Written by: Conor Casey


***Conor Casey is Canadian Tennis analyst and coach for ‘The Tennis Channel’.***


Tenemesis: One’s tennis rival.  AKA a tennis nemesis.

“It’s not what you know it’s who you know.”  We have all heard this cliché and as much as it possesses some truth, it not the case in tennis.  Rather, in tennis, you can tell the most about yourself by “who wants to beat you”.  What matters is who is against you. Ultimately in tennis the quality of your nemesis says the most about you as a player.  Through out the ages, nemeses have been present in all walks of life, and tennis is no exception.  Sampras and Agassi, Graf and Seles, Federer and Nadal.  Classic rivalries outside of tennis include the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings, Ohio State and Michigan, Donald Trumph and Mark Cuban, and the list goes on.  If Pete Sampras is your rival this means he trains and aspires to beat you and thus you’re probably pretty damn good. On the other hand, if you find yourself trading sets with “that weird guy” with the high pitched grunt and two hands on both sides, than, he could potentially be your rival; the Detroit Red Wings to your Maple Leafs.  Every tennis player needs a nemesis, or rather, a tenemesis.  The relentless urge to triumph over someone in your immediate surroundings makes your tennis exciting as beating them is the perfect short term goal.  Here are a few signs to help point out who your tenemesis is.

Your tenemesis

Your tenemesis is someone you see too much and yet not enough.  You practice with her.  You maybe do fitness with her.  You probably even hang out and pretend you are friends.  She is arguably better than you, but you would swear on your life that she is the same level or worse.  Part of you kind of likes your tenemesis, and the other part wants to slap her.  Nevertheless, you seem happy to eat lunch together after a long match, and if you won, you’re probably buying.  At the end of the day you get a great practice when you play because you both perform at a similar level, and would both rather die than lose to each other.

Recognizing your tenemesis

  • Your tenemesis is not your enemy; you like her even though you despise her.  Possibly in the past you played a long tough match that ended with the decision to play on a regular basis.  You, personally, think her game is “cheap” and not as nice as yours.  You’re certain you’re better than her, but others would say you’re about the same level.  This upsets you.
  • You have both lost to the same really good player.  One thing you have in common is you’re both currently at the same level competitively.  You have similar rankings and tend to lose to the same people and beat the same people.  Most importantly you have both lost to the same someone who is ranked better than both of you, but not by much.  This mutuality allows you to share a common goal which is who can beat that someone first.  Whoever overcomes this hurdle first can say that she is improving at a faster level and, therefore, moving up the tennis ladder.
  • You didn’t necessarily meet and fall in love.  Chances are your first encounter or early in your relationship there was a fight.  Whether it was bad line calls that lead to name calling, or even a possible ‘throw down’ on the changeover, you and your tenemesis have had words.  But this isn’t a bad thing as many great relationships stem from confrontation at first site.  It shows that you are both passionate about the same goal, and that you obviously have a tough time beating each other.
  • If your tenemesis won a tournament that you were in, but didn’t beat you, you secretly feel that you would have won the tournament had you had her draw. You feel that you should always beat her if you play well and you’re always happy if your doing better.  If she wins a tournament and you don’t, this drives you crazy. Although you do offer your congratulations, you are now motivated by the fact that she won something that could’ve, and should’ve, been yours.
  • If someone insults her you more than likely will stick up for her. After all, you have so much trouble with your tenemesis that directly insulting her is indirectly insulting you.
  • You possess contrasting game styles.  You may be very different mentally, tactically and technically, but you nevertheless, are of equal level.  You might serve and volley and she might only come to the net to shake hands.  This contrast always makes for interesting battles.

Benefits of having a tenemesis

  • Allows you to live “in the moment”.  As a tennis player it is dangerous to think too far ahead yet essential to set long term goals. Thus, in order to reach these long term goals you set short term goals and play connect the dots.  When you face your tenemesis you truly live point to point.  You may have goals to play college tennis in Florida and then play on the tour, but before you do any of that, you’re going to kick her butt right now.
  • Playing together improves the parts of your game that need improving.  Generally she will have parts of the game that you don’t have.  As mentioned if you serve and volley than a strong baseliner with good passing shots is your perfect tenemesis.  Practice together will only help your game.
  • You get better simulation of pressure situations in practice. You don’t want to lose to your tenemesis in “Connect 4” let alone a practice set.  On one hand it’s OK to lose because you may be working on aspects of your game, but on the other hand, it’s her and you don’t want to see that obnoxious grin she flashes every time she squeak past you.
  • Your relationship provides a means to evaluate your improvement. As you get better at tennis your ultimate goal is to surpass your tenemesis and find a new one.  As you rise through the ranks new rivalries will be established.  Therefore, you’re only as good as your tenemesis until you are beating her routinely and have developed a new one.
  • Her existence keeps you motivated and fuels your fire to improve.  You want to win and in doing so you want to beat her.  The last thing you want is for your tenemesis to be training harder than you.  The idea that she and other rivals are out there running and working hard pushes you to train even harder.  Nightmares of her train while you watch TV are common.

Still unsure of whom your tenemesis is?  If so you need to play more tournaments and spend more time playing people at your club rather than taking so many lessons.  In fact, the first tight match you have is a potential tenemesis.  If it is a tough 3 set battle or even a long two set joust, exchange phone numbers and practice with each other.  Not only will this result in great practice and a new “friendship”, it will also help you learn more about her strengths and weaknesses.

In conclusion, the development of a nemesis can also be helpful in other parts of life.  Whether it is someone you strive to be fitter than or even someone you want to beat in cards, it is always healthy to be part of a rivalry.  Therefore, this season it is to your benefit to “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”.

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