My younger sister Sadie is a college tennis player currently studying abroad in Spain, so I asked her about how living there had affected her tennis practice routine. What she found through tennis is that home isn’t so far away after all …
Two years ago when I was making my college decision, it was important to me to find a school that would allow me to play tennis and study abroad. Now, as a member of the Middlebury College women’s tennis team, I am lucky enough to be spending the semester in Madrid, Spain. Fortunately, I also have two of my teammates with me in this strange, new city — helping me carry practice habits across continents and allowing me to train alongside familiar faces.
There are certainly challenges that come with maintaining my game while living abroad. For one, there is the issue of court distance. Madrid is a very dense city, housing nearly 3 million people, so all the tennis courts are located outside of it. My two teammates and I couldn’t find public facilities in the metro area where we could meet and workout — only private clubs nearly an hour train ride away. Even there, court space is not always guaranteed and usually comes at a high price.
The three of us attend a public university outside of the city, so we decided to play at our two available campus courts, which often requires waiting our turn because reservations can only be made the day of. That first practice we also forgot to bring tennis balls. At Middlebury practices, the balls are always provided for us, new and bouncy, but here, there were none. The leisures of court space and free tennis balls were ones we had taken for granted.
Our first workout, the gym monitor gave us two balls she picked out of a cardboard box and asked that we return them when we finished so that the next group could use them. After one shot, I questioned just how many different groups she had requested do that. In lieu of using the flat balls, we asked a man watching us if we could borrow some from the basket of yellow balls he had beside him, but he looked at us strangely and said we wouldn’t want his. It was our first week in Madrid and our Spanish was a little rough, so we didn’t entirely understand his reasoning and insisted that they would work. He shrugged and gave us a few. After yet another short point we realized that they were for not for tennis, but rather for paddle, a popular racket sport in Spain.
Despite the minor inconveniences that we have faced, playing tennis with my teammates during this journey abroad has been an unbelievably refreshing piece of familiarity in a vastly different culture. In my first month, I experienced a lot of change: speaking Spanish at all times, cooking for myself every day in a crowded apartment of 10, living in a city with unfamiliar metro stops and neighborhoods, and no longer going to practice every day — a part of my daily routine since I was 10 years old. Even if the wait to play is long and it’s strange to hear the score being called in Spanish next to me, the tennis court is a place where I will always feel at home. I am grateful that my college tennis program allows me the opportunity to sacrifice a semester of training for a semester of travel and new experiences. But now that I am in Madrid, I also feel lucky to have my teammates and my tennis rackets because the feeling I have while playing is truly an unmatched comfort. Pun intended.