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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Looking for Luster

Last time I had written something, I talked about how things were looking up at the end of 2017. Going into this new season, I had hopes to keep reporting positive things, and subconsciously held off on writing again until I had some ground breaking progress or news to share with you. Four months have passed and I don’t have much to impress you all with.

Since my last blog post, I had a very short off season (if you can even call it that). Nam and I took an extended weekend for a few day get away in Palm Springs. Aside from training and prepping for the upcoming year, I spent a significant amount of time with my Kitchen Aide trying to master the art of making a macaron. Definitely think I’m improving every time I tinker with the recipe and flavors. My mom actually hates it when I practice my macaron craft, because I monopolize the whole kitchen.

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The holiday season went by faster than I have ever experienced it. Since I planned to leave for Australia on Christmas Eve, I had to get all my holiday responsibilities and festivities completed in such a short amount of time. A couple of the holiday highlights happened in my very backyard. The first was a 20 person party/dinner that Nam and I cooked for our friends. (Cooking for 20 people was not easy, but it was an incredibly epic cooking session.) The second was my family’s Christmas celebration. (It was specially scheduled a day early, because of my departure.) As I get older, I have a greater appreciation for group gatherings, because of how much alone time I have on the circuit.

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Sitting in the airport on Christmas Eve was an evening I’ll never forget. The counters were empty and there was no line for security in the international terminal (That’s unheard of!) As I sat by my gate, it crossed my mind how I would actually miss Christmas this year since I was leaving on the 24th and landing on the 26th. The thought about how everyone was celebrating Christmas except me made me sad for a moment, but that feeling was drowned out with the excitement of what laid ahead. My plans were to play Brisbane and then go to Melbourne where I hoped to move into Australian Open Qualifying.

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After losing early in the first event, I spent a good week hanging out in Brisbane practicing and training in the tournament facilities. Every day of tennis felt like it required all my energy, so I limited all my extracurricular activities. When New Years Eve rolled around, there was a special firework show along the river path outside my hotel, but I missed out on that because I had no desire to leave my room. I suppose I wasn’t too motivated to go anywhere if I didn’t have anyone to share the night with. Watching all my friends (via social media) partake in their NYE shenanigans back at home was the most festive thing I did.

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A couple days after New Years, I head to Melbourne to meet Nam. We were a week early for  Australian Open Qualifying, so we took our time to see a bit of the city every day after practice. My mom joined us a couple days after, so the three of us anxiously hung around waiting for the entry list to move me in. On the day before the start of qualifying, I was still one out of the event. It was a difficult 24 hours waiting to see if the list would move, but no one withdrew in time for me to make the draw. The three of us stuck around on site all day during the first round of qualifying in hopes for one person to not show, but everyone came to play. I was devastated.  It crushed me even more to see main draw players pull out a day or two later.

What was suppose to be an exciting experience turned south. I was not sure whether I felt better to have the company of my mom and Nam at this disappointing time or if I felt worse that they made the trip and didn’t get to see me play. Neither one of them conveyed any disappointment though, and I am so grateful they held up a good front for me at the time.

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Trying to look forward, I returned back to the states thinking about what would be the next big thing. Indian Wells was on my radar, so I worked to gear up to that event. After playing the few tournaments leading up to it, I felt I was getting on track to do some good things, but as luck would have it, the entry list for the tournament was nearly 100 spots stronger than the previous year.

Disappointed to watch another big event from my couch, I looked to keep myself occupied between planning a 4 week training block as well as arranging a couple weekend trips to get away from the monotony. In an odd way, this was the off season I never had.  In between the tennis , I got to join in on an annual 10k run my friends do, take a mini vacation (without RACKETS!), visit San Luis Obispo during a training weekend, and go camping for the first time!

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I wish I could report something in here to wow you guys, but I know a little lack in luster brings more color to the exciting moments.  Looking ahead at what is next for me, I just arrived in Zhengzhou yesterday and am scheduled to play here, Quanzhou the following week, then Anning the week after. Already missing everyone and the nice air back at home, but also eager to lock in here.

To be continued in 2018

What a year it’s been. Amongst all the chaos in maximizing my performance, there were some magical moments that make me look back and see that it was all worthwhile. Lots has happened since my last post about the US Open, and I haven’t written about it until now, because (quite honestly) I lost myself for a bit. Most people would think that my overachieving results in New York would provide some great momentum for the end of the year, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

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Although the US Open was 3 months ago, its effects were still playing a role for the remainder of my tennis year. Trying to get some momentum going in the end of the year was the toughest part of the season for me. Nagging body pains forced me to withdraw from tournaments, which led to lack of match play and a poor start to the fall. With some internal frustration cooking inside, there was a growing loss of clarity and confidence in my game.

I suppose after a positive streak, a player can’t help but form some expectations on how different things should be after success. Despite sitting out on two events following the Open, my ambition told me that I could pick up where I left off. Although optimism may have seemed like the best approach at the time, this hurt me more than I thought it could and here’s why:

I never really gave my experience from the US Open any closure, because it was too painful to reflect deeply on what had happened. It was the best week of my life followed by what felt like the worst day of my life. The last time I put some good thought into it was when I wrote my US Open blog post. Writing that on the plane ride back from New York brought me to tears and when I finished it, I avoided any more thoughts on it because it was all too fresh.

After a loss, I normally assess what went wrong and move forward knowing what direction I need to work in terms of improvements and adjustments. That being said, my loss at the US Open was never addressed nor analyzed fully for me to press on in a productive way. Even though my friends and family couldn’t stop bringing it up for months , I found a way to deflect the topic or have apathetic conversations about it. I wanted to pretend it never happened. Three months later, I now realize that I couldn’t pick up where I left off, because I didn’t know where that point was.

With every loss, I felt the pressure of making Australian Open Qualifying rise. Initially, I wanted to wrap up my season as soon as possible so that I could have some significant time off to reset and iron out all intangibles I had been struggling with. It was no surprise that my antsy mindset didn’t help. After a few first round losses, I debated on cutting my season short because I was feeling very lost and miserable in competition. Positivity and success felt so far away and to add to it all, I was traveling without my coach, Kal, who I was dependent on to help me make sense of this all.

Despite the persistent thought of sending myself back home earlier than planned, I found a way to settle into the idea of having to compete late into the year. Although home was where I wanted to be, I understood as a professional that I couldn’t wait for perfect circumstances to work through this tough time. Accepting this changed everything. Instead of wanting the good tennis to come, I worked at it. I focused on the foundation Kal and I built my game on over the last 10 years and put aside the new improvements we had been trying to make in the past couple months.

Day by day, I gained more clarity in my tennis and it took one meaningful victory to change the tone for the remainder of the year. It was an unexpected resurgence at the most unlikely time and I am so grateful for it. To me, tennis is the gift that keeps on giving. With the ups and the downs at every level, I find that this sport keeps pushing me to discover more about myself and as a competitor, nothing can be more valuable for my growth.

With the offseason and holidays here, it’s been cathartic to take a few days to reflect back on all that has happened and all that I am grateful for. Breaking through to compete at a level where grand slams are part of the conversation is a dream come true. I could be sitting here writing my farewell to tennis had I not accomplished my grand slam qualifying goals, but luckily 2017 was successful enough to press on to the 2018 season.

Getting to this point was a collective effort though. Starting with my family for their unwavering love and support, to Kal who’s given so much time to build and refine my game, down to my boyfriend and friends for providing me with the fun and balance I need; I couldn’t have made it through the year in one piece alone. 2017 was the toughest season yet, but I’m better for it so thank you to everyone who keeps fueling this dream. Who would have thought at the beginning of this year I would be continuing my tennis story…not me.

Tennis Fever

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My two weeks in New York blew by incredibly quick, but there is so much to say. For starters, pulling up to Billie Jean King Tennis Centre was exhilarating. Walking onto the tournament grounds with Kal and Jonny Wang made me smile big on the inside. The three of us go way back. In fact, I met Kal through Jonny.  Jonny and I use to play practice sets in his backyard 3-4 times a week. Despite the fact that he never said much to me for the first half of our years knowing each other, I always felt Jonny and I were connected. It was as if we communicated by hitting tennis balls. Kal was Jonny’s long time coach at the time, and he was always in attendance for our practices. After a few months of practicing with Jonny, Kal became my coach too. Seeing the three of us all on one court twelve years later makes for a great story. It’s like everything made a full circle.

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Speaking of relationships, there is none more loyal than the ones that come from blood. My mom and sister were here last year so it was all familiar territory to them, but my dad was blown away by the vastness of the place. Walking him through the tunnel of champions, towards the practice desk, and up the stairs to the players lounge put a distinct look on his face. I could tell he was beaming with pride. “My kid made it here.” Having my family there to share this atmosphere with was the ultimate delayed gratification. It’s been a long road and we all played a role in getting me to this point.

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As for the tennis, each match was a huge battle emotionally. When it’s your first Grand Slam, every victory feels like reaching heights that you never have before. After each win, I sat in the locker room looking at all my messages smiling harder than I did the previous. Family and friends back home were following and even people I haven’t heard from for a while were tuning in. The support coming from all directions just made the event feel even grander than it already was and I loved it.

When it came to the morning of the third round of qualifying, the nerves of playing for a spot in the main draw were less than I anticipated. I suppose the happiness of getting to play a third match overwhelmed the nerves. Knowing that there were 96 great players that have already fallen made me feel proud and (to a certain extent) lucky I was still standing.

The first set of this match blew by in less than 30 minutes. I was desperate to make things more competitive. “Hustle, scramble, play left handed. Do something!” Kal called me over to give me a couple tips, and after grabbing an early lead in the second set I started to lock in. All of a sudden I wasn’t making sarcastic jokes at myself anymore.

As I got closer to closing out the second set, the crowd grew larger and the applause grew louder. Pushing the match to a third gave me a new bounce to my step. Long point after long point, I started to feed off of the crowd, and  found myself at match point. Seeing my forehand pass my opponent for a winner made me explode as the audience stood up in the background. What an incredible moment. It was as if I was watching a movie, but this time I was in it.

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Being wrapped up in the moment, it didn’t hit me until after I shook my opponent’s hand that I had made it into the main draw of the US Open. After seeing my team momentarily, I made my way to the locker room and buried my face in a towel to cry. I could hardly believe it was real. A few weeks ago, I was just thrilled to see my name in the qualifying acceptance list, and here I am now in the main event. Me? Why me? How?! How did this San Gabriel Valley girl who nearly gave the dream up multiple times, make it to a grand slam?

My head was in the clouds for the next 24 hours and I was living in a great fog. Sleeping was tough the following two nights. Emotions were running wild, and I was too happy to rest. I had to keep checking my phone to make sure my pictures and videos were still there as proof that it all really did happen. After two days of floating around, I brought myself back down to Earth to mentally prepare for the main event.

As each day passed, the facilities got busier and more people from across the country were eager to follow along. Just when I thought things couldn’t get more exciting they did. The energy on the grounds made me pumped to play. Come Wednesday, I anxiously waited for it to be my turn to take the court. Being escorted out this time was different than the last three. There were more people, more lights, and more sounds. The tennis fever was surreal!

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Playing in that atmosphere was everything and more than I ever imagined it to be growing up. Although losing a three hour battle is my least favorite moment of the New York trip, it is unfortunately the freshest, but perhaps the most important one to learn from. With multiple match points to move into the second round, it makes me nauseous to think about how I was unable to seal the deal. I am hoping that with time this heavy feeling will fade and be replaced with some fruitful insight on how to be better.

Aside from the heartbreaking loss on Court 12, what a magical time in New York for me. After this epic crescendo to what has seemed like an endless song, I am looking forward to a few quiet days at home. No one forgets their first slam and I’m inspired to keep finding a way to make this a regular thing. Much love again to everyone who’s followed along. Hope you guys will keep checking in for the final sprint of the year!

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Delayed Gratification

I couldn’t think of a better title for this post. One week ago, I saw my name inside the U.S. Open Qualifying list, and there weren't enough words on my Instagram post to say what it all really meant to me.

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When I concluded my college tennis career in May 2013, I deemed myself finished with tennis. Throughout my senior year, I told myself that this was it. This was as high as I was going to ride my tennis and was set on moving on with life as every college graduate does. Get a job, make money, advance your career, maybe go to grad school, and save for a house.

My parents would have supported me in whatever I chose to do, but it was my coaches that wouldn't let me give it up. Richard Gallien, my USC coach at the time, kept reminding me about my love for the game. West Nott, my other USC coach back then, insisted that my best tennis was still ahead of me. Then there was Kal, my personal coach since I was 15, convincing me day by day that he can still make me better.

With my parent's love and support, I was able to go on a whim and pursue this career as a professional tennis player. At the start of my life on tour, I would have seen being top 400 as a relatively successful career for me. When I snuck barely inside the top 300, I told myself, "Danielle, you're completely overachieving."

As I got to the mid 200 range, the reality started to settle in that a grand slam qualifying was totally possible. That's where things got tough. For the past 2 years, I have been within striking distance of a grand slam qualifying, but something always came in the way when I was about to push through that extra bit in the rankings. Whether it be injuries or fallible mindsets, a setback manages to appear when I get close.

Every cut I failed to make ate at me inside. I felt it killing me softly when my ranking dropped below 300 and I seriously thought of giving everything up again. As I was soul searching for the purpose behind this brutal grind, my expectations slowly disappeared. By the end of 2016, I figured I would give myself one more year to make a grand slam qualifying. If I was unsuccessful, I would hang it up and see what else life had to offer me off the court.

I had a far ways to climb, so I anticipated this past year to be more of a proper conclusion/goodbye to tennis than anything. Since I wanted to wrap up my tennis journey with pleasant feelings, I made it my goal to work on a balanced attitude every day. Relentless but forgiving of human error. Gritty but also not dwelling on the small stuff. Giving everything to this moment but not forgetting the big picture. With new mindsets, I started practicing and playing for the love of the game again. Day in and day out I enjoyed getting lost in the grind and the tennis gradually got better.

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As my tennis improved so did my results and I began to believe once more. Slowly my ranking started to climb and a grand slam qualifying was again within reach for me. Just as I remembered in previous years, the weeks leading up to the US Open cut were incredibly taxing both emotionally and physically. I could feel the stress level rising just as it had before, but this time was different than the others. I was different. My belief wasn't fueled by hope, but from preparation. Picking the right tournaments, making travel arrangements, practicing more, training harder, and traveling continuously took a huge toll, but I was in a better place to manage it all.

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Adding a deadline on my career gave me a no turning back and no regrets mentality all year. I wasn't afraid to fail this time around. Hindsight is always 20/20, but this made the real difference. My team (family, coaches, friends, & supporters) and I had given it everything we had this year. If it still wasn't enough and I still wasn't good enough, I was resolved to be proud of our effort and move on knowing my grand slam qualifying goals were not in my cards.

Scrolling down that qualifying list and seeing my name written as the last one inside the acceptance overwhelmed me with huge gratitude knowing that all our sweat amounted to something I was too timid to dream of 4 years ago. What an incredible feeling it is to meet goals that seemed like Mount Everest.  It's so cliche to say I could not have done it alone, but it really was a team effort and I am so grateful to everyone who stuck with me long enough to dissuade me from giving up and to give me a chance to believe again. If you don't call this living the American Dream, I don't know what is.

 

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