Archive | February 2012

Fallen Soldiers

Feb 27, 2012

“La Virgen” in the background. I did a lot of praying this day and things worked out.

I experienced what I’ve been told is a miracle the other day.  I left my iPhone in a taxi when he dropped me off at the tennis courts to practice in the morning, and it managed to find its way back to me.  I realized that I had lost it about five minutes after the taxi drove away, and quickly started shuffling through every negative emotion available to me.  First came denial.  I just could not believe I had lost what I now understand has become, for better or worse, a part of my soul.  I dumped everything out of my bag onto the grass—the Jews leaving Temple were very confused—hoping that somehow it might appear out of some hidden crevice, smiling up at me mischievously.  Alas, I was not so lucky.

Next came anger as I ran back to the security guys at the entrance to find out if there was a way to track the taxi down.  They were not very helpful and did not seem to understand the seriousness of the situation.  I’ll admit I must not have been the easiest person to deal with at the time, for in my panicked state my Spanish abandoned me and for the most part I found myself frantically questioning the poor men in English with a Spanish accent or word thrown in here or there for style and so they could better understand.  I couldn’t help but figure that it was like a kidnapping, where the first fifteen minutes are the most crucial, and your chances of finding the subject decrease dramatically after you reach that threshold and the trail goes cold.

At one point I got the guards so riled up they decided to call the police and see what they suggested we do.  We dialed the Chilean equivalent of 911 but the police just laughed and told me that it must have been an expensive cab ride.  Haha…real funny.  Eventually I was able to wrangle a yellow pages directory—apparently they still exist—out of them so that I could call every taxi company in Santiago and have them all send out the alert over the radios that my beloved iPhone was in dire straights.  Unfortunately, there are approximately a billion taxi companies in the city and it didn’t matter in any case since we had picked up the cab off the street, meaning he was a private entity and not affiliated with any larger company.

I think I’ve been spending too much time studying here.

This is when despair set in, as I realized my cause was lost and that I was helpless to do anything about it.  The future just seemed so bleak as I contemplated a life without my iPhone.  Besides the camera and all the pictures that went with it and the convenience of having all the functions it performs for me, I felt guilty, as though I’d abandoned a friend.  Like I’d lost someone important to me.  I guess this just shows how ridiculously materialistic the world and especially I have become.  But the pain was real and I spent most of the day inconsolably grieving.  I had no motivation in practice; food had no taste and gave me no pleasure, and the next month of traveling without it seemed intimidating.  My phone was my connection to the world—to my emails, to my family, to my girlfriend, to Facebook…. What would I do now?  It didn’t help that Nick, as sympathetic as he was trying to be, decided to spend all afternoon playing Angry Birds and watching YouTube videos.  The agony was terrible.  I asked everyone around what they thought I should do and the unanimous answer was that I was SOL—shit outta luck—and that some taxi driver got a big bonus that day.

Finally, resigned and defeated, I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to skip my afternoon practice and return to the hotel to shower and take a nap so I could escape my misery for a little while.  Amazingly though, as I trudged up the stairs of our cute and crappy hostel that had no AC and smelled like the musky mixture of old plumbing and moldy shower curtain, the tiny little lady who owned the place came running up to me and asked in Spanish if I had lost a cell phone.  My heart skipped a beat and I figured my mind was playing tricks on me since I never could really understand the lady when she spoke to me.  But to my astonishment I had heard her correctly, and apparently the taxi driver had come by earlier asking if she had any tennis players staying in her house.

Most honest taxi driver in the world

As hard as it is to believe, after finding my iPhone in his backseat, rather than stealing all my data and heading to the nearest pawn shop as I had assumed he would, the taxi driver returned to where he had picked us up and walked up and down the street asking every hotel whether they had two tennis players as guests.  And somehow he stuck it out until he found our hole in the wall hostel.  He left his number for me to call him when I got back and even returned once more later that night to drop the phone off.  What a trip!  He must be the most honest and considerate taxi driver in the world and besides the twenty bucks I gave him for his troubles and kindness I hope his karma goes through the roof.  This means I will need to make some heroic efforts the next time I find someone’s wallet or something, but I am totally willing after experiencing the feeling of getting my phone returned to me after having given up on it.

I learned three things from this awful day.  First, I am crazy and need to rethink my attachment to technology and the comfort it gives me.  Second, I am irresponsible and need to learn to be a real human and take care of my things and myself.  And last, that it doesn’t take much to make someone’s day.  I know it shouldn’t be so amazing and unthinkable that a person would find a phone and make an effort to return it to its owner, but such a seemingly insignificant, unselfish act completely changed my existence and meant the world to me.  I can only hope to have the opportunity to return such kindness someday, maybe not specifically to the taxi driver but to the world at large.  I’m happy to say that this taxi driver renewed my faith in humanity and as hippy-dippy as it sounds, I feel it is small, concerted efforts such as these that really can make the world a better place.

Travelling, I’m sad to say—especially my travelling—gives ample opportunity to lose things and regrettably it is often your most precious objects that find their ways out of your life.  While basking in the glory of recovering my lost phone, I thought it would be appropriate to mention some of the various fallen soldiers that I have managed to leave behind over the years.  Maybe this will be some extra vision into the life of a travelling tennis player or maybe just some insight into my own particular clumsiness.  Either way, here is my list.  Sorry Mom, I know your going to hate this.

Innocence and beauty lost.

Things lost: hopefully you’ve all found good homes

RIP

Digital Camera: Stolen by the full moon party

Pictures of Thailand trip: Lost with Camera

Memories of Thai Trip:  Lost with Pictures

3 debit cards: Forgotten in ATMs

Handful of Favorite T-shirts: One on this trip

3 pairs of Nike sports headphones: One on this trip

Inhibitions Lost

Tennis bag and EVERYTHING in it: Stolen out of bashed window in girlfriend’s car. 4 racquets, shoes, ankle braces, sweatpants, etc.… How much crack does pawning used tennis stuff buy?

Half Dozen tennis matches: Very painful.  Snatched defeat out of jaws of victory

2 Turtles: One died in College and other was donated to aquarium in St. Louis

2 More Tennis Racquets: Left on train between terminals in Dallas airport

1 More Tennis Racquet: Left on roof of Israeli Tennis Center in Ashkelon

Countless other Tennis Racquets: Broken in fits of anger and stupidity

Dignity Lost

Inhibitions: Also stolen by Full Moon Party but in general mostly when drinking

Fortune in Random coins: Other country’s coins actually have value

Hats: Every one I’ve ever owned

Sunglasses: Same as hats

Dignity: Also when drinking, definitely once sobered up

Speed: They called me lightning when I was young

Girlfriend’s car: Turned out it was towed.  So did get it back thank God

My Cat Grahm: Gave to my Roommate to take care of.  Don’t think I can take him back now.

Myself: When it comes to directions, 80% of the time I’m wrong every time

Mind Lost

Mind: Quite regularly but I usually find it

Dad: Not my fault but lost all the same

Only digital picture I could find of him before he got sick. Thats my sister when she was little and the beautiful car she dropped off a cliff. I’ll let her put that on her list.

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Competing on Clay

Sorry to be flooding you with posts all of a sudden.  The internet hasn’t been great since I got to Chile and so I’ve been trying to catch up the last couple days…..

Feb 19, 2012

This shot is pretty telling of how awkward I was on the clay yesterday. The Argentinian was ridiculously good at getting lobs over my head from any position. I definitely shanked this one over the fence.

Well I got my first lesson in clay court tennis today.  I lost to an Argentine 6-2 7-5 in the second round of qualifying.  I had thought that I would feel better out there today because I actually played well yesterday, beating Nick in the first round 6-3 6-3—yeah it is crazy that we came all the way to Chile together, are rooming together, and played each

At least not all my shots are awkward. I've realized how fun it is to rip forehands on clay. The ball slows down more than on hard courts giving you time to really take a good cut at it.

other in the first round of qualifying.  Today was a different story though.  It was a frustrating match.  Frankly, he was not that good.  I really think I could have beaten him routinely, even on clay.  It was too bad though because I came out pretty intimidated and nervous.  I was keyed up to play a solid Argentinian clay courter and came out expecting him to be something special, which he definitely was not.  But going into the match like that unsettled me, and for the first four games I couldn’t hardly put a ball in play and was really struggling with my footing.  In a way, I went into the match labeling myself as the American hard court player who isn’t comfortable on clay, which was exactly how I played.  To be fair, I am an American hard court player and I’m not that comfortable on clay.  But I don’t think it had to be as big a deal as it seemed at the time.  After the first four games I settled down, once I realized that he was not going to do much to hurt me and that I didn’t have to be afraid.  But by then the set was over.

He made me hit a lot of overheads. I guess I need to get used to that if I'm going to be coming in so much against guys that are super fast and can get a racquet on everything.

The second set was better at least.  I decided quickly that I was not comfortable staying in rallies from the baseline because of all the crazy bounces the ball was taking on the dry clay–running and sliding around create huge divots in the clay that get hard when they dry out, often making the ball bounce unpredictably.  In retrospect this was an alright decision. I just took it a little too far to the extreme.  My kick serve wide to both courts was effective so I served and volleyed a lot, using it to open up the court so had a lot of space to work with.  I also tried to take as many forehands early as I could and come in behind them in order to not give him a chance to get even in the point.  This style seemed to throw him off but looking back I could definitely have played a little more consistent, working points a little more before attacking.  I got a little desperate too quick and although it might not have been the wrong plan, I was a little too kamikaze-like than I needed.  I just got overly focused on the fact that I was struggling with the bounces, especially off the backhand side.  So I thought the only way I could stay in the match was to not play points with him at all.

I thought this was a cool picture.

The funny thing is that my strategy worked well in the second set.  I broke him and actually got up 5-2, serving and volleying and being overly aggressive.  I played a loose game though when I served for the set and then I let him back into it.  I’ve seen this happen in the past when I rely heavily on the serve and volley.  I enjoy playing like that and am pretty good at it.  But it is not really my game, so a lot of times I’ve struggled to come through in the big moments continuing to play like that, as if I can get to 4- all or 5-4 but just cant get over that hump when it counts the most.  It is just such a dangerous play and game style that a tight volley here or there or a couple loose points in a row can make the difference when you are gambling and putting it all on the line.  Live by the sword and die by it is how I’ve come to think of it when I rely on the serve and volley too much.  Especially with my 85 mph kick serve—ok, fine…78 mph.  It is a much more effective play for me to mix it in sporadically on big points to catch guys off guard and keep them guessing a bit.  But in this instance, I felt very pressured to stay away from rallying from the baseline, so I didn’t leave myself much of a choice.

High backhands unfortunately are the name of clay court tennis. Hopefully Ill finally learn how to hit them.

The Argentine—whose name is Hernan Cassanova, which I think is awesome—ended up beating me 7-5, which was disappointing after being up in the set.  I would have really liked to play a third and see what happened but unfortunately I ran out of time.  All in all I’m a little disappointed because I think this was actually a winnable match against a player ranked 1200, but I was happy that at least I was able to improve and make progress after getting off to such a shaky start.  Its still hard to enter these matches free of expectations.  Especially when you are playing someone who is ranked, or seeded, or you think must be good.  But you really cannot let that kind of stuff distract you.  The Argentine is obviously a good player but who knows how he was feeling that day, or how he picked up the points that got him ranked so high.  Over the next few weeks I want to work on going into every match the same, letting my game do what it will without encumbering it with expectations.  I may win easily, get beat badly, or surprise myself by beating a great player.  But no matter what I want it to be my game doing the talking.

With a little more confidence and experience on clay I really do think I can beat a player like the Argentine soundly because of how much more game I have than him.  He was kind of a scrappy little guy—his game and his looks—with no serve and not much power.  He was fast as hell, but besides being pretty good at defense and throwing up ridiculous lobs, I wasn’t that impressed.  Even getting off to an awful start and feeling like a fish out of water for most of the match I still had and blew ample opportunities that could have changed the outcome.  A couple missed volleys and overheads cost me being even in the match, which shows I was right there with him.  Next time he won’t be so lucky.

A little blurry but a decent low volley.

It’s too bad to be out of the tournament but I’m going to train hard this week and really get a feel for moving and finding stability on the clay so I can play a little more even with these South Americans.  It will be interesting to see how I do once I get my bearings.  For now though Nick and I need to get some food and do laundry.  I tried to include a couple videos of points but for some reason I can’t get them to upload.  I’ll try to figure it out and add them in later so you can see some not so French Open-like clay court tennis.

Sweet Santiago

Feb 17, 2012

Downtown Santiago.

Santiago, Chile.  It’s still crazy when I tell myself I’m here.  I’ve been on the move for five weeks now, working my way through Latin America.  It was a grueling night of traveling to get from Tallahassee to Santiago.  Made worse because for the last week my stomach has been struggling with something I must have picked up in Guatemala.  I thought I was over my nasty habit of getting sick in every country I visit, but alas, this experience wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t spend part of my time fasting and trying to keep my stomach from tearing its way out of my body.  Lets just say I was definitely having second thoughts about this trip while my belly was reeling and I was alone, laying on the floor of the Miami terminal waiting for my ten-hour flight to board at midnight to take me to South America.  At that point I was unsure if my buddy Nick was going to be meeting me and the only person I knew in the city—a girl from elementary school who I haven’t seen in ten years and happens to be living in Santiago—told me she would be away on vacation for most of the time I would be around.  I didn’t even know where I would be going or staying once I got in.  All I knew is that there were two Futures in Santiago and more in Argentina after that.  Also that I had a flight booked to come home five weeks later.

Now I consider myself to be a fairly well traveled and capable individual—sometimes

Nick and I explored a bit, taking the metro downtown to check out the city center and Capital buildings. There was tons of art and artists relaxing and enjoying the slow, summer, sun.

at least—but starting a long trip into the unknown sick as a dog and with no plan was almost too much for me.  Almost being the keyword.  Whether it is a good thing or not, I guess it is nice to know how I’ll react when that little voice in my head tells me something may not be a great idea.  Just kidding Mom. I always make good decisionsJ—she knows this and she actually helped talk me into getting on the flight.  But anyway, yeah, it was rough getting on that plane, just hoping to survive the voyage relatively intact.  But I did, and I figured out a hotel once I got in, and I made it there and got in bed immediately.  Nick even sauntered in eventually, waking me at 8pm from what the people here call the sleep of the dead.

I'm right at home in El Estadio Israelita.

Since then things have been great.  My stomach is still a mess but it’s getting better, and Santiago is a beautiful city.  I’m even getting in touch with my Jewish roots since El Estadio Israelita is the club hosting the tournament.  Tennis courts, swimming pools, soccer fields, gyms, playgrounds, restaurants…. the Jews really know how to do it.  I definitely would have gone to temple and taken Hebrew school a little more seriously had my synagogue been anything like this place.  I’ve been on the lookout for a yamika since we got here, if for no other reason than it may get me access to the gym, which players aren’t allowed to use.  Also it wouldn’t hurt to have God on my side a bit the next couple weeks.  In all seriousness though, it is pretty crazy to be in Chile hanging out in the Jewish community, watching people file into temple wearing their best for Shabbat services while I’m sweaty and lugging my racquet bag around.

I was trying to show how comfortable I feel at the Macabe club after our workout by posing for the members next to the Star of David statue. Unfortunately Nick didn't quite get the memo when he was taking the picture. I think my chest probably has the same effect though:)

As far as climate is concerned, Santiago reminds me a lot of Mexico.  It’s very dry here and like Monterrey and Mexico City, there is a backdrop of desert-mountains in the distance.  Being summer, the weather is pretty hot.  But I’m probably the only person around who thinks 85 degrees and sunny is hot.  It’s nice though and fun to be in a place that is consistently beautiful.

Playing on red clay is crazy.  I’ve only hit a couple times but it is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.  Besides the fact that movement is tough and the ball bounces unpredictably, it is unreal to me to play on a surface that changes throughout a match.  The court is always groomed and prepared with brushes and water when you start playing, meaning that it is smooth and damp so that the clay is even and soft.  But as you move around on it and it dries out in the sun it becomes hard,

There is definitely a charm to red clay. The mountains in the distance make for a pretty ideal setting.

dusty, and torn up, totally changing the dynamic of playing on it.  The best way to describe the clay when it dries out is kind of like what the muddy spots on a soccer field turn into on hot days when it hasn’t rained in a while.  Whether you understand what that means or not, what I’m saying is that a clay court is a living, breathing, organism, with specific characteristics and personality that depend on the type of care it is used to.

The two hardest workers at El Estadio Israelita. I promise you they could write the book "Zen and the Art of Clay Court Maintenance."

I cannot understand why so much of the world—especially poor countries like many in South America—would choose to play tennis on a surface that requires so much maintenance.  There are literally two men at the club whose specific jobs seem to be to run around the twenty courts at the facility watering and grooming endlessly.  It is the most futile thing to watch, like trying to hold back the sea with a wicker fence.  As soon as they finish the tedious process of evening out the clay, brushing it smooth, watering it, and cleaning off the lines, it starts drying out again.  Not to mention that there is always another court to be worked on.  It just makes my head spin watching them complete the cycle over and over again and thinking of doing that all day every day.  But they work hard at it and they have it down to an art form with no wasted effort.  Like Zen masters or something.  It seems like it would make more sense to just play on hard courts that need no maintenance. But it is a part of their culture and I’m a stupid American and probably don’t understand.

Getting used to the clay is going to be a long process but it is fun to experience and it definitely adds new aspects to a game that I’ve played for a long time and thought I knew completely.  Besides learning a bit of guitar I can’t remember the last thing I actually learned how to do from scratch.  So it is an interesting dynamic feeling like I’m learning something totally new within the realm of something I have done for as long as I can remember.   We’ll see how it goes.  For now though I’m just trying to enjoy not being a master at it and hopefully in a few weeks I’ll be able to think back on how I am now and feel like I’ve made some solid progress.

That’s all from Santiago for now but I’ll check back in a few days after the tournament starts and I’ve explored a bit more.

From Central to South America

Feb 15, 2012

View of Santiago at sunset from El Parque San Cristobal. Its a beautiful city.

I’m currently in Santiago, Chile.  I’m staying in a hotel in a nice part of the city and besides the fact that I’m a bit sick and wiped from the ten hour plane ride, I’m doing really well.  It’s been a while since I last wrote and I guess I never finished describing my stay in Guatemala.  I apologize to Andy specifically for writing so much—he told me my posts are too long—but it is what it is, and as with any media you see on TV or find on the internet, your free to change the channel whenever you like.

Getting ready for my match

I left off the night before my first round in the qualifying when I was preparing to play my good friend and long time rival Joel Kincaid.  I was disappointed when I saw that I would be playing him because in all the years we’ve played each other I have always struggled against him.  Being completely honest, I don’t think I’d beaten him since we were fifteen years old.  He just always seemed to play a tough game for me to adapt against.  He’s very fit and likes to loop the ball high, moving his opponents around while not taking many risks.  I always thought this was a boring style and our matches usually ended with me frustrated and impatient and worn to the ground.

This time was different though.  I’m not sure if it was my newfound perspective or whether it was just my day, but this time I managed to stay extremely focused, proving to Joel that I would not let him break me down.  I managed to beat him rather convincingly 6-4 6-1.  This match was a huge confidence booster after playing so close with such good players the two weeks before.  I felt like I’d been playing well but hadn’t been able to really break through when it counted, so toughing out someone like Joel, whose game I normally hate and with all the baggage of our long history, felt like a huge accomplishment and an indication that my work is paying off.  Joel was the seed in my part of the draw and is currently ranked something like 1,800 in the world, so it was nice to notch a good win on my belt finally.  I was happy with how I went into the match mentally because I was keyed up but never to the point of getting tight or overwhelmed by the moment.  Also I had a game plan that proved effective and I managed to stay with it for the whole of the match without letting down.

Basically, I know I am better than Joel at being aggressive and taking control of points.  But my problem always came in the past when I would get impatient, forcing the issue when the situation wasn’t right.  This always allowed him to play a simple game that he was comfortable with, just sitting back, absorbing my power, and eventually letting me miss and hit myself out.  So going into this match I decided that I would try to extend rallies to show him that he would have to do more than just wait for me to miss, and use this mentality as a base for still being aggressive when I got the chance.  In the end, I didn’t really change my game that much.  But changing my mentality a bit was all it took to give me a more solid presence, which led Joel to play a game he wasn’t as comfortable with.  I’m not sure whether the moment got to him, or our history, or whatever, but he definitely lost his cool and I was able to break him down in a way I haven’t been able to in the past.  Joel is a great competitor and it was nice to finally get a good win to motivate me a bit.  I took a lot away from this match in terms of learning how to focus and the type of focus that produces the right mindset.

Unfortunately, after the high of beating Joel, I let down a bit the next day, squandering a good opportunity by allowing a very beatable Mexican player to come from behind to beat me in the final round of qualifying.  It was a very disappointing match for me because besides the fact that I was up 6-1 3-1 and should have qualified for the main draw, I lost my focus and was distracted by stupid things that caused me to compete poorly.  Even before the match I was not nearly as focused as I had been for Joel.  I’m not sure why but I just wasn’t as primed that day or ready to compete.  I still managed to jump out on him and was actually playing well for the first set and a half.  But rather than ratchet things up, I let down, thinking to myself that the Mexican was not very good and that I had it won.  I disrespected him, taking for granted the fact that until that point I had been playing at a high level.   So as you can imagine, once I let down and lost my focus, the match began to turn on me.  Unfortunately though, I reacted poorly to the change in momentum, getting nervous and tight rather than going back to the aggressive style that had been working before.  I got tentative, thinking that since he wasn’t that good I could just wait him out and he would give me the match.  But as I’ve seen before, that sort of mentality does not work at this level.  From that point on the match was a clusterfuck, pardon my french,  just an all out grind.  While he may have been beatable, the Mexican was definitely a good player and was able to capitalize on the momentum shift, changing the pace of things and keeping me off-balance by mixing up tempos and speeds.  He had a crafty one-handed backhand that he used effectively by giving me no pace to work with.  He won the second set 6-3 and toughed me out in a close third set 7-6.  I had three match points still but was unable to come through because I was paralyzed by nerves and embarrassed that I was in that situation when I had been winning so easily before.  All of my friends had come to watch the match and I was overwhelmed with what they must be thinking and all kinds of nonsense that did nothing but distract me and make it harder to play my game.

action shot

It is funny that I would have such a painful and disappointing loss the day after having what I thought was a momentous victory.  But that’s how these things seem to go.  A step forward and two steps back.  I definitely have not had a loss hurt so bad in a long time and it took me almost a week to re-motivate myself.  But in retrospect I think I have learned from both matches.  I saw how much of a difference having the right mindset and focus is, and I saw how close these matches could be.  I did not think there was a chance that the Mexican would turn that match around.  I didn’t think he was good enough.  But he showed me that even in a match that was so one sided, a small shift in mentality could change the whole thing.  As much as it sucked to be the one to be overtaken in that situation it also shows me that when I am getting beat and feel like I can’t come back, all it takes is a small change in focus to turn the day around.   While it definitely hurts sometimes, these are all learning experiences and hopefully they will make me stronger when I’m in that situation the next time.

The worst moment of the match was right after I lost when I tried to slam my racquet onto my bag and missed, bouncing the racquet off the ground and over the fence, where it rolled off the top of a bamboo cabana and into an old lady’s lap.  Luckily she was ok and was a good sport, bringing it back to me.  But I felt pretty stupid having done that in front of the crowd that had been watching.  Fortunately the tournament director felt bad for me for losing so closely.  He didn’t bother fining me, which he usually would for something like that.  I’m trying hard not to act like a child like that but it’s hard sometimes.  For some reason tennis brings out the worst in tempers even though it is known as a gentleman’s game.  But since I’ve gotten older, throwing racquets and getting mad doesn’t give the same satisfaction as it used to and I’m really trying to roll with the punches more.   Oh well.  Live and learn.  This was an interesting tournament and I think I can take a lot away from it, some good, some bad, but all useful.

Antigua Street. Volcano in the background

After losing in the tournament on that Sunday I was real bummed.  Fortunately though the Superbowl was on that afternoon and I was able to pretty much walk right into the hotel bar as soon as I got back from the courts in order to revive my spirits by drinking away my sorrows.  It’s always a comfort to get a small taste of American culture when your on the road.  Six Gallos (Guatemalan beers) later—after a three hour match it doesn’t take much—my head was swimming and I felt much better, consoling myself that if Tom Brady can get over losing the Superbowl I can get over not qualifying for the Guatemalan future.  Before promptly going upstairs and

Getting a drink at a rooftop bar.

passing out I decided I would stop wallowing and enjoy my last few days in Central America.  And it turned out I ended up having two of the best days of my trip before flying back to Tallahassee.  The first day I checked out Antigua with a French player and a couple of girls we had met watching the Superbowl.

Antigua is a Spanish colonial city carved into the hills a half hour outside Guatemala City

There were so many pretty views just walking around it was hard not to take pictures of everything.

and it is one of the most beautiful little communities I’ve ever seen.  It is a historical landmark in Guatemala and there are ruins that stand all throughout from the original city which was built six hundred years ago.   You can feel the European influence as you walk around the cobblestone streets, having drinks in rooftop bars and perusing the various courtyard gardens that are hidden away between the buildings but somehow manage to still have spectacular views of the volcanoes in the distance.  It was nice having locals to show us around

The whole city was like a museum, with beautiful vistas and squares.

and I felt cultured walking and visiting old cathedrals, taking it all in.  At least until we stopped at Taco Bell on the drive back.   Oh well.   A little culture goes a long way in my book and I cant think of a time when going south of the border is anything besides a delicious end to the day.

I would have liked to spend the night in Antigua but Nick (Frenchy) and I had to get back to the city to catch a plane early the next morning to Tikal, which is the famous Mayan ruin in the middle of the jungle where whatever is going to happen when their calendar ends is all going to start.  We took a tiny little plane into the jungle to an equally tiny little airstrip that you couldn’t see until you were almost past.  I imagine landing there is something of a test

Its 5am and the last thing I want to do is climb on this thing. Worst part is that the plane we took coming back makes this look like a 747. Seriously I thought we we were all going to have to pedal to get the thing going.

of faith for pilots.  It certainly was trying on mine.  We were rewarded though for our effort, for in the middle of some of the densest forest I’ve seen was an ancient city made of stone, and pyramids that rival anything I could have imagined.  Its hard to fathom how they were built—we didn’t bother taking the tour—but they were definitely some of the most impressive construction I’ve ever seen.  My favorite part of the day was probably taking a nap at the top of one of the biggest ones.  Nick decided to run off and be one with nature, so I thought what better way to experience the moment than cozy up and relax amidst everything around me.  Not to sound too whimsical, but for someone who is not particularly religious, I did feel a holiness that is hard to describe.  There was a sort of tangible purity colliding with the clear destruction of history.  It seemed to both renew the binds that hold onto the past, while at the same time displaying the transience of all lasting structures.  What I’m saying is it was a special spot.  We spent

most of the day wandering around taking pictures and trying to feel the energy of such an incredible place, and then it was back to Guatemala City on an even smaller plane.

Relaxing at the top of a Mayan pyramid. Never thought I'd say that.

I was supposed to head on to Panama for the last Central American future but decided to head back to Andy and my friends in Tallahassee instead for a little rest before heading to Chile for a clay court circuit.  Planning and scheduling is definitely one of the hardest parts of this experience, mostly because you generally need to stay on the road for long periods of time and you have complete control over where you are going.  So when your mood shifts it is easy to change your mind and remake all your plans.  I was sad not to be able to make it back to California to be with Stef for Valentines Day, but it was

Crazy city made of Stone. If there was ever a place for the world to end this is a good spot.

just too far to make sense for such a short time. Ill have to make it up to her when I get back from South America.

At least I got a little break though in Florida for a couple days to train and reset my brain before flying out to Santiago.  Today is my first full day in South America.  Nick met me here since he is also playing the Chilean tournaments and it is nice to have someone familiar to speak English with.  My Spanish is decent but gets tiresome sometimes.  Anyway, I’m off to try to find some clay court tennis shoes and figure out how to slide in the dirt.  I’ll check back later with more on Chile and South America.

You can see some of the Pyramids in the background. Shows how dense the jungle is that we're in. At one point we were passed by huge family of monkey like critters. We're definitely in their habitat thats for sure.

Last Days in Mexico

I meant to post this last night but it got too late…..

Feb 3, 2012

view from hotel room in Guatemala City

I’ve been in Guatemala City since Wednesday, preparing for the qualifying tournament in the last event I will be playing in Central America.  I’ve had a few good days of training to get used to yet another set of high altitude conditions, but they are different this week than in Mexico City because they don’t use the pressureless balls I had grown to know and hate.  I think I just have to get used to the fact that every new place I go will feel different and take some getting used to.  It’s hard sometimes but the people who can adapt quickest are the ones who do the best.  Or at least avoid getting frustrated the most.  I’ll talk more about Guatemala next time though. For now I want to describe my last couple days in Mexico.

One last picture of the view from the club in Mexico City on a really clear day

Most players would probably agree that one of the hardest parts of being on tour is when you lose early in a tournament and have an entire week to kill before the start of the next one.  Besides the fact that you’re disappointed from having lost or performed poorly, you’re also put into a predicament of “what the hell do I do now?”  This can sometimes be a tough and intimidating feeling and it is definitely the time when it’s the hardest to stay positive and motivated.  It’s easy to get down on yourself and start thinking about home, and your girlfriend, and everything you’re missing out on by being stuck in some random city you know nothing about and in terms of places like Mexico, is probably not safe.  But these are the times that you have to learn to cherish and use to make sure that your trip means more than just the results of a tennis match.  I am as guilty as anyone of getting bummed out and questioning myself, and what I’m doing after a bad loss.  But I’m trying to maintain perspective and understand that the time in between tournaments is important too.  Not only is that the time when you can fix the parts of your game that may have let you down, but it is also the time when you can explore and actually take stock of where you are in the world, both physically and mentally.  Hopefully this post will remain in the realm of philosophical abstraction, although I’m sure at some point its bound to straddle the border of existential breakdown.  We’ll see though, I’m in a decent mood right now so hopefully I can keep the ship steered on course toward the former.

A little bit of sightseeing before leaving town

Regarding the tennis portion of between-tournament-time, my first method of coping with the post-loss letdown is simply to get back out on the court.  Well actually, if I’m being totally honest, the first thing is usually to find a chocolate bar of some sort or at least a greasy meal or something to help signify that its time to relax a bit and take the shoes off.  Maybe even a beer or two—or seven—if it’s convenient.  Mostly though, I just eat a bunch of crap, take the rest of the day off, and find someone solid to hit with the next day.  Since I’ve been losing early the last few weeks, I haven’t been in the tournaments very long.  So what I’ve tried to focus on is really enjoying and taking serious the tennis I get to play once the real matches are done for me.  Basically, I’ve tried to maintain the perspective that I came here to play tennis, and even if I can’t play in the tournament anymore, I’m still surrounded by some of the best players in the world, which is an incredible opportunity to keep playing the game I love at the highest level.  Although it may not feel as important when there is no referee, or ball-boys, or linesmen, I’m still out there on the same courts as the guys that are still in it, and I can still compete hard and enjoy the backdrop of beautiful mountains that line the outside of my view.  It is a privilege to be able to come to these places to play a sport, so I try to respect that sentiment by doing my best to enjoy all the time I get to do it.  Obviously sometimes it is easier than others, but I’m definitely doing much better than I used to in this respect.

For the most part I’ll try to play sets or even full matches on these days so I can still compete and get match practice against good players.  And with the egos that tennis creates in people, these are often as much competition as one could want.  I must have played this nineteen-year old kid named Evan Song six times already on this trip and each one is as cutthroat and intense as most tournaments I’ve played.  He was a top American junior before he turned pro last year and he travels with his dad and his coach, which provides us with a few spectators even to watch us battle.  Whether it seems stupid or not, I take it as a

Walking around the University

compliment when some of my friends ask me why I would want to go out there and play real matches after the tournament is done, because a lot of guys just go through the motions and lose their drive and fire to compete once their out and waiting for the next week.  They may still train hard but it’s not what they are there for.  I guess I’ve just come to feel that if I can make the time I’m playing between the tournaments what I am here for, I can’t really be disappointed if my results aren’t as good as I hope or expect.  And then, the real, tournament matches I play become a bonus.   I know for a fact that I will always remember a practice match I played against Evan in Mexico City where he fought back from six match points down in a tiebreaker in the second set to beat me by ripping more backhand winners than I had thought possible, and the pain I felt at losing that set was as real to me at the time as losing to the Brazilian in the qualifying two days before.  Again, all this is easier said than done, but I’ve definitely made a lot of progress and I can honestly say I’ve been enjoying almost all of the time I’ve had on the court the past few weeks.  In the end, that’s really all I can ask.

Not sure what this was but it looked cool. Found it waking around the park downtown in Mexico City while Jon explored the Anthropology Museum.

That all being said, between-tournament-time is also the only time I really have to explore my actual place in the world, meaning whatever city I’m in.  Or at least I try to fit exploring it in during occasional breaks from my complex exercises in investigating my metaphysical space. So with what time I don’t spend on the court I make an effort to do the tourist thing and have some cultural experiences.  As sad as it sounds, sometimes I really do have to force myself to put in that effort because it is easy to get lulled into just hanging out at whatever club the tournament is held, pretty much just watching the week go by.  I’m proud to say that before leaving Mexico City I was able to make two interesting cultural outings.  One was simply a ride on the “Touribus,” which is a double decker that takes you all around the city, showing you the various landmarks and places of interest.  The other was a professional soccer game between the Pumas, of Mexico City and the Chivas, of Guadalajara.

Mexico City is an old city that is inundated with art

The Touribus was about what you would expect from a double

decker bus tour.  It was interesting to see a large portion of the city and fun to get out places and walk around a bit, although not too much since your liable to get robbed or murdered if your too ambitious.  Unfortunately it was rush hour for a large majority of the tour, and being stuck in traffic while breathing the fumes of twenty million cars from the top of an open-air bus can be taxing to say the least.  Jon and I made it through about nine of the seventeen stops on the tour and bailed, feeling like we’d seen more than enough. 

The soccer game on the other hand was awesome and I loved being a part of 60,000 rowdy, screaming, Mexicans.  I’ve always loved soccer and going to a Professional Mexican league game was not unlike going to a Blazer or Duck game.  Except maybe that a double barricade of police in full riot gear separated the opposing crowds, and that the fans seemed to be allowed to throw their cups and beer cans onto the field when they didn’t like a call, which was often.  Jon and I were taken to the game by Siggy, the son of our host family, and we were all very disappointed not to see our Pumas win since the game ended in a tie.  Oh well though.  It was still fun to get out and immerse ourselves in what seemed a very positive part of

The game took place at the Olympic National Stadium from when Mexico hosted in 1967

Mexican culture.  I say this because you hear so many awful things about Mexico and how dangerous it is and the poverty and everything, so it was fun to be a part of something so

A little action. What a crowd

clearly positive.  I’ll admit I was a little worried beforehand that it would be dangerous to put myself in such a vulnerable position, surrounded by 60,000 people any of whom could rob or kidnap me, but in reality I never felt any sense of danger at all.  My spidey sense remained calm and although perhaps in other circumstances many of the people around would look at me with malicious intent, it really seemed like everyone was just happy to be spending their afternoon drinking beer and watching soccer. 

The funniest thing that happened this week was definitely when the mother of the family Jon and I were stay with took me to the Western Union to pick up my emergency wire transfer.  I’m not sure why, but for some reason I’ve developed an annoying habit of losing my debit card as soon as I enter a new country.  Most of the time I end up leaving it in an ATM after making a withdrawal, which is what I did in Europe when I was nineteen, what I did in Laos a year and a half ago, and what I did in Monterrey two weeks ago.  I don’t know why I started doing this, but it is really frustrating and makes traveling difficult when you have no access to cash.  To make a long story short, Bank of America could not get me a new debit card, so instead they wired $1000 dollars to a bank in Mexico City where I could go pick it up and have for the rest of my trip.  Unfortunately the bank could only pay me in Mexican Pesos, so, duffle bag in hand, my host mother and I went to the bank to collect my dough.  As the teller counted out my 13,000 pesos for the fourth time, I couldn’t help but realize that the bank was packed with people, and most everyone new at that point that we were about to walk out with a bunch of cash.  My host mom was pretty anxious too, which didn’t help my mood any, and when we finally received the cash she put half of it in her purse and gave me the rest—I was just kidding about the duffle bag.

There is a rule that the opposing crowd has to wait in the stadium until the Pumas have left so as to avoid riots. If you look closely you can see the police barrier in the middle towards the left. The Chivas are on the upper story behind the barricade. It was fun watching the two crowds heckle each other.

As we turned to leave she whispered to me in Spanish to act normal, like nothing strange was going on.  This was exactly what I wanted to hear and made me feel great.  I was sweating bullets, looking left and right trying to decide who was going to mug us and whether I could take them or not.  When we got outside I breathed a sigh of relief as my host-mom literally sprinted to the meter to get our parking ticket stamped and that’s when things started getting weird.  After dealing with the meter, she came running back and started looking around frantically because she couldn’t remember where she parked the car.  I had no idea where it could be because she had dropped me off in front of the bank and the parking lot was pretty big.  We started casually walking up and down the isles looking for her car, trying not to look like we had our pockets brimming over with Pesos.

After the soccer game we stumbled on a campesino protest. Lots of angry people and plenty of cops around to supervise.

Finally, she came to the great idea of using the clicker on her keychain to find the car, except that rather than hit the unlock button she pressed the panic button, setting off the alarm which started screaming from forty feet away.  By the time we ran over to the car everyone in the parking lot was looking at us.  Unfortunately for us though, somehow she managed to break the clicker so that we couldn’t get into the car or turn the alarm off.  After a couple minutes, the car went into stage two of its alert system, meaning that the siren got louder and faster, just in case the next neighborhood over hadn’t heard it yet.

So now, not only were we trying to get away with a ton of cash, but we were also for all intents and purposes trying to steal her car in broad daylight.  I guess it’s a good thing when security systems work properly, but the damn thing just wouldn’t shut up.  Even after she eventually got the door open by shimmying the actual key out of the clicker thing, which was some sort of automated contraption, and we started driving away, the alarm kept ringing.  Thank God Mexicans don’t seem to mind car thieves though because nobody did anything but stare at the crazy lady and gringo as we finally made our escape.  All in all it was probably the least discreet getaway in history, and the only good part was that it would have been pretty hard to mug us with literally everyone in the shopping center looking, especially when they thought we were car thieves as well and probably not worth messing around.  It was basically the epitome of hidden in plain sight, which looking back may not have been all that bad for us.

Anyway, sorry that was kind of long and involved and nothing really happened except that we got freaked out and made fools of ourselves.  But its funny looking back and wasn’t that bad besides the fact that now I’m stuck with a stack of Pesos and Guatemalan Quetzals which feel like play money and are hard to understand.

I’m going to sleep now because I have a match in the morning and it’s late.  It turns out my opponent tomorrow is my good friend Joel Kincaid who I grew up playing and went to high school with.  Its Ironic we came all the way to Guatemala just to see each other in the first round of qualifying, but that’s the way these things seem to work.  Night