First of all, I want to apologize for taking so long to put up another blog post. You all are probably sick of hearing me say that, but this time I have a legitimate excuse. Somehow the Egyptian wifi was even worse than last time. I’m not sure how that’s possible, but it happened. I couldn’t check my email or open up most websites on my computer, so it was impossible to get access to the blog site. Eventually I should probably stop promising to update you more often because something always seems to go wrong, but for now I’ll keep trying my best and saying sorry when it doesn’t happen.
Unfortunately I can’t tell you all that I got my first ATP points to start off 2017. That was my number one goal this trip— I would have loved nothing more than for you all to open this link and see that I finally had an ATP ranking. I came extremely close, but in the world of pro sports, close doesn’t cut it. You either win or you lose. And there’s no reward for losing. On the bright side, I’m playing the highest level of tennis of my entire life, so I still believe points will be coming my way soon.
The first week I played a young Spanish player, Nicola Kuhn. I started off the match pretty rough. Since I received a main draw wildcard I was extremely nervous as I wanted to prove I was worth the wildcard. It probably sounds stupid, but when you receive an opportunity like that I think it’s important to make the most of it. I went down 2-0 extremely quick, but then I found my rhythm. I finally relaxed and my game started flowing. I battled to take the first set 7-5. The second set was a back and forth affair until 3-4 in the second set when my opponent finally managed to break my serve and take the second set 6-3. Ultimately I lost the third set 6-2. A couple of misses by less than an inch when trying to save break points sealed my fate in the match.
Even though I lost, it was still a very positive start to 2017. I was executing my game plan early on and playing a very high level. My opponent was ranked 780 ATP… I also later found out he’s currently the number 5 junior in the world. And he’s only 16. I spoke with him some after the match and he should be playing some ATP 250 and ATP 500 events this year. It’s definitely possible we will be seeing this kid play in Grand Slams one day.
I had a quick turnaround for the second tournament as I was in qualifying that week. First round I drew a Slovakian Lukas Klein, currently ranked 1200 but playing at a much higher level than that lately. His past couple of tournaments he has been in the quarterfinals of main draws and recently lost a close match to the number 130 player in the world. So, I knew it would be a tough one. I ended up losing 6-3 6-3. Somewhat of a routine match but not completely. I had a break advantage in the first set but it slipped away, and in the second set I went down early and couldn’t recover. Once again, I didn’t play bad tennis, but I have to play better.
The second week my friend Matt and I also received a wildcard for main draw doubles. We won our first match 3-6 6-2 10-2 and then faced off against the number two seeds in our second round match. Before walking out on court, I had no idea that this would come to be one of the craziest matches I’ve ever played in. After losing the first set 6-3, we battled back to take the second set 6-4 and force a third set supertiebreaker. Points were back and forth and even until we found ourselves down 9-7. We saved these two match points and finally got one of our own at 11-10. The tiebreaker went back and forth like this again with us having four match points of our own and saving four match points of our opponents. But on the fifth match point, our opponents finally won 17-15 in the third set.
I was extremely upset after this match. Especially since we had four match points. If we had won, it would have been the first time I had ATP points in singles or doubles. Once again we played extremely high level tennis as both of our opponents were ranked top 400 in the world. It was also the sixth time I’ve been one match away from claiming my first points. Not to mention that the three times I’ve played doubles in Egypt I’ve lost three matches in third set tiebreakers. Two of those teams went on to make the finals and the other team was the tournament champion.
Going forward, I know I have the level to compete with players at these tournaments, but now it’s a matter of winning. Most of the time all it takes is one point, sometimes even one shot, to swing a match your way, so every day when I step out on the practice court that’s what I’m training for. For now it is back to work in Belgium dying in practice and the gym every day so next time I have my chance I’ll come out on top.
Luckily this time around in Egypt wasn’t quite as miserable as last time when it came to off the court life. The wifi was still absolutely treacherous as I mentioned, but I managed to steer clear of the American killing mosquitoes this time. I wore high socks and used bug spray everywhere. There was only one night of itch induced craziness and insomnia from some bug bites on my hand, but other than that I came out unscathed. Since we only stayed two weeks, I don’t think I managed to meet the 20 pound consumption of white rice quota, but it was still close. In a weird way I was actually pretty comfortable in Egypt this time around. I’m not quite insane enough to say it felt like home, but I definitely wasn’t as stressed as last time I was there.
My friend and coach having been making fun of me the past week and a half because my phone broke in Egypt, so I’ve been walking around everywhere with an iPad. At first I was the typical millennial and went absolutely bonkers over the idea of not having a phone, but after a day or two it wasn’t too bad. The main reason I was worried is I wanted to make sure I could still speak with my family, but besides that it’s kind of nice not having a phone on you all the time. No notifications from meaningless social media or other apps to eat up my attention.
I also made some more new friends this time around in Egypt. Last year when my friend Matt came he met two Georgian (the country, not the state. Sorry my American friends) girls and coincidentally they were going on vacation again the same time we would be there for the tournaments. Their names were Nani and Nini (I swear I’m not making that up). The four of us hung out just about every night, a lot more fun than sitting in the room trying to interpret a random movie in Arabic.
For those of you who haven’t seen, and I’m guessing it’s most of you, my friend and coach have taken to calling me “Superman gluten free” as a joke. When I first arrived and told them I was gluten free, they asked me for the reasoning behind it. I’m not sure they bought it but they respected my choice. Well also for those of you who don’t know, I pretty much take a nap every day after practice. So, since I told them that once I started eating gluten free I felt like superman because my energy was so much better, they thought it was hilarious that I would always be the one to come home and fall asleep first. Here’s some pictures for your amusement.
My off the court highlight from the Egypt trip has to be winning the Mr. Sierra competition at our hotel. Each week, they have shows at night with different themes, so my friend and I decided to do the Mr. Sierra one. The best way to explain it is a funny competition for best all-around guy of the hotel. They have different competitions like dancing, a weird version of Simon Says, a sports related one, and bodybuilding poses. Check out my modeling photo below. I’ll be sending it to some agencies soon. Who knows, might even land a modeling sponsorship contract on the side.
My next tournaments should start either the weekend of February 13 or February 20, but I’m not sure where we’ll be playing yet. At the start of the year, the tournaments are a lot stronger than usual as everyone is trying to get out and play, so we’ll wait until the last second to decide where to go depending on what gives us the best chance to win and get points. I hope everyone is keeping it interesting in Louisville for me! I’m managing the traveling better, but it still doesn’t change how much I miss you all back home.