Bringing Tennis to Cahul — My Story
I came to my hometown Cahul, a relatively large city in the poorest country in Europe, after a post-graduation identity crisis. Having graduated with a Master’s degree in London, I wanted to do something meaningful for the world. I was tired of just consuming, which in my case, was consuming a load of education. I wanted to use whatever skills I had right now to make a difference — right now — rather than wait until the conditions were perfect or until I earned 10 more diplomas. I couldn’t study one more bit of information. For one more second. Studying bored me to tears. I decided that no matter what I do next, I would do it because it makes me happy and because it’s a goal bigger than my own wealth, career, and education. I felt that I needed to do something good for the world and somehow survive while doing it.
I did remember that at one point, long before I was gulped up by the academic system and medical track, I always wanted to be really good at something, even one tiny little thing. I was never great at sport (in fact, I was the clumsy person who got hit on the head with a ball during gym practice), but I thought that it would be so great to play tennis. Tennis attracted me as an individual sport, where a victory becomes all your own, and a defeat is only your own fault. I didn’t want to bring a team down with my lack of skill, nor did I want to share my hard-won glory with a team. I wanted to play a sport where, if I won, I and only I would be the champion. Tennis felt like the perfect sport. And one of the most random things I could do after obtaining a Master’s degree in Neuroimaging. This made me like it even more. As a sport, tennis was so far from the stifling world of academia. Tennis required single-mindedness, laser focus, strategising, and physical prowess. So different from anything I’d done before as a student.
I never really played tennis before, except hitting a few balls with my dad as a kid. I never trained as an athlete. I had no formal coaching. I didn’t play tennis in school or in college or in university. But I really wanted to — I just felt like I didn’t have the time back then. I felt guilty for every moment that I was not studying.
So after graduating in August, I really felt like I could finally commit my whole time to this one thing — this one sport, and that perhaps, I could become really good at it.
My boyfriend’s help and support was critical in accomplishing this. He took me to the courts every time I was in the mood, which was every day, even when my muscles were sore and I was tired from the previous days. He played with me and found out all the information related to tennis in London. And in the UK. And in the world. We went to tennis socials, tennis drop-ins, tennis meet-ups, tennis tournaments. We enrolled in the local tennis league and started playing matches with other local beginners. We signed up for private coaching. Earlier in the year, we went to the ATP Finals in London and the Wimbledon Championships. We saw Andy Murray play on centre court after my boyfriend stood in the queue for four hours to get tickets (all the while eating strawberries and cream). We found the National Tennis Centre, the hub for all of British Tennis, in Roehampton, and watched a women’s ITF Pro Circuit Tour there. We completed a Competition Organisers course with British Tennis and started working towards improving our national ratings. We subscribed to a dedicated tennis channel and watched all the international tournaments happening at the time. We realised that if you want tennis, you can get more tennis than you could ever possibly devour. It never ends. At least three major international tournaments are happening right now, and a countless number of smaller ones. The players just keep playing. Every. Single. Day.
I came to Cahul after being fully immersed in the world of tennis. I wanted to continue practicing in Cahul, but quickly realised that there are no tennis courts in the city. The closest ones I knew of were in Chișinău, Galați, and Bucharest. Likewise, few people in the city had ever played tennis, so even if there were tennis courts, I wouldn’t have anyone to play with.
The ambition of my project Tennis Cahul became to form, as a first step, a group of people who are interested in playing the sport. I also sought to find and speak to the people who would be the most knowledgeable and supportive of tennis in Cahul.
I personally spoke with at least 40 people — directors of sports complexes, funding representatives, PE teachers, fitness gyms, fitness classes, colleges, and the mayor. Doing these rounds across the city, I found tennis enthusiasts in the most unexpected places. At the local newspaper office. At a human trafficking exhibit. In a carpenter’s shop. I met Peace Corps volunteers and Fulbright Fellows and other really amazing people in the local community. I didn’t even know these people existed in the city previously. I probably would have never met them if I didn’t have this single project in mind. Everything I did seemed like a step in the right direction and brought out more interesting information. I felt like an investigator, discovering the inner workings of sport and people in the city. I also got really tired at times, especially after hearing negative comments from negative people about the idea. But even though I got tired, I never lost my energy or enthusiasm for the project. I always kept thinking up ideas and future directions for the group.
I hope that you will join me on this journey, as it certainly does not end here. The quest to bring tennis to Cahul is only beginning. There are currently no tennis facilities open to the public in the city, as far as my research shows. There is, consequently, limited tennis equipment available for sale in the city. The few rackets and balls that I could find in one store were not on par with what I would recommend playing with. A lot of work remains to be done to make tennis possible in Cahul, but as long as people are interested and supportive, I am very happy to continue this project. Let’s get more people playing this amazing sport!