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Hitting Handball Walls with Michelle Li

Forever curious about the underlying dynamics that permeates our personal interconnection with tennis, we asked New York-based writer and stylist, Michelle Li, about her relation to tennis and how it has changed throughout her life, from growing up in Indiana to living in New York City.

"Growing up in Indiana, I was terrible at tennis. Especially when compared to my older brother who was an instant natural. I was playing in the consolation bracket and sat comfortably at the bottom of our ranking list every summer at tennis camp. Tennis is a reactive sport where you can tune into the opponent’s energy, forever trying to anticipate what their next move is."

"But Sunday nights were for hitting on the ball mission; an hour of predictable shots where the ball goes to the same place over and over again. It repositioned tennis as a meditative sport where I could zone out and discover my relationship to the sport without all the noise of others. I’ve always enjoyed those moments of solitude that allowed me to find peace within tennis."

"Indiana was a place with land so flat that tennis court were in every neighborhood, so moving to New York City where ball machines ran you a steep $100 an hour with the added essential of having to wake up at 6am to reserve a court for a week later was a hard adjustment. I tried finding my pace in running, boxing and rowing but forever found myself missing the meditation of playing tennis against no one else than myself."

"And so, I started scouting the various handball courts around the city, setting myself up for “me versus me time”. Through trying a variety of courts around the city, I learned that the handball courts of New York City serve as an open space for everyone. They’re obviously for the vivacious groups of handball players (who will make comments on my forehands), but also for the neighborhood cookouts, the lacrosse guys, the dogs who have the zoomies (and will steal the tennis ball when I’m not paying attention), dodgeball teams (who are always inviting me to join them, not because they want me to play, but because they want me to move), pickleballers and court-less tennis players."

"I’ve found my place amongst all of them and my rhythm with the handball wall as well; a rhythm in which your feelings can cut through the noise and be reflected back onto you; in a place where you can hit against the wall as hard as you want, but it’s only going to come back harder at you."

Michelle Li is a stylist and writer, living in New York City. Click here to follow her.

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