The 2011 US Open featured tennis greats like Marty Fish, Roger Fedderer, Andy Roddick, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniaki. This event brings some of fiercest competition in the sport of tennis. Watch the US Open Tennis Championships and you’ll not only see tremendous physical stamina, you will observe spiritual battles. Yes, it is a mental game between two players but look closer and each individual player has their own personal challenges to overcome. Brad Minns once had such a challenge. His account of his tennis match with Jeff Osbourne offers insight into the role God wants to have in your life when life serves you seemingly insurmountable challenges.
“How can I be losing two sets to Love and 0-5 in the third in the best of five sets?” I was asking myself. I had beaten this guy numerous times in training and was pretty confident I would do it again, especially since it was the finals of the 1985 World Games for the Deaf. I had dreamed of this moment and had worked hard at training to prepare myself physically and mentally to win this event. It was my first time competing in the World Games for the Deaf, which is played every four years at various locations around the world. Jeff Osbourne, my opponent, was a fellow American and teammate from Texas who was a collegiate level player with an intimidating serve and volley attacking game. Jeff came out of the gate swinging, and after two hours of slugging it out he was poised to win in three straight sets.
3 TENNIS TIPS AND 3 NEVER-GIVE-UP TIPS
NEVER-GIVE-UP TIP #1 – Tune into pain. It can help you identify muscular gains and warn of potential injury. TENNIS TIP #2 – Take time to tennis. Improvement in anything comes through consistent practice. Budget time weekly. NEVER-GIVE-UP TIP #2 - Make it a time of personal growth and ministry too. TENNIS TIP #3 – Learn from others. Get a trainer or play with someone that has more experience and can give you advice. NEVER-GIVE-UP TIP #3 – Be theologically literate. Arm yourself daily for spiritual challenges by a solid knowledge of the Bible. Get more tennis tips and never-give-up tips from Brad Minns.
For Jeff it seemed the wind was at his back. As for me, however, I had a mountain to climb that was bigger than anything I had ever seen. Over the years I have been down in matches before, but nothing compared to this. Being down two sets to Love and five zip in the third was like sparring for two hours with George Foreman, then having to go back in the ring for a 12 round bout with Mike Tyson. It just seemed impossible to win three straight sets from that point.
In order to get some encouragement during the changeovers, I gazed over to the stands, where my coach and only a handful of spectators were sitting. Just a few minutes earlier there weren’t many seats available because so many people came out to watch, but since the match was a blowout up to that point, many headed for the exits. Who can blame them? I looked over to my coach for some kind of mental boost but since Jeff and I were both on the same team he was reluctant to favor one of us for the other, so there I was alone with a million thoughts racing through my head. Mom, Dad and cousin Mark were supposed to be coming to see me play. Every couple of points I would look up to the top of the hills of Malibu from the Pepperdine University tennis court to check and see if they had arrived yet. Nothing. Later I found out their plane was delayed. That was okay since I figured it wouldn’t be any fun for them to watch their son losing so badly.
One of the important lessons Brad Minns has learned is that winning in life is so much more than a one-time victory. It takes personal discipline in your spiritual life to take the life lessons you learn and help others grow.
Take time to journal experiences that have transformed the way you view life. Consider who you can positively impact and then outline ways you can help them grow stronger. You may never be a tennis star in the U.S. Open but you can give to others.
With no support coming from my coach, spectators in the stands, family, or anywhere else, I decided I try to pray and ask God for some kind of help. At that time, I wasn’t a church going, bible reading Christian, but I did pray to God and ask for help in tough times, so why not now. I pretty much just lifted my head and asked God to help me. I then stopped thinking about the score, put one foot in front of the other and played on one point at a time. I finally managed to get a break in the third set to make it 1-5 and continued to just play tennis the way I always had. My thoughts were not focused on the score but on the point I was playing.
As I continued to press forward one point at a time, I gained momentum and a few games later took the third set to a tiebreaker. Along the way I had fought off match point after match point until I was able to win the third set in a tiebreaker. All those hours spent in the gym began paying off as I escaped with the fourth set as well. I could easily sense my opponent getting physically and mentally tired after having been so close to winning his second consecutive championship. With the score tied 2 sets each and the fourth set just starting, word got out that I had a comeback in the making. The spectators who had left earlier had begun returning and the fans where now rooting for me to win the whole thing! What a difference a few hours make. One minute at the brink of defeat and losing with no support. The next minute closing in on victory and everyone cheering you on!!! The fifth and final set was pretty close going back and forth on serve. With Osbourne's stamina going downhill, I decided to come to the net more since he uncharacteristically started staying back at the baseline. After holding my serve to make it 5-4 in my favor, once again I found myself sitting at the changeovers completely amazed at what had just taken place.
It was one point at a time. A little prayer…help! A look to see if Mom, Dad and Mark had arrived, a look at the stands, and it was back to business. I decided to charge the net after returning his serve. My heart must have been going a hundred miles an hour as it takes a lot more guts to charge the net, especially in the fifth set. I managed to hit a volley deep enough that it couldn’t be returned. We had been through at least 8-10 deuce/add points and now it was once again match point for me. This time I managed to keep my head calm and stay focused on the task of winning one more point for the championship. The serve came to my backhand, which had been a little shaky. I hit it back pretty cleanly. After trading a few tight strokes, Jeff netted a ball. My arms shot up into the air triumphantly! I had won my first Deaf Olympic Championship.
At the time, winning this match seemed like a great accomplishment. However, I have come to realize over the years that it was more than a tennis match. It was a test about life. Over the years, I have replayed this match in my head a thousand times. I’ve used it as encouragement to others who seem at the brink of giving up. It was so much more than winning a match. I learned how to win at life. To stand strong and put one foot in front of the other when the mountain in front of you looks insurmountable. When you cry out to God with all your heart, He hears you. He cares about every aspect of your life, whether it is your marriage, your family, your career, or even a tennis match. He wants to be a part of your life in every way and is just waiting for you to ask.