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,
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.