Mag By Craig Gabriel
DEALING WITH THE SITUATION - A PERSONAL STORY
My life is the tennis circuit - I’ve been on it since 1981 but the first event I ever attended was the one in my home state in Australia, the NSW Open and that was in 1970 and for 47 straight years I did not miss a single edition. Getting on and off planes from one tournament to the next, from being involved intimately with some events to talking about other tournaments, has been a lifestyle that is second nature.
Tennis is not a job, it is a passion for me. That passion relates to talking about the current players, the events, the results and at the same time it most definitely remembers the history of the game. Too many of the current troupe that comment on the tour are regarded in some circles as groupies and are more concerned about their own social media standing. They even wrongly take it upon themselves to make decisions about the sport’s history.
In March, the brakes started to be applied to international tennis. I was on my way to the airport heading to the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, which I have attended every year from 1988 and which remains one of my favourite events. I was looking forward to taking a newly reintroduced service with Qantas non-stop to San Francisco and then Alaska airlines to Palm Springs. Normally I would have flown non-stop to Dallas on Qantas and then flown to Palm Springs. There is no way I am driving from Los Angeles to the California desert.
“Are you on the plane?” was what I heard when I answered a phone call from the official at the BNP Paribas Open. “Err no, but on the way to the airport,” I said. I was then left stunned. “Don’t get on the plane. The tournament has just been cancelled because of coronavirus” was the further message. I could not believe it. I went home but did not unpack. Miami would be just a couple of weeks away and the second year at the Hard Rock Stadium.
We know what eventually happened. World tennis was being rocked with the announcement that the tour had been suspended till 6 April. The entire itinerary I was on was cancelled as after Miami I was flying through New York and Doha on to Cape Town and then Johannesburg before heading home. What a nightmare but still there was some hope that it might be temporary after all surely the next two majors would not suffer the same fate as Indian Wells and Miami.
Like dominoes, tournaments started to fall and shut down – Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Charleston, etc. Roland Garros was criticised for unilaterally changing their dates, but the French Federation were in a battle for financial survival and had to. And then, like a very bad April Fool’s Day joke on 1 April, Wimbledon made their grim announcement of cancellation.
The year had started so well and I was looking forward to the season so much after the previous three years when I underwent major surgeries – two on my back each lasting about five hours in 2017 and 2018 and then in 2019 on my right shoulder lasting three hours and was told a week longer and the nerves could not have been saved. All up 14 weeks in hospital.
Coronavirus brought it all crashing down and I felt I became like a zombie with that Wimbledon news. I did not know how to handle it. To say emotions ran high would be grossly understating the situation. I withdrew into a shell and could not find any purpose. I felt sick. My passion had been taken away. I resented people saying “everyone is in the similar situation, it’s not just you”. To me I could only feel what I was feeling.
There was nothing to look forward to and I did not want to speak. It was bottling up inside. There were days I didn’t want to get out of bed and there was concern from immediate family. I absolutely was not going to do something stupid but no one else could be sure because I had withdrawn. Any minor thing became a huge issue.
A friend tried calling me three times one day before I finally answered and said, “look I just can’t speak”. The response was: “Okay goodbye.” I haven’t heard from the person since.
I went to the graves of my parents to “speak” with them and at that point, as I stood before them, I could not control myself as tears refused to stop. There was such an element of not knowing what was going to happen.
It’s funny but the financial aspect did not enter my mind at all, what was solely in my mind was not being able to work on tennis. Not be able to fulfil obligations and my passion, to do the work I loved. That is what hit the hardest and the more that stayed, the more the tears flowed. I felt trapped.
The free-flowing tears was probably the best thing that could have happened because I think they got me over a hump having never been in the situation before. It took a couple of days for the “fever” to break and I decided that it was up to me to turn things around not anyone else telling me to snap out of it. I ventured towards things that I liked doing … cooking, gardening etc and posted things on social media and gradually the weight has been lifting.
I feel a bit more relaxed now but it is not as if I feel over it completely and I have no doubt there will be some waves of emotions when the original dates for Roland Garros and Wimbledon come around but I hope I am in a better position to be able to handle it, after all to quote the line from Gone With The Wind … “tomorrow is another day”.