Complete commitment. An unwavering desire to succeed. Conviction in one’s abilities. Recognition to adapt with conditions. Respect for the opposition. The will to fight until the final point has been claimed.

Before I pursued a career in a sport boasting these collective qualities, I was first exposed to this set of admirable virtues by my mother, Cyndy Fitzgerald. Her principles progressed into life lessons, and as the years passed by, I found myself turning to her incredible example while trying to navigate my way in the world of professional tennis.

Growing up, I longed to discover acceptance. A shell of shyness was my comfort zone, and I struggled to feel secure in my skin. In the summer of 2002, my direction changed course when I watched my first Wimbledon—the entire fortnight. I felt this transcendent connection, and picked up a racquet after Lleyton Hewitt, who drew me in from his first point at SW19, raised the trophy. I couldn’t explain it, but at 14, I decided my one and only calling had been uncovered.

A generation earlier, mom embarked on her own unique path of self-discovery. A military brat who moved a dozen times, her roots were embedded in education. The status quo was something she often challenged, most notably when earning a Ph.D. in applied measurement and statistics. At the time, women made up roughly 10 percent of conferred doctorate degrees in STEM fields. Mom’s extraordinary drive and pioneering propelled her, among many highlights, to a decade-plus run at Microsoft and the co-founding of a tech company still thriving today.

While I worked to break into an industry I had zero ties to, mom was in my corner for every opportunity I undertook. There was never a question of my ambition, for she understood first-hand the passion, grinding and effort required for a niche as unique as professional tennis. As I began to find my footing, health developed into mom’s most formidable foe, and it was then that her most invaluable lesson was reinforced: you can wait for the ball to arrive, or you can serve and volley.

For me, that crossroads came when I was presented an opportunity with World TeamTennis in New York City. It was a huge relocation, for I only knew the comforts of Suburgatory living. Mom encouraged me not to worry about her situation and I went for it.

Initially, I was tripped up and overwhelmed with my decision to charge forward, but mom constantly demonstrated over the years that a next-point mentality would benefit me greatly. I grew to appreciate and request additional responsibilities alongside a unit that became a second family, and my commitment to the job at hand ultimately produced a day that forever loops in my mind.

Thanks, mom—the final points have been played but your legacy lives on

Thanks, mom—the final points have been played but your legacy lives on

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Fifteen years after my introduction to Wimbledon, I found myself at the All England Club for a third year running—but this time was different. Mom, who had been diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome for nearly four years by the time July 2017 rolled around, made the trip over to London with a friend. In mom’s specific case, the neurological disorder had severely diminished her mobility and energy levels. I had admittedly tempered my expectations that she would be able to see any of the action around the grounds, and after her arrival, my fears appeared all but confirmed when I received word that she was parked inside the tournament's medical tent.

My supervisors, Ilana Kloss and Billie Jean King, accompanied me to greet her. Having never met either in person until then, mom’s tenacity soon ascended. She stood up, took a short stroll next to Courts 7 and 11 and posed for a few photos. The two then welcomed her inside the Final 8 club, where mom cooled off with a relaxing lunch and an obligatory bowl of strawberries and cream. Thrilled knowing that she had enjoyed a whiff of the Wimbledon experience, with her own one-of-a-kind VIP treatment, I left with Ilana to return to our responsibilities.

An hour later, I received word that mom was not only back up and moving, but had made it to her gangway leading to Centre Court. Always one to put others before herself, mom’s spirit had clearly touched the armed forces on duty. I learned that a group of four helped get mom up the steps and emboldened those in her row to shuffle down so she and her companion could be seated. For a few seconds, I was surprised, and then it hit me—mom had served and volleyed her way onto Centre Court. She was an equal to Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, the two players she saw win that day: a champion fueled by the heart of a warrior.

Over the next three years, health continued to add new layers of challenges for mom to answer. She kept acclimating while I returned to my industry origins—editorial production—by trading in the Big Apple for the City of Angels to join the digital team at Tennis Channel in May 2019. Mom would call to discuss her copies of TENNIS Magazine and always made sure to share her pride in seeing my name in print. The 14-year-old me never imagined writing for the publication. The evolved me wanted to contribute as much as possible.

A month ago, mom enjoyed a highly anticipated landmark when she moved into a new house. Around the same time, a surprise sneak attack had begun to make headway. Mom never stopped swinging, making a big stand to get into her home one last time. She had always been able to claw her way out of any deficit, a valiant quality that was never lost on her two sons, but a short time later, a return to the hospital saw Cyndy’s greatest fans watch her final points unfold. The match mom lost this past Thursday is one none of us can ever win, yet how she played, forged ahead, and fought is the legacy we will remember and carry with us each day.

Even so, I can’t run away from the fact my box of supporters is largely incomplete. I must accept my Grand Slam fortnights will no longer include conversations with someone I revered. I won’t have control of heartache overpowering my desire to contribute towards my team. The next several months will be raw and there’s no scouting report I can lean on for guidance.

I won’t be serving and volleying each day during the US Open, but rest assured, I won’t be sitting out either. If I respect my toughest opponent, grief, and the tests it undoubtedly will present, my mom’s imprint has abundantly prepared me to adapt in this harrowing new environment—for I can hear her reassuring me, next point, Matthew.