Friday, May 23, 2008

Favorite French moment #2: Through the eyes of a child

So landing in the middle of my favorite thoughts about the French involves two of the most captivating and charismatic players of the past couple of decades, Jennifer Capriati and Gustavo Kuerten, respectively, and my favorite young player—my soon-to-be 10-year-old nephew, Carlos Smith. (Remember that name!)

It was waaay back in 2001 and I was going to visit my family back in Mobile, Ala., staying at my sister's house. In conversations with my mom and my sister, they said they had been tossing a tennis ball to my nephew for him to hit with an old racquet. Hearing this, I thought as any tennis nut would, "That's great! It's never too early to start them playing tennis!" So I went down with one mission: to make sure tennis is the priority in his young 3-year-old life!

I tossed some balls at him and he managed to make contact, which was great, I thought. But it wasn't the right exposure he needed, I felt. Luckily, it was finals weekend at the French, so we'll just plop down in front of the TV and scope out the matches. And what a weekend of matches it was!

First, on Saturday, was the instant classic between Kim Clijsters and Jennifer Capriati. I tried to explain to him how Clijsters was going to do great things in her career, but this was really Capriati's time to shine. See, Jennifer was a child prodigy (kind of like I was trying to groom him to be), but had been derailed off the path of greatness due to personal trials and tribulations. But in one of the greatest comebacks in tennis history, she won the Australian Open earlier in the year for her first major title, I told him. I don't know if he really cared about all that because I had to make a deal with him to turn to the Disney Channel during commercial breaks!

So in between the channel-switching back and forth, Capriati and Clijsters got to a third set, which somehow Jennifer won 12-10 to pick up her second Slam of the year. I was excited and tried to convey it to young Carlos, but after it was over I don't think he could've cared less. Oh well, I thought, there's always tomorrow.

The men's final saw "Guga" Kuerten going up against Alex Corretja. Guga was going for rarefied ground with his third French, while Corretja was trying to bag his first major, I explained to him. We pretty much had the same thing going with the viewing patterns of the match, but when it got toward the end, I told him I really wanted to watch the winner celebrate and see the trophy presentation.

Well, Guga went on to win, celebrating in a pretty unique way: After pumping his fists, he repeated his fourth-round gesture to the crowd in which he drew a giant heart in the clay and laid down in it (pictured above)—his way of thanking the fans. I tried to point out to my nephew how cool that was, and then I wanted him to see the big trophy the winner got. My work was done (I hoped!)

Fast-forward seven years later, and Guga's getting ready to say goodbye to professional tennis, with this year's French being his last tournament, and Capriati's still holding out hope for a comeback that seems more distant everyday. My nephew, on the other hand, has become quite the little athlete, particularly in basketball, where his team has gone undefeated two years in a row. It's tennis season now, and he's getting out there a couple of times for lesson, something's he been doing for years now.

Part of me wishes he would just play tennis, but I guess he's having fun doing a variety of things. My soon-to-be-born daughter on the other hand will only eat, drink and breathe tennis! (But keep that on the hush-hush, her mom doesn't know that yet!)

(Photos: Guga shots: Getty; Capriati: BBC)


Darker Blue said...

I feel the same way, if I ever have children I will definitely do everything for them to love tennis :)) I wish you will have such beautiful memories again this year.


van said...

Thanks DB! I hope I don't become too overbearing!

Anonymous said...

Tennis is awesome, but you gotta let your daughter learn to love it in her own way. Force it on her and the results might backfire!