As we continue to celebrate 100 years of tennis in the Mid-Atlantic, we are forever reminded that this milestone would not be possible without the incredible people of the past and present day who embrace the mission, and embody our guiding pillars of community, character, and well-being through tennis. We are sharing and celebrating their stories, and the next one comes from Neela W.
Neela is a sophomore in high school in Maryland. She plays tennis on her varsity team and trains at the 4 Star Tennis Academy. Neela recently became a volunteer with USTA Mid-Atlantic and offered her time to write a personal essay – in her own words – about what tennis means to her and how the sport impacts her life.
For as long as I can remember, tennis has been a part of my life. Even before I was born, most of my family enjoyed playing tennis. While my grandpa loved playing for fun with my mom, my dad and aunt both played competitively. I began playing tennis with my dad when I was five years old. Tennis originally started as a fun hobby and a way to spend time with my father, but quickly grew into a more serious activity. By the time I turned nine, I was taking group lessons and playing competitive matches. By age 12, I played my first tournament.
The week leading up to my first tournament, I worked extremely hard with my dad and coach. I remember getting more and more nervous as the start day approached. However, the second I hit my first shot, my nerves started to subside. I ended up finishing second in the tournament as I won three out of four matches. After I exceeded my own expectations, I was truly hooked on the game. I planned to enter more tournaments the following summer.
However, before I could register for summer tournaments, the pandemic happened. The whole world shut down, and as a result I could not play tennis. This was the first time tennis was taken away from me, as all the public tennis courts and training centers were closed. I could no longer go to a public park to play or even just hit on a concrete wall. Even though my tennis game suffered because of the lockdown, the real lesson I learned is not to take tennis for granted. Every day, being able to hit on the court is a privilege, and not something to be taken for granted.
Gratitude is ultimately what tennis means to me. I am lucky to be able to play this game. It is an absolute privilege to push myself every day in practice, constantly improve my game, and compete with other players. And although difficult, I try to let this lesson of gratitude spill over in other aspects of life. So for me, tennis is not just a sport, but a mindset. I really cannot imagine my life without tennis.
This year USTA Mid-Atlantic, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is celebrating 100 years of promoting tennis and its physical, social, and emotional health benefits. Get involved and show your support for the next 100 years of tennis. Learn about our impact in the region and how USTA Mid-Atlantic creates community, character, and well-being.