Federer? Nadal? Serena? Nah. I’m more of a Gerulaitis kind of guy. You don’t know Gerulaitis? Neither did I until Courtney told me about him (by way of her dad, who loves sports and has an uncanny knack for trivia). You should know Vitas Gerulaitis, though. I bet you’re more like him, too.
Vitas Gerulaitis ascended the ranks of the tennis world—all the way to a world ranking of #3. He wasn’t the greatest; he wasn’t the worst. He even won the Australian Open. But man, did he stink when he played Jimmy Connors. Gerulaitis could not beat Connors. Time and time again he would play him, and time and time again, he would lose. How many times did he lose to Connors? Ten would be a lot, but it was more. Twelve is more, but twelve is still too few.
Sixteen. Connors bested Gerulaitis sixteen times in a row. To be honest, I don’t know why our friend Vitas would keep trying. Sixteen is a lot. A spectacle. It probably even got laughable. “Oh, Gerulaitis v. Connors? Let’s go get some food. When we get back, they’ll be on to the next match and we can pay attention again.”
But seventeen. Lucky number seventeen. Seventeen changed it all. Nobody could hold Vitas down seventeen times, could they? Nope. It didn’t seem so. And there it was, in January 1980 playing in an ATP tournament. Vitas got the best of Connors. And how did he celebrate? With one of the most memorable tennis quotes of all time:
Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row.
Known for his sense of humor, Gerulaitis even handled a 1-16 record with a healthy perspective.
That’s the perspective I want when it comes to my growth in Christ. I think many Christians today want to be the champion of sin-conquering and get angry that they aren’t. When they come at the same sin for the twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, even fifteenth time, and they lose the battle, they want to give up.
But what about the seventeenth? What about that final time? Everyone else has given up; they’ve moved on.
“You’ve given up on growing. If only you loved Jesus a little more.”
“I’m fighting. I’m battling. I’m in it.”
“Come on. Stop trying.”
“I’m not great at this, but I’m not stopping.”
“Throw in the towel.”
You know that you aren’t perfect. Others around you seem to solve all of their problems with ease. That hasn’t been the same with you. You have some good days—really good days—but you also have some nagging things that just don’t seem to leave and you wish they would. You don’t even seem to have one victory against them. No one likes an 0-fer.
But he who is in you is greater (1 Jn 4:4). You forget—a lot. I forget it—more often than you. But it’s true. Keep fighting. Keep the perspective.
I’m the Gerulaitis of conquering sin. Who are you?
(Note: Unfortunately, Vitas died at a young age due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Read his obituary to learn more about him—and again read his famous quote.)