Tennis and Tarot: Thoughts on the Champion’s Spirit

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It’s 6:30AM Wednesday morning. My half open eyes scroll through my twitter feed. “Nadal Beats Thiem in Marathon Five-Set Thriller,” “Another Epic Battle,” “Absolute Classic.” For close to five and half hours in severe heat and humidity, two gladiators with racquet and ball battled each other and themselves. In tennis someone wins and someone loses. That’s the game. However, this year’s US Open tennis tournament has a third player, a somewhat unwelcome guest at the table, namely the weather.

Record breaking temperatures reaching the hundreds on court with ultra-humid conditions have called for a variety of new rules encompassing an “extreme heat policy”—breaks between sets where players are ushered off court to rooms where they strip and jump into ice baths, ball kids rushing on court between sets to towel down pools of sweat where the players have stood in their hour long battles. Players, drenched to the bone, shouldering kit bags as they wander off court between games where they are allotted 90 seconds to change into dry outfits only to be soaked to the bone on their way back to the court to resume play. Commentators discuss ratios between games won in the shade as opposed to games won in the sun. But everyone knows that even when the sun goes down the heat and humidity remain the most stubborn of opponents.

And we, the spectators, what are we to take from watching these men and women battle in these severe conditions? I, myself, don’t see any semblance of the game I love. This is beyond the beautiful stroke-making, balletic moves, strategic chess moves played with racquet and ball. This is a battle against the elements. One player observes that it was “hard to get air.” Another complains about the pools of sweat creating hazardous slippery conditions. Zombie eyes, lumbering limbs, laboring breath, only the fittest survive. But what is this fitness? How do these athletes train for a steamy New York Indian summer? And is it purely physical? Is there a mental element?

What is it that drives these players to battle with such tenacity and perseverance under these ultimate conditions? Is there a switch that anesthetizes the body, mind and spirit against the agony of extreme weather? Some have described it as “a fire in the belly.” These special beings have passion, drive, they fight for each point and never give up. I would say this is the description of the tarot suit of wands. Fire, passion, action. They go into the fire and thrill at the agony with one burning intention—to win the match. At the end there’s the warrior’s embrace and then the victor’s outstretched arms defying the heavenly elements as if to say, “Even you I have conquered! Even you!” 

As we gear up for championship weekend where the women and men will be battling for titles, I think it’s more than appropriate to suggest that for this year’s US OPEN the tarot card most resembling the champion will be the Nine of Wands so emblematic of the great battles we are witnessing each day and night. Who will be the last man and last woman standing?