Well… it’s been a week, so I guess I can officially say I’ve lived in Europe now. A week counts, right? Since I arrived on such short notice, I’ve been staying with my coach’s family. My friend Matt has lived here for the past year, and he warned me that the room we would be sharing is small. But he didn’t tell me that we would basically be splitting a cupboard similar to Harry Potter’s room under the stairs at the Dursley household (for anyone who is a Harry Potter fan, you’ll completely understand what I mean). Not to mention my suitcases are now sprawled across the room. Luckily we get along because personal space is nonexistent. In reality, it isn’t that bad though. Most of the day we are away at the courts or in the gym, plus I’m not about to complain when my new coach, who I had never met before coming here, opened up his home to me.
Considering I only know one other person this side of the Atlantic, I’m really thankful he let me stay at his house. David, my coach, and his wife, Julie, are extremely good hosts. They’re very easy going and have already made me feel part of their own family. I also got a taste of what it’s like to have a little sister(s). They have two daughters, Éva and Adèle, who are 8 and 12 years old. Based on how energetic they are, I can only imagine the madness of my house when my brothers and I were younger; now I understand why my parents always said I was high maintenance. I also hate to admit it, but I don’t think having a little sister would have been so bad after all.
I’m still questioning my sanity for coming here, but I’m already seeing improvements. David has made some small tweaks to my technique and court positioning that are allowing me to hit the ball harder more consistently as well as control the majority of points. It’s nice having Matt around because we push each other every day in practice. Off the court we’re good friends, but on the court we treat every day as a new battle. We also share a fitness coach, Nathan, who is a professional handball player and a member of the Belgian national team. To say he’s brutal is an understatement. Every time I leave one of his sessions I feel like my lungs are going to explode, a leg will fall off, or some other part of my body needs life-saving surgery.
One unintended consequence of being in Belgium is that I get to speak French almost every day. I studied French throughout high school and college and have always enjoyed speaking it, but back home I never had the chance to practice consistently. Over here, it’s the only way I can talk to people unless I want to sit in a chair and talk to the corner of the wall all day in English, so I don’t have much of a choice. Shoutout to Madame McBride at Saint X for 4 years of expert teaching! I never would have thought it would become my first language.
I’m still settling in to my new home. Yes, you heard me right, I called it my home. It can be tough adjusting to a new culture and lifestyle when you’ve lived in the same place your entire life. Every day I’m reminded of how much I stick out as an American because people always comment on my accent and how weird it is, not that they would ever stop to consider I feel the same way about theirs. But that’s beside the point. The people here (les liégeois) have all been extremely friendly and welcoming. Even after I ask them what they said 12 times in a row, they repeat it for me with a smile. Hopefully my French improves quickly because about half the time they’re speaking all I here is agkldagodisgboiuewngn.
Liège is an extremely pretty city situated along the Meuse River in a little valley. When you’re driving along the highway and can look out over the entire valley, it’s pretty spectacular. It’s also a quick drive out into the countryside where you can find beautiful cottages and old farmhouses, a nice offset to the city life. One thing I’m not too fond of is the weather here. Since arriving a week ago, I’ve seen the sun for a total of about 14 minutes. Gray and rainy seems to be the theme. We did get a bit of snow one night, though, and that made for some picturesque views in some of the smaller villages.
Tomorrow the 2017 season officially starts as I have an early flight out of Brussels to Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt. Originally I was scheduled to leave Wednesday, but I found out I would be receiving a main draw wildcard earlier this week and was able to rebook my flights. This first tournament will be a big opportunity as I don’t have to play qualifying, so I’m planning on a strong start to my year. Check back soon and hopefully I’ll have more good news about winning my first ATP points!