By P.J. Simmons

Just over two years ago, I had a freak accident at a gym that sidelined me from training. I fell backwards on my wrist and tore the cartilage (my “TFCC”) pretty badly—ironically, while doing tennis-specific agility training when I was traveling. Surgery was an option but with serious long-term drawbacks. So I decided to take the slow route and try to rehab it through physical therapy and time. As I wrote in a long post about 18 months ago, the injury had its blessings. But it ended up taking much longer to come back than I expected when I wrote that post—not just because of the injury, but also because of some mental demons that cropped up in the meantime.

During my first 12 months off court, I stayed pretty upbeat and focused on rehabbing to get back on court. I kept up with my off-court physical training at CourtSense with my amazing trainer Trevor McPherson. But as my stubborn injury resisted full healing, fears and self-doubts started kicking in. Would it ever heal? Even if it does, would my wrist injury just get replaced by another age-related injury? Would my friends have improved so much by the time I got back that would still enjoy playing with me? Was I crazy at my age to be pushing my body to become the solid, athletic 4.5 player I always imagined I could be? Were my tennis goals destined to be elusive, only to distract me from other important things in life?

Suddenly, the tennis court that had always felt like a comforting “home”—a sacred place that always evoked feelings of calm, confidence, and peace regardless of the place—transformed back into the cold, intimidating place it seemed when I was that uncoordinated 15-year old kid desperately wanting to learn but fearful of embarrassing himself.

And so as I sometimes do when things get uncomfortable, I procrastinated. I gave myself multiple excuses to delay my return to training. I started telling myself I was really OK with taking the time off and didn’t really miss it that much. Weeks turned into months. Months turned into a year.

Then towards the end of last summer, after months of persistence, my former doubles partner John finally convinced me to get out and hit with him. Feeling badly for having said no so many times, and knowing I’d truly be in a non-judgmental space, I agreed.

Back on court in December 2017 at Sanchez-Casal in Florida

My strokes started off choppy and tight, my movements were labored, and my heart was racing. But soon, the gorgeous sunny day reminded me of the most important advice I used to give myself when things weren’t going well: to focus on gratitude. I got out of my head and took stock of the fact that I was playing on red clay on the Hudson River (Riverside courts in NYC) on a spectacular summer day, hitting with a great friend I had met through tennis. I reminded myself how lucky I was that my body was healthy enough to allow me to play tennis at all. My breaths became deeper, my body moved more freely, and I began to find more effortless power in my strokes.

Finally, the court felt like home again.

I resolved that day to stop the excuses and get back on my road to 4.5. In August, I started hitting a couple times a week with my trainer Trevor McPherson after our gym sessions to get back in the swing of things. Then in late September, I started working twice a week with a brilliant new coach, Sinisa Markovic—one of the high performance coaches at CourtSense in Bogota NJ. And before I knew it, I started believing once again that my goal of becoming a solid 4.5 player was truly achievable.

(L to R): My coach Sinisa Markovic, trainer Trevor McPherson, and me

Now I head to CourtSense twice a week for an hour of tennis-specific fitness training with Trevor, followed by a short break then 90 minutes of intense on-court work with Sinisa. I train on my own a third day, and have been laser focused on good nutrition. I’ve also made a habit of starting each morning with meditation and flexibility work. And, knock on wood, my wrist is cooperating.

I feel stronger, faster, and calmer on court than I’ve ever felt before. And each week, I feel myself shedding old habits that may have been blocking me from moving closer to my full potential, while picking up new insights and habits that are unlocking new possibilities.

There’s so much more I want to achieve as a player. But more than ever, the process of training and experiencing incremental improvements carries far more importance to me than the destination. Regardless of the results, every minute on court feels like a gift.

I am so, so, so happy and grateful to be back on the road to 4.5. A huge thanks to all of you who’ve continued to share your own experiences and dreams and to encourage me to keep going during my hiatus – really look forward to continuing to stay in touch and trade stories on our journeys in the years ahead!