The Joy of Preparation 46

The Joy of Preparation

Last March, after a two year break from playing National tournaments due to life, in general, interfering, I entered the Indoor Championships in Houston. It felt great to be out there on the court, competing. I had missed it. Now, one year later, I am on my way to Houston again. It has been a memorable year of playing and I look forward to more of what makes this experience so special for me.

Competing. It raises me. It comes with lots of great stuff. I get to prepare by being organized in setting up practice sessions with lots of different players. I get to be committed, never cancelling a practice session even on those days that I might prefer to skip it. I get to work on being aware of how I am doing, where my focus is, and to, day by day, create my personal template for success. I get to work on those things in my game that are missing, like new strategies or gaps in my mental game. I get to eliminate what doesn’t help, like negative thinking or doubt about myself. I get to work on the hard things, like eating right, hitting the shots that I need to hit in pressure moments, and going to the gym and working on parts of my body that say “no, this is too hard.” I get to look for opportunities in the day where I am tense and to use those moments to train in relaxation, both mental and physical. For over 35 years I have been lucky to be able to have to do all of this so that I am ready to compete. When I started, it was all about winning and losing. The external results. Now, though, it is about bringing the best version of myself. The joy of competing is in the internal work that takes me to another level of who I am. 

My on-court training is as it has always been. Good days. Bad days. Focused days. Distracted days. Sets won sometimes, but mostly losses. Losses as I choose to play people that are much better than me. I measure my progress against these strong opponents by how the details of my game are coming along. Am I hitting more of my spots on my serve. Am I staying courageous on second serves. Am I making more first shots after serves and returns. Am I closing to the net when I get someone in trouble. Am I maintaining my balance on my running forehands. Funny, I notice as I am writing that I keep using the words “am I.” Funny because my big goal is to simply be “I am.” I am is my state of presence that helps me stay grounded when in the midst of the storms of competing.

One of my last days of practice was against my very best practice partner: Jeff Salzenstein. Jeff is a former top 100 tour player who was an All American at Stanford. At 40 years old his game is still lights out. When we got on the court he asked me what I needed from him. I told him that I wanted him to play at his highest level. Take it to me. Don’t hold back. Even though I would be unlikely to keep up with him, I knew that if he played too within himself (customer tennis) he would, unintentionally, not end points or hit the shot that my tournament opponents would hit. So I was prepared to fail. To “fail. Fail again. Fail better.” And that would be how I would keep climbing my ladder to my best game. 

We had a great hit. Being that I did lose most of the rallies, when we were done I was a bit disappointed. Most points ended with my error or him hitting a monster winner off a weak shot that I played. I just felt that I could have stayed with him longer or hit a few more winners. I was annoyed that I didn’t make more returns off his 120+ mph serves. This distortion is the “age distortion” that Andre Agassi talked about when he first played Andy Roddick. Andre, when asked how it felt to play someone who was in diapers when Andre won his first tour matches said,“when I look across the court I always feel that my opponent is my age or I am his age. In between the lines, there is no age.” So here I was, 30 years Jeff’s senior and feeling that same way. Thankfully just after we were done I got to hit for a few minutes with someone in my age/level. The time that I felt I didn’t have was there. I felt like I was playing under water. I was balanced. I could execute my shots. I stopped over hitting. I remembered why I play people who are so tough for me. I was rewarded for doing the hard thing. 

Thanks to my practice partners who always bring their best: Kurt Brakhage, Jay Burch, Neil Kearney, Lars Hoffmann, Pat Perrin, Brad Bernthal, Jeff Salzenstein, Jake Thamm and Andy Chernaik. For Kirk Anthony, who continues to train me in the gym. For pushing me to do the hard stuff and for ignoring my kvetching. My “medical team” that keeps me free from nagging injuries: Helen Grigg, Kevin Reichlin, Joe Sweeney. And, of course, Jo Ann Litwin, who patiently listens, endlessly, to my ongoing dialogue of my self discovery during my preparation. 

Singles draw

Doubles draw:

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