Apr 1, 2012
I’ve been back in the States for a week now and have been struggling to stir myself to finish my last summary of my South American trip. I’ve been visiting my girlfriend Stefanie, who is on her spring break from Stanford right now, and we are currently sitting in a coffee shop in Santa Cruz, California. We escaped to the coast for the weekend to celebrate my birthday, which was a couple weeks ago. Besides the fog and rain and the fact that I got both of us sick, we had a great time. It is a crisp, sunny day now and we are putting off heading back to Palo Alto because that will signify that it is time for her to get ready for her last quarter of school to start. It’s not so bad for me. I have definitely enjoyed relaxing with her this week, recuperating from the travel and cold I picked up on the plane from Buenos Aires. But I am feeling better now and am excited to start training hard tomorrow and getting ready for my next trip, which I leave for in three and a half weeks.
On April 25th I am scheduled to fly to Vienna, Austria to meet up with one of the teams that recruited me to play in their Club matches this summer. I will be in Europe for at least ten weeks, splitting my time between Steyr, Austria and Fulda, Germany, with a smattering of French money tournaments thrown in as well. That is pretty much everything I know at this point. Besides negotiating my salaries, which are modest but livable, I really have no idea what I’m getting myself into. All of the websites and information I’ve found have been in German and it seems like the European Club Leagues are organized loosely, where people are kind of grandfathered in. I’m not too worried though. I’m sure I will figure things out once I get over there and at least I know I’ll be provided with places to live. It sounds as though I am basically being adopted by these private clubs, meaning that I will be living with members and training, and hopefully teaching a few lessons during the day at their facilities. But again, for now that is just speculation.
I am excited though to go on another adventure soon and happy to be somewhere familiar for the moment to catch my breath a little first. As amazing as traveling is, it can also be exhausting. I’ve become acutely aware of when I have had enough and am ready to go home. Normally this feeling coincides with periods of logistical frustration, but I have found that eventually, I reach a point in every trip when I start pining for stability and a return to a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle. Being on the road is not unhealthy in and of itself. But the inconsistency of constantly being on the move, and having to eat out, and plan your day-to-day life takes a toll on the mind and body. Just from an athletic standpoint it is hard to maintain a fitness
regiment when you lack the regularity of a solid gym. So no matter what—although the rate depends on how diligently I try to stem the tide—being on tour for long periods tends to feel like a decaying process as I watch my body literally weaken before my eyes. This is a dynamic that all professional athletes compete with. But the individual nature and intense travel between countries and continents specific to the tennis lifestyle is such that it is especially prevalent.
I reached my threshold in Buenos Aires, where Nick and I visited for a week before our flights home. Buenos Aires is a beautiful and modern city that is often compared to Europe due to the architectural and stylistic influences that are so clearly apparent. We spent our first few nights staying in the liveliest part of the city called Palermo, in the worst hostel I have ever seen. Covered in wall to wall graffiti and filled to the brim with punks and hipsters, we literally hated our lives as we roasted in our tiny little room–summer in Argentina is sweltering– with no fan or air conditioner. We tried our best to hide from the bugs because they were definitely not hiding from us, and any moment that took us near the bathroom was a nightmare. I won’t elaborate any further, but lets just say the place was terrible and I’m not sure how we lasted there for three nights. It was certainly an awful place to wake up after a long night.
The city was incredible though and we spent most of our time taking advantage of the famous Buenos Aires nightlife. At this point in our trip the tennis was over so we had no qualms staying out till six in the morning dancing and exploring our surroundings. I am not sure why South Americans choose to stay out so late, but the entire culture seems to be shifted a bit from their Northern counterparts. Restaurants don’t even begin serving dinner until 9:30 pm and you are a fool if you arrive at a club before 2 am. No matter the reason though, this dynamic makes for some long and interesting nights as well as some short and painful days. As much as I loved Buenos Aires and would have enjoyed more time to discover the various parts of the city, my memory of the time I spent there is jaded by the strange lifestyle I led, sleeping most of the day away before rousing in time for a late afternoon lunch, maybe a quick sojourn out to see something while the sun is up, and then a regression to the revelries of the night before.
After close to a week of this, even having moved to a more comfortable hostel, my body and soul felt thoroughly worn out and I was happy to start the twenty hour journey home on three separate planes. I stopped first in Lima, Peru and then in El Salvador, where I met up with all the Spring Breakers, returning from their tropical vacations. It was a shock to find myself surrounded by Americans again, waiting in line at Subway listening to people get frustrated as they struggled to order their Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki. I had to remind myself that this is probably what I sounded like a couple months ago–doubtful, but a little empathy never hurt anyone–and I tried not to hold it against them when they adapted by continuing to speak English, only slower and with a Spanish accent, as if that might help the workers understand them.
Anyway though, I made it home and it is nice to be back in the comfort of California. I was on the road for ten weeks, I played six tournaments, and I saw four countries on two continents. This was the first trip that I set out on alone, and although I did end up finding people to travel with, it was empowering to figure things out as I went and see it through to the end. I never would have imagined in January, when I started, that I would end up spending six weeks with a Frenchman that I had never met or that I would end up deep in Chilean Patagonia with a backpack full of rented gear. But I did and it was awesome and the fact that it came together so haphazardly makes it all the better.
I have a few weeks now to train and prepare myself for the next stage of my tennis career, where I’ll transition from playing Futures tournaments—the lowest level of professional events which are notorious for yielding very little money—to playing European leagues and amateur, prize money tournaments, which may not have the glory of the ATP but offer a much more lucrative and sustainable lifestyle. Hopefully I will get a chance to play more Futures at some point, but for now, after spending excessively while pursuing my dream of being a professional tennis player, my new goal is to survive and live off of money I make playing tennis. I believe this is an achievable goal and it is ironic that I would have to retire from attempting to make it as a pro in order to do so. The distinction between the two designations is confusing, but what is important is I’m preparing for a new, interesting chapter in this experience.
For the next couple weeks I’ll help train a top junior in the area while I work myself out using the Stanford facilities. After traveling all over the world I think that the beauty and climate of Northern California rivals just about anywhere I have ever been. I couldn’t find a better place to enjoy my short break from being on the road.