Away from the Grind

Jun 18, 2012

Back in Paris.

I am in Fulda for the moment preparing lesson plans for a full afternoon of teaching.  Coaching tennis is not that difficult seeing as I have played and been coached myself for twenty years.  But it still helps to be organized and have a plan for how I want to manage the groups and lessons.  It does not make things easier that everyone I am coaching are native German speakers.  So I have to work hard to explain things as clearly and succinctly as possible.

I returned to Fulda two days ago after spending a week visiting with my mother and sister in Paris.  It worked out that they were able to make a quick trip to Europe to visit me after attending a wedding in Israel in the beginning of June.  We were lucky enough to stay in a friend’s luxurious apartment in Montmartre, only a stones throw from the Moulin Rouge, and we had a great time walking around the city, exploring the various districts and taking in the scenery.  Seeing as I had recently been to Paris and done some sightseeing on my own, I was happy to let them plan our days and get what they wanted out of the beautiful city.

It was great getting a little slice of home to break up my long trip.

It was nice taking a step back from tennis and clearing my mind a bit.  Although I have not necessarily been training all that much, my life really has been revolving around the various matches and tournaments I have been playing.  So it was good to get away for a while and be taken care of by my mom a little.  Being on the road for so long can sometimes get you down or homesick and I was happy to see my family and get a little slice of familiarity for a change.

On our last day together we decided to take a day tour of Normandy, which is a city on the northern coast of France about three hours from Paris.  I have always wanted to visit Normandy because that was where the allied invasion began which turned the tides against the Germans in World War Two.  War history is an interest of mine and I have tried my best over the years to take advantage of any opportunities in my travels to visit the sites where monumental battles have been fought.  In Vietnam I was extremely moved touring the intricate network of tunnels that sprawled for miles and miles beneath the jungle floor.  It was unimaginable to think of living one’s life in such dark and damp conditions and I returned from the trip struck by how horrible it must have been not just for the Vietnamese population living down there but for the American GIs whose job it was to try to dig them out.

Lots of time on the Metro to play around.

Anyone who has seen the first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan has a pretty good idea of what it was like for the American, British, and Canadian forces that landed on the beaches of Normandy in 1944.  But it was powerful to stand there and take in the reality of their accomplishment.  Peering down from cliffs at rugged beaches where tens of thousands of soldiers gave their lives is a powerful feeling and more than eerie to think that most of them were my age or younger.  The American Cemetery, which rests above Omaha Beach—one of two landing sites used by the American forces and infamous for the devastating carnage that took place—is an impressive monument and contains ten thousand gravestones representing a portion of the vast amount of men who lost their lives in the battle of Normandy.  The grounds were immaculately maintained and I was struck by how peaceful it seemed in a place made famous by devastating chaos.   Peering down at the serene beach gave no clue as to what had happened and you couldn’t

The American Cemetery was very impressive and seemed like a restive place to commemorate the brutality that took place there.

help but think that time and the world really do move on within you and without you.  That is why the monuments are so important.  So we can continue to remember and celebrate the actions and sacrifices that would be lost without them as the earth heals and the pain fades away.   I am not a museum person but I appreciated the small display recounting some of the battle and preparing one to more intimately comprehend what you see in the cemetery.

It would have been nice to stay overnight and have a couple days to visit more of the invasion sites, but seeing as our trip was so short, unfortunately we had to return to Paris that day, making for a long afternoon on the bus.  I am glad I got to see the historic beaches though finally and my sister and I only fought a little bit after being cooped up together all day.

I played and won a club match yesterday, which was rather difficult since I had not hit a ball for a week and a half since I finished playing the Hessian Championships.  I am always struck by how quickly I can lose the feel and competitive edge.  It was an awful match and I actually was down 4-0 in the first set.  But I was able to play myself into some sort of form and come back and win in straight sets.

The strategic point at Ad Hoc where two hundred and ninety four American Rangers scaled the walls of the cliff to take a German battery that would have caused havoc for the Troops landing on Omaha and Utah Beach. Eighty survived the mission.

I am definitely starting to feel the wear and tear of traveling.  It is not that I am doing anything very strenuous but just the inconsistency of moving around, being on trains every day and never sleeping in the same bed or eating on a consistent schedule is starting to take a toll on my body.  I find that the days I get back to my home in Fulda I mainly just end up recovering from the trips in order to be somewhat fit for my matches.  But any sort of real training has been pushed to the wayside.  It seems to be ok though for now and I have at least still been able to grind through the team matches.

That all being said, I leave tomorrow for Berlin to meet up with my girlfriend, Stefanie, who just finished getting her Masters at Stanford in Environmental Engineering.  She has wanted to see what it is like on the road when I am playing tennis and figured meeting me in Europe would be a good way to celebrate her graduation.  So off I go again tomorrow and we’ll come back Thursday so I can prepare a little better this week for my last German club match next Sunday.  It is a very important match for the season because we may be forced to drop down a league if we lose.   I will not be able to play in the last two matches in August so the team really wants to win this one to ensure their place for next year before I go.

I’m excited to show Stef around a bit and share these new places I’ve found with her.  Fulda especially has become a second home to me and it will be great to see how she reacts to seeing my mellow life here.

It was powerful standing among what would have been my peers in a place such as this.

Except for the barbed maintaining its vigilance the coastline was really a beautiful sight.


Competing and Touring

Jun 4, 2012,

I finally get a day to rest after the last two weeks of running around Europe.  Although I did get some time to be a tourist during the trip, I spent most of the time competing, traveling to and from tournaments and club matches.

Amsterdam train Station

After my awful night in Paris, which I described in the last post, I did in fact go to Amsterdam for a quick visit.   Partly I just could not find a hostel in Paris and partly I had a free day and figured it would be the closest I would be to Amsterdam for a long time.  So I made the three-hour train ride up for one night and spent a full day walking around and checking out the city.  Besides the uniqueness of a city that is infamous for its booming sex trade and legal drugs, I was impressed with the architecture and happy atmosphere.  Maybe the sex and drugs contribute to the happiness, but my impression of the Dutch is that in general they are a contented, attractive, and vigorous people.  What I mean is that for the most part everyone I saw on the streets appeared vibrant and healthy.  It may have been that it was just a beautiful day and the whole city was out enjoying the sunshine.  Or possibly the thriving bicycle community—literally there are more bikes than cars—keeps people in shape and feeling well.  But I was struck by how positive and youthful the air was.  Every person on the street probably had low blood pressure and was swimming in good cholesterol.

I’ve never been nearly run over by more bicycles than in the one day I spent in Amsterdam.

I had a very nice day and night and enjoyed getting lost in the city while exploring the network of canals and little neighborhoods.  I definitely went on a bit of a spending spree in my excitement to be a tourist.  I think I spent more in my week in Paris and Amsterdam than I had on the whole last month of my trip.  That is how it goes when you are traveling though and I have just been lucky to have had such great housing which has helped me to save for most of my time in Europe.

Out of everything I spent in Amsterdam, the best fifteen-euro investment was a bike taxi back to my hostel after an exhausting day of walking.  Besides the fact that it would have taken over an hour to walk home, it was a great experience being taken along in an open carriage, attached to a bicycle ridden by the grumpiest, most impatient cabby I could imagine.  Although he was a wiry and strong little dude rather than fat and

It seemed like everyone in the city was outside enjoying the sunshine and relaxing in the park on a warm afternoon.

smelly, I could totally picture him in a yellow sedan navigating New York traffic as he shouted at people and laid on his horn, which in this case was a little Mickey Mouse bell that seemed to mock his displeasure with the multitude of people walking in the bike lane.  It didn’t stop him from using it though and I couldn’t help but chuckle in the back seat as we zipped around corners and cut people off with no remorse.  In the end we made record time and I was happy to give him the payment for which he had worked so hard.

On the flip side, the worst fifteen euro I spent was on a two pound wheel of herbed goat cheese, which I am still carrying around with me and don’t know what to do with.  I guess I should be happy I managed to stop myself from buying the two hundred euro hammock chair or the seventy-euro enamel chess set.  But the cheese was still excessive.  I had a great trip though and it was nice to explore some before heading back to Paris to start playing the tournaments for which I had come.

TC Neuilly Sur Marne Champion

My first tournament was held in a suburb of eastern Paris called Neuilly Sur Marne.  The club was small and I staid for the weekend with the president, who had a really nice family that came to watch most of my matches.  Staying with local families is one of the best parts of playing these tournaments because I get to meet so many people and really experience the culture that I am visiting.  For the most part, if a family agrees to host me it means that they are tennis fans and that they are fairly comfortable and don’t mind me eating their food and living off them for a few days.   It is interesting to get a glimpse into how different cultures exist and relate day to day.  If I was to make a broad generalization about Europeans based on the five or six families with whom I have staid, I would say that they tend to eat more of their meals together as a family and eat out less than people in the States.  Especially lunch, which for me and most people I know has always been an on the go kind of deal.  Here though it seems that many families return to their houses for lunch together, taking the time to prepare a real meal with placemats and salad forks.  It is nice to see the bonds and time they devote to such practices, although it seems a little exhausting as well to make such a fuss.

After not hitting for a week I was nervous for the start of the tournament.  But things worked out and I was able to win through the draw and take home the winner’s check.  It was not a huge tournament but there were some good players and I definitely had to tough out a few matches.  I played the last two rounds on Tuesday and was happy to beat a crafty young kid in the semifinal. He had a dirty backhand slice that made me get low and work hard for every point.  He moved it around well and was fast and determined.  So I had to stay patient and not get frustrated playing awkward points.  I had a good strategy though that I maintained well, looping inside out forehand angles to move him off the court so I could create space to take my forehand to the open court.  Sorry for the tennis talk, but it took a lot of focus to make it through in two tough sets and even more mental energy to get up to play the finals against a man ranked even higher.  I also had to deal with some hostile crowds.  Well maybe not hostile since everyone was very nice.  But they certainly wanted their Frenchmen to win and even a crowd of thirty can feel like the world is against you.  I had my one fan though at least as the daughter of my host family came to cheer for me a little.  I was proud to make it through and it was fun to win a tournament and get a trophy as well as a little cash to help restore what I had blown in Paris and Amsterdam.  It seems I am finally a professional tennis player, living on the cash in my pocket.  So $460 was a nice payday to supplement what I had brought with me from my last two German club matches.

As soon as the award ceremony was finished I hopped in a taxi to go to the next tournament, where I was scheduled to play my first round later that night.  Luckily it was a fairly routine match at least and I was able to win quickly before heading over to my new family and next set of housing in another Parisian suburb called Saint Maur.   I lost in the semifinals of the second tournament.  I think I probably could or even should have won that one as well, but after the traveling and playing so much the day before I couldn’t get my head in it enough to fight through the soreness, exhaustion, and awful clay court that was more of a hard court with a dusting of clay on top.  It was ok though.  I was satisfied with having won one tournament at least and ready to get back to Austria for a club match Saturday before heading to Germany for another Sunday.

The streets of Vienna are infused with art and culture.

It was great to see my Austrian team again after a few weeks away.  I get along with them well since we are all of similar age.  Unfortunately I only had two nights with them, one in Vienna where one of them showed me around the city and the other in Steyr where we played our match.  I got beat pretty bad in the singles, which was my first loss in league play.  The guy was a very good Czech player who had been ranked ATP#700 a couple years ago and has been the best player in the division for the

past four seasons.  I played well actually and did not give him the match.  He just was too good for me and was able to take the ball early consistently, roping me around and exposing me a little on the clay.  I have come a long way on clay and even really like it at this point.  But I am definitely still new to it and I was not able to stay with a solid pro who grew up on the surface.  It was a good match though and enjoyable to be a part of, despite losing 6-1 6-3 and having to work hard for the games I won.

The best thing I can say about my tennis at this point is that although I may not be the best player out there, it takes a real good player to beat me, and he is going to have to hit a lot of winners and play well to do it.  That’s not to say it won’t happen or that some guys won’t be able to do it

The top of the tallest Church tower in Austria.

easily.  But I like the thought that for the most part someone has to be able to maintain a certain level to take me down.  Especially on clay where the surface is forgiving and it is hard to blow people away.  The Czech guy maintained that level and outclassed me on Saturday, which was frustrating but unavoidable.  Maybe things would be different if we played again, or a few more times.  But that day he was just too good.

At least the team still won and I contributed with a doubles win.  We were happy to win this match because our opponents had paid two foreigners to play for them.  They brought in a German to supplement the Czech, but we still managed to prevail with great doubles play and a couple good wins lower in the lineup.  Halfway through the season we are still in first place in the league.  Hans was very sad not to have any cake for us after this match but unfortunately the inmate who used to bake the Murder Cakes at the prison was released last week so they were no longer available.

As soon as the Austrian match finished I jumped in a car with a German friend who gave me a ride to Nuremburg, where I slept on his couch for a couple hours before taking the first train of the day back to Fulda, which was about two and a half hours away.  Steve picked me up at the train station at eight and drove straight to the courts to get ready for my

After a miserable day of playing tennis in the pouring rain.

German match, which started at nine.  I don’t have much to say about this match except that I was tired from having not slept, dirty from having no clean clothes, and miserable because it was pouring and on clay you can play tennis in the rain.  I won though at least and actually played well given the circumstances.  I took a nasty fall towards the end of the doubles when the rain picked up and the court turned to mud.  I tried to change directions as I was cutting across the middle and my feet went out from under me leaving me flat on my back in a slimy puddle.  It brought back memories of playing soccer on rainy days, returning from a game covered in mud from head to toe.

I am home in Fulda now relaxing a bit, doing laundry and getting my life back in order.  I spent all day yesterday playing qualifying for a big money tournament just outside Frankfurt in a town called Bad Homburg.  I won three tough singles matches and earned a wildcard into the main draw, which starts on Thursday.  Steve picked me up at the train station last night at midnight, for the third time in two days.  My back and legs are sore, my fingers are torn up, and my palm is raw and cracked.   Things are pretty good here and I am enjoying the hectic lifestyle of a struggling tennis pro.

The club hosting the Hessin Championships. I won three matches to qualify for the main draw which starts Thursday.

Surviving the City of Love

May 24, 2012

The narrow streets of Paris.

I arrived in Paris on Tuesday via train in order to spend a week playing French Prize money tournaments and to watch the early rounds of Roland Garros.  Germany has been incredible and very relaxing but I have been looking forward to seeing something new and trying my hand at a few clay tournaments.  My club matches have gone well so far and I have yet to lose or be pushed by any of my opponents.  It is nice knowing that I am worth the money that I am being paid.  But I would also like to get some better matches in so I can stay sharp enough to compete at a high level.

I am planning to play two or three tournaments in the Paris area this next week.  I had originally thought that I would be starting play today but it seems with my assimilated French ranking I will enter the draw in the quarterfinals, which will be played on Sunday.   France has one of the most active tennis federations in the world and there are literally thousands of money tournaments going on all over the country all the time.  The tournaments span over three to four weeks, with lower ranked players comprising the early rounds and higher ranked players coming in just for the end.  Based on my ATP ranking I was given a fairly good French ranking, meaning that I don’t have to start in most events until the final weekend.  This is nice because I get to bypass a lot of time and logistical energy that would be wasted getting through easy matches.  So I’ll begin this Sunday in the quarterfinals of the draw which has been going on for close to a month.  If I lose my first round I still make something like $80 and up to $500 if I win through the rest of the matches.  On Monday I play a tournament just in the finals, bypassing everything and just showing up to play for $150.  It is obviously a weak tournament but you get the picture of how things work.  In the stronger events I will start earlier in the week, depending on how many players above me are playing.


Being placed in the later rounds of the draw has the added benefit of giving me a few extra days in Paris to tour around and explore a bit.  I do not know anyone or have any connections at this point, so I am not worrying about training for the moment and will hopefully do alright once it comes time to play my matches.

I have really enjoyed my time in the city the last couple days, although I did have the worst night of my trip in Europe yesterday.  As per usual it could have been avoided had I been the responsible traveler and figured things out ahead of time so I would not be forced to scramble.  But anyone who has traveled with me knows that just isn’t my style.  I generally prefer, either by choice or disposition, a more organic experience, trusting in my abilities to handle things on the fly and more importantly, fate’s usual aptitude for taking care of me.  That is probably a nice way of saying I am lazy and things normally work out.  But last night they did not and my nature definitely came back to bite me as it was probably the closest I have ever come to spending a night on the street.

Spent the whole evening drinking beers and watching an impromptou acoustic guitar concert put on by some italian guy on the steps of Sacre-Coeure. He played all the sweet, and sappy American songs. It made me cringe sometimes but he had a nice voice and was a warm night to be outside.

I will preface the story by saying that from the time I woke up until about 7pm I had a perfect, although rather exhausting Parisian day.  I woke in a nice hostel that I had managed to find the night before—as per usual—and headed out to explore, even though I knew that I did not have a reservation to return to when I came back.  I’d been in that position before though and figured something would open up and I would probably have to switch rooms or something.  Whatever, I’d figure it out later I thought.  I left my luggage in the hostel’s storage room and took the metro to the Cathedral at Notre Dame.  It was nice and looked like a bigger version of just about every other church I have ever forced myself to visit.  But I was happy I had seen it and even happier to leave and get away from the lines and crowds.

Cathedral at Notre Dame. On the bank of the Seine River.

My plan was to eventually make it to the French open at Roland Garros to see the afternoon Men’s Qualifying matches.  But I had hours to kill before then so I decided I would walk to the Eiffel Tower along the bank of the famous Seine River.  It is a rather long way from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower and took me the better part of two hours to walk.  But for a sunny, warm, and beautiful day I could not imagine a more peaceful way to take in the French architecture and enjoy the scenery.  I put my headphones on, played some soothing music, and reveled in a sense of culture and wellbeing as I slowly passed the day making my way across the city, eventually to Rolland Garros, where my day got even better watching some great tennis.

Walking the Seine towards the Eiffel Tower. It was very peaceful, especially since I had nowhere to be and all the time to get there.

Around seven I decided it was time to make my way back to my hostel so I could figure things out.  Seeing as I do not have a phone I was unable to call the hostel as they had advised me earlier to see about a room. But again, that would all figure itself out I thought.  Unfortunately it did not, and the tired sense of calm from a strenuous but empowering day turned into an exhausted anxiety when I finally got back and realized that not only was there no space in my hostel, but literally every bed in the city under $500 was taken as well.  I scanned the creepy hotels in the area to no avail, running from one to the next as the sun disappeared above me.  I signed up for couchsurfer to see if I could scrounge something quickly, but I found no help there either.

One more of the Seine.

By ten I was really starting to worry.  What was I going to do?  I had no place to go, a ton of luggage, and not much time to figure things out.  I managed to get a break online when I found Giovanni’s Gay Guesthouse, which was the only hostel in the city with any availability.  It advertised itself as being for Men Only and as “a great place to find cool, fun guys.”  It was certainly not what I had been looking for but at that point I had no other options.  According to Giovanni’s website he welcomes any sort of gay, bi-sexual, or open-minded men under the age of thirty-five.  While I have never thought of myself as gay or bi-sexual, open-minded seemed to fit and by then I really just needed a place to sleep for the night.  So I booked my spot in a six bed dorm and began the long trek on the metro-transferring twice with all my stuff-and eventually finding myself on the outskirts of eastern Paris with an address and no idea where to go or even which direction to head.

I just liked this photo. I think Paris may be the most beautiful city I have visited. Just in terms of the architecture you can really feel the history of all the buildings and busy little streets.

It was 11pm so I figured I should go somewhere.  I headed out randomly, hoping to find the street for which I was looking.  Eventually I got directions that turned out to be wrong, but led me to a McDonalds three quarters of a mile away where I was able to get Internet and download a walking map on my iPhone.  I finally found the building where Giovanni’s was supposed to be.  It looked abandoned and the area was most certainly less than wholesome.  My email confirmation said that when you get to the building you have to call a phone number and you will be let in through an unmarked door.  If that isn’t creepy enough, it also advised not to ask any of the neighbors for directions if you cannot find the place, which was pretty unnecessary seeing as the neighbors consisted of a small but active community of bums and street people loitering around the stoop of the building.

Sadly, I cannot make phone calls with my American phone so I didn’t know what to do and just sat outside with all my stuff, looking up into the windows with rainbow flags hoping to get someone’s attention.  There was supposed to be some sort of pay phone around but I couldn’t find that either.  I thought about yelling up at the windows but didn’t want to attract any more attention than I was already getting standing around in the dark with a suitcase and a bag full of tennis racquets.

I poked my head in a few buildings looking for a phone and stumbled upon a synagogue, which seemed promising at first except I got scared off by the dirty looks when I realized that I had barged into the middle of some sort of services that happened to be going on at that hour.  Also I was unsure about how the Hasidic Jews would react when I told them I was looking for the Gay Guesthouse in the area.  I know.  Not cool.  But I didn’t want to open that can of worms in the middle of the night by advertising my destination to any sort of religious community, even my own.

Richard Gasquet playing a practice set on center court. He is an amazing shot maker and it is great to see because he is a pretty small guy but gets a lot of power on the ball.

As sad as I was to leave the promise of a real bed, once again I had no options.  So I dragged myself back to McDonalds—uphill this time— and past all the sleazy bars and nightwalkers that had eyed me so thoroughly the first time.  My plan was to call Giovanni on Skype and let him know I was on my way so he could be waiting for me, but I was pretty pissed off by then and decided to have a quick look online for another place.  What do you know!  An even cheaper bed and breakfast had something open up while I was hiking around the ghetto.  I called them as quick as I could on my computer to tell them I was on my way, not even registering the name of the place since the McDonalds workers were getting angry and trying to hustle me out so they could close.  I managed to scribble the address at least before the big worker picked me up and threw me in the street with all my stuff.  I did not know where the place was but wherever it turned out to be had to be better than hiking back to Giovanni’s.  On the way to the metro I found a lady-cab and made a game time decision to make my life easier and spend the money to have her drop me at the door rather than doing the subway thing again.  Why not? I figured.  It was almost midnight anyway.  The subway would have probably been closing soon.

Once again, fate led me astray.  The cabi-lady must have spoken like ten words of English, which was not sufficient for her to explain what was happening when after only a few minutes she stopped to pick up two more ladies and then swerved a totally different direction.  I tried to decipher what was going on and then gave in to the fact that my taxi just turned into a bus.  All three women assured me they were saving me money and going in the same direction. I didn’t believe it for a second.

Literally an hour later, after dropping the two ladies off God knows where in the city and avoiding any sort of highway or bypass that might have sped up our progress, I found myself hunched over in the backseat of the cab, shaking, with my head between my knees. I didn’t know whether to cry, yell at the lady for wasting my time and money, or just open the car door and tuck and roll.  The latter would have been a mistake though because whereas Giovanni’s neighborhood may have been a tad unwholesome, the grounds the taxi was taking me into ever deeper was the heart of Parisian China town, which I had not even known existed and is located in the southern outskirts of the city.  It was dark, deserted, and did not seem like the kind of place for me to go stumbling around in alone.

More French architecture.

There have been moments in my travels when I have realized that if, by some chance something awful occurred and I happened to disappear, nobody would have a clue where to find me, or even where to start looking.  Many times on the streets of Thailand and Laos I’ve had such feelings, a couple times in Mexico and Central America, and one similar midnight cab ride in Quebec City just to name a few.  This was definitely on par with any unease I have ever felt in having no control as I realized that I had no move to make in the situation besides hope that I eventually make it somewhere safe.  The cabi-lady locked her doors and started complaining about how I didn’t tell her I was going outside of Paris-as if I had known-and how she didn’t like it because it was dangerous.  I told her she should shut up because she wasn’t the one who had to stay there for the night.

We finally arrived at a random residential house that I found out was the Nandemum Guesthouse.  The manager had told me she would be waiting for my arrival but, as I should have expected; nobody was there to greet me.  There was a light on upstairs though and I could see two Asian guys walking around.  Where I had been unwilling to shout up or throw rocks at the windows of Giovanni’s earlier, I found myself yelling up to them here at Nandemum’s.  The cabi started honking her horn, which scared me, and I finally got their attention by hurling coins at the window since they were all I could find in my pockets to throw.

I paid the cabi, who was happy to be rid of me, and I thought my ordeal was finally over.  Not quite unfortunately.  Although she was very nice, the manager came down to explain how somehow she had overbooked and did not have a room for me after all.  I almost had a fit then and there and was about to ask her if I could sleep in her bathtub when she called a friend’s place nearby and suggested I could stay there instead.  Once again, I had no choice as I let myself be ushered into her beat up Toyota and driven to another random residential house that is apparently some sort of Korean Hostel.  I had my scariest moment of the night after the lady had dropped me off and left when the owner refused to open the door for me initially and told me to go away.  Where was I supposed to go?  Thankfully he didn’t have a shotgun, which is how I thought I would find him, and I eventually persuaded him to let me in the door.

After that he was all smiles and ushered me into a dorm room filled to the brim with Korean men.  Strangely, many of them spoke great English and were in fact way more polite and nice than most French people I have been meeting.  Nobody was angry that a random white dude barged in in the middle of the night, waking everyone up and demanding to take a shower—I was disgusting after all the walking I had done earlier in the day and then all the lugging around of my suitcases.  It probably felt weirder for me than them but I did not care at that point since I was just happy to have a bed and a roof over my head for the night.  I knew I would need to figure out where I was and how to get back to civilization in the morning.  But for the moment I had nothing to do but settle into my third story bunk and try to get some sleep, which after everything I had gone through, was not very hard.

It was an interesting morning waking up and having breakfast with everyone today.  I never did find out what the name of the place was but if I did know I would write them a great review on hostelworld.  They were all extremely friendly and generous and really seemed to care how I felt, even though I was a bit of a zombie and wanted nothing more than to get out of there as quick as I could.  It was probably one of the more out of place moments I can remember but not at all due to any incorrectness on their part.  A little boy even gave me a lesson on the culture and Geography of Seoul, which was where he was from.

Anyway that was my night yesterday.  It ended around two in the morning and was pretty hellish.  I think it taught me that I might want to take a more active role in figuring out my life sometimes. I will have to start that sometime later though since I was able to find a hostel today for one night and one night only.  I’m thinking about running to Amsterdam for a couple days if I cant find something more reliable here in Paris.  My housing for the tournament starts on Saturday so it might be nice to get away if this is what every night is going to be like.  Not to mention that after my experience yesterday I think I could use a little R &R that only Amsterdam can offer.  Just kidding.   All in all, life goes on and I am happy to have made it through the nightmare and survived to fight another day.

Life in Fulda

May 19, 2012

View along the bike ride to and from the TC Gruen Weiss Fulda. It is only about a ten minute ride from the house where I am staying.

It has been a while since I have written.  It is strange how when I am writing often it becomes easy and when I get lazy and miss a few days or a week, all of a sudden it is hard to get back on track.  I guess it is kind of like working out, dieting, and flossing, all of which are much easier to do when you have been doing them consistently.   Funny how it is the things that are good for you that are often the hardest to make yourself do.

I love the landscape of the Fulda farmland.

I am in Fulda, Germany, relishing the chance to not get up early.  I don’t have many responsibilities or anything but I have been waking up early every day to go into the club and hit or go on bike rides and such with my host, Steve.  But today Steve’s son, Thomas, has a match early so I’ve been left a bit to my own devices, which is nice.

Fulda is beautiful and once again I feel like things could not have worked out better.  Besides the fact that apparently I could be making more money in a higher league, this experience, like Austria, is exactly what I was hoping for.  Fulda is a sleepy little town with farmland in every direction.  Although my calf has not fully healed, I got tired of waiting for it so I have started going on long runs, which are extremely satisfying and have actually felt alright.  I love finding myself jogging through fields of grass, cows, and some sort of interesting yellow flower that will be turned into mustard soon.  The pace of life is so slow it is hard not to be relaxed.  It helps that I have a fair amount of freedom and independence.  But mostly it is just refreshing to be part of a small community where people seem genuinely happy and content.

Running in the farmlands out the backyard of the house.

Gruen Weiss Fulda is a larger club than that of my Austrian team, boasting five hundred members as opposed to the one hundred and thirty of Gruen Weiss Steyr.  It has ten clay courts, which are perfectly manicured and maintained.  I still cannot believe how much effort and resources go into clay tennis.  I was told the club spends ten thousand euros every year renewing it after each winter.  That seems crazy to me, especially for such a small establishment.  Besides the clay courts there are three indoor courts which are a weird kind of soft turf with little beads of plastic on top that make it slick so you can kind of slide like on the clay.  I took a nasty fall though the other day while I was teaching a lesson to an old man.  I tried to slide into a drop shot and my right foot stuck, sending me tumbling towards the net.  Thank god I did not break my ankle or neck.

There isn’t much more to the club than the courts and indoor facility.  There is no pool or fitness center. Just a clubhouse that, while dwarfing the Steyr facilities, is still very small and intimate.  It is perfect for the members, many of who stop by after work to have drinks or dinner or play bridge.

My favorite spot to chill.

The best part of my existence is the family with whom I am staying.  Steve and Hanna Guy are the two head teaching pros at the club and together they run a tennis school that supports a very nice home about a mile and a half from the club.  Although they do teach every day, neither of them seems to work overly hard or long hours, both being able to come back to the house for a relaxed lunch most afternoons.

It is great for me to stay with Hanna and Steve because they both played professionally on the tour and were actually top hundred in the world.  It creates a good dynamic that is mutually satisfying for us because they understand the grind that I have been going through playing futures, and I have immense respect for how good they were and how tough it must have been for them to accomplish what they did.  Steve is a kiwi—New Zealander—who played pro for ten years after getting a scholarship to Wichita State and Hanna is from the Czech Republic, where she was European Champion in the Age of Steffi Graf and Monica Seles.  They are both great people and have been extremely generous in letting me into their home and feeding me the lion’s share of their food.

I am not sure why but I really like cows. I stop to feed them grass and pet them whenever I run past.

I have become very good friends with Steve, who is a happy, laid back guy.  I enjoy listening to him talk about his time playing the legends of tennis almost as much as he likes telling me about it, so it works out well for us.  We’ve gone on runs and bike rides and many times just shared a few beers after he gets back from work.  We even went to a queen cover band the other day at the local church festival.  I can tell that Steve likes having me to pal around with a bit and he has been a great resource in learning about all the money tournaments and club leagues, since he did all this for years during his career.  He even started training me some, which has been great for my game since I cannot remember the last time I had a coach working me out with a bucket of balls, drilling me until my heart is pumping and my legs burn.

Strangely, after coming to terms with the end of my career and putting myself in an environment where I cannot train that much, I am playing the best tennis of my life.  Partly I think this is due to my game actually being well suited for clay and partly I am just very relaxed at the moment and not worrying about it too much.  After a few weeks training on the dirt I have learned to shape the ball and have turned my forehand into the high, heavy, aggressive yet safe shot that I have been searching for all my life.  My high backhand above my shoulders—always my weakness—has even improved as well since that is where I hit most balls here.  Most importantly though, I am moving on the court well and have developed a patience and consistency that has never been possible on the fast, hard courts on which I grew up and spent my whole career.

Walking in the hills on what used to be the border Eastern and Western Germany.

Clay is a forgiving surface that provides time to think and prepare.  It also neutralizes overly powerful weapons such as the serve, which have never really helped me much anyway.  It allows for a creativity and presence in points because you cannot just blast through someone and end rallies quickly.  You have to earn points, either through powerful ball movement, intense defense and consistency, or deft creativity and touch.  In the past few weeks I realized that I am capable of all three and have been feeling more solid every day.  We will see how I fare next week when I play a few tournaments with some better competition.  But up to now, I have been pleased with myself and my progress, both in practice and the matches.

I got a little press in the Fulda newspaper after winning my first match. If only I knew what it said.

One of the more interesting aspects of living here in Fulda has been my interaction with Steve and Hanna’s son Thomas.  Thomas is thirteen and very talented and his parents put a lot of pressure and emphasis on his tennis, although they want and try to be chill.  It is just what they know and what they do.  So they cannot help but be very involved in his practices and tournaments and push him to work harder and get the most out of his training.  Like any normal thirteen-year-old boy, Thomas rebels by goofing around and blowing them off a bit.  Basically just being a bratty teenager who you want to slap around sometimes.  I am in a unique position to both watch and experience the Thomas/tennis dynamic because I am hitting with him every day, both as a favor to Steve and Hanna and because he is the best player I can hit with on the regular here in Fulda.

When I say Thomas is talented I mean it.  Although he is skinny, he is as tall as me already—which I guess isn’t saying much—and he can hit a big ball.  He also has very good hands and touch, which is why it sounds like he is always one of the top ten or twenty players in Germany for his age.  But as talented as he is, it is like pulling teeth sometimes trying to get him to focus and work hard in practice.  I am further removed than Steve so it does not bother me nearly as much when he fools around, but at the same time, I am out there to train and work hard myself and it is annoying when he just cannot get his act together and give a good effort.  It is frustrating to watch and hard to deal with sometimes. Thomas is a great kid though and is definitely behaving like a normal thirteen year old.  It is just new to me to be on this side of the struggle.

My Fulda family watching Bayern play in the finals of the Champions league. Steve, whose house I am living in and who has become my best friend in town, is the one on the far left in the glasses.

It is tough watching Thomas and Steve disagree over his tennis, especially after having gone through that same dynamic with my own father and growing up enough to see it for what it was.  Steve is such a nice guy, cares a ton, and just wants the best for his son.  But its probably tough for Thomas to have his dad be so involved and he is too young to really understand and get the most out of what Steve is trying to give him.  I wish there was something I could do or say to either one of them to help alleviate the tension sometimes since I have the unique perspective of having lost my father while that stuff was all going on in our lives and before I matured enough to get past it. But people have to experience things for themselves.  Hopefully they will have many years to connect and find each other a bit more once they get through the tennis dad relationship. It is just kind of eerie to be a spectator looking in.  Besides that little bit of typical teenager drama it is great being a part of a happy household and I am thoroughly enjoying having the time to relax and explore the German countryside.

As far as the tennis is concerned, I think Thomas’ problem, which was my problem when I was young and I’m sure is every kid’s at that age, is that he takes no ownership of himself, his game, or his training.  His parents tell him when to practice and what to do and lecture him all day about it.  So he simply shows up and puts his body through the motions, not really thinking or even caring about what is happening.  Although he gets mad when he misses and likes hitting good shots, his mind and his attention sometimes don’t seem to take stock of what is occurring on the court.  So when he is angry it is a shallow, useless anger that is disconnected from himself because he doesn’t really care and there is no drive in it to change anything or make it better.  I keep telling him that I understand being mad and yelling and throwing your racquet.  But it only makes sense when you actually feel the emotion and there is a desire for improvement behind it. As if I should be the one to talk regarding the care of tennis racquets.  I believe one of mine is still on the roof of the Israeli Tennis Center in Ashkelon.

My good friend Benny. He was a nasty little guy and hated my guts for the first few days. I charmed him eventually though and now we’re pretty tight.

But nonetheless, how do you get any thirteen year old in any sport to take ownership of his game, think about the things that he needs to work on, and be present enough to focus on them?  I don’t know the answer to that, and if I did, I would probably be a millionaire and have solved the biggest problem in sports families today.  Obviously it takes time and experience to develop the maturity to be self aware.  But I would say that this awareness, and more specifically how early one develops such awareness, is what separates the ones who make it from the ones who don’t.  Not even talent, but rather focus and mindset.  Talent is probably what separates the journeymen lingering between #100 and #200 in the world from Nadal and Federer and the few others at the top of the game.  But awareness and pressence is what allows them to maximize their potential and approach the top at all.  At that level most everyone is maximizing their abilities so that is when talent comes into play and the few who were just gifted can distance themselves from the pack.

Benny tried his best to stow away one day before we left for the club. Believe it or not it almost worked.

I am happy to have finally found the mental and emotional balance to at least maximize my own potential.  I mean, I am sure I could be fitter and improve my serve and and have a six-pack and whatnot.  Well maybe not the six-pack.  But in terms of talent and effort and mindset I think I have finally arrived.  Not to say I won’t still fight myself sometimes and get down and struggle.  But the biggest change I feel in my game and my attitude is that I am aware and I own the experience.   I have no coach.  I have no trainer.  I have no sponsor.  I am just out here trying to do the best that I can.  If I go on a run it is because I feel that is what my body needs.  If I hit crosscourt backhands it is because I am trying to figure out what will make them stronger.  For better or worse it is all me.  My days are full and empty.  Any day I want I can do everything or nothing.  It is the blessing and curse of this lifestyle and not having a real job.  And I am aware that it will not last long so I try to make the most out of it that I can.  I finally have perspective and contentment.  I know what I am, what I want, and why I am doing this, and it only took me twenty years to find it.

I guess when I think of Thomas and want to pound my knowledge into his head I am being unfair.  A lot of things went into giving me the perspective I have now.  I was just as bratty as Thomas when I was young.  Probably more so, and it took my father passing away to slap me in the face enough to bring it into my consciousness.  Nothing like a little guilt and regret to get you thinking about your actions.  I wish more than anything I could go back and give Dad the respect he wanted and deserved when I was young and we were battling, but I cannot.  That is not how life works.  Whether or not I was being a normal teenager, we both suffered because of my immaturity and I didn’t really start internalizing it until the last couple years, or even few months.

My new clay court shoes. They are a little flashy for my taste but we’ll see if they help me get around any better. When your shoes get worn down and slick on clay you might as well be wearing ice skates.

I am not sure why I was so set on pursuing my tennis after college but I am glad that I have.  What may have began as a sort of regretful continuance of my junior career and desire to achieve goals I could never quite grasp, has finally blossomed into a real understanding of what I had been missing throughout my time in tennis.  I finally know what I was looking for and own the process and the results.  And although I am constantly striving, I am finally happy and satisfied, which is all I could have asked from this experience.

As nice as it would be to go back and give this brain or this perspective to my fourteen-year-old self, he would not understand it without the context that created it.  Thomas will have to figure things out for himself and Steve will eventually relax and allow him to do it.  And like I said before, hopefully they will be able to laugh about it on the other side.  I wish I had been able to do that.  But not everyone gets those opportunities.  I am not religious but hopefully I will see Dad and talk to him again someday, somewhere, and we can laugh and share and find each other again.  But for now things are what they are and with luck that won’t be for some time still.  The best thing I can say for right now is that although it may have taken me over twenty years to make peace with the sport that has been so much of my life, at least I did it in time to truly enjoy the last few months of my career.

My Home in Steyr

May 2, 2012

Austrian countryside.

It was about a five-hour drive to Steyr from Karnten through the classic hills made famous in The Sound of Music,which was filmed in Salzburg.  I definitely slept for an hour of it but saw enough to be thoroughly impressed by Austria.  It is so green and mountainous.  It reminds me a bit of Oregon and the northwest in that there are tons of trees and wilderness.  But the landscape is a bit different.  There are huge open spaces with lush grass and hillside and many small villages that have probably existed for a thousand years.  The country seems very well preserved and you really just don’t see any crummy areas.  I guess I have not been here for long but it seems that the standard of living is very high, which I am sure is true since Austrians pay 50% of their salaries to taxes.

Downtown Steyr.

Steyr is beautiful and I just spent the morning walking around the cobblestone streets, peaking in doorways and taking pictures.  Although it is the third largest city in upper-Austria, it is definitely a small town still, with only about forty thousand people.  The old town has typical European architecture and I feel like I am walking around a castle everywhere I go.  I am staying with our team captain, Richard, and his house is big and comfortable.  He just graduated from law school and has some time off before he starts his job in June.  So he has been showing me around and taking me mountain biking and exploring.  He has a huge backyard with a garden and pool, and after reading and swimming for a couple hours

Backyard of Richard’s house. Not a bad place to be holed up for a while.

yesterday his mom made a nice and simple cold dinner of different meats and breads and cheeses. We drank a bottle of white wine, which even I enjoyed—I don’t usually like wine all that much.  all in all, I think it will be great to stay here for a while.  I’m enjoying having the day to myself a little to check out the city and be on my own. We played our first match of the season yesterday and today I am resting because my calf is bothering me and I want it to heal so I can start running.  I think it will be amazing to run in this area and am sad that my leg is not letting me.  I did however, just spend an hour walking around the gorgeous, antique streets that are Steyr, and now I find myself, as I have in various countries and continents, in McDonalds, where the air smells

The river flows right through the center of town.

of French fries and the internet is reliable.  What a weird world.  There were half dozen adorable coffee shops along the river and in the old city any of which would have been great to write in.  But they don’t have wifi.  So here I am, surrounded by annoying highschoolers destroying their bodies with an unending supply of saturated fat and cholesterol.

The match yesterday could not have been more of a success.  Although I was pretty nervous to start out, I ended up beating the Bulgarian that the other team brought in solidly 6-1, 6-1.  It was a huge relief to start the season off so well and the match was exactly how I had hoped this experience would be.  About

Hans was there early in order to stake out a prime seat on the stadium court.

twenty-five of the club members came out to watch, many just to see me play, and they spent the afternoon drinking wine, eating lunch, and cheering.  They made me very welcome and a few different people told me how happy they were to watch me and how impressed they were by my skills.  All I can say is that after so much time grinding, playing qualifying tournaments at Futures, and often being disappointed by my results it was a huge ego boost to be a big fish finally and show off for people a bit.  It is nice to have a different level of comparison for a change to remind myself that my hard work has paid off and I am in fact very good at this game.  And it was fun to have people cheering for me and to be part of a team again, which I haven’t had since college.

I think I am a clay courter now. I’m not looking forward to returning to hard courts anymore.

I felt solid on the clay, and the Bulgarian was actually a good player, although he may have been sharper a few years ago.  He just was not consistent enough to stay with me from the baseline, which made him go for too much and play overly aggressive at times.  It was a good match though despite the score and was definitely not a blowout.  As a whole, the level of play in the league is fairly low when compared to the professional environments I have played in.  But the guys are awesome and they take it seriously, really getting into the matches and competing hard.  We ended up winning as a team by the final score of seven matches to two, which was good enough for first place in the league.  Although it is only the beginning of the season, this is the first time in

View of the courts from the clubhouse. TC Gruen Weiss Steyr is a tiny club with just one hundred and thirty members. It is really nice though and definitely an intimate community.

the history of the team that they have led the league, so everyone is happy and seem to be satisfied with the decision to bring me onto the team. The final match of the day, which was important because it decided whether or not the team got a bonus point for the win—which ended up putting us first in the league—came down to my partner and my doubles match at the second position.  My partner’s name was Libish and he played the bottom spot for us in singles.  Apparently he struggles with nerves sometimes so he was ecstatic when we came from behind to win our match in a tiebreaker in the third set.  I was feeling pretty confident and a bit cocky after my success and all the congratulations I had received from the singles.  But it turned out one of our opponents, who

Celebrating our win in the clubhouse with Hans’ cake that was “made by a murderer.” Literally…. He buys them from the prison on the edge of town. I thought that was funny.

had been demolished earlier by our five player, was a doubles specialist.  He humbled me a bit early on by poaching on one of Libish’s returns and hitting me pretty hard right in the head.  That was enough to put a damper on my ego trip and snap me back into the match, which we managed to squeak out close in the third. The club was very happy with the result and rounds of beer started flowing from every direction.  Hans brought out a Murder Cake, which was made by a famous chef in the local prison, and everyone was happy to celebrate and prepare for a night on the town.   I probably had a few too many beers because I had to take a nap before dinner and drink a bunch of coffee in order to be ready to go out.  But it ended up being a great time and we staid out

Richard took me mountain biking for the first time. I only fell once getting to the viewpoint at the top. You could see the whole city spread out below.

till five in the morning making an unofficial pub-crawl of the local Steyr nightlife.  At this point I think the guys really like me and the Austrian part of this experience appears to have turned out to be all that I could have hoped for and more.  They really seem to appreciate that I want to be a real part of the team and care about them and the club.  I guess a lot of teams hire players who just come in the day of the match, take their money, and leave.  So they like the fact that I want more than that. I have the rest of today and tomorrow to chill a bit and be on my own and then I’m off to Fulda, Germany where I’ll meet my second team and prepare for my first match there next week.  Hopefully my situation in Fulda will be

These cows took a liking to me for some reason. The whole pack of them followed me around for like fifteen minutes. It was creepy and flattering. The one in the front appeared to be their leader.

close to as nice as it has turned out to be in Steyr.

Club Tennis in Europe: A New Beginning But the End is Near.

I have been meaning to post this for a couple weeks but my computer broke and I had to get it fixed before I could get anything up.  I’ll probably have another couple updates soon while I try to get caught up.

Apr 29, 2012,

Welcome to Austria

I have begun what will be the last trip of my professional career.  Not to say I won’t continue to train or will never travel and compete again at some point.  But after the summer I will no longer do it full time.  During my visit in Palo Alto with Stefanie I was fortunate enough to secure a real job for the fall, assistant coaching for the women’s tennis program at a Division Two college called the Dominican University of California.  Dominican is a small private school with about

Resort in Karnten

two thousand students and it is located in Marin County, which is twelve miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.  The campus is cute and little and Marin is a relaxed community outside the buzz of the big city.  It is quaint and picturesque and will be a great place to spend some time and enjoy a more settled lifestyle.

View from hotel balcony in Karnten

Besides working with the team I will spend most of my time teaching lessons at the University and at the various clubs in the area, as that will be where I make my money.   It will be a busy life and I will spend a lot of time on court, which can be a grind, but hopefully I’ll still be able to train and stay in shape so I can play the local money tournaments and maintain my skills.  I am looking forward to a new chapter though and it is exciting to think about moving down to the Bay Area the end of August and finding a place to live and set myself up.

Not me, but a good picture of the environment we are training in. It is picturesque and comes complete with mooing cows right behind the fence.

For now at least though, I am still traveling, playing, and living the life of a professional tennis player.  After unwinding for a month from South America and training hard to recover some of the fitness I lost while being on the road, I hopped back on a plane, this time to Austria, where I will remain for the next two months.  Actually I will be splitting my time between Austria and Germany, where I am being paid to play the top position on Club championship teams in each country.  There are many different leagues and divisions, with the highest being comprised of top ATP players competing for large prizes and the lowest being recreational.  My teams are somewhere in the middle.   They don’t seem to take it too seriously but they care enough to put me up for a couple months and pay me to play for them.

Not quite a 6’2” American with a huge serve. But they tell me I look quite scrappy, which I’m choosing to take as a compliment

I just found out today that my German friend who helped set me secure the Austrian team lied to them when he was describing me.  Apparently they were expecting a really tall American with a huge serve, so it must have come as a bit of a shock to them when I showed up.  As embarrassing as it is to know how big—maybe I should say small—a disappointment I must have been initially, I guess it was a good thing he tricked them, as they may have been less enthusiastic about the prospect of someone who is stocky, 5’7’’(on a good day), and has a bum shoulder.  I think I’ve won them over though at this point with my 80 mph slider and my 60 mph kick out wide followed by a kamikaze net rush.  Or maybe it was my charm and bubbly personality.  Either way they seem to be satisfied at least for the moment.

The Austrian Club is located in a small northern city called Steyr.  I arrived into Vienna though three days ago and was promptly taken to Kärnten, which is in the south near the border with Slovenia.  It is a ritual for most Austrian teams to spend the last weekend before the start of the season together, training and in some cases relearning how to play tennis.  My team chose to come to a tennis resort in the majestic southern hills.

Kärnten is beautiful and I can only describe it as exactly what I imagined Austria would look like.  Grassy hillsides, serene lakes, and snow-covered mountains in the distance…it is really amazing.   The trip in general could not have worked out better at this point.  There are eleven in our group and they are all friends from childhood and growing up in a small town.  They live in different cities now so they are all happy to be celebrating being reunited again.  They have been very hospitable and great at including me and taking me into their crew.  The tennis has been fun and it is nice to be on clay again after a quick sojourn on the American hardcourts.  We are hitting twice a day and spending the rest of our time playing soccer, volleyball, and lounging around in the pool and sun.  I’m a bit relieved that I am in fact the best player here, although there are a couple guys who are pretty good.  I was worried that I would not be good enough or

Another set of courts

something and they wouldn’t think I was worth the money.  But that is not the case and it is fun relaxing into the experience and not taking it too seriously.  For the most part the guys are recreational players who are just out to have a good time and it is fun impressing them a bit.  I am still a little nervous for the matches because I want to win and perform well but I think in general I am a good fit for the team, which is nice and a relief.

The coach of our team, Hans, is the most adorable man I’ve ever met. He is not even related to anyone on the team. He just loves sports and enjoys any time he gets to hang out with the guys and watch them play. 

The funniest guy is definitely our coach, who is ninety-two and an integral part of the team.  He is the mascot and biggest fan.  His name is Hans, of course, and he used to be a world-class marathon runner during World War Two.  He is adorable and cannot speak a word of English.  But he talks to me in German all the time even though he knows I can’t understand him at all.  The guys advised me to just say “Ja, Ja…” and nod my head, which seems to satisfy him.  I am really impressed and moved by how respectful and sweet the guys are to include Hans in the trip. We eat all our meals together and everyone really seems to love having him around. He still drives and even took me to the train station the other day. The only way I’ve been able to actually talk to him is through google translate on my iPhone. We cant communicate at all but I love him.  He swears the reason he made it to being so old is that he never smoked or drank hard liquor, but he definitely has like four glasses of wine every night and one in the morning to get himself started.  Whatever he is doing must be working though because as frail as he may be he is still able to chase down balls for us when they go over the fence—ever slowly of course.  One of the days he got the worst sunburn I have ever seen all on his legs, which did not bother him at all since he says he hasn’t felt his legs in years.  I guess sometimes being old has its advantages.

A hard day of Training with the team.

We will stay at the resort for another couple days before heading back north.  I’m looking forward to getting to Steyr because I am told it is beautiful.  Our first match is next Saturday, so I will be free to explore and train until then.  Our team is in the third league in the region but fortunately for me there is another team in the city that plays in the first league, so I will have some solid guys with which to train.  I am told the area surrounding Steyr is typical Austrian woodland and I cannot wait to go on some long runs and soak it all in while I prepare to compete.  Our first opponents have brought in a Bulgarian to play the top position so I definitely want to be fit and ready to represent.

A long night after training.

For now though it is warm and sunny outside and I think I am missing out on a game of soccer down by the lake.  Although I am sad that the end of my career is in sight, it is amazing to be in Europe with such a long trip ahead of me.  Most likely I will be gone until early August—after Austria and Germany I will spend a month in France playing money tournaments—so I have plenty of time to squeeze every last drop out of being here and continuing to train and compete at a high level.  This is an amazing experience and lifestyle and after all the years of struggling mentally and emotionally with my relationship to tennis, I am pleased to finally be enjoying the incredible opportunity I have with a perspective that allows me to get the most out of it.  The worst thing I can say right now is that I squandered an outrageous chip lead in poker tonight, so life is most definitely good.

Back in the States… Briefly

Apr 1, 2012

Good to be home. My first weekend back in Santa Cruz, California. By home I mean the States. I don't get back to Portland for another couple weeks.

I’ve been back in the States for a week now and have been struggling to stir myself to finish my last summary of my South American trip.  I’ve been visiting my girlfriend Stefanie, who is on her spring break from Stanford right now, and we are currently sitting in a coffee shop in Santa Cruz, California.  We escaped to the coast for the weekend to celebrate my birthday, which was a couple weeks ago.  Besides the fog and rain and the fact that I got both of us sick, we had a great time.  It is a crisp, sunny day now and we are putting off heading back to Palo Alto because that will signify that it is time for her to get ready for her last quarter of school to start.  It’s not so bad for me. I have definitely enjoyed relaxing with her this week, recuperating from the travel and cold I picked up on the plane from Buenos Aires.  But I am feeling better now and am excited to start training hard tomorrow and getting ready for my next trip, which I leave for in three and a half weeks.

Worst hostel ever in Buenos Aires. We thought it looked funky at first. It definitely was. So funky we didn't want to touch anything. Definitely a death trap.

On April 25th I am scheduled to fly to Vienna, Austria to meet up with one of the teams that recruited me to play in their Club matches this summer.  I will be in Europe for at least ten weeks, splitting my time between Steyr, Austria and Fulda, Germany, with a smattering of French money tournaments thrown in as well.  That is pretty much everything I know at this point.  Besides negotiating my salaries, which are modest but livable, I really have no idea what I’m getting myself into.  All of the websites and information I’ve found have been in German and it seems like the European Club Leagues are organized loosely, where people are kind of grandfathered in.  I’m not too worried though.  I’m sure I will figure things out once I get over there and at least I know I’ll be provided with places to live.  It sounds as though I am basically being adopted by these private clubs, meaning that I will be living with members and training, and hopefully teaching a few lessons during the day at their facilities.  But again, for now that is just speculation.

Buenos Aires city center.

I am excited though to go on another adventure soon and happy to be somewhere familiar for the moment to catch my breath a little first.  As amazing as traveling is, it can also be exhausting.  I’ve become acutely aware  of when I have had enough and am ready to go home.  Normally this feeling coincides with periods of logistical frustration, but I have found that eventually, I reach a point in every trip when I start pining for stability and a return to a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle.  Being on the road is not unhealthy in and of itself.  But the inconsistency of constantly being on the move, and having to eat out, and plan your day-to-day life takes a toll on the mind and body.  Just from an athletic standpoint it is hard to maintain a fitness

"Lomo a la Pobre." My favorite meal in South America. You can't see the pile of french fries hidden beneath the eggs and onions.

regiment when you lack the regularity of a solid gym.  So no matter what—although the rate depends on how diligently I try to stem the tide—being on tour for long periods tends to feel like a decaying process as I watch my body literally weaken before my eyes.  This is a dynamic that all professional athletes compete with.  But the individual nature and intense travel between countries and continents specific to the tennis lifestyle is such that it is especially prevalent.

We actually found an indoor red clay court two blocks away from the hostel we stayed at in Buenos Aires. This was my last hit of the trip. It was also the only day I ever got Nick to throw his racquet. He tossed it from his baseline all the way over the net onto my side of the court. Very impressive.

I reached my threshold in Buenos Aires, where Nick and I visited for a week before our flights home.  Buenos Aires is a beautiful and modern city that is often compared to Europe due to the architectural and stylistic influences that are so clearly apparent.  We spent our first few nights staying in the liveliest part of the city called Palermo, in the worst hostel I have ever seen.  Covered in wall to wall graffiti and filled to the brim with punks and hipsters, we literally hated our lives as we roasted in our tiny little room–summer in Argentina is sweltering– with no fan or air conditioner.  We tried our best to hide from the bugs because they were definitely not hiding from us, and any moment that took us near the bathroom was a nightmare.  I won’t elaborate any further, but lets just say the place was terrible and I’m not sure how we lasted there for three nights.  It was certainly an awful place to wake up after a long night.

If all else fails I want to be a professional dog walker. Buenos Aires is a huge urban city so you often saw people out walking a handful or two of dogs. It cracked me up that all the dogs spoke Spanish.

The city was incredible though and we spent most of our time taking advantage of the famous Buenos Aires nightlife.  At this point in our trip the tennis was over so we had no qualms staying out till six in the morning dancing and exploring our surroundings.  I am not sure why South Americans choose to stay out so late, but the entire culture seems to be shifted a bit from their Northern counterparts.  Restaurants don’t even begin serving dinner until 9:30 pm and you are a fool if you arrive at a club before 2 am.  No matter the reason though, this dynamic makes for some long and interesting nights as well as some short and painful days.  As much as I loved Buenos Aires and would have enjoyed more time to discover the various parts of the city, my memory of the time I spent there is jaded by the strange lifestyle I led, sleeping most of the day away before rousing in time for a late afternoon lunch, maybe a quick sojourn out to see something while the sun is up, and then a regression to the revelries of the night before.

Walking around near the University in the Recoleta District.

After close to a week of this, even having moved to a more comfortable hostel, my body and soul felt thoroughly worn out and I was happy to start the twenty hour journey home on three separate planes.  I stopped first in Lima, Peru and then in El Salvador, where I met up with all the Spring Breakers, returning from their tropical vacations.   It was a shock to find myself surrounded by Americans again, waiting in line at Subway listening to people get frustrated as they struggled to order their Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki.  I had to remind myself that this is probably what I sounded like a couple months ago–doubtful, but a little empathy never hurt anyone–and I tried not to hold it against them when they  adapted by continuing to speak English, only slower and with a Spanish accent, as if that might help the workers understand them.

"Floralis Generis." At night the flower closes up tight, but it blooms during the day, opening up for all to see. Made for a pretty picture.

Anyway though, I made it home and it is nice to be back in the comfort of California.  I was on the road for ten weeks, I played six tournaments, and I saw four countries on two continents.  This was the first trip that I set out on alone, and although I did end up finding people to travel with, it was empowering to figure things out as I went and see it through to the end.  I never would have imagined in January, when I started, that I would end up spending six weeks with a Frenchman that I had never met or that I would end up deep in Chilean Patagonia with a backpack full of rented gear.  But I did and it was awesome and the fact that it came together so haphazardly makes it all the better.

Rose Garden in the Central Park of Buenos Aires.

I have a few weeks now to train and prepare myself for the next stage of my tennis career, where I’ll transition from playing Futures tournaments—the lowest level of professional events which are notorious for yielding very little money—to playing European leagues and amateur, prize money tournaments, which may not have the glory of the ATP but offer a much more lucrative and sustainable lifestyle.  Hopefully I will get a chance to play more Futures at some point, but for now, after spending excessively while pursuing my dream of being a professional tennis player, my new goal is to survive and live off of money I make playing tennis.  I believe this is an achievable goal and it is ironic that I would have to retire from attempting to make it as a pro in order to do so. The distinction between the two designations is confusing, but what is important is I’m preparing for a new, interesting chapter in this experience.

The pier in Santa Cruz. Being back in California isn't that bad...

For the next couple weeks I’ll help train a top junior in the area while I work myself out using the Stanford facilities.  After traveling all over the world I think that the beauty and climate of Northern California rivals just about anywhere I have ever been.  I couldn’t find a better place to enjoy my short break from being on the road.