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.
Mar 9, 2012
I’m currently stuck in the airport in Montevideo, Uruguay en route to Cordoba, Argentina after an incredible and hectic week visiting Southern Chile and camping in Patagonia. After two not so amazing results in the Chilean Futures, my French companion and I decided to take a week off and hike the famous “W” route in a national park called Torres Del Paine. At 67 km (42 mi), this was by far the longest hike I have ever set out on, and carrying a heavy pack filled with food, clothes, sleeping bag, tent, cooking gear, etc. was
challenging. It could not have been more rewarding though and I will remember it as a highlight in all the traveling I have done. Unfortunately, we did not return in time to make it to Mendoza for the first Argentinian tournament, but it will be good to recover a little in Cordoba where we will play a prequalifying event starting Wednesday. My body is definitely bruised and battered from the trip and could use a rest.
Regarding the trek though, it takes a lot of effort and planning just to reach such a remote hiking spot, and not having expected pursuing such an outing at all, neither Nick nor I were prepared for our journey. It did not help us that we misinterpreted our Spanish flight confirmations before going out the night before we left, causing Nick to miss the flight entirely and me to board it having slept not a wink. But lets just say the logistics of getting to Torres, renting all the gear, and basically everything else involved in preparing to live in the wild for a week was a journey in and of itself. We ended up taking an extra day in Puerto Natales, the sleepy little town close to the park—by close I mean three hours by bus—gathering our wits and all that we would need to survive the expedition. This day is what cost us making it back in time to play Mendoza. But that seems to be how traveling goes sometimes.
Anyway, what followed was an incredible adventure through glacial lakes and rivers, surrounded by the most dramatic snow covered peaks and mountains that I have ever seen. We even saw one of the only glaciers in the world that is actually growing, in spite of global warming. The pace we maintained in order to finish the hike in five days was challenging, although we did meet some crazy people that did it in four and I’ve heard of a lunatic ultra-marathoner completing an even longer version of the course in eighteen hours. That cannot be much fun. Our longest day of hiking was 23 km (14 mi and about eight hours), which was especially rough for me since that happened to be my day to carry the tent, and for the most part we had beautiful weather, although in Patagonia it changes by the hour and we often found ourselves stripping almost naked staggering up a hill, only to be met at the top by a passing hail cloud.
We met a couple French girls—Louise and Noemi— on the boat carrying us to the starting point. It took us three flights, three long bus rides, and an hour voyage in a catamaran in order to put ourselves deep enough in the woods that we needed to walk home. Fortunately we weren’t the only ones doing it though, and it was nice to make some friends to walk with. They were cute, tough little things that were fun to have around. But neither spoke great English. So I often found myself on the outside as the three French chattered on and on, mile after mile. Nick would occasionally translate a bit for me, but I definitely learned to not even hear spoken French. Louise was actually more adept in Spanish, meaning we were able to make a few interesting attempts at conversation in a language foreign to both of us. But for the most part it was just nice having company along the way and having people to share and trade our food with. Nick and I did end up hiking a couple of the days by ourselves which gave me a small respite from the language barrier, but I was able to do a fair amount of soul searching on the trip while I was often left alone to my thoughts and my heavy pack.
The third night of the trip we camped at one of the official Refugios, which are log cabin type places that people can rent rooms at and buy expensive food from if they don’t want to bother carrying a heavy bag. Nick and I broke down and bought dinner, which ended up turning into beers and dinner, and eventually wine and Pisco Sours (typical Chilean cocktail) for desert. We had a great night sharing bottles with all the other hikers and it was awesome to find a happy little community brought together by the mutual experience of lugging one’s body and soul through mountains and trails and pain. I must say as idyllic and mystical as I can describe the experience, the reality of it was an uncomfortable struggle to pull oneself up huge hills carrying a bag that digs into your shoulders and rubs raw anywhere that it comes into contact. I know I don’t sound like much of an Oregonian but I was surprised how hard it was and how much mental strain it took to keep at it for six to eight hours a day, although as I often told myself, I didn’t a choice. It was well worth the effort though in experiencing a region of the world that felt literally untouched by civilization.
I’m trying not to be too romantic right now, but I have to a little. It was powerful seeing the terrain stretch out before me, acknowledging the size and permanence of landmasses that have been forming and evolving forever. You just couldn’t help but pause and consider your own significance in the face of such presence and history. While it may have started with a throbbing headache and the realization that I had broken my kindle in the night squashing a spider that Nick had already killed, I will always remember the fourth day of our hike because I reached a level of peace and tranquility that I don’t think I have ever felt before, at least since I was a small child and was unconscious to it.
Maybe it was the beauty surrounding me, or just the glow of having worked and walked my way through a nasty hangover, but somehow I found a state of mind where my burdens and worries seemed to slide away from me, as though I was shedding a layer of skin that was too tight. I felt loose and light, vibrantly aware of the feel of the world around me. I know I sound like some hippy, Buddhist, or something but it was an enlightening experience being taken in by my surroundings with nothing but miles of lush trails in front of me and the sole purpose of making it ever-forward. As much as I hated it, the challenge of carrying the pack demanded a presence to the movements and it felt good knowing that my body was strong enough to assume that burden while leaving my mind to pursue its own process.
I remember there was a specific moment, after having our lunch of Nutella sandwiches—what can I say, I’m traveling with a Frenchman—when Nick and I both laid down to nap on this huge rock that looked out across an emerald lake with rolling hills in the distance. I must have been half asleep but I was aware enough to intimately feel the sun and wind battling over my body. For something like twenty minutes I simply basked in the firing of my senses as I rooted for the sun to warm me and drive away the cold breeze that was sending shivers through my legs and back. Again, I know I sound a bit outlandish, but I really was shocked at how aware and alive I was to my senses, like a blind man who has adapted to
the loss of his sight by strengthening and reorganizing his other options. What I am saying is that somehow and for whatever reason, for a brief period I put down the weight of managing and manipulating a life filled to the brim with plans, hopes, desires, regrets, fears, and relationships. And in their absence I found myself in a state of sensitive awareness that was surprising to me, both in the experience of it and in its unfamiliarity.
Unfortunately, as could be expected, I lost such sensitivity when I returned from the trek, and even later on that day a bit, when my legs and back began to tire and I got distracted as I did every evening by the struggle of finishing the days hike. But the memory of such a heightened awareness is something that I am trying to hold onto as I reenter the world and attempt to put my life back together and go on with my trip and figuring out my tennis. It has definitely been hard to maintain as the weights and burdens of planning and organizing have been violently reintroduced to my psyche, but I
think it was valuable to have a taste of what life can feel like when you free your mind up a bit. Maybe someday I’ll master the art of finding that tranquility amidst all the clutter that surrounds us, but at least I’ve found something to work towards. For now I guess I’ll just have to split the concept between the distracted regions of my mind labeled hopes and desires, and return to it a little later when I have time or when I run off into the woods again.
All in all, I had a great trip and am sad it is over, as nice as it is to be sleeping in a soft bed
and waking up to a warm shower. The week was hard, and fun, and a great break from the grind of preparing for one tournament after another. It was nice to just be a traveler for a week but I am looking forward to getting back on track and hitting the tennis and training hard again. I only have one tournament left in South America before heading home and I want to make it count.
For now though, I am hopeful that my plane will take off soon and I won’t be stuck in Uruguay for too much longer. Today started at 4:30 am and it is now 10 pm and I am still waiting for my connecting flight. Maybe I can find a little peace and tranquility hiding somewhere around here to help me get through the night.
Patagonia by the Numbers:
67- km hiked
5- Days of hiking
4- Nights in the tent
4- Nights of Rain
4- Nights of misery
1- Night of eating and fraternizing at a Refugio
1- Awful hangover
70- Percent of hikers that are French. Really, its ridiculous.
347- Photos taken
68- Photos deleted
2- Jars of Nutella finished
3- Flights and buses to get to Torres
7- Rocks pondered on
1- Kindle broken in a fit of drunken panic
1- Spider witnessed in the tent
6- Spider bites found on body
$20- Price of entering Torres Del Paine
$23- Price of buying dinner in Torres Del Paine
$0- Price of camping in Torres Del Paine
$53- Price of drinking in Torres Del Paine
$80- Price of new kindle
Priceless- Memories of sharing drinks in Torres Del Paine
Priceless- Experiencing tranquility in Torres Del Paine
Priceless- Having gone to Torres Del Paine
I’m in a bit of a hurry so Ill recap the end of my Chilean tennis expedition, which I wrote last night then explain what I’m up to next….sorry no pictures, I’m trying to pack. I should have some great ones soon though. Oh, and my girlfriend Stefanie was accepted into a one year fellowship to work in environmental engineering in San Francisco starting in September. So a huge congratulations to her and it should make for an exciting transition once I’m done traveling after the summer and its time to become a real person. More on that later though…
It is my last day in Santiago for a while. I lost in the qualifying of the tournament last weekend in a three-hour+ marathon of a match to a solid Chilean player who was tough as nails and cheated every chance he got. Many people don’t know this fact but tennis is one of the easiest sports in the world to cheat in because until one reaches the very highest levels, the players are responsible for calling their own lines. So I call the lines on my side of the net and my opponent calls them on his. For the most part this works out since most people try their best to call fairly, although even then mistakes are made.
Inevitably though you find yourself playing someone who doesn’t care to play fairly and in the tennis world we call these people hooks. Often times it is hard to tell if someone is cheating you because the ball moves fast and it really is hard to call the lines when the ball lands close. But other times it can be blatant and bad calls have a tendency of occurring at big moments in a match when they cost you the most. At that point all you can really do is yell at the person a bit, call them a few names if you feel like it, and hopefully get on with your match and not let it effect you too much. Sometimes I’ve found it helps make me feel better to hook them back a couple times just to show them I won’t stand for being messed with. Unfortunately though, most of the time a retaliatory hook doesn’t carry the same weight as the initial one since the opportune moment has come and gone. Also, you really don’t want to get yourself into cheating battles if you can avoid them for rarely do they end well.
I want to be clear that I am in no way advocating cheating. I always think it is better to call fairly and accurately and give your opponent the benefit of the doubt. But I have simply learned over the years that in some cases, when a player’s actions are obviously doing me an injustice and effecting the match, I think it is important and within my rights to do whatever possible to make sure I am playing a fair match, even if fair in this case means that the lines are out.
That being said, I got hosed by this Chilean kid, all throughout my match on Saturday, mainly on important points when they really counted—he was a surprisingly advanced and effective hook—and I never did much to combat it besides yell at him in what little Spanish I know with a few, choice English phrases and pronouns mixed in. Oh well though. Most of the time bad calls, as frustrating as they can be, do not change the outcome of a match, and I had plenty of chances to win in spite of having to overcome them. I ended up losing 6-4 5-7 6-4 in a long, physically draining match. While I was disappointed to have lost and think I should have beaten him, my opponent was very tough and willing to work hard out there. He used his comfort on the clay to drag me into long rallies and make me work harder than I am used to for points, which wore me down and won him the match eventually. It is always hard to lose a close match such as this but it was fun to be a part of and hopefully the experience will help me pull that match out next time. I’m still trying to get comfortable out there in the dirt, so this is all a learning process and can be logged away as such.
For now though, my friend Nick and I are taking the next week off to do a five-day hike down south in Chilean Patagonia. The area we will be hiking is called Torres Del Paine and it is supposed to be one of the gems of South American trekking, packed full with snow capped mountains, glaciers, penguins, and plenty of other natural wonders. Neither of us have any hiking or camping gear, so we are in the process of trying to figure that out. But we have plane tickets to Punta Arenas, from which we will take two three-hour bus rides to get to the start of the park. Nick has no experience camping and I have little—mostly of the kind where my car is within reach—but we are excited to get away from society for a while and experience what the world felt like before humanity claimed it. I think there are even a couple restaurants along the way at some of the campgrounds where we can shower and have a few beers to help us unwind from our long journey. We wouldn’t want to get too far away would we? But anyway, it may be a little while before you hear from me. With any luck I will have some awesome pictures and stories when I return and then it is back to the tennis grind where I’ll head to Argentina to play another couple futures before returning home. Stay well and hopefully you will hear from me soon:-)
Feb 27, 2012
I experienced what I’ve been told is a miracle the other day. I left my iPhone in a taxi when he dropped me off at the tennis courts to practice in the morning, and it managed to find its way back to me. I realized that I had lost it about five minutes after the taxi drove away, and quickly started shuffling through every negative emotion available to me. First came denial. I just could not believe I had lost what I now understand has become, for better or worse, a part of my soul. I dumped everything out of my bag onto the grass—the Jews leaving Temple were very confused—hoping that somehow it might appear out of some hidden crevice, smiling up at me mischievously. Alas, I was not so lucky.
Next came anger as I ran back to the security guys at the entrance to find out if there was a way to track the taxi down. They were not very helpful and did not seem to understand the seriousness of the situation. I’ll admit I must not have been the easiest person to deal with at the time, for in my panicked state my Spanish abandoned me and for the most part I found myself frantically questioning the poor men in English with a Spanish accent or word thrown in here or there for style and so they could better understand. I couldn’t help but figure that it was like a kidnapping, where the first fifteen minutes are the most crucial, and your chances of finding the subject decrease dramatically after you reach that threshold and the trail goes cold.
At one point I got the guards so riled up they decided to call the police and see what they suggested we do. We dialed the Chilean equivalent of 911 but the police just laughed and told me that it must have been an expensive cab ride. Haha…real funny. Eventually I was able to wrangle a yellow pages directory—apparently they still exist—out of them so that I could call every taxi company in Santiago and have them all send out the alert over the radios that my beloved iPhone was in dire straights. Unfortunately, there are approximately a billion taxi companies in the city and it didn’t matter in any case since we had picked up the cab off the street, meaning he was a private entity and not affiliated with any larger company.
This is when despair set in, as I realized my cause was lost and that I was helpless to do anything about it. The future just seemed so bleak as I contemplated a life without my iPhone. Besides the camera and all the pictures that went with it and the convenience of having all the functions it performs for me, I felt guilty, as though I’d abandoned a friend. Like I’d lost someone important to me. I guess this just shows how ridiculously materialistic the world and especially I have become. But the pain was real and I spent most of the day inconsolably grieving. I had no motivation in practice; food had no taste and gave me no pleasure, and the next month of traveling without it seemed intimidating. My phone was my connection to the world—to my emails, to my family, to my girlfriend, to Facebook…. What would I do now? It didn’t help that Nick, as sympathetic as he was trying to be, decided to spend all afternoon playing Angry Birds and watching YouTube videos. The agony was terrible. I asked everyone around what they thought I should do and the unanimous answer was that I was SOL—shit outta luck—and that some taxi driver got a big bonus that day.
Finally, resigned and defeated, I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to skip my afternoon practice and return to the hotel to shower and take a nap so I could escape my misery for a little while. Amazingly though, as I trudged up the stairs of our cute and crappy hostel that had no AC and smelled like the musky mixture of old plumbing and moldy shower curtain, the tiny little lady who owned the place came running up to me and asked in Spanish if I had lost a cell phone. My heart skipped a beat and I figured my mind was playing tricks on me since I never could really understand the lady when she spoke to me. But to my astonishment I had heard her correctly, and apparently the taxi driver had come by earlier asking if she had any tennis players staying in her house.
As hard as it is to believe, after finding my iPhone in his backseat, rather than stealing all my data and heading to the nearest pawn shop as I had assumed he would, the taxi driver returned to where he had picked us up and walked up and down the street asking every hotel whether they had two tennis players as guests. And somehow he stuck it out until he found our hole in the wall hostel. He left his number for me to call him when I got back and even returned once more later that night to drop the phone off. What a trip! He must be the most honest and considerate taxi driver in the world and besides the twenty bucks I gave him for his troubles and kindness I hope his karma goes through the roof. This means I will need to make some heroic efforts the next time I find someone’s wallet or something, but I am totally willing after experiencing the feeling of getting my phone returned to me after having given up on it.
I learned three things from this awful day. First, I am crazy and need to rethink my attachment to technology and the comfort it gives me. Second, I am irresponsible and need to learn to be a real human and take care of my things and myself. And last, that it doesn’t take much to make someone’s day. I know it shouldn’t be so amazing and unthinkable that a person would find a phone and make an effort to return it to its owner, but such a seemingly insignificant, unselfish act completely changed my existence and meant the world to me. I can only hope to have the opportunity to return such kindness someday, maybe not specifically to the taxi driver but to the world at large. I’m happy to say that this taxi driver renewed my faith in humanity and as hippy-dippy as it sounds, I feel it is small, concerted efforts such as these that really can make the world a better place.
Travelling, I’m sad to say—especially my travelling—gives ample opportunity to lose things and regrettably it is often your most precious objects that find their ways out of your life. While basking in the glory of recovering my lost phone, I thought it would be appropriate to mention some of the various fallen soldiers that I have managed to leave behind over the years. Maybe this will be some extra vision into the life of a travelling tennis player or maybe just some insight into my own particular clumsiness. Either way, here is my list. Sorry Mom, I know your going to hate this.
Things lost: hopefully you’ve all found good homes
Digital Camera: Stolen by the full moon party
Pictures of Thailand trip: Lost with Camera
Memories of Thai Trip: Lost with Pictures
3 debit cards: Forgotten in ATMs
Handful of Favorite T-shirts: One on this trip
3 pairs of Nike sports headphones: One on this trip
Tennis bag and EVERYTHING in it: Stolen out of bashed window in girlfriend’s car. 4 racquets, shoes, ankle braces, sweatpants, etc.… How much crack does pawning used tennis stuff buy?
Half Dozen tennis matches: Very painful. Snatched defeat out of jaws of victory
2 Turtles: One died in College and other was donated to aquarium in St. Louis
2 More Tennis Racquets: Left on train between terminals in Dallas airport
1 More Tennis Racquet: Left on roof of Israeli Tennis Center in Ashkelon
Countless other Tennis Racquets: Broken in fits of anger and stupidity
Inhibitions: Also stolen by Full Moon Party but in general mostly when drinking
Fortune in Random coins: Other country’s coins actually have value
Hats: Every one I’ve ever owned
Sunglasses: Same as hats
Dignity: Also when drinking, definitely once sobered up
Speed: They called me lightning when I was young
Girlfriend’s car: Turned out it was towed. So did get it back thank God
My Cat Grahm: Gave to my Roommate to take care of. Don’t think I can take him back now.
Myself: When it comes to directions, 80% of the time I’m wrong every time
Mind: Quite regularly but I usually find it
Dad: Not my fault but lost all the same
Sorry to be flooding you with posts all of a sudden. The internet hasn’t been great since I got to Chile and so I’ve been trying to catch up the last couple days…..
Feb 19, 2012
Well I got my first lesson in clay court tennis today. I lost to an Argentine 6-2 7-5 in the second round of qualifying. I had thought that I would feel better out there today because I actually played well yesterday, beating Nick in the first round 6-3 6-3—yeah it is crazy that we came all the way to Chile together, are rooming together, and played each
other in the first round of qualifying. Today was a different story though. It was a frustrating match. Frankly, he was not that good. I really think I could have beaten him routinely, even on clay. It was too bad though because I came out pretty intimidated and nervous. I was keyed up to play a solid Argentinian clay courter and came out expecting him to be something special, which he definitely was not. But going into the match like that unsettled me, and for the first four games I couldn’t hardly put a ball in play and was really struggling with my footing. In a way, I went into the match labeling myself as the American hard court player who isn’t comfortable on clay, which was exactly how I played. To be fair, I am an American hard court player and I’m not that comfortable on clay. But I don’t think it had to be as big a deal as it seemed at the time. After the first four games I settled down, once I realized that he was not going to do much to hurt me and that I didn’t have to be afraid. But by then the set was over.
The second set was better at least. I decided quickly that I was not comfortable staying in rallies from the baseline because of all the crazy bounces the ball was taking on the dry clay–running and sliding around create huge divots in the clay that get hard when they dry out, often making the ball bounce unpredictably. In retrospect this was an alright decision. I just took it a little too far to the extreme. My kick serve wide to both courts was effective so I served and volleyed a lot, using it to open up the court so had a lot of space to work with. I also tried to take as many forehands early as I could and come in behind them in order to not give him a chance to get even in the point. This style seemed to throw him off but looking back I could definitely have played a little more consistent, working points a little more before attacking. I got a little desperate too quick and although it might not have been the wrong plan, I was a little too kamikaze-like than I needed. I just got overly focused on the fact that I was struggling with the bounces, especially off the backhand side. So I thought the only way I could stay in the match was to not play points with him at all.
The funny thing is that my strategy worked well in the second set. I broke him and actually got up 5-2, serving and volleying and being overly aggressive. I played a loose game though when I served for the set and then I let him back into it. I’ve seen this happen in the past when I rely heavily on the serve and volley. I enjoy playing like that and am pretty good at it. But it is not really my game, so a lot of times I’ve struggled to come through in the big moments continuing to play like that, as if I can get to 4- all or 5-4 but just cant get over that hump when it counts the most. It is just such a dangerous play and game style that a tight volley here or there or a couple loose points in a row can make the difference when you are gambling and putting it all on the line. Live by the sword and die by it is how I’ve come to think of it when I rely on the serve and volley too much. Especially with my 85 mph kick serve—ok, fine…78 mph. It is a much more effective play for me to mix it in sporadically on big points to catch guys off guard and keep them guessing a bit. But in this instance, I felt very pressured to stay away from rallying from the baseline, so I didn’t leave myself much of a choice.
The Argentine—whose name is Hernan Cassanova, which I think is awesome—ended up beating me 7-5, which was disappointing after being up in the set. I would have really liked to play a third and see what happened but unfortunately I ran out of time. All in all I’m a little disappointed because I think this was actually a winnable match against a player ranked 1200, but I was happy that at least I was able to improve and make progress after getting off to such a shaky start. Its still hard to enter these matches free of expectations. Especially when you are playing someone who is ranked, or seeded, or you think must be good. But you really cannot let that kind of stuff distract you. The Argentine is obviously a good player but who knows how he was feeling that day, or how he picked up the points that got him ranked so high. Over the next few weeks I want to work on going into every match the same, letting my game do what it will without encumbering it with expectations. I may win easily, get beat badly, or surprise myself by beating a great player. But no matter what I want it to be my game doing the talking.
With a little more confidence and experience on clay I really do think I can beat a player like the Argentine soundly because of how much more game I have than him. He was kind of a scrappy little guy—his game and his looks—with no serve and not much power. He was fast as hell, but besides being pretty good at defense and throwing up ridiculous lobs, I wasn’t that impressed. Even getting off to an awful start and feeling like a fish out of water for most of the match I still had and blew ample opportunities that could have changed the outcome. A couple missed volleys and overheads cost me being even in the match, which shows I was right there with him. Next time he won’t be so lucky.
It’s too bad to be out of the tournament but I’m going to train hard this week and really get a feel for moving and finding stability on the clay so I can play a little more even with these South Americans. It will be interesting to see how I do once I get my bearings. For now though Nick and I need to get some food and do laundry. I tried to include a couple videos of points but for some reason I can’t get them to upload. I’ll try to figure it out and add them in later so you can see some not so French Open-like clay court tennis.
Feb 17, 2012
Santiago, Chile. It’s still crazy when I tell myself I’m here. I’ve been on the move for five weeks now, working my way through Latin America. It was a grueling night of traveling to get from Tallahassee to Santiago. Made worse because for the last week my stomach has been struggling with something I must have picked up in Guatemala. I thought I was over my nasty habit of getting sick in every country I visit, but alas, this experience wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t spend part of my time fasting and trying to keep my stomach from tearing its way out of my body. Lets just say I was definitely having second thoughts about this trip while my belly was reeling and I was alone, laying on the floor of the Miami terminal waiting for my ten-hour flight to board at midnight to take me to South America. At that point I was unsure if my buddy Nick was going to be meeting me and the only person I knew in the city—a girl from elementary school who I haven’t seen in ten years and happens to be living in Santiago—told me she would be away on vacation for most of the time I would be around. I didn’t even know where I would be going or staying once I got in. All I knew is that there were two Futures in Santiago and more in Argentina after that. Also that I had a flight booked to come home five weeks later.
Now I consider myself to be a fairly well traveled and capable individual—sometimes
at least—but starting a long trip into the unknown sick as a dog and with no plan was almost too much for me. Almost being the keyword. Whether it is a good thing or not, I guess it is nice to know how I’ll react when that little voice in my head tells me something may not be a great idea. Just kidding Mom. I always make good decisionsJ—she knows this and she actually helped talk me into getting on the flight. But anyway, yeah, it was rough getting on that plane, just hoping to survive the voyage relatively intact. But I did, and I figured out a hotel once I got in, and I made it there and got in bed immediately. Nick even sauntered in eventually, waking me at 8pm from what the people here call the sleep of the dead.
Since then things have been great. My stomach is still a mess but it’s getting better, and Santiago is a beautiful city. I’m even getting in touch with my Jewish roots since El Estadio Israelita is the club hosting the tournament. Tennis courts, swimming pools, soccer fields, gyms, playgrounds, restaurants…. the Jews really know how to do it. I definitely would have gone to temple and taken Hebrew school a little more seriously had my synagogue been anything like this place. I’ve been on the lookout for a yamika since we got here, if for no other reason than it may get me access to the gym, which players aren’t allowed to use. Also it wouldn’t hurt to have God on my side a bit the next couple weeks. In all seriousness though, it is pretty crazy to be in Chile hanging out in the Jewish community, watching people file into temple wearing their best for Shabbat services while I’m sweaty and lugging my racquet bag around.
As far as climate is concerned, Santiago reminds me a lot of Mexico. It’s very dry here and like Monterrey and Mexico City, there is a backdrop of desert-mountains in the distance. Being summer, the weather is pretty hot. But I’m probably the only person around who thinks 85 degrees and sunny is hot. It’s nice though and fun to be in a place that is consistently beautiful.
Playing on red clay is crazy. I’ve only hit a couple times but it is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. Besides the fact that movement is tough and the ball bounces unpredictably, it is unreal to me to play on a surface that changes throughout a match. The court is always groomed and prepared with brushes and water when you start playing, meaning that it is smooth and damp so that the clay is even and soft. But as you move around on it and it dries out in the sun it becomes hard,
dusty, and torn up, totally changing the dynamic of playing on it. The best way to describe the clay when it dries out is kind of like what the muddy spots on a soccer field turn into on hot days when it hasn’t rained in a while. Whether you understand what that means or not, what I’m saying is that a clay court is a living, breathing, organism, with specific characteristics and personality that depend on the type of care it is used to.
I cannot understand why so much of the world—especially poor countries like many in South America—would choose to play tennis on a surface that requires so much maintenance. There are literally two men at the club whose specific jobs seem to be to run around the twenty courts at the facility watering and grooming endlessly. It is the most futile thing to watch, like trying to hold back the sea with a wicker fence. As soon as they finish the tedious process of evening out the clay, brushing it smooth, watering it, and cleaning off the lines, it starts drying out again. Not to mention that there is always another court to be worked on. It just makes my head spin watching them complete the cycle over and over again and thinking of doing that all day every day. But they work hard at it and they have it down to an art form with no wasted effort. Like Zen masters or something. It seems like it would make more sense to just play on hard courts that need no maintenance. But it is a part of their culture and I’m a stupid American and probably don’t understand.
Getting used to the clay is going to be a long process but it is fun to experience and it definitely adds new aspects to a game that I’ve played for a long time and thought I knew completely. Besides learning a bit of guitar I can’t remember the last thing I actually learned how to do from scratch. So it is an interesting dynamic feeling like I’m learning something totally new within the realm of something I have done for as long as I can remember. We’ll see how it goes. For now though I’m just trying to enjoy not being a master at it and hopefully in a few weeks I’ll be able to think back on how I am now and feel like I’ve made some solid progress.
That’s all from Santiago for now but I’ll check back in a few days after the tournament starts and I’ve explored a bit more.
Feb 15, 2012
I’m currently in Santiago, Chile. I’m staying in a hotel in a nice part of the city and besides the fact that I’m a bit sick and wiped from the ten hour plane ride, I’m doing really well. It’s been a while since I last wrote and I guess I never finished describing my stay in Guatemala. I apologize to Andy specifically for writing so much—he told me my posts are too long—but it is what it is, and as with any media you see on TV or find on the internet, your free to change the channel whenever you like.
I left off the night before my first round in the qualifying when I was preparing to play my good friend and long time rival Joel Kincaid. I was disappointed when I saw that I would be playing him because in all the years we’ve played each other I have always struggled against him. Being completely honest, I don’t think I’d beaten him since we were fifteen years old. He just always seemed to play a tough game for me to adapt against. He’s very fit and likes to loop the ball high, moving his opponents around while not taking many risks. I always thought this was a boring style and our matches usually ended with me frustrated and impatient and worn to the ground.
This time was different though. I’m not sure if it was my newfound perspective or whether it was just my day, but this time I managed to stay extremely focused, proving to Joel that I would not let him break me down. I managed to beat him rather convincingly 6-4 6-1. This match was a huge confidence booster after playing so close with such good players the two weeks before. I felt like I’d been playing well but hadn’t been able to really break through when it counted, so toughing out someone like Joel, whose game I normally hate and with all the baggage of our long history, felt like a huge accomplishment and an indication that my work is paying off. Joel was the seed in my part of the draw and is currently ranked something like 1,800 in the world, so it was nice to notch a good win on my belt finally. I was happy with how I went into the match mentally because I was keyed up but never to the point of getting tight or overwhelmed by the moment. Also I had a game plan that proved effective and I managed to stay with it for the whole of the match without letting down.
Basically, I know I am better than Joel at being aggressive and taking control of points. But my problem always came in the past when I would get impatient, forcing the issue when the situation wasn’t right. This always allowed him to play a simple game that he was comfortable with, just sitting back, absorbing my power, and eventually letting me miss and hit myself out. So going into this match I decided that I would try to extend rallies to show him that he would have to do more than just wait for me to miss, and use this mentality as a base for still being aggressive when I got the chance. In the end, I didn’t really change my game that much. But changing my mentality a bit was all it took to give me a more solid presence, which led Joel to play a game he wasn’t as comfortable with. I’m not sure whether the moment got to him, or our history, or whatever, but he definitely lost his cool and I was able to break him down in a way I haven’t been able to in the past. Joel is a great competitor and it was nice to finally get a good win to motivate me a bit. I took a lot away from this match in terms of learning how to focus and the type of focus that produces the right mindset.
Unfortunately, after the high of beating Joel, I let down a bit the next day, squandering a good opportunity by allowing a very beatable Mexican player to come from behind to beat me in the final round of qualifying. It was a very disappointing match for me because besides the fact that I was up 6-1 3-1 and should have qualified for the main draw, I lost my focus and was distracted by stupid things that caused me to compete poorly. Even before the match I was not nearly as focused as I had been for Joel. I’m not sure why but I just wasn’t as primed that day or ready to compete. I still managed to jump out on him and was actually playing well for the first set and a half. But rather than ratchet things up, I let down, thinking to myself that the Mexican was not very good and that I had it won. I disrespected him, taking for granted the fact that until that point I had been playing at a high level. So as you can imagine, once I let down and lost my focus, the match began to turn on me. Unfortunately though, I reacted poorly to the change in momentum, getting nervous and tight rather than going back to the aggressive style that had been working before. I got tentative, thinking that since he wasn’t that good I could just wait him out and he would give me the match. But as I’ve seen before, that sort of mentality does not work at this level. From that point on the match was a clusterfuck, pardon my french, just an all out grind. While he may have been beatable, the Mexican was definitely a good player and was able to capitalize on the momentum shift, changing the pace of things and keeping me off-balance by mixing up tempos and speeds. He had a crafty one-handed backhand that he used effectively by giving me no pace to work with. He won the second set 6-3 and toughed me out in a close third set 7-6. I had three match points still but was unable to come through because I was paralyzed by nerves and embarrassed that I was in that situation when I had been winning so easily before. All of my friends had come to watch the match and I was overwhelmed with what they must be thinking and all kinds of nonsense that did nothing but distract me and make it harder to play my game.
It is funny that I would have such a painful and disappointing loss the day after having what I thought was a momentous victory. But that’s how these things seem to go. A step forward and two steps back. I definitely have not had a loss hurt so bad in a long time and it took me almost a week to re-motivate myself. But in retrospect I think I have learned from both matches. I saw how much of a difference having the right mindset and focus is, and I saw how close these matches could be. I did not think there was a chance that the Mexican would turn that match around. I didn’t think he was good enough. But he showed me that even in a match that was so one sided, a small shift in mentality could change the whole thing. As much as it sucked to be the one to be overtaken in that situation it also shows me that when I am getting beat and feel like I can’t come back, all it takes is a small change in focus to turn the day around. While it definitely hurts sometimes, these are all learning experiences and hopefully they will make me stronger when I’m in that situation the next time.
The worst moment of the match was right after I lost when I tried to slam my racquet onto my bag and missed, bouncing the racquet off the ground and over the fence, where it rolled off the top of a bamboo cabana and into an old lady’s lap. Luckily she was ok and was a good sport, bringing it back to me. But I felt pretty stupid having done that in front of the crowd that had been watching. Fortunately the tournament director felt bad for me for losing so closely. He didn’t bother fining me, which he usually would for something like that. I’m trying hard not to act like a child like that but it’s hard sometimes. For some reason tennis brings out the worst in tempers even though it is known as a gentleman’s game. But since I’ve gotten older, throwing racquets and getting mad doesn’t give the same satisfaction as it used to and I’m really trying to roll with the punches more. Oh well. Live and learn. This was an interesting tournament and I think I can take a lot away from it, some good, some bad, but all useful.
After losing in the tournament on that Sunday I was real bummed. Fortunately though the Superbowl was on that afternoon and I was able to pretty much walk right into the hotel bar as soon as I got back from the courts in order to revive my spirits by drinking away my sorrows. It’s always a comfort to get a small taste of American culture when your on the road. Six Gallos (Guatemalan beers) later—after a three hour match it doesn’t take much—my head was swimming and I felt much better, consoling myself that if Tom Brady can get over losing the Superbowl I can get over not qualifying for the Guatemalan future. Before promptly going upstairs and
passing out I decided I would stop wallowing and enjoy my last few days in Central America. And it turned out I ended up having two of the best days of my trip before flying back to Tallahassee. The first day I checked out Antigua with a French player and a couple of girls we had met watching the Superbowl.
Antigua is a Spanish colonial city carved into the hills a half hour outside Guatemala City
and it is one of the most beautiful little communities I’ve ever seen. It is a historical landmark in Guatemala and there are ruins that stand all throughout from the original city which was built six hundred years ago. You can feel the European influence as you walk around the cobblestone streets, having drinks in rooftop bars and perusing the various courtyard gardens that are hidden away between the buildings but somehow manage to still have spectacular views of the volcanoes in the distance. It was nice having locals to show us around
and I felt cultured walking and visiting old cathedrals, taking it all in. At least until we stopped at Taco Bell on the drive back. Oh well. A little culture goes a long way in my book and I cant think of a time when going south of the border is anything besides a delicious end to the day.
I would have liked to spend the night in Antigua but Nick (Frenchy) and I had to get back to the city to catch a plane early the next morning to Tikal, which is the famous Mayan ruin in the middle of the jungle where whatever is going to happen when their calendar ends is all going to start. We took a tiny little plane into the jungle to an equally tiny little airstrip that you couldn’t see until you were almost past. I imagine landing there is something of a test
of faith for pilots. It certainly was trying on mine. We were rewarded though for our effort, for in the middle of some of the densest forest I’ve seen was an ancient city made of stone, and pyramids that rival anything I could have imagined. Its hard to fathom how they were built—we didn’t bother taking the tour—but they were definitely some of the most impressive construction I’ve ever seen. My favorite part of the day was probably taking a nap at the top of one of the biggest ones. Nick decided to run off and be one with nature, so I thought what better way to experience the moment than cozy up and relax amidst everything around me. Not to sound too whimsical, but for someone who is not particularly religious, I did feel a holiness that is hard to describe. There was a sort of tangible purity colliding with the clear destruction of history. It seemed to both renew the binds that hold onto the past, while at the same time displaying the transience of all lasting structures. What I’m saying is it was a special spot. We spent
most of the day wandering around taking pictures and trying to feel the energy of such an incredible place, and then it was back to Guatemala City on an even smaller plane.
I was supposed to head on to Panama for the last Central American future but decided to head back to Andy and my friends in Tallahassee instead for a little rest before heading to Chile for a clay court circuit. Planning and scheduling is definitely one of the hardest parts of this experience, mostly because you generally need to stay on the road for long periods of time and you have complete control over where you are going. So when your mood shifts it is easy to change your mind and remake all your plans. I was sad not to be able to make it back to California to be with Stef for Valentines Day, but it was
just too far to make sense for such a short time. Ill have to make it up to her when I get back from South America.
At least I got a little break though in Florida for a couple days to train and reset my brain before flying out to Santiago. Today is my first full day in South America. Nick met me here since he is also playing the Chilean tournaments and it is nice to have someone familiar to speak English with. My Spanish is decent but gets tiresome sometimes. Anyway, I’m off to try to find some clay court tennis shoes and figure out how to slide in the dirt. I’ll check back later with more on Chile and South America.