September 29, 2010
Redondo Beach, CA
It has been awhile since I have last written, and for that I apologize. But a lot has been happening over the past two and a half weeks, during which I’ve played in three Futures events down in Southern California. I’ve been here so long that I’ve experienced the change from the unusually cold and overcast LA summer to a roasting hot start to the fall!
Kids in town are back in school, high school sports fill the local newspapers, and the beach is significantly less crowded than it was during the summer. I’ve been here so long that I’m remembering what it’s like to be back home here in Redondo Beach, where I have not spent a long chunk of time in since I graduated high school. I have been staying with my dad who still lives in Redondo Beach for the past couple weeks, setting up camp and calling his place home while I’ve traveled from Claremont to Costa Mesa and Irvine playing the Futures circuit. I’m remembering how calming this low-key Southern California beach town is, with the laid back atmosphere and the soothing sunsets over the sprawling beaches.
I’ve played a lot of tennis over the past couple weeks, and each tournament has been its own unique learning experience. I started with the first tournament in hot and dry Claremont, CA, about a half-hour east of Los Angeles. Each of the three Futures tournaments along this So Cal swing consist of qualifying draws of 128 players, in which you have to win four matches to reach the quarterfinals and qualify for the main draw, where you have an opportunity to battle for and obtain ATP points for your world ranking. I won my first two rounds of qualifying over Venkat Iyer of India and Eric Gast of Northern California, and lost in the third round to Stanford standout Ryan Thacher, 7-6 6-4. During my matches, I felt my transition game to the net was starting to finally click after working on it diligently for the past month, but felt I needed to serve a little better, as Thacher’s ability to get free points consistently off his serve was a big reason why he was able to beat me. The ability to get free points off your serve is HUGE when trying to take your game to the next level, because you need to depend on getting a couple freebies in each service game in order to hold serve regularly.
The next tournament took me to Costa Mesa, where I defeated Brijesh Lodha of India in the first round, but then lost to UCLA’s new freshman phenom Clay Thompson, 6-4 7-6. The serve proved once again to be huge, as the big 6’5” Southern California standout used his big serve and aggressive game to take me out in the second round. My transition game was continuing to improve match after match, along with a slice backhand that I have been wanting to develop more into a weapon. I like having the ability to mix in the change of pace with the slice, keeping my opponent off balance. It also enables me to use it as a transition ball to the net, and also occasionally as a drop shot.
The third tournament took me to the Racquet Club of Irvine in Orange County, where I had my most success during the three-week circuit. After winning my first three rounds in straight sets, I came up against the seventh seed in the qualifying, Sebastian Rivera, a tough clay court-style grinder hailing from Ecuador. In the record-setting 110° heat this past Monday, Rivera outlasted me in a tough 6-4 6-4 match in the fourth and final round of the qualifying. However, by reaching the last round of the qualifying, I was able to have an opportunity for a lucky loser berth into the main draw, designed to replace last-minute withdraws and no-shows from the main draw with a player who has just lost in the last round of qualifying. I got lucky (no pun intended), and received a berth on Wednesday into the main draw of singles, where I got the opportunity to avenge a loss from early August against the eight seed, Roman Borvanov, the tough baseliner from Portland against whom I was serving for the match in a tournament this summer in Tacoma, WA. In addition to singles, my travel partner and partner-in-crime Bradley Bator and I received a wildcard into the main draw of the doubles, where we played Matt Brooklyn of Great Britian and Ryan Young of the US in the first round.
Though both main draw matches didn’t end up with the outcome that I wanted, they were both a lot of fun and huge learning experiences for me. It was a lot of fun playing with a chair umpire and linesmen, which is protocol for every main draw match, and just experiencing my first main draw singles match on the professional tour. I know the Futures at Irvine isn’t necessarily the biggest stage for my professional singles debut, but it’s the first step along hopefully the long road of a professional career. But first I want to recap the doubles.
Brad and I have been traveling together for the past couple months, and we have had a lot of fun experiencing the life of a traveling tennis player together. We have also played a lot of doubles over the past few years together, and I really enjoy taking the court with him and his undying enthusiasm for competition. We knew we were going to have a blast during our first round match regardless of how the results turned out as soon as we found out that we got the wildcard on Monday, during the afternoon on his twenty-third birthday. We got off to a quick start out of the gates, starting the match with a 6-2 3-1 lead, playing extremely aggressively and dominating the middle of the court around the net (the area that I liked to call the “Red Zone” during my brief stint as an assistant coach this past year). However, we let our foot off the gas pedal a little bit midway through the second set, allowing our opponents to creep back into the match. Brooklyn and Young took the second set 6-3 and finished us off in the third set 10-point tiebreaker. The no-ad scoring, which is now a part of all professional doubles tournaments except for the four Grand Slams proved to be vital as we were broken for a second time in the second set at 3-4 on a hard fought sudden-death deuce point. We never truly recovered, as Brooklyn and Young capitalized on a quick start in the third set tiebreaker and took it handily 10-4. With the no-ad scoring and the 10-point tiebreaker that determines the third set, momentum can shift suddenly and matches can turn in a heart beat. We didn’t sustain our focus well enough in the second set and our opponents took advantage, took control of the match quickly and snuck out with a victory. But though the result wasn’t the way we wanted it to be, Brad and I had a great time competing together, and are using the match as a good learning experience in case we get to play doubles together in Laos and Thailand next month!
In the singles draw I got the opportunity to play Roman Borvanov for the second time in as many months. I was a little anxious and over-amped starting the match, which backfired during a very shaky first game in which I got my serve broken. The steady Borvanov took the first set handily, 6-2, using a high first-serve percentage and a strong, consistent baseline game, forcing me into taking too many risks and committing too many unforced errors. I calmed down a bit in the second set, simplified my game plan, and got off to a good start, breaking early on and sustaining the lead with my improved serve. I felt like I was cruising as I dictated play and took the second set handily 6-2. However, my serve and focus left me for a short stint at the beginning of the third set, and Roman took advantage of three shaky service games, breaking me in two of them. I managed to get one of the breaks back, but the tough grinder from Moldova held on to take the third and final set 6-4. The serve once again proved to be the difference in the match, as the person who won each set was the one that was locating the serve better and serving a high first-serve percentage.
After assessing the past three weeks of competition, I believe that placing the highest priority on working on my serve over the next few weeks leading up to my trip to the Far East will be crucial to me doing well and coming back with a couple of ATP points. The more free points I can get off my serve, while also limiting the amount of looks I’m giving my opponent to my second serve, is going to be essential in taking my game to the next level.
So now it’s Wednesday evening, and I’m sitting watching the sunset at my dad’s apartment a half-block from the beach in Redondo. It’s a good feeling that all this tennis is over and I can get a little bit of a break. I have not had more than one or two days off in the last month, and though I’m feeling positive, eager, and optimistic about my game, it’s going to be nice to get a few days away from the game, heal up battered parts, and get the body and mind feeling fresh again going into a brief training session prior to my trip to Thailand. I will be between the Los Angeles area and San Luis Obispo for the next couple of weeks, training and preparing for my departure from the country. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for updates from the road as I get ready for Thailand!