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

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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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What is the Offseason and Preseason?

After an 18 hour travel day, Andy and I finally made it to Auckland, New Zealand. We left on December 24th and landed on December 26th, basically skipping Christmas all together. It was sad to say good bye to the people at home, but leaving town also marked the end of a tough offseason/preseason and the beginning of a new season, which brings me to the main topic of this post: what does an offseason/preseason entail?

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In plain terms: offseason is time off after completing a season; preseason is the training and preparation for the upcoming season. Unfortunately, time off from competition is short for tennis players. While other sports have months in-between their seasons, tennis has weeks. The nature of our calendar forces us to have our offseason and preseason pressed so short and close together, you might as well consider them the same period of time.

Offseason

For starters, let’s talk about the offseason. It’s forced time off from holding a tennis racket – maybe even any physical activity. The amount of time off varies depending on the player. It’s tricky to calculate how long of a period you want to reset and refresh, while leaving enough time to ramp up your fitness and tennis to be sharp for the starting day of competition.

Personally, I took 2 weeks off from tennis, but was already getting into the gym 5 days into my “time off.” Although I ended the last season with a few body ailments, I healed quickly after getting some consistent PT and was ready to be active as soon as I could.  A lack of physical activity makes me cranky and antsy.

Although the offseason is used to physically get away from the courts, I still wanted to be productive and start mapping out preseason plans. Looking back at the year, I thought about what I wanted to add or subtract to my preparation. It’s nice to be able to assess everything when you have had time to emotionally detach from your results. Once day one of preseason came around, my coaches and I were pretty clear on our intentions moving forward and were ready to start working with a deeper purpose.

Preseason

Preseason is a combination of technical refinements and fitness gains that enhances your tactical arsenal. Finding that fine line between working on new concepts and polishing the familiar ones takes some feel and the proper mentality.

I personally get carried away with anything new and exciting, so it’s a good thing I have my two coaches helping me navigate as I go. This offseason, the focus was to refine the groundstrokes and to crush the legs in cross training. 

After being away for half the year, primarily focusing on tennis and fitness goals, this time at home gives me an opportunity to catch up in my lacking social life. I miss many holidays and birthdays during the year, so this short period of time creates great urgency for me to go to as many social events as possible.

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I love catching up with people and I feel like there are not enough hours in the day for me to be able to see everyone. If I am not occupied trying to resuscitate my social life, I’m mildly stressing about plans for the next trip; tournament choice, dates, flights, accommodations, transportation etc. There is always something to get busy with, which makes it challenging to settle down.

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By the time I felt I reached a sense of normalcy at home, it was time to head out again. My life is a constant change in pace, but I do my best to find joy in all of it. As much as I looked forward to my offseason at the end of last season, it didn’t take long for me to get the itch and back to work. Even though I wish I had more time to spend with my family and friends, I also enjoy my time with myself on the road. It makes me sad to think of leaving home, but I also can’t wait to get to the next place to compete. The endless variance makes for a unique rhythm in my life. It can be overwhelming sometimes, but I’m happy there is always something to keep me on my toes.

Accidental Validation (U.S. Open – Japan – California)

Where to begin on recapping these past 2 months? I guess I can start with how crazy this U.S. Open experience was. There was a whirlwind of emotions that happened in the span of a couple weeks. One week out from the event, I still was an alternate on the acceptance list, so plans were up in the air on whether I would be making the New York trip or not.

After a three hour practice (detached from my phone), I checked my messages and saw a few texts saying “Congrats on U.S. Open.” Did I miss something? I was in an area with spotty service, so looking up social media feeds and online articles was a challenge. By the time I got good service, I put two and two together that I may have gotten a wildcard into qualifying.

Fast forward a week and a half later of packing, prepping, and total New York craziness, I am being escorted to an interview with Tennis Channel to talk about qualifying for my second U.S. Open Main Draw.

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I had repeated the magic from last year. It felt different, but it was still immensely special, a different special. Last year, the U.S. Open was new territory and I was somewhat naive to the gravity of everything. This time around, I was aware of what I was getting into; the pressure, the excitement, the desire to perform. It was all very relevant, whereas last year I was oblivious to it all.

Making this happen again, whilst knowing what to expect was an even greater accomplishment than the first time around. The anticipation and expectation built up for the Open created a level of anxiety I have never experienced before. Although I try not to find validation in results, finding a way to steer through all the clutter and find peak performance was as huge testament to what preparation and having the right people around you can do.

After losing to a top 30 opponent in the first round, I was incredibly sad that this U.S. Open experience had to come to an end, but was also looking forward to how I can be better from it. I was committed to not let this loss be a stumbling block like last year’s heartbreaking first round. In order to do that, I gave extra attention to working on my mentality on the upcoming days/weeks going into the Asian fall swing.

Grabbing a couple wins in Japan against top tier players was vital. It was nice to know that I had made the proper mental adjustment from the previous year. Personally, as a player, that is more meaningful growth than improving a stroke.

Tokyo was definitely one of my favorite cities I have been to, so I had mixed emotions about returning back to the states. Roaming around in Japan was the perfect me-time I needed after all the chaos leading up to the U.S. Open and I was wanting to hold onto it for a bit longer.

When I got back to California, I had a quick turn around to play the 60k in Templeton, California. With a subpar first round performance, I spent a lot of time until the next week’s event (60k Stockton, California) trying to dismiss the bad energy. After all I had learned in the past 2 months, I was still fighting myself after one loss. Looking back in hindsight, I find it amazing how this sport can do that to you. It takes so much to build up belief, and so little to create doubt.

Waiting for the Stockton event to start felt like an eternity. I was actually rained out the day of my first match, so was scheduled to play two matches the following day. (Totaling nearly 5 match hours in one day). Somehow my body held up for two more matches after and I found myself in my first 60k final this past Sunday.

Although bested by my opponent in the final, I walked away from that event with lots learned about myself and how I need to press on to be better. With a few weeks off from tournaments, I’m looking to have some down time to get the body and mind right for the final push of the year.

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Here’s a slideshow of all the people behind the scenes that make it happen. Really grateful for the environment that I’m in. Not pictured: Picky Bars, Saltstick, Tennis Warehouse, and Mizuno – but I felt like you guys hear about them enough already!

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Finding Peaks Every Day

Instead of a play by play update this time, I figured I would change things up and tell you all more about what has been going on mindset wise since the last time I had written. I have always known how mentality is key in tennis, but it has been more prominent to me now more than ever. With that said, I have been working on it just as much if not more than every other physical aspect in my game. Your mentality pervades into your everyday life, because you take it with you wherever you go.

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Altogether, I have been working on being more present with everything I do. Some people refer to it as mindfulness. I feel they are one in the same thing. With all the planning and goal setting that comes with tennis, it’s easy to stray away from giving this moment everything you have – to be all here (wherever you are). Lately, I have found my awareness for this has helped my performance as well as brighten my love for the game.

With more presentness, I’m also trying to improve on being more accepting of what each moment is. My desire for perfectionism and maximization often make me quick to judge a situation or measure it up to some sort of expectation. Although it’s great to have a perfect image or vision to shoot for, it can be counter productive if mismanaged by emotion. Moving forward, I am looking to accept more and judge less.

The last thing that binds everything together is gratefulness. I feel thankful to my parents for not pressuring me to get a real job or to move out of their house. I feel lucky to have friends accept me for my lifestyle. I feel fortunate to have coaches that believe in my potential. Conclusively I feel blessed that I am enabled to live a life where I get to wake up everyday and grow with a sport I love.

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There are many people I have come across in the past 20 years of tennis that have contributed to this epic body of work. Thinking about all and who I have to be grateful for fuels my motivation to find that peak performance; to be more present than I have been before; to not waste another moment to be better.

New Things – Same Vision

Following my Lack of Luster post, things started to kick into gear. I found myself planning yet another three week trip to China in Zhengzhou, Quanzhou, and Anning. 

Having the beginning of the year I had, I was desperate for some uplifting results. Finding victory over a top hundred and a top two hundred opponent in Zhengzhou was exactly what my confidence needed; not to mention the fact that it was my first WTA quarterfinal. The following week had stiff competition as well, but I managed to scrape out more victories. It meant a lot to me to quarterfinal back to back weeks. Sustaining that high level for many days in a row was the only way to build up internal belief. 

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(Side note: allow me to introduce Andy Gerst. We’ve been working together for the first half of this year and he’s becoming an awesome influence to my game in addition to all of Kal’s sage wisdom.) 

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When it came time to leave China, I felt the usual excitement to be home, but also an unusual sense of appreciation and acceptance for the country that I’ve strongly disliked. Leaving with different sentiments this time, I knew deep down that China changed me for the better. I was pushed to perform under the most difficult circumstances. Instead of resentment, I felt grateful for every inconvenience. Every moment was a challenge to see if I can be better than the situation. 

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Carrying that into the preparation for Roland Garros, I was mentally in a good place to embrace a surface that I have never been comfortable on. With good vibes permeating from practice, I was amped to arrive in Paris. Being on the Roland Garros grounds, seeing the tournament emblem everywhere, touching the most pristine red clay, and standing inside Philippe Chatrier were things I thought only happened when I closed my eyes at night. Kal and I always joked about how we could never do clay, but here we made it (thousands of fed balls later) to the biggest clay tournament in the world. 

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Although putting in a solid training block before Paris had me feeling more confident on clay than in previous years, there was lots to be said about how much more I need to learn about this game when it came time to compete. Although my disappointing showing at Roland Garros got me down about life for a few days, I had some good people around to help get me mentally ready for what laid ahead. Tennis can be tough in that way. All it takes is a brutal loss to make you question the process and the vision. As I do this longer, I can’t stress how important the people around you are to bring clarity when you lose it. 

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After Roland Garros, I stayed in Paris to sitesee and practice until it came time to travel to the Surbiton for the first grass tournament of the year. Aside from being able to see Roland Garros as it was going on, I got to see a lot of Paris and improve my photography skills (thanks to my friend Michael Wong).

Here are a few of my favorite shots from a week of being everywhere in Paris. ​

Leaving Paris, I felt like I had an in-depth Parisian experience and was ready to relocate. Arriving in Surbiton was comforting in the sense that it was familiar. My Surbiton mom, Jeny Werner, and her family were nice enough to let me stay with them again. She even let me bring my sister, Adrienne, and Andy along. Other than providing the best environment for me to prep for grass season, this was an amazing experience for my sister. I have always wanted to share with her how traveling and staying with locals is a culturing experience. I could not have thought of a better situation to put her in to see what I mean. 

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Grabbing a solid victory to start off grass season in Surbiton relieved some of the stress building up ever since the tough loss in Paris. From that point on, court time just grew more enjoyable every time I stood on that living surface. When the Surbiton tournament ended for me, I took some time to see London and practice my photography skills some more.

Here are some of my favorite shots of London.

Following Surbiton was the WTA in Nottingham. By this time, it was just Andy and me left on the trip. The guy is pretty good company, except for when he is drinking or eating something I am not “allowed” to because it’s not good pre competition food (haha). But in all seriousness, thank you Andy for all the little things you do to help me be a better player and more importantly for being a good sport when I make fun of your forehand.  

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The results in Nottingham were a direct reflection of the good vibes. I worked through qualifying and got a chance to play a main draw match. Although we didn’t get the result we wanted in the first round of main, both Andy and I saw the match in a positive light moving forward. 

 

On my last day in Nottingham, I spent an afternoon with my past USC teammate Gugu Olmos just to catch up on life. Although Nottingham is not as touristy as London, we managed to grab a few cool shots. Looking at the pictures we took that day and thinking about how we are both still chasing the dream makes me smile.

In terms of what is next for me: I plan to be home for a few weeks to unwind and reboot before heading out again for the summer hard court season. Looking forward to some unpacking and equipment organizing. I’ve been gone for a while so my room will end up looking like a flat bruce picture gone wrong. Much love to Mizuno, Saltstick, Picky Bars, and Tennis Warehouse for overly equipping me to get after it every day. 

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