Archive | May 2012

Surviving the City of Love

May 24, 2012

The narrow streets of Paris.

I arrived in Paris on Tuesday via train in order to spend a week playing French Prize money tournaments and to watch the early rounds of Roland Garros.  Germany has been incredible and very relaxing but I have been looking forward to seeing something new and trying my hand at a few clay tournaments.  My club matches have gone well so far and I have yet to lose or be pushed by any of my opponents.  It is nice knowing that I am worth the money that I am being paid.  But I would also like to get some better matches in so I can stay sharp enough to compete at a high level.

I am planning to play two or three tournaments in the Paris area this next week.  I had originally thought that I would be starting play today but it seems with my assimilated French ranking I will enter the draw in the quarterfinals, which will be played on Sunday.   France has one of the most active tennis federations in the world and there are literally thousands of money tournaments going on all over the country all the time.  The tournaments span over three to four weeks, with lower ranked players comprising the early rounds and higher ranked players coming in just for the end.  Based on my ATP ranking I was given a fairly good French ranking, meaning that I don’t have to start in most events until the final weekend.  This is nice because I get to bypass a lot of time and logistical energy that would be wasted getting through easy matches.  So I’ll begin this Sunday in the quarterfinals of the draw which has been going on for close to a month.  If I lose my first round I still make something like $80 and up to $500 if I win through the rest of the matches.  On Monday I play a tournament just in the finals, bypassing everything and just showing up to play for $150.  It is obviously a weak tournament but you get the picture of how things work.  In the stronger events I will start earlier in the week, depending on how many players above me are playing.


Being placed in the later rounds of the draw has the added benefit of giving me a few extra days in Paris to tour around and explore a bit.  I do not know anyone or have any connections at this point, so I am not worrying about training for the moment and will hopefully do alright once it comes time to play my matches.

I have really enjoyed my time in the city the last couple days, although I did have the worst night of my trip in Europe yesterday.  As per usual it could have been avoided had I been the responsible traveler and figured things out ahead of time so I would not be forced to scramble.  But anyone who has traveled with me knows that just isn’t my style.  I generally prefer, either by choice or disposition, a more organic experience, trusting in my abilities to handle things on the fly and more importantly, fate’s usual aptitude for taking care of me.  That is probably a nice way of saying I am lazy and things normally work out.  But last night they did not and my nature definitely came back to bite me as it was probably the closest I have ever come to spending a night on the street.

Spent the whole evening drinking beers and watching an impromptou acoustic guitar concert put on by some italian guy on the steps of Sacre-Coeure. He played all the sweet, and sappy American songs. It made me cringe sometimes but he had a nice voice and was a warm night to be outside.

I will preface the story by saying that from the time I woke up until about 7pm I had a perfect, although rather exhausting Parisian day.  I woke in a nice hostel that I had managed to find the night before—as per usual—and headed out to explore, even though I knew that I did not have a reservation to return to when I came back.  I’d been in that position before though and figured something would open up and I would probably have to switch rooms or something.  Whatever, I’d figure it out later I thought.  I left my luggage in the hostel’s storage room and took the metro to the Cathedral at Notre Dame.  It was nice and looked like a bigger version of just about every other church I have ever forced myself to visit.  But I was happy I had seen it and even happier to leave and get away from the lines and crowds.

Cathedral at Notre Dame. On the bank of the Seine River.

My plan was to eventually make it to the French open at Roland Garros to see the afternoon Men’s Qualifying matches.  But I had hours to kill before then so I decided I would walk to the Eiffel Tower along the bank of the famous Seine River.  It is a rather long way from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower and took me the better part of two hours to walk.  But for a sunny, warm, and beautiful day I could not imagine a more peaceful way to take in the French architecture and enjoy the scenery.  I put my headphones on, played some soothing music, and reveled in a sense of culture and wellbeing as I slowly passed the day making my way across the city, eventually to Rolland Garros, where my day got even better watching some great tennis.

Walking the Seine towards the Eiffel Tower. It was very peaceful, especially since I had nowhere to be and all the time to get there.

Around seven I decided it was time to make my way back to my hostel so I could figure things out.  Seeing as I do not have a phone I was unable to call the hostel as they had advised me earlier to see about a room. But again, that would all figure itself out I thought.  Unfortunately it did not, and the tired sense of calm from a strenuous but empowering day turned into an exhausted anxiety when I finally got back and realized that not only was there no space in my hostel, but literally every bed in the city under $500 was taken as well.  I scanned the creepy hotels in the area to no avail, running from one to the next as the sun disappeared above me.  I signed up for couchsurfer to see if I could scrounge something quickly, but I found no help there either.

One more of the Seine.

By ten I was really starting to worry.  What was I going to do?  I had no place to go, a ton of luggage, and not much time to figure things out.  I managed to get a break online when I found Giovanni’s Gay Guesthouse, which was the only hostel in the city with any availability.  It advertised itself as being for Men Only and as “a great place to find cool, fun guys.”  It was certainly not what I had been looking for but at that point I had no other options.  According to Giovanni’s website he welcomes any sort of gay, bi-sexual, or open-minded men under the age of thirty-five.  While I have never thought of myself as gay or bi-sexual, open-minded seemed to fit and by then I really just needed a place to sleep for the night.  So I booked my spot in a six bed dorm and began the long trek on the metro-transferring twice with all my stuff-and eventually finding myself on the outskirts of eastern Paris with an address and no idea where to go or even which direction to head.

I just liked this photo. I think Paris may be the most beautiful city I have visited. Just in terms of the architecture you can really feel the history of all the buildings and busy little streets.

It was 11pm so I figured I should go somewhere.  I headed out randomly, hoping to find the street for which I was looking.  Eventually I got directions that turned out to be wrong, but led me to a McDonalds three quarters of a mile away where I was able to get Internet and download a walking map on my iPhone.  I finally found the building where Giovanni’s was supposed to be.  It looked abandoned and the area was most certainly less than wholesome.  My email confirmation said that when you get to the building you have to call a phone number and you will be let in through an unmarked door.  If that isn’t creepy enough, it also advised not to ask any of the neighbors for directions if you cannot find the place, which was pretty unnecessary seeing as the neighbors consisted of a small but active community of bums and street people loitering around the stoop of the building.

Sadly, I cannot make phone calls with my American phone so I didn’t know what to do and just sat outside with all my stuff, looking up into the windows with rainbow flags hoping to get someone’s attention.  There was supposed to be some sort of pay phone around but I couldn’t find that either.  I thought about yelling up at the windows but didn’t want to attract any more attention than I was already getting standing around in the dark with a suitcase and a bag full of tennis racquets.

I poked my head in a few buildings looking for a phone and stumbled upon a synagogue, which seemed promising at first except I got scared off by the dirty looks when I realized that I had barged into the middle of some sort of services that happened to be going on at that hour.  Also I was unsure about how the Hasidic Jews would react when I told them I was looking for the Gay Guesthouse in the area.  I know.  Not cool.  But I didn’t want to open that can of worms in the middle of the night by advertising my destination to any sort of religious community, even my own.

Richard Gasquet playing a practice set on center court. He is an amazing shot maker and it is great to see because he is a pretty small guy but gets a lot of power on the ball.

As sad as I was to leave the promise of a real bed, once again I had no options.  So I dragged myself back to McDonalds—uphill this time— and past all the sleazy bars and nightwalkers that had eyed me so thoroughly the first time.  My plan was to call Giovanni on Skype and let him know I was on my way so he could be waiting for me, but I was pretty pissed off by then and decided to have a quick look online for another place.  What do you know!  An even cheaper bed and breakfast had something open up while I was hiking around the ghetto.  I called them as quick as I could on my computer to tell them I was on my way, not even registering the name of the place since the McDonalds workers were getting angry and trying to hustle me out so they could close.  I managed to scribble the address at least before the big worker picked me up and threw me in the street with all my stuff.  I did not know where the place was but wherever it turned out to be had to be better than hiking back to Giovanni’s.  On the way to the metro I found a lady-cab and made a game time decision to make my life easier and spend the money to have her drop me at the door rather than doing the subway thing again.  Why not? I figured.  It was almost midnight anyway.  The subway would have probably been closing soon.

Once again, fate led me astray.  The cabi-lady must have spoken like ten words of English, which was not sufficient for her to explain what was happening when after only a few minutes she stopped to pick up two more ladies and then swerved a totally different direction.  I tried to decipher what was going on and then gave in to the fact that my taxi just turned into a bus.  All three women assured me they were saving me money and going in the same direction. I didn’t believe it for a second.

Literally an hour later, after dropping the two ladies off God knows where in the city and avoiding any sort of highway or bypass that might have sped up our progress, I found myself hunched over in the backseat of the cab, shaking, with my head between my knees. I didn’t know whether to cry, yell at the lady for wasting my time and money, or just open the car door and tuck and roll.  The latter would have been a mistake though because whereas Giovanni’s neighborhood may have been a tad unwholesome, the grounds the taxi was taking me into ever deeper was the heart of Parisian China town, which I had not even known existed and is located in the southern outskirts of the city.  It was dark, deserted, and did not seem like the kind of place for me to go stumbling around in alone.

More French architecture.

There have been moments in my travels when I have realized that if, by some chance something awful occurred and I happened to disappear, nobody would have a clue where to find me, or even where to start looking.  Many times on the streets of Thailand and Laos I’ve had such feelings, a couple times in Mexico and Central America, and one similar midnight cab ride in Quebec City just to name a few.  This was definitely on par with any unease I have ever felt in having no control as I realized that I had no move to make in the situation besides hope that I eventually make it somewhere safe.  The cabi-lady locked her doors and started complaining about how I didn’t tell her I was going outside of Paris-as if I had known-and how she didn’t like it because it was dangerous.  I told her she should shut up because she wasn’t the one who had to stay there for the night.

We finally arrived at a random residential house that I found out was the Nandemum Guesthouse.  The manager had told me she would be waiting for my arrival but, as I should have expected; nobody was there to greet me.  There was a light on upstairs though and I could see two Asian guys walking around.  Where I had been unwilling to shout up or throw rocks at the windows of Giovanni’s earlier, I found myself yelling up to them here at Nandemum’s.  The cabi started honking her horn, which scared me, and I finally got their attention by hurling coins at the window since they were all I could find in my pockets to throw.

I paid the cabi, who was happy to be rid of me, and I thought my ordeal was finally over.  Not quite unfortunately.  Although she was very nice, the manager came down to explain how somehow she had overbooked and did not have a room for me after all.  I almost had a fit then and there and was about to ask her if I could sleep in her bathtub when she called a friend’s place nearby and suggested I could stay there instead.  Once again, I had no choice as I let myself be ushered into her beat up Toyota and driven to another random residential house that is apparently some sort of Korean Hostel.  I had my scariest moment of the night after the lady had dropped me off and left when the owner refused to open the door for me initially and told me to go away.  Where was I supposed to go?  Thankfully he didn’t have a shotgun, which is how I thought I would find him, and I eventually persuaded him to let me in the door.

After that he was all smiles and ushered me into a dorm room filled to the brim with Korean men.  Strangely, many of them spoke great English and were in fact way more polite and nice than most French people I have been meeting.  Nobody was angry that a random white dude barged in in the middle of the night, waking everyone up and demanding to take a shower—I was disgusting after all the walking I had done earlier in the day and then all the lugging around of my suitcases.  It probably felt weirder for me than them but I did not care at that point since I was just happy to have a bed and a roof over my head for the night.  I knew I would need to figure out where I was and how to get back to civilization in the morning.  But for the moment I had nothing to do but settle into my third story bunk and try to get some sleep, which after everything I had gone through, was not very hard.

It was an interesting morning waking up and having breakfast with everyone today.  I never did find out what the name of the place was but if I did know I would write them a great review on hostelworld.  They were all extremely friendly and generous and really seemed to care how I felt, even though I was a bit of a zombie and wanted nothing more than to get out of there as quick as I could.  It was probably one of the more out of place moments I can remember but not at all due to any incorrectness on their part.  A little boy even gave me a lesson on the culture and Geography of Seoul, which was where he was from.

Anyway that was my night yesterday.  It ended around two in the morning and was pretty hellish.  I think it taught me that I might want to take a more active role in figuring out my life sometimes. I will have to start that sometime later though since I was able to find a hostel today for one night and one night only.  I’m thinking about running to Amsterdam for a couple days if I cant find something more reliable here in Paris.  My housing for the tournament starts on Saturday so it might be nice to get away if this is what every night is going to be like.  Not to mention that after my experience yesterday I think I could use a little R &R that only Amsterdam can offer.  Just kidding.   All in all, life goes on and I am happy to have made it through the nightmare and survived to fight another day.


Life in Fulda

May 19, 2012

View along the bike ride to and from the TC Gruen Weiss Fulda. It is only about a ten minute ride from the house where I am staying.

It has been a while since I have written.  It is strange how when I am writing often it becomes easy and when I get lazy and miss a few days or a week, all of a sudden it is hard to get back on track.  I guess it is kind of like working out, dieting, and flossing, all of which are much easier to do when you have been doing them consistently.   Funny how it is the things that are good for you that are often the hardest to make yourself do.

I love the landscape of the Fulda farmland.

I am in Fulda, Germany, relishing the chance to not get up early.  I don’t have many responsibilities or anything but I have been waking up early every day to go into the club and hit or go on bike rides and such with my host, Steve.  But today Steve’s son, Thomas, has a match early so I’ve been left a bit to my own devices, which is nice.

Fulda is beautiful and once again I feel like things could not have worked out better.  Besides the fact that apparently I could be making more money in a higher league, this experience, like Austria, is exactly what I was hoping for.  Fulda is a sleepy little town with farmland in every direction.  Although my calf has not fully healed, I got tired of waiting for it so I have started going on long runs, which are extremely satisfying and have actually felt alright.  I love finding myself jogging through fields of grass, cows, and some sort of interesting yellow flower that will be turned into mustard soon.  The pace of life is so slow it is hard not to be relaxed.  It helps that I have a fair amount of freedom and independence.  But mostly it is just refreshing to be part of a small community where people seem genuinely happy and content.

Running in the farmlands out the backyard of the house.

Gruen Weiss Fulda is a larger club than that of my Austrian team, boasting five hundred members as opposed to the one hundred and thirty of Gruen Weiss Steyr.  It has ten clay courts, which are perfectly manicured and maintained.  I still cannot believe how much effort and resources go into clay tennis.  I was told the club spends ten thousand euros every year renewing it after each winter.  That seems crazy to me, especially for such a small establishment.  Besides the clay courts there are three indoor courts which are a weird kind of soft turf with little beads of plastic on top that make it slick so you can kind of slide like on the clay.  I took a nasty fall though the other day while I was teaching a lesson to an old man.  I tried to slide into a drop shot and my right foot stuck, sending me tumbling towards the net.  Thank god I did not break my ankle or neck.

There isn’t much more to the club than the courts and indoor facility.  There is no pool or fitness center. Just a clubhouse that, while dwarfing the Steyr facilities, is still very small and intimate.  It is perfect for the members, many of who stop by after work to have drinks or dinner or play bridge.

My favorite spot to chill.

The best part of my existence is the family with whom I am staying.  Steve and Hanna Guy are the two head teaching pros at the club and together they run a tennis school that supports a very nice home about a mile and a half from the club.  Although they do teach every day, neither of them seems to work overly hard or long hours, both being able to come back to the house for a relaxed lunch most afternoons.

It is great for me to stay with Hanna and Steve because they both played professionally on the tour and were actually top hundred in the world.  It creates a good dynamic that is mutually satisfying for us because they understand the grind that I have been going through playing futures, and I have immense respect for how good they were and how tough it must have been for them to accomplish what they did.  Steve is a kiwi—New Zealander—who played pro for ten years after getting a scholarship to Wichita State and Hanna is from the Czech Republic, where she was European Champion in the Age of Steffi Graf and Monica Seles.  They are both great people and have been extremely generous in letting me into their home and feeding me the lion’s share of their food.

I am not sure why but I really like cows. I stop to feed them grass and pet them whenever I run past.

I have become very good friends with Steve, who is a happy, laid back guy.  I enjoy listening to him talk about his time playing the legends of tennis almost as much as he likes telling me about it, so it works out well for us.  We’ve gone on runs and bike rides and many times just shared a few beers after he gets back from work.  We even went to a queen cover band the other day at the local church festival.  I can tell that Steve likes having me to pal around with a bit and he has been a great resource in learning about all the money tournaments and club leagues, since he did all this for years during his career.  He even started training me some, which has been great for my game since I cannot remember the last time I had a coach working me out with a bucket of balls, drilling me until my heart is pumping and my legs burn.

Strangely, after coming to terms with the end of my career and putting myself in an environment where I cannot train that much, I am playing the best tennis of my life.  Partly I think this is due to my game actually being well suited for clay and partly I am just very relaxed at the moment and not worrying about it too much.  After a few weeks training on the dirt I have learned to shape the ball and have turned my forehand into the high, heavy, aggressive yet safe shot that I have been searching for all my life.  My high backhand above my shoulders—always my weakness—has even improved as well since that is where I hit most balls here.  Most importantly though, I am moving on the court well and have developed a patience and consistency that has never been possible on the fast, hard courts on which I grew up and spent my whole career.

Walking in the hills on what used to be the border Eastern and Western Germany.

Clay is a forgiving surface that provides time to think and prepare.  It also neutralizes overly powerful weapons such as the serve, which have never really helped me much anyway.  It allows for a creativity and presence in points because you cannot just blast through someone and end rallies quickly.  You have to earn points, either through powerful ball movement, intense defense and consistency, or deft creativity and touch.  In the past few weeks I realized that I am capable of all three and have been feeling more solid every day.  We will see how I fare next week when I play a few tournaments with some better competition.  But up to now, I have been pleased with myself and my progress, both in practice and the matches.

I got a little press in the Fulda newspaper after winning my first match. If only I knew what it said.

One of the more interesting aspects of living here in Fulda has been my interaction with Steve and Hanna’s son Thomas.  Thomas is thirteen and very talented and his parents put a lot of pressure and emphasis on his tennis, although they want and try to be chill.  It is just what they know and what they do.  So they cannot help but be very involved in his practices and tournaments and push him to work harder and get the most out of his training.  Like any normal thirteen-year-old boy, Thomas rebels by goofing around and blowing them off a bit.  Basically just being a bratty teenager who you want to slap around sometimes.  I am in a unique position to both watch and experience the Thomas/tennis dynamic because I am hitting with him every day, both as a favor to Steve and Hanna and because he is the best player I can hit with on the regular here in Fulda.

When I say Thomas is talented I mean it.  Although he is skinny, he is as tall as me already—which I guess isn’t saying much—and he can hit a big ball.  He also has very good hands and touch, which is why it sounds like he is always one of the top ten or twenty players in Germany for his age.  But as talented as he is, it is like pulling teeth sometimes trying to get him to focus and work hard in practice.  I am further removed than Steve so it does not bother me nearly as much when he fools around, but at the same time, I am out there to train and work hard myself and it is annoying when he just cannot get his act together and give a good effort.  It is frustrating to watch and hard to deal with sometimes. Thomas is a great kid though and is definitely behaving like a normal thirteen year old.  It is just new to me to be on this side of the struggle.

My Fulda family watching Bayern play in the finals of the Champions league. Steve, whose house I am living in and who has become my best friend in town, is the one on the far left in the glasses.

It is tough watching Thomas and Steve disagree over his tennis, especially after having gone through that same dynamic with my own father and growing up enough to see it for what it was.  Steve is such a nice guy, cares a ton, and just wants the best for his son.  But its probably tough for Thomas to have his dad be so involved and he is too young to really understand and get the most out of what Steve is trying to give him.  I wish there was something I could do or say to either one of them to help alleviate the tension sometimes since I have the unique perspective of having lost my father while that stuff was all going on in our lives and before I matured enough to get past it. But people have to experience things for themselves.  Hopefully they will have many years to connect and find each other a bit more once they get through the tennis dad relationship. It is just kind of eerie to be a spectator looking in.  Besides that little bit of typical teenager drama it is great being a part of a happy household and I am thoroughly enjoying having the time to relax and explore the German countryside.

As far as the tennis is concerned, I think Thomas’ problem, which was my problem when I was young and I’m sure is every kid’s at that age, is that he takes no ownership of himself, his game, or his training.  His parents tell him when to practice and what to do and lecture him all day about it.  So he simply shows up and puts his body through the motions, not really thinking or even caring about what is happening.  Although he gets mad when he misses and likes hitting good shots, his mind and his attention sometimes don’t seem to take stock of what is occurring on the court.  So when he is angry it is a shallow, useless anger that is disconnected from himself because he doesn’t really care and there is no drive in it to change anything or make it better.  I keep telling him that I understand being mad and yelling and throwing your racquet.  But it only makes sense when you actually feel the emotion and there is a desire for improvement behind it. As if I should be the one to talk regarding the care of tennis racquets.  I believe one of mine is still on the roof of the Israeli Tennis Center in Ashkelon.

My good friend Benny. He was a nasty little guy and hated my guts for the first few days. I charmed him eventually though and now we’re pretty tight.

But nonetheless, how do you get any thirteen year old in any sport to take ownership of his game, think about the things that he needs to work on, and be present enough to focus on them?  I don’t know the answer to that, and if I did, I would probably be a millionaire and have solved the biggest problem in sports families today.  Obviously it takes time and experience to develop the maturity to be self aware.  But I would say that this awareness, and more specifically how early one develops such awareness, is what separates the ones who make it from the ones who don’t.  Not even talent, but rather focus and mindset.  Talent is probably what separates the journeymen lingering between #100 and #200 in the world from Nadal and Federer and the few others at the top of the game.  But awareness and pressence is what allows them to maximize their potential and approach the top at all.  At that level most everyone is maximizing their abilities so that is when talent comes into play and the few who were just gifted can distance themselves from the pack.

Benny tried his best to stow away one day before we left for the club. Believe it or not it almost worked.

I am happy to have finally found the mental and emotional balance to at least maximize my own potential.  I mean, I am sure I could be fitter and improve my serve and and have a six-pack and whatnot.  Well maybe not the six-pack.  But in terms of talent and effort and mindset I think I have finally arrived.  Not to say I won’t still fight myself sometimes and get down and struggle.  But the biggest change I feel in my game and my attitude is that I am aware and I own the experience.   I have no coach.  I have no trainer.  I have no sponsor.  I am just out here trying to do the best that I can.  If I go on a run it is because I feel that is what my body needs.  If I hit crosscourt backhands it is because I am trying to figure out what will make them stronger.  For better or worse it is all me.  My days are full and empty.  Any day I want I can do everything or nothing.  It is the blessing and curse of this lifestyle and not having a real job.  And I am aware that it will not last long so I try to make the most out of it that I can.  I finally have perspective and contentment.  I know what I am, what I want, and why I am doing this, and it only took me twenty years to find it.

I guess when I think of Thomas and want to pound my knowledge into his head I am being unfair.  A lot of things went into giving me the perspective I have now.  I was just as bratty as Thomas when I was young.  Probably more so, and it took my father passing away to slap me in the face enough to bring it into my consciousness.  Nothing like a little guilt and regret to get you thinking about your actions.  I wish more than anything I could go back and give Dad the respect he wanted and deserved when I was young and we were battling, but I cannot.  That is not how life works.  Whether or not I was being a normal teenager, we both suffered because of my immaturity and I didn’t really start internalizing it until the last couple years, or even few months.

My new clay court shoes. They are a little flashy for my taste but we’ll see if they help me get around any better. When your shoes get worn down and slick on clay you might as well be wearing ice skates.

I am not sure why I was so set on pursuing my tennis after college but I am glad that I have.  What may have began as a sort of regretful continuance of my junior career and desire to achieve goals I could never quite grasp, has finally blossomed into a real understanding of what I had been missing throughout my time in tennis.  I finally know what I was looking for and own the process and the results.  And although I am constantly striving, I am finally happy and satisfied, which is all I could have asked from this experience.

As nice as it would be to go back and give this brain or this perspective to my fourteen-year-old self, he would not understand it without the context that created it.  Thomas will have to figure things out for himself and Steve will eventually relax and allow him to do it.  And like I said before, hopefully they will be able to laugh about it on the other side.  I wish I had been able to do that.  But not everyone gets those opportunities.  I am not religious but hopefully I will see Dad and talk to him again someday, somewhere, and we can laugh and share and find each other again.  But for now things are what they are and with luck that won’t be for some time still.  The best thing I can say for right now is that although it may have taken me over twenty years to make peace with the sport that has been so much of my life, at least I did it in time to truly enjoy the last few months of my career.

My Home in Steyr

May 2, 2012

Austrian countryside.

It was about a five-hour drive to Steyr from Karnten through the classic hills made famous in The Sound of Music,which was filmed in Salzburg.  I definitely slept for an hour of it but saw enough to be thoroughly impressed by Austria.  It is so green and mountainous.  It reminds me a bit of Oregon and the northwest in that there are tons of trees and wilderness.  But the landscape is a bit different.  There are huge open spaces with lush grass and hillside and many small villages that have probably existed for a thousand years.  The country seems very well preserved and you really just don’t see any crummy areas.  I guess I have not been here for long but it seems that the standard of living is very high, which I am sure is true since Austrians pay 50% of their salaries to taxes.

Downtown Steyr.

Steyr is beautiful and I just spent the morning walking around the cobblestone streets, peaking in doorways and taking pictures.  Although it is the third largest city in upper-Austria, it is definitely a small town still, with only about forty thousand people.  The old town has typical European architecture and I feel like I am walking around a castle everywhere I go.  I am staying with our team captain, Richard, and his house is big and comfortable.  He just graduated from law school and has some time off before he starts his job in June.  So he has been showing me around and taking me mountain biking and exploring.  He has a huge backyard with a garden and pool, and after reading and swimming for a couple hours

Backyard of Richard’s house. Not a bad place to be holed up for a while.

yesterday his mom made a nice and simple cold dinner of different meats and breads and cheeses. We drank a bottle of white wine, which even I enjoyed—I don’t usually like wine all that much.  all in all, I think it will be great to stay here for a while.  I’m enjoying having the day to myself a little to check out the city and be on my own. We played our first match of the season yesterday and today I am resting because my calf is bothering me and I want it to heal so I can start running.  I think it will be amazing to run in this area and am sad that my leg is not letting me.  I did however, just spend an hour walking around the gorgeous, antique streets that are Steyr, and now I find myself, as I have in various countries and continents, in McDonalds, where the air smells

The river flows right through the center of town.

of French fries and the internet is reliable.  What a weird world.  There were half dozen adorable coffee shops along the river and in the old city any of which would have been great to write in.  But they don’t have wifi.  So here I am, surrounded by annoying highschoolers destroying their bodies with an unending supply of saturated fat and cholesterol.

The match yesterday could not have been more of a success.  Although I was pretty nervous to start out, I ended up beating the Bulgarian that the other team brought in solidly 6-1, 6-1.  It was a huge relief to start the season off so well and the match was exactly how I had hoped this experience would be.  About

Hans was there early in order to stake out a prime seat on the stadium court.

twenty-five of the club members came out to watch, many just to see me play, and they spent the afternoon drinking wine, eating lunch, and cheering.  They made me very welcome and a few different people told me how happy they were to watch me and how impressed they were by my skills.  All I can say is that after so much time grinding, playing qualifying tournaments at Futures, and often being disappointed by my results it was a huge ego boost to be a big fish finally and show off for people a bit.  It is nice to have a different level of comparison for a change to remind myself that my hard work has paid off and I am in fact very good at this game.  And it was fun to have people cheering for me and to be part of a team again, which I haven’t had since college.

I think I am a clay courter now. I’m not looking forward to returning to hard courts anymore.

I felt solid on the clay, and the Bulgarian was actually a good player, although he may have been sharper a few years ago.  He just was not consistent enough to stay with me from the baseline, which made him go for too much and play overly aggressive at times.  It was a good match though despite the score and was definitely not a blowout.  As a whole, the level of play in the league is fairly low when compared to the professional environments I have played in.  But the guys are awesome and they take it seriously, really getting into the matches and competing hard.  We ended up winning as a team by the final score of seven matches to two, which was good enough for first place in the league.  Although it is only the beginning of the season, this is the first time in

View of the courts from the clubhouse. TC Gruen Weiss Steyr is a tiny club with just one hundred and thirty members. It is really nice though and definitely an intimate community.

the history of the team that they have led the league, so everyone is happy and seem to be satisfied with the decision to bring me onto the team. The final match of the day, which was important because it decided whether or not the team got a bonus point for the win—which ended up putting us first in the league—came down to my partner and my doubles match at the second position.  My partner’s name was Libish and he played the bottom spot for us in singles.  Apparently he struggles with nerves sometimes so he was ecstatic when we came from behind to win our match in a tiebreaker in the third set.  I was feeling pretty confident and a bit cocky after my success and all the congratulations I had received from the singles.  But it turned out one of our opponents, who

Celebrating our win in the clubhouse with Hans’ cake that was “made by a murderer.” Literally…. He buys them from the prison on the edge of town. I thought that was funny.

had been demolished earlier by our five player, was a doubles specialist.  He humbled me a bit early on by poaching on one of Libish’s returns and hitting me pretty hard right in the head.  That was enough to put a damper on my ego trip and snap me back into the match, which we managed to squeak out close in the third. The club was very happy with the result and rounds of beer started flowing from every direction.  Hans brought out a Murder Cake, which was made by a famous chef in the local prison, and everyone was happy to celebrate and prepare for a night on the town.   I probably had a few too many beers because I had to take a nap before dinner and drink a bunch of coffee in order to be ready to go out.  But it ended up being a great time and we staid out

Richard took me mountain biking for the first time. I only fell once getting to the viewpoint at the top. You could see the whole city spread out below.

till five in the morning making an unofficial pub-crawl of the local Steyr nightlife.  At this point I think the guys really like me and the Austrian part of this experience appears to have turned out to be all that I could have hoped for and more.  They really seem to appreciate that I want to be a real part of the team and care about them and the club.  I guess a lot of teams hire players who just come in the day of the match, take their money, and leave.  So they like the fact that I want more than that. I have the rest of today and tomorrow to chill a bit and be on my own and then I’m off to Fulda, Germany where I’ll meet my second team and prepare for my first match there next week.  Hopefully my situation in Fulda will be

These cows took a liking to me for some reason. The whole pack of them followed me around for like fifteen minutes. It was creepy and flattering. The one in the front appeared to be their leader.

close to as nice as it has turned out to be in Steyr.

Club Tennis in Europe: A New Beginning But the End is Near.

I have been meaning to post this for a couple weeks but my computer broke and I had to get it fixed before I could get anything up.  I’ll probably have another couple updates soon while I try to get caught up.

Apr 29, 2012,

Welcome to Austria

I have begun what will be the last trip of my professional career.  Not to say I won’t continue to train or will never travel and compete again at some point.  But after the summer I will no longer do it full time.  During my visit in Palo Alto with Stefanie I was fortunate enough to secure a real job for the fall, assistant coaching for the women’s tennis program at a Division Two college called the Dominican University of California.  Dominican is a small private school with about

Resort in Karnten

two thousand students and it is located in Marin County, which is twelve miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.  The campus is cute and little and Marin is a relaxed community outside the buzz of the big city.  It is quaint and picturesque and will be a great place to spend some time and enjoy a more settled lifestyle.

View from hotel balcony in Karnten

Besides working with the team I will spend most of my time teaching lessons at the University and at the various clubs in the area, as that will be where I make my money.   It will be a busy life and I will spend a lot of time on court, which can be a grind, but hopefully I’ll still be able to train and stay in shape so I can play the local money tournaments and maintain my skills.  I am looking forward to a new chapter though and it is exciting to think about moving down to the Bay Area the end of August and finding a place to live and set myself up.

Not me, but a good picture of the environment we are training in. It is picturesque and comes complete with mooing cows right behind the fence.

For now at least though, I am still traveling, playing, and living the life of a professional tennis player.  After unwinding for a month from South America and training hard to recover some of the fitness I lost while being on the road, I hopped back on a plane, this time to Austria, where I will remain for the next two months.  Actually I will be splitting my time between Austria and Germany, where I am being paid to play the top position on Club championship teams in each country.  There are many different leagues and divisions, with the highest being comprised of top ATP players competing for large prizes and the lowest being recreational.  My teams are somewhere in the middle.   They don’t seem to take it too seriously but they care enough to put me up for a couple months and pay me to play for them.

Not quite a 6’2” American with a huge serve. But they tell me I look quite scrappy, which I’m choosing to take as a compliment

I just found out today that my German friend who helped set me secure the Austrian team lied to them when he was describing me.  Apparently they were expecting a really tall American with a huge serve, so it must have come as a bit of a shock to them when I showed up.  As embarrassing as it is to know how big—maybe I should say small—a disappointment I must have been initially, I guess it was a good thing he tricked them, as they may have been less enthusiastic about the prospect of someone who is stocky, 5’7’’(on a good day), and has a bum shoulder.  I think I’ve won them over though at this point with my 80 mph slider and my 60 mph kick out wide followed by a kamikaze net rush.  Or maybe it was my charm and bubbly personality.  Either way they seem to be satisfied at least for the moment.

The Austrian Club is located in a small northern city called Steyr.  I arrived into Vienna though three days ago and was promptly taken to Kärnten, which is in the south near the border with Slovenia.  It is a ritual for most Austrian teams to spend the last weekend before the start of the season together, training and in some cases relearning how to play tennis.  My team chose to come to a tennis resort in the majestic southern hills.

Kärnten is beautiful and I can only describe it as exactly what I imagined Austria would look like.  Grassy hillsides, serene lakes, and snow-covered mountains in the distance…it is really amazing.   The trip in general could not have worked out better at this point.  There are eleven in our group and they are all friends from childhood and growing up in a small town.  They live in different cities now so they are all happy to be celebrating being reunited again.  They have been very hospitable and great at including me and taking me into their crew.  The tennis has been fun and it is nice to be on clay again after a quick sojourn on the American hardcourts.  We are hitting twice a day and spending the rest of our time playing soccer, volleyball, and lounging around in the pool and sun.  I’m a bit relieved that I am in fact the best player here, although there are a couple guys who are pretty good.  I was worried that I would not be good enough or

Another set of courts

something and they wouldn’t think I was worth the money.  But that is not the case and it is fun relaxing into the experience and not taking it too seriously.  For the most part the guys are recreational players who are just out to have a good time and it is fun impressing them a bit.  I am still a little nervous for the matches because I want to win and perform well but I think in general I am a good fit for the team, which is nice and a relief.

The coach of our team, Hans, is the most adorable man I’ve ever met. He is not even related to anyone on the team. He just loves sports and enjoys any time he gets to hang out with the guys and watch them play. 

The funniest guy is definitely our coach, who is ninety-two and an integral part of the team.  He is the mascot and biggest fan.  His name is Hans, of course, and he used to be a world-class marathon runner during World War Two.  He is adorable and cannot speak a word of English.  But he talks to me in German all the time even though he knows I can’t understand him at all.  The guys advised me to just say “Ja, Ja…” and nod my head, which seems to satisfy him.  I am really impressed and moved by how respectful and sweet the guys are to include Hans in the trip. We eat all our meals together and everyone really seems to love having him around. He still drives and even took me to the train station the other day. The only way I’ve been able to actually talk to him is through google translate on my iPhone. We cant communicate at all but I love him.  He swears the reason he made it to being so old is that he never smoked or drank hard liquor, but he definitely has like four glasses of wine every night and one in the morning to get himself started.  Whatever he is doing must be working though because as frail as he may be he is still able to chase down balls for us when they go over the fence—ever slowly of course.  One of the days he got the worst sunburn I have ever seen all on his legs, which did not bother him at all since he says he hasn’t felt his legs in years.  I guess sometimes being old has its advantages.

A hard day of Training with the team.

We will stay at the resort for another couple days before heading back north.  I’m looking forward to getting to Steyr because I am told it is beautiful.  Our first match is next Saturday, so I will be free to explore and train until then.  Our team is in the third league in the region but fortunately for me there is another team in the city that plays in the first league, so I will have some solid guys with which to train.  I am told the area surrounding Steyr is typical Austrian woodland and I cannot wait to go on some long runs and soak it all in while I prepare to compete.  Our first opponents have brought in a Bulgarian to play the top position so I definitely want to be fit and ready to represent.

A long night after training.

For now though it is warm and sunny outside and I think I am missing out on a game of soccer down by the lake.  Although I am sad that the end of my career is in sight, it is amazing to be in Europe with such a long trip ahead of me.  Most likely I will be gone until early August—after Austria and Germany I will spend a month in France playing money tournaments—so I have plenty of time to squeeze every last drop out of being here and continuing to train and compete at a high level.  This is an amazing experience and lifestyle and after all the years of struggling mentally and emotionally with my relationship to tennis, I am pleased to finally be enjoying the incredible opportunity I have with a perspective that allows me to get the most out of it.  The worst thing I can say right now is that I squandered an outrageous chip lead in poker tonight, so life is most definitely good.