A Good Learning Experience…

Andy Gerst is seen here training in this file photo.

August 3, 2010

It’s Tuesday morning, and I’m getting ready for my first round match in the last tournament on the Pacific Northwest Summer Circuit, the 120th annual Washington State Open at the prestigious Seattle Tennis Club. The way the draw has lined up every match for me will be tough, so I have to be ready to go from the first point of the tournament. My body is tired and emotionally I’m fatigued from all the competition over the past month, but I have rested myself enough yesterday and this morning that I’m ready to make one final run at a title on this circuit.

Last week in Portland was a big learning experience for me. After a bye and two quick early round wins, I was up against the six seed in the quarterfinals, Alex Rovello, an up-and-coming junior out of the Portland area who will be attending the University of Oregon in the fall. He’s a speedy lefty with two hands on both sides that hits with a lot of spin and covers the court extremely well. And I was certainly not ready for the way he got after me right out of the gates…

The first set went quickly. He came out hot and broke me early in the first set, only to keep holding and break me a second time to win the set 6-2. I could feel myself getting frustrated and impatient, so I took a quick bathroom break to gather myself, calm down my frustrations, and refocus on the game plan that I wanted to execute. Early on in the second set things started going my way, as I got off to a 4-0 lead and started thinking ahead about splitting sets and getting ready for the third. As soon as I lost my focus the resilient Portland native was right back in the match, breaking me twice more and evening the match at 5-5. Luckily I gathered myself quickly, and ended up escaping the second set with a 7-5 win.

Rovello kept on firing, and we were battling deep into the third set. I ended up getting a break at 4-4 for the opportunity to serve out the match, but played a very loose game and lost my serve to go to 5-5. Once again I broke him for another opportunity to serve out the match at 6-5, but I played yet another loose game and got broken once again to send the match to a third set tiebreak. He got up on me quick in the tiebreak and I could never really recover, and Rovello closed me out 6-2 5-7 7-6(5).

The quarterfinal loss was the earliest exit I’ve had on the PNW circuit so far this summer, and it was pretty disappointing. However, I believe that you control the reality that which you perceive, and it was up to me whether I wanted to remain disappointed and let it keep me down, or see it in a positive light as a good learning experience and a good motivator. After a few hours of cooling off, which included a long shower and a nap, I wanted the loss to rejuvenate me and motivate me for the doubles draw — which I felt my partner Brad Bator and I had a good shot at winning.

We came out that Saturday night following my singles loss and beat the second seeds, Angelo Niculescu and his partner Cameron Spearman in the round of 16, boosting our confidence and opening up the draw in our favor. After a quarterfinal win later that evening we came back on Sunday afternoon for our semifinal, in which we took out the fourth seeds, Ryan Livesay and Kean Feeder in straight sets. Both are Pacific Northwest natives that had outstanding junior and collegiate careers. We ended up running out of steam in the finals and lost to two Boise State guys, Vincente Joli and Stephen Robertson, but we had two great wins to get to the final. We felt our games were starting to work together nicely, setting us up for a run at the doubles title at the Washington State Open.

After the doubles, I again had to take another look at the singles loss on Saturday and learn a couple of things from it. Rovello had played excellent tennis, outplayed me and definitely deserved the win, but I knew there were things in my control that I could have done differently which could have made a difference in the outcome of the match.

First of all, overlooking my opponents and looking ahead in the draw fueled a lot of my frustrations when I was out playing the match. Before the tournament even started I looked at my draw and almost assumed I was going to be in the finals, not really giving much respect to my early round opponents. This was a big downfall for me. By not respecting my opponent, it frustrated me tremendously when he came out and took it to me in the first set. I never really recovered. I got angry and lost focus of the couple of things that I like to focus on when I’m out playing — a cue or two for my game plan and a couple of simple thoughts about my serve and the way I want to carry myself out there on the court. I learned I must respect everyone I play and be ready for them to come out and play the match of their life against me. That way, there are no surprises, and if things don’t start out going my way I can stay calm, stay focused on what I need to focus on, and have the best opportunity to turn things around in my favor.

Another important thing that I definitely slipped up on that had been my strength this whole summer was being the best prepared I could possibly be for the match. I felt one of the main reasons for my success early on in the circuit was that I was confident that I was the best prepared player to step on the courts at these tournaments. I knew I had put in the training, gotten my proper nutrition and rest, and was more committed than the person I was up against. I slipped up on this in Portland, and it cost me the early exit. Rovello came out on a mission. It was evident by his intensity and focus right out of the gate, and his friends and family who were there watching and supporting him, seemed to be “on a mission” with him to do well in the tournament. I came in very relaxed and unfocused. I had been sleeping on a friend’s couch in town and had not been getting the best rest. I was not feeding myself properly or keeping myself hydrated between matches. I had gotten away from my icing and stretching habits that keep my body fresh and ready and go. And because my opponent was better prepared and better focused than me on that day, he came away with the win.

The way you prepare for matches is always in your control, and you always want to do as many things as possible in your control to give yourself the best opportunity to win on that day. The match left a sour taste in my mouth because I knew there was more I could have done to get the win, and I hadn’t done it. However, I felt that this was a wake up call, and was the best thing that could have happened to me at this point in the summer. I had started to get relaxed and started overlooking opponents, and this tournament taught me that every match needs to be treated the same, whether I’m playing the number one seed in a pro event or my first round at a small tournament. To give yourself the best chance to win you have to be the best-prepared player out there. Then win or lose, at the end of the day you can feel proud of the effort that you put forth.

So I’ve learned from my last tournament, rested my body and have prepared myself for my first round match this afternoon. I stretched and iced all day yesterday, got in a light hit to keep my rhythm, and am fueled with a great dinner last night and breakfast this morning. My dad just flew into town last night, and I’m excited and proud to have him here to watch the last tournament along the circuit. I’ll leave you with a quote that my coach would always tell me that he got from the great Jose Higueras, as he used to say,

“The worst thing that can happen to you from a tough loss is that you come away from it with some good things to work on.”

-AG

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