Nicolas Almagro succeeded again in losing to David Ferrer

Nicolas Almagro succeeded again in losing to David Ferrer

While watching Nicolas Almagro dominate his Davis Cup buddy David Ferrer in the Australian Open quarter-final, I was thinking what a mental game tennis is. Two sets up and serving for the match in the third set, Almagro couldn’t put it away. Ferrer won the set. Almagro had lost all 12 of his previous Ferrer matches. The announcers were saying tennis is all about what’s “between their ears.” In the fourth set, Almagro broke Ferrer FOUR times and was broken back each time! At that point I was sure Almagro either couldn’t handle success or had a death wish. Of course he lost the match, the fifth set 2-6, after having five or six match points in the contest.

After this harmless metaphor for suicide, I remembered an heiress I knew who continually sabotaged herself, so that after respected career progress, she would talk back or be arrogant to her bosses—she didn’t need the money to survive—and then be fired. I saw this a few times over the years, before she became depressed and killed herself with pills. Her sister had jumped off the Golden Gate bridge. Maybe it was merely genetic. But clearly she did not want to win or succeed. Maybe it frightened her. Maybe she was uncomfortable with success and enjoyed the familiarity and self-inflicted victimization of failure. I’m no shrink, but I did hear from a more psychologically knowledgeable person this weekend that humans stick with familiarity and situations in which they feel comfortable.

Did Almagro really WANT to lose? Is he scared of beating his good friend? He clearly has the physical ability…but he just had to step easily over the finish line…and didn’t. Or wouldn’t. He did everything he could to fail.

The day after that defeat, I met a friend who told me her high-school classmate who was always the life of the party had killed himself with a shotgun at age 50. Then I heard about an ex-husband who broke down his wife’s new apartment door and shot her… and then himself. And then another suicide story was thrust on me this weekend.

Whew! I was just watching tennis games, Lord. Your message is coming in loud and clear. I am sure that I want to win my games. But if I have the ability, and I know I can make my shots, why do I miss them so often? I can see that I lose confidence at times. It’s clear I play more cautiously or hit more gently to keep the ball in the court against a professional-power stroke or serve. I often believe I SHOULD win more points. What is going on in my head that prevents me from finishing the rally?

I played in a game recently in which one man hates to miss any shot. He became so upset with himself that I was afraid to win points against him. We were using the very court in which an elderly man had had a heart attack, fallen and died some years ago. I was actually scared that my upset opponent might do the same. So I eased off. Very deliberate, intentional and conscious soft play. Ratcheted my game way down. Not a lot of fun to fear you might kill a man playing tennis. Being hit in the head or body by a partner this month was nothing compared to the guilt I’d feel if I caused a death on the court. Clearly some people take this tennis “game” much more seriously than I do.

For the moment, I’m pretty sure I want to win. I used to mutter to myself to “kill” my tennis enemy. I just didn’t want to do it, when the game grew as big as life.

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