It has been over a week since I have started my preseason, and I have barely had any time since to do anything besides train. I do want to write about my best tournament of not only my season, but of my career. I went to Hawaii with no expectations since I was lucky to even be in the draw, but I was playing well and feeling good.
The first couple days were a bit rough since I was extremely jet-lagged. It’s safe to say that after 10 weeks in Asia that I was used to the time zone. I was waking up at 4 am, but at least I got to see the sunrise. Those who know me are aware that I am not a morning person and love my sleep so I don’t see sunrises very often. Honolulu was nice, but I actually prefer Maui because it’s more peaceful. The host hotel was on the beach in Waikiki, but of course my days were spent at the tennis center in central Oahu which was a 30-45 minute drive depending on traffic. I would see the beach every morning from my balcony, but other than that I went to the beach the first morning I woke up and the final night after I lost. Between that there was no time for fun and games. That was partly because of all the rain delays though. Most people think that when you play a tournament in Hawaii that you get to enjoy your surroundings and are on vacation, but that is not the case however I wouldn’t change that week for anything.
I didn’t have my first match until Tuesday because I had requested a later start due to coming from China the week before. When the draw came out I saw I had another great draw. I drew the second seed once again, but I wasn’t worried since I knew I had what it took to win the match. I had played Nicole Gibbs in the juniors and in college so I was familiar with how she plays. I knew she wouldn’t ever give up and that I would have to go out and take the match. It was extremely windy the day, but I dealt with it well and played within myself. I won the first set 6-3 without any breaks. In the second I went down 5-4, but was able to break her serve and get onto a roll to win the set 7-5. I was happy especially since I won my first WTA main draw match. I also got to share the excitement with one of my friends who lives in Honolulu, so it was that much more special.
Next up I had Jamie Loeb who is also a very accomplished player. She won NCAAs just like Gibbs and then chose to turn pro. I knew it would be a grind and she came out firing. Even with the brutal wind, she didn’t make many errors. I lost the first set 6-3, but by the end of the first I had a game plan set that I was confident was going to work. I ended up winning the second 6-1 and then going up 2-0 in the third. The conditions were tough since there was a lot of wind, but about every 20 minutes it would start to sprinkle so we would have to sit on court and wait for it to pass. I lost my way a little bit and ended up going down in the third 5-3. She even had a couple of match points, but I fought hard and was able to come back to win 7-5. It was exhilarating and I felt like I was on the top of the world, but my day wasn’t over. I was still scheduled to play doubles later that day, but around 7 pm they were cancelled due to rain. Long days…
On Thursday I wasn’t scheduled to play singles, but for some reason they put two doubles on the schedule. I was playing doubles with Akiko Omae from Japan. She’s full of energy and one of the happiest people I have ever met, so I knew it was going to be fun playing with her. She’s also a very good doubles player. We were facing Jamie Loeb and Hiroko Kuwata, another solid team. It kept on raining so it was constantly pushed later and later. It was a long tough match, but we were able to pull through to win 7-5, 6-7(3), 10-1. We saved our best tennis for the tiebreak that’s for sure. This was also my first doubles win in a WTA, so yet another first.
That night we still played the first seeds, Miyu Kato and Eri Hozumi from Japan. They were pretty solid and crossed a lot. We couldn’t catch a break with all the deuce games and lost 6-3, 6-3. In the second we lost 4 deuce games to go down 5-0, before we started to get it back. We ended up losing the match on yet another deuce game however. By this point it was 9 pm so I couldn’t even dwell on the loss. Would’ve been nice to have made the finals, but making the semis was ok as well. I went back to the hotel to eat and get ready, but it was still close to midnight before I went to bed.
I was in the quarterfinals of singles against Wimbledon finalist, Sabine Lisicki. The next morning it was the same routine, but towards the end of my warmup it started raining and it wouldn’t stop. We waited for about 7 hours for it to clear up and dry, and there was nowhere to go. They didn’t set up an actual lounge for us. Instead they just put a bunch of plastic chairs around some tables in an open area. I spent most of the day in the training room laying on the massage table so my back wouldn’t get tight. We finally went on as it started to get dark, so we played under the lights. At first it took me a while to get used to her pace. She has a huge serve and big groundstrokes, but I adapted. I lost the first set 6-3, but I bounced back. I went up 5-3 in the second and then she took a medical timeout for her shoulder right before my serve. It felt like she was trying to throw me off, which worked. I lost the next two games, but ended up winning the set 7-5. In the third I held my serve and then broke her to go up 2-0. She then retired due to injury. It wasn’t the way I wanted to win the match, but I was playing great and I felt I was going to run away with the third since she looked tired. I was into my first WTA semi and it felt unbelievable. It was late when I finished and I my body was feeling the long days and the number of matches. I did everything I could to best recover for the semis the next day.
On Saturday I face CiCi Bellis, who is a great up and coming player. She’s young, but already in the top 100 and winning events. I have had some close matches with her and have played doubles with her so I knew her game going into the match. That morning I felt pretty good throughout warmup, but once the match started I realized I was a step slow. Bellis wasn’t playing doubles and didn’t have long matches on her road to the semis. I lost the first set 6-0 and went down 3-0 in the second before I started hitting everything as hard as I could (within reason). I realized I could overpower her so I began to start swinging things my way. At 5-4 we had a long deuce game where I had chances to get it to 5-5, but I wasn’t able to convert. I lost 6-4. I was upset with the loss, but I knew it had been a good tournament for me and that was something to be proud of. I was playing at a top 100 level, and I lost to the eventual champion. It was a great week and I had a lot of support during the tournament. There were a lot of people coming out to watch, and it felt good to have people come up to me and say that they liked the way I play.
That evening I went to the beach for the second time and went for a swim with my coach Joel and our good friend Tom from Maui. He had flown over from Maui for the day to watch my match. He is a great fan and supports my tennis. It was a good way to end my time in Honolulu before getting on a flight to Seattle that night. I was looking forward to being home and doing nothing since my body was broken down. I was barely getting up in the mornings due to my back and heels hurting.
After a week in Seattle relaxing, a couple days in Vegas for vacation, and 10 days of training, I’m feeling very good about 2017. Life is good.