Did you laugh at the title of this post as well? I know I did. The thought of me as a king or any sort of royalty is amusing in my eyes. I think I might be a bit obnoxious for the diplomacy and publicity stunts that come along with that sort of title. But whatever… it fit well for this post. After returning from D.C. I had 3 days of practice to tune up my game for a prize money tournament in Cincinnati, a.k.a. the Queen City.
Playing this tournament I felt like I was back at a college invitational. Matches started on Thursday, and on that day I was scheduled to play two singles matches and a doubles match whereas in futures you never have more than one singles match and one doubles match a day, and that’s assuming you’ve entered both events. I won my first two rounds of singles very comfortably. I took the first match 6-0, 6-2 and the second match 6-2, 6-1. I actually ended up spending more time in the gym warming up and stretching after both of these matches than I did actually playing. I’ve been pretty injury prone throughout my career, so anyone that knows me will tell you I’m a bit of a stretching freak. Just ask Rex Ecarma or Albert Wagner. They both think I’m a little over the top. But hey, it works for me. If my body isn’t 100% I can’t perform.
After the two singles match, I had a late night doubles match at 8pm. I was playing with my good friend and lifelong teammate Sean Donohue. We played together for four years in high school at Saint X and were on the team together at Louisville after he transferred back from Alabama. Needless to say we know each other’s games pretty well and it is always fun to play together. As luck would have it, we got matched up against two UK players first round— Beck Pennington and Will Bushamuka. I’ve also known Beck pretty much my entire life, and we still keep in touch often. Of all the people in the tournament, of course the three Kentucky boys end up against each other. It was also a matchup of current and former UL and UK doubles teams, so there was also some pride on the line. Will and Beck are both big servers and whack the ball, so we knew it would be tough. After dropping the first set 6-2, Sean and I rallied to win the second set 6-4, forcing a third set tiebreaker. After going up 9-6 in the tiebreaker and having three match points, we ended up losing 14-12. After 9-9 it was a tense back and forth match until the UK team (or bad guys) came out on top.
That match finished up around 9:30pm and after doing a cool down and stretch it was about 10pm. I had been at the courts for 12 hours that day already, and all I wanted to do was get home to rest. I had a big match the next day.
In my round of 16 match I squared off against Peter Polansky, an extremely talented Canadian player currently ranked 135th in the world. He’s played in the Grand Slams and has won numerous Challenger and Futures titles, so I knew it would be a tough test. I was excited to have the opportunity to play him though. I started off a bit slow, going down a quick break 2-0, but I immediately broke back to level the match. After a back and forth serving affair, I found myself serving at 5-6 to stay in the first set. I went up 40-30 on my serve, but a couple of costly backhand errors saw that game point and the first set disappear to Polansky 7-5. In the second set, I went up a break early and maintained the lead until the middle of the set. At 4-3, I was serving up 40-15, two game points on my serve. Polansky came up with some big shots and forced me into a couple of errors and I lost the break. Serving to stay in the match at 4-5, I was once again up 40-15, but Polansky had the goods again and grinded me down for a 7-5, 6-4 victory. I’m extremely disappointed I lost, especially the second set. In my mind we should have been battling it out in the third to see who would come out on top. But it is still encouraging to know that I am improving and making progress. Earlier this summer I played a player ranked 350th and lost 6-0, 6-2, so I have already come a long way. The next step is to start winning these matches.
I was able to talk to Peter after the match for a few minutes to get his take on my game and what I should do moving forward. He gave me some good tips and advice that will help me out as I try to climb my way up the rankings, though I think my favorite analysis of the match came from one of my long time mentors Andy Thurstone. He does a lot of work helping me schedule my tournaments, and we always keep in touch about my results. When I told him how the match went, his response was short and sweet: “When you’re playing really good players, don’t miss.”
I have to give a huge thanks to Gabi Biedenharn and her family for hosting me while I was in Cincy. I have stayed with them 5 or 6 times now, and every time it has been a fun experience. As I’ve told you all before, traveling on the road alone isn’t always fun. Even though Cincinnati is only 90 minutes away from home, it’s nice having a house to come home to at night and a family that treats you as one of their own. If they aren’t careful, I may start showing up there without asking. Just kidding Gabi, but it would be nice if you’re actually around one of the times I visit.
Since that was my last tournament of the year, I am back to preseason training to get ready for next year. I have been putting in a lot of time on court and in the gym, and I am starting to see the payoffs. The match I played against Peter Polansky was one of the best matches I’ve ever played, and even after just two weeks of hard training I saw my game rise to a new level. I felt I had been on a bit of a plateau for a while, so I’m excited to see my game progressing. I owe a lot of this to my dad who has been working with me almost every single day on improving different technical aspects of my strokes and developing patterns in my game that let me use my weapons. At this level, small things make a huge difference, and I am seeing the improvements.
Since I am training all day every day with the occasional off day, I don’t get much time to just relax and be a “normal” person. The lifestyle of a professional athlete is anything but normal, so it is nice every now and then to get together with some friends and get tennis off the mind for a few hours. This past weekend two of my friends and favorite twins, Elizabeth and Emily, hosted an ugly Christmas sweater party. Somehow I had made it through 22 years of my life without attending one of these spectacular events. It was a lot of fun to catch up with them after all my traveling as well as meet some new people.
Along with all my training, I’m currently in the process of figuring out my travel plans for next year. I have a couple of ideas in mind, but I am trying to work out the details and finances with my parents to decide what the best option is for me going forward. I should know in the next week or two where I’ll be starting off next year. In the mean time, I’m going to enjoy the rare down time I have with friends and family. Merry Christmas to everyone! We’ve almost got another year in the books so let’s enjoy the holidays!