Going from Hong Kong to China was tough since HK was amazing with a great venue, city and food. I was playing great and felt I could beat anyone after HK, but every week has different conditions. It’s hard not to have expectations of myself since I am a perfectionist and in theory it seems that when something clicks that you should be able to replicate it over and over again, but that’s not always the case in tennis. Anyway here is my journey through China.
First off if you look up Suzhou on a map it will likely show you that it’s close to Shanghai so you think it can’t be that bad. Then on closer look, you realize that there are two cities named Suzhou with one being close to Shanghai and the other being a 3 hour high speed train into the middle of nowhere. Of course the tournament is held in the middle of nowhere with the closest airport being an hour and half away. The people in this city have seriously never seen white people so they walk right up to you to stare and take pictures. It’s very secluded so many of the people are still clinging to their old customs which include having their kids pee and poop on the sidewalk since many don’t use diapers. The people still buy clothing that have holes in the bottom so that they can have their kids squat and do their business without taking off their clothes. China may have a booming economy but the majority of people aren’t educated and have no manners or social etiquette. Personally I don’t mind China as much as most people but the constant spitting and coughing in your face gets old fast.
Anyway back to the tennis… The tennis courts were brand new and the balls were very soft which made for slow conditions. HK was pretty slow, but the conditions in Suzhou were even slower especially since it was a bit cold. The pollution was horrible so I was ready to minimize my time outside. Practice was interesting in Suzhou since there were a bunch of kids running around with zero supervision trying to steal tennis balls. They would run out onto the court and try to pick up as many as they could. At one point I was serving by myself and had one kid trying to take balls from one side of the court and another on the other side and a third took one of my racquets and was banging it against the ground with not a parent in sight. I had to run around and collect everything and make them leave the court before barricading the gate. Being in China is like being at the zoo. The first day got rained out so all of the matches were moved to Wednesday. I ended up playing a Chinese qualifier in the first round which started off well since I won the first set 6-2, but then it seemed like I forgot how to play tennis and couldn’t get the ball deep enough. I ended up losing 6-3, 6-2 which was a blow considering how well I had played the week before. That’s tennis though…
I fortunately still had doubles the next day with Nina Stojanovic. She’s very laid back and a positive person so I was looking forward to playing with her. First round I was able to get some revenge against the girl I lost to in singles which felt good. We started off up 4-1, but ended up losing the set 6-4. We won the second 7-6 and the breaker 10-6. I played pretty bad, but was glad we pulled out the win.
The following day we played Misa Eguchi and Jennifer Elie. They didn’t miss a ball the first set to win it 6-2 but Nina and I stayed positive and were able to take the second 6-3 as their level wavered a bit. The breaker was a battle all the way with a lot of good points. We ended up down 9-7 and 11-10 before we managed to take the win 14-12. It was a crazy match but Nina and I came up big when it really mattered.
Because the rain messed up the schedule, we had to play one more doubles match that night against the Chinese pairing Xinyu Gao and Fang Ying Xun. Once again we got a slow start, losing the first set 7-5. In the second set we won all four deuce points to take the set 6-2 and as usual we saved our best tennis for the end to take the breaker 10-7.
After a long day of being at the courts we were excited to be into the finals. For our final match, we played the Japanese team of Miyu Kato and Eri Hozumi. They’re a good doubles team who play together a lot so we knew we would have to play well. As usual we didn’t play well in the beginning and lost the first set 6-2. It took us all the way until we were down 5-4 in the second to kick it up a notch. From 5-4 we won 22 out of the next 27 points to win the title 7-5, 10-2. We were stoked to win since it wasn’t looking good for us. It was my first title of the year so I was pumped. Even though I hadn’t been playing my best all week I was still able to tough through it and be there for my partner in the doubles. It was our first time playing together so I think it was a solid effort.
That evening took the train to Shanghai since our flight was first thing the following morning to go to the next tournament. I was happy to get out of Suzhou but I was sad to leave the adorable pig they had in the back of the hotel. I had made friends with it since I gave it pears every day after breakfast. That was by far the best part of Suzhou. Well that and the restaurant we found that had karaoke. Always trying to make the best of every tournament!
As usual, my travel day was my day off so I got one day to practice before the tournament started. I was really excited to be in Liuzhou because there was less pollution and it was closer to civilization. The venue in Liuzhou was really nice with a huge stadium court that was technically indoors for an outdoor tournament. The courts were a bit faster and it was warmer which I was happy about. Since I played in the doubles final the previous week I got a Wednesday start for singles and just had doubles on Tuesday. In the players lounge I found my picture from the doubles final the previous year with Sabina Sharipova.
My partner for the week was Laura Robson. It was our first time playing together but I had a feeling that we would match up well. We drew the same team Nina and I played in the first round the week before so I knew exactly how they played. We came out playing flawlessly and won the set 6-0 before they look a ten minute bathroom break. Our opponents started playing much better in the second and we ended up being down 5-2 after losing four deuce points. We stepped up our game and fought off four set points to win the set 7-6. It was a bit nerve-wracking but we came together as a team and took care of business.
Unfortunately that was the only day that I felt good for the rest of the week since I woke up the next morning very sick. Joel had been sick with the flu in Suzhou so it was only a matter of time before I got it as well. I was up most of the night because I couldn’t swallow at all so I was exhausted in addition to being congested with a headache. In singles I played Xiaodi You and the whole match I felt as if I was drunk. I was super dizzy and was shanking balls everywhere which ended up forcing me to retire in hopes I could still pull it together for doubles.
I loaded up on vitamin C, antioxidants and medicine, but I still felt horrible. In our second round we played Yuqi Sheng and Wushuang Zheng from China. They weren’t ranked very high so I figured that Laura and I could take them out despite me being sick. Of course we played horrible until 6-1, 4-1 when things finally clicked and we were able to win 6-4, 10-5. Our opponents played well and got lucky with every shank and let cord going in on the 3 deuce points they won to go up 4-1 in the second. It was frustrating but I was just happy I didn’t pass out during the match since I had been close a couple times. I spent my days sleeping and recovering as best as I could.
In the semis we faced Ingrid Neel and Karin Kennel. First off the umpire we had was horrible and screwed us on a bunch of important calls which was part of the reason we ended up in the sticky situations of being down 5-3 in both sets. Laura and I were playing pretty well so fortunately we were able to overcome the horrible calls to win 7-5, 7-5 and move into the finals.
In the finals we faced Makoto Ninomiya and Monica Han who are both in the top 100 in doubles. They are both exceptionally good doubles players so we knew it was going to be a tough match. In the first set they beat us to the net every time and ran away with it 6-2. In the second set we took more chances poaching which kept us in the set. We ended up having 3 set points, but unfortunately we weren’t able to convert. We ended up losing the second 7-6, but it was still a pretty good week despite not feeling well.
With my results both weeks I reached a milestone and am now in the top 100 in doubles. It’s hard to believe I finally broke into the double digits and am 96.
After Liuzhou I had a week off before my next tournament so I was able to take a few days off from playing so that I could finally get better. I slowly eased into practice a few days ago and am feeling refreshed and ready to go for Shenzhen! I’m into the home stretch of my season!
Also thank you to Rich Correll from Indy Tennis Network and Manny Edwards from BASEC Tennis training for donating!