The first half of the season was pretty up and down-no outstanding results, no super disappointing results, just showing up and playing, collecting my check and going home. That all changed on February 1, 2010. I decided, after a tournament in Cincinnati, to perform an experiment. I have never been very good at really preparing for tournaments when it comes to making a training schedule and then sticking to it, but I wanted to see what would happen if I actually made out a schedule and stuck to it for a month. I started on 2/1/10 because it was the first of the month, it was a Monday, and the next tournament was about 6 weeks away-plenty of time to work toward the tournament. Anyway, I stuck to the training schedule, bought myself a present for doing so, had a great draw to make some noise...and tanked it. I played HORRIBLY at the next tournament and wasted what I considered a golden opportunity. Very disappointed, I just went back home and worked even harder, which is where York, PA comes in.
Two weeks ago, I went to York, PA for a WPRO stop, and made it to my first semi-final in over 6 years-WOOHOO!!! Let me break it down for you: Friday night, in the round of 16, I played Maiko Sato, a very talented player from Japan. Maiko is a quiet lady, with a very good touch game (which generally frustrates me, since I like to hit the crap out of the ball). I had only played Maiko once before, and she took me to four games before I could win the match. Instead of worrying about wasting another opportunity, I went in to that match extremely focused and ended up winning 11-6, 11-1, 11-1. I call that "playing with the fear"-the fear that you will waste something that you have worked so hard for. I was VERY pleased with that result, as I played extremely well. Next up was Jo Shattuck, another very talented player from Denver, who hits that ball a bit harder but just gets to every single ball, which puts a lot of pressure on her opponents to put the ball away (and we usually end up making TONS of mistakes because of it). I came out absolutely CON FUEGO and won the first game 11-0. If you didn't know, that is virtually unheard of at this level-I was playing that well. Jo stormed back and took the next two games 11-6, 11-2...she started playing unbelievably well and there wasn't a whole lot I could do to stop her momentum. I went in to the fourth game furious that I had put in so much work (again) and was about to squander another opportunity to get to the semis (AGAIN!), and won the fourth game 11-1. We headed in to the fifth and final game, where Jo took a 5-0 lead. I decided that I had had enough of that, and went on to win the fifth game (and the match) at 11-6; again, "playing with the fear"-it's not always a bad thing! Later that night, I took on Paola Longoria from Mexico, the #1 player in the world right now. She certainly showed me why she is the best in the world and won in three games, 11-3, 11-9, 11-5. There was no way that I could be disappointed in that result, as I had played so well all weekend and had finally made it back to the semis.
Now, a recap of this weekend's tournament in Stockton, CA. Friday night I played Aubrey O' Brien in the round of 16-another super talented player from California, and she's only 18! Gah, I feel old just thinking about it. Anyway, Aubrey took the first two games at 4 and 0...I was completely floored and had no idea what to do to try and get back in to the match. She went up 5-0 in the third game before something clicked and I decided to try something new. Zach Morris timeout: I LOVE tennis, and Andre Agassi is one of my favorite players ever, and I remembered him saying this a few years ago at the U.S. Open: "Find a way to win, even when nothing is working." (or something like that)...time back in. That thought just popped in to my head, and I decided to just focus on what I was good and what worked within my game-that includes drive serving. It worked, I was able to keep Aubrey off-balance, and I came back to win the next two games to send the match into a tiebreaker. The fifth game was absolutely back and forth, with neither of us leading by more than a few points, until I was able to pull out the win with a score of 11-8 in the fifth game. The positives about that match with Aubrey: 1. At the end of the match, I did not feel tired or winded at all. This is a HUGE improvement for me, as conditioning has never been one of my strong suits. 2. I have never been considered a very mentally tough player, and yet I was able to come back, stay focused, and win a match that, according to the first half, I clearly should have lost. This. Is. HUGE. Score one for me! Quarterfinals had me matched up against Samantha Salas, another tough player from Mexico, and probably my own personal demon. For reasons that I am well aware of (and won't say publicly), I have had a huge mental block against her and usually have to spend atleast a game getting over that block...but let me tell you, this problem is no more!! In yet another mental toughness leap (two in one weekend-how amazing!), I figured out how to focus solely on the ball and not at all on who I am playing. Now, one time does not a habit make, but it is a huge step in the right direction. Overall, a fantastic weekend for me as I am heading into the end of the season playing very, very well, and feeling like I'm in great shape.
According to the unofficial rankings (that I figured out in my head, so I could be wrong), I will be #5 on the WPRO tour before New Orleans, and could finish the season at #4, although that would take a near miracle. Then it's on to Houston Memorial Day weekend to try and earn a spot on the US National Team again, and a trip to Korea for the World Championships (how awesome would that be as a 25th birthday present?!). There is so much going on between now and then (mostly the end of the school year and all the stress that comes with final projects and final tests) that it stresses me out just thinking about how much I have to do, but that's one of the things that I love most about racquetball: the ability to step on the court and leave everything else outside-the only thing that matters at that exact moment is the ball and what you do with it. So until New Orleans (and the next Top 3 Thursday), I say ADIEU!! And keep 'em rolling.