Day 1 of the Fred Perry Cup at Ballenisles. How different from Amsterdam three years ago. Then I knew no one and felt truly like a rookie. I was in awe of the level of players and envious of their connections.
When I arrived at the resort this morning for practice with former teammate Geoff Moore I was comfortable. Comfortable with the environment. Comfortable with the scope and size of the event. I feel like I belong here. It is interesting how it takes time to accept something on a personal level that is generally accepted by others.
Most importantly comfortable with my game. Security and confidence in my ability to play and compete at this level contributed to me being supremely relaxed in my practice hour. I was unconcerned about errors except in how they contributed or took away from my game. Every error was not a reflection on whether or not I belonged. By feeling relaxed I was able to play somewhat within myself, which is truly my goal for the week. I saw the mistakes that I made as necessary evils of the first day of practice here. I will eliminate them as I go forward. Errors such as overhitting approaches or going for the down the line forehand too early in the point. I was fortunate that Geoff was drop shotting me for it gave me the chance to learn what to do with it…to drop the backhand down the line short. I also saw that I have to be a little more stable and balanced when I hit short balls and approach attempts. I know that I can do this.
In addition to seeing some American players from the Mens and Womens 45 and Women’s 50 teams I also saw the Aussie team including World Champion Andrew Rae. They looked very fit and very strong on the fast clay of Ballenisles. I bumped into a couple of the Spanish team players who I had met in Amsterdam. We were all happy to see each other. They don’t speak a word of English but made it clear that they remembered me being a lefty. Now that I think about it, I think that I beat one of them in the quarters of the Worlds. Met some of the German team. They are all new to the Perry Cup. They wondered if Carol and I were from Australia. It is amazing to me that a European can’t really tell the difference between a Canadian, American, Australian, Englishmen or a South American. Shows what a narrow view I have on the world.
April 21 Opening Ceremonies for the Perry Cup
We start tomorrow against South Africa. I have been selected to play #2 singles, which is the opening match, followed by #1 singles and then doubles. When I arrived it was highly probable that i was going to play doubles, but in practice i moved up from #4 to 2. so, first time ever I am playing a singles match for the usa. My teammates, each and every one, are really great guys and we bonded during practice and opening ceremonies. opening ceremonies were unbelievable, with firemen, policemen, bag pipes, music, dancers and about 300 people in attendance. it was highly emotional for all who were there. The strong feelings about the us and references to nyc were all around. very patriotic. and the other teams, representing about 20 countries were in unison with us as we all sang “I’m proud to be an American” which i didn’t even know that i knew, but we all did know it and, all in all, it was a very special experience. I was so glad the carol, jody and amy were here to share it with me.
April 22 Opening Day of Perry Cup
Matches began at 10:30 this morning. I played the opening match against South Africa on the stadium court. One of my team members warmed me up for awhile and got me really ready. I got to focus totally on those parts of my game that were important to me. Also discussed with him some cues to give me during the match if things weren’t going well. Like to be more grounded on my approaches, to make a high percentage of first serves, and to avoid getting overamped and loading up to much on my forehand.
Coaching is allowed in team matches, so my teammates could talk to me while I was playing. Very cool concept. I support it.
I was relaxed and having fun, played very within myself and won 6-1, 6-0. Wonderful feeling to win a point for the USA. My one wiggle in the match came at 5-0 in the first when, on the changeover, a spectator asked me if I was Manny Litwin’s son. When I acknowledged that, yes, I am, he told me that he was Dad’s business partner from 1954-66. Blew my mind. Totally thought about my Dad not being able to experience this great moment in my life. Proceeded to throw in a couple of double faults and lost the game. Then realized that this man was put there to remind me that my Dad was really there watching.
We won the next singles match as well as the doubles for a clean sweep.
Tomorrow a tough match against the French. And we plan on insisting that they speak English when in the USA!
We had close call today against France. As I said before we are trading off at singles and Elie Boukheir played our opening singles match. He started off well going up 3-0 in the first set and then hurt his back. Before we knew it he was down 4-6, 0-2. I spent a lot of time on the court with him during the changeovers trying to keep him focused on his game, which, even with a bad back, was strong enough to win. But he was totally hooked into his back. We all could see it. Losing the first match in the day would have put huge pressure on us to win the next singles and the doubles to advance to the next round. My other teammates had tactical suggestions that I delivered to Elie during changeovers and he managed to pull it together to win the second set. Ten minute break. Elie, in the locker room, looked like he was done. I was given the responsibility of getting him on track. I got in his face and talked to him about his great belief in himself that his has exhibited in the past. I was forcing him to focus his attention on what I was saying. I then told him that if his back was really bad that he should stop playing because we would need him for the rest of the week. But if he wasn’t going to stop, then this was the last that would be said about his bad back and that I wouldn’t accept him complaining about it while playing. He got pumped, got it together and won 6-2 in the third. We then won the next singles match and the French defaulted the doubles. All in all a big win. Turkey is tomorrow and we are strongly favored.
Again, being on a team, being able to coach during the match, has proved to be a very special part of this whole experience. I felt like I helped win the match today without even hitting a ball.
Today we played the Turks. Truly wild men. We were confident going in and were right in feeling confident. Len Wofford, our team member from Portland, Oregon, played his first singles match ever for the team and won handily. Our #1 Larry Turville also cruised in his match. Wofford and I played doubles and won 6-0, 6-1, so through three days of matches we have won all of our matches. It gets tougher now. We have a day off tomorrow to practice. Friday we play the very tough Spanish team. They, too, are undefeated. I will play the opening match against Jorge Camina who very rarely loses on the clay. It will be a major challenge for me. I will need to be patient and opportunistic. He will probably drop shot me 15-20 times in the match. I have the speed to cover these shots but that, alone will not win me the point, It will have more to do with what I do with the ball. I am excited to be in this position. I am sure it will be one of my most challenging matches that I have played to date. Tougher than a National final where I am playing for myself. Germany and Australia are paired off for the other semifinal. Until today it has been the best of the best in the world. Now it is the best of the best of the best. When I think of how far I have traveled on this path I am truly amazed!
Today was an off day for us. It was our toughest day of tennis yet as we played against each other. We chose to play between 11:30-2 to deal with the heat and the sun. Things get very intense tomorrow. I will play the opening singles match against Spain. I have been overly focused on the potential of playing a great player who will drop shot me many times. I realized that he has been overly focused about playing me, the grande lefty. Good, let him worry. I feel good with my game. I am relaxed and confident that I will go out and play my match. Mantra will be patient and opportunistic. Must remember to play within myself and not try to blow him off the court.
Well, we hit up against the Spaniards today and they were not to be beaten. I played opening singles and lost 6-3,7-5. I played well but needed to hit way too many winners to beat a player that made only 4 errors during the match. Clearly more experienced at playing on the slow clay than me. I went down 0-3 in both sets and even though i got even in both I never was able to get my nose in front of him. It was disappointing to not provide a lead for the team going into match 2 which we won. So it came down to the doubles. Surprisingly I was called on to play with our number one player. I was eager to get out there and help win the key point. Turville, my partner, and I just never seemed to get into the same rhythm against an experienced Spanish duo that, again, played error free tennis. We dropped serve once in each set. We had chances to get back into it a couple of times by taking 0-30 leads on their serves but could never get to break point. Unfortunately we are now out of the running for the gold but we will be playing for 3rd or 4th place tomorrow against either Germany or Australia. They are both very tough. We are all proud to have finished in the top four in such a strong field.
After the playoff tomorrow I am off to Fort Lauderdale for the World Championships. I have been seeded 11 or 12 in the singles. Again the field includes the best in the world. The seeding committee missed out on some very strong players, including Harold Solomon, Zan Guerry and Thomas Koch, so they are redoing the draw. I am tired right now but will definitely get pumped for my opening match, which will be Sunday or Monday.
April 27 Final day of the Perry Cup
What a great day! We got over yesterday’s loss to Spain and got psyched to win today in the playoff for third place against Germany. Even though all of us were looking to win the whole thing we also realized that 3rd out of 16 is still very good. We knew that a good team beat us and that we were out to prove that we, too, are a good team. We won both singles and the doubles. I played doubles with Len Wofford, another lefty, and last year’s National 50 Hardcourt Champ. We had some shaky moments in the first set going down 2-5, but we pulled it together and won 7-6, 6-2. The team tasted sweet victory on the final day. We all felt really good about how the week went.
Closing ceremonies were wonderful, with the top three teams from each of the Cups (Men’s and Women’s 45, Men’s and Women’s 50) standing on pedestals just like the medalists at the Olympics. Many people turned out and the USA got big time cheers. The players from all of the teams were hugging each other as many had developed new friendships. Most of us felt like we were on one big team. These relationships are forged by the many days of competition as well as the social events that we all shared. I know that I will know and stay in touch with many of these people for years to come. It is a unique and special way to make new friends. We all share a love of the game and a desire to achieve new levels in the future.
More to come tomorrow on my current state of mind and body heading into the World Championships which begin on Monday.