By Peter Childs
In middle school, a friend invited me to take cross country with him after school. I got ready, did the mandatory physical and all, and on the first day I was laughed at. I felt out of place and was around people I knew who had bullied me. I couldn’t go back.
Fast forward a few years: running past the tennis courts in 10th grade as I took cross country instead of tennis, a pang of jealousy overwhelmed me. I saw friends on the other side of the fence having fun and smiling, waving at me.
Would I be accepted for who I was? Would a ball hit me and I’d get laughed at? As everyone knows, teenagers can be brutal and I didn’t want to be another target of jokes about my athleticism, or lack thereof. I didn’t get into actually playing routinely until I got to college with the tennis courts just a bus stop away from my dorms, but that day really was the start of it.
I persisted in wanting to be a part of the sport, especially with the Williams sisters battling it out at the US Open piquing my interest and making me engage in the sport like never before. Venus, exuding her calm demeanor, poise and strength, made me love it & I’m ever thankful for her as a role model.
That’s how I wanted to play the game. Quite a bit more genteel and on the fringe than the more popular football games that are always played under the Friday night lights in my small Texas town. I reveled – and I still do – in the uniqueness of all that tennis encompasses.
Another player that made me more engaged in the sport was Justine Henin. I started really playing on the courts at my university at least 3-4 times a week and I wanted a backhand like Justine. I woke up incredibly early to see her defeat Mary Pierce in the 2005 French Open final. I loved to use my Justine-inspired backhand to throw off my friends. At first I was told to use a two-handed backhand for more control. But I persisted in slicing the ball and drop shotting my opponents with glee; Justine became the blueprint of how I wanted to play on the court.
In 2006 a new tennis player emerged who captivated me: a Scot named Andy Murray. He caught my eye when he beat Andy Roddick in San Jose and then went on to win his first ATP title by defeating Lleyton Hewitt in the final, a player he admired so much he named his puppy Rusty – Lleyton’s nickname.
But what sealed my adoration for Andy was after he won championship point he went over to his then girlfriend – now his wife – Kim Sears and gave her a kiss. It was so wholesome, pure and sweet. I knew I had found a gentleman to root for. He gave me another sense of what tennis could be like. A warrior’s spirit, persisting through adversity. Exuding a calm demeanor at all times isn’t possible. Andy let me see that I could channel my anger and frustration into hitting the ball and making it like boxing, a sport that he enjoys watching.
From 2014 until the Irving Tennis Classic moved to Phoenix in 2018, I was the DJ at the challenger event situated in a city close to Dallas, placed perfectly right in between the “sunshine double” of Indian Wells and the Miami Open. That time in my life was perfect. It married my two joys in life, tennis and music. That time period made me see the hardships that living on the Challenger tour was like for the guys struggling after college, coming back from injury and trying to just make a living. But it also gave me a greater appreciation of the game.
Since moving on from being a volunteer DJ I’ve had other great moments; being a guest on a few podcasts and ultimately being a co-host of the only (we believe) Andy Murray podcast on the market, Murray Musings. I was no longer the outsider looking in, running past tennis courts being the embarrassed teen wondering if I’d fit into the tennis world. Getting a chance to talk about my favorite tennis player and meeting him in person a few times are core memories that bring me joy every time I think of them.
I’ve come far from entering the Tennis Channel brackets in its heyday and being top 5% out of thousands, getting second place at the Australian Open bracket in 2012. Nowadays I get to talk about the Australian Open on Murray Musings, interview my favorite people, including just recently Judy Murray, who said “I feel like I know you” due, in small part, to me giving Andy Odor Eaters for his infamously stinky shoes in Indian Wells. Being someone who’s seen in this world is an amazing feeling.
I’ll leave y’all with one of the best quotes from my favorite book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower:
“Standing on the fringes of life… offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.”
I’m no longer on the fringe of this sport I love so dearly, on the outside looking in. I may not be the main character with the spotlight shining on me, but at least I’m still dancing.