You start watching a match. You know who's the overwhelming favourite, and you hope for that tiny chance of an upset, but you don't really believe it could happen. And you're OK with that, you've prepared yourself for a loss, and you just want whoever you're cheering for to go out there and not completely embarrass themselves, maybe get a set if they can manage it.
The opponent wins the first set, and it all goes 'according to plan'. "Ah well, maybe some other time". You're calm. Why wouldn't you be? It's the expected result. It's what everybody predicted. There are no surprises today.
Then, something changes. A good game, a break, maybe a set. "Is it possible? Maybe, after all?" Naaah, it never goes that way, you tell yourself. There's no point in hoping, you'll just get disappointed afterwards. "But..." No, there are no 'buts' here.
And the match goes on, and you're still not expecting a win, but against all reason, you're hoping. The longer the match goes, you start hoping more and more, and break points are saved and games are won and you still don't believe it, but maybe you do. Just a bit. Just a lot.
It's too late now, you're way too invested, and you can see the finish line, can imagine what happens when your rooting interest crosses it. "It will be so good! Everybody will talk about it!" You try to calm yourself down, but what's the point?
They take a lead, and you tense up, your emotions are already overflowing, the taste of victory there on your tongue, and if they just take that break point, or keep that tiebreak lead, and maybe serve a couple of aces...
But they don't. And the opponents don't double fault, either. Nor do they hit every ball into the net, as you've already magically seen them do in that not-so-deep corner of your mind. By now you're evoking every superstition you've ever had, you promise to do countless things if only this one result goes your way, you're begging your TV to cooperate, you just want it so much!
So bloody what. The chance is gone, the advantage disappears, and it might not be over yet, but you already feel like it is - but maybe something can still happen? You know it won't, and yet you keep willing that ball to do what you so desperately want, because who knows, right?
Wrong. It's match point already, it's the wrong match point, and they're not done yet, and maybe somehow...?
And then it's really over. You refuse to believe it, but what else can you do? You knew it would happen, everybody had known it would happen, so why does it hurt so much?
In tennis, it's the hope that kills you.
Dedicated to Nicolas Mahut's Roland Garros 2013 doubles final loss.