Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Life of a Journey Man

In the midst of tennis touring professionals I've come to realize that this is really just another job. As glorified as it sounds to travel the world, and compete in a sport they love (hopefully), there is work that must be done in order to survive. For many tennis is all they know and their performance on the court is the difference between continuing this line of work or finding another means of survival. It's a brutal line of work, if you're doing it right :)

Even after endless hours of training, having the means to travel week in week out to destinations all over the world is a whole other animal. Of course there are players that come from well-off families where funding such travel is a non-issue, but not all players are so fortunate. Many have side jobs, usually teaching or coaching tennis more often than not, and work tirelessly to raise enough just to be able to travel. Others rely on their results in local tournaments to find sponsors.

All in all, the life of the journeyman is a grind. It's not uncommon for players to have 2 a days for 2 hours each session on top of on court agility workouts and time in the weight room. Some of the top players here stretch for a good half hour in the morning before they get started for the day and after their last workout just to make sure their bodies are warm and loose and to prevent future injury. The ones who make it further in the draws are usually the more disciplined players who can maintain focused despite being in a new environment, facing new opponents, new weather conditions, and even court surfaces. I've been watching these guys and it really is survival of the fittest in this profession.

I've thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to live and train like a pro and sadly it is over now. In the third and last Futures I went out to a good friend I've made here, Katsushi Fukuda, 6-3 6-1. I played as hard as I could but didn't have quite enough gas in the tank to execute my gameplay. On a more exciting note, Chub earned his first ATP point in doubles today with partner Mico Santiago! Tomorrow they'll battle against the twin duo of Wan and Peng Gao in the semifinal. In singles Chub lost to the 2 seed who came out guns hot in the 1st round. Chub wasn't blessed with the best draws, drawing the 6th, 4th, and 2nd seeds. I on the other hand had great draws comparatively but just wasn't ready for such high level tennis. Although it would have been awesome to win a point and be ranked, all I really cared about was improving during my stay here, which I can confidently say that I did!

To those of you back home, I'll see you in less than a week! We both are excited that we will be home soon. But with that being said we are really going to miss being here with all the new friends we've made. Already the players that are completely out of the 3rd Futures have left or are getting ready to leave and it's a bit sad! Cheers to the tennis world and goodnight all!

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Humbling Experience

If I had to choose one word to describe the way we've been treated and the way both Pun and I feel from the hospitality and kindness everyone has shown us, it's CELEBRITY! This is not to say all the attention is deserved, especially on my part, but I think I can appreciate it all even more that way. The support we are given here by the federation and the local tennis community is only trumped by our closest family and friends; I took all the support I could carry with me into Mondays match!

Sadly for me it wasn't a storybook ending in my first attempt at getting an ATP point. On Monday I walked onto the court with all the confidence in the world! I felt like I could beat Roger Federer without taking both of his legs out (I know what some of you are thinking, and the answer is yes, Roger can beat you with one leg :) I had trained hard all week, ate healthy, was over-hydrated if that's possible, and yet I went down in flames to Do Minh Quan of Vietnam 6-2 6-0. The humidity here is quite difficult to get use to, but it's slowly getting better for me and hopefully soon enough I'll be able to hang with these fuzz ballers a little longer!

Having not played a competitive tournament since Vetu's and his Davis Cup debut definitely showed in Chub's first match on Tuesday morning. Up against the 6 seed in Maximilian Neuchrist, Chub was able to keep the first set close, losing only 6-4 in what was a battle of a set. Clearly spent after the first set and continuing to struggle with the heat and humidity, Chub quickly went up 5-2 in the second set over Neuchrist of Austria. Neuchrist dug deep and found a second wind unfortunately that carried him to a straight set victory, 6-4 7-5. Chub's lack of competitive match experience let him down on the big points, where Neuchrist seemed to shine. Still a little rusty in his first match I am excited to see how he does in the 2nd futures!

Today, the 23rd here in Phnom Penh, was collection day for the successful Cambodian Davis Cup Team. Earlier this year in April, both of my younger brothers represented Cambodia in the prestigious Davis Cup, an annual international tennis competition where players duke it out for their countries. As their Davis Cup captain told me, that whole week was a dream, everything fell into place so perfect that before they knew it they had won Asia/Oceania Group IV! The purpose of today's ceremony was to officially recognize their amazing feat and to congratulate the team members...financially :).

I've only had chances to see the city in small doses, and mostly in passing. There are so many small cultural differences I've noticed, none of which I would label good or bad, just different. The people here are definitely not too shy to stare at you; and how do I know this? They do it for a very long time! I've found that answering with a smile usually diffuses the the awkward situation for me. Sanitation in general is not so important here either. There are large garbage bins on the side of big streets that are full to the brim and surrounded by small garbage bags. When you pass them it gets quite smelly; and although hard to believe after passing it a few times a day you just get used to the smell. I don't think there is a proper sewage system here, so during tropical season (now) when it comes down on you like a monsoon the streets become flooded in some places from a couple hours of rain. I think I mentioned traffic and the rules of the road, of which there are none, haha.

Pun and I have to get some sleep because I play tomorrow morning and Chub plays either on Monday or Tuesday in the main draw, wish us luck.

Pictured Below:
1. Fukuda-San, our new friend.
2. Barracuda Dinner, yummy.
3. National team and Braen Aneiros.
4. Kenny and Demon dressed for the Davis Cup Ceremony.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

One CCC to Another

Wow is the least I can say right now. Everything here has been awesome so far and I think it's only going to get better! For those of you who don't know, my brother Pun and I are currently in the capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. We've been gone from the states since the 9th of November and will be leaving on the 9th of December. Pun and I will be playing in three Futures (lower-level professional tennis tournaments) events during our month long stay in my father's home country. Our flight was absolute torture on my back. After a 2 hour delay from Seattle to Seoul that set us back for the rest of our flights, a few good movies and many trips to the lavatory (mostly to get up and move around, but I was pretty hydrated :) we arrived in Phnom Penh at 1:00 in the morning here! We are 15 hours ahead of all you West coasters out there. So back home it was 10:00am on Saturday when we arrived in Phnom Penh, about 27 hours of being inside an airport or up in the Ayer, but much to my surprise we survived the overseas flight. Waiting for us once we arrived were 2 of Rithi's (Tep Rithivit: Secretary General of the Cambodian Tennis Federation) staff, Yuri and his driver who has a long name. From there it was to the Dragon Hotel.

After Yuri and his driver dropped us off at the hotel and we settled in it was 2pm. Bed by 2:30 and ready for practice the next morning at 8:30! The national training centre for the national team is at the Cambodian Country Club (CCC), where Pun and I will stay from the 15th on. When we got to CCC there were tons of kids on court huddled around our head national team coach, Braen Aneiros. The ball kids were there prepping for the tournament, and we were going to play practice matches. At first I thought to myself, "just 2 sets, this won't be too bad." I could not have been more wrong. 3 games in and we were huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf. Even though we might not have brought our best that day I can assure you we did a lot better than the ball kids, who responded with big smiles and some empty looks when I would signal hand motions for balls or my towel :) That night Rithi treated us to dinner at a pretty fancy sports bar where we enjoyed the semifinal match between Delpo and Djokovic. At 11pm we were back at the hotel wishing for a long undisrupted night of sleep.

I was up at 4am face-booking it up because I could not sleep one bit. Even without the sleep Chub and I managed to get through 2 tough practices in 90+ degree heat that seems to beam down right onto my forehead just to fry my brains. During lunch on Monday we attempted to eat a healthier meal and both ordered salads...or so we thought. Somehow I managed to order papaya salad, called tham som in Lao, a dish I'm actually familiar with. As our waiter sat my plate down I jokingly thought, "I hope Lomsack's not working back there in the kitchen" (Although very good, she makes a very spicy tham som). Chub ordered Larb, another Lao/Thai dish, and got owned. It actually wasn't bad until we ate the little red peppers they sliced up and probably strategically placed just to own us. At one point, somewhere near the peak of spiciness we were dripping with sweat, chugging our water, laughing uncontrollably and crying all at the same time. Although we got our butts kicked by spice we left the restaurant with our heads held high and a good story to tell everyone! The next day I would "meet the stadium," as Braen put it with a smile on his face.

I never look forward to running, but Tuesday morning at the Olympic Stadium I felt like I had something to prove since Chub kept telling Braen how fast I was, note the past tense. On GO! Chub sped ahead of us all like there was no tomorrow and was at least a good 25m ahead of the next person, which was not me at that point. Sitting in last place but with what I thought was a good starting pace I slowly crept past Kenny in the first lap and Demon in the 2nd (Kenny and Demon are two other national team members). With Pun still ahead I started to kick a little in the 3rd and was finally able to pass him on the last turn for a 5:09 mile finish, Chub right behind at 5:11. The reason I'm telling you this is not just to brag :) but more to share how happy I am that I'm still able to perform at such a high level of training even at the tender age of 27! I may be losing my hair but hopefully my legs are here for a little longer!

It doesn't seem like so long ago, but what started at CCC (Chemeketa Community College: I would call Chemeketa our home courts, the courts where we grew up playing and training for years and years) has made almost everything I've done up until now possible. From playing college tennis, becoming an assistant coach, and now having the opportunity to keep the game in me alive! Being out there with my family day in and day out, and also with friends and coaches was such a great environment and looking back at it all I would not change a single thing (except for a few smashed racquets here and there, it's what happens when you idolize Marat). Now at my current CCC, the Cambodian Country Club, I hope I can spread the disease of my love for the game, and love of being out there with family, friends and coaches as I once did before. Thanks for reading! The first tournament begins in a couple of days, until then, reet trey suor sdey.