By Mateja Matt Vidakovic
This is a story of a terrible tennis player and an avid tennis watcher. First of all, some context – I was born in 1985 in Serbia, the son of a journalist and an actor. While I’m sure a more gripping tale about being in a country at war (twice!) would be more engaging, I’m here to talk about my grandma, Sunday lunches and tennis. I know – riveting stuff.
First, let’s get the ‘terrible player’ part done – I played tennis for maybe a month in grade school, and sucked so bad at it my mom, normally very hesitant to let me just drop a hobby, had no such issues in letting me drop tennis. My connection to the sport should have ended there, were it not for my grandmother, Ana.
My grandmother loved watching tennis for as long as I knew her, and considering I began to form proper memories in the 90’s, I remember she was a big Sampras fan – I think she liked him for his Greek origins (Her husband, my grandpa, was half Greek). Her love for the game didn’t truly rub on me until around 2004-5. We had a family lunch every Sunday, where we would all gather at our grandparents place for a meal, talk and some pocket money. Most importantly for this text though – we would sit and chill after the meal, and grandma would watch tennis. Slowly, but surely, I began to absorb the strange esoteric rules and unique personalities.
Initially, we were both Federer fans (“He’s so cool, calm and collected, graceful…”) whilst we loathed Nadal as Federer’s seeming antithesis (“He’s such a brute, why is he picking on his underpants all the time? He’s like a football player not a tennis gentleman…”). It was much later that, for me, the tables turned and I began to love Nadal for his intelligent game, his honorable and honest on court demeanor and personality – while at the same time, my love for Federer began to diminish, as I found him to be a sore loser with a very bratty, snarky trait that I grew to dislike.
Let’s not forget that around 2006 came Djokovic. Our relationship to Novak was (and remains) complex; we cheered for him by default at first (He’s Serbian! Duh!) but then I quickly grew to appreciate his game, his insane tenacity and spite (more on that when I discuss the Serbian ‘inat’) and later on – his sheer dominance. I’ll write more on the strange duality of Novak worship/hatred in Serbia – but we sure were part of it.
My grandma set me off on a path, and in time I surpassed her. My peak tennis mania was around 2009 – I remember watching everything from that insane Verdasco-Nadal Australian Open semifinal to random matches on a 250 tournament at 6am. My girlfriend at the time objected to me waking up in the middle of the night to watch tennis – it was bad.
Though I’ve since ‘calmed down’ somewhat, tennis remains a major part of my life, a kind of comfort I can always go back to, something that connects me to my grandma. Though this text wasn’t going to feature her so prominently, she passed this year – and this led me to think about her more and more… She has given me many gifts in my upbringing, not least of which is my love for tennis. In that way, I can find both comfort, and entertainment in the sport – in more ways than one.