September in Southern California

Gerst in action

Gerst in action

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!


String Review: Polyfibre TCS 16

After hearing rave reviews about it, I gave the Polyfibre TCS 16 gauge a try. It comes very highly praised from a number of TW playtesters as well as a number of ATP and WTA players. Advertised as being one of the softest and best feeling co-polys around, I looked forward to playing with it.

Stringing with the TCS was pretty much standard for a polyester string; stiff with not a whole lot of stretch. I strung my racquet at 56 lbs, and it was a somewhat difficult string, about on par with many of the other polyester strings on the market.

With the first strike of the ball I noticed the softness and the excellent bite the TCS had. For a co-poly, the softness made it very reasonable on the arm, and did not cause much discomfort. The softness of the TCS also provided me with lots of touch and feel, giving me a lot of control and command with all my shots.

What I liked most on the groundstrokes was the amount of spin I was able to generate off both the forehand and the backhand, as well as the backhand slice. Topspin shots were heavy and jumping off the court, and the slice had excellent bite and stayed low to the ground.

When volleying and serving, I had excellent control and bite with the TCS. Because the string was so soft, along with its excellent ball pocketing, I could control the ball really well and generate good control. The string is not too “explosive” and does not have a lot of “pop” like a Luxilon Big Banger ALU Power does, but because of the softness and spin potential of the TCS it enabled to have lots of command over my volleys and serves.

There were only two things about the TCS that stood out to me that I did not particularly like. First, as mentioned before, the string did not have a lot of “pop”, and thus generating pace was a little more difficult than I would have liked. I prefer a little more “explosive” string. The second thing I did not like was the tension maintenance, as the string lost tension quite quickly. After about a week the string tension had dropped considerably and I needed to cut them out.

Aside from that, the TCS was a very nice string that I would recommend it to players that prefer a polyester string but have a history of arm problems. The extreme softness of this string makes it very arm-friendly for a polyester, and along with the ball pocketing it also provides the player with lots of control and spin


Mama’s got a baby bump

I’m now entering the third trimester of my pregnancy. As expected, tennis has changed for me. Of course I’m not feeling as mobile and don’t have the stamina, and I am certainly not going after the ball as aggressively.

Tiffani at 27 weeks, wearing the 2010 adidas Roland Garros skort and Reebok Fall Textured Tank

However, the biggest challenge, which might be surprising to some, is what to wear on the court. I’ve been able to adjust my playing style and schedule, though I miss tennis with my limited playing status. For apparel, though, there isn’t specific maternity tennis apparel. There are several places that sell maternity clothing, and some even have sections that they label “activewear.” In my experience (this is my first pregnancy), the activewear is more suited for yoga or post workout — I am not going to play tennis in velour pants, thank you very much. So I’ve made adjustments to my existing tennis/workout wardrobe and a few purchases, too.

The length of the top is key to fitting my growing baby bump.

On top, I’ve been wearing some of my larger t-shirts. I normally wear a women’s small, but I’ve also been wearing men’s small tees, which don’t exactly fit into my notion of “cute.” The length of the top has been the biggest obstacle. As the baby bump grows, tops need to be longer and longer to fit over it. I’ve found that the women’s Nike Team Pro Basic Top is a good fit for me. I went with a medium, and it works like a charm. It’s not flashy, but it’s a performance tee that I don’t mind working up a sweat in. When I want to go for a cute look, I’ve pulled out my bloussant type tops, which offer a billowy fit. Tops with a style like the Lija Fall Magnetic Tank and Reebok Fall Textured Tank have worked best for me. They fit over the belly and show it off at the same time. Again, these tops are a size larger than I normally would wear.

Finding comfortable bottoms has been somewhat of a challenge. To the gym, I really like the Fila Supplex pants (conveniently available in three lengths as well as capris) from the Personal Performance collection. The material is so soft and just the right thickness for comfort and, ahem, coverage (no VPL). Also the low-rise waist is easily adjusted for the baby belly. On court, I have been wearing my Nike Power Knit Shorts below the bump with some success, but sometimes a girl just wants to wear a skirt/skort for tennis! Therein lies my biggest challenge. I have one skort that I got one size larger than I would have pre-pregnancy and has a low rise. It’s the skort from this year’s adidas Roland Garros line.

The other items are a cinch. Socks and shoes, no problem, those fit just like before. Hey, I can even still even bend over and tie my own shoes, though I hear that becomes tougher in the final months!

Thanks for any advice anyone can offer.

Happy Hitting!
Tiffani, TW