April 10 Two Days after the Finals of the Worlds
My next challenge is to prepare for the Mental Training Class that I teach at Robbie Wagner Tournament Training Center this coming Saturday. I need to think about what I am going to bring back to these young, aspiring players to help them on their journey. Each one has different goals but all share the desire to be the best player they can be.
Having achieved two of my goals for the year, winning the Worlds and reaching the #1 World ranking, one might think it will be easy to provide some suggestions. As I sit on the plane on the trip home I am more at a loss than full of ideas.
The reality is that winning the World Championships feels like just one more step in the journey that I began about 22 years ago when I started to play Senior tennis. What started as a win in a match in a local tournament turned into a couple of wins, then a tournament victory. For several years I kept working to maintain success at the local level, where each victory fueled my desire for more wins and improvement. Before I even realized it, I was winning some matches in National events. At the time, my first National ranking of #57 seemed like the top of the mountain. Being at the top of the mountain didn’t feel like that big a deal. It just felt like a step. Each year my desire to win and improve pushed and pulled me to do more work, to learn more about the game, to put myself on the line and soon, six years after I started competing, I reached what, I was sure, the pinnacle. I won a National Championship. This was my first experience in having a result that exceeded my belief of what I was capable. My self esteem did not allow me to really own that victory. I even suggested that it wasn’t that big a deal. It was too hard for me to own that I was at that level. In order to find out if I really belonged
there, I kept focusing on my game, building strengths and filling holes. A second National title nine months later validated my earlier Championship. No longer able to deny that I was a good player, I spent several years just cruising, slowly improving.
Once I had accepted that I was as good as my results I lost some fire. Complacency set in. My satisfaction came more from external validation as other people, thinking I was a good player, provided me with enough of what I thought I needed. My ranking was consistently ok, but there was something missing. I was no longer challenging myself. Cruising along, I often thought about not playing much. I didn’t work on my game. I stayed the same. Good and highly regarded, but not self satisfied. I avoided dealing with the fear of moving to another level. I kidded myself into thinking that I had already done enough.
Sometime during this period, I lost a couple matches in the East to a couple of good players who had not had the National success that I had up to that point. Initially my reaction was one of acceptance…that I had reached the highest level that I could and that I would be satisfied to be in the pack again. That acceptance lasted for one more
tournament and then, as if I was shot from a cannon, I decided to demand more from myself. I realized that I was not being the best that I could be.
Over the last five years I rededicated myself to be the best that I could be. I committed to improving my conditioning, increasing my strength and flexibility. I drove myself to increase my endurance and speed. I worked harder at discovering whatever mental and emotional issues stood in the way of me playing my best when the pressure
increased against better players or bigger tournaments. I stopped looking outside myself for validation and made self -satisfaction a goal. I forced myself to improve my attitude, my tolerance and willingness to accept that my opponent could defeat me even when I might be playing well. I stopped making excuses on those days when I
was playing below my often unrealistic expectations. The results paid off. I ended up with more victories and, more importantly, feelings of satisfaction about my effort and competitive spirit.
The message, then, is this. Never quit. Fight hard, both on and off the court. Look inside for satisfaction. Don’t be blinded by trophies. Today I said to Carol, “I have achieved my goals. I won the Worlds. I am ranked #1 in the World. Maybe I should stop playing.” She looked at me, smiled and said, “You have achieved your goals before and have
always set new ones. I don’t think that this will be any different. Maybe you will take a couple of days off, but I know you. Your mind is already impatiently searching the horizon for a greater path to travel down.” She knows me well.
For their help over the last few months I want to thank the players who practiced with me: Elvis, Ricky B., Rob J., Adam, Spencer, Peter, Rob M., and Phil. For their incredible support in Australia, my teammates Larry Turville, Neal Newman and Brian Cheney. Neal, for reminding me to focus on the things that I can control rather than on
outcomes. Brian, for his timely comment to believe in myself, this on the day before I beat him in the semis. To all of you who sent emails of support during the Cup matches and the Worlds, with a particular thanks to Michael S. and Chas, who both hit the bullseye with their comments about my destiny. To Aidan for the towel, even though you tricked me into carrying a Notre Dame souvenir. Jane, thanks for making my matches about family and the memory of Mom and Dad.To Jody and Amy and Cam for sending positive vibes at the exact moments that they knew I was playing. Of course, I didn’t really know how to win until Carol came into my life. She showed me that I had the strength to go through the hard times and has been there with me every step of the way. Her smile. Her support. Her selflessness. Her love. Thank you.
I did it. I played like a champion today and defeated two time former World Champion Lito Alvarez. I am in the clouds. I woke up this morning and felt zero pressure. Beating Cheney yesterday reminded me of how capable a player I can be in a big match situation. It seems that the bigger the match the better I play. My confusion about my level earlier in the week had more to do with feeling that life on the court should be easy…and that contributed to me being in the wrong frame of mind…out of focus. When I know it will be tough, I go into the right place and then my tennis flows. And did it ever flow today.
I felt chills when I walked on center court today, with many Aussies in attendance to cheer Lito and my teammates and Carol to support me. When they announced my name and country I felt great pride for what I had already accomplished. I put out my “Play Like a Champion Towel” and had a firm talk with myself. I told myself that this was not about me vs. Lito. It would be about me vs. myself. I could only control what I could do with my game. I couldn’t control the outcome. I know this, intellectually, and tell people all the time. Walking out on the court and believing it is a whole other story. Today I truly knew this to be the truth. I broke Lito in the first game, held my serve, broke him again and held once more. Up 4-0 I sensed that today was my day. He managed to hold serve twice in the set and I had to serve at 5-2. My first slightly shaky moment as he got to deuce. As they say here in Australia, “no worries,” as I served out the next two points for a 6-2 first set.
The clouds started to gather and there was thunder in the distance as we started the first set. Was this a message from above having to do with last year’s decision? I broke Lito’s serve, held mine easily and broke him again. With raindrops beginning to fall, on the changover, Lito shook my hand and said that he could not go on. He said that he was slightly injured and was scared that he would hurt himself more as the court got slippery. I was shocked that he stopped. It was then, and only then, that I stepped out of the match and realized that I had just become the World Champion. Carol and my teammates rushed out on the court for hugs and pictures. Carol and I embraced for minutes as we shared this special moment, the culmination of a long journey over the years.
In the clubhouse other American players were so happy for me and at the awards ceremony I was moved to tears. Incredibly the win was nice but the feeling of all the work that went into it is what moved me so much. As I wrote several weeks ago, it is not about the trophies and wins, it is about the game, the competition and the relationships. How true.
People who watched who have seen me for years said that I played the best that I have ever played. I made only two errrors in the match. To think that I was doubting my game last week and, then, to do this. I am in the clouds.
Tonight we celebrate with our Aussie friends and American teammates. Then it is back to the real world as, even though I am the World Champ, I will squeeze into a seat on coach and take the 27 hour flight home. I may not need a plane to fly home this time.
The beat goes on…Into the Finals
Incredible day for me. Today I advanced to the finals of the Worlds with one of my greatest wins ever. I thought that last year had been the best one, but today I defeated Brian Cheney. He has always been a legend in my mind. I have never defeated him. I have always considered him to be “not human.” I worked so hard last night to get my state in the right place…to be less concerned about how I have been playing up until now, to be more positive, less critical of myself, and to find a way to play within myself. It isn’t just words that make that happpen. I had to work on the internal shift of believing in myself. I woke up early and laid in bed and just pictured myself playing free and easy and with fun. I saw myself playing without fear of losing and without concern of winning. Self esteem is such a factor for athletes and I was struggling with mine. I focused my mind on what I am capable of doing on the court and not how I compared to my opponents. I thought of how I can return serve. I thought of how I can serve. I thought of how I am a fine player when I just play my game.
Brian and Anne Cheney and Carol and I took a cab to the site of the matches. I was quiet and within myself. Brian was too. I did my dynamic warmups and dealt with a 1/2 hour delay of our match time because of fog by staying separate. I kept talking to myself and reminding myself that I was going to go on the court and enjoy the experience. I couldn’t be concerned with winning. When I walked on the court I reminded myself that I was going to win or lose, regardless, and that my job was to do what I am capable of doing…to fight for each point and to play with my heart. Just a side note…I forgot to bring a towel for the hotel and there were none available at the Club. I had one small towel that was given to me by one of my students, Aidan Talcott. He carries it in his bag all the time and he lent it to me for the tournament. It has a message printed on it: “Play like a champion today.” This towel was a constant reminder for me. I did play like a champion. Brian and I played even to 4-4 and then I broke his serve and then had a close game on my serve and ended it with an ace to his forehand. I caught him off guard by standing way over near the sideline and suckering him into thinking I was going to serve out wide to his backhand.
The second set started off well with me getting a break point on his serve but didn’t convert. Then, just like that, I dropped my serve for the first time. He held and I was down 0-3. I fought hard to hold and had two break point with him serving 3-1, but, again, didn’t convert. I held easily and then, again had break points, but didn’t convert. He served at 4-2 and I broke hiim at love. At 3-4, I struggled but held with good serving and again struggled at 4-5 but held. We both fought into a tiebreaker. I won the first point on his serve with a return down low and backhand pass. I won my two points with good serves and won his next won with a return winner. He held one point and I was about to serve at 4-1. I flashed back to losing a third set breaker to him while I was serving at 4-1. I fought off the image and won my two points to go up 1-6. He held one point and, at 2-6, I hit a strong forehand return and he was unable to control the volley. Match to me. When I hugged Carol she saw that I had tears in my eyes. Beating Brian. Making it to the finals again, especially after all that had happened last year. I am blessed.
Tomorrow I play Lito Alvarez again. I played him last week and we had a battle. I expect more of the same. I will be ready.
Congratulations to teammates Neal Newman and Larry Turville who won the doubles Championships, this for the second year in a row.
Aidan: thanks for the towel. You may not get it back from me.
January 18, 2005
The Australian Open started on Sunday. Today, my journey to play in Australia this March became official. The USTA announced the 2005 Cup teams and I have been selected, along with three others to compete for the Austria Cup, the 55 and over equivalent of Davis Cup. I played on the team last year. We took 2nd place in Philadelphia on the grass. This year it will be in Perth, again on the grass. Team goal, no question is to bring home the gold. Playing the Cup matches will be a big part of my year and, because I will be leaving on March 19, I need to get into serious gear at once.
I took off most of the month of December from playing and working out. I didn’t think that I had to because I was feeling really fine but I have learned that I need to pace myself. This way I am more certain to come out of the gate fresh, eager, excited and willing to do the work. I have found that a starting point, a date, makes my goals more concrete. My goals are clear. This year I look to help the team win the Cup by playing up to my highest level. I have the World Championship title in my sights as well. My third goal is to improve on last year’s 40-3 singles record. These are my outcome goals and they help me by setting a course.
I have some playing goals that will, as I work towards them, increase my chances of achieving these outer goals:
To continue staying dedicated to my conditioning program, increasing my work on core and back strength. I also will go to the gym to warm up cardio and flexibility 4-5 times a week. My commitment to flexibility and stretching will increase. I mean, at this point, why wouldn’t I. I feel so much better when I stretch. I will continue to do dynamic flexibility warmups before I walk on the court to teach, practice or play a match.
I will improve my backhand. This is new for this year. It has been very good to me and has stood up under pressure. For the next level, I will need more from it. Jackie Cooper, Head Pro at Indian Wells, gave me a few tips over the phone about how to hit it more the way Rosewall hit his. That would be nice! He told me to get up closer to the ball and to more clearly define my follow through. This will make my service return, groundstroke, approach, pass and volley much more formidable.
I am going to improve my mental state when I have the lead in a close match. Last year, in the semis of the Hardcourts, I got a little ahead of myself. I lost the now and jumped into the future. Just for a moment. Just for one shot. It happened to have been match point. This is something that I do in a match where my belief in myself is not strong, a match that I think “I could” win.” The work on this will be all mental as I continue to build beliefs that support my the future that I see for myself.
I will continue to improve my mindsets including “ball in the court and run for everything,” “I am a tough opponent to win a point from,” “I love when it is close and tough,” “serve as if I am demonstrating” and “I have everything I need.”
I will continue to watch and be inspired by Roger Federer. His style. His ease. His endless defense. His offense only when he needs it. His demeanor. I will also watch to see how he deals with being at the top. It isn’t an easy place to stay.
My first challenge is to prepare for outdoor grass court competition while playing indoors on clay and hardcourts. There is a strong likelihood that I will be playing #1 singles for the team and on March 27, the day that the Cup matches begin, I will need to be at my best. No long season to practice. I will need to hit the ground running in that first match. I won’t get on a grass court until one week before I start. This is new for me. It means that I need to have my mind and body right. My game will just have to come together in a week. I love this kind of challenge!
What a coincidence. The Australian Open ends and I start to get myself on the court to practice. I have put my conditioning program together and have been working on it for about four weeks. Working those core and back muscles. Fun, not really. Purposeful, absolutely. I saw Million Dollar Baby today. I am not working hard enough in the gym. Tomorrow I will kick it up.
The Australian Open was inspirational. I saw a lot. Davenport hits the ball cleaner than anybody…and holds the ball so long. No matter what her position. Federer’s backhand. Andre’s focus. Federer’s movement. Hewitt’s shot consistency. Safin’s talent and power. Serena’s heart. Those top players have such remarkable qualities. One quality that they all share is a strong belief in themselves. In spite of good results over the years, I have struggled with my belief, often thinking that I won because I got a good break or my opponent didn’t play well. I know that I have gotten to a new and better place with this. Last week Austria Cup captain Brian Cheney called me up to discuss the lineup for our matches. He suggested that he might play me at #2 singles because he might need me to play doubles as well. The order of play is #2, #1 and then, immediately following, doubles. No time break for #1. I was honored that he suggested I might be called on to play doubles if we needed the point. I told him, with no hesitation, that I want to be playing #1 for the team. I feel that I have earned it and I belong there. Well , when I got off the phone I was shaking a little. Did I really say that I believe on I the #1 player on this team of great senior champions? It felt good to believe in myself. (Later in the week I called him back and told him that he was the captain and I would do whatever was best for the team.)
I have been thinking about my past Cup matches. I have been lucky to have made the Cup teams for four of the last six years. My mental state going in has been different each time. The first year, 1999, I didn’t feel that I belonged on the team and played with a lot of fear…fear that my teammates and competitors would see that I didn’t belong. The second year, 2002, I went in thinking I was playing great and couldn’t lose only to lose confidence (it must have been false confidence) while practicing with my teammates early in the week. I won some matches but didn’t pull through in the important ones. In 2003, I had a new role, playing captain, and my mindset had more to do with guiding the team and being a leader. I took a back seat in matches. Last year, playing in Philadelphia, I was confident and determined. Point me to the court. I will play a good match. I will win a point for the team. I played great.
I expect that this year my mindset will include enjoying the experience more than ever before. No self doubts. I feel comfortable. I feel experienced. I feel certainty about the level of my game. I am looking forward to whatever this year throws at me.
I practiced this week on the hardcourts. Haven’t been on them for months. I was surprised at how complete my game was. I was efficient, wasting very few shots. My concentration was consistent. I served with purpose each point. Typically I am not so locked in so early. Could be that I was just excited about starting and that tends to make my interest level soar.
It has been close to a month since my last journal entry and I have moved steadily towards getting ready to compete. I am on my way to Palm Springs for a couple of days of practice outdoors on grass courts. On Monday night I meet Carol in Los Angeles and we fly to Sydney, where we meet up with Austria Cup teammates Cheney, Turville and Newman. Wednesday morning arrival with practice sessions arranged by John Newcombe at the famous White City Tennis Club. Thanks to Bill Dorman for hooking us up with Newk. Without his help there was not shot of getting on the grass before we go on to Perth for the beginning of the Cup matches. First matches will be on Sunday, the 24th. According to the pre competition lineup I will be playing #1 for the USA. Although I have played a few matches at #1 in the past, this is the first time that I am in that position in the lineup. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to lead the team. Our team is strong, with the #2, 4 and 7 ranked players in the World. In addition to all strong singles grass court players, Newman and Turville won the World Doubles Championships last September. Cheney and I defeated them in winning the National Grass Doubles Championships. We have many options.
I have spent the last month continuing to work on my strength, flexibility and endurance. I have been in the gym four times a week doing a variety of exercises. I have spent more time working my abs and upper back than in the past and I definitely notice a difference on the court…more strength in my upper body and less lower back fatigue. Flexibility continues to be on the top of my conditioning program. There were days when it was tough to find the time to get to the gym but I knew that it was part of my job so I would get there and do something, even if it was just a couple of exercises. It not only worked my body but continued to keep me disciplined and committed. It is easy to miss a couple of days and to lose momentum. I kept telling myself that I had no choice…that in order to be at my best I needed to do the work.
My on court training is always fun. I have a bunch of friends that I call on to help me get ready. Rob Janacek, 33 year old former Canadian tour player and UCLA star, started me off early in the month by kicking my butt, hitting huge serves and taking advantage of any weak shot that I put in the court. Playing with got my mind clear on the importance of avoiding shots that get me in trouble. He showed me how just getting a ball in play just won’t cut it. This thinking has helped my shot selections over the last few weeks. Rob Malinow, one of my regular practice partners, played non stop serve and volley with me on a few occasions and got me pumped up to keep my returns low on the grass so that I can always get a decent play on my second shot. Adam Rosen, Ricky Becker, and Phil Radjewski served as tag team opponents, each with different styles, challenging my ability to adjust each time I played. I used to practice with similar types of opponents but have learned that this limits my preparation. I practiced with junior players Spencer Feldman and Saad, whose last name I don’t know. They hit the ball big and heavy. Again I worked on adjusting…finding a way to win. I played with Peter Harjes, who serves in the 120’s. My will to win against all of these players got stronger and stronger as the time to compete drew closer. This past week, I informed all of my students that they had to play their best to help me get ready. From 10 year old Aidan Talcott to 80 year old Jack Bendror, everyone put the ball in the court a lot in order to give me a good workout. Nice job I have. People pay me to help me play better tennis. End result of all of this is that I am playing well. I am on the ball, clear on what I am doing with it, feeling fit and moving well. Short of getting some outdoor play on the grass courts, I couldn’t be better prepared.
I am totally relaxed about playing the Cup matches this year. I have gotten to a place in my tennis where I am clear about why I am playing. For me, it is about playing relaxed, having a good time, taking on the challenges of the game, accepting the bad with the good, loving the battle and tension of close matches and, of course, to play good tennis. Winning flows out of this mentality. I recall Billie Jean King several years ago talking about how important it is to tell my students that “it is not about the winning…it is about playing the game, the relationships and the job of competing.” I said to her, “that is easy for you to say. You have won 22 Wimbledon titles.” Her response was profound: “That is exactly why you should listen to me. I have been to the top of the mountain and I know that it isn’t nearly as special as the journey to get there.” I agree 100%
I have been fortunate to have a lot of success in my tennis over the last few years. Much of the time I was driven by the need for external gratification. Don’t get me wrong, I still like that, but now, more than ever, I am driven by my desire to just have a great time playing tennis, just like sports felt when I was a kid playing hoops in the backyard.
March 24 Flying from Sydney to Perth
It is now Thursday in the late afternoon and we are on the cross country flight from Sydney to Perth. Hard to believe that this distance is the same distance as New York to LA. When we land we will be on the west coast of Australia, merely 21 hours ahead of New York time. The Austria Cup team of Brian, Neal, Larry and myself decided to meet in Sydney for two days of practice before this final leg to Perth. Unfortunately it rained for most of the first day and tennis was definitely out of the question. We were told that there hadn’t been a rain day like this for years. It didn’t stop us from beginning to bond as a team, as the four of us spent the afternoon touring the city.
We got a huge break today as the weather forecast was wrong and the sun came out. Off we went to the legendary White City Tennis Club, site of many Davis Cup matches, for a couple of hours of practice. In spite of being unable to get on the soggy grass we had a good workout on a hard court and soaked up the history of the club. To be playing on courts that were frequented by Laver, Rosewall, Hoad, Newcombe, Stolle, Emerson and other legends got our heads into the spirit of the upcoming matches. We were welcomed by Oggie Kolev, the tennis director of the club and, after playing, sat with him and heard the wonderful stories of this club. Pictures of the greats surrounded us and I felt that they were there with us, looking out on the historic stadium and lush grass courts. As I have in past tennis trips, I feel blessed to be able to
play at the great clubs of the past. As Billie Jean King said, “it is about the relationships and experiences more than the winning.”
Practicing with the guys as teammates is unique. Typically we are opponents and, although we have been friends for twenty plus years we don’t often help each other out on the court during a tournament. The team changes all of that. Each of us is making helpful comments to one another and the support makes for a whole other level of enjoyment.
While playing today I started to feel very excited about the fact that I will be playing #1 singles for the team. I looked at who was on the
court with me and thought about how far I have come. Twenty years ago, at my first National tournament, Brian and Larry were the two top players in the country and I was a first round loser. In 1999, the first time I was selected to play a Cup match, I was nervous and insecure. Brian was our #1 player that year and I looked up to him and
wondered if I could ever play at his level. In 2002, my second time on the Cup team, Larry was the #1 player and I looked at him as a player
that I hoped, someday, to become. To be playing ahead of them this year and to feel their efforts in supporting me…wow!
Tomorrow we go to the site of the matches and will escalate the intensity of practice. No more thinking about what was or what it feels like to be in this position. Tomorrow I begin to focus on those parts of my game that need to be rock solid for the competition…returns, serves, passing shots, volleys and overheads. I have prepared hard for
the last few months for these next two weeks. I always feel like I am home when I walk on the grass. I am confident and ready. Can’t wait to get to it!
March 25-26 Practice and Opening Ceremonies
We were scheduled for two practice sessions on Friday at Robertson Park, a public park with twenty grass courts. Except for this couple of weeks, anyone can walk in and rent a grass court for $11/hour. When we arrived we were greeted by many Aussie volunteers who registered over 400 players from 23 countries. There are ten cup matches going on at three sites, for men and women from the 35 and over to the 55 and over. The international flavor is exciting and contributes to the out of ordinary life that I will be leading for the next two weeks. I see many players from past Cup matches and we instantly reconnect. Friends that I have made from France, Spain, Ireland, Germany, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Belgium, Croatia, Japan, Argentina and more share experiences of the last year, bringing me up to date on competitions, family, health and other news. The relationships are a big part of the experience.
When we, the strong American team, hit the courts for our two hour morning practice sesssion, many eyes turn to us. Our Austria Cup team for 55 and over is, arguably, one of the strongest teams in the field, having the #s 2, 4 and 7 World ranked players. Our practices with each other may be the strongest competition that we will face until late in the week, if we manage to advance. As soon as my feet hit the grass, I am playing great. I am “on the ball.” There is some wonderful spiritual change that occurs to my game when I get on this surface. My confidence soars and I play to a level way beyond my regular game. We spend two hours beating up on each other, with my teammates getting me ready for playing #1 singles. Towards the end, Turville, who will play #2 and I team up for doubles to help Newman and Cheney get ready for their doubles. It is a team effort, with each player helping the others to play at the high end of their talent and skill. After meeting up with Carol and the other wives for lunch, Captain Cheney has us back on the court for another two hours. It was brutally hot, in the high 80’s, and the workout was intense. The sun is very strong here and conditioning may be a factor in late round matches.
On Saturday we had another long practice session and, again, I could feel the eyes of the other teams on us. I feel relaxed and unconcerned about anything other than making first serves and returns. I play better and better as time goes on. My preparation has paid off as I am controlling matches with the qualilty of my shots.
At night the team sticks together and the bonding that is so important in winning a team event, continues. We go out to eat together every night. The talk is not about tennis but about life experiences. I shared some stories about my parents and the way in which they helped me get to where I am as a player. As if often the case when I am at these major events, the memory of my Mom and Dad is powerful. I wish that they could be here to share in my experience.
One of the most special parts of the trip is the Opening Ceremonies. Tonight was no exception. With two time Grand Slam Champion Margeret Court in attendance, all of the players sit together wearing there team warmups. It is a colorful and rowdy group with all feeling great pride in representing their countries. I was given the honor of being flag bearer for the 10 United States teams. I marched in front of the crowded stadium to cheers from the US players, families and friends. I
am truly a lucky man. Tennis has given me so much.
Tomorrow we kick off with a match against Japan. Let’s get ready to rumble!
There are 10 different cup matches going on at one time here in Perth. There are men and women playing in the 35, 40, 45, 50 and 55 and over. Three different public facilities are being used. Our site is hosting the men’s 45 and 55 events so we are very connected to the players at our facility. There are certain teams that we are most friendly with, those being Australia, Great Britain and Canada. Then there are those countries that we put up with, like Argentina, Spain, Germany and France. We are most competitive with Australia and Spain. We have been in the finals against Spain many times and although the banter amongst the players is light, there is a lot of psyching going on each day. When we are playing we often are being scouted by the Spanish team captain. We, of course, do the same with them, seeing what flaws have surfaced in their games since last we met. Usually, there are less flaws, but occassionally more injuries. It is r emarkable how all of us appear to play better each year.
Today’s match was against Croatia. We took great pleasure in defeating them soundly in that they defeated us in the first round of Davis Cup last month in California. They didn’t have a Lubicic to take it to us the way he did against Roddick and Agassi. I won at #1 6-0, 6-1. I am pretty sure that with the World ranking points that I earned for winning matches at #1 for the last two days that I have moved into the #1 ranking in the world in the 55s. This is certainly a dream come true. Regardless I have a lot more work to do to help the team to victory. Captain Cheney has been talking to us about possible lineup changes in the event that we are 1-1 after the singles in any of our matches. He has talked to me about playing doubles after my singles if necessary. I am ready if called upon.
here are some pics of me with the flag at opening ceremonies:
Photos courtesy of Pat Parsons
Today we played against a strong team from Argentina. They were the 5th seeded team (we were #2 behind Spain.) Turville played the opening match at #2 singles and dropped the first set but managed to pull out a victory in the third. So much for our thoughts of totally dominating the round robin part of the tournament. I played their top player at #1 and could not have played better, winning 6-0, 6-1. I am confident, on the ball, returning well and serving out of my mind. My body feels good and I am moving very well. This creates problems for my opponents. If I am at the ball I am making my shots. I love when things are flowing like this. Cheney and Newman won in 3 sets in the doubles. We have won our first three matches without the loss of a set and tomorrow play the semis against a very tough team of Australians. They are playing on their home courts and will have a big turnout of fans. We have our wives plus a couple of locals that have adopte d us.
Captain Cheney is faced with a tough decision on tomorrow’s lineup. After an amazing dinner overlooking the Indian Ocean in a town called Corteslow the team met to discuss what we should do. Cheney felt that, if we are at 1-1 after the singles, I should be playing doubles. Newman and Turville think that they should be playing the doubles. My only input was that if I am playing well and feeling confident then I will play doubles if he feels that he wants me out there…and it wouldn’t matter who I teamed up with. The end result was the decision that I will play #1, Cheney #2 and our World Champions Turville and Newman at doubles. I am glad I am not the captain.
I will be playing Lito Alvarez, who was originally from Argentina and is now a citizen here. He played for UCLA and is a superb player. I am looking forward to the challenge and plan to play in a way that he will have to play great to win points. I am ready.
USA vs. Austria
Tough day at the office for the USA. We lost all three matches againt host team Australia. Captain Brian Cheney, playing #2 singles lost a close one 7-5, 7-5. I spent much of his match trying to time a meal and my dynamic warmup exercises. I thought he was going to win the second set so I was watching rather than warming up. About ten minutes after I thought that I was on the court warming up against their #1 Lito Alvarez. Regardless I felt really ready. I was loose and intended to do what I had planned before arriving in Australia…to have a good time, to stay relaxed and to play good tennis. I played one of the greatest sets of tennis that I have ever played in a big moment winning 6-1, breaking Lito’s serve three times in the set. I was totally on fire and made only two errors in the set, both service return misses in the one game that he won. I can’t say that I made the mistake of thinking that things would continue that way, but I was amazed at what had happened. I served the first game of the second set, won the first point and then, on the second point, took him off the court with a wide serve to his backhand which he popped up and, looking at a wide open court, volleyed long. Amazingly, it was the opening that he needed and he picked up his game just enough to break my serve. He managed to hold serve through the set and we were at one set apiece. That is how fast things can change in a tennis match. I was still playing really well but he was staying with me.
The third set was a battle with lots of ups and downs. First I was up a break. He evened it up. He served at 2-2 and I went up triple break point, played the next point a little too casual and then he popped two great serves in to get back to deuce. From there we battle again and he held for a 2-3 lead. I then dropped my serve as I lost some rhythm and couldn’t buy a first serve. At ad out I had a pretty easy ball (although nothing is easy in a match of this magnitude) and hit it long. We both held and he got up to serve at 5-3 for the match. I got really tough again, reminded myself to compete for each and every point and got to break point. We then played the point of the tournament with both of us managing some incredible gets, hitting fifteen shot between us and me hitting a winner on the dead run with him ending up stretching out on the ground for the last attempt. I was back in it. Changing sides I was reminded to just get m y serves in and play tough. Didn’t happen though as I double faulted the first point, he hit a winner return on the second and on the third point he lunged for a ball, popped it up over my head and I just didn’t get up high enough to control the overhead. Down love 40, triple match point, I got one point and then Lito came up with a good return that I just couldn’t quite control. Match to the Aussies. Lito and I hugged at the net to wild cheers from all. It was a wonderful battle. Of course I was disappointed to lose and to not push the match to one all for the doubles to decide. That being said I was totally ok with how I competed, my attitutude, my having a wonderful time while playing and with the way my game stayed consistent throughout. The doubles didn’t matter and our guys lost to the Aussies as rain started to fall.
Tomorrow we go against the Brits for the bronze medal so we can’t think about the past. I look forward to another match.
In retrospect I can see I need to be prepared to keep my intensity up when I have an amazing run during a match, the way I did in this one. I got a little too relaxed and that one point at the beginning of the second set cost me. Every loss is another wonderful lesson for the future.
The seedings for next week’s World Championships was announced last night and I am seeded #1. Nice acknowledgement for the past but won’t win me many games against this strong field. I will go out every day and compete for every single point. No winning points on reputation or on what has happened in the past.
USA Wins the Bronze
After the coldest and rainiest April day in history in Perth yesterday we awoke to glorius weather today and hopes for a great match against the tough British team. Having competed against these guys several times over the last few years we knew that we were up against some experienced grass court players. Typically the #2 players play the first match but, today, because their #1 had a plane to catch in the afternoon I was first on. I didn’t know that until I got to the courts and was a bit thrown off. I like to do about 15 minutes of dynamic stretching and then some hitting before my match. I needed to abbreviate as the ITF wanted to get things started right away. The great thing about feeling confident in my game, as I do this week, is that nothing really can throw me off once I am out there playing. No slow start for me as I beat the tar out of England’s #1 55 and over player. I won the first eight games before a little mental slip. At 6-0, 2-0 I decided that since I had made all my first serves in the first game of the second set, I would try to make all first serves for the match. I made the first 3 to go up 40-0, got cocky and saw a few returns blow by me. Bottom line, I dropped my serve. It only made me more determined and I pounced all over him in the next game and cruised to a 6-2 second set. USA 1, Great Britian 0. Cheney went out at #2 and won 7-6, 6-3. That locked the match for us, the Brits defaulted the doubles and we won the bronze. Not too shabby. The Aussies beat the Spanish team 2-1 to win the gold. Happy for our friends from Oz. We will get them next time I am sure.
Winning the Cup was definitely on my wish list for the year and I don’t hesitate to make it a goal again. I always remember that setting big goals is a great way to achieve high levels of success. I thought that we had the horses to do it this year but tennis matches don’t always turn out the way one expects. The important things were that we all played hard, had fun. strengthened our relationships with the other players and were happy for our friends who did well. The American teams overall did well with three of our ten teams winning gold, three silver and two bronze. Only one of our teams finished out of medal contention.
Today was also the opening of the individual World Championships with many new players arriving. Not all players who played for the Cups stayed on so theri were hugs and good buys until the future, with promises to stay in touch.
All of my teammates are staying on for the Worlds. I am playing doubles with Cheney and Newman and Turville are playing together as well. I hope that we can meet in the finals.
Tomorrow practice with opening match for me on Monday. I will practice with my teammates but probably be a little less helpful to them than I have been all week. They are now opponents. Regardless I will be rooting for them and they for me until we have to meet. Then…all business.
One last thing about the Cup matches is how important the wives are. They are our biggest supporters and when we receive our medals we always acknowledge that it would be tough to do without them.
Next report probably won’t be until Monday night.
By the way, fed the kangaroos and pet the koalas the other day. Tomorrow to the beach on the Indian Ocean. Tennis continues to give me more than I had ever dreamed.
The tournament started on Sunday but I had a bye in my first round so Cheney and I went out for a practice hit. It was awful. I was totally flat. I didn’t want to be on the court. I couldn’t get any energy going. My feet were stuck in one place. I was irritated, not interested, couldn’t make returns and couldn’t find the service box on my serve. I was really unhappy. I thought that I was done…that I had no more good tennis left. When I got back to the hotel I spent some time with Carol processing what was going on. Had I trained too hard before getting here and had nothing left? Was I homesick after being away for almost three weeks? No, it wasn’t either of those. I figured out that this was a function of having just completed an intense week of playing for the Cup, where my focus had been on the team competition. There was,I suppose, a normal let down that occurrred. I had forgotten that the same thing happened last year at the conclusion of the Cup matches before the Worlds. Even with that awareness, I was not happy and concerned about how I would play on Monday. My match was against a tough Aussie who knew how to play on the grass.
I walked on the court somewhat overconfident, feeling that, as the top seed, my opponent would be uptight against me. After playing spotty to 2-2 in the first set, he missed a few easy balls in a couple of his service games and I, not playing very sharp won the first set, 6-2. I was impatient with my lack of intensity and my inability to make a bunch of shots that I expect myself to make. The second set was similar but I did escape with a 6-3 win. I had made the mistake of underestimating my opponent and forgot what makes me tick on the court…having fun, loving the competition, moving my feet, playing loose and fighting for every point.
It is important for me to have matches like this early in a tournament because it wakes me up. Cheney and I played a doubles match in the afternoon and things got a little better. Progess. I was more into it. I found that I was starting to care. I began to realize that I was going to have to fight hard to play well. I remembered to have a good time. I could see that the heaviness that I was feeling on the court was starting to lift. It better becaue tomorrow, in the round of 16, I will be playing the #1 player form Germany. I expect to be ready. I will not expect it to be easy. I will look forward to him playing well and forcing me to play up to my best. Tomorrow is also the quarters of the doubles and we are up against the 5th seeded team (we are #3), two really excellent Aussies, both members of the team that beat us in the Cup last week.
This game of tennis is always throwing new challenges in my path. Last year I struggled with the pressure of being the #1 seed. This year the seeding doesn’t matter to me as much.This year I am faced with being too relaxed about my seeding…that opponents will just be unable to stay with me. The last two days have reminded me that nothing comes easy in this game. The fact that I played dominant tennis last week means nothing about this week. Every time I play I must get myself into the present. I must compete for each and every point. If my opponent gives me some errors, so be it, but I better not expect it because everybody here has won many matches over the years. I must maintain respect for my opponents. I must stay humble.
Saw that Federer won again. I have a new level of respect for tour players who must get it up week in and week out. There is othing easy about playing great one week and then having to do it again starting two days later.
Thanks to everybody for your messages of support.
Managed to find new energy today. I woke up eager to play and my physical followed. I played at 9:30 aginst Germany’s #1 and after splitting the first four games to go to 2-2 I went on a roll and won 6-2, 6-1. I was loose, relaxed, having fun and enjoying the challenge. I felt no pressure to live up to anyone’s expectations, although I have to admit I am being very tough on myself because of the level that I had been playing at. I am somewhat put out with myself when I miss a service return so I need to recognize that my opponent does have something to do with it. I will need to remember that tomorrow as I am playing Aussie Peter Rigg in the quarters. I have played him once, in 1999, and lost to him 7-6 in the third in the semis of the Worlds in Amsterdam. That was on clay and I was probably favored. He is better on grass than clay but I am a better big match player than I was back then. He will make me play my best if I am to win and I look forward to a match that will do that. there are many Aussies that show up to support their mates and they will be there in full force so I will image up all of you who read my journals. I will figure you are cheering my efforts.
Cheney and I had a huge win in the quarters of the doubles today. We won the first set 6-2 and were down in the second 1-4 with me serving down 0-30. We escaped that game, broke at love and were back on serve. I served again at 4-5 and was donw two set points but, again, with great teamwork and effort, we got to 5-5. We went to a tiebreaker and really jelled winning in 7-1 with me ending it with a backhand down the line winner while playing the ad side. Very satisfying.
Pretty tight after a long day of playing and was doing some stretching when the captain of the Japanese team, a guy that I beat last week, came over and offered to massage and stretch me. This is a big part of what this competition is about. Tennis diplomacy, building friendships and letting the competition bridge our countries. Another example is that, tonight the Cheneys and Carol and I are guests for dinner at the home of Peter and Tina Rigg, my opponent in the quarters of the singles and the semis of the doubles tomorrow. Lots of jokes about slipping each other bad food and drinks but all in great fun.
More News from Perth
First I will get the results out of the way…I won in the quarters of the singles 6-4, 6-3. We lost in the semis of the doubles 6-7, 7-5, 6-3. Now I can talk about what an incredibly challenging day it was for me.
Matches began at 11:30 and it was 32 degrees, which means it was about 95 degrees farenheit. The sun was directly overhead and difficult for my lefty serve and continued to be a challenge until about 1:30 when I escaped with my singles win. I went on the court overly concerned about the possibility of losing to Aussie Peter Rigg, who, last night at dinner, kept making reference to poisoning my food and other comments that suggested that he was really nervous about the match. All it did was make me more up tight than I needed to be. I was confident that I am the better player and, as a result, felt extra pressure. I guess that sounds backwards but that is just the way it was. Last night when thinking about the match I got in touch with how, most of last year, I was feeling that playing within myself, that my game was good enough, was a great mental place to be. Somehow I have lost that feeling. Maybe it had to do with the monumental match I played against Lito Alvarez last week, when I played absolutely awesome and came away with a loss. My struggles against some lesser players since that match had a lot to do with me trying to overdo everything. The result is that I ma missing a lot when I probably don’t need to. In spite of recognizing that I needed to play within myself I struggled against Rigg, truly a worthy opponent, but someone I probably would not have too much trouble with when I am on my game. Technically I found that by trying to do too much, my timing was off and I was way ahead of the ball, the result being lots of service returns into the net. I managed to hang tough, mentally, against Rigg and, as I said earlier, escaped with a win and advanced to the semis. You may think that it is peculiar to play what I feel is just so so tennis and still advance this far in the Worlds. I guess that it is and I need to, somehow, improve my perspective and realize that I am playing well. What a wierd game this tennis is.
The doubles was a war. Lito and Rigg were seeded #1 for good reason. These Aussies really play great doubles. I had lost to this pair in 1999 in Amsterdam in the finals of the Worlds. Cheney and I started off tentatively and hung in until we got to a tiebreaker, which we lost 7-1 in the first set. We struggled in the second and were down a service break when I managed to remember that “playing within myself” was a good idea. I started to make a high percentage of returns, stopped thinking that my normal game was not good enough and, in spite of Brian struggling a bit, kept us in it and we managed to win the second set. It was my best tennis in a week. Entering the third hour of the match the heat was getting to all of us and it was just going to be a matter of who could hold on. 1-1, 2-2 3-3 and then at 3-3, Lito hit a double fault at deuce. Break point with me returning. He put a slow serve into my forehand and I netted it. He doubled again and I missed another return, again overhitting because I doubted that just putting it in play would be good enough. We got another break point and, this time, I lobbed the return but had a brain freeze as I stayed back and got suckered into overhitting a backhand. He eventually escaped and they were up 4-3. Brian dropped serve. It was a team effort, as doubles always is and the Aussies served it out at love.
It is so disappointing to play that long and walk away with a loss, especially when we had so many opportunities. Tennis is often a mean game and it felt like that this afternoon. We were all exhausted but that feeling is not so bad when you win.
Regardless I will need to get up for my semifinal match tomorrow against doubles partner and good friend Brian Cheney. We will breakfast together and even warm up together and then try to kick each other’s butts. I still need to do some work on my self esteem and find a way to trust my game. If I start to overhit I am certain to be doomed. This will be a great challenge tomorrow. The finish line is in sight but still very far away. I expect to make a lot of returns and to serve well and then to let everything else flow.