Champions…

Andy (far left) poses for a picture after winning the men's doubles title with his partner (far right) and the tournament director (center).

Andy (far left) poses for a picture after winning the men's doubles title with his partner (far right) and the tournament director (center).

Week of June 27-July 4, 2010

I apologize for the delayed update following the tournament in Oregon. Since the tournament was packed into seemingly two days following my Friday afternoon first round singles match, I was going non-stop until the last match of the tournament Sunday afternoon, when my partner and I won the Men’s Doubles title. On Sunday afternoon I began my 11-hour journey back to San Luis Obispo, where I spent the next three days moving out of my small house in which I have lived the past three years of my life, taking the final steps toward closing one chapter of my life and beginning another. It has been a busy week, but now I am ready to focus all my energies towards training this next week and preparing for a busy stretch of five tournaments in five weeks.

The tournament in Roseburg this past week went very well following the good week in Chico. I traveled with the guy who I played in Chico in the first round of qualifying, the good friend of mine whom I grew up playing with in my hometown. We took separate cars up to Roseburg, but split a motel room in town and played doubles together in the tournament. It’s very common to find traveling partners when on the road for weeks on end, someone who you can pass the time with and share some of the costs of living. It can be nice to find someone to travel with from time to time and save one another from the loneliness that can set in with so much time spent away from home. Often times you only have the company of only your own thoughts and maybe a book, iPod, or computer you use to entertain yourself.

Results wise, I could not have asked for much better from only my second tournament back, and the first one that held the added pressure of me knowing that these tournaments are now my only paychecks coming in. They are no longer just an added bonus on top of my main source of income. This is one thing that is new to me, but I could only imagine that most professional players struggle with this pressure from time to time. This is now your well being on the line; your ability to travel, to feed yourself, and to find a place to rest. If you win, you can go to Mexico next month and play the three tournaments you need in order to qualify for the bigger tournament in a few months. You lose, and now you’re back home, eating rice or pasta two meals a day, trying to figure out where the next paycheck is coming from. I realize this is a bit of an extreme scenario, but these are the pressures that most professional players that haven’t “made it” yet struggle with while on the road. Your only hope of succeeding is to learn how to deal with that type of pressure, to learn how to put it aside at 4-4 in the third set and focus on what it is that you need to do in order to win the next point.

Otherwise, the fear becomes crippling, tightening every sinew of your body as you step up to the line to serve. Your mind becomes clouded, as your thoughts race through your head at a million miles a minute, and you observe them like you would observe all the cars sitting in the stands at a NASCAR race, as blurs of colors rush past you in a un-recognizable whirlwind of colors. Your palms sweat, and the grip becomes slippery in your hand. Your heart races, pounding under your shirt as it all of a sudden becomes the loudest noise in your eardrums. Your mind struggles to find a clear thought in order to take control of the situation, but all you can think of is the possibility of losing this match, and the terrible consequences that would follow. At this moment, the instant you step up to serve or return and all of these things begin to happen, that is when champions are set apart from all the others.

A champion stills their mind, and out of the un-recognizable haze of thoughts the one or two emerge that are needed to win in this instant. A champion calms the mind and focuses intently on these one or two simple cues. They breathe deeply, relax, and slow the heart rate down to the point where they can have perfect control over their muscles. They find the perfect harmony between relaxation and intensity. A champion knows what it takes at this moment to win, and focuses on the thoughts that gives oneself the best opportunity to execute what it is that needs to be executed at that moment, whether it be a game-winning shot, the perfect throw, or a well-placed serve. A champion knows that no matter how great a chance they give themselves to succeed in this situation, the outcome is always in the hands of fate, and sometimes they fail. Kobe Bryant doesn’t make every game-winning shot he attempts. Peyton Manning doesn’t always make the perfect throw during the two-minute drill in the fourth quarter. But they are able to give themselves the best opportunity to succeed, and are at peace with the possibility of failure. One missed shot or one interception will not take away from the unwavering confidence these champions have in their incredible capabilities in influencing the outcome of a game or match. Champions always give themselves the best chance at succeeding in the toughest moments.

Our new and two-time Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal epitomizes what it means to be a champion. I believe he is the mentally toughest player of this generation (including Roger Federer, whom he has beaten in 5 out of 7 grand slam finals). I have full respect and admiration of Roger Federer, who I would have to say is the first or second greatest player of all-time (along with Rod Laver). However, I believe Rafa is the more mentally tough of the two. His ability to always raise his game at the perfect time, along with his ability to compete so hard and with so much focus and determination point in and point out, is unbelievable. His mental toughness, coupled with the 8 grand slams he has already won by the young age of 24, will give him the opportunity I believe to become even greater than Roger. The only thing that can slow him down is the physicality of his game style, and the toll it takes on his body. Working as hard as he does from point to point is so incredibly taxing on his body. He will have to sustain an awe-inspiring level of strength and conditioning in order for him to stay somewhat injury free, something he has struggled with since the beginning of his career.

Next up will be a good week of training back in San Luis Obispo, followed by the Tracy Austin Doubles Tournament, beginning this Friday in Palos Verdes, CA. I will be competing in both the men’s and mixed doubles draws, both with partners from the Cal Poly men’s and women’s teams respectively. Check back later in the week for training updates from SLO as I prepare for the upcoming tournament…

-AG

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