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Moving to China

So I didn’t really move to China, but it sure felt like it since I spent 51 days there. After Tianjin I played four more tournaments before calling it quits in China. China gets a bad rep, but it really isn’t that bad. Yes the pollution is bad in northern China, but once you go south it is significantly better. The people are generally pretty rude and some of the customs are disgusting, but the delicious food makes up for it. At least the hotels were pretty nice even when the tennis courts were hit or miss.

Most people have asked me how I survived in China that long since in many ways it is behind in time. They have the technology like the fantastic trains, but other things like wifi never work. In general you just have to be flexible and go with the flow, otherwise you will be miserable. Most players are too scared to eat anywhere besides the hotel, but we would find small, local restaurants to eat at around the hotel. The western food is always terrible in China so it is much better to avoid it. At the end of this post I will leave a list of things I liked and disliked about China. Now for the tournaments…

 

Suzhou 10/14-10/22

There are two cities called Suzhou. One is close to Shanghai and the other is in the middle of nowhere with the closest airport being 2 hours by bullet train. Can you guess which one the tournament was at? The middle of nowhere as always. The city was tiny, but they had a fairly large tennis center with a nice stadium court. They didn’t bother washing the courts, but it wasn’t too bad.

In singles I was the last person to not make it into the main draw so I had to play qualifying. Lucky for me the draw wasn’t full so I only had to win two matches to qualify. I played two Chinese players and beat both to qualify for the main draw. I didn’t play very well in the first match, but I found my game in the second and won easily.

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In the main draw I played another qualifier who was from Korea. I started off slow and lost the first 6-3, but then I stopped missing and won 6-1, 6-2. I played very aggressive and served well. I also had doubles with a girl from Uzbekistan named Sabina Sharipova. It was my first time playing with her, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew she was a good singles player, but other than that I didn’t know much about her. We played a couple of Thai girls who were also the second seeds in the first round. The first set was close as we figured out how to work together, but we won it 6-3. The second set we broke early and just maintained our lead to win 6-3. That concluded the outdoor portion of the tournament.

The rest of the week it rained every single day. All day every day so there was no chance of going outside. There were no indoor courts anywhere in the town, except two courts that were in an empty factory building. The owner had the courts for his employees to use, which was extremely lucky because otherwise the tournament would’ve been cancelled. The courts were a mess though.. They were a bit slick because there was grease on them and some of the lights didn’t work, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. The first day we just played our second round of doubles in which Sabina and I beat a Chinese team 6-1, 6-3.

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The following day I had singles against a girl named Chang Liu from China. After beating her in doubles I felt good going into the match, but things didn’t go as planned. I normally hit for an hour before my matches so I get a good start, but with the limited courts I could only hit for 15 minutes. I did not play well in my match and it didn’t help that the chair umpire was giving my opponent any calls that she could because she’s Chinese. The umpires are so biased that it isn’t even fair. I lost 6-2, 6-0. I was very disappointed with my performance but I bounced back for my doubles with Sabina. I had to be a good parter for her. We played Xinyun Han and Ipek Soylu who are two top 100 doubles players, but we weren’t intimidated. By this point I was warmed up so I played great. Neither one of us missed and we took them apart. The final score was 6-2, 6-2. By this point we knew that we made a good team since we were beating good teams without losing a set. With that win we were into the finals.

The day of the finals I was a bit stressed out because I was just barely out of main draw, and it was going to be very difficult to make qualifying at the next tournament because it was far away. Once sign in opened I found out that I would in fact move into the main draw so I could relax. We didn’t go on for the final until early evening because they had to play a ton of singles matches that day. We were up against Akiko Omae and Hiroko Kuwata from Japan. They are both very good doubles players. They’re little but they cross on everything pretty effectively, which makes them very tough. We didn’t play as well as we had in previous matches and we lost a ton of deuce points. I really thought we were going to win the title but we lost 6-1, 6-3. Either way it was a good performance for our first tournament together.

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There wasn’t much in Suzhou but I was actually kind of sad to leave because we had found an amazing local restaurant that would cook us whatever we wanted. We would bring them vegetables that we wanted and they would cook them and add a delicious sauce to them. I don’t know if the workers had ever seen white people because they were obsessed with us. We went back every day, but it was time for us to head to the next tournament. We had to take a 3 hour train ride to Beijing and then spent the night there before catching an early 3 hour flight to Liuzhou. There weren’t many flights so we had to wait until Monday at 7 am to fly out. It was a travel day from hell.

 

Liuzhou 10/24-10/29

One of the most exciting things about Liuzhou was that there was less pollution since it was further south. The tournament was away from the city so there wasn’t too much around it. I started the tournament with doubles on the first day with Sabina Sharapova. We drew the second seed, which happened to be the team we played first round in Suzhou. It had rained a little bit so we played our match indoors. We started off a little slow, and even went down 5-4 before winning the set 7-5. In the second we stayed ahead and won 6-2.

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In singles I drew the 3rd seed Yafan Wang from China. She’s solid and ranked around 130 so I knew it was going to be a tough match. I played on center court which was technically indoors with a few windows on the sides. It was a huge center court similar to what you see at grand slams, so it was fun to play on it. The first set was pretty rocky since she hit everything as hard as she could and I wasn’t able to catch a break. The second was a lot better but I wasn’t feeling great about the way I was playing. I lost 6-2, 6-4. I was pretty upset with my result since I wasn’t playing to full capacity.

Fortunately I still had doubles to look forward to. We beat a pair of Chinese girls 7-5, 6-2 to get to the semis, and then two girls from Taipei 7-6(6), 6-4 to get to the finals. In both matches we went down 4-1 before we started playing well. The deuce games were killing us at the beginning, but I was glad we got it together by the end.

The finals were on Saturday and we were excited to be playing for another title. We played all of our matches except for one indoors, which was bizarre since it was supposed to be an outdoor tournament. Sabina was a little stressed going into the final because she had to catch a flight that night in order to leave China before her visa expired. Luckily the matches before us didn’t take too long so we were going to finish the match in plenty of time. Our opponents were Veronika Kudermetova and Aleksandra Pospelova from Russia. Once again we went down 4-1, but we weren’t too worried since it was familiar territory. They were a solid team and Kudermetova had one of the biggest forehands that I have ever seen. We lost the first 6-2 and then the second remained close, and we even had a couple chances to get it to 5-5, but in the end we lost 6-4. Making back to back finals still felt pretty good.

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Chenzhou 10/30-11/5

The following day we got on a train to Chenzhou which was an easy 4 hour train ride away. Chenzhou was a 25k in southern China. It was raining when we got there, so we couldn’t even go practice. The tournament ended up being held on two indoor courts at the hotel. They were nice courts, but they were lightening fast. Any time a ball hit the line the point was over.

Since I had played through the end of the week, I got a later start for singles so my tournament began with doubles. I played doubles with Aleksandrina Naydenova from Bulgaria who is in the top 100 of doubles. She and I became friends during my previous trip to China so I was looking forward to playing with her. We drew a wild card in the first round who we beat 7-5, 6-0. It took us a while to get used to playing together and the courts, but by the second set we were playing great. Since there were only two courts Joel and I practiced early in the morning before matches started. Otherwise everyone only got 15 minutes to warm up before matches started.

The next day I had singles against third seed, Veronika Kudermetova. I couldn’t seem to catch a break with draws. I lost 6-0, 6-4. Needless to say I did not play well. It was not a good matchup for me on those quick courts. I needed to change the pace up on her flat hard balls, but it was nearly impossible since the ball was coming off the courts so fast.

At least I still had doubles, and this time I wanted to take a title home. Aleksandrina and I beat another Chinese team 6-2, 6-1. The following day we played Veronika Kudermetova and Kamila Kerimbayeva from Kazakstan. We started off slow and lost the first set 6-3. In the second set we started figuring out that we needed to stay back a bit more to not give Kudermetova a target. We took the second 7-6(3). I was not serving very well so that was pretty frustrating. We couldn’t seem to win my serve that day. I was able to serve a bit better toward the end of the second and in the third set breaker. There were a lot of very tight points in the breaker, but we were able to pull it out 10-8. We were excited to be going into the final.

On the day of the finals, the weather finally cleared up enough to move matches back outside. It was possible to see the tennis courts from the hotel, but we were shocked how nice the courts actually were. They looked to be newly resurfaced. We played Angelina Gabueva from Russia and Sofia Shapatava from Georgia. Aleks seemed to be a bit down after losing singles that day so I knew it was up to me to pump her up. We lost the first set 6-3 and went down 2-0 before we started making our comeback. We won a couple deuce games to get us ahead in the set and were able to take it 6-4. By that point the wheels were starting to fall off. The team started off flawlessly, but we gave them constant pressure and over the course of the match we only got stronger. We won the breaker 10-6 to take the title. Third time really was the charm this time. We played well together for it being our first time together, so hopefully we will team up again sometime.

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With the tournament over, it was time to head to Dongguan to practice for a week. My athletic trainer from college is working in China and happened to have a friend who owns an academy. I went there earlier in the trip to train for the week leading up to Tianjin so I knew it was a good spot to train at. Since I had played so many tournaments in a row we decided it would be smart to take a week to train and prepare for the 100k in Shenzhen, China. One last tournament in China and I wanted to be ready for it. In that week we took off we took a gamble and changed my forehand grip. I needed to make it a bigger weapon and Joel and I figured we didn’t have anything to lose since I wasn’t doing well in singles anyway. It was a good week of training and enjoying the food around the city. I especially enjoyed all the fruit such as sugar apples, dragonfruit, and passionfruit.

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Shenzhen 11/12-11/19

I got into the main draw of Shenzhen, so on Saturday we drove the hour to the tournament site. I was able to get some solid practice in Saturday, Sunday and Monday before having my first match on Tuesday. Shockingly Shenzhen was the nicest city we had been in, but it was the worst hotel and there wasn’t too much in the way of really good food in the area. I somehow survived though.

I played doubles with Sabina Sharipova again since we had been playing well together. She have problems with her visa so she wasn’t able to arrive until Monday night. The following day we had doubles against Na-Lae Han and Su Jeong Jang from Korea. As usual we started off a little slow and went down 3-0. We came back and won the set 7-5. In the second we went up, but weren’t able to maintain our lead and ended up losing 7-5. In the super breaker we had chances at 9-8 and 10-9 to win the match, but we weren’t able to close it out. I was upset since it felt like I had them on my racquet. I wasn’t able to put the high volley away and I missed a return. I know it takes two to win or lose, but it was a tough match to swallow.

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In singles I drew the second seed, Ying-Ying Duan, who was ranked 100 in the world. Another week, another tough draw but this time I was determined to turn my luck around. In the first set we stayed on serve most of the set since she is tall and a has a huge serve. In the first game she hit two aces and then double faulted twice. I knew that I would be able to break her down if I stayed with it long enough. She didn’t move very well and it was hot out, so my game plan was to move her around. I took the first 6-4 and got off to an early lead in the second. Duan was visibly tired so I kept the pressure on her and won the second 6-2. I was excited to finally beat one of the seeds. I played great and was hitting huge so I was excited about my next round.

The following day I played qualifier Hanyu Guo from China. She was short and much faster than Duan. We had some very long games early on where I was able to wear her out, so I won the first 6-2. She took a bathroom break after the first and came back visibly refreshed. She began to attack more and with some favorable calls, she went up a break in the second. I fought back and ended up winning the second 7-5. With that win, I was into the quarterfinals and it was also my best result of the year.

Next up I had 6th seed Lin Zhu. By this point I had learned that when playing Chinese players in China that I needed to request a non-Chinese umpire. The Chinese umpires are extremely biased and have a lot of pressure on them to make the Chinese players win. I came out playing great in the first set. I hardly made any errors and played within myself to win the first 6-4. In the second and third I lost a lot of close games which made the difference. I lost 6-2, 6-2 but I felt good about my game.

I couldn’t even dwell on my match because right after I needed to make a decision as to where I was going. I was supposed to go play a 25k in Nashville, but I found out that I was going to move into the main draw of the 125k WTA event in Honolulu, Hawaii. It was a no brainer, but it took some paperwork in order to change our plans and head to Hawaii. I was going to get a fine for playing the bigger tournament, but it was going to be my first main draw in a WTA so I was excited. We booked a flight for the next night from Hong Kong to Beijing to Honolulu. We were set to leave Saturday evening at 7, and arrive in Honolulu at 4 pm on Saturday. It was a pretty bizarre time difference but I was happy to be going.

 

Things I liked about China

  • Bullet trains
  • All of the exotic fruit
  • Everything was cheap
  • All of the vegetable dishes (especially anything with lotus root)
  • Dongguan
  • The markets

Things I disliked about China

  • Fake wifi (aka fakefi)
  • People were rude and would constantly stare
  • No personal space
  • People were unhelpful
  • Not many people spoke English
  • Chinese toilets/no toilet paper in said toilets
  • Lack of clean water
  • Crazy driving
  • Poor air quality