The last couple weeks have been pretty packed with matches and travel. My next stop after training in Fort Walton Beach, FL was a 50k in Dothan, AL. It is a tournament I have played before, and I always look forward to seeing my friends there. I was fortunate enough to have housing across the street from the courts with people I met as a junior player. I stay with a pair of friends Lesley and Danny. Lesley is a school teacher who isn’t involved in the tennis community. She is friends with Danny who comes up from Tallahassee every year to help out with the tournament. I was lucky to meet Danny on my first trip to Dothan, and have been staying there ever since. I also look forward to seeing Lesley’s dog, Lucy as well!
Saturday April 16th, the draws came out and I was to play Sophie Chang in the morning. Chang was supposed to attend the University of Virginia, but decided to turn pro instead. She’s generally a sporadic player who tries to hit everything as hard as she can. I started off well by getting to a 3-0 lead. She missed a lot of shots, but eventually she started hitting the lines on nearly every shot. It was tough conditions since it was windy and the courts were a little bit dug up. I ended up losing the first set 6-4. The second set stayed pretty close, but I couldn’t catch any breaks in the match. It seemed like every shank and net cord of hers seemed to go in. I ended up losing the second set 6-4. I was really struggling with the clay, and wanted to be done with clay court tournaments already. However I still had doubles to play on Tuesday, so I practiced on Monday.
This week I was playing doubles with Danielle Lao again. I was interested to see how we would do since we have been doing well together. We have made a couple of semis and won a title this year. Our first opponents were Renata Zarazua from Mexico and Justyna Jegiolka from Poland. Those two made an interesting pairing since Jegiolka is a big, strong girl who hits everything hard and flat, whereas Zarazua is small, quick and plays with more finesse. The first set went back and forth a lot with no one having a big lead. It went to 6-6, which is when Danielle and I picked up our level to win the tiebreak 7-2. We both poached a lot in the tiebreak to take control of the points. The second set seemed to get away from us. We lost a few deuce points early on and it became difficult to dig ourselves out of the hole. We ended up losing the set 6-0. The super tiebreak was a close one. We ended up down 7-4, but then we didn’t make any mistakes. We were smart about when we took our risks and it paid off. We ended up getting it to 9-8 for us and I was serving for the match. I ended up hitting a good body serve while in “I” formation and Jegiolka slapped it into the net. Danielle and I were excited to have made it through the match, but we also knew we would need to play better in our next match.
Our next match was on Thursday against Conny Perrin from France and Tara Moore from Great Britain. We were the second feature match following the singles match at 6 pm. We sat around waiting for a long time because it kept on raining during the singles match. For a while it didn’t seem like we would even get the chance to play our match that night. By the time we went on it was dark and we had to play under the lights. We didn’t start off playing very well. The games were close, but we were having a tough time converting the key points. Our opponents were solid doubles players and have been playing together for the past couple years. Moore had a big forehand that was tough to handle at times and both were solid at the net. We lost the first set 6-3. In the second we got off to a bad start and went down 3-0. At that point I decided to take everything early and just get to the net, and then Danielle started doing the same thing. We ended up closing the gap a bit, but our opponents were hitting the lines any time we had the opportunity to get ahead. We ended up losing the second set 6-3.
Since I was out of the tournament in Dothan it was time to get to Charlottesville, VA for my final clay court tournament. I was supposed to play one more in Indian Harbor Beach, FL but it was decided that it would be smarter to take that week to train to get ready for China, which is on hard court. I was pretty frustrated with clay court tournaments already. We left on Friday the 22nd, which ended up being an extremely long day. We drove two hours to Panama City Beach, FL to fly out to Norfolk. The flight had a connection in Baltimore and was supposed to get into Norfolk at 11:30 pm. The flights were just fine, but my suitcase didn’t make it so by the time everything was figured out it was 1 am. We ended up spending the night in Norfolk and then making the three hour drive to Charlottesville in the morning. Unfortunately most of the hotels were sold out so it was slim pickings, and I had no belongings beside my tennis racquets. I also had no idea when my clothes would make it to Charlottesville.
Saturday morning we drove to Charlottesville and I was able to get a couple hours of tennis in before signing in for qualifying. I was able to meet up with my housing family, the Ryan’s, who I have stayed with the last couple years. They have two girls that I always enjoy hanging out and playing games with. Last week’s tournament was another 50k tournament so there were quite a few points. Later in the evening I found out that my first round match was to be against Lauren Herring. I had just played her a couple weeks before in Jackson, MS. Last time I played Herring, I beat the Georgia Bulldog but each match is different so I still had to go out and play well. I was also happy that my bag arrived that evening, so I had clothes to wear for my match!
My match was later in the day on Sunday so I had plenty of time to warm up. I didn’t feel good in the warm up since the court was uneven, making the bounces terrible. During the match we both had our fair share of ugly shanks and whiffs. I won the first set 6-2. In the second set I began serving really well and maintained a comfortable lead throughout. Herring seemed frustrated since I made her work for every point. I won the second set 6-2. My housing family came to watch me play as well, which was nice.
On Monday I faced Alexandra Stevenson from the United States. She was a top player at one point, but she has dropped in the rankings in the last few years. I started off playing ok and we each held our own serves to get to 2-2. From there I had tons of chances to go up 3-2, but I was a little unlucky. Then the next game I had multiple chances to break Stevenson’s serve, but I couldn’t seem to convert. I lost the set 6-2. The courts were tough to play on and it felt like nothing was going my way. I was missing shots that I normally make and it was frustrating. I couldn’t play the way that I really wanted to. Starting last October, my coach and I had been working on being aggressive and getting to the net which is very difficult to do on clay. It is a big part of why these last few weeks have been so frustrating for me. I can’t play the way I want to play and it has been showing. The games were close but I lost the second set 6-1. It was a tough day for me, but I was happy that I was almost done with my final tournament on clay.
On Tuesday, I went to the player’s party with my housing family. It was a really cool one since we were able to enjoy a private concert from Boyd Tinsley of Dave Matthews Band. Boyd is the title sponsor and is an amazing violinist, so it was a cool experience.
Even though I was out of the singles, I still had a doubles tournament to play. Originally I was supposed to play doubles with fellow American Robin Anderson, but four days before the doubles entry deadline (Monday) she told me she wasn’t going to know if she was going to play the tournament until the day before the doubles entry deadline. I was forced to tell her that I couldn’t wait for her to make up her mind and that I would try to find someone else. With the deadline being so close, most people already had partners. I spent hours looking up rankings of people trying to find someone I wanted to play with, and who I could also get into the tournament with. I ended up finding Jovana Jaksic who is a great player and has a high singles ranking. Her doubles ranking isn’t very high so I was a bit nervous about whether we would get into the draw. We got into the draw, and I felt we had a good chance at making a solid run. Jovana is from Serbia and has a good serve and big groudstrokes.
We were scheduled to play on Wednesday against Americans Melanie Oudin and Jamie Loeb. My housing mom was in charge of doing school visits, so I went with another player to speak to a school about playing pro tennis and everything that goes into it in the morning. After I returned, I warmed up for our doubles and prepared a strategy with Jovana. Basically our strategy was that I get to the net and that Jovana will bang from the baseline. It seemed to work pretty well since she set me up with really good put away volleys. We were hitting a lot of lines and meshing very well. We won the first set 6-2 and then went up 5-1 when it started to rain. And when I say rain, it was pretty much pouring. Jovana and I were both trying to rush the match to finish, which caused us to be a bit sloppy. We lost a couple of deuce points and before we knew it, it was 5-4 and Jovana was serving. We had two match points on her serve, and we weren’t able to convert. On one of them I missed an angle volley into the net tape when I was almost on top of the net. It was frustrating but the match was cancelled for the day at 5-5.
Thursday morning, we woke up and it was still raining so the supervisors decided to move the doubles matches indoors on hard court. We were both very happy about that since we love playing on indoor hard. We got to the courts to warm up as soon as possible since we were playing at 11. We hit for about 50 minutes so that we could come out firing on all cylinders to hopefully close out the match in two sets still. After both sides held serve, we went into a tiebreak for the second set. Jovana and I came out big in the tiebreak and took our chances. We won the second set 7-6(4). We were especially happy to have won the match because I believe we would’ve won the second easily the previous day if it hadn’t started raining.
About 30 minutes later, we took the court to play the quarterfinals of doubles. We played Anna Morgina from Russia and Ulrikke Eikeri from Norway. This team beat the 4th seeds, who were the people that Danielle and I lost to the previous week so we knew they were going to be good. We were able to stay ahead throughout the match since we played solid tennis. I got into the net every chance I had so I could knock off the put away volleys. We were both playing much better on the hard court. We won the first set 6-3 and then were cruising through the second as well when my racquet broke. We were in the middle of a point and I smacked a forehand when I heard a splintering crack. The whole head flew off my racquet, and I was left holding the handle when the ball came back onto our side. I ran at the ball and tried to hit it with the handle, but it didn’t really work. Everyone was laughing since it was pretty ridiculous. My partner at the net had no idea what happened until she turned around to see why I didn’t hit the ball back. Despite everything, we still won the second set 6-3.
We were through to the semis, but because they had to play two rounds of singles on Friday there weren’t any doubles until Saturday. Up until this point, the Ryan’s had been coming to all of my matches, but Friday they were going out of town so we had to find somewhere else to stay. My housing mom, Lauren, set us up with Bob and Linda Jordan. Linda came to watch my doubles matches Thursday and said she would be happy to take my coach and I. She and her husband are great people and I feel lucky to have been able to meet, and gotten to know them. After Jovana and I practiced on Friday, Linda came and took us to her home. After a good dinner, I felt ready for the semis the next day.
Jovana and I were really hoping it would rain on Saturday as well so that we could play inside. However, our rain dances failed so instead we got to play outside in the cold. Our opponents were American Shelby Rogers and Russian Alexandra Panova. Rogers was the first seed in singles and Panova was top 60 in the world in doubles at one point. They were a solid team. It was a strange first set with a ton of breaks of serve. At one point we did go up 5-4 in the first but then we went down 7-5. The first half of the set I was really struggling with my volleys since I couldn’t feel my hands. I didn’t feel like I had any touch in the beginning which was rough. We stayed positive and bounced back in the second and went up 5-0. We won some key deuce points, which helped. Rogers and Panova stepped it up a bit and won a couple deuce points of their own, but we closed it out at 6-3. We went into a super tiebreak. This is where we got extremely unlucky since to go down 4-0 we lost points on two net cords and two pretty terrible bounces. We both made errors in the tiebreak and our opponents played well. We lost the breaker 10-2. That was the end of my clay court season.
That evening Joel and I flew out of Baltimore to go up to Detroit where we did an exhibition yesterday. If I had been in the finals of doubles, Joel would’ve gone and represented the two of us but I lost which meant I could do it. It was a great exhibition at the Eastside Tennis Center in Grosse Pointe. Sara Sessions did a great job putting everything together, and making the event a success. I played some doubles with Brandon Still, who I traveled with a little last year, and a guy named Alejandro Gonzalez. Joel and I were able to get some mixed doubles practice, which was nice since we do have the US Open regional playoffs coming up.
Now I have the rest of the week to train to get ready for the hard court season. I will have the US Open regional playoffs in singles and mixed doubles starting on Saturday. And then on May 11th I’m heading to China! It’s going to be a busy week.