July 21, 2010
Been on the road for a little over a week now, but I’m getting settled into what is going to be as close to a home base as I’ll have on the road. I will be staying with a buddy of mine, whom I played on the University of Washington team with, and his family a little outside of Seattle for the next couple months, finishing up the Northwest circuit of tournaments and training back at the UW with my former coaches and teammates. The Bator family have provided what feels like a second home to me since I’ve met them a few years ago, and I greatly appreciate their hospitality and making me feel right at home when I’m here.
I had a great week in Salem at the last tournament the previous weekend, although it was very exhausting. I played in all three possible events (men’s singles and doubles, and mixed doubles), and reached the finals in all three, although I was only able to take home the men’s doubles title. With my doubles partner, Trevor Dobson, it was our second consecutive tournament victory together, as we also won the Roseburg title a few weeks back. We have yet to drop a set together. Unfortunately, that was the last tournament we will be able to play together because we have both committed to different partners for the rest of the Northwest tour. But we had a great run and a great time together, and I appreciate him giving me the opportunity to play with him in those two tournaments…Thanks Trevor!
I had another good run in the singles draw, reaching my second consecutive final before losing to Angelo Niculescu, the same guy I lost to in the Roseburg final three weeks back, once again in three sets. However, I felt much better about this match and the effort I put forth compared to the Roseburg final. It’s important to me to take each match, especially the losses, and use them as learning experiences and opportunities to grow. Coming away from the Roseburg final, my opponent exposed a couple things in my game, and I knew in order to have a shot at the guy the next time I played him I was going to have to improve. For the couple weeks between tournaments, every day I practiced I worked on my forehand cross court and first serve, knowing those were the areas I needed to improve the most. By setting up a simple and concise practice plan, I was able to focus on the certain areas that needed work, improved them, and thus was able to put up a much better fight the second time around.
Another big thing I took away from last weekend was the importance of taking one match at a time. You hear it all the time, and it sounds so cliché, but it really is terribly important. No matter what your mindset is going into a tournament, whether your nervous, excited, super confident, scared, etc., it is very important to keep that “one match at a time” mentality in order to keep a clear and focused mind, and be the best prepared you can be for the match ahead of you.
Coming into the Salem tournament I felt a little shift in my mindset compared to the previous tournaments. The tournaments prior I didn’t really know what to expect from the other players or myself, simply because it had been awhile since I had competed. The lack of expectations going into the tournaments kept me very relaxed, and coupled with the confidence I had from my intense preparation and good physical shape I was in, it put me in a very good state of mind to do well. Going into Salem, I had a little better idea of the other players in the draw, and my own level in comparison to them. I had growing confidence from the increased match play and my success from the previous weeks, and I naturally had high expectations for myself. Of course, there was the fear of not meeting them, but that goes along with those high expectations. I eyed the draws and analyzed them, pondering over the different situations that may arise and the players that I could run into. I played with the ideas of both beating all those players in my way, and also with the possibility of losing to one of them and not meeting my personal expectations. I was looking ahead, a potentially deadly mistake for any athlete.
It then occurred to me that this thought process was destructive to my game, and I needed to direct my focus on the match that was directly ahead of me. It’s fun to look over the entire draw and see the players that you might play in the later rounds, but it cannot dominate your focus for the match that is directly ahead of you. I remember taking a long shower the night before my first singles match, when all of these thoughts, expectations, and fears were running through my brain. I let the warm water run onto my head and over my ears, blocking out all outside noises and distractions, and I brought my focus entirely within. I let myself play with all the different possibilities that I was battling with in my head. What if I came out super nervous in the first round, and my opponent caught a hot streak and I was out first round? What if I won my first round, ran into a familiar opponent in the next round, and felt the pressure of needing to beat him a second time, and lost that match? What if I let all these fears and negative energies take over my body, and I came out and got injured in my first match? I allowed myself to think these things for the last time. Then I took a few deep breaths, relaxed, and told myself that my thought processes needed to change, and that this was the last time I was going to let these thoughts take over my focus. In order to play my best tennis I needed to approach the tournament one match at a time, and I was only going to focus on the match that was directly ahead of me, whether it was singles, doubles, or mixed. My first match was an afternoon singles match the following day, and that was going to be my sole focus until the very last point of the match, when I could then move my focus to the evening doubles match that followed.
It’s natural to have a thousand thoughts running through your head before and during a tournament. Competition evokes so many different powerful emotions, and its unrealistic to assume that you will never feel nervous, fearful, anxious, or whatever else that comes up. Even the best players in the world feel nervous, and are afraid they won’t meet their own expectations or the expectations of others. But what’s most important is how you deal with all those thoughts and emotions. Don’t let them take over your body and mind. Think those thoughts, feel the emotions, don’t try to block them out or force them out of your mind. Just deal with them in a positive way. Realize that they are natural, and then reorient yourself to the thought processes that are positive and beneficial for your game. And when they come up in the moment of intense competition, feel them, and then remember to focus on one or two simple things that will help you be successful in that moment, whether it’s a relaxation technique, or a simple tactical idea that takes your mind off the negative thoughts. And remember one match at a time, one game at a time, one point at a time, in order to maintain a calm, clear, focused state of mind.
After a few days of resting, stretching, and light hitting, I am gearing up for my first match in the Pacific Northwest Championships tomorrow at 1 pm. After feeling extremely fatigued following the Salem tournament, my batteries are recharged and I’m excited for the next event! I have never played this tournament, but everyone that I have talked to about it that has played it tells me its an incredible event, played at a beautiful club, and filled with wonderful people. I’m well prepared, feeling strong physically and mentally, and will give it my best shot tomorrow!