You have to fight like your life depends on it

It is said that if you want to achieve something, anything, no matter what it may be, you have to fight like your life depends on it and even then, sometimes, you have to gracefully accept defeat and learn from your mistakes.

But there are times when your tenacity and determination are deadly weapons that can accomplish miracles and it is the best feeling in the world to have achieved your biggest objective of all times, a victory in sports you never thought you’d be capable of, a victory that has been fought for and is much deserved.

I, myself have had such an experience. My Name is Nils Klermund, I am 20 years old. My ultimate dream is to become a professional tennis player. This story takes place in the capital of Austria in Vienna where a 15-year-old Nils Klermund entered one of the biggest tournaments in Vienna on the 22 of October: the Erste BankOpen Juniors.

It was a big deal then with a draw of 128 players, which automatically made it the biggest tournament of the year. The night before the tournament started, I looked at the draw, I was in the quails, I needed to win 7 matches to win the tournament. But at that moment, I was just focusing on trying to win my first match. On a beautiful Saturday morning at 11:00 am the battle began and after two tight sets, I won my first match in the qualifications. I had fought hard and was really happy with this first victory. On the next day, Sunday, I came up against a 14-year-old boy who had won another tournament the week before; yet with all the confidence I had gained from my first match on the previous day, I swept him aside in two sets. Monday was the day of the first round and I took to the magnificent hard courts of one of the biggest clubs in Vienna at 4:00 pm. It took all I had to win that match but after 2 hours and 45 minutes of battle, I finally claimed the win. At that point, I had fought like a champion and had shown that maybe there was hope for me to go all the way to the finals.

On a late rainy Tuesday afternoon, I faced an opponent I had lost to every single time I had played him. Like, two gladiators, we stepped in the arena (a clay court at the centre of the club) and we started warming up. It was then, that a thought ran into my head such as what would I do if I lost now when there was a shimmer of hope I could win this tournament. Before the match started I sat down on the bench and swore to myself that I would fight with everything I had got in me at this very moment, until the end of the match. The match went on for a long time and the longer the match went on, the more positive my attitude became. After exactly two hours of long rallies and intense tennis, I finally shook my adversary’s hand and ran out through the gates that sealed the courts with the biggest smile I have ever seen myself with. I was into the quarterfinals on Wednesday, and I couldn’t have been in a better mood, which is why, the moment I stepped on the court that day, I was so filled up with confidence, that I literally brushed my enemy aside on the late afternoon of what had been a beautiful day. Again, for the first time in my life, I was in the semifinals of a tennis tournament. It meant the world to me. My next match was on Thursday at 13:00 pm. It was a windy afternoon on the clay courts. I was pretty nervous, but at that same time I knew that nobody wanted this more than me, so I stepped onto the court full of myself, ready to play against the 5th seed of the tournament. After 1 hour and thirty minutes of play, I won the match in straight sets and as I shook his hand I couldn’t believe what I had just achieved. I had made it all the way to the final and was now facing Daniel Riel a young star who had come from the qualification and was as desperate to leave his mark on this tournament. He had a very powerful game, which led him to play in such an aggressive way, that he would systematically destroy his opponents. As coincidence would have it, we were training partners at the same club in Austria, which made it even harder as he was also a good friend. This match would prove as life-changing for me as it would for him. The final was to be played on Saturday at 11:00am inside. I woke up at 6:00am on the Saturday of the final (the final was to be played in one of the biggest halls at the very center of  Vienna, called the Stadthalle. I would be playing in front of 400 people. During the drive to the Stadthalle, my thoughts spiralled in a negative way. As I was walking to the courts to warm up physically, I was already sweating and scared of losing the most important match of my young career, I just couldn’t seem to get my mind and concentration in the right place. Determination and focus were quickly replaced with fear of losing and a fatigue that I had not felt all week.

The Match started. After 10 minutes, I looked towards the scoreboard, it was 4:0 for my opponent. I had not succeeded in scoring even one game. The next game lasted about 55 seconds and all of a sudden he was up at 5:0, hitting winners one after the other, strong and merciless. He was on his way to winning the shortest final ever played. I finally managed to put myself on the scoreboard but I still had a long way to go. After 17 minutes of play I was 6:1 down and Daniel was one set away from a win that he was longing for and would never forget. When I stood up to serve for the first game in the second set, I turned my head and saw my dad, my coach and a lot of the players including my opponents in the previous rounds who, I could have sworn, seemed to be wondering how they could possibly have lost to me. I lost the first three games in 5 minutes: the score was 3:0 for Daniel. He was just unbeatable. I was taking too many punches with no end in sight. My frustration was clearly showing and I felt disappointed and utterly unable to bring myself back up.

Suddenly I found myself a set and 4:0 down, and I thought to myself that I had nothing left to lose. There it was, my turning point. I started playing like my life depended on it, running for every ball, hitting back with determination and precision, as if each shot would be my last. I was focused and started to think positively. I had come out of this black hole and I knew I was back in the game. I was winning game after game and started to give him a taste of his own medicine. At 4:4 Daniel started to get frustrated and was having trouble getting any balls past me. I ended up winning the set and the crowd roared their appreciation and support. They were in the match as much as I and it was getting interesting and positively gripping. I was in the zone and nobody could take that away from me. I returned the favour by winning the third set in 17 minutes 6:1. In the end, I dropped to my knees and put my arms in the air. This had been a hell of a ride and was a dream come true. Daniel and I shook hands at the net and I left the court an overwhelmed champion, ready for my next tennis challenge…

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