April 28 Final Practice day for the World Championships
Got seeded between 9-16 in the Championships and, as a result, get a bye the first day. My first match is tomorrow at noon against a player from Canada. Have to be careful to not decide in advance that he isn’t that tough just because nobody has heard of him. (Two years ago in Argentina nobody knew my first round Brazilian opponent and I lost in 3 sets and was on a plane home before the second round got under way.)
In looking back on my play last week in the Team Championships I realized that I was not playing with the confidence that I have been feeling for most of the last year. I guess that playing in such a big event is something that I need more experience in. I came down to Florida with too little outdoor clay court preparation and in my first practice with the team my confidence was a little shaken. I still can be affected by what I think that other people think of my game. When I hit with our number 1 player I was a little tentative (just a little) and, in retrospect, in must have shaken me. In spite of playing a strong singles match on opening day, I never really felt my game was there during the week. When I lost to Spain in the semis I needed to be aggressive to have a chance to win and yet my confidence wasn’t there enough and I didn’t make the important shots when the opportunities arose. This continued in the doubles against Spain where I was not attacking at net and was serving, volleying and returning tentatively. I started to get a sense of what was happening in the doubles against Germany on the final day and, when down 2-5 in the first set, I became aware of all of this. I was able to start going for my shots without fear of missing and my game was back!
I know what I need to do in the Worlds. I need to play confidently, without fear of result. Now that I know it I am sure that I will be playing good tennis going forward. No matter how I have played in the past, tennis is always a process of development. Awareness of where I am is a great tool and a weapon that I can use. As I practice today I will be fearless and confident.
April 29 First Match in the Worlds
Arrived at the site, The Jimmy Evert Tennis Center, in Fort Lauderdale around 10 for a noon match. The JETC is a totally public facility located in Holiday Park. A little like Flushing Meadow without the stadium courts. Wide open. No shade. There were players from around the world. Hundreds of them. In fact, there are over 500 players playing this event. Men and Women from the 35, 40, 45 and 50 divisions. I love the interaction with the players. US players from other age groups whose names are familiar are instant friends when we introduce ourselves to each other. Players that I have met at the other international events are becoming friends as well….even if we don’t speak the same language, we all share the game of tennis. Everybody here is somebody who has chosen to jump into the exciting world of competition.
Some former greats are playing here including Harold Solomon, Zan Guerry, Tomas Koch, Frank Froehling, Sherwood Stewart, Betsy Nagelson and Peter Doohan. I respect these players for being willing to put it on the line after being at the upper echelon of the game when they were younger. I am sure that many of them will medal here.
All of us, to some degree, feel the pressure of wanting to play well and win. What is so wonderful is that we all know that pushing through the pressure and the fear and, ultimately, playing relaxed and free is what it is all about. That is truly winning.
I won my match against a Canadian player 6-2, 6-1. I played relaxed and free as I had decided. One of my close friends had a tough 3 set match. I asked him how he changed from being tentative in the first set to being proactive and forceful in the second and the third. He said that after the first set ended he thought to himself I don’t like this. I will not win or lose this way. Sometimes all it takes is a decision to do something!
Tomorrow I play a Frenchman.
Got a win today and advanced to the round of 16. I play 7th seeded Brazilian player tomorrow. I feel good. I am playing well. I need to remember to continue to be patient, to compete for every single point and to play relaxed. If I do these things I am sure I will put myself in a position to win this match.
The vibe at the site today was still friendly but the level of tension has definitely escalated. Many of the fringe players are now out of the event and the best sixteen in the world are left. It is tough for the players who were expected to do well and have already lost. Many stay around for an extra couple of days and root on their buddies. It is another sign of the character of these players that they do stay around.
May 1 Round of 16
Things are going well for me this week. I played another fast match beating Paolo Lopes of Brazil 6-0, 6-2. I didn’t miss too many shots and was able to hurt him when he hit short, which seemed to happen almost every rally. I served a very low percentage of first serves and I am struggling to find my serve, which would certainly be a help going forward. When I practice serving I am totally relaxed. I am not yet aware of what is different once the match starts. I will think about it and do some visualization tonight.
For the most part I am staying focused on playing one point at a time. I am also staying very conscious of starting off playing with a lot of intensity…playing every ball and going for an early service break. I feel good and am having a good time in my matches. I plan on keeping that up also.
After my match I watched a lot of great tennis, including Harold Solomon in singles (he was a multi times Grand Slam finalist) and Michael Pernfors (French Open finalist) in doubles. During the afternoon a couple of F-16s were buzzing the site of the tournament. They are practicing for an air show that is being held this weekend in Fort Lauderdale. One million people will be coming to town over the next two days. The air show will be going on during the semis and finals. Just another challenge for the players.
May 2…Quarterfinals of the Worlds
Major high point of the day was meeting Gardner Mulloy, 87 year old former great, great player. More recently he is known for winning the National Grand Slam in singles and doubles in one year in the 75 and over. There is some inspiration. It was also inspirational to see Kirk Moritz, my good friend, competing on this level and making it to the round of 16 only two years after having quadruple bypass surgery. He was one of the most fit of all the players here in the 50s.
Had the pleasure of a 12:30 match time. Heat of the day and sun right in my lefty face for the first hour of the match. My Italian opponent had lost only one game in three matches and was a very consistent player. I was committed from the first point, ran down about 8 angle shots, a drop shot and a lob and won it. After one point I was sucking wind. I stayed with it, got the early service break and didn’t look back. Won the first set 6-0 and the second 6-3. I almost let him back into the match in the second set, but remembered to play one point at a time and managed to close it out. I felt good on the court today. I ran down everything and stayed contained in a bunch of situations that tend to me troublesome for me. I never got overconfident, respecting my opponent’s good tennis and his ability to get back in the match.
Tomorrow I play the semis against Zan Guerry. I beat Zan in the finals of the National Grass Championships in September. He is happy for the rematch and has been focused on my all week, in spite of my protestations that I might not be around in the semis. He is a great clay court player with lots of experience. I know that I can compete with him for each point and that is exactly what I will do. I will play relaxed, knowing that success comes from playing my game, not from being concerned about winning or losing. I will speak with all of my support team tonight…Kirk, Mike Zim, Siegel, Ray Lake and, of course, Carol. They will help me get ready for the next push.
(The F-16s didn’t start to practice for their show until I had finished so I didn’t need to face that challenge today…maybe tomorrow.)
May 3…The Semis
I win! I defeat Zan Guerry 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 and tomorrow play for the World Championship. Many of you know that I had my sights set on this for the last couple of months. Going to Chicago to play the Indoors, playing for the team at the Perry Cup…these were all steps to here. I am very excited. I played a very smart match today. In the first set I tried to attack Zan early in the points but I was missing way too much. I was down 0-2 in the second before I was able to reel my game in and go into the “no miss” mode. i just ran down everything that he through at me, got it back deep, recovered quickly and, eventually got him disgusted enough that he would miss. I threw in a few drop shots that worth forgetting about, but made won on a key point to break serve in the second set. I never felt any quit and believed throughout that I was being competitive on every point and on every single shot.
My goals for tomorrow are to continue to play relaxed, have fun, to compete hard for every point, and to play every single shot. My opponent is a worthy won. Andrew Rae of Australia, defending World Champion and currently #1 in the World. Nice opportunity for me.
May 4…The Finals of the World Championships
The run to the Championship came up one match short. I played against the kind of player that doesn’t give anything away, is quick enough to get to almost every ball and able to keep everything deep. I never really got my teeth into the match. He just did everything a little better than me…. and then I started to press. I actually won more points when I was pressing but i couldn’t string enough together to win games. I lost 6-2, 6-1. I was a little bit too laid back going into the match. This is something that I need to watch out for. It has cost me matches in the past in that I play at too low an emotional arousal level to to be at my best. I think that I have made being relaxed in big moments an important goal in my life. In this case it took my attention off the match a bit too much.
Right now, two hours after the match I have mixed feelings. Mostly I am feeling disappointed that I did not find a way to raise my game during the match. I wanted to play better and I wanted to be in a position to play the pressure points. I am also deliriously happy that I came so close to this extraordinary goal. I always remember the saying don’t be afraid to shoot for the moon…even if you miss you will still be amongst the stars. It reinforces my belief in the value of setting big goals and going after them. I discovered this week a new player in myself…somebody who can use consistency and patience to win matches on the clay. I feel proud of my effort and am pleased with how I presented myself as a representative of the USA, as a player, a competitor and as a person. I feel lucky to have opportunities like this.
At the presentation ceremony, when introduced as Robert Litwin of the USA I had chills. I was moved beyond belief when they slipped the silver medal over my head. I felt like a champion, wore my medal to the airport. Of course once at the airport I was just another in the crowd shuffling through security.
Thanks to all of you who lived through this two weeks with me. Your comments and support meant so much. I never felt alone. Special thanks to John for his daily energy bolts from the coast, Steve for all the strategy advice, Adam for reminding me that I am as good as all of these good players, Kirk for advice and support, Ray for always reminding me to play safe (even if I don’t listen), Zim for the go to Zan’s forehand suggestion, Nadine and Alan for their generous hospitality at Boca West, Jane for all the love, and Carol, Jody and Amy for always being behind me in my ongoing search for the next level.