Last time you all checked in with me I had just gotten back from Canada. Since then I’ve been to Texas for a couple tournaments, and now I’m in Istanbul at gate 210 killing some time before my flight to Egypt. Yes…. I am actually going to Egypt, and no I don’t plan on getting stuck over there. You might question my sanity for picking Egypt as my next travel spot, but after talking with other players that have been you realize it isn’t so bad. My family also wasn’t too fond of the idea at first, especially my grandma, but eventually they came around. I still have a bit of backtracking to do, so read on to hear about my time in Texas.
Originally, I had wanted to go play in Egypt straight after coming home from Canada, but I couldn’t find a travel partner and the turnaround was a bit quick. So ultimately I settled on playing two futures in Texas instead. Realistically, I also don’t think I was ready to go overseas alone without stopping home in between, but we can just pretend that it was all because the other travel plans didn’t work out.
After the whole dilemma in Canada with not getting to play singles, I was looking forward to the tournaments in Texas. I had been playing well and training hard, and my tennis was in a good spot. However, I think the tennis gods had other plans in mind. About a week and a half before I was scheduled to leave, I sliced open my left thumb and had to get stitches. Don’t ask how it happened… I’m still working on fabricating a story on how I was saving the world in the process of cutting myself. The doctors originally told me the cut should heal in about 10 days which meant it would have been good to go for the tournaments. But to make a long story short, the cut was much deeper than they thought and I ended up not being able to use my thumb for the entire month of October. It was pretty interesting playing with a one hander— we’ll get to that.
You would think that after driving to Canada I would have learned my lesson, but I guess I don’t have the quickest learning curve. Unfortunately, driving is usually way cheaper than flying, especially after you add in costs of the rental car and all of the random things along the way, so I had the joy of driving all the way to Houston. But don’t worry, I made sure the drive was even longer than the Canada road trip. Instead of just 10 hours, I got 16 hours of pure bliss behind the wheel. I was a little smarter this time, though. My old teammate Mike Lippens flew in to Louisville a couple of days before the tournaments, so we drove down together. It’s always easier when you have someone to pass the time with.
Fortunately I have family that lives just outside of Houston in Sugarland (what an awesome name, right?), so we were able to stay with them the entire time we were there. Before I talk about the tennis, I have to give a huge thanks to my Uncle David and Aunt Terrie and cousin Meghan for everything they did to help us out while we were there. They treated us way better than we probably deserved and gave us some good memories while we were there. Besides cooking for us every night, they also took us out to eat a few times. The best place we went was a Texmex restaurant called Pappasitos (spell check me here Uncle David). Wednesday night is half-price fajita night, so Mike and I went all out. During our meal, we also saw that if it’s someone’s birthday they bring out this giant oversized sombrero and basically serenade you for a few minutes. We decided it would be Mike’s birthday since his was the closest… well, it was a month away actually, but close enough for us. And we got free cheesecake out of it. Somehow I lost the photo of Mike in the sombrero so sorry about that. I think you all would have gotten a good laugh.
Since tennis is my job, I guess I should also tell you a little about that. As I said earlier, my left thumb had stitches in it and was wrapped up like a mummy, so I was playing with a one hander this week. For some people this wouldn’t be a big deal, but I have a two handed backhand and it’s probably my best shot, so I felt a little lost as a player without it. To be honest, I didn’t expect much of my results either week and figured if I played anyone halfway decent I would be off the court in 30 minutes.
The first week, I ended up losing 6-4 6-4 to a player that already has a couple of ATP points. It doesn’t sound like much, but even to just have 1 or 2 points you have to be a good player, so I was pretty happy with how I competed against him. The one hander ended up not being too much of an issue, and I actually played well enough to win. I felt I missed some chances in this match that could have swung it my way, but when something is just a little off (like me using a one hander) the big points tend to not go your way. I walked away from this match disappointed with the loss but encouraged I would still have a chance to qualify the next week.
Before heading to the next tournament, Mike and I had the chance to play in the pro-am events Monday and Tuesday night. Whenever I can, I try to sign up for these events because 1) you get paid, always a bonus 2) you get free dinner and 3) you never know who you’re going to meet. It’s also good to get out on court and remember the true reason we all play this sport— because we love it. When tennis or anything you love becomes a job, it can be easy to lose the passion and joy it once brought into your life. So I really enjoy nights like these where I can just step out on the court and have some fun. It helps me refocus and escape the daily on court training grind for a bit.
After finishing up in Houston, we had a 4 and a half hour drive south to Harlingen, Texas, way down by the Mexican border. Have you ever heard of Harlingen? I’m not surprised. None of the players I talked to had either. When we arrived in town, we quickly realized that the most exciting thing to be found was the giant Bass Pro Shop next to our hotel. Other than that, there wasn’t a whole lot to see or do. We stopped by the courts that first day for a quick practice, and I was surprised at how nice they actually were. Excluding the fact it felt like you were playing in the middle of a hurricane because the winds were so strong and the sun blinded you every time you tried to serve, it wasn’t so bad.
The next day I was lucky enough to have my match scheduled for 1pm, the hottest part of the day. I’ve struggled with cramps before and generally am not a big fan of the heat, so this wasn’t ideal for me. I lost the first set 6-1 in about 20 minutes. I was really struggling with my backhand this day, and I also think I left my brain back in the hotel room. I was having trouble getting myself going, so at the start of the second set I decided to switch it up. The previous three sets I had been slicing my backhand to try to keep it deep and hide the weakness there, but clearly it wasn’t working. So I went to the total opposite instead and decided I would start hitting every backhand. There were a few shots where I felt like Stan Wawrinka, but in reality lady luck was probably on my side for those shots. I ended up winning a close second set 6-4 and went up a break 4-3 in the third set serving. My opponent had given me some easy points, and it looked like I would close the match out. But as my old coach Rodrigo da Silva would tell us at Louisville, once you think you got it, you don’t got it. I ended up losing the third set 6-4. My opponent played smart and attacked my backhand even more, but I still think I let this one slip away. Pressure makes you do weird things on big points, and I was lacking on match play under pressure.
Now Harlingen is a wonderful city and all: lots to do, awesome sites, beautiful weather…. Just kidding. After losing, Mike and I were ready to get home. Especially since we knew we would be leaving for Egypt in less than a week, we wanted time to practice and see some friends before going out of the country. We made the short drive back to Houston and then got up the next day at 6am to finish the drive to Louisville. Total driving distance in two weeks was 3302 miles. Let me know if you know anyone willing to chauffeur me the rest of the year for free.
As I finish up writing this post, I’m sitting in the lobby of the Sierra Hotel in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt. My home for the next month. Check back in another week or two for an update on life in Egypt. As always, thanks to everyone for taking the time to read this and sending me the encouraging messages! It means a lot knowing people back home care about how I’m doing and want me to succeed.