.
So how many matches of tennis do you watch? And I don’t mean how many do you sit down and watch literally, however when watching tennis, how many games are there going on?
Well… firstly there is the game that we see. Turn off the volume and we can see the interaction going on both between the players and within the players. The ball is slammed back and forth and we see the expressions on the players’ faces, the fist pumps, their frowns and looks of disappointment when a shot is out and the look of satisfaction when that passing shot skims down the side line past the opposing player. Turn the volume back up and we hear the energy being jammed into each shot by the player through their grunts and expirations of air, the sounds of the crowd cheering and of course, the story being told by one or two or three commentators. Turn the volume back off and focus on the players individually and we see two more very different games of tennis. Watch their eyes, faces, twitches and little nuances and we notice the incredible focus and attention they give to each shot. The 11 bounces before serving, the bounce between the legs before the bounces before serving or the nose, ear, nose, face, nose ear routing of Rafael Nadal before he serves (I think I’ve remembered it right).
How many different games are there? I figure there’s at least four: my story of the game, the players’ story of the game (assuming its singles) and the commentators’ story of the game. We can all watch the same match and take away similar and quite different stories of what happened.
Watching the tennis this month gave me cause to think about how I think about my everyday goings on and how many stories there are. The stories in the players' minds was the piece that captured my imagination. What self-talk is the player engaging to ensure that they hit that ace just when they need it? What processing and thinking do they need to do that to ensure they focus on their outcome rather than the past and their stories of what's just happened only seconds before? Which bits are real and which bits are interpretations of what’s real?
When it comes to how we think and act in this world, a lot of how we behave depends on the stories we tell ourselves. How often do we take time to examine the story we are telling ourselves? How often do we make a space to consider what we’re experiencing through someone else’s perception? More importantly, how often do we look at someone else’s view of how we are being in a situation?
There’s always another story or a different game of tennis going on to the one we’re watching or participating in and it can be an absolute revelation to make and take the time and space to notice what we and others are noticing and if we need to, change the story and play a different game.