We were one of the early ones to reach the DLTA complex, venue for the Delhi Junior Tennis Tournament-1995. Our son Kshitij was playing the maiden match in a competition, participating in the under-14 category. At 11, he had shown tremendous potential for the game.
Kshitij was barely five when he insisted on having a tennis racquet, while watching me play. Soon, a mini racquet and a rubber ball were procured. One bedroom was vacated, creating at home facility for wall practice. As I got posted to Delhi, he got an opportunity to join a reputed coaching centre. After a year of rigorous practice, the coach felt his protege was ready to compete in tournaments.
For the debut match, Kshitij was attired in the Adidas gear. New Wilson Hammer mid-size racquet was procured, suiting his grip. Though younger to the opponent, he appeared confident. As it was the qualifying round for the main draw, the match was the best of 17 games and was played on clay court.
Kshitij won the toss and chose to serve. He comfortably held his service and won the opening game. The opponent, too, served well and it was one all. Then, there was a sudden drop in Kshitij’s game. The opposing player contested a few line calls and managed to break the rhythm. Kshitij committed a couple of double faults and his returns often went into the net.
Soon the match was over and Kshitij lost 3-9. I was convinced that Kshitij had played erratically, way below his best. As he walked out of the court, I told him, “You lost because you just did not try hard.”
Kshitij looked into my eyes. Controlling his tears, he whispered, “Dad, I did my best.” I stepped back and scanned him from head to toe. He was drenched in sweat. His shorts had turned brown due to the clay. As he clenched his kit, I could see his right elbow badly bruised. I realised my folly.
During the match, I was focused only on the end result and had missed out on Kshitij’s valiant effort. Overpowered by emotion, I tightly embraced Kshitij. I could feel the thumping of his heart as he was still regaining breath.
It was then that I got flashbacks of his brilliant returns and volleys, dives to save break points, and innovating new moves like the drop shots that he had never played before.
As we were heading for the car park, Kshitij took out a complimentary coupon for a Coke given to every participant. He insisted that I share the drink with him. While sipping the Coke, I was to learn a lifelong lesson: the real winners are not on the podium, but those who at the given moment perform beyond their best.