05/04/2018 | Emily Webley-Smith
She's hurting in the 38 degrees heat. I feel ok but calf is hurting ...Deuce, ad, deuce, ad, deuce.. screw it, I'll serve volley. 3-6 6-4 6-4 to me. I survive. This is India.....
Sunday 5th March: Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt
8pm - On route to airport
I've just left Sharm and am on the way to the airport. Support network gone, teammates and friends left behind and $100 in my pocket. Goodbyes are hard but it's the nature of the sport. At times like this you feel absolutely alone as a tennis player, and with a long travel night and day ahead, the grind begins and the travel day blues set in.
Monday 6th March: In the clouds between Egypt and India
6am: Abu Dhabi airport
I couldn't sleep on the last flight and I feel super grumpy and tired. I check the draw for India and see I have a tough first round. I hope the calf I hurt 10 days ago doesn't react badly to the 4 flights and that I'll be in some state to play Tuesday. Tiredness hits me and I wonder if I've made the right decision to play the event with such little preparation.
11am: Delhi airport
Indiaaaaaaaa. So good to be back. I feel more positive already. The people are so friendly and I feel at home here. I'm off to find a £1 dosa for brekkie. I have 5 hours to kill before the last flight.
5pm: Still Delhi...
Challo! My Indian friends have come good and found me a hotel for £17 that is 1km from the club and looks....ok. I can survive! I see the schedule that I will play 3rd and 5th match tomorrow and the reality sinks in that tomorrow is match day and I am still chilling at an airport.
11.30pm Hotel Bentree, Bhopal, India
Crawled into bed after a surprisingly hot shower and a delicious £2 room service for one dinner. Practice is set for tomorrow before the match, but my body feels like it's taken a battering after the 4 flights of today. The mind however, is ready to fight. But I'm happy and I'm on an adventure!
Tuesday 7th March
11.30am Bhopal Arera Tennis Club, India
Omg. The courts are lightning fast. We couldn't even rally properly in the practice. The ball feels weird, I'm reacting about an hour slow to every bounce, and my calf feels super tight. There is, however, espresso. The club is lovely. The supervisor asks me if I feel the altitude, and I say no not too much. The thought crosses my mind my opponent has been here for days preparing and I've hit for 25mins. Trust yourself small lion, trust yourself. I'm not nervous, which worries me. Maybe it's lack of expectation....this is going to very very tough. And I've got $100 left.
3pm In the gym.
2hrs 50mins later here I am. After 1 game I realised it is very much altitude and the balls are flying more than I did yesterday. I handed a racket to be restrung 4lbs tighter mid match and it arrived back when I was a set and 4-2 down. I can't feel a thing, I could hit the back fence effortlessly and all game plans have now gone out the window. But my opponent is also struggling. She's hurting in the 38 degrees heat. I feel ok but calf is hurting and I've missed 10 volleys. I don't miss volleys. At 4-4 we have an epic game and at 30 all I fall over on my ankle, get back up, make the ball and lose the point anyway. I'm shouting, I'm fighting, she's choking, I'm choking. I find a way. I go 5-4 up and serving for the match on the first point, I cramp in my calf. She doesn't notice. In my whole career I've never cramped. Maybe I'm dehydrated from the travel day, maybe my calf is done. So I must be more aggressive, I can't move so there is no choice. Matchpoint (MP) to me, she misses wide, I first pump. Ball is not called out. I shout. We continue; deuce, ad, deuce, ad and on my 2nd MP I miss the easiest volley of my whole life. I laugh. This is not tennis, this is something else. Be brave. Deuce, my ad, screw it, I'll serve volley. 3-6 6-4 6-4 to me. I survive. Supervisor laughs and shakes his head as I walk past. He's seen my battles before. I have an hour before doubles. I ice my calf, eat a cheese toastie and some ibuprofen, washed down with electrolyte drink.....
8pm A Double Victory
Won doubles. Casual 5hrs tennis today in 38 degrees. Japanese anti-inflammatory patch on calf, ice bucket at my side, paneer tikka, dahl, veg pulao and naan on its way. Repeat order from last night, not that I'm superstitious or anything....
Wednesday 7th March
9am 20 pence goes a long way
Tuk tuk man from yesterday was waiting for me outside my hotel at the same time and the same place without me asking. This guy is a legend. 20p to go to courts. I wear leggings so they stare less but they still stare and I stare right back. I'm never frightened here, never lonely. His shirt is ripped and he has no shoes and we have to stop to refuel from a water bottle when it breaks down en-route. I'm not flinching, I'm used to it. This is India.
1pm Across the line
I won. Against a young American who looked like me 10 years ago, sliced every fh and liked to come in. It was interesting to play someone who did something different and played me at my own game. I go 2-0 up and 40-15 and then end up being 2-3 and got angry at some calls. There were 6 mistakes. The line judges were removed. I am still cross. I lose the 1st set 6-3, take a deep breath and tell myself to shut up. I win the next two sets 6-0 6-1 and receive a strong handshake from an opponent that competed till the last point regardless of the score, and told me I was better. I respect that a lot. One to watch for the future.
Doubles won so safely into semis. Recovery in the gym, cheeky chai, and found a lady at the club to do my laundry at her house! I have no clean clothes left and after 5 weeks in Sharm where it's a million pounds a bag to do laundry, washing my socks out in the sink is wearing thin.
9pm In search of energy
Room service for one. Book. Legs are aching and I don't feel well. Gotta find some energy for tomorrow. Order hot water and lemon for the throat, and limes and turmeric arrive. This is India...
Thursday 8th March
3am No recovery
I'm still not asleep. I'm freezing and have a bad pain in my throat and I feel rubbish. I miss home. I take 2 paracetamol, put on my hoodie, gargle with salt water, and worry about not recovering.
9.30am No room at the Inn
Hotel informs me there is no room for tonight and I have to pack my bags. I have no energy to move them so leave them at reception and hope something changes. I hate to move the bags in the middle of tournament.
10am Ill behaviour
I arrive at the courts. I don't feel like playing tennis today. My throat is killing, my chest feels funny, I'm starting to cough and I've slept 3hrs. What's more, the espresso machine is broken. I take 3 ibuprofen for the calf, hit for 20mins and wait. There are leaves on the court so the match is delayed.
2.30am Never give up
"If you can hold on when there is nothing in you, except the will which says to you, hold on."
Never ever ever give up. Even when you don't feel like it. Even when there's nothing left in the tank. Even when you think you can't or won't. On an average Thursday against a Thai forehand.
I just played an epic battle of high level tennis. I was getting hit off the court in the 1st set, I was quiet, outplayed, just trying to make it competitive with survival paws. I had no time to create the point. No energy for longer points. So I went for it blindly. 2nd set was close to the best set of tennis I've played. But I went 2-4 down in the 3rd when she matched my level. Just fight small lion, fight, and serve big. I backed myself until 5-4 serving for the match when I told myself to breathe and take my time. I did both, but I forgot to play. Then I froze, but didn't panic. The next game I told myself to hit every ball moving forward and forced myself to be aggressive. I broke her with a topspin fh lob Andy would have been proud of and a croakiest come on roar. Then I held. Just like that. I put my hands together in prayer like in Thailand when you say thank you as I walked to the net. She told me great match Emily, I told her great fight. We had a little hug. It is not usually like this in the women's game. Respect the battle. I like Thai people so much. We fought for 3hrs and she was bitterly disappointed yet there was still something greater than ourselves and we both knew that. This game. This is why I play. For moments like this. I warm down and message home. Mum needs a glass of wine after watching live scores and playing every point.
I'm proud of myself for today. For walking on court just to try this morning. That's all I asked of myself. We lost the semifinal of doubles after, and I tried to help my partner as much as I could but it wasn't enough. The points for doubles don't help my ranking but the money covers the hotel.
The hotel manager found me a room after I told him his hotel was lucky and I wasn't leaving. Then there was a 'suite' available so now I have a bed and a sofa for £23-I'm moving up in the world. Some guy on the street made me the best chai I've ever had and gave me the chai for free for no reason. I asked him why and he smiled. This is India...
I know I've made enough money to cover my hotel and food this week and next, and the flight to Bahrain for the week after. Tomorrow I can play free. This is enough, for now.
Friday 9th March
Morning to the tuk tuk man. We went a different route today for no reason. This is India....
12.30pm Selfie Time
Managed to win a match in 2 sets by some miracle. Didn't play well but played smart and did enough. Couldn't serve a flat serve as ab so sore. Coughing between points. I was clapped and cheered for my brand of tennis despite playing an Indian opponent. They like me here. They always have. This is India....Two little ones run on the court and climb on my lap for photos. Minutes later lots of little ones surround me and its selfie hour in Bhopal. Don't stop fighting, you never know who you might be inspiring. This is why I play.
6pm Biscotti Heaven
After gym recovery I have the afternoon off and discover a mall a few mins from the hotel. My driver the tuk tuk man is confused that I want to go somewhere else instead of the tennis courts. I am confused also. I find espresso and it arrives with biscotti and it's heaven.
Same dinner, same evening for one. It's a good job I like my own company. I pack again, knowing after the final I have to leave immediately for the next tournament-the road goes on. I lay awake thinking through my tactics for tomorrow, wondering how to find a way.
Saturday 10th March
10am TV, Lights, Action - It's Finals day!
Everything feels different. A final is always special. TV cameras, commentators, suits and flowers. A larger crowd, and no players, except 2. And her coach. I have taken 2 diclofenac just to warm up. They are not working. I am nervous. I want this title. I've fought my ass off to get here. I'm coughing, I can't sit up let alone serve with the ab, and the girl has spent half the time I have on court to reach the final. Trust yourself small lion. Be brave.
Sometime in the morning.....
I feel like a zombie. So flat I can't shake it. The 1st set passes in a blur. I play a few good points and the crowd tries to lift me but I'm running on empty from the second reserve tank. I try to accept I'm doing all I can with all I have but I'm close to tears of exhaustion and frustration at how I feel physically. I wriggle my way into a match I have no right to wriggle into and somehow win the 2nd set 7-5. She takes a toilet break, I sip the first coke I've had in 3 years. I hate coke. Last resort.
I get broken at the start of the 3rd and I cannot respond. There is no strength left to combat a better opponent on the day. We shake hands, the ceremony begins and I don't want to be on the court anymore. The supervisor puts a hand on my shoulder to say hard luck, and I'm overcome with emotion. I leave the court head down, shaking with exhaustion and disappointment and too many painkillers. Nobody notices. I go to the physio and ice my ab which is in spasm, and break down sobbing. She calls the doctor and for a few minutes I am alone. And I feel it. Far from home, far from my family, my friends, my coach. I feel sorry for myself. He gives me antibiotics, cough mixture and a gargle solution. The physio holds my hand. Someone else comes to say they can help me with the train ticket. The supervisor checks I'm ok and passes me my prizemoney sheet. The tournament director asks me to join him and the club members for a beer (!) and lunch on him. These people are incredible, but I just want to lay down. To them, it's just a match, but to me, it's everything. I go for the lunch. Soon it becomes just a match again. Another chapter in this crazy life.
4.30pm Middle of India
I'm on the train between Bhopal and Gwalior. I don't feel sorry for myself anymore. I have no right to. The chaos at the station I can't begin to describe. I don't hate it, I can smile at it. There is poverty all around me and real life battles that are so much more important than a tennis match. I give a child a banana, an old lady carrying her life a 50 rupee note, the chai man my change. I can't help everyone, but if I can help one person, I must.
I stare out the window and wonder how on earth I got to be here in this moment, on a train for 5hrs in Central India on a Saturday night in March. We fly past Agra and I think how many times I've been to India and that its crazy I've never been to the Taj Mahal. But then the man comes with the train food and I'm handed a samosa wrapped up in newspaper and a thick sweet chai and as I take a bite, he smiles. I think it's not crazy at all. This is India.....
8 matches in 5 days. One week in the life. Perhaps I'll rest tomorrow.