For the love of the game

Last night I had the most incredible opportunity to see the world’s best tennis players in the world at Nike Clash of the Champions. It was something I never could have imagined. Second row from courtside, seated amongst a sea of UO students, close enough to see the sweat on Roger Federer’s and Rafael Nadal’s backs. It was amazing.

Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka joined Fed and Rafa for a series of exhibition sets, including mixed doubles with John McEnroe himself as the chair umpire. Going into the night, I expected serious, go get ’em play, but it was the exact opposite. As Fed and Sharapova matched up against Rafa and Azarenka, things started getting silly. All four of the players were hooked up to mikes so you could hear everything they said. The atmosphere was hilarious – Federer creeping up to the net on his knees, Rafa hitting the ball as hard as he could, Sharapova and Azarenka chatting with eager boys in the stands….it was like nothing I had ever seen before. All four players had gigantic smiles on their faces, laughing the entire set. The entire audience of 12,000+ couldn’t help but laugh with them.

As I sat there, mere feet from tennis legends, watching them fool around (quite unlike their serious mantras on the TV screen), it suddenly hit me. THIS is what tennis – hell, this is what life – is all about. Fun. Pure, innocent joy that unites everyone in one single moment. The grins lighting up the players’ faces were infectious. Spain, Belarus, Russia, Switzerland, America. It didn’t matter where anyone was from or that we were nobodies and these were celebrities. We were all there, together. For the love of the game.

I have never loved tennis more in my life than in that single moment. It was indescribable and I only wish I could have shared it with my dad.

And then, as if that weren’t enough, I GOT RAFA’S AND FEDERER’S AUTOGRAPHS. Literally the best moment of my life. As I climbed back over the barrier with my signed tennis balls, I was shaking. It was so surreal, I still can’t believe it happened. I grazed arms with Rafael Nadal, the best tennis player in the world. I made eye contact with Roger Federer, arguably the greatest tennis player to ever live. I don’t think last night will ever seem real. But it was. Oh, it was.

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