Archive | March 2012

A Slap in the Face

Mar 16, 2012

“A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.”  Hunter S. Thompson

I did it again. I messed up my IPPN—online account where I manage my tournament schedule—and got myself forced out of playing the Argentinian Future in Cordoba.  This is rough after struggling so hard and unsuccessfully to get back from the south in time to play the one in Mendoza last week.  As sad as it is to say, I logistically bungled both opportunities I had to play professionally in Argentina.  And I have nobody to blame but myself for either of them. I couldn’t close any doors so I left them all open and got pushed through the wrong one. I thought I could redeem myself by fighting my way through three matches of the prequalifying tournament, but it didn’t matter in the end. Rules are rules and when computers are in charge there is no room for a heart or conscience. I can be angry and bluster around at the officials all I want knowing that in a just world I should be allowed to play after coming all this way. But the fact of the matter is it was my mistake and an entirely avoidable one at that.

The system of entering professional Futures tournaments is organized so that in any given week of play, you can sign up for six different events anywhere in the world. Within those six you can determine an order of preference, but eventually you are selected to play based on your ranking and an order of operations that the computer runs on. I am ranked #137 in the United States currently and although I was once ranked #1420 in the world, I have since fallen off that list completely. When I register for tournaments, based on an equation I don’t understand, my American ranking is placed on a list below anyone with a world ranking and amongst others with rankings from their respective countries.  So for example, after placing me below the person in the tournament with the lowest world ranking, my #137 in the US may also put me below the 250th player from Argentina, while above the 10th best player from Peru.  I don’t know how they chose to compare countries but I guess at some point someone arbitrarily decided which countries were strongest in tennis and they figured the rest out from there.

I’m describing this to explain how I screwed up. Basically, there is a deadline every week that players have to withdraw from any tournaments they sign up for and decide they will not play in. After that deadline, if a player is still registered for multiple events, he is officially placed into one and withdrawn from the others based on the predetermined order of operations.

In my case, even though I am in South America, I forgot to withdraw myself from a tournament in California, and unbeknownst to me, I was placed into that one instead of the one I was preparing for in Cordoba, Argentina.  I realized my mistake last week and called the director of the tournament, a former world class pro named Horacio Pacheco, to see what I could do. He told me my only option was to come to Cordoba three days early to play a prequalifying event being held.  Apparently there were four wildcards left into the qualifying draw, which ironically I would have made it into directly had I not messed up. Fifty players had signed up for the chance to win one of those spots.  I figured that it was fair for me to have to be one of them and at least it would be a chance for some good practice that may help me re-find my form after the week of hiking.

So after a grueling day of travel, in which I was stuck for fifteen hours in the airport in Montevideo, Uruguay, I arrived in Cordoba at 5am the morning of my first match.  Luckily it rained all day.  So I did not have to play until the following morning. This was a huge reprieve since I had strongly considered not getting out of bed when the alarm went off to wake me for my 9am match.  Even a day later my body still felt as if it was moving through water, on top of the usual sensation of being on ice skates, which the clay generally gives me.  But I managed to make it through in the longest routing possible.  Two and a half hours to win 6-2 6-3 against an eighteen year old that had holes in his game large enough for Greg Oden to fit through but who just wouldn’t quit.  I won’t lie, I was definitely worried that I was going to be the first person in history to have to retire from leg cramps leading 6-2 4-1. I squeaked it out though, only to find out that because of the rain, which had saved me the day before, I had to play another match an hour and a half later.  This time against the fourth seed in the tournament.  I didn’t even have an extra pair of socks.

That was a bummer to realize, so, resigned, I figured I would go out there and give it my best shot.  At least until my legs gave out.  Strangely though I felt better the second time I stepped out on the court.  Still crappy, but better.  At times even athletic, although there was an awesome moment when I attempted to slide gracefully out to hit a forehand while stretched toward the sideline.  This is a fairly standard clay court play and I’ve seen the South Americans do it a thousand times.  I figured a highly toned athlete such as myself should have no problem with it, especially since the ball wasn’t moving particularly fast and seemed to be setting up just perfectly for me to deftly maneuver into what would surely be a beautiful and effective stroke.

What actually came about rather was what can only be described as an embarrassing display of rampant foolery, as I managed to slide far to early and much to slowly, coming to a smooth and elegant stop only to watch the ball continue gently past me about five feet further away.  I thought about throwing my racquet at it, but enough people were already laughing that I figured that would only exacerbate the situation.  You know you’ve done something memorable when even your opponent stops to give you a chuckle.  We’ll just say that was the last time I attempted to play any sort of clay court tennis.  But it was also the last smile I got out of the guy as I bludgeoned away with my attacking, serve and volley, stand on the baseline and wail at everything, American style of play.   I beat him in another long, close, match 6-3 7-5.  After a month of playing on the dirt, I have come to understand that my winning clay court equation is that my opponent be more uncomfortable playing someone who plays like me than I am playing on clay.  When that happens, I win.  When it’s the other way around, I lose.  In this case, although he was a good player, and is apparently ranked very high in Argentina—he tells me #14 but I don’t believe him—I was able to make him more confused on what to do than I was, putting me through to the final round of pre-qualifying.

I don’t have much to say about that match except that I played a tough little dude who couldn’t crack an egg but controlled the ball well and scrambled like his life depended on it.  I clearly had more game than he did but he fought tooth and nail and I had to work hard and concentrate to beat him in another challenging, yet lopsided 6-3 6-3 victory.  It’s funny.  On clay, it is extremely hard to destroy someone because unless they are just so much worse than you that it isn’t a match, you are going to have to work hard, run a lot, and grind them down.  Hard courts are much more conducive to blasting someone away in forty minutes because you can really push the ball past them and through the court.  On clay though, the ball slows down and kicks up high.  So even if you don’t have much firepower, you can make someone’s life pretty miserable as long as you are fast and determined.

After the rough tournaments I had in Chile, I was and still am proud of having fought my way through those three matches.  Especially given that my preparation going in was anything but ideal.  Before my first match I hadn’t slept more than 4 hours in a night since before my camping trip.  So to grind through three Argentines while feeling so deprived of any sort of health or vigor gives me at least something to feel good about and take away with me.  Even if I managed to screw myself out of actually using the wildcard I worked so hard to earn.

It broke my heart when I showed up to sign in for the real tournament only to have them turn me away and tell me there was nothing I could do about it.  I begged and pleaded.  I offered bribes, and even suggested that I could make up another name to play under, just so I could compete in the tournament at all and see how far I could go.  The truth is I don’t care about the points or anything.  This was supposed to be my last professional, Futures level tournament before I go home and become an unsanctioned tennis bum—probably earning way more money teaching and playing leagues and money events—and it made me want to scream and yell and cry that this was how it was going to end.  But I forced myself not to do any of those things because this was nobody’s fault but my own and there was nothing I could do to change it.

My only regret is that I may have mismanaged the situation a bit, causing a scene by arguing with the officials in front of all the other players waiting to check in.  Looking back it may have been more effective to wait until everyone else was gone before discussing the situation.  That way they could have considered taking my bribes a little more or acting on some of the schemes I concocted, most of which involved signing in as one of my American friends or perhaps a Julio Estevaz or something.  Alas though, I’m a tennis player, not a politician.  I was just so surprised by everything that I wasn’t even able to plot cleverly enough.

As stupid as it sounds, I make these kinds of mistakes all the time—i.e. iPhone—and have even made this specific one on multiple occasions.  But never has it hurt me so much and have the consequences been so rough on me.  To have come all the way to Argentina and be prevented from playing for having forgotten to do something on the computer that would have taken two minutes is definitely a slap in the face.  I keep telling myself I’m going to change and that I need to be a real person and take care of myself and be responsible, but I’m starting to wonder how many times I can make the same mistakes.  In this case, as disappointed as I am to be in Cordoba and unable to compete, I just have to swallow the pill and really try this time to not let it happen again.  At least it is just a tennis tournament I managed to botch and not something more important or lasting.

In the long run, I still played a tournament here this week, experiencing beautiful and frustrating red clay.  I fought hard, overcame obstacles, and even had some success finally.  And as bad as it feels now, there will be more tournaments.  Who knows…  If the pain of watching my buddy compete in a tournament that not only could I have played in, but actually earned my way into can somehow snap me out of my clumsy habits, maybe I’ll have come away from this week with even more than I had hoped.  For now though, I’m sad and embarrassed but trying to be positive.  Life goes on and its just tennis.  When things get tough or frustrating lately I have been trying to remind myself that I have good problems and take solace in maintaining perspective.

It’s barbeque night at our hostel now and I hear some sort of strange brass instruments coming from downstairs so I think I’ll go take a shower and check them out.  Tomorrow is my birthday and it looks like I won’t have to worry anymore about not being able to go out on the town if I win my match.  I have one week left before I go home and I’m excited to relax and visit Buenos Aires whenever Nick finishes playing.  It’s sad that the tennis part of my trip is over but it’s also not that often you get to finish a trip with a win:-)  I am happy and healthy and still in South America.  Life is good.

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Torres Del Paine

Mar 9, 2012

I’m currently stuck in the airport in Montevideo, Uruguay en route to Cordoba, Argentina after an incredible and hectic week visiting Southern Chile and camping in Patagonia.  After two not so amazing results in the Chilean Futures, my French companion and I decided to take a week off and hike the famous “W” route in a national park called Torres Del Paine.  At 67 km (42 mi), this was by far the longest hike I have ever set out on, and carrying a heavy pack filled with food, clothes, sleeping bag, tent, cooking gear, etc. was

Trying to be dramatic:) Cool picture though I thought.

challenging.  It could not have been more rewarding though and I will remember it as a highlight in all the traveling I have done.  Unfortunately, we did not return in time to make it to Mendoza for the first Argentinian tournament, but it will be good to recover a little in Cordoba where we will play a prequalifying event starting Wednesday.  My body is definitely bruised and battered from the trip and could use a rest.

It was amazing how blue the icebergs were that broke off from the glacier and floated around Lake Grey. They practically glowed amidst the calm water and made for some spectacular sights.

Regarding the trek though, it takes a lot of effort and planning just to reach such a remote hiking spot, and not having expected pursuing such an outing at all, neither Nick nor I were prepared for our journey.  It did not help us that we misinterpreted our Spanish flight confirmations before going out the night before we left, causing Nick to miss the flight entirely and me to board it having slept not a wink.  But lets just say the logistics of getting to Torres, renting all the gear, and basically everything else involved in preparing to live in the wild for a week was a journey in and of itself.  We ended up taking an extra day in Puerto Natales, the sleepy little town close to the park—by close I mean three hours by bus—gathering our wits and all that we would need to survive the expedition.  This day is what cost us making it back in time to play Mendoza.  But that seems to be how traveling goes sometimes.

Glacier Grey. One of the only glaciers that is actually growing.

Anyway, what followed was an incredible adventure through glacial lakes and rivers, surrounded by the most dramatic snow covered peaks and mountains that I have ever seen.  We even saw one of the only glaciers in the world that is actually growing, in spite of global warming.  The pace we maintained in order to finish the hike in five days was challenging, although we did meet some crazy people that did it in four and I’ve heard of a lunatic ultra-marathoner completing an even longer version of the course in eighteen hours.  That cannot be much fun.  Our longest day of hiking was 23 km (14 mi and about eight hours), which was especially rough for me since that happened to be my day to carry the tent, and for the most part we had beautiful weather, although in Patagonia it changes by the hour and we often found ourselves stripping almost naked staggering up a hill, only to be met at the top by a passing hail cloud.

The mountains crept right up to the edge of the water.

We met a couple French girls—Louise and Noemi— on the boat carrying us to the starting point.  It took us three flights, three long bus rides, and an hour voyage in a catamaran in order to put ourselves deep enough in the woods that we needed to walk home.  Fortunately we weren’t the only ones doing it though, and it was nice to make some friends to walk with.  They were cute, tough little things that were fun to have around.  But neither spoke great English.  So I often found myself on the outside as the three French chattered on and on, mile after mile.  Nick would occasionally translate a bit for me, but I definitely learned to not even hear spoken French.  Louise was actually more adept in Spanish, meaning we were able to make a few interesting attempts at conversation in a language foreign to both of us.   But for the most part it was just nice having company along the way and having people to share and trade our food with.  Nick and I did end up hiking a couple of the days by ourselves which gave me a small respite from the language barrier, but I was able to do a fair amount of soul searching on the trip while I was often left alone to my thoughts and my heavy pack.

Loise and Noemi. Two of the multitude of French I met hiking in Torres. I honestly heard more French than Spanish on the trip.

The third night of the trip we camped at one of the official Refugios, which are log cabin type places that people can rent rooms at and buy expensive food from if they don’t want to bother carrying a heavy bag.  Nick and I broke down and bought dinner, which ended up turning into beers and dinner, and eventually wine and Pisco Sours (typical Chilean cocktail) for desert.  We had a great night sharing bottles with all the other hikers and it was awesome to find a happy little community brought together by the mutual experience of lugging one’s body and soul through mountains and trails and pain.  I must say as idyllic and mystical as I can describe the experience, the reality of it was an uncomfortable struggle to pull oneself up huge hills carrying a bag that digs into your shoulders and rubs raw anywhere that it comes into contact.  I know I don’t sound like much of an Oregonian but I was surprised how hard it was and how much mental strain it took to keep at it for six to eight hours a day, although as I often told myself, I didn’t a choice.  It was well worth the effort though in experiencing a region of the world that felt literally untouched by civilization.

Highest point in our hike. The spot is hemmed in by mountains on all sides and it was actually sunny and snowing for part of the time we relaxed up there. Just beautiful.

I’m trying not to be too romantic right now, but I have to a little.  It was powerful seeing the terrain stretch out before me, acknowledging the size and permanence of landmasses that have been forming and evolving forever.  You just couldn’t help but pause and consider your own significance in the face of such presence and history.  While it may have started with a throbbing headache and the realization that I had broken my kindle in the night squashing a spider that Nick had already killed, I will always remember the fourth day of our hike because I reached a level of peace and tranquility that I don’t think I have ever felt before, at least since I was a small child and was unconscious to it.

I did a lot of pondering on the hike. This was a nice spot.

Maybe it was the beauty surrounding me, or just the glow of having worked and walked my way through a nasty hangover, but somehow I found a state of mind where my burdens and worries seemed to slide away from me, as though I was shedding a layer of skin that was too tight.  I felt loose and light, vibrantly aware of the feel of the world around me.  I know I sound like some hippy, Buddhist, or something but it was an enlightening experience being taken in by my surroundings with nothing but miles of lush trails in front of me and the sole purpose of making it ever-forward.  As much as I hated it, the challenge of carrying the pack demanded a presence to the movements and it felt good knowing that my body was strong enough to assume that burden while leaving my mind to pursue its own process.

Nice to be playful too. A successful handstand here, but I definitely almost killed myself once on the trip attempting one on the edge of a rock cliff.

I remember there was a specific moment, after having our lunch of Nutella sandwiches—what can I say, I’m traveling with a Frenchman—when Nick and I both laid down to nap on this huge rock that looked out across an emerald lake with rolling hills in the distance.  I must have been half asleep but I was aware enough to intimately feel the sun and wind battling over my body.  For something like twenty minutes I simply basked in the firing of my senses as I rooted for the sun to warm me and drive away the cold breeze that was sending shivers through my legs and back.  Again, I know I sound a bit outlandish, but I really was shocked at how aware and alive I was to my senses, like a blind man who has adapted to

Napping and relaxing after a great lunch of trail mix and Nutella sandwiches. Eight hours is a lot of hiking if you don't try to break it up a bit.

the loss of his sight by strengthening and reorganizing his other options.  What I am saying is that somehow and for whatever reason, for a brief period I put down the weight of managing and manipulating a life filled to the brim with plans, hopes, desires, regrets, fears, and relationships.  And in their absence I found myself in a state of sensitive awareness that was surprising to me, both in the experience of it and in its unfamiliarity.

Unfortunately, as could be expected, I lost such sensitivity when I returned from the trek, and even later on that day a bit, when my legs and back began to tire and I got distracted as I did every evening by the struggle of finishing the days hike.  But the memory of such a heightened awareness is something that I am trying to hold onto as I reenter the world and attempt to put my life back together and go on with my trip and figuring out my tennis.  It has definitely been hard to maintain as the weights and burdens of planning and organizing have been violently reintroduced to my psyche, but I

I kept being accused of being a GI Joe. I guess after getting my hair cut right before the trip I understand.

think it was valuable to have a taste of what life can feel like when you free your mind up a bit.  Maybe someday I’ll master the art of finding that tranquility amidst all the clutter that surrounds us, but at least I’ve found something to work towards.  For now I guess I’ll just have to split the concept between the distracted regions of my mind labeled hopes and desires, and return to it a little later when I have time or when I run off into the woods again.

We woke up at 5:30 am on the last morning to hike in the dark for an hour so we could watch the sunrise at the famous Torres Del Paine peaks, for which the park is named. What we found was a picturesque glacial lake and some impressive and dramatic rock formations.

All in all, I had a great trip and am sad it is over, as nice as it is to be sleeping in a soft bed

and waking up to a warm shower.  The week was hard, and fun, and a great break from the grind of preparing for one tournament after another. It was nice to  just be a traveler for a week but I am looking forward to getting back on track and hitting the tennis and training hard again.  I only have one tournament left in South America before heading home and I want to make it count.

For now though, I am hopeful that my plane will take off soon and I won’t be stuck in Uruguay for too much longer.  Today started at 4:30 am and it is now 10 pm and I am still waiting for my connecting flight.  Maybe I can find a little peace and tranquility hiding somewhere around here to help me get through the night.

Celebrating the end of the hike in Hotel De Los Torres, waiting for the bus to go home. Nick says its very American of me to be able to sleep and hold a beer at the same time.

Patagonia by the Numbers:

67- km hiked

 

5- Days of hiking

4- Nights in the tent

4- Nights of Rain

4- Nights of misery

1- Night of eating and fraternizing at a Refugio

1- Awful hangover

70- Percent of hikers that are French.  Really, its ridiculous.

347- Photos taken

68- Photos deleted

2- Jars of Nutella finished

2- Loaves of bread taken down with the Nutella

3- Flights and buses to get to Torres

7- Rocks pondered on

1- Kindle broken in a fit of drunken panic

1- Spider witnessed in the tent

6- Spider bites found on body

$20- Price of entering Torres Del Paine

$23- Price of buying dinner in Torres Del Paine

$0- Price of camping in Torres Del Paine

$53- Price of drinking in Torres Del Paine

$80- Price of new kindle

Priceless- Memories of sharing drinks in Torres Del Paine

Priceless- Experiencing tranquility in Torres Del Paine

Priceless- Having gone to Torres Del Paine

Trekking…Be Back Soon (Hopefully)

I’m in a bit of a hurry so Ill recap the end of my Chilean tennis expedition, which I wrote last night then explain what I’m up to next….sorry no pictures, I’m trying to pack.  I should have some great ones soon though.  Oh, and my girlfriend Stefanie was accepted into a one year fellowship to work in environmental engineering in San Francisco starting in September.  So a huge congratulations to her and it should make for an exciting transition once I’m done traveling after the summer and its time to become a real person.  More on that later though…

Feb 19,2012

It is my last day in Santiago for a while.  I lost in the qualifying of the tournament last weekend in a three-hour+ marathon of a match to a solid Chilean player who was tough as nails and cheated every chance he got.  Many people don’t know this fact but tennis is one of the easiest sports in the world to cheat in because until one reaches the very highest levels, the players are responsible for calling their own lines.  So I call the lines on my side of the net and my opponent calls them on his.  For the most part this works out since most people try their best to call fairly, although even then mistakes are made.

Inevitably though you find yourself playing someone who doesn’t care to play fairly and in the tennis world we call these people hooks.   Often times it is hard to tell if someone is cheating you because the ball moves fast and it really is hard to call the lines when the ball lands close.  But other times it can be blatant and bad calls have a tendency of occurring at big moments in a match when they cost you the most.  At that point all you can really do is yell at the person a bit, call them a few names if you feel like it, and hopefully get on with your match and not let it effect you too much.  Sometimes I’ve found it helps make me feel better to hook them back a couple times just to show them I won’t stand for being messed with.  Unfortunately though, most of the time a retaliatory hook doesn’t carry the same weight as the initial one since the opportune moment has come and gone.  Also, you really don’t want to get yourself into cheating battles if you can avoid them for rarely do they end well.

I want to be clear that I am in no way advocating cheating.  I always think it is better to call fairly and accurately and give your opponent the benefit of the doubt.  But I have simply learned over the years that in some cases, when a player’s actions are obviously doing me an injustice and effecting the match, I think it is important and within my rights to do whatever possible to make sure I am playing a fair match, even if fair in this case means that the lines are out.

That being said, I got hosed by this Chilean kid, all throughout my match on Saturday, mainly on important points when they really counted—he was a surprisingly advanced and effective hook—and I never did much to combat it besides yell at him in what little Spanish I know with a few, choice English phrases and pronouns mixed in.  Oh well though.  Most of the time bad calls, as frustrating as they can be, do not change the outcome of a match, and I had plenty of chances to win in spite of having to overcome them.  I ended up losing 6-4 5-7 6-4 in a long, physically draining match.  While I was disappointed to have lost and think I should have beaten him, my opponent was very tough and willing to work hard out there.  He used his comfort on the clay to drag me into long rallies and make me work harder than I am used to for points, which wore me down and won him the match eventually.  It is always hard to lose a close match such as this but it was fun to be a part of and hopefully the experience will help me pull that match out next time.  I’m still trying to get comfortable out there in the dirt, so this is all a learning process and can be logged away as such.

For now though, my friend Nick and I are taking the next week off to do a five-day hike down south in Chilean Patagonia.  The area we will be hiking is called Torres Del Paine and it is supposed to be one of the gems of South American trekking, packed full with snow capped mountains, glaciers, penguins, and plenty of other natural wonders.  Neither of us have any hiking or camping gear, so we are in the process of trying to figure that out.  But we have plane tickets to Punta Arenas, from which we will take two three-hour bus rides to get to the start of the park.  Nick has no experience camping and I have little—mostly of the kind where my car is within reach—but we are excited to get away from society for a while and experience what the world felt like before humanity claimed it.  I think there are even a couple restaurants along the way at some of the campgrounds where we can shower and have a few beers to help us unwind from our long journey.  We wouldn’t want to get too far away would we?  But anyway, it may be a little while before you hear from me.  With any luck I will have some awesome pictures and stories when I return and then it is back to the tennis grind where I’ll head to Argentina to play another couple futures before returning home.  Stay well and  hopefully you will hear from me soon:-)