Spectating Friend-Fans

I wanted write an entry about how cool it is to have my friends attend tennis matches. Aside from my family who have been supporting me from day one, it’s great to have friends develop a genuine curiosity about my sport and what I do. 

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When I’m spending time with my friends, I try to minimize my tennis talk. It’s not a very relatable topic, so I spare everyone the details (unless they ask). Even though tennis is a huge part of my life, it is refreshing to converse about other things. Having said that, when my friends do come and watch, I see it as an opportunity to perform and share who I am. The intensity, competitiveness, and energy that goes into a tennis match is a side of me that is rarely displayed anywhere else. 

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On top of fresh incentive to perform, having tennis friend-fans makes for great depth in my support system. I won’t play tennis forever, so it warms my heart when friends want to witness and/or follow this unique period of my career that I have worked my whole life for. I never expect someone to be intrigued by what I do, but it’s a nice feeling when they are. With all the ups and downs of the sport, it’s great to have another group of people, apart from my family, that will be supportive of who I am regardless of my latest results.

 

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Housing Families are the Best 

In a year’s time, I am usually on the road anywhere between 25-30 weeks. When I started my career, I searched for housing to help save on expenses. (Hotel room cost can really add up if you are traveling for more than half of the year.) Luckily I had great housing experiences to start off my career, so from then on out I kept seeking housing opportunities every chance I could. 

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Home Away from Home

Between all the travel and grind, it is nice to be able to have a few weeks out of the year when you get to stay in a home away from home. After a while, all hotel rooms start to look the same. You walk in, there is a bathroom near the entrance, and bedding to follow. Being able to stay in a place with living space and a kitchen can be refreshing. 

Build a Mini Fan Club  

Most host families that offer to host players know a bit about the game. Although these people enjoy watching the big names on television, it is also cool for them to follow someone they have spent some personal time with. I’m always pleasantly surprised when my housing families message me that they were following live scores on random matches. Sometimes they even show up to my matches when I least expect them to. 

Authentic Experience 

Staying with locals is the best way to learn about a new place. The internet is helpful when searching for tourist highlights, but local perspective always adds depth to a trip. If you really want to know what a new place is about, you have to get to know the people. I truly enjoy getting a salt of the earth experience when staying in a local home.

Gets Better Every Year You Return 

It can be uneasy to go into a strangers house and stay with them for a duration of a tournament. I personally need a few days to get a feel for who new people are, but as I get familiar with their backgrounds, routines, and sense of humor, the ice starts to break. By the end of my stay, I’m already looking forward to the next time I will see my host family. I know the next time we meet, I won’t be meeting strangers, but reuniting with familiar faces. It’s awesome to think of the subtle change that happens in a weeks time; to first come as a guest and then leave as a friend. 

@thelittlegiant

Sticking Around After a Loss

Hanging around a tournament after losing is one of the toughest things for me to do on tour. I can find a way to enjoy any place, but after a loss, there is an overwhelming desire to get out of town. Whether it is a challenger or a grand slam, as soon as the event is done, the quickest exit is always preferable for me.

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Why? 

On the days leading up to the first match, there is a lot of unknown; how will I use my preparation time to observe the conditions; will I make the proper adjustments on match day? The ambiguity is thrilling and exciting. It’s like a fun game, up until it’s time to perform, then it becomes either a sweet or harsh reality. 

If I win, I stay and continue to build on the next round. If I lose, it seems pointless to stay with no next round to build on. After a loss, there is a negative vibe that overshadows all other feelings. For me personally, it’s hard to shake off defeat when you don’t change your scenery. 

When do you need to stick around?

When it’s the financially responsible thing to do

It’s nice when there is a cost efficient way to get home or to the next city, but sometimes last minute airfare prices are expensive. In this case, lingering in a city is the financially responsible thing to do.  

When the calendar leaves you no choice

There are certain parts of the calendar when players cannot avoid down time in between events. The gap between Australian Open warm up events and AO qualis is an example of a situation when players don’t have time to make a trip home and also can’t arrive in the next city too early (before courts and training facilities are accessible). The time between Roland Garros and the start of grass season is another instance when lingering in a city is inevitable until it make sense logistically to move on to the next place. 

How to Deal  

For the few times I have to “stick around,” I amuse myself with site seeing and photography. It sounds typical to be a tourist after a tournament is done, but photo taking is key for me. Wandering a city isn’t enough to distract myself from thinking about the most recent loss, so I use photography to occupy my mind since it requires focus and creativity. Capturing a place’s character helps me to be present in the moment. This way I can appreciate the details that make a place unique which at the end of the day, helps me to get the most out of my travels! 

Bring Your Mom to Work #RG19

My mom has become a huge tennis fan ever since I started playing tennis. It’s always nice to bring her to slams so that she could feel VIP in an event that she has been watching over the years. Since this is my second time at Roland Garros, I was familiar with things and could highlight to her the coolest parts about it.

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Nothing marks the start of a grand slam more than an official car waiting outside your residence.

Clay Wall

No one leaves Roland Garros without posing in front of the iconic clay wall. We definitely passed by it multiple times and got different shots, in different outfits, and on good and bad hair days.

Court Philippe Chatrier

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The main stadium went under some renovations in the past year and has actually been made bigger! Mom and I got to sneak a peak at court level when the staff was doing some
finishing touches on court. When I took this picture I thought how cool it was for us to be able to get in here without getting in trouble. In a way, I felt like we were trespassing on private property. Little did I know, I would get lucky enough the following day to practice on it! 

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Jean Bouin

This is the practice site not too far away from the main grounds. I always love seeing the logo on furniture or as wall decor. The designers definitely use the Roland Garros symbol so tastefully. I found some lounge chairs that would go nicely in my backyard and Mom found a bean bag that my dog might like. 

The Gym / Warm Up Area 

This is where you see all the players congregate in this small area to get ready for training and matches. It’s a great place for Mom to people watch since almost everyone has to come through here. 

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There is a sneaky cool Roland Garros logo on that bench!

Needless to say, it was awesome for me to bring this tennis fan to see Roland Garros in person. When I was younger, my mom and I used to wake up at odd hours to watch this tournament, because that was the closest we ever thought we’d get to it. Picking up balls on a public court in Arcadia, CA seemed like such a far ways from Paris, but somehow we managed to make it there in this lifetime. I guess if you work on your day dream long enough crazy things can happen.

@thelittlegiant

The Unique 8 Week Swing 

Just arrived in Paris today for Roland Garros, so I figured it was fitting to talk about how unique this part of the year is. Normally when I leave home, I set out to be on the road anywhere from 2-3 weeks, which makes this 7-8 week swing through grass season very different to manage. Here are a few of my thoughts that I had on my 10 hour flight.

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Long Time Away

Mentally knowing that you’ll be gone for two months can be daunting. Like I mentioned already, I’m used to being gone for 2-3 weeks at a time, and this trip is more than double that amount of time. I travel often, but I still get homesick. Missing family, friends, my routine, and my dog are still things I deal with regularly. Thankfully my mom came with me to Paris and other people at home will catch up with me at certain periods of my trip. It’s always helpful to have a little bit of home come along to aid ones mental and emotional health. 

Packing is a Challenge 

Normally I have a set amount of clothes I bring for a 2-3 week trip and just settle to do laundry maybe once or twice when necessary. That being said, having Wimbledon in your schedule changes things a bit, because you need to bring whites! Whatever clothes I wear at Roland Garros and the grass warm up tournaments can’t be worn at Wimbledon. 

On top of more clothing, I need to bring three types of tennis shoes; clay shoes for Roland Garros; hard court shoes for the practices before grass courts are available; and grass shoes for grass season. There is no other time in the year where I have to bring three different types of tennis shoes. 

In terms of supplies, it’s quite easy to just bring a little more string and a few more grips for your rackets. The more challenging part is bringing enough nutrition. I like to keep things consistent wherever I go so bringing my Picky Bars/Oats and my Saltstick is a must. Saltstick is easy to bring lots of, but bringing enough bars and oats for a 2 month period can add up in your baggage weight allowance. 

All in all, I am accustomed to packing quite minimally, but this trip has so many necessities, packing light is not possible. Good thing my mom came, because I occupied half of her luggage. (Unfortunately, her luggage is still missing as of now – but that’s a story for another post.)

Two Very Different Surfaces 

There isn’t much time between Roland Garros and the first grass season event. With the first grass tournament during the second week of Roland Garros, players are going from slow play to fast play with a week’s time adjustment. Having said that, I find this to be a real dynamic part of our sport. Both surfaces are entertaining in their own way, but at the same time are polar opposites and played so close in the calendar. 

Idea of Two Slams! 

The idea of leaving home and coming back having played two slams is cool to think of. With the other two slams in the year there is so much build up to the events. Prior to the Australian Open, there is the preseason where players have the most amount of rest and time to train for the upcoming year. Not to mention, Australia isn’t an easy place to get to, so the travel there is epic in itself. As for the U.S. Open, there is this long hard court swing in North America that leads up to all the lights and action at NYC. 

For some reason, Roland Garros seems to just creep up on the players every year and once that’s over, grass season starts straight away. With it being the shortest season of the year, Wimbledon comes by in a flash. As I left my house a day ago I thought that the next time I step through my front door, I would have played two slams. Surreal! Maybe it’s just the nerd in me that is just super honored to be participating. 

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Thanks for checking in!

– @thelittlegiant

Spirit in Freedom

It’s been a challenging few months since Australian Open. Losing last round in qualifying left me motivated to be better for next time. Although that seemed like a productive feeling back then, I slowly realized it wasn’t. With every loss and subpar practice, I questioned my preparation and analyzed my play more. There was too much thought and not enough feel in my day to day work. 

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I had this great desire to take advantage of where I was in my career, but the more I wanted it, the farther I got from where I wanted to be. I was at a career high ranking, getting to play WTA events (like Indian Wells) I’ve always dreamed about, but not feeling great inside about my game.  It wasn’t the forehands and backhands, it was something more encompassing. I wasn’t sure what it was, but that unsettled feeling was all over me. 

Totally aware of my inner conflict, I went searching for better perspective. From books, to Youtube videos, to podcasts, I was doing whatever I could to find some mental clarity. A couple things helped, “The Power of Now” was real helpful for me to read. Eckhart Tolle’s writing gave organization and foundation to lots of floating thoughts and concepts that I already knew. Shoutout to my good friend, Eric Matranga, for the recommendation. 

The other piece that really hit home was Lauren Fleshman’s blog post “This Lion Heart Won’t Quit.” It was the evening before my match in Monterrey when I came across her post. I was coming off a string of a few losses, so the anxiety to get a win was consuming me. This post was exactly what I needed, and it felt so right to read it when I did. I loved how Lauren talked about leaving your expectations; to go for it, just for the sake of going for it. That freeness of just “being” and playing for the “feeling” was what I had been lacking. 

The following day, I got that win that felt so far away, and my match point celebration showed how much it meant to me to find my spirit again. 

More to come!

– @thelittlegiant

AO 2019

In 2018, I started off season by making a trek to Brisbane for an Australian Open warm up tournament. At the time, I was the 6th alternate for AO qualifying, and figured I had three weeks for the entry list to move enough where I’d be able to play in my first AO. Day after day I saw my name inch closer as players withdrew. Two days before qualifying started, I showed next alternate on the list and was really liking my chances. That time passed and no withdrawals happened. I recall it to be a stressful time that I tried my best to downplay. 

“If I get in, I get in.” 

That’s what I said, but that’s not what I felt. The most disheartening part was waiting around as an onsite alternate on day one. Sitting in the players lounge, watching every match start with both players ready made for one of the most disappointing days of my life. 

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A year later, I am in the tunnel getting loose for my first round match. With all the nerves in the world: I muttered to myself “Why would anyone choose to put themselves through this?” Then I received a text from Kal, who was standing 10 feet away from me, “I was watching you warm up today – thinking about how far your tennis has come. I’m really proud for you.”  My anxiety left me for a few seconds as I took a moment to remember where I was this time last year. 

Writing about this reminded me of how this tennis life is a vicious cycle with so little room for satisfaction: we lose, we want more, we win, we still want more. At what point are we truly satisfied? Never. We are indefinitely consumed with dissatisfaction. Our obsession to improve makes it easy to forget all that it took to get to where we are. 

I am guilty of this especially when a slam comes around. I get so caught up in preparing myself for peak performance, I don’t fully appreciate everything the event is until a week or so after. A few weeks removed from the trip, I look back at my first AO experience thinking “wow that was really cool.” A part of me wishes I reveled in certain moments a little longer, but I also understand that the demands of a slam only leave room for forward thinking after each win.

There was lots of thoughtful planning that went into creating the best atmosphere for the players. So here’s a bit on what I thought of my first AO experience: 

  • The locker rooms, dining hall, and player’s lounge were all NEWLY constructed. 
  • FOOD options in the cafeteria were well thought out – nothing gourmet, but dishes were well prepared and relatively healthy for the players. 
  • TRANSPORTATION was minimal stress considering it was such a large event. 
  • The PLAYER GIFTS were AO themed, which is ideal for memorabilia. 
  • COOL PERKS were available at the players concierge, not to mention credential holders have access to many city excursions ie golfing, admission to the aquarium, skydeck, zoo etc. 
  • To top it off, NATIVE ANIMALS were brought on site for players to touch and see. 

These are just some highlights that stuck out, but the most rewarding thing about it all was being a part of the unique vibe. The tournament truly was an Aussie experience in itself – one I’ll never forget and one I hope to repeat. As a long time tennis fan, I absolutely loved being there. There is nothing like playing a slam. Personally, it always helps me remember why I do what I do. 

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