Tennis Star Cliff Richey Speaks Out on Tennis, Depression and Christian Faith

Jul 02 2010

Tennis star Cliff Richey -- the number one ranked professional tennis player in the United States in 1970 who won 45 tournament titles over a 26-year career -- sees tennis having a "resurgence" in the next five years, rebounding from loss of television profile relative to the PGA golf tour.

He attributed decline to lack of investment in promotion by the USTA. The sport has improved because of technological advances in equipment, better training and stronger athletes -- but "serving is still not as good as it could be" and "not a lot of strategy" is being played.

Richey's prediction came during a talk at the annual convention of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

"I know two things. I know tennis. I know depression." Richey said, discussing his recent book, Acing Depression: A Tennis Champion's Toughest Match.

He had "addictive highs" while improving his tennis skills, he said, but "When you reach highs, you always come down."

During his worst depression in the 1990s, Richey was immobilized; he covered his windows with black trash bags, couldn't sleep, and couldn't drive a car. He credits his recovery to a "three-legged stool" of medication, cognitive therapy and a healthy lifestyle.

"Losses and stress" trigger depression, including those affecting the competitiveness of athletes. "If I lost a stroke or a swing it was almost traumatic," he said. Financial or family issues also are triggers.

He outlined a "tool kit" for fighting depressive episodes: accept the "gray zone" in which "a mediocre day is okay"; accept "default" days and simply say "It's over, it's done"; and avoid "self absorption" that's a symptom of depression .

"Focus on someone else. Do unto others."

Richey has a strong Christian faith. He welcomes debate with others in the Christian community who see religion over medication as the remedy for depression.

"God created physicians," said an audience member.

"I am not pushing medication," he said. "I tell people: Go talk to your doctor. But I know what it's done for me."

"I'd tell it to God's face."

About NAMI

NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness.