For Garry Valk and his daughter Alli, navigating the choppy waters of the tennis world is all about the process.
In part 2 of my interview with Garry, we left off talking about cheating, which bummed both of us out.
KC: There’s a lot of negativity in tennis, holy cow. I had no idea. What about the positives? Why does Alli keep going?
GV: The negatives might be easier to talk about because they’re more interesting, but tennis is a beautiful, encouraging and demanding game. Each day is about you, the highs can be so high as long as you manage the lows. Every day could be like hitting a hole in one in golf or scoring a hat trick. It’s addictive.
KC: How about the specifics of the game itself. In hockey, we know all too well the feeling of gliding out onto a blank sheet of ice ready for us to paint a picture. What’s that like in tennis? What's tennis's equal?
GV: It starts as you get outdoors with that incredible feeling of cracking a brand new can of balls. It’s impossible to get bored because there are so many different shots and aspects of the game.
KC: How many different shots are there?
GV: There’s probably 50. How do handle a high ball, a low ball, off-pace shots, rocket shots. How do you handle offense? How do you handle defense? It’s exciting because there are that many and you have to do it every single day, there’s no teammates to help out normally, it's usually an individual sport. Even when you're playing doubles, you have to take care of what you can control.
KC: I’ve heard that tennis is more dangerous than hockey. Tell me that’s not true, Garry.
GV: There are a ton of injuries. Alli’s broken her foot twice, her rotator cuff was torn, she slammed her face on the court and she had a concussion all before she was 14.
KC: Wow. Is this a normal part of the game?
GV: Yep. So Alli broke her foot and she sat in a chair and hit balls for a month. Focussing on the specifics of a particular shot. If you have a sore wrist then you play left handed.
KC: So you have to deal with injuries and you can’t quit. And people think hockey players are tough.
GV: If someone in pro tennis takes three months off then they fall behind. Nadal could take time off because he’s a lefty which helps because it's a different ball that people don’t see a lot. 10 percent of players are lefties. There’s a different spin.
The point is that every day is a new day, a new opportunity to improve. This is why the game is so addictive, you improve yourself as a human being as you improve your game as a tennis player. The forehand you worked on for an hour, now it’s the time to test it, today’s the day to test it because there are months in between tournaments.
KC: Is that how success is defined then, in tennis? If you’re only competing in tournaments every once in awhile, how do you get that thirst for victory?
GV: We really enjoy the wins, you can really celebrate when you do win. Alli’s come so far, she just had a tournament against kids from all over the world and her and her partner won the tournament. She’s starting to get noticed.
KC: Do you just try to step back and look at the win for what it is, or do you get caught up in the moment?
GV: I think it’s ok to be too high in tennis after a win because they’re so few and far between. Alli will write down after every tournament what she needs to get better at so she’s not forgetting the areas you need to improve…
KC: So you’re constantly building on yourself.
GV: You have to. Allli is gone 3 months of the year. She has friends that moved out at 14. Travelling to Florida, Peutro Rico. By yourself. At 12 years old, she was gone for a month and a half switching airplanes and trying not to get lost. Palm Desert, dealing with 115 degree weather and training 5 hours a day. Lost her passport.
KC: And if you’re not in the mindset, 'I need to be better all the time', dealing with a game that puts such huge demands on a teenager…
GV: Very difficult. You need to be strong.
KC: Why is tennis so important to Alli and your family?
GV: We found a sport that works. We tried soccer, tried hockey, tried swimming. Tried everything the north shore has to offer. Dance, gymnastics. And we’re so ecstatic she’s found a sport she loves, a sport she lives every day. She can go to college, she can take tennis anywhere around the world if she wants to. It’s a life sport. For a parent, she’s 16 and busy. She’s up at six, bed at ten, it’s tennis and school.
KC: What more do you want, right?
GV: That’s what my wife and I are most proud about, we all live and breathe the game.