Tennis and Journalism Don't Seem To Have A Lot In Common


I was sixteen and at John’s Island Club in Vero Beach, Florida waiting for Serena Williams to finish eating dinner. Seated on the couch across from me was a tired police officer.

Twenty minutes earlier, I explained to him that Serena Williams was my favorite tennis player and that I had a note that I needed to give her. He told me he’d see what he could do.

I was there because my coach told me that Serena would be this year’s special guest for Mardy Fish’s annual charity exhibition. He encouraged me to ask her to play tennis. He said she could be a good mentor. I was skeptical of either happening but I wrote and rewrote my note inviting her to my tennis club.  

After getting to know that tired police officer fairly well, which is to say, after a long time, the door to the room where Serena was started to open. Tired police officer and I both stood up. He approached the door as Serena and her entourage exited. All I heard from his and her exchange was Serena saying, “Yes, of course.” She hugged me and we took a picture. I handed her my note and asked her to play tennis with me. Her shrug said “why not?” and she told me she’d hit with me after the exhibition match that night.

The match ended early because of rain. I found my way back to that door knowing she’d be there. I asked her to reschedule. She said no because she had to head back to Palm Beach that night. I asked her if I could come to practice. She said I probably wouldn’t want to wake up that early. I told her I did. She did her “why not?” shrug again and asked me if my contact information was in my note. I told her it was and she said she’d call me with directions in the morning. Before leaving she said, “You’re a go-getter. I like that.”

How it felt to be greeted by Richard Williams early that Sunday morning and how it felt to watch her practice and how it felt to hit with her afterwards are experiences I’ll save for another piece. But they are experiences that happened because I had a mentor, my coach, who encouraged me to do what I was nervous to do. He taught me to be resourceful. I couldn’t afford to play tournaments every weekend or to have a lesson every day like some of my peers, so why not get coached by Serena herself, even if only for a couple of hours?


When looking at my entire tennis “career,” this particular experience, one that came to be out of mentorship and resourcefulness, is not unusual. This is because I started playing tennis at age 12. This is late in the tennis world. For instance, the majority of my teammates at Amherst College started playing tennis between the ages of four and seven. So, I had to play catch up starting the first day I stepped onto a court.

Without mentors who encouraged me, without my finding walls to practice on, without my cleaning garages to make money for tournament entry fees, without my biking four miles to and from my club to coach tennis to make money for lessons, I wouldn’t have made it to playing on a college tennis team. I know that for a fact.


So when I decided that I wanted to become a writer, I looked for mentors. Thankfully, the Amherst College alumni directory is full of people who are writers and publishers. I soon found a mentor who had been a writer and editor at several publications. He encouraged me to confidently do what I was nervous to do: contact my favorite writers and ask them about their trajectory – learn from them. Without my mentor’s support, I wouldn’t have conducted over forty informational interviews during my senior spring. I learned invaluable information about talking to strangers and what to expect in an entry level position in journalism. Had I decided to sit back and wait for an opportunity, I wouldn’t have landed my summer internship at Quartz and my current job at The Atlantic.

Serena was right, I am a go-getter. 


Lola Fadulu is a David Rosenbaum Reporting Fellow at The New York Times. Connect with her via LinkedIn and check out more of her writing here.