01 Ready? Play!

The Tampa airport looked magnified in its clean emptiness. As always at 4 AM, Elise Renard thought. Nothing to worry about. She knew it was only the silent terminal and its covered-up restlessness that triggered her own concealed agitation. She wished to push it away like she pushed the trolley in front of her but she couldn’t help feeling the undeniable inanity of her doings. Again she set out for another season on the WTA. Again she set out for another attempt to get back where she used to be when she made a splash in the tennis world two years ago. Get back where she belonged, Rick had tried to drum it into her, but Elise wasn’t so sure anymore if she could make it back, let alone to the very top.

It was not a lack of faith, however. All the pieces of the puzzle were there, from her ambition to her skills. She had been learning from the best and even become a better player than she was before her injury. On a professional level, she couldn’t get clearer. She belonged to the top, period. Her determination was strong if not unwavering and the strength that inhabited her soul brought the required energy to the hard work she had to produce constantly. Becoming the best had never been an utopia. Of course, she would go where she belonged.

But as much as she had repeated it over the last month – like an old mantra that would have finally settled there – something else had begun to occupy her mind. A tiny fact which apparently and strangely enough seemed invisible to anyone else. However, she herself was well aware of it and there was no way denying it. In the past month she had had enough time during long hours of physiotherapy and involuntary idleness to get a clear picture of herself. A part of her soul was craving for new experiences which had nothing to do with fuzzy yellow balls.  Her injury time-out had triggered a new awareness for herself and yet she didn’t know what to do with this new-found clarity.

This odd feeling of belonging nowhere as well as the nagging thought that she might get injured again had driven a small, yet painful thorn into her optimism. After witnessing her ranking drop below the Top 200 and finding herself in the chasms of challenger tournaments she dreaded the thought that another injury would push her out of the sport.

She gave the trolley another angry push.[] Her doubts felt like a betrayal of those people who supported her, who believed in her. Yes, she would get back where she belonged. And she would prove to herself that she could make it. Not just on the tennis court but in life. Because her tennis career could be over in a second. She had to be open to adventure. And why shouldn’t she give it a go, if a change ever came along. Suddenly she felt excited about the new year. She turned around to her parents who walked behind her pushing two additional trolleys with several huge bags.

” I guess it is time for us to go,” her father said in his calm voice. He had stopped in front of the security gate. Absentmindedly, Elise accepted Mama Renard’s arms and stayed there for long seconds. For once her mother would remain in Florida. After all it was only a matter of weeks before Elise would be coming back.
“Take care, Elise.”
A last smile and she handed her passport to the custom officer, leaving her parents behind. It had become some sort of ritual after a while. If only her father came with her she would go ahead and leave them alone for a last-minute goodbye. Yet this time she turned around to look at them in the distance. She had nobody to smile at like that. And it was this moment when she realized she wanted someone to smile at with all her heart.