Sometimes, being a manic fan can the most rewarding affliction in the world. Waving the Swiss flag in 2006, cheering on Novak Djokovic in 2011 in mispronounced Serbian, raising a knee and fist in time with Nadal in 2010; all good. At some point, though, things take a turn for the worse. Supporting Federer now without losing your dignity? It’d be easier to show more grace running naked up the street. Vamosing on Nadal can’t be easy either, and yelling for Murray? Well, who said that’s ever been anything but bad news? But heartbreak won’t stop a true fan. These are the people that admit they’re a little obsessive, that take the good times with the bad, and don’t stop being crazy for their player just because times are tough. Chances are, we all have a little mad fan in us.
But we’re not just about poking fun at others. So for our final three posts, we the writers at On The Go Tennis, will open up about our own fandom.
Today, I’m telling my own story.
Name: Kait O'Callahan
Occupation: Radiographer and freelance writer
Twitter handle: @kait_oc
Contributions to OTGT: Fan Club posts (and much more to come!)
Other blogs/tennis-related achievements: Any Given Surface
I grip my racket in both hands and focus on my opponent. As she bounces the ball, my left hand drops to my side. I raise it to my racket again. Wiggling my feet, I return her serve. She nets her next shot and I spin around to face the back of the court, my fist once again clenched. But there’s no ball boy waiting for me, no towel. I turn around and focus on the next point, two hands once again on the racket. If I were better-looking and decent at tennis, I could be mistaken for Maria Sharapova.
It hasn’t always been this way. In 2007, before I hit my first forehand or typed a blog, I decided to care about the Australian Open women’s final. Serena Williams, a woman I admired for her ferocity and independence, was playing Sharapova, the pretty blonde I’d irrationally decided I hated. I was unable to watch the final, but I checked the scores during my cousin’s wedding. I wasn’t to know checking scores would eventually become the first thing I did in the morning, as much a part of routine as brushing my teeth.
Sharapova got killed that day and I felt gleeful. That was the year I fell in love with tennis and in particular with Roger Federer. Men’s tennis was where my interests lay, and women’s tennis felt like a side show, an entree to the main event. Despite this, I didn’t forget Sharapova and my immense dislike for her snobbery, bad jokes, and modelling spreads.
Sharapova became injured and spent a year away from tennis. By then I was watching tennis all the time and I was finally starting to appreciate the WTA. I found myself missing Sharapova and what she brought to tennis. Her cool composure and ability to fight through even the worst patches of play was something the other girls at the time seemed to lack.
The more I anticipated Sharapova’s return, the more I began to understand why I was originally repelled by her; I had seen negative qualities in her that I also saw in myself. As Hermann Hesse said, ‘If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn't part of ourselves doesn't disturb us.’ Sharapova’s snobbery reflected upon my own coolness towards new people and the way I rudely distanced myself from those I wasn’t familiar with. The difference was, Sharapova was confident in herself; I was a teenager lacking in self-esteem and the ability to make new friends.
As I grew older and became more confident in who I was, I began to see Sharapova as a role model. After all, she’s a woman with confidence, grace, a sense of humour and who really doesn’t care if people dislike her. As a result, I’m a more outgoing, better person than I was when I was 19. But I guess most people are.
Five years later I watched Sharapova play another Australian Open final and once again she got killed. But this time I was on her side. Tears dribbled down my cheeks as the ice-cold Russian I admired melted under the heat of Victoria Azarenka’s game.
I believe - possibly naively - that I’m not the obsessive tennis nut I once was. I’m most likely wrong; it seems most people I’ve interviewed for these posts over the weeks are far more emotionally involved in tennis than they realise and I certainly haven’t managed to put a stop to the tears that well up when a favourite reaches an extreme high or low. But I feel that the opportunities I’ve had as media to meet my favourite players - namely del Potro and Federer - have made me realise that they really are just people. It isn’t that I can’t still admire them, but I certainly don’t hold them in the same high regard. Not so much with Sharapova - I’m yet to meet her and I’m not sure I want to. I want her to stay the elusive, beautiful snob that cracks an unexpected smile and delivers the most word-perfect runner-up speeches. I’m not ready to realise her as mere mortal, to admit that perhaps those negative qualities really are not very nice parts of her (and my own) personality.
Throughout these months, I’ve interviewed countless of people about their tennis ticks and written posts poking fun at each of them. The thing is, I wrote the questions knowing that at some point in my five years watching tennis I’ve done almost all of them. I’ve called in sick for work after watching Wimbledon all night, I’ve fist-pumped in front of an entire waiting room of patients when tennis was on TV, I’ve lied to leave work early to watch a heartbreaking Wimbledon final. I’ve had fights with my boyfriend and my father, I’ve screamed at my TV in the middle of the night and woken up my flatmates. Of course I’ve mellowed since 2007 and my love of Sharapova is certainly more dignified than the love I have for Federer. But regardless of where this media thing takes me, no matter how much I am forced to realise time and time again that my idols are only human, I won’t forget that underneath it all I’m just as good, bad and crazy as the next fan. After all, writer or ticket holder, teenager, or grandparent, we all have one thing in common. We love tennis.
I used to hate her for this video. Now I love her for it.
How crazy am I?
1= Misses the occasional match
2= Has to explain to romantic partners that ‘tennis comes first’
3= Has been known to sacrifice basic life materials (food/water) to watch said player
4= Has drafted a biography on said player
5= Verging on stalker