The Austria Cup begins:
I woke up on Monday morning and I felt like I had fallen down a flight of stairs. Every part of my body ached and my legs were so stiff that I was walking around like the tin man. I was relieved that I was sitting out of the opening match against Norway. We arrived at the historic Philadelphia Cricket Club, which is celebrating its 150th Anniversary this year, and registered our team to compete for the Austria Cup. We would be playing a round robin flight against Norway, Turkey and Argentina and hope to advance to the quarterfinals by winning the flight. We were assigned a practice court for 1/2 hour, after which the Norwegian team gets to use the same court for 1/2 hour. The matches follow. In spite of sitting out, I still was going to warm up my teammates. I didn’t want them to see how uncomfortable I was so I sort of hobbled around, hit some serves, acted unconcerned and relaxed. Getting out there on the stadium court, I started to think that I wanted to play in the doubles. Fortunately, Captain Cheney ignored my request and told me I was to rest and get a little exercise to get the stiffness out. I watched my teammates romp to victory, winning both singles matches and the doubles. I also got many congratulations from players from many other countries who had heard about my big wins last week. For one day, I felt like the star. I know that only lasts until I hit my first ball this week. Then I am just another player, trying to help win the Cup. Back at the hotel, I hit the gym and woke my muscles up, because the next morning I would be playing #1 against the Turkish team.
The order of the matches is #2 singles, followed by #1 singles and then the doubles. Obviously, that first match, played by #2 is critical and I was happy that Bohannon, at #2, won easily. The pressure was off a little with us needing only one win between my singles and the doubles. Regardless, when I step on the court to play for the USA, there is always more pressure. One of my goals for this year was to play the way I am capable when I play for the country. That means to be free of the fear of losing, letting the team down and letting the USA down. It is only then that I am able to be my true self on the court. I played my match feverishly making sure to give nothing away. I dropped two points in the first game and only five more points for the balance of a 6-0 6-0 win. I was intense. The match lasted 35 minutes. I was truly on a mission and riding high on confidence from the last week. I know it will get tougher as we move through the draw. I am ready.
Our team heard that the Irish team had many travel problems and incurred big expenses in trying to get here. We decided that, as the host team, we would take them out to dinner tonight. This is a big part of what these international matches are about.
Journal Entry…Third Match of Austria Cup
Another very successful day for Team USA. We needed a win today over Argentina to advance to the quarterfinals. I started us off playing at #2. Still feeling very confident and on a mission to help the team win the Cup I, as I did yesterday, won 6-0, 6-0. I was so intense. I didn’t want to lose one point. I came close, losing nine points in twelve games. Even when I was playing the last game, I made total effort to get to every ball and to hit the right shot. My mantra for the week is “no gifts from me.” If somebody is going to get a point from me they will have to win it. I am hitting the ball cleanly, anticipating well and moving with ease on the grass. My serve is staying consistent and I am returning a high percentage of serves, which is not easy to do on a grass court. The result of all of this is that I feel totally relaxed and confident. I know I haven’t been challenged since Sunday’s finals of the Nationals so I need to sit on my tendency to be overconfident. I am aware of it so I think I will be ok. I have also told Carol and my teammates to watch out for my attitude and to call me on it if I go off track.
Cheney won at #1 and then Bronson and Bohannon won at doubles, so we won’t be singing “Don’t cry for me, Argentina.” We move on to the quarters tomorrow against New Zealand. They have some players that know how to play on the grass.
After returning to the hotel I got some amazing, shocking news. The International Tennis Federation tournament committee announced the seedings for next week’s World Championships. I am seeded #1.
I am truly overwhelmed. When I first started to play senior tournaments in 1983 I was searching for external validation. I didn’t know that I would end up finding out that validation from the outside was only marginally important…that I would find what I needed inside myself. That is still true, but I must say that when the ITF says, by seeding, that they think you are #1 in the Worlds, a tournament with all of the top senior players competing, well, that feels pretty incredible. (Of course, it only means something until the first ball is served next Monday.)
Journal entry…Quarterfinals vs. New Zealand
First, I will get the results out of the way. We beat NZ 3-0. I won at #2. Cheney won at #1 and Bronson and Bohannon won at doubles. We haven’t dropped a set yet. We are into tomorrow’s semifinals against a tough Australian squad. Rain is scheduled, in which case we will head indoors, probably on fast indoor courts. We need to be mentally preparing for that possibility. It is a different game. I will definitely do some imaging tonight.
My match was interesting. This is what makes this whole experience so fascinating. When I walked on the court to warm up this morning, I had the feeling that everyone was now watching me. I felt pressure to play up to the #1 seeding that I am carrying around until Monday. When my match started I was aware that I hadn’t lost a game in my first two matches and that, if I was truly worthy of the seeding, I shouldn’t lose a game today. Whew! That is some serious pressure. The funny thing about this is that this was all in my mind. That little tiny person inside me that always wants to be noticed got noticed. Of course, then it wanted more. So there I was on the feature court, with mini me taking me away from my tasks at hand. I was annoyed that I lost the first game. How ridiculous is that? I did win the first set, 6-4, but mini me was not happy. Not living up to the perfect player. I shut that voice down in between sets 1 and 2 and played a good second set, winning 6-2. A good lesson to remember is that I must focus on who I am, not on how I want to be perceived by others.
Tomorrow the boys from OZ.
Journal Entry Semifinals of the Austria Cup 9/17
This was what I have been looking forward to. The opportunity to play a match that really matters for the USA. Due to the possibility of heavy rain, both #1 and #2 singles were played simultaneously on adjacent courts. I won my first set. I looked at Cheney’s score and saw that he had won his first set in a tiebreaker. I went up a service break and was rolling along when I saw that Cheney was losing in his second set. I instantly felt extra pressure to win my match and promptly tightened up. Serving at 3-2, I played a bad game and lost serve for the first time, on grass, in two years. My Aussie opponent felt the opening and started to play much better, holding serve to 3-4. Meantime the wheels were falling off for me. I started to get negative, frustrated and annoyed with how things were going. I was embarrassed that I was unable to serve out the set. I then dropped my serve, again, this time with two double faults. I knew what was happening but couldn’t grab the steering wheel. I was so shaky that when my opponent served for the set at 5-3, I didn’t make one return. I was now one set all. I looked at Cheney’s score and saw that he was down 1-3 in the third. If I couldn’t win, we might very well be out. Bronson was sitting on the court (we are allowed to be coached in team events) and said, “ Bob, the third set is all mental. It isn’t about your shots anymore.” It was the perfect thing to say to me. I could not let myself lose this match by having my mental let me down. I pumped up, got relaxed and got a break right away. With a 3-1 lead I had an easy shot to get to 4-1. Missed it. Dropped serve. Cheney down 4-1 in the third. I knew that I needed to pull it out. With my opponent serving at 3-4 I played a gutsy game and broke serve. My heart was pounding with nerves. I slowed down, took a bunch of deep breaths and then served it out. One point for Team USA. I ran to the next court to support Cheney. I had his score wrong. He had been leading in the third. He served for the match and the team victory at 5-3, dropped serve and then managed to break for the match. USA 2, Aussies 0. We completed the sweep with a doubles win. Tomorrow the top seeded Spanish team. Both Cheney and I will need to reverse losses that we have had in the past against our opponents. Go USA.
Journal Entry…Finals of the Austria Cup
The team woke up to torrential rains and we were told that, instead of starting at 10 in our match for the cup against Spain, a decision would be made at 2PM. At that point it would be decided whether or not we would play outdoors on clay or indoors on a hard court. I wasn’t concerned about what the surface would be. I was ready to take on Jorge Cammino, who had beaten me a couple of years ago in the semis of the Perry Cup matches. He is, arguably, considered the best of the Spaniards, even though he plays at #2. Clay is his best. Grass is my best. We would be very even on the hardcourts. He is the most consistent and quickest player I have ever played. We have been posturing with each other all week in anticipation of this matchup, even though he speaks no English and I speak no Spanish. We are friends who communicate through our tennis.
At 2 we were told to get to the indoor courts. Cheney and I again were on adjacent courts, he strongly favored to win his match to give us one of the three points we would need to win. Quite a few people were there crowded into the lobby and spilling onto the back of the courts. In spite of not making a first serve for the first two games I held and served at 2-2. In that game, I continued to miss first serves and got broken. Big trouble as he held at love twice and I struggled to win my next two games. He served for the set at 5-4, I got tough and broke him and eventually got to a tiebreaker, which I won. In the meantime, Cheney dropped his first set in a breaker. At one all in the second, Cammino pulled it very together and broke me twice in a row, continued to roll and I lost the second set 1-6. Then the unthinkable. Cheney loses the second set and the match. I need to win or we are done. I leave the court, go into the locker room and look into the mirror. I told myself, “this is what you have wanted all year. A chance to carry the weight of the team.” Back on the court Bronson reminded me, again, that “now this is all about your mental. Play your game. Have some fun. It is your match to win.”
I held and Cammino got up to serve. I played my best game of the match and broke him. I knew that if I held my serve for the rest of the set I would win. Every single serve game was a battle. Cammino would not lay down. I took endless time before each point. I breathed. I smiled at Carol. I relaxed my shoulders. I got a good serving rhythm going, not trying to overhit too much, which is a tendency on the hardcourts. I continued to hold and when he served at 3-5, he held at love. The pressure was huge. My heart was racing. I took my time, got to 40-love. Then, I served an ace, but it was called a let. I put in another first serve, got him off the court, came in and volleyed a winner for the match. My greatest win against my toughest opponent in the biggest moment I have ever played. I was ecstatic.
We were now at 1-1 for the team match. The doubles was awesome and pressure packed. The Spaniards were flawless and our doubles team of Bronson and Bohannon were unable to break through losing the match 7-6, 7-5. It was a huge letdown for the team. Regardless, we all hugged and congratulated each other for a great effort all week. The four of us had bonded, supported each other, cheered for each other, won together and lost together. It was a total team effort. We were each presented with beautiful silver medals. We talked of working to make the team for next year, going to Perth, Australia and taking the Cup back.
For me, it was a most extraordinary week. In January, I had written in my journal: If I make the Cup team, my goal is to play in Cup matches freer of the tension that I have played with in the past. I want to bring my true A game to the Cup matches. I had achieved my goal.
This morning I am tired. I get a day off to rest and maybe hit a few balls. Tomorrow I begin my quest to win the World Championships. It is the biggest goal I have set and can’t wait to put myself on the line.