Tennis Origin Story #15: Vansh Vermani

By Vansh Vermani

This essay was originally written in 2017 as a school assignment.

The dumpster is associated with filth, disgust, and rotten food. I reminisce about the fondest memories of my childhood, which all started at the local dumpster, two blocks from my house. It was one sweltering hot summer day in 2008. The sun shone brightly overhead and the sweat poured down my forehead as I slouched in my front yard in boredom. No person in sight, no friends, and no routine. 

Life in the summer was getting dreadful and I was dying to go back to school. With nothing better to do, I walked down the street, wanting to lie down in the grass two blocks from my house, to cool off in the shade. I walked past the cul-de-sac and noticed something peculiar lying flat on top of the local dusty green dumpster. I picked it up and stared in awe at it. It was an old Prince tennis racquet. What was a perfectly good tennis racquet doing on top of the dumpster? Without any qualms, my little seven-year old self picked it up and ran back home. It reminded me of the tracquet that my dad used when he played tennis with his friends on Saturdays. The intricate pattern of the strings and its complex design and colorful frame aroused my curiosity about the game of tennis. I wanted to learn how to hit the tennis ball with the strings. So I moved some boxes around in the garage until there was an open space to run and move. With the space in front of the cabinets now clear, I grabbed a tennis ball and watched as I whacked it as hard as I could with the racquet strings. Almost like a golf swing. From then on, I would hit against the cabinets everyday for hours and hours upon end. My hands would tire and my palms would blister from so much practice. This did not deter me. The whole house had to endure the sounds of the ball cracking the cabinets with immense force. Despite the cacophony, my parents were satisfied I had finally found something to do. 

Playing against a wall gives a tennis player a unique opportunity to get a feel for the sweet spot of the racquet. The physics of tennis begins at the foundation of this central spot. As I hit the ball for hours, I started to turn earlier and plant my feet in position at just the perfect moment so I could transfer my weight as the contact of the strings and the ball was straight ahead. I felt like Superman for a second. I practiced coiling my shoulders as I took the racquet back parallel to the ground, and turned sideways. I used my hips and shoulders to rotate my whole body while the shot was being hit. This was the start of my own version of a tennis swing. It was certainly exhilarating as the adrenaline rushed through my veins while I tried to compete against the wall, a contest I was destined to lose every time. I eventually made up my own unique hand-eye coordination drills with the wall, as I would hit backwards or behind the back. It was all physically exhausting yet engaging, as my eyes never wandered from the tennis ball. 

Weeks and weeks of constant and repetitive sound of the ball hitting against the cabinet was all that could be heard as my parents left for work in the morning and came back in the evening. I had found a true passion, and the real tennis hadn’t even begun yet. Little by little, tennis was becoming the love of my life. I was constantly practicing the swinging motion whenever idle, such as when walking around the house. Then, after about six months of playing this kind of tennis-squash in the garage, at 8 years old, I went to an actual tennis court for the first time with my father and his friends. Amazed at its symmetry, I started running around like a kid in a candy store. It was much different than I had imagined. The tennis court was vast from a distance but appeared to shrink as I took footsteps closer in. I noticed the two sidelines on each side of the net, as my dad explained the difference between the singles and doubles alley. I watched in awe as my dad and his friends moved around the court. Looking back now, I realize how flawed their technique was, but their relentless will and determination to keep the ball in play allowed for many intriguing rallies and unpredictable shots.

Obviously not the Prince racquet, but a symbol of how I got into tennis nonetheless!

A few days later, the following week, my father and his friends were in our house watching a legendary tennis match: a historic contest lasting almost 5 hours between the two best players in the history of the sport. Sitting down with my dad that day I watched the agony and ecstasy of tennis. We were witnessing the mesmerizing 2008 Wimbledon final between Rafael Nadal, a powerful and muscular Spaniard with an irresistible amount of tenacity, and Roger Federer, the Swiss maestro.  Federer was a five-time Wimbledon winner who glided around the court effortlessly. At the same time, he was ultra-aggressive with all his strokes, always rushing his opponent. The Swiss champion’s textbook all-round game coupled with the flair and relentless fighting spirit of his Spanish rival was a masterpiece to the eye. It was a contrast of styles, an intriguing match-up hailed as the “beauty and the beast” of tennis. After this nearly 5-hour classic showdown was over, it was hailed by many pundits as the greatest grass court match ever witnessed in tennis history. Rafael Nadal became the first Spaniard in 42 years to capture the Wimbledon crown, and did it over his greatest rival, Roger Federer, denying him a chance to win it for the sixth straight time.

I felt motivated and inspired by these two greats of the game, who used every ounce of their energy on the court. I had my heart set on becoming a professional tennis player. I was willing to go to extreme lengths to achieve it, and I wasn’t going to stop until the day I tasted the bitter-sweet grass at the lawns of Wimbledon and held up the grand slam trophy. How ironic that a dumpster, a receptacle for unwanted and discarded waste, would become the source of my new ambition and motivation for success.  My future was set in stone…until things began to steer away from me.

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