Archive | January 2012

Weathering Hights: The Mile and a Half High City

Jan 28, 2012

In a city that already stands at 7,500 feet,"Club Berimbau" is built at the top of one of the higher mountains. On a clear day when the smog isn't bad you can see all the way across the city and to the mountains on the far side.

Sorry I’ve been meaning to post for a couple days now and I have a lot to say so this might be a long one.  I’m in Mexico City and I actually just played my match in the qualifying for the second Mexican future.  I lost in three sets to a solid Brazilian player who is ranked #699 in the world.  I’m more bummed about this loss than I was last week because I was up on him and really should have pulled out the match.  Before I describe the match though I should explain the strange conditions we’re dealing with here in Mexico City.

Sunrise View

Mexico City is a huge, crowded city that sits in what is called the Valley of Mexico at the center of the High Plateaus.  It is estimated that the greater metropolitan area of Mexico City has a population of 21 million people and its mountainous location gives the city an elevation of close to 7,500 feet above sea level.  Such altitude drastically changes the conditions for a tennis match because the air is thinner, meaning that the ball has less resistance as it travels.  This dynamic makes it extremely hard to control a tennis ball because the forces you apply to with your racquet are all amplified by the lack of friction or opposition as it flies through the air.  In laymen’s terms, it makes it real hard to put spin on the ball and keep the damn thing in the court.  Also it makes the serve, which is already a hugely important aspect of the game, even more so because with less air resistance the ball moves quicker, the result being that people can just crack serves, putting even more pressure on the returner than usual.

Pressureless balls. Have you ever seen tennis balls that come in a cardboard box?

To combat all these peculiarities that come from playing at such high an altitude we use what are called “pressureless” tennis balls, which are basically just dead balls that don’t bounce very well and can sort of counteract the effects of the thin air.  In the end though, for all intensive purposes, what you wind up with is crappy tennis, played with balls that feel terrible since they are heavy and don’t bounce, under conditions that are still extremely hard to control.  Sounds fun right?  The good news, although I guess it didn’t really matter that much, is that my game is actually fairly suited to such wacky tennis because it gives an advantage to players who hit the ball relatively flat, since spin has less of an effect when the ball is moving so fast through the air.  And growing up playing mostly indoors definitely tailored my game to playing flat since indoor courts are generally faster than outdoor courts.  So, to make a long story short, although I feel awful along with everyone else playing here, there is a good chance that I may feel less awful than many.

Besides the effect the altitude has on the balls and the act of playing tennis, it also greatly affects the simple physiology of existing so high above sea level.  Luckily though, due to my early exit from Monterrey, I’ve been in Mexico City training since Wednesday, which has allowed me both to get used to the strangeness of playing here as well as helping my body to adapt a little to functioning in the thin air.  It’s strange how you can actually feel the change in the amount of oxygen your lungs are getting.  I noticed it immediately when I became winded just climbing the stairs to get to my first practice court.  I don’t know whose idea it was to build the club on the side of a mountain, but I’ve climbed more stairs in the last three days than I have in the last two years of my life, and it’s a common joke that the hardest part of your match is getting to your court.   Luckily, after a couple days your lungs start getting used to the change, and although its still hard to catch your breath after a long point, at least you stop feeling light headed after a couple sprints across the court.  I’m hoping to hold on to all these extra red blood cells for a while if I can and maybe I’ll be in even better shape once I’m not playing on the moon anymore.

I like this picture. It looks and feels like we're playing tennis on the edge of the world.

Anyway, these were the conditions I was dealing with going into my match this morning.  The Brazilian’s name was Augusto Laranja and he was the fifth highest ranked player out of the sixty-four in the qualifying draw, so I knew he would be good.  But I also felt like he might struggle more than me with the altitude due to his probably being a clay-court player who likes to hit heavy, spin shots, and would thus give me a good opportunity for a highly ranked win.  Unfortunately it turned out that although I think he was a bit disoriented at first, he was still very talented and he managed to come from behind to beat me in a close three set match.  For those that understand a tennis match, I won the first set 6-3 and was up a break 3-1 in the second, even having break points to go up 4-1 and two breaks.  But to his credit the Brazilian did not give up and found a way to settle himself down and into the match, turning the set on me and forcing me to scrap and battle for every point.  Once he found his rhythm the match was neck and neck, both of us gaining leads and then losing them until I finally played a loose service game late in the third set and couldn’t recover.  He ended up beating me by a final score of 3-6 6-3 6-4.

My roommate Jon playing his qualifying match. Good view of how the courts are situated with the city spread out below and behind

All in all it was a good match and except for a couple loose points at inopportune moments I thought I played well and deserved to win.  The Brazilian proved though why he is ranked so highly in how well he fought back and was unwilling to just rollover and die like I had hoped he would.  Although I’ve had close matches with good players before, this was the first time I’ve played someone at his level and felt like I really could have and in fact should have won.  While I’m pretty disappointed to have lost early once again in this tournament, I made a strong showing after being dealt a tough draw and I’m happy for the most part with how I performed.  So life is good.

In non-tennis news, while there are quite a number of Americans playing this circuit, I am traveling with a guy from San Antonio, who played for University of Texas and graduated in 2010.  His Name is Jon Wiegand and he managed to find us housing for this tournament living with the family of a friend of his from college.  I have to say it has been a much better experience living in a Mexican household than staying in a hotel.  Not only does it save us money by not paying for a room, it is also extremely comfortable and nice to be taken in by such a generous family who has made it a point to take care of us.  Mexican hospitality is incredible and many of the players have been benefitting from various members of the club where the tournament is being held.

Our first night in Mexico City Siegfried and Ziggy took us out for some authentic Tacos de Pastor (pork tacos). I had eight of them. And thankfully haven't been sick yet.

Our host family’s story is particularly interesting.  It begins thirty years ago, when Siegfried Wieland (sounds a lot like Jon’s last name) came from Germany to Acapulco to vacation on the beach for a week and escape the cold of a harsh German winter.  Apparently, it all began when he was at a bar one night attempting to by an orange juice (I know, yeah right, what kind of German goes to a bar and orders an orange juice?  It’s ok though.  It’s been a long time and he can remember it however he wants).  Anyway, he got in an argument with the bar tender, who was trying to stiff him by charging him ten dollars for his drink, but the argument wasn’t going anywhere since he spoke no Spanish and the bar tender obviously didn’t know a word of German.  Luckily, a Mexican man who was also at the bar and happened to overhear what was going on randomly knew enough German to help Siegfried negotiate the situation, and afterwards invited him back to his table to have a drink with the girls he had come with.  One of those girls turned out to be Siegfried’s future wife, and after a night of dancing, what started as an argument with a local bar tender turned into the event that would change his life forever.  Siegfried has now lived in Mexico for thirty years, and although he still looks, sounds, and acts like the firm and proper German that he is, his roots have been everlastingly sown into the fertile, and passionate land that is Mexico.

So, strange as it sounds, Jon and I have been spending our stay in Mexico City “en la casa de los Wieland’s,” thoroughly enjoying all that Mexican/German hospitality has to offer.  Since I lost today I believe that tomorrow I will go see a professional soccer game with Ziggy, short for Siegfried II.  While I am still pretty bummed with having lost, I will keep training and preparing for the next tournament in Guatemala, and hopefully get some good sightseeing in while I’m still here hanging around.  By this point I’ve learned that disappointments and long waits are both part of the professional tennis experience, and while it is easy to get lonely and feel sorry for yourself, it is important to stay positive and not let such feelings get you down.  I know I could have done better but I’m still in Mexico City and I’m happy to have the time to explore a bit now and see what the city has to offer.

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Monday in Monterrey

Jan 23, 2012

It’s Monday in Monterrey and I’m relaxing after a long day of training.  I’ve been here since Thursday and once again I’ve started settling in to a routine, although not quite as comfortably as I was able in Tallahassee.

View out our hotel window. Bit of a glare but you can still see the mountains are beautiful.

It’s fairly hot here but thankfully not the sweltering, brain-frying kind of heat that I remember from my last trip to Mexico in September.  Monterrey is actually a really nice and fairly built up city.  It isn’t close to any beach or anything, but its hemmed in by huge mountains that remind me a little of Palm Springs.  It definitely has an arid desert feel that I’ve seen in many parts of Mexico.  But the grandeur of having the mountains in the distance certainly makes for a picturesque view from the window of our hotel room.

Sadly, although Monterrey is a beautiful place and has historically been known as one of Mexico’s proudest and most affluent cities, in the last few years it has deteriorated due to the activities of the drug cartels and has come to be known rather as a hotbed for the drug war we are always hearing about.  Regrettably, it is most famous recently, or infamous I should say, for having had a casino burned to the grown by one of the cartels with fifty people inside, showing that it probably deserves its reputation as a particularly dangerous and violent city.  I haven’t seen anything like that though and most all of the people I’ve dealt with have been very friendly.

Federal Police vans parked right outside the hotel Imagine how many men could fit in each one. Now Imagine them all walking around the lobby of the hotel ready for battle while I'm eating breakfast getting ready to go play a tennis match. Makes you think doesn't it?

I guess it probably helps that the tournament hotel happens to be the one in which an entire garrison of Mexican Federal Police are stationed and living.  Apparently, after the casino incident the Mexican government decided to deploy its national guard to the area to supplement the local police, which are extremely corrupt and ineffective.  And it just so happens that they are being housed during their deployment in the very hotel in which I am staying.  The hotel is called the Novotel, and it is a nice place besides the fact that it is literally crawling with Mexican Marines.

I guess I should be glad that they are around to look out for me, but I can’t really decide whether I feel safer for being under their protection or more like a target, knowing that if there was one place the cartels would want to take down it would be my current home.  For the most part the Marines seem pretty relaxed and normal going about their business.  It’s just hard to get used to seeing them all stomping around with M16s, shotguns, and in full body armor, clearly ready for anything at a moments notice.

My two new friends. They make me look tall but I wouldn't want to mess with them.

The funniest moments are in the elevators, where inevitably I end up sandwiched with my racquet bag in the middle of five fully decked out dudes.  I’m on the thirteenth floor and lets just say thirteen stories is a long time to stare a masked, helmeted, and heavily armed crew in the face.  Or rather stare at myself in their sunglasses.   Besides the fact that for the most part they are pretty short—I tower over many of them—I would not want to mess with any of these tough looking little guys.  Like I said before though, mostly my buddies and I have felt pretty safe walking around and going to dinner at night and whatnot.  Hopefully things will stay that way.

In tennis-news, I lost in the second round of qualifying on Saturday to a really solid American player.  It was my second match of the day after beating a young Mexican pretty easily earlier in the day.  The kid I lost to is twenty years old and turned pro after winning the division one NCAA tournament in 2009 as a freshman.  His name is Devin Britton and he’s currently ranked #714 in the world.  He’s a big guy and hits a hard, heavy ball, which is even more effective playing at a higher elevation like we are where the air is thinner and the ball moves through the court fast.  Although I felt pretty overmatched I played him tough, losing 6-4 7-5.  My goal was just to keep playing hard and stick around long enough to get an opportunity, which I did late in the second set, with two break points at 5-all.  Unfortunately he has a big serve and managed to hold me off and take the set in the end.  I was happy with how I played though and felt like I competed well in spite of being a bit outgunned.  Overall, I lost early but am not disappointed.  Now I have a week to train and get ready for the next tournament, which is in Mexico City.  I’ll probably stick around Monterrey until Wednesday or Thursday, hitting with a couple different guys a day in order to see as many different looks as I can to prepare for next weekend.  I apologize to the non-tennis players reading this if the tennis talk is annoying or hard to understand.  Ill try to keep it to a minimum if I can but sometimes you’ll have to make do.

Baby tiger at the mall pet store

Oh and randomly we stumbled upon a baby tiger in the mall while we were getting lunch.  for 60,000 pesos–about $5,000–I could have bought him and taken him home then and there but instead I paid 50 pesos to play with him a little. He was pretty adorable, although he did try to bite me once.  Whatever though if I were him I’d for sure try to bite people.  He escaped from the room he was kept in right after this picture was taken and for a few minutes there was literally a tiger loose in the mall.  Just another day in Mexico I guess!

My buddy and me playing with the tiger. He totally reminded me of graham, my cat from college and beguira from the Jungle Book.

Goodbye Florida, Hello Mexico

Jan 19, 2012

 

Goodbye Tallahassee!  I’m on a plane headed for Monterrey for the first tournament in this Central American circuit.  The plan is to play two events in Mexico followed by one in Guatemala and one in Panama.  I’m meeting up with Jason Jung, who is a good player I met this summer at the Washington State Open.  He’s from the Los Angeles area and ironically grew up training with Andy, showing just how small the tennis world can be.  The plane is less than a fourth full, which is a refreshing change from the crowded sardine feeling you get a lot of the time.  It seems, with everything you hear in the news, Mexico may not be the most popular place to travel right now.  Whatever though, I appreciate the extra legroom.

I had a good last day and night in Florida.  Besides the necessary preparations for my trip such as laundry and packing, I took it a bit easier training for the day.  This week I’ve played more tennis than I have in months and my body isn’t quite used to it yet so I felt it would be beneficial not to work myself to death the day before traveling.  I hit in sparingly with FSU practice, did some light conditioning with the team, and just relaxed and hit around with Andy for a while.  We hadn’t had much of a chance to play together since he’s been working so much and it was nice to get out on the court with him.  At the end of the day we even got in a couple of sets of mixed doubles with Annie and Lori.  Sometimes it’s nice to take a step back from “training” and just have fun playing for a change.  It refreshes the mind to take some of the pressure away so you can just enjoy the feeling of being on the court.  Especially when you get to show off a little for the ladies.  Annie and I played well but weren’t able to capitalize on a couple match points, losing 12-10 in a third set tiebreaker.  We played well though and had a good time, even if it would have been nice to take them down.

Clay getting revenge. The Pull-up contest quickly turned to Push-ups

We debated going out to a bar for a drink to celebrate my last night in town but decided we were too tired so instead we went back to Andy’s to have a few beers.  Annie came with us and Clay stopped by as well to have a good old-fashioned pull-up contest.  He and I had been talking about it all week seeing as he’s a personal trainer and I just like doing pull-ups.  But really it’s just hard to pass up a chance to take your shirt off, blast some music, and do your best to boost your ego by dominating your buddies (stop giggling I know how that sounds).  I picked Chili Peppers as my montage music and Clay chose Muse to pump him up. It was a hard fight and while the shit-talking and excuses were flying in all directions I managed to get the best of him putting up 33 to his 24.  I’m certain he will not be pleased with my including this segment but what’s the point of winning if you can’t gloat a bit afterwards.  Sorry Clay.  I know you’ll get me when I come back in April.

Besides that excitement I had a pretty tame last night in Tallahassee.  Andy and I chilled and watched some Australian Open while I stole some of his music and got ready for my trip.  I’m definitely sad to leave and it’s surprising how settled I became in just a week and a half.  I guess it must be that southern hospitality or something, but between Andy and his friends’ gracious hosting and the FSU team’s generosity in including me so much I almost feel like I’m leaving home again.  Hopefully I will get to come back soon though to visit and train some more, and who knows, maybe I’ll even be part of the coaching staff someday.  That’s a long way off though.  For now it’s time to focus on the next leg of my journey and see if I can’t do some damage in these tournaments.

Monterrey from the Plane

Life in Tallahassee

Jan 18, 2012

I woke up early today and cant get back to sleep.  This week has gone by so fast and I have to start getting ready to leave for Monterrey, Mexico tomorrow.  I’ve had some exciting things happen this week.  Besides seeing Andy and the great training I’ve been getting, I’ve developed a pretty solid repoire with the FSU team and coaches.  It almost feels like I’ve settled in and created a little life here in Tallahassee.  It helps that I’ve basically been living Andy’s life, but the people here have been so welcoming that I have to say I’m not really looking forward to leaving.  Just to mention a few of the people I’ve gotten to know the last week:

FSU Dual Match. Go Noles!

Clay, the team trainer, has the thickest Alabama accent and is always good for a laugh.  He is Andy’s best friend here and when I met him he was drunk as a skunk celebrating Alabama’s crushing of LSU in the BCS national title game. Clay works hard for the team and it was nice to watch the dual matches with him last weekend.  FSU hosted their first three matches of the spring season, not losing a match in any for the first time in like 30 years.  I like to think it was the extra training I’ve been giving them that helped tip the balance.

Annie is one of the women from Andy’s lady’s clinic and she is a true sweetheart.  She worried that I was bored and that Andy wasn’t taking care of me, so she always made it a point to bring me whoopee pies or take me out to dinner when Andy was working late and I was stuck at the courts. She didn’t quite understand that loitering around at a tennis club is half the life of a tennis bum, but it was nice having someone look after me a bit.  Its fun now that I feel old enough to interact with adults on an equal plane.  I’m not exactly sure when things changed, but I finally don’t feel like the awkward youngster when I spend time with people older than me. I say this because I went to dinner last night with Annie and her friend Lori, another woman from the ladies clinic, and between Annie explaining in detail what a “superman” is and Lori giving a first hand account of the ineptitude of African Lions’ sexual staying power, I realized how comfortable I’ve become with older crowds.  While it may just be the southern charm, I believe I finally understand that at least some women, like wine, really may get more interesting with age.  My girlfriend will for sure bust my balls for that but I say it in the most objective, reporterly fashion of course and my comments should be taken as such.

A Southern staple, “fried pickles.”

Juao is the 18-year old Brazilian recruit who just started at FSU and is brand new to the team.  I wish I had taken a picture of him.

Annie introduced me to Whoopie Pies. Not sure what they are but definitely delicious

He’s 6’6’’ and is a goofy, lanky, good-natured kid, who has gotten better every time I’ve played him.  He has one of the biggest forehands I’ve ever seen.  I beat up on him the first day I got to Tallahassee but have since been unable to take a set in the next three tries.  He’s wild and sometimes awkward on the court but seems to have a raw talent that if harnessed could definitely do great things.  At this point I’m really the only one that’s hit much with Juao so I’m interested to see how he matches up with the rest of his team once they start mixing him into practice a bit more.  Hopefully he’ll impress everyone the way he’s impressed me and prove I’m not crazy after getting stomped on so many times.

All in all, Andy has a good life here in Tallahassee and although he works long hours, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it’s tempting to find something like this for myself.  Along those lines, Dwayne, the head coach, casually mentioned the possibility of a graduate scholarship if I wanted to be a manager, and I’m assuming assistant coach for the team.  That is really exactly what I would be looking for if I had decided yet what grad school to pursue. In a year or two I will certainly follow such opportunities.  But right now I don’t think I’m ready to commit to anything, especially in Tallahassee, which is nice but pretty far from home and the places I’d imagined myself living.  Its nice to have been asked though and definitely tempting to look into.  I could certainly do a whole lot worse, and it would be great to be affiliated with such a big, fun University and have my school paid for.  The only thing is I would probably rather be on the west coast if I can.  I’ve pretty much decided that in September I will start looking into post-tennis possibilities, so for now at least I’ll put that on hold and we’ll see what I can come up with then.  Who knows though, maybe I’ll end up in Tallahassee someday afterall.   Andy certainly has a good life here and it’s been nice being a guest in it.

TC Gruen-Weiss Fulda

In other news, I’ve been offered positions on two Euoropean club teams for the spring, one in Steyr, Austria and one in Fulda, Germany.  Both teams recruited me to play the top spot for them, and they are providing me with free housing and around 300 euros per match.  Andy Dimke, a German who I competed against in college and thankfully stayed in touch with, helped me find and set up the teams and at this point I think I will head over there in late April and stay through late June when the Austrian league ends and the German league breaks for the summer.  I will probably meet up with the Austrian team in Croatia, where they go for a long weekend to train before the start of the season every year.  They sound like a bunch of young guys who play for fun but are hoping to do well enough this year to move up a division, which is why they are willing to pay me to play in some of their toughest matches.  I don’t know how high the level of tennis will be but either way it will be an incredible experience.  I’ll be traveling back and forth between Germany and Austria, being paid to play the highlight match in weekend dual matches, with the entire week off in between to travel and play tournaments. All on real, Roland Garros, red clay.  And the best part is I should be back in time to play most of the PNW summer circuit with Andy and my friends back home.  Sounds like a perfect culmination to my professional career, especially after taking the next four months to give the futures circuit one last, ditch effort.  The only thing that could mess up my plans is if I picked up some points soon and thought I could really make a run at the ATP rankings with a more sustained effort.  Guess I’ll just have to see how things go. For now at least I have a good plan, which should make for a great next 8 months.  Andy just woke up and the Querry/Tomic Australian Open match is on so I think I have to hit that up now.

A New Mindset

Jan 17, 2012

Chilling with Andy and the Seminole

I’ve been in Tallahassee for just over a week now visiting with my good friend Andy Gerst, who I traveled to tournaments with last year and who is an assistant coach at Florida State.  I came here to get a chance to hit outdoors a bit before I head down to Central America to play four Futures, which are the lowest level of professional tournaments.  Its been great getting the chance to train with a top level division 1 team and for the most part I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how I’ve stacked up against them.  I’ve more than held my own with the team and Andy tells me I would make their starting lineup, which is a nice compliment and shows me how far I’ve come since my own college days.  It’s safe to say I would never have been recruited by Florida State when I was looking at colleges.  So to come and beat some of their guys and compete so well with them is a good milestone for me and confirms that I have improved a lot and my hard work has paid off. This has been a really nice way to start my trip and reorient myself with playing professionally again.  Coming off a fall in which I mostly taught at University of Portland and studied for the LSAT it’s nice to refocus on my tennis a bit.  I’m really trying to maintain a better perspective now than I have in the past.  Throughout my life I’ve often let my worries and insecurities control me too much, which has led to a topsy-turvy career and psyche at times.  I think that the nature of tennis breeds this kind of inner turmoil in part but also for some reason I’ve been particularly prone to it.  Maybe I just overanalyze things, but as far back as I can remember I’ve just striven to be better and perform better, both of which aren’t bad things if they are used to motivate.  But too often these traits have turned to disappointment and letdown rather than inspiration, which is a hard emotion for a young person to feel constantly.  I think this may be the separator when it comes to great athletes, and especially great tennis players.  I have so many memories of underperforming at tournaments and almost feeling the need to punish myself by being sad and not allowing myself to have fun like the other kids.  As if it showed to my parents, my coaches, my friends, and mostly myself that I cared and was not alright with my poor performance or how good I thought I was or whatever.  I know this sounds ridiculous but it was almost as if I felt the need to show people that I was better than that by my reaction afterward since I hadn’t done it on the court.

Wall of FSU locker room

This sort of attitude does not breed the kind of determination that is needed to improve and work on one’s game because it affords no room for error.  Life on the court becomes a constant battle to prove oneself.  A battle governed by fear.  Not just fear of losing but fear of letting down your family and coaches, of looking bad, of being “not as good” as your friends or competition…etc.  Basically your tennis is turned into a life or death struggle where losing is unbearable and carries a shame that devalues the identity that you strive so hard to maintain.  An identity that has somehow become indecipherable from your ego.  You would expect that with such an awful downside to losing, winning would be the best feeling ever because it validates you in all the ways you want and need.  But while this is in some sense true, in fact it really doesn’t play out like that.  Sadly, winning becomes more of a relief than a victory.  Like a drug or something.  More of a “Thank God I didn’t lose!” than a happy feeling.   What I’m trying to say rather circuitously is that competition—particularly competition in tennis, which is extremely individual and dog eat dog—can create a dynamic where losing is death and winning is not life, but rather a reprieve from death.

D1 Athletics!

I know I’ve struggled with these concepts throughout my tennis career and I’ve seen others struggle with them as well.  It always seemed so easy for the players at the top, the ones who were winning the tournaments and were the envy of everyone else around.  It was strange to watch because they all seemed so happy and content all the time.  But why wouldn’t they be?  I always told myself I would be happy and content too if I was winning or getting to the finals of nationals and everyone knew how good I was.  So it made sense to me when I saw those players smiling and swimming and joking around when they occasionally lost matches.  Yes I knew even then that everyone loses in tennis at times.  But it just didn’t seem so bad when those players lost, because everyone already knew how good they were.  This obviously brings to mind the chicken and the egg, but either way, these players had found a way to not only play at a higher level but also to maintain a fun, productive attitude and psyche while doing so.

I know all this sounds stupid and definitely is more than anyone would ever want to know about the inner-workings and craziness of young tennis players, but its real and its taken me many years to fully understand it.  So I have decided to finally find and actively incubate the perspective I’ve needed all along in order to fully enjoy this last segment of my competitive career, as well as to save the fortune I would invariably have to spend on therapy if I never address my foolishness.  Although it is still a battle to not let worries and results color my mentality, as counterintuitive as it sounds, I’m working hard to relax and enjoy the process and experience of whatever this time may be.  Maybe it only happens once you come to terms with the full arc of your career, but I’m finding that its finally getting easier to let things go and be happy to just be out there.  As much as I’d love to go back in time and force that perspective on my younger self, I’m just glad that I’m able to have it now.  I lost a lot of time being disappointed and discontent and I’m dedicated now to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

Beginnings…

Jan 10, 2012

As much as I hate the word blog, I’ve been meaning to start one for a long time.  I’m not sure why the idea seemed so intimidating, but I guess at some point you have to just jump right in.  I should probably begin with how I got here before I delve into where I am.  For a year and a half now I’ve been training and traveling the world playing professional tennis tournaments.  I’d like to say that for the last year and a half I’ve been a professional tennis player, and I could certainly make an argument that I have, but I’ve always felt a bit awkward wearing the label.  It implies an arrogance I don’t feel and as much as I would call myself that, it isn’t a true definition of how I’ve really gone about my career.  I’ve always made travel and planning decisions based on the experience I want to have rather than the most strategic ways to accrue the most points and rise in the ATP ranks.  And while I don’t use this as an excuse for not having been more successful or whatnot, it has definitely made for a more atypical “professional” career based on some standards.  I used to think that my discomfort came from not living up to what I thought the title represented, namely making money and having the glamour of being a successful professional athlete.  But I’ve since come to realize, or rather decided that the distinction is not a failure but rather a choice to make the process what’s important so that the means can always justify the end, no matter if that’s 100 in the world, 1,000 in the world or nothing at all.  You constantly hear coaches advise that winning cant be all that’s important and it really is true, especially on the professional tour (just for the record my highest ranking so far was 1,420 in the world, although it expired last October).

There are just so many talented and hardworking players that it is too hard to make the results of competing with all of them what are important.  I’ve seen so many guys tear themselves apart over how they’re doing—I’ve certainly been there myself at times—and it does not seem like the way to enjoy the last years and months of your career.  At twenty-four I am realistic with what I’m capable of, knowing that if I was ever going to be on TV playing at Wimbledon it would probably have happened by now.  But I’ve played this game and had this dream since the day I could walk, and I want to milk every last drop I can get out of it, in whatever form that means.  For that reason, although I work hard and strive to improve every day, I say I travel to professional tournaments and attempt to rest easy in that being the end I want.  In any case though, I have in fact spent my recent past actively pursuing my childhood dream of being, or better, becoming a professional tennis player, whether I’ve officially made it or not. Thankfully the pursuance of this dream has made for a great and interesting time.

I’ve traveled far and wide playing the game that I love and to which I have devoted so much of my life.  From the hustle and heat of LA, where great players seem to grow on trees, to the ice and snow of a Montreal winter that forces you to adapt to crazy indoor courts, and all the way to small, secluded towns I cant even remember the names of in Laos and Thailand where nobody’s even heard of tennis—I’ve found my way on buses and planes and trains.  While I can’t say this pursuit has been the most economically lucrative, it has been exciting and definitely important.  It’s given me a reason to travel and see places I would never have thought to visit, as well as a purpose that has been both empowering and at times a burden.

Cruising the streets of Laos, Racquets in hand

Sometimes I wonder if it would be better or simpler to just travel and be a tourist, since the tournaments don’t always take you to the places you want to go, and even if they do they don’t always leave you with the time and energy to really explore as much as you’d like.  But there is something energizing and gratifying about being taken to strange places for the sport, job, hobby—call it whatever you want—that you love and have chosen to pursue.  I don’t really know how to describe it but its fun.  I understand that reasonable people look at me walking around with tennis racquets in places like Carracas, Venezuela, known more as the kidnapping capital of the world than as a tourist destination, and wonder why I would go there to play tennis and pay good money for the privelage. Frankly, the answer is I don’t really know.  But I do.  And I’m glad that I have, as crazy as it seems.  For as often as I am forced to concede the ridiculousness of my existence to people—which is pretty often and in many different countries and languages—I also get to revel in the fact that I am experiencing cultures and places that few outsiders get to see.  Whether these turn out to be good experiences or bad, and places I liked or for which I didn’t particularly care, the important part is that I got to see it and know it and it catalog it away with everything that shapes me and my view of the world.  Besides the fact that I am pursuing a dream and I care deeply about my tennis, I wouldn’t trade the experiences and perspectives that tennis and this vagabond existence has given me for…for…well I cant really think of anything so certainly not for much.

The past year has been a learning experience, and while it has been amazing to travel the world as I’ve described, it has also been trying at times and I’ve had to realize that there will always be things to deal with no matter where you are and what you’re doing.  I’ve gotten a bit off topic but the point of all this was to say that I’ve had a crazy year traveling to a lot of cool places. Although for one reason or another I didn’t pull it together to chronicle my adventures thus far, now, as I’m starting the next leg and likely last 8 months of this experience, I hope to keep a record of what I see, do, and learn while I continue to pursue my dream.  Perhaps at some point I’ll go back and try to recall a few specific episodes that stand out from my last year of traveling but that’s for another time.  I’ve described how I got here, and now I can finally begin to explain where I am.