2005 USTA National Mens 55 Grass Court Championships

Day After the Finals…Gold and Silver…Sept. 18

How could it be, when not so long ago, I was out of my mind thrilled that I made the semis of a National Championships? How could it be that winning the doubles and being a finalist in the singles would feel like coming up a little short? One of my tennis buddies wrote me,
I feel a little funny congratulating you on a silver and a gold when I know and you know that we both had gold/gold expectations.
I feel the same way. It doesn’t feel bad. It is just that I had gotten in the habit of winning all of my matches on the grass. Yesterday was the end of a 39 match grass court run in the United States. I hadn’t lost one since 1999. Yesterday, it wasn’t about what had happened before. Yesterday, Larry Turville was the better player. He was tough, making great serves and consistent low returns that I had difficulty getting control of. He beat me 7-6,4-6,6-2. It was only through refusing to give in to his high level of play that kept me from losing in straight sets. It was an uphill battle from the first game. I was struggling to hold serve and he was winning his easily. I was struggling with my movement through much of the match due to my body feeling pretty beat up from the semis. Hey that is the way it goes…conditioning and injuries are part of the game. Frankly I think that he could have turned it up a notch if I had thrown more at him.

In the third set I was about to serve at 2-5, love 40, triple match point down. I considered, in that moment, how fortunate I was to be in that situation. I had taken a fall in the semis where I could have been seriously injured and, yet, here I was playing in the finals. I thought about our brothers and sisters in New Orleans and their plight. I thought about how, years ago, I would have given so much to just be able to play at this level and to be in the finals of a tournament. I also knew that a long great run was likely to end. I was not going to go down meekly, trying to not lose. I fired up one ace. I then hit a non returnable serve. At 30-40 I missed my first serve. What to do? Just put it in? No way, I went for it. I went for a big kick serve into his forehand and missed it wide. Double fault. No shame. I went for it. I felt proud that I have gotten to that point in my game. I am not afraid to lose.

One hour later I was back on the courts for the finals of the doubles. Cheney and I were about to play Turville and his partner, Neal Newman, who won the World Champs in doubles on grass for the last two years. The four of us were the Sr. Davis Cup team that played together this past March in Perth. We are close friends. It was great doubles with great camaraderie. Cheney and I won 6-2, 5-7, 6-2. It was my third consecutive National Grass Doubles title. It was a milestone victory for me. My 10th National Championship. The ride continues for me.

Next up. The National Hardcourt Championships in November. A week away from the gym and the practice courts and then back to work.

Semifinals….Sept. 16

Yesterday I was in the zone and everything flowed. There was no work. I just went along for the ride. It was a special feeling. Today was a different zone, one where I needed to work for every point. This type of match is much more rewarding. I was forced to face some adversity and I handled it well, coming up with a win against Cheney 4-6, 6-1, 7-6. We were two players giving their all and giving no ground. He played well and I was a bit flat in the first set, but I stormed back in the second. I knew that a 6-1 set was not going to knock him out as it might others. He came storming back in the 3rd set after I went up a service break at 2-2. I created adversity for myself when I started to think ahead, thinking that all I needed to do was hold serve the rest of the way from 3-2 and I would be ok. Of course at 4-3, with that thought in mind and with Brian turning up his game, I started to tighten up, started overhitting first serves, missing them and giving Brian a chance to take advantage of my second serves. He kept the heat on big time. I managed to escape five break points but I was fortunate. I knew that I needed to break him at 3-5 for the match because serving at 5-4 was going to be very tough. He played a great game to get it to 5-4. Even though I was ahead he was grabbing the momentum. He was putting tremendous pressure on, not missing. I played another very tight game, didn’t make many first serves but still managed to get to my ad, match point. Double fault! On the next point I served and moved in to volley and let his return go, thinking it was way out…it landed in by about 8 feet. Choking. He wins the game and is serving at 5-5.

At this point I had a pretty good talk with myself. I told myself that I had blown a pretty good opportunity by losing control of my mind at 5-4 playing safe. If I was going to lose this match, I told myself, I had better do it playing to win, not playing safe. I played a great game, going for my serves, loosening up and got myself into a tiebreaker. I won the first point on his serve and then held my two serves. With him serving at 1-3 I ran hard for a short ball that I didn’t get to but was running full speed toward the net post. Not thinking I tried to jump over the net rather than hit the post. I was over but my back foot hit the top of the net and I landed hard on my left side. I was scared while lying there face down for about 15 seconds. I got up, was ok, took a couple of minutes and managed to win my two serve points to get to 5-2. He won his points and at 5-4 I served it out. What a great match. Great effort from both of us.

When we were done we acknowledged to each other what a high class match this was. Then we had lunch together. Then we went out and kicked some serious butt in the semis of the doubles, beating the #4 seeds 6-2, 6-1.

I am in some discomfort from the fall, having jammed up a couple of ribs and spraining my left wrist. Boyd, the brilliant physical therapist, worked on me for a while and told me that my ribs would feel not bad or terrible when I wake up tomorrow. I am figuring that I will be able to go out in the finals tomorrow against 6’9” Larry Turville and chop him down to size.

Round of 16….Sept. 14

It was thick on the courts today. The humidity was very high. The clouds were low and kept a lot of moisture on the courts. They were almost mushy. It took a lot of focus to be on every ball in that the bounces were uncomfortably low. I won in both singles and doubles and am always pleased to get through with a win but I was unhappy with my level of intensity. It was up and down. Mostly down because that old enemy of mine, overconfidence, was at work. I didn’t take my opposition seriously enough. I didn’t play with a sense of urgency on enough points. The outcome was that I would get leads with focus and then, without focus, struggled to close. Singles scores of 6-3, 6-2 don’t tell how this match was pretty close. In the doubles, both Cheney and I were spotty. We were serving 3-4, love 30 in the first set. At that moment we had a little chat about treating each point with more respect. We won 9 games in a row, winning 6-4, 6-0.

Tomorrow is the quarterfinals and there will be no room for my mind to be anywhere but in the point. Focus will be my task for tomorrow. When I am focused I hit the shots well, to where they should be hit at the right times. Decisions flow from a deeper place. My opponent tomorrow is a good friend from California. We had a close match last year in the semis that I won. He has beaten me a couple of times on indoor hard courts. As I look out my window I see heavy clouds with rain coming. Good chance the tournament will be moved indoors tomorrow. I have good work in front of me. Changing surface is a great challenge. I will have to move my confidence indoors with me. With confidence and focus, may game will be just fine.

First Match…Sept. 13

Played a guy from Massachusetts who had a decent win in the first round. I was super relaxed and confident going on the court. I feel confident because I feel that I am “on every ball.” I am moving well and when I get in the proximity of the ball I am making clean contact. Federer’s contact with the ball was inspiring to me and I plan to stick with that as a playing mantra. Hand and racket face on the ball. My hand feels very in control of my shot location and spins. It is a good feeling. I feel secure that I can put the ball just about anywhere on the court. My match started perfectly when I hit three aces and a near fourth. I won the first sixteen points of the match and only lost a few in the first set. 6-0. At 3-0 in the second set my opponent held serve and at 4-1 my opponent served a game that had about ten deuce and ad points. That game took as long as the rest of the whole set. End result. 6-0, 6-1. Play a big lefty from California tomorrow.

I received an email from a client who is working towards being a top Senior International skier, believing that if I could do it in tennis then it is possible for him to do it in skiing. I am sure he will make it. His email to me: “I left my house at 7am and went on a 38 mile bike ride. Thought of you a lot. I was trying to imagine how it feels to go to a National competition, ranked #1 in the world, with everyone eyeing you.“ It is funny but I was really hooked into that about a month ago and, so far, this week, it has not been on my mind at all. Thankfully, I feel like one of the players in the tournament, trying to win my match today. A month ago I had told myself that I needed to stop thinking about rankings, streaks and past championships. I am pleased that I was able to get control of that. Playing these matches is all about staying in the moment and keeping my confidence up. This is easiest to do when I feel good about myself in the present. My self esteem at tournaments is solid. My confidence is up. My belief in myself is strong. I just want to go out and play good tennis.

Doubles starts tomorrow. I am partnering with good friend and super player Brian Cheney. He has been the standard that I have been trying to play up to all of these years. Last year we won the doubles here and I was a bit nervous playing with him. This year, I feel differently. I feel that I am more than just a support player. I feel that it is not only a good deal for me to have him as a partner, it is a good deal for him to have me. That is very different. These are the thoughts that help me realize how much I have grown as a player and person on the courts.

First Day of the Tournament…September 12

Beautiful day. Beautiful setting. Rockaway Hunt Club with about 20 grass courts. I showed up today and watched some of my buddies play first round matches. I was thrilled to see one of my closest friends win his first National match after many tries. He fell behind and fought back to win the first set and pulled out the second under much personal pressure. Those who don’t compete just don’t know how hard it is to win on demand. Two other local players that I practice with won their opening matches. I feel like the team leader for the Eastern players and love to be there for them with whatever support I can provide.

Got to see my three teammates from this year’s trip to Australia. Three of us are seeded 1, 2, and 3 and the four of us are seeded 1 and 2 in doubles. We all hit together and played some practice doubles. If is funny how much we helped each other in Australia when we were teammates. Today, nobody was offering any suggestions on how to play better.

Tonight Carol and I hosted a barbecue for some of the players and enjoyed being able to give back to those that have been so hospitable to us when we are in their cities. We talk tennis: matches, injuries, rules, plans for the next year, children, grandchildren. We continue to grow our relationships through this wonderful sport.

Tomorrow I step on the court and it counts. I am eager.

The Day Before the Tournament Begins Sept. 11

I have been practicing a couple of times a week for the last few weeks, making good progress on the areas of my game that I have trying to nail down. I have been serving to the forehand. I have been passing with my backhand. I have been making a strong effort of being mentally in every single point, even though it is practice. It pays off big time. I have imaged up service returns that support the game plan that I have laid out for myself. I have stayed committed to the gym doing leg work and core work. I worked extra hard on my upper back to help keep my back straighter on more shots. It also is very good for my serve.

I was a bit overzealous last week when giving one lesson. I did an overhead drill where I smacked about 50 of them. I hardly ever hit that many, and I never hit them hard. Two days later I had a shoulder that felt sore and dead. For two days I couldn’t serve comfortably. Went to see Boyd, a great physical therapist and he fixed me up immediately. Little strain of the superspenatis (sp?) and after 20 minutes with him I was 99% better. Decided not to practice today to give it a rest. Good decision, hard to make.

I got a bye so don’t start until Tuesday. I will get a hit in tomorrow at Rockaway Hunt Club, the site of the the tournament. I feel calm. I feel excited. I feel ready. Can’t wait to start.

U S Open was totally inspiring. Muller’s win over Roddick, James Blake, Robbie Genepri, Lindsay good and Lindsay bad, Kim Clysters overcoming her demons, Federer’s confidence, his forehand, his serve, his coverage, his certainty, and, most of all, Andre. I love the way his experience shows through in his matches. He thinks better than anyone. He knows that in the big points you must play courageously. Anything less is just not good enough. He had a little window in the third set today. Federer was a bit confused and dazed, but even from that space, he was able to take the match back. Regardless, mentally, Andre is the standard that all competitors should reach for .I hope that James and Robbie can keep it up…that Andy steps it up to another place…that Federer continues to get better and more dominant….and that Andre gives us more matches.

The draw for the National 55 Grass is updated daily with results and match times. The following is the link:
Click Here: Check out “USTA National Men’s 55 & 60 Grass Court Championships: Home”

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