So I’ll never make a journalist, because I’m not unbiased.
I can’t get this girl out of my head. She’s in there, with thoughts of all of the other things I like. Things like memories of my dogs, and my folks, and happy times when I was a kid, and Scooby Doo and all sorts of other nifty stuff.
I’m talking about Heidi El Tabakh. I read a few days ago, somewhere on the Internet–so take this with a grain or two of salt–that she has recently been studying to become credentialed as a tennis coach.
If it’s true, I’m a little happy and a little sad at the same time. Heidi is indisputably my favorite tennis player ever. That’s just beyond any reasonable debate. I’ve tried, and probably failed miserably, to explain why on previous occasions. But facts are facts, and I’m not going to belabor the point. So it saddens me immeasurably to think that this is really…it. The end of Heidi’s playing career. I’ve been trying to prepare for it, I knew the day was coming, but all of sudden when I saw it in print, it hit me worse than that proverbial ton of bricks. Maybe she won’t officially retire for awhile, holding out hope for a return to tennis, but at thirty years of age and star-crossed by a history of injury, she’s probably ready to face a more certain future in other avenues.
So I sit here, in a very melancholy state, contemplating the news, tearfully, somewhat bitterly, but hopefully ultimately accepting of the evolutionary nature of sport, like life itself. We all get older. Time waits for no one, I suppose.
I count myself very fortunate, no, maybe honored is better word, to have been able to see Heidi play or practice some nineteen times in person. Not a lot, I suppose, but more than most. What I took away from those occasions, other than falling head over heels for her, was her sense of style, class, elegance, and the knowledge that she is an enormously talented player who never remotely got the credit she deserved. A player of largely untapped potential, who never quite got to show what she was capable of on the court. That was due to her history of being beset by one physical ailment after the next. When healthy, it was obvious that Heidi had the game to play with anybody., and in fact, she had some pretty impressive runs in the United States Tennis Association Pro Circuit and International Tennis Federation tournaments she played throughout her career. A glimpse at her career record shows wins over top 50 talents such as Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Sania Mirza, Heather Watson, Jamie Hampton, and Camila Giorgi, so it clearly isn’t reaching to say that Heidi has some serious game.
And that she did. I loved watching her play. I have to say that. I love players who can and do hit winners, lots of winners. And boy oh boy, could Heidi hit them! She had big, beautiful, fluid groundstrokes off of both wings with which she could generate some great passes, and could hit about as hard, if not harder, than anyone I ever saw play in a USTA Pro Circuit event, other than maybe Garbine Muguruza or Aravane Rezai, but they were exceptions making one-time appearances on the circuit. Among the Pro Circuit “regulars” I saw year in and year out, there weren’t too many, apart from maybe Samantha Crawford, who could go toe to toe with Heidi from the baseline. God, I loved watching her hit!
She could serve a pretty big first serve too, even though her second one was always a little shaky. I remember sortof having to cover my eyes a bit in the tight stages of Heidi’s matches, late in third sets, when she was serving second serves. I can recall cheering, “C’mon, Heidi, first serve!” and ending up thinking, ‘oh shit, double….’ more than once. I always felt that if Heidi had worked just a bit on her second serve consistency, she would have won a ton more matches and in a lot easier fashion, because the rest of her game was so good.
Heidi had a temper on the court. Sometimes she would cuss or toss her raquet. I confess, I liked that quality in her. It made her seem a little more like me. Not that I thought that I, too, was a capable player. I just mean that we both occasionally lost it on the court. Of course, she was a little more controlled about it than me.
All of this brings me back around to the obvious, I suppose. The exterior, what you notice about Heidi at first blush. It is true that she is otherworldly pretty. A throwback to the days when tennis players could be both athletically gifted and pretty and fashionable without offending any notions of political correctness, she evokes memories of Evert and Goolagong. That’s meant to be a compliment, of course. Her eyes are doe-like and expressive, like a well-practiced movie starlet’s might be, and her smile, when she allows one, will light up any dark place or mood. She would hate the description, but she has the most beautiful, perfect apple cheeks that give her a friendly, warm and inviting vibe. I imagine that she is the kind of girl every boy has had a crush on at some point in his life.
And the thing about all of this is, I don’t think, in all of the time I’ve watched her play, I’ve ever seen her not look totally put together when she walks onto the court, from her tennis dress, to her shoes, to the jewelry she wears. She is always in fashion, chic and feminine, yet athletic and powerful and explosive as the athlete she is.
I will miss Heidi. More than anything. Somewhere along the way, I think I fell in love with her. Along with about nine billion other guys. The truth is, I don’t know what I will do once she is really gone. She hasn’t played a match anywhere in many months and tennis simply isn’t the same for me. I try to get interested in other players, but they will never be Heidi. There’s only one Heidi.
The players, they must think of fans such as me as something like lunatics. I don’t blame them. They probably stay in their bubble, wondering what all of the fuss is about, trying to live their lives, as quietly as possible. But it is hard to be in this bubble too, admiring someone from afar. Learning to care about her. Falling for her. For in the end, she is just a Girl. And I am just a Boy. And somewhere, in a dream maybe, the two of us can meet in some fairytale.
But the reality is that she is now gone on to better things, and I must learn to be happy for her.
I guess that’s what happens when you lose the Girl you love.