Jun 18, 2012
I am in Fulda for the moment preparing lesson plans for a full afternoon of teaching. Coaching tennis is not that difficult seeing as I have played and been coached myself for twenty years. But it still helps to be organized and have a plan for how I want to manage the groups and lessons. It does not make things easier that everyone I am coaching are native German speakers. So I have to work hard to explain things as clearly and succinctly as possible.
I returned to Fulda two days ago after spending a week visiting with my mother and sister in Paris. It worked out that they were able to make a quick trip to Europe to visit me after attending a wedding in Israel in the beginning of June. We were lucky enough to stay in a friend’s luxurious apartment in Montmartre, only a stones throw from the Moulin Rouge, and we had a great time walking around the city, exploring the various districts and taking in the scenery. Seeing as I had recently been to Paris and done some sightseeing on my own, I was happy to let them plan our days and get what they wanted out of the beautiful city.
It was nice taking a step back from tennis and clearing my mind a bit. Although I have not necessarily been training all that much, my life really has been revolving around the various matches and tournaments I have been playing. So it was good to get away for a while and be taken care of by my mom a little. Being on the road for so long can sometimes get you down or homesick and I was happy to see my family and get a little slice of familiarity for a change.
On our last day together we decided to take a day tour of Normandy, which is a city on the northern coast of France about three hours from Paris. I have always wanted to visit Normandy because that was where the allied invasion began which turned the tides against the Germans in World War Two. War history is an interest of mine and I have tried my best over the years to take advantage of any opportunities in my travels to visit the sites where monumental battles have been fought. In Vietnam I was extremely moved touring the intricate network of tunnels that sprawled for miles and miles beneath the jungle floor. It was unimaginable to think of living one’s life in such dark and damp conditions and I returned from the trip struck by how horrible it must have been not just for the Vietnamese population living down there but for the American GIs whose job it was to try to dig them out.
Anyone who has seen the first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan has a pretty good idea of what it was like for the American, British, and Canadian forces that landed on the beaches of Normandy in 1944. But it was powerful to stand there and take in the reality of their accomplishment. Peering down from cliffs at rugged beaches where tens of thousands of soldiers gave their lives is a powerful feeling and more than eerie to think that most of them were my age or younger. The American Cemetery, which rests above Omaha Beach—one of two landing sites used by the American forces and infamous for the devastating carnage that took place—is an impressive monument and contains ten thousand gravestones representing a portion of the vast amount of men who lost their lives in the battle of Normandy. The grounds were immaculately maintained and I was struck by how peaceful it seemed in a place made famous by devastating chaos. Peering down at the serene beach gave no clue as to what had happened and you couldn’t
help but think that time and the world really do move on within you and without you. That is why the monuments are so important. So we can continue to remember and celebrate the actions and sacrifices that would be lost without them as the earth heals and the pain fades away. I am not a museum person but I appreciated the small display recounting some of the battle and preparing one to more intimately comprehend what you see in the cemetery.
It would have been nice to stay overnight and have a couple days to visit more of the invasion sites, but seeing as our trip was so short, unfortunately we had to return to Paris that day, making for a long afternoon on the bus. I am glad I got to see the historic beaches though finally and my sister and I only fought a little bit after being cooped up together all day.
I played and won a club match yesterday, which was rather difficult since I had not hit a ball for a week and a half since I finished playing the Hessian Championships. I am always struck by how quickly I can lose the feel and competitive edge. It was an awful match and I actually was down 4-0 in the first set. But I was able to play myself into some sort of form and come back and win in straight sets.
I am definitely starting to feel the wear and tear of traveling. It is not that I am doing anything very strenuous but just the inconsistency of moving around, being on trains every day and never sleeping in the same bed or eating on a consistent schedule is starting to take a toll on my body. I find that the days I get back to my home in Fulda I mainly just end up recovering from the trips in order to be somewhat fit for my matches. But any sort of real training has been pushed to the wayside. It seems to be ok though for now and I have at least still been able to grind through the team matches.
That all being said, I leave tomorrow for Berlin to meet up with my girlfriend, Stefanie, who just finished getting her Masters at Stanford in Environmental Engineering. She has wanted to see what it is like on the road when I am playing tennis and figured meeting me in Europe would be a good way to celebrate her graduation. So off I go again tomorrow and we’ll come back Thursday so I can prepare a little better this week for my last German club match next Sunday. It is a very important match for the season because we may be forced to drop down a league if we lose. I will not be able to play in the last two matches in August so the team really wants to win this one to ensure their place for next year before I go.
I’m excited to show Stef around a bit and share these new places I’ve found with her. Fulda especially has become a second home to me and it will be great to see how she reacts to seeing my mellow life here.
Jun 4, 2012,
I finally get a day to rest after the last two weeks of running around Europe. Although I did get some time to be a tourist during the trip, I spent most of the time competing, traveling to and from tournaments and club matches.
After my awful night in Paris, which I described in the last post, I did in fact go to Amsterdam for a quick visit. Partly I just could not find a hostel in Paris and partly I had a free day and figured it would be the closest I would be to Amsterdam for a long time. So I made the three-hour train ride up for one night and spent a full day walking around and checking out the city. Besides the uniqueness of a city that is infamous for its booming sex trade and legal drugs, I was impressed with the architecture and happy atmosphere. Maybe the sex and drugs contribute to the happiness, but my impression of the Dutch is that in general they are a contented, attractive, and vigorous people. What I mean is that for the most part everyone I saw on the streets appeared vibrant and healthy. It may have been that it was just a beautiful day and the whole city was out enjoying the sunshine. Or possibly the thriving bicycle community—literally there are more bikes than cars—keeps people in shape and feeling well. But I was struck by how positive and youthful the air was. Every person on the street probably had low blood pressure and was swimming in good cholesterol.
I had a very nice day and night and enjoyed getting lost in the city while exploring the network of canals and little neighborhoods. I definitely went on a bit of a spending spree in my excitement to be a tourist. I think I spent more in my week in Paris and Amsterdam than I had on the whole last month of my trip. That is how it goes when you are traveling though and I have just been lucky to have had such great housing which has helped me to save for most of my time in Europe.
Out of everything I spent in Amsterdam, the best fifteen-euro investment was a bike taxi back to my hostel after an exhausting day of walking. Besides the fact that it would have taken over an hour to walk home, it was a great experience being taken along in an open carriage, attached to a bicycle ridden by the grumpiest, most impatient cabby I could imagine. Although he was a wiry and strong little dude rather than fat and
smelly, I could totally picture him in a yellow sedan navigating New York traffic as he shouted at people and laid on his horn, which in this case was a little Mickey Mouse bell that seemed to mock his displeasure with the multitude of people walking in the bike lane. It didn’t stop him from using it though and I couldn’t help but chuckle in the back seat as we zipped around corners and cut people off with no remorse. In the end we made record time and I was happy to give him the payment for which he had worked so hard.
On the flip side, the worst fifteen euro I spent was on a two pound wheel of herbed goat cheese, which I am still carrying around with me and don’t know what to do with. I guess I should be happy I managed to stop myself from buying the two hundred euro hammock chair or the seventy-euro enamel chess set. But the cheese was still excessive. I had a great trip though and it was nice to explore some before heading back to Paris to start playing the tournaments for which I had come.
My first tournament was held in a suburb of eastern Paris called Neuilly Sur Marne. The club was small and I staid for the weekend with the president, who had a really nice family that came to watch most of my matches. Staying with local families is one of the best parts of playing these tournaments because I get to meet so many people and really experience the culture that I am visiting. For the most part, if a family agrees to host me it means that they are tennis fans and that they are fairly comfortable and don’t mind me eating their food and living off them for a few days. It is interesting to get a glimpse into how different cultures exist and relate day to day. If I was to make a broad generalization about Europeans based on the five or six families with whom I have staid, I would say that they tend to eat more of their meals together as a family and eat out less than people in the States. Especially lunch, which for me and most people I know has always been an on the go kind of deal. Here though it seems that many families return to their houses for lunch together, taking the time to prepare a real meal with placemats and salad forks. It is nice to see the bonds and time they devote to such practices, although it seems a little exhausting as well to make such a fuss.
After not hitting for a week I was nervous for the start of the tournament. But things worked out and I was able to win through the draw and take home the winner’s check. It was not a huge tournament but there were some good players and I definitely had to tough out a few matches. I played the last two rounds on Tuesday and was happy to beat a crafty young kid in the semifinal. He had a dirty backhand slice that made me get low and work hard for every point. He moved it around well and was fast and determined. So I had to stay patient and not get frustrated playing awkward points. I had a good strategy though that I maintained well, looping inside out forehand angles to move him off the court so I could create space to take my forehand to the open court. Sorry for the tennis talk, but it took a lot of focus to make it through in two tough sets and even more mental energy to get up to play the finals against a man ranked even higher. I also had to deal with some hostile crowds. Well maybe not hostile since everyone was very nice. But they certainly wanted their Frenchmen to win and even a crowd of thirty can feel like the world is against you. I had my one fan though at least as the daughter of my host family came to cheer for me a little. I was proud to make it through and it was fun to win a tournament and get a trophy as well as a little cash to help restore what I had blown in Paris and Amsterdam. It seems I am finally a professional tennis player, living on the cash in my pocket. So $460 was a nice payday to supplement what I had brought with me from my last two German club matches.
As soon as the award ceremony was finished I hopped in a taxi to go to the next tournament, where I was scheduled to play my first round later that night. Luckily it was a fairly routine match at least and I was able to win quickly before heading over to my new family and next set of housing in another Parisian suburb called Saint Maur. I lost in the semifinals of the second tournament. I think I probably could or even should have won that one as well, but after the traveling and playing so much the day before I couldn’t get my head in it enough to fight through the soreness, exhaustion, and awful clay court that was more of a hard court with a dusting of clay on top. It was ok though. I was satisfied with having won one tournament at least and ready to get back to Austria for a club match Saturday before heading to Germany for another Sunday.
It was great to see my Austrian team again after a few weeks away. I get along with them well since we are all of similar age. Unfortunately I only had two nights with them, one in Vienna where one of them showed me around the city and the other in Steyr where we played our match. I got beat pretty bad in the singles, which was my first loss in league play. The guy was a very good Czech player who had been ranked ATP#700 a couple years ago and has been the best player in the division for the
past four seasons. I played well actually and did not give him the match. He just was too good for me and was able to take the ball early consistently, roping me around and exposing me a little on the clay. I have come a long way on clay and even really like it at this point. But I am definitely still new to it and I was not able to stay with a solid pro who grew up on the surface. It was a good match though and enjoyable to be a part of, despite losing 6-1 6-3 and having to work hard for the games I won.
The best thing I can say about my tennis at this point is that although I may not be the best player out there, it takes a real good player to beat me, and he is going to have to hit a lot of winners and play well to do it. That’s not to say it won’t happen or that some guys won’t be able to do it
easily. But I like the thought that for the most part someone has to be able to maintain a certain level to take me down. Especially on clay where the surface is forgiving and it is hard to blow people away. The Czech guy maintained that level and outclassed me on Saturday, which was frustrating but unavoidable. Maybe things would be different if we played again, or a few more times. But that day he was just too good.
At least the team still won and I contributed with a doubles win. We were happy to win this match because our opponents had paid two foreigners to play for them. They brought in a German to supplement the Czech, but we still managed to prevail with great doubles play and a couple good wins lower in the lineup. Halfway through the season we are still in first place in the league. Hans was very sad not to have any cake for us after this match but unfortunately the inmate who used to bake the Murder Cakes at the prison was released last week so they were no longer available.
As soon as the Austrian match finished I jumped in a car with a German friend who gave me a ride to Nuremburg, where I slept on his couch for a couple hours before taking the first train of the day back to Fulda, which was about two and a half hours away. Steve picked me up at the train station at eight and drove straight to the courts to get ready for my
German match, which started at nine. I don’t have much to say about this match except that I was tired from having not slept, dirty from having no clean clothes, and miserable because it was pouring and on clay you can play tennis in the rain. I won though at least and actually played well given the circumstances. I took a nasty fall towards the end of the doubles when the rain picked up and the court turned to mud. I tried to change directions as I was cutting across the middle and my feet went out from under me leaving me flat on my back in a slimy puddle. It brought back memories of playing soccer on rainy days, returning from a game covered in mud from head to toe.
I am home in Fulda now relaxing a bit, doing laundry and getting my life back in order. I spent all day yesterday playing qualifying for a big money tournament just outside Frankfurt in a town called Bad Homburg. I won three tough singles matches and earned a wildcard into the main draw, which starts on Thursday. Steve picked me up at the train station last night at midnight, for the third time in two days. My back and legs are sore, my fingers are torn up, and my palm is raw and cracked. Things are pretty good here and I am enjoying the hectic lifestyle of a struggling tennis pro.