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China!!!

After a fun couple of days in Michigan, it was time to get back to work and prepare for the U.S. Open regional playoffs from May 7-9th in Scottsdale, AZ. I had a couple days to get used to the heat before the tournament started, which was definitely helpful. For the most part I was focusing my training around being ready for China.

So in case you’re wondering I’m playing for a wild card into singles, doubles and mixed for the U.S. Open. There are 15 different regional playoffs all over the U.S. that you can choose to play. If you win a regional playoff it means that you have then qualified to play in the national playoff in New Haven, CT in August. If you win the playoff in New Haven, then you get a wild card into the U.S. Open. In 2014, Joel Kielbowicz and I won the national playoff in New Haven to receive a wild card into mixed doubles at the U.S. Open. Last year we lost in the finals of the national playoffs, but we were right there.

This year I’m playing singles and mixed doubles with Joel in the Arizona regional playoffs. I have won the playoff in Arizona the last couple years so I was looking to keep the streak alive. I didn’t really know anything about my opponents going into the tournament, but I was feeling pretty confident. First up I had Maya Smith from Houston, TX who I beat 6-4, 6-2. The following day I played Anastasiya Joyner who is a junior from Las Cruces, NM and I beat her 6-2, 6-1. Later in the day Joel and I played mixed against Josie Frazier and David Critchley. We played pretty well and won 6-2, 6-0 to take us into the finals. Monday was finals day. I had singles first thing in the morning against Josie Frazier who I beat 6-4, 6-2 to claim my place in the national playoffs. A few hours later, Joel and I took to court to play Anastasiya Joyner and Ethan Prost, who we beat 6-3, 6-1. It felt good to have secured our places in national playoffs, which we are both looking forward to.
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Joel and I didn’t ever really celebrate the win because in two days I was going to be sitting on a plane on my way to China. My flight was on Wednesday night from LA, so I had a lot to do on Tuesday before driving over to LA Wednesday morning. I spent a good part of Tuesday packing and running errands to make sure everything was in place for my trip. I also had to go to the store to stock up on food to take over there since many things aren’t readily available at the store such as oatmeal, bars, and even packaged meals (they were safe meals in case the food wasn’t good). Wednesday morning we loaded everything up into the car and took a little road trip to LA. Once in LA I got a final practice and workout in before going to the airport and meeting up with my doubles partner Danielle Lao. Danielle and I are good friends and have been playing doubles together most of this year.

Everything went pretty smoothly and after 14 hours we were in China. Lucky for me it was a red eye and I was able to sleep through most of the flight. By the time we got to China it was Friday morning so I essentially skipped Thursday. Immediately after landing it was apparent that I was in China. I couldn’t even see the sun due to the smog and there was no air conditioning in the airport. We had a connecting flight in order to get to Zhengzhou, which is where the tournament was to be held. Some people from the tournament picked us up from the airport for a long, quiet ride to the airport since they didn’t speak English. We were exhausted, but we still had a full day ahead of us. We ended up having lunch before heading to the tennis courts to play some tennis. It was a solid effort after a long travel day. I ended up managing to stay up to 9:30 in order to try to snap out of the jet lag.

The tournament didn’t start until Tuesday so I had a few days to train and get used to the conditions. It rained all day Saturday so I practiced indoors. It was complete chaos trying to get a practice court because there was no line to sign up. I found that the Chinese don’t understand what a line is, and that they cut at any opportunity, so I had to push my way through to even sign up for a court. It worked out and I got a practice and a workout in at the gym. There wasn’t too much to do in Zhengzhou, but we did find a mall where we could walk around and eat dinner. We found a Korean place to eat dinner and would have huge beef noodle soup bowls. However, the highlight of Zhengzhou was the dried kiwi we found at a store. It was fresh and dirt cheap so we went there every time we went to the mall.
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Monday afternoon the draws and schedule came out for Tuesday, and I found out that Danielle and I had doubles the following day against the Chinese team of Hao Chen Tang and Yuan Xin. Monday was also the night of the players’ party and since it was at the hotel, we decided to go. It ended up being a good decision since it was the most extravagant player party I had ever been to. We went down in shorts and a shirt and ended up going back up to our room to change because people were wearing ball gowns and suits. There were six different performances and around 30 different entrees that were brought to our table. It was nice to get a taste of the Chinese culture.
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We felt pretty good going into our doubles. We didn’t know anything about the team besides that they received a wild card into the draw. We started off strong and won the first set 6-3. We played solid and didn’t make many errors. It carried over into the second set and we kept a dominating lead. We went up 5-2 before things started falling apart. We lost a couple deuce points at 5-3 and 5-4 due to bad luck. Our opponents started taking huge cuts at the ball and were making them. We had chances but unfortunately it seemed to slip away as the team started playing better. We ended up losing the second 7-5. In the third we played a super breaker, but unfortunately we fell behind early since we took a couple risks poaching that didn’t pan out the way we hoped. We lost the third 10-6. It was a tough match to shake off but I had to prepare for singles the next day.

The next day I played Michaela Honcova from Slovakia. I had a good warmup in the morning before waiting for my match and getting a snack. One problem with China is that food isn’t easily accessible so I brought my own oatmeal and even took the hot water kettle from my hotel room. I started off very well with a 4-0 lead and was moving and hitting the ball well. I played aggressive and moved forward every opportunity that I had which led to a 6-2, 6-1 victory. I was happy to get the victory, but things were a little awkward the rest of the day since my next opponent was my doubles partner Danielle.

Even though it is just a match, it isn’t always easy playing your friends. Especially when you’re on the other side of the world and they’re the person you’re traveling with and hanging out with all day every day. We both obviously want to do well so it was unfortunate that we had to play each other. We both knew each others’ games so we had our game plans going in. I didn’t start off as well as I would’ve liked since she broke me early and took an early 4-1 lead. I ended up working my way back into the set, but lost 6-4. In the second set, I started playing a bit better and she made some errors to give me a little bit of a lead. I changed my approach a bit and started going for more on my shots. In the end the set was close, but I won it 7-5. In the third, I started off down 3-0 before I began to get into the set. She came out hot, but fortunately she cooled down a bit so I worked my way back into the set. I had chances and was up in multiple games which I wasn’t able to convert. I ended up losing 6-4 in the third. I was disappointed, but I still had another tournament to play.

Danielle and I took our first bullet train ride in order to get to Tianjin. The trains are super comfy and got us to our destination in only a few hours since they go around 200mph. We took a taxi over to the hotel, which was a beautiful hot springs resort. It was a ways out of Tianjin so there wasn’t much else around.
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I had a couple of days to practice before my first match on Tuesday. I practiced twice a day in the days leading up to my first match. When I was on the shuttle back Monday afternoon, I found out that our hotel actually had a zoo. Two other players really wanted to check it out, so we showered and then set out to see the animals. A Chinese zoo has many differences from a zoo in the United States. First off, none of the animals had grass, and with the exception of the tigers and bears, you could actually put your hand right into the enclosures. The three of us were the only ones in the zoo so we ended up having the opportunity to pet and feed a baby camel. It was so cute! It was an experience unlike any other.
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First up Danielle and I had doubles against Sabi Leon from Mexico and Jessica Wacnik from the US. We felt good about our first match up and knew it would be good to get a match under our belt at the new venue. The first few games were pretty close since it took a little bit to get into a groove. Our opponents didn’t give us much rhythm. We won the first set 6-2. In the second I didn’t feel like I returned very well so we had a harder time breaking serve, but we were able to get the break and win the second set 6-4. As soon as the match was over, Danielle and I hopped on a practice court to work on a few things before our singles the next day.

That night we also had the player’s party at the hotel, so Danielle and I met up with a bunch of foreign players. This one wasn’t quite as extravagant as the first. Although we had a fun night hanging out with our newfound friends, I definitely regret going to the party because the food upset my stomach. It was the only time I actually got sick in China from something that I ate.
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In singles the next day I played another American, Lauren Albanese. It is pretty ridiculous to go all the way to China only to play both of the Americans in the draw. Albanese has been having good results recently so I knew I was going to be in for a battle. She is very hit or miss and doesn’t allow you to get into a rhythm. She hits everything as hard as she can and it either goes in for a winner or to the fence. I had a rough start in the first going down very quickly. I had some chances, but wasn’t able to convert. I lost the first 6-1. In the second, I started working my way into some points and games. We were on serve for the first part of the set, but then I got broken at 3-3 when she hit a bunch of winners. I ended up going down 5-4 and had chances to make it 5-5, but wasn’t able to get it. I made too many errors unfortunately so I lost the second 6-4. It was disappointing, but at least I still had doubles to look forward to.

On Thursday Danielle and I had doubles in the afternoon against Yihong Li and Yan Wang from China. We had a good warm up and even started off well in the match. We stayed on serve in the first set until we finally got the break to go up 5-3. I was able to serve out the set to get the first 6-4. In the second it was a bit back and forth. Neither one of us was playing that well and eventually we lost the set 6-4. We played a super breaker decide the match. Nothing seemed to go right. We didn’t make clear and concise decisions out there and lost 10-2.

My tennis had officially come to an end in China. With Danielle and I both out of the tournament, we decided to head to Beijing to see some sights. We had a full two days before our flight back to the United States so we took the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the culture and see what China had to offer. We were fortunate enough to go to the Great Wall, which was larger than I could’ve ever imagined. I also got to see the Forbidden City, which is where the emperor used to live. We also went to various night markets to try out different Chinese foods. They sold some pretty weird stuff at the markets such as scorpions and larvae.
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All in all it was a good experience visiting China, but I was pretty excited to get home and enjoy the luxuries the United States has to offer such as normal toilets and wifi.