The day was June 29, 1985; 29 years ago Sunday.
It was my first match ever in the Wimbledon Championships. What a magical moment. This was something I had dreamed about since I struck my first tennis ball at 9 years old. This was why I had trained so hard for all of those years. There enjoying the moment with me were my mom and my sister Barbara. They were sharing my first very first Wimbledon with me.
I was playing with Camille Benjamin from Bakersfield, California, a tall lefty who had made it to the semifinals of the French Open singles the year before. We had played a few tournaments together before Wimbledon and had some successful events.
Camille and I drew tough first-round opponents, however, in Pam Casale and Peanut Louie, both top-20 players in the world. I was around No. 100 in the world, so I knew I had my work cut out for me. Camille was in the top 50. She could hold her own.
Our first-round match was originally scheduled for Thursday, June 27. I was hoping we had been scheduled two days later, which was my moms birthday. The rains came and washed away two days of play, but I didnt mind because now I could play my match on my moms birthday. The weather forecast called for clear skies for June 29. Maybe I could win it for her on her day.
OK, the rain is gone. We can finally play.
Miss Kaplan, Miss Benjamin, please report to Court 15, said the voice over the loud speaker in the locker room.
Was I nervous? You bet I was. I grabbed my gear and set out for the court. I could literally feel my legs shaking as I walked to the court. Upon arriving, I took note of where my mom and sister were sitting, although I would keep my eyes on the court during the match. I just wanted to know where they were.
We warmed up for the customary five minutes and then started the match. We lost the first game. No big deal. Then 2-0, 3-0, 4-0. Next thing we know, were down 6-0, 1-0. Then it became, OK, lets just get a game. I cant lose my first Wimbledon match 6-0, 6-0.
Finally, we won a game to even the second set at 1. All I could think of was that everyone had now won a game at Wimbledon. We then settled down and were able to pull out the second set in a tiebreaker. We took the third set 6-4 to win the match. Instead of making the usual move to the net to shake hands, I had a more important matter to take care of first. I turned to my mom and said happy birthday. In all of the joy of winning my first match at Wimbledon, that was all I cared about.
I went on to play Wimbledon four more times. I got to the round of 16 in mixed doubles one year, played Chris Evert my last year (her last Wimbledon, as well) and had several more special moments. But none were as special as that first win when my mom was there to share it with me. She was and is such an important part of my life and my tennis. I never would have even been there without her support.
She sacrificed so much of her time taking me to tournaments and lessons so I could get to that day. So, on this day, I always reflect back to that magical moment. Happy birthday, Mom.
Postscript: My final match at Wimbledon was July 5, 1989. I was playing Catherine Suire from France on Court 16, right next door to the court where I played my first Wimbledon match. Catherine was ahead 6-2, 5-1 when I turned wrong on my knee. I went down and knew that was the last time Id play there. I knew my career was over. I already had one major and one minor knee surgery and knew this was the big one. I came home, had surgery and rehabilitated my knee in hopes of returning to the tour. Physically, I could have gone back. But mentally, I was home in Macon and ready to embark on life after the tour.
Reflecting back, I wish I could have played more Wimbledons. But it wasnt meant to be. I cherish the times I did play there and know how fortunate I am to have experienced such an awesome tournament five times.
Jaime Kaplan is the tennis coach at Stratford