The Grind Begins

I know it has been a while since my last blog post since I have been procrastinating. Things haven’t been going as planned so that has made this post more difficult to write. This year I took a longer off season by not playing in the first tournament of the year. My season finished late last year so we felt it was important to put in the hard yards before starting the 2018 season. After Christmas my coach, Joel, and I went to Maui to train for a couple weeks in the sunshine as we waited to see whether I would make it into the Australian Open. We did a lot of tough workouts on the courts in addition to the gym and on the beach so I was feeling strong. Even though we were there for a couple weeks, we barely saw any of the island besides the tennis courts and the beach I would workout on. However I did manage to make it out to the serene Olivine Pools for a afternoon adventure.

As the date of the Australian Open qualifying approached I began to check the online entry list more frequently to keep track of my alternate position. Every time I looked at the list I had a hard time seeing that people would withdraw, but eventually it began to move. Originally I had been about 12 out, but 4 days out I moved up to 4. This sparked all the what ifs. At what point do you decide to pull the trigger and fly down? What is the last possible day you can realistically fly down and still play a match? It was stressful and all consuming making it difficult to focus on practice or anything else for that matter. The qualifying was set to start on Thursday so the decision was that if I moved to 2 out by Monday(Monday evening was last possible flight I could take to make it in time) that I would fly and pray that I would get in.

Sure enough I woke up on Monday morning to see I was 2 out so with there being three days before the tournament, we thought there was a good chance that I would get in. That day I was giddy with excitement about going on my first trip to Australia, but a part of me was also nervous that I wouldn’t get in. I put in my final practice before packing up my things and flying to Honolulu to spend the night at a friend’s house before my early morning flight to Australia on Tuesday. Before I boarded my flight I checked the list one last time, and to my disappointment found that I was still 2 out. The flight from Honolulu to Melbourne was the longest 10.5 hours of my life since I had no way of knowing what was going on. I knew that when I landed in Melbourne I would either be ecstatic or extremely disappointed and those thoughts kept me queasy throughout the whole flight. When my flight landed in Melbourne Wednesday evening, I immediately turned on my phone to check whether I was in and unfortunately found that the list hadn’t moved and that they were currently making the draw. I had known the risk but I had been extremely hopeful that I would have the opportunity to play in my first Australian Open.

Since it was a last minute gamble, Joel didn’t fly down with me however the former assistant coach for ASU, Clint Letcher, moved back to Australia so he came to help me out in the instance that I made it into the tournament. It was good to see a familiar face and be able to catch up. We got a good practice in before I went to my host family, the O’Sullivans to get some rest. The next morning I went over to the courts early to warm up and sign in as an alternate in case someone got sick or hurt overnight. After that it turned into a waiting game as matches were called to court all day. As the day went on, so did my chances which was hard to stomach. Yep I flew all the way to Australia and didn’t get in. It felt horrible but I knew I had to stand by my decision to go because as bad as I felt about not getting in, I would’ve felt even worse if I hadn’t gone and then found out that I would’ve gotten in.
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My ticket back to the U.S. was for Sunday so I had a couple days to practice and enjoy Melbourne. Fortunately I was able to get some practice in between rain showers. It was good to at least get some input on my game from Clint since he worked with me during my time at ASU and knew my game well so we made the best of the situation.

Since it was my first time to Melbourne, Clint was my tour guide and showed me around the sights which was pretty cool. Melbourne is an awesome city with lots of pretty views and good food around. Before heading back to the States we also crashed the player party which was pretty awesome, mainly because of the all you can eat sushi.
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My first trip to Australia wasn’t what I had envisioned, but I tried to make the best of it. I was excited to get to LA and begin preparing for my first tournament of the year in Newport Beach.

WTA 125k Newport Beach, CA

I had the week to practice before qualifying was set to start. I had asked for a wild card into the main draw, but I hadn’t heard back so I could only assume that I didn’t receive one. I got some good practice in during the week but was shocked when I finally went to the tournament site to practice. First off every court was different with little hills and valleys all over in addition to being riddled with cracks. It was difficult to judge what type of bounce you were going to get.

Sign in was on Friday. Friday was also the day that I got the first hint that I was potentially going to receive a main draw wild card, but that I wouldn’t know until sign in finished. In the mean time, we went to try to check into the hotel which became a stressful disaster when I was told that I didn’t have a reservation anymore. I contacted the tournament and they told me that I was moved into a different hotel because supposedly the main hotel was fully booked. They had chosen to move people based on whether they were in qualifying or main draw and I had been bumped. I was not amused since no one had informed me ahead of time that my reservation was elsewhere, and I had booked my room well before the reservation deadline. In addition the other hotel didn’t have free street parking like the main hotel (I had done the research ahead of time which prompted the decision to rent a car), and the hotel charged $27 a night to park the car. I know it is Newport Beach, but that is outrageous. After arguing to no avail we drove over to the other hotel and checked in. It was a pretty nice room overlooking a bay. After a little rest and shower we went back to the site to find out whether I got the main draw wild card. I was thrilled to find out I did so that meant I had a few extra days to practice. Soon after I found out I was in main draw, I was told that there was a room for me at the original hotel. By that point I really didn’t feel like repacking my stuff and moving again so I turned down the room. It never ceases to amaze me how differently players are treated between main draw and qualifying.

Anyway enough about my hotel room rant. I had some good practices, but I wasn’t feeling as sharp as I had hoped going into my first match on Monday. I drew Sofya Zhuk from Russia. I didn’t know much about her so I went into the match ready to play my game and to figure things out as the match went along. Unfortunately I wasn’t match tough yet and felt very off. I was missing my spots on my serves and was struggling to accurately place my groundstrokes. The games were close but I wasn’t able to convert in the key points. I lost 6-1, 6-3. I felt horrible since I had put in a lot of hard work in the off season, but my first match didn’t reflect it. Zhuk was playing well though and she actually made it all the way to the finals so it wasn’t a terrible loss.

The following day I focused on hitting tons of serves and trying to sharpen up my doubles game for my doubles match with Sachia Vickery on Wednesday. We faced Jovana Jaksic and Evgeniya Rodina in the first round. The last time Sachia and I played doubles was at the U.S. Open when my doubles game was very sharp. Although I played a lot better than in my singles match, my reflexes and volleys weren’t as good as they were at the end of the season. It was my first match in two months and it definitely showed. We lost 6-2, 6-2 which was very disappointing. It was not a good week.

The highlights of the week were doing an awesome Illuminati escape room with some other players in the tournament (we escaped!!!), and a spa night that was put together for the players which resulted in a hair cut and massage for me.
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100k Midland, MI

Since my next tournament was starting on Sunday in Midland, we flew out the following morning to get used to indoors. I was excited to see my housing family in Midland because I have been staying with them since the first year I played the tournament in 2010. It is nice to feel like I’m a part of the family because we are on the road so much of the year.

I was in the qualifying draw where I drew Karolina Muchova from the Czech Republic in the first round. We ended up being the last match to go on due to a couple of long three setters before us. After waiting around all day I started very slow and was struggling to find my timing while my opponent got off to a quick start with big serves and aggressive play. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to work my way into the match so I lost 6-2, 6-2. It was disappointing but she played very well.

Photo Credit: Robert Spears
                

Fortunately I still had doubles to look forward to with my partner, Caitlin Whoriskey. We got some good doubles practices in together since we didn’t play our first round until Thursday. In between our practices I had the opportunity to go to some schools to talk to some kids and help out in some of the other activities around the club. In addition I brushed up on my piano skills and was the background music for the dining suite before the night session began which I always enjoy. As fun as that was, I think the coolest thing I got to do at the tournament was hit with Mariana Matias. She is an inspirational woman from Brazil who will be competing in the next deaf Olympics. Currently she works for Dow in Brazil, but Dow is sponsoring her to go to the Olympics and thought it would be a good experience for her to check out the tournament (sponsored by Dow) and tour the company in Midland. She never learned sign language because she didn’t want to be different from everyone so she learned how to read lips and to speak in Portuguese, English and Spanish, which is amazing in itself considering she has been deaf her whole life. On top of that she is also a very good tennis player. When I play tennis I rely on the sound of the ball bouncing and being hit to time my shots so I can’t imagine doing everything off of sight alone. After finishing our practice I walked away inspired by how hard she had to work to overcome all the obstacles that have been thrown her way. She is one of the most inspiring people I have ever met and is living proof that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.
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After three days of practice it was finally time for Caitlin and I to play our doubles match against Julia Boserup and Lesley Kerkhove. They are both big hitters so we knew we would have to change up the pace and attack the net as much as possible. We lost a couple tight deuce games to lose the set 6-3, but in the second we bounced back and began to execute our game plan better to win 6-4. In the super breaker we had a few unlucky points where we didn’t convert and it spiraled away from us 10-3. We are both good doubles players but we didn’t click together as a team enough. It sucked to lose after waiting all week, but sometimes that’s the way it goes.

Photo Credit: Robert Spears
            
I was ready to get out of Midland to go to Orlando to train for the week leading up to my next tournament in Surprise, but before I left Scott Mitchell, the tournament director, roped me into an early morning radio station interview followed by a news interview. For those that know me, I hate mornings… It was fun but a little nerve racking to be doing live interviews where there was no editing. You can check out my news interview here: http://www.wnem.com/clip/14096697/video-dow-tennis-classics-2018-continues
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25k Surprise, AZ

After putting in some good work in Orlando it was time to head to Arizona to adjust to the conditions. We flew in four days early to give me plenty of time to prepare for the quick conditions. Since I played for Arizona State, I practiced with the team for a couple of days before the majority of the players showed up for the tournament. It is always great to be back in Arizona to see my college coach and all of my friends. The tournament started on Tuesday so on Sunday I went to Surprise to practice and then stayed there for the duration of the tournament with my housing family. I always enjoy going out to Surprise since it means that I get to be crafty and make cards with my housing mom, Eryn, who legit has the store Michael’s in her house. We always have a blast hanging out. This year she was also housing Yanina Wickmayer and her coach so it was a very full house.

I felt good going into the tournament since I was playing great in practice. I was confident that this was going to be the week where I would begin to play well and win some matches. Yeah… I was wrong… I drew Marie Bouzkova from the Czech Republic in the first round who is a good young player. I learned that practice means nothing sometimes. When I got into the match I felt like I had no feel so I wasn’t able to play the way I wanted to. I lost 2 and 3 in a very frustrating match so we immediately got back onto the court to try to figure out why I was missing shots that were coming easily in practice. I was determined to be ready for doubles.

The following day Caitlin Whoriskey and I were scheduled to play doubles, but due to rain it was moved to Thursday. This ended up being a good thing since Caitlin’s knee was hurting. In the first round we played Jessica Wacnik and Amy Zhu. We won 7-6(3), 6-2 to give me my first win of the year. I felt my doubles game was a little shaky and didn’t think we were playing too well as a team yet. We were happy to make it to the next round though.

Next up we played my friend and former doubles partner, Danielle Lao, and her partner Su Jeong Jang from Korea. Caitlin and I came together as a team as we began to anticipate each others movements on the court. I felt we played really well together as we moved through to the semis with a convincing 6-3, 6-3 result. Because of all the rain the previous day adding to the amount of matches on the schedule, we finished at sunset so we of course had to take some pictures of it to commemorate our win.
       
In the semis we played Claire Liu and Caty McNally which was one of the most stressful doubles matches I’ve played in a long time. Caitlin and I got off to a really quick start winning the first 6-1. We played flawlessly as we both poached and took over the net. I’m still not quite sure what happened in the second set, but we lost a couple close games and it seemed to slip away 6-2 to them. Now the super breaker is where things got really interesting since they stayed in the lead until 6-3. Once Caitlin and I got it back to 6-6, time seemed to slow down as we dragged on to 7-7, 8-8 and finally 9-9 after we didn’t convert our first match point. We had a couple more chances before they had their first match point, but they got tight as well and missed coupled with good plays from us. It felt like we were just giving the points back and forth to each other in a way. All of us wanted to win and when it gets to 14-14 and 15-15 the pressure continues to build. Caitlin and I made the right moves and got ourselves another match point at 16-15 where I served a perfect ace up the T to finish the match. I remember lining up for the serve thinking that it needs to be an ace because I really didn’t want to play another point. I was excited and relieved that it was over. Caitlin and I were into the finals.

Finals day is always a good day no matter what. Caitlin and I made it to the end of the tournament, which is an accomplishment in itself but we wanted to take the title home. Our final opponents were Yanina Wickmayer and Misaki Doi. Wickmayer won the singles before heading to the court for the doubles final. Caitlin and I played solid to start. We were hitting big and taking it to them as we took over the net to win the first 6-2. In the second set all it took was one break of serve. We lost Caitlin’s serve at deuce to go down 3-1 and unfortunately we weren’t able to break back. In the breaker we went down 4-0 right off the bat with a couple missed volleys. We were behind the whole time but ended up getting it to 7-7 with some good serves and plays. We ended up losing the match 10-8 after making the right plays but not executing. It was irritating since we were right there, but we played the way we needed to play and gave ourselves the chance to win. Caitlin was a trooper since I know she was in a lot of pain during the week and had to pick and choose what balls to run for. She told me she didn’t even think we would make it to the finals based off of how her knee felt, so I applaud her for sticking it out and am happy we were able to take a trophy home at least. Hopefully her knee will get better soon! Our housing families were excited for us and my housing even made shirts which they proudly wore for the finals. Overall it was a step in the right direction since I felt I was playing well and was able to gain some confidence in my doubles. Next it was time to head to California!
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I am also proud to announce my partnership with Wayne Sakamoto from International Health Plans. I will be wearing a patch this year promoting his business. Many insurance plans won’t cover you outside of the country so it is important to have worldwide coverage when traveling abroad. If you’re traveling out of the country you should check out: https://www.internationalhealthplans.com

I also want to thank Matt Henry for his donation and support. It’s always great to have him come out to watch my matches!

Check back soon for my next post!