Week 1: COVID 19 Sneaks Up

Here are a few moments before things took an extreme turn. Before returning home after the Indian Wells 125k event, I got together with the Tennis Warehouse crew to shoot some footage. It was a great change in pace to hang out with a whole bunch of tennis dorks.

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Tenniswarehouse Video

Shortly after returning home, the buzz about the Corona virus was surfacing. Initially I was not sure what to think of it. Is the whole world overreacting? Are people getting overly paranoid? Am I missing something here? I definitely didn’t see the cancellation of BNP Paribas coming, but when it did, I realized this was big.

As soon as BNP Paribas made the big announcement, there was lots of uncertainty on how much of the tennis season would be affected. Despite all of this, I managed to remain optimistic while public courts were still open. Amongst all the craze, this seemed like the safest place to be; outdoors where the fresh air is and more than 12 feet away from the next person.

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As more news saturated the media, I started seeing the writing on the wall. COVID 19 had the potential to close down LA county. It was overwhelming to think of all crazy scenarios that could arise. Slipping into survival mode, I felt myself bracing for change with a high performance mindset. It’s crazy how this has become a natural habit.

What can I control and how can I go about it in a productive way?

The first thing I wanted to look into was my training routine. How was I going to maintain my regiment if Los Angeles reached a point where gyms became unavailable? This pushed me to take inventory of all my exercise equipment at home which lead to the decision of purchasing a stationary bike. Clicking “add to cart” on Amazon was easy. The tough part was making space for the contraption. I spent a whole day cleaning out my room and playing Tetris with whatever was left of it. Check out this video to see a very confused dog amongst my chaotic mess.

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My sister and I spent an evening assembling the bike, while Dad and dog popped in and out to supervise. Under any other circumstances, I would have been building this bike alone, but since my family had started to limit our out-of-house activities, I had some extra hands. It was cool to see how such a mundane task became a family project.

Did it really take a world changing event for us to enjoy the simple things together?

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Click for Video

Even though the world was encouraging physical distance, I felt more connected to people in ways I didn’t before. It’s as if the rising awareness of this pandemic was bringing people to support one another from a far. Having said that, I am super grateful for my teammates on tour. We have always been supportive of each other’s careers, but now more than ever, we are helping each other beyond the tennis court.

With our life’s work on hold, I’m glad I don’t feel so alone during this scary time.

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Hope you enjoyed the update, maybe found some helpful nuggets, or at the very least were entertained by my dog videos.

Takeaways from Week 1:

  • Think about what you can control and how you can go about those things in a productive way.

  • Enjoy the simple moments with the people you’re with.

  • People can be apart but still feel connected. Reach out, because lots of people need it right now.

Be Safe and Well,

@thelittlegiant

 

Prequarantine – Australian Open 2020

The start of 2020 was filled with positive vibes. I got to be a bridesmaid for my best childhood friend, Tiffany. There were floating opinions on me skipping the wedding in order to get a warm up tournament before Australian Open qualifying, but I knew I couldn’t miss this important day. Even though I was not the most experienced bridesmaid (thank goodness the others knew what they were doing), I loved being there for the bride in my unique way.  The wedding turned out to be amazing and I could not have hoped for a more loving atmosphere for Tiffany on her special day.

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As soon as the wedding was over, I switched gears quickly to set my mind completely on the first slam of the year. Coming off a great preseason, I arrived in Melbourne with some quiet confidence in my preparation and fired up to compete.

AO 2020 Arrival Video

The first match was brutal conditions. There was loads of controversy with whether it was safe to put players out to compete in the atmosphere the fires created. I remember waiting in the lounge as the tournament postponed the matches hour by hour hoping that the air quality would improve. By the time I was put on court, it was the hottest point in the day (mid 90s to 100) and still smokey. Reflecting back on it, I am certain it was the toughest conditions I have ever competed in. Getting the win in two long sets was a relief. As I walked off the court, my only thought was to get indoors and breathe some clean air. 

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The fatigue was quite heavy that evening and the following day. Luckily, I had a day off before my next match to recover. I was definitely going to need it.  Round two conditions were completely different from the first. It was perfect tennis weather (mid 70s) and the air quality had improved thanks to some rain in the previous day. After a nearly three hour three setter, I came off the court victorious once again. 

Without an extra day to recover this time, recouping was challenging. I definitely didn’t feel 100% going into the next round, but that wasn’t going to stop me from believing things could happen for me. Losing in two tight sets was devastating especially because I felt I was more prepared than ever to thrive in last round of grand slam qualifying. 

As I sat on the ground with Kal in one of the cool down areas, I debated on whether this disappointing event warranted some self pity and sulking. I could tell in his eyes he was just as heartbroken as me. In that moment though, I decided I was going to respond from this differently than the other last round of qualifying losses. 

“I am right there. Just got to keep improving.” 

Kal gave me a firm pat on the leg, and said “Pizza and beers tonight.” 

AO 2020 Video

When Kal and I returned back to Los Angeles, we were ready to build off of the momentum from Melbourne, but my body put us on hold. Although I took things week by week, I found myself skipping three weeks of competition. During this time away from competition, I discovered my dog had some Hollywood qualities. 

Dog Videos

By the time I felt physically ready to compete, it was February and a month had passed since I returned back from Australia. I managed to play three events before things took a real unexpected turn in the world. While I was in the frame of mind “don’t rush back to compete since the season is long,” I had no idea the whole world would be hit so hard with COVID 19.

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It’s been difficult to think about all the unknown in these circumstances, but I am as committed to make the most of things now as I was in the beginning of the year. Hoping the next few blog posts I put up will help bring you some positive vibes in adverse times.

Be safe and well.

– @thelittlegiant

For post with videos click here.

 

EPISODE 07 Danielle Lao – Turning Pro (A KSWISS PODCAST)

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A few months ago, I visited Kswiss headquarters in DTLA to meet Omar Prestwich. Omar had been sending me some lifestyle shoes here and there and I figured since I was in town and had an off day, I would drop by the office to introduce myself in person and thank him for all the cool swag. 

Five minutes after meeting Omar, he asked if I would record a podcast with him. It was totally unexpected, but I was so happy to say yes. Our recorded conversation had a unique vibe that pushed me to articulate complex feelings that I had never been able to publicly express before. We talked about my tennis journey; overcoming desperation; and why gratitude, internal acceptance, and authenticity is vital to success. 

Hearing the recording a few months later brings a smile to my face knowing how beautiful this situation was; that two people (practically strangers) were able to connect on this level. That being said, I’m super proud to share this. Hope you guys enjoy the listen!

Links:

Apple Podcasts

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/k-swiss-radio/id1287744648?i=1000458662426

KSWISS Radio

http://kswiss.libsyn.com/tuning-pro-danielle-lao

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An Honest Recap of 2019

I started my monthly recap from December 2018, since that is when all the preparations for 2019 start and end at November 2019, because that is when the season ends. All in all; here is an honest reflection on all the ebbs and flows that happened throughout my season.

December: I finished 2018 on a great note and was looking to make great gains in 2019. I had big plans and great motivation to work.  My team and I were putting in the hard yards to prepare for the swing down under and we couldn’t be more excited to get after it.

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January: I played in my first Australian Open qualifying. It was incredibly gratifying to participate since I missed the cut by one spot the previous year. Falling one win short of main draw hurt me though. I felt as if I needed to work harder; do more to be more; and although at the time that seemed like the answer – I would find out later down the road that it was not.

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February: I put an enormous amount of pressure on myself to grow from my loss in Australian Open. I had no points to defend during this time of year, so there was also this desire to take advantage of this time to improve my ranking. All these thoughts came from a passionate place, but definitely the wrong place. It wasn’t long before I started to enjoy the game a little less, and my body started to acquire unexpected aches and pains.

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March: The bad energy carried on to a part of the year that I have the most regret. Being a California native, I have always dreamt about playing in the Indian Wells tournament. When finally given my first chance to play the event, I felt unprepared mentally and physically to compete. Going there and giving a subpar performance was the most disappointed I had ever been at myself.

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April: I hadn’t won a match since January, and finally got a W at the beginning of the month. As much as I try to not focus on “stupid stuff” like losing streaks, they are a real thing on tour and can be a poisonous part of a player’s psyche. Luckily for me, I finally ended it here.

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May: This month represents my very short clay season. With clay not being my favorite surface, I didn’t build too much expectations on my results and decided to make the most of my experience at Roland Garros. I got to take my mom around Paris and have some cool picture moments with her. I knew it is not every day you get to share a special part of the tennis year with someone who’s been there from the beginning, so I did my best to maximize my appreciation for that.

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June: This was the start of grass season. With very little tennis momentum all year, it was nice to play on the surface that allows the natural strengths in my game to flow. As fast as the conditions are during this part of the year, I was pushed to stop thinking and start doing; no fear, just feel.

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July: Playing my first Wimbledon qualifying was another incredible milestone. I’ve talked about playing in all white since I was a kid and finally got to the point where I could participate in the tradition. Falling one match short of the main draw was devastating. Not qualifying for Wimbledon broke me physically and mentally. My family, friends, and long time coach flew a long ways to support me and to not get it done in front of them was [almost] more than I could handle.

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August: There was a lot of fragile training and practicing, because I was still managing my elbow injury that I acquired from Wimbledon. It was mentally wearing to be doing all I could for my body and still not be able to get out there and freely compete at the level I envisioned. To add to it all, it gave me great anxiety to not have the amount of matches I wanted to prepare for the US Open. Losing first round in qualifying there was a tough pill for me to swallow. I had qualified for main draw in the past two years, and to not even come close was a stab in the gut. I couldn’t help but think: was I going backwards?

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September: This was the “find myself” month. Despite not being match tough, I had to get some momentum going to build confidence for what was left in the year. For the first time all season, I went to a few tournaments alone to see if I could lean on myself and think independently again. The solo trips made me tougher on and off the court – it was exactly what I needed. 

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October: Finally putting the elbow injury to bed and having some matches under my belt, I found my stride and competitive edge that had disappeared for a while. Three semifinals back to back to back put me well inside Australian Open qualifying, but more importantly reminded me that all the struggle, work, and hurt was not all for nothing. 

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November: I finished my last event of the season in a tough first round loss. Of course it was not what I wanted, but I was in a good place. After all this year had put me through, I was grateful to be physically healthy and still in love with what I’m doing.

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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.

 

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

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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