Our coach Nanette, a Dutchwoman in her 50s who once played on the pro tour, observes my struggles benevolently. “Don’t worry about power,” she says. “They supply the power. Just hit it in front of you.”
On day two, we are sent to a classroom for “mental” — pronounced men-TAL — where another coach explains that “in tennis, you have a tendency to focus on what you’ve done badly” and then lose confidence.
To combat this, she says, we must develop a routine to push away negative thoughts and reinforce positive ones. For example, each time we pick up balls between points, we can remind ourselves of one or two things that we know how to do well.
During these “reset” moments, she says we shouldn’t think about the score, or whether we’ll win the match. Just focus on doing our best in the present point. “If you have specific, realistic goals during the match, you should be happy afterward because you reached them. Even if you’re losing, you feel in control the whole time.”
Also, “in tennis, you have to accept that sometimes you will play badly,” she says, adding something obvious but reassuring, “You always have the chance to win the point.”
Back on the court, Nanette looks me in the eye and asks, “How was men-TAL?”
I decide to stop thinking about things I can’t control: that the others are better, and that they might resent having to hit with me. Instead, I tell myself to focus on being fully present for each shot, and just play the best tennis I can.
Suddenly, my returns are stronger, and I notice that even the Guadeloupean woman has weaknesses. (One is that when she loses a point to me, she’s infuriated.)