Key Biscayne, Florida – Hey everyone, you may read my articles on the wonderful 10sballs.com, but I also am a rock-bottom ranked professional tennis player with big dreams! With an extensive college career and numerous tournament experience around the world, I now find myself writing and learning in the best possible tennis environments. This week – The 2013 Sony Open Tennis.
Luckily, I have a few friends in the tennis business who can get court time at these big events (Whom I will list now!): Lovey, a loving auntie and mentor to me, she reminds me of the loving people from my homeland in Hawaii. Yury Bettoni, former coach of Mary Pierce, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, and a number of other top pros. One of the funniest and generous guys I’ve ever met. And Adidas head coaches Sven Groeneveld and Mats Merkel – Two of the biggest coaches in the game! Without these people my exclusive trips to the world’s biggest tournaments would not be possible!
The atmosphere was clear Monday night at Crandon Park as I walked out to court 8 to hit some balls. When you walk through the crowd with racket bag in tow, all suited up in your favorite sponsor’s (Solinco) clothing and representing 10sballs.com with their sweet patch they gave me, people begin to stop and stare. It’s a terrible feeling having some people gawk at you, questioning your very existence in that moment. It feels like their eyes are saying, “Who are you and why are you here dressed like that, poser?” Some are more awe-inspiring however, gleaming with delight, eagerness, and joy just to see a “real” tennis player up close – The illusion is complete!
This moment passes quickly as soon as I sidestep the crowds and masses of unknowing patrons. I disappear under the safety of the girders supporting the seating areas on the outer court, blessed to be out of sight. I wonder if this is how the players feel just trying to go about their business daily. Something tells me a definitive yes. A few local children stop me and ask me who I’m going to practicing with, incriminating that I can’t possibly be a real player… But it’s no matter, I tell them a friend to protect identities and increase their confusion/interest as I again duck away towards another court.
Yury finally meets me, an immensely strong figure – hulk-like, who looks like he rips open tennis balls with his strokes for a living. He’s clad in Adidas’ newest gear and looks as bright as a comet against the dark night and blue court. Thank god, new balls, as Yury pops open two cans of fresh Penn ATP-grade balls. If you didn’t know, the men and women use different balls, men get black printing and the women get red. Everything was in the black and we were good to go.
Barely any warm up is required, you feel amped and energized just to be out on a court that only gets to enjoy world-class hitting. Tight shoulders and backs immediately loosen up as if the court lights are magical healing founts for muscles. I felt the same thing hitting one night on court 1 at Indian Wells last week, the same day Roger Federer practiced on it. Believe it or not, the players’ aura just hangs over the court like a low cloud hovering mystically over Waialae Iki ridge back home.
We begin hitting, adjusting to the speeds, adjusting to being active from behind a desk, and just trying to make solid contact. When the speeds increase, people perched in the upper seating sections of the Ivanovic vs Errani match on court 1 begin to watch us. With each stroke you feel the pressure not to miss; Or you run the risk embarrassing yourself in front of your new critics and cynics. People walking by, hoping to catch a glimpse of some superstar, stop and again question who you are at a distance. They can barely read the fine-print orders of play in their hands, how are they going to recognize a player across an entire court? Well, quite easily by their strokes. I cause even more confusion as my stroke production reveals my fluid strokes ala some of the game’s greats who I’ve modeled everything after. The only thing that betrays me to them is my consistency, or lack thereof at the moment – If only they would see me when I’m in tournament shape and not trying to get the insider’s edge at these tournaments!
So as I learn more about the court and the conditions, I begin to get more of a player’s perspective of what goes on at these tournaments. You put yourself in their shoes while you’re out there, you see what they see. There’s an invisible force-field that’s about two feet tall known as the side gates, spectators treat it like insta-death as they instagram your every move. Everything you say is noted, mulled over in onlooker’s minds like some answer to a puzzle that will solve their tennis complexes. I try to hit as best as I can, realizing that when I watch a player and see them hit unbelievable shots, I am now doing the same things for the sparse people on hand. The feeling that I get when I see Grigor Dimitrov practice is now a small, very tiny, inkling in the minds of those watching Yury and I.
It’s so exhilarating the entire time. You get the chance, if only for an hour, to be everything you see and dream about it. But it’s a chance no less, one that invigorates you more than energy drinks or that tanned bombshell who gave you her number ever will. I suppose this is what they mean when they say you’re living a dream.