Twenty six years ago I stepped onto a grass tennis court for the first time. It was at the legendary West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills where the US Nationals and, later, the US Open had been played. I had always heard that it was a very tough surface on which to play tennis…bad bounces, very fast, very slow, difficult footing, short points, slippery. I had never hit a ball on the grass and there I was playing a match on it for the very first time.
It was love at first point for me. I felt like I had been born playing tennis on the surface. My game was suited for it. Slice backhand, lefty spin serve, shaky short volleys and, more than anything else, my movement. This surface was where I started to believe in myself as a player. In that first tournament, I beat a couple of players who were highly ranked and I did it because of my comfort on the grass. I thought, “I can play with good players. I belong.”
Year after year my record on the grass improved from the annual Eastern Masters tournament at West Side to the National 35s at the Meadow Club, where I won my first National title, to Germantown Cricket Club to Rockaway Hunting Club to Philadelphia Cricket Club and, now, to Seabright Lawn and Tennis Club. Over the years I have succeeded on this surface like no other winning twelve National titles and one World Championship.
So it is no surprise that I am psyched to be playing my first 65s National Grass. I just love it. Bring on the short points that challenge my focus. Bring on the bad bounces that challenge my adaptability. Bring on the tricky footing which challenge my balance. Bring on the quiet of the bounce as it triggers my serenity.
Today I got in a great practice with my doubles partner Charlie Hoeveler. We played together ten years ago at the 55 Grass and we won it. Since then we played together in various Cup matches and, from this, our friendship has grown. He is an amazing guy, super experience player and I am honored to be his partner here this year. He has won a National title every year since 1990, quite a streak. I hope to help him keep this streak alive. Regardless we will have a great time on court together as we support each other, as good partners do and we learn from each other each time we play.
Before getting here I had some special practice on the grass. It is an interesting process. Each day, with a different player, another piece of the game comes together. Getting clear on where to hit service returns, how to serve effectively, volleying short, volley location, getting the heavy wettish ball up over the net, where to pass and, more than anything else, focusing on each and every ball. Easy misses are common and costly. I was fortunate to have great practice partners ranging from strong junior players to legendary champions. Kyle Permut, Steve Berliner, Gary Antenberg, Jimmy Malhame, Aidan Talcott, Ben Rosen, Adam Rosen and Butch Seewagen. Each one helped me hone my game to get me ready.
Tomorrow is my first match and I am eager and ready to compete. My mission is to ignite the highest end of my talent and skill. To compete with all I have for each and every point. To respect each shot. To respect my opponent. To accept the outcome with dignity and class. To welcome adversity if it is there. To learn and grow from my experience on the court. If I do these things, I will be a winner.