A couple weeks ago my life was at a crossroads. I had just finished up the Pacific Northwest circuit, having played some great tennis at the end and needing to figure out what next to do in my life. I was low on funds for travelling, but still felt I had some good tennis left in me and I wanted to keep traveling and seeing the world. However, I needed to explore all of my options.
A couple of weeks ago I found myself in the right place at the right time, and found out about an assistant coaching job for the men’s program at Florida State. The Seminoles have been a national powerhouse in the last decade, having been a staple in the top 20 in the nation year in and year out. I felt I needed to explore this option further.
I called the coaching staff in order for them to get to know me and vice versa. After a couple of interviews they offered me the position. After a day of reflection and some conversations with important people in my life, I decided this was an offer I couldn’t refuse. My next move would take me to Tallahassee, Florida.
Looking back, it’s been an incredible year that I’ll remember forever. Starting with the Northwest circuit last summer, building my confidence and getting match experience to prepare me for the year ahead on the tour. My first trip abroad to play tennis in Laos and Thailand, where I picked up my first ATP points, and then proceeded to tear a ligament in my knee. I came back home to Redondo Beach, where I rehabbed for months attempting to get my knee strong enough to play again. After a few months, I was back on the circuit, watching the seasons change from winter to spring in Quebec, and then once again heading back to Thailand. After more awesome experiences abroad, I headed back to the States, where I finished up with another summer in the Northwest.
It has been an incredible journey and I want to thank everyone involved for helping me along the way. Thank you to Tennis Warehouse for your support, as I could not have done it without you. Thanks to my coach Hugh Bream, who I would always call when I needed advice, and who kept me focused each step of the way. Thanks to my parents for their undying love and support. And thank you to Charlie Cutler, Brad Bator, Matt Simpson, and everyone in the Northwest, who shared all my traveling adventures with me and made the grind of being on the road transform into life long memories.
My dream of playing again is not gone. I am planning on keeping my strokes sharp by hitting with our guys, and staying fit so I can play at a high level next summer. I’ll assess in a year again where I’m at and whether I want to do it again. With a year’s experience, I know now what it takes to be successful at the professional level. I’ve learned a lot that has made me a better player, better coach, and ultimately a better person. The memories I’ve created will last a lifetime, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. Last but not least, thank you to everyone who read my blog and was interested in my journeys. Hopefully we’ll have more in the future.
Thanks for reading!
August 14, 2011
My summer circuit through the Pacific Northwest has finally come to an end, and I’m happy to say that it ended on a high note. In arguably the most prestigious tournament in the circuit, I won four matches and reached the semifinals in the singles draw, before losing to eventual champion and long time friend Jason Jung. It was my goal to finish strong this summer after “burning out” at the end of last year’s circuit. I wanted to make sure my body and mind were strong leading in to the final tournament. I wanted to be the best prepared I could possibly be, and enjoy every moment of the waning summer circuit.
My Washington State Open began on Tuesday with a straight-set win over a local up-and-coming junior. Following my first round match, I learned that my second round would be a walkover over another local junior who had to leave our tournament for the US Junior Nationals in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The light first couple days of the tournament helped me stay strong and fit for a deep run through the draw, as I was able to stay rested while also having the opportunity to hit the practice courts and work on some important areas of my game. At this point I felt like the best-prepared player left in the draw, and liked my chances for a championship run.
In the round of 16 I faced the two-seed and good friend Angelo Niculescu, who had reached the final in Tacoma the previous week. Last summer I lost to Angelo twice, both times in finals and both contests went three sets. Naturally, I wanted my revenge!
I came out on fire, serving and returning big and playing aggressive off the baseline. The beginning of the first set was close, as we both had chances to break but couldn’t convert. Finally, at 3-2, I broke Angelo’s serve and used the momentum to take the first set 6-3. I broke early on in the second, and after that started to play some of the best tennis of my life. I was in The Zone! I could hit my serve wherever I wanted. No matter the ball Angelo hit, I felt like I could return it anywhere I wanted, with whatever spin and pace I desired. I was stepping into the court and taking control of every point. I rode this wave to take the second set and the match, 6-3 6-1.
After my big win in the round of 16, I faced the Southern California veteran Vahe Assadourian in the quarters. I played well there and took him down 6-4 6-4, setting up a semifinal battle with a very familiar foe, Jason Jung. Jason and I grew up together in the South Bay, taking lessons from the same coach since we were eight years old and practicing with each other multiple times a week growing up. He took his talents to the University of Michigan, where he played in the top 2 of their lineup and had a great career.
I was extremely excited to play Jason again, but quickly my excitement turned to bewilderment, as I turned into just another victim of Jason’s incredible play of the week. After the first round, Jason only lost 10 games in his next five matches in route to winning the title. It was an incredible display, as he completely dismantled anyone put in front of him. I was no different, and went down quickly 6-2 6-1. Congrats to Jason for a great week of tennis!
I learned this summer that the most important thing to focus on when you’re competing is your preparation. As the great Michael Jordan said, “Preparation doesn’t guarantee victory, but without it you have no chance.” The tournaments I did the best at this summer were the ones that I had the best preparation for. I was diligent with my icing, stretching, sleeping, and diet habits, all crucial to the maintenance of my body. When you prepare well, you feel confident when you step out on the court, knowing that you’ve given yourself the best chance at winning.
Now my life is at a crossroads, as I make a decision regarding my tennis career. I’m very fit, and feel like I’m playing the best tennis of my life. Over the last year, I’ve learned so much about what it takes to be successful at the professional level, having witnessed some of the best players in the world prepare week in and week out. However, a major concern for any “minor league” tennis player is his finances, and right now I’m struggling to figure out a way to fund another year on the circuit. In the coming weeks I’ll be making a decision whether to keep going, take a brief break and start up again later, or stop altogether. Stay tuned for updates and thanks for reading!
August 1, 2011
I’ve finally reached the end of the road on this awesome summer journey. I arrived today in Seattle for the final tournament of the PNW Circuit, the 120th annual Washington State Open. This tournament arguably holds the most prestige on the circuit because it is so old and is played at the hallowed Seattle Tennis Club.
Located right on the banks of Lake Washington, the courts and incredible two-story clubhouse overlook the water and all the eastern suburbs of Seattle. To keep with the tradition of the club, the players are only allowed to wear all-white clothing, just like Wimbledon. Furthermore, the tournament is always held each year concurrently with a big festival on the lake called Seafair, where everyone who owns a boat is hanging out on the lake, with boat races going on and the Navy’s Blue Angels flying low overhead to entertain the crowds. You often have to stop play during the tournament because the planes are flying so low over the courts that you can actually read the numbers off the bottom of the plane. The ground shakes and the sound is deafening from their roaring engines above. These highly skilled pilots fly astonishing patterns so close to each other, climbing and diving and twisting and turning together in the sky over the lake for everyone to see. The incredible setting makes for a pretty awesome event for the circuit finale!
Last week I competed in another beautiful event, the 121st annual Pacific Northwest Championships at the Tacoma Lawn Tennis Club. Unfortunately, I couldn’t replicate my semifinal run of last summer, as I was ousted in the second round by eventual champion Damian Hume of Boise State, 6-2, 6-4. However, my partner Charlie Cutler and I did have some success in the men’s doubles draw, as we reached the semifinals before losing to the Israeli duo of Amir Hadad and Tal Eros. Eros is currently playing on the world tour and is ranked 755 in the world. His partner and coach Hadad has reached as high as No. 180 in the world in singles and No. 87 in doubles. Charlie and I had our chances in the second set, but were defeated 6-2, 6-4. We did, nonetheless, have a couple of good wins along the way, including a straight set victory in the quarterfinals over Angelo Niculescu and Chris Kearney, 6-4, 6-4.
Mixed doubles was also a highlight of the weekend, as I had the opportunity to play with my dear friend Suzie Matzenauer’s mother, Leona, who is an incredible player herself. She was one of the best juniors growing up in Eastern Europe, and was formerly the No. 1 woman in the US in the 35 and over age division. In addition, she has been a wonderful friend and mentor to me growing up, and it was a real treat to have the opportunity to play with her in their family’s hometown tournament. We got through our first match, but lost in the next round to eventual champions Clancy Shields and Lauren Megale, 8-1. I want to thank Leona, along with her husband, Ales, for putting me up in their home over the weekend, and for playing mixed with me! I had a great time!
I’m sad that this summer is coming to a close. It has been a great ride! The scenery of the Pacific Northwest summer couldn’t be more picturesque. The people along the way have been incredible. The hospitality and kindness that have been offered to me has been amazing. And the tennis has been good fun too! I’m not quite ready for it to end, so I’m going to fight hard in this last tournament to try and make it my summer circuit experience last for as long as I can! Stay tuned for updates from the final tournament of the PNW circuit, and thanks for reading!