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.