From Central to South America
Feb 15, 2012
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.