Long long overdue update but, truthfully, not too much has happened. Last I wrote, I cut my trip in China short due to a right elbow injury. Unfortunately, that injury turned out to be a stress reaction which forced me out for 6 weeks. There is nothing as tough as injury. It’s less so the physical pain of soreness, stinging, or aching, but rather the mental battle day in and day out. You kind of get used to limiting your range of motion and favoring one side over the other but each day is a mental grind. Not only are you not making ground on competitors, but you’re actively losing ground. And, really, there’s not much you can do about it which is a terrible feeling. Every athlete focuses so much on the skills practice or the fitness and so many gloss over the injury prevention and recovery. I’m as guilty as any of this, but moving forward I’ll definitely make a conscious effort to be more disciplined on this front.
I’ve spent the last month or so practicing to get back into form and I finished up with a short training block back at Yale. It was nice to be back on campus with friends and New Haven will always be a second home to me. I’m the volunteer assistant for Yale Men’s Tennis this year so I’ll definitely try to stop by a couple extra times to help out the team as well. As of this publication, I am now in Malaysia getting ready for a new set of Asia tournaments. I’ve been itching to get back out and compete at my top level so hopefully the training block at Yale has put me in a position to do so. Excited to see where I stand over these next couple weeks after such an extended layoff!Read More
Unfortunately, because of my full body cramp, I had to pull out of China F10. My quarterfinal match was on Friday and, in the event that I lose, I had to fly to China that night and start qualifying Saturday morning. Obviously, sitting in the hospital with an IV drip in me, that wasn’t happening. I ended up taking a week off to relax and practice a bit in Taiwan.
China F11: Round of 16
China F12: W/D in qualifying
China F11: I felt some jitters playing in a different country and on my own (brother flew to Taiwan with me for my first tournaments). However, qualifying was relatively straightforward. First round, I was able to barely squeeze out a close match against a Latvian player currently ranked 800 but with a high in the 400s. A close first set fell his way with a timely break at 5-4 before a rain delay postponed our match until the next day at 3-3 in the second set. I was a little disappointed with the rain delay as I felt that he, as a fellow foreigner, was struggling in Asia’s heat and humidity. Part of my game plan was to wear him down physically as his fitness was the most obvious weakness in his game. That plan had to be scrapped with the rain delay. Coming out the following day, we traded service holds with me saving two match points serving down 5-6. He showed further cracks in his armor as he began to lose his mental cool. I took the second set 7-6(4). Going into the third set he actually started tanking in the second game and I remember feeling relief as I felt like I had won. He stopped moving his feet and trying to make high percentage decisions, but instead started slapping every ball as hard as he could. I got a quick 0-30 in his first service game of the first and I thought the match was over for sure. That turned around awful quick. He started tree-tanking and reeled off 4 straight winners to secure a service hold. For viewers, a tree-tank is when a player is tanking, or giving up and not putting forth effort, but still treeing, or hitting ridiculous shots outside of his ability. Lo and behold, in my service game at 1-1 he again just slaps the first ball his way and amazingly hits 4 ridiculous winners for a quick break. At this point I’m really nervous as I felt like I lost a golden opportunity to walk away with a win. He continued the insane tree-tank until 5-4 in the third set before he finally got a little tight. In a position to serve out the match, I think he started thinking about what he was doing and got tight knowing he couldn’t replicate those shots consistently. A couple errors and I was back in the match at 5-5. His mental game cracked further and after a little tanking without the treeing, I walked away with a 46 76 75 win.
Second round I played Di Wu. The number 1 Chinese player and the first Chinese man to play in the main draw of a Grand Slam. A couple things I noted about the difference in level was his quickness with his feet and the pressure he placed on me with every shot. I distinctly remember hitting a big serve at 30-40 in my first service game of the match and him barely returning the ball. Seeing that floated inside the service box, I decided to just dink it over for a dropshot winner. I must’ve not disguised it at all as he started running well before I hit the shot. He ended up hitting my dropshot ON THE RISE for a winner and the break. It was stunning to see him perceive the ball that quickly. I was down 5-0 within about 25 minutes. Finally, I was able to ease my way into the match a bit and started serving better. I managed to hold and break for at least a somewhat respectable 6-2 set. In the second, I continued my good form and actually broke him and consolidated the break for a 2-0 lead. He was having a difficult time returning my first serve and I continued to hold serve. I was at 4-2 40-15 before I choked away the second set. I missed a short forehand and made a couple other errors to let him back into the match and I ended up losing 62 64. As a fellow short player, he showed me a lot of areas of my game that need to improve moving forward, but also gave me confidence knowing that I very well could’ve forced a third set against a grand slam player.
China F12: Unfortunately, I ended up withdrawing from China F12. My elbow had begun to bother me on some serves as I kind of tweaked it on an overhead. As the matches went on in China F11, the pain was getting worse and worse and it started seeping into my groundstrokes as well. Finally, I decided it was better to be safe than sorry and withdrew. The extra couple days allowed to actually walk around Shenzhen and see some of what the city had to offer which isn’t always an option with qualifying starting every week on Saturday.
Thoughts: Overall, I must say that this first trip as a professional tennis player has been much more successful than I imagined. The original purpose of this trip was to see how my game stacked up against the pros so I could have a training plan upon coming back to the states. I thought maybe I could scrounge up a couple points just so I knew that I could make qualifying draws in the future. Obviously, I ended up with a little more than “a couple points”.
My current ranking sits at 1157 and when Wimbledon concludes and my 7th point kicks in, I should be right around 1100. There’s a lot I learned about my game and what it takes to be a professional in these 5 weeks in Asia and I look forward to applying the lessons learned once my elbow heals up and allows me to start the training grind.
A side note about Shenzhen, it was quite clean in the more crowded areas. The two Dongmen pictures above show just how clean the ground is compared to other Asian countries, especially given that it is a very popular shopping and street food district. Overall, I was very very impressed with the development of Shenzhen as a city, but felt that it lacked a little bit of culture with all of its development. It seemed like the city was more preoccupied with trying to duplicate what other cities had than with highlighting its own historical significance within China.Read More
A short summary of the first leg of my Asia trip:
Chinese Taipei F1: Quarterfinals
Chinese Taipei F2: Quarterfinals
As these tournaments were $25K Futures, I walked away from my first two tournaments as a professional tennis player with 6 ATP points.
Chinese Taipei F1: I was definitely very nervous going into the first qualifying round. It was my first real tournament as a professional tennis player and I certainly had expectations for myself. I try to keep goals a little more long-term and process-centric but I’d be lying if I said it wouldn’t be disappointing and disheartening to come out of college with hopes of making it on the ATP and failing to qualify. Luckily, I shook off a bit of a slow start to win both my qualifying matches and make main draw. First round of main, I beat a young TPE player ranked around 1000. Again, I was exceedingly nervous during the match and couldn’t make a return for nearly the entire first set. Luckily, I served well and once I settled into the match, I was able to come out with the victory and my first ATP point. Second round, I played perhaps the best match of my entire trip. I beat a seeded TPE player in straights to advance to the quarterfinals and collect my first Top 500 win. I was definitely overmatched in the quarterfinals and while I don’t feel like I played well, it was nice to have someone expose the weaknesses in my game so I can pay particular attention to them in training.
Chinese Taipei F2: Seeing how successful my first week in Taipei was, I entered qualifying much more relaxed and cruised through two matches to make the main draw again. With a bit of an unlucky draw, I pulled an experienced seeded Japanese player ranked around 450 first round. Again, I felt pretty nervous going into the main draw. I had just had a very successful first week and I wanted the positive reinforcement of doing well in consecutive weeks. Luckily, I don’t think he was fully ready for outdoor tennis. Rain caused the entire first week to be played indoors and with the switch to outdoors, his consistent game coughed up some errors throughout the match which allowed me to cruise through easily. Second round, I played the same TPE player from last week’s first round except this match was much closer. While it was definitely the worst match I played on this trip by a small margin, I really tried to scrap the entire match and won in two very close sets. While the quality of tennis was very disappointing, it’s a good feeling to win a dogfight and something I’ll need to grow accustomed to as I grow into professional tennis. In the quarterfinals, I played the 1 seed who was ranked 280 from Japan. Playing a top 300 player for the first time, I could feel the amount of pressure he placed on me every point with his accuracy and the quickness of his ball (bigger ball and earlier contact). However, I was serving really well that day and he was having trouble getting traction in my service games. Through two and a half sets, I wasn’t broken until I was up 6-3 6-7 4-2 serving. Perhaps it was the humidity or perhaps college fitness just isn’t enough to hang in the pros, but I started to feel my quads and adductors cramp. I blew a 40-15 lead to go up 5-2 and before I knew it we were back on serve. When the match got to 5-5 however, my body was done. I started full-body cramping and was forced to retire. In fact, my cramping was so bad I ended up being sent to the hospital in an ambulance (Props to Taiwan’s universal health care for the 100 USD total bill). While this was a bitter bitter disappointment for me because I was so close to a top 300 victory and the point totals jump from 3 to 8 between quarters and semis, it was still an encouraging sign for me to be so close to closing out a top player.
And by “definitive”, I mean my completely inconclusive guide to college tennis.
Let’s take a look back to 2012 first:
I was just beginning my recruiting process and I was very clear with my goals. I refused any offers from non-Ivy League schools and was very straightforward in telling schools that I was only looking at the Ancient Eight. Not to further Asian stereotypes (although I suppose stereotypes must hold at least a fraction of truth to them), but I’ve always been making college lists since as far back as I can remember. Little 1st grader Tyler would be told to sit down at the living room table and crank out a “Top 10 College” list when I probably couldn’t even spell Dartmouth yet. As expected, my list consisted of the usual suspects: Yale, Harvard, Stanford, etc. Essentially, my entire focus of my childhood was how to attend the best possible university.
Naturally, when my turn to be recruited came around, my focus was still on how to attend the best possible university. Eventually I settled on Yale for a myriad of reasons: teammates, facilities, the opportunity to play #1 immediately, Prentice Cup, and (no shame) Yale’s reputation.
While 2016 was a relatively mundane time in my college career (I sat out my junior year with wrist surgery), it marked the first time that I really questioned my selection of Yale during my recruiting process. While sitting out due to injury, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t ready to hang up the sticks quite yet and I felt that I had much more potential in tennis that had yet to be realized. So what does professional tennis have to do with Yale? I started thinking to myself, and started hearing from external sources, that maybe my tennis game would have improved more had I chosen a less academic-centric school. If I had known 4 years earlier that I would eventually want to play professional tennis, would I have chosen a different school? Would I be better prepared for my chosen profession?
My senior season far exceeded my expectations. To be quite frank, I didn’t feel like my tennis improved all that much from my freshman season through my junior year. I was a solid #1 Ivy League player, good enough to be respected but never feared. As my close teammates can attest, I would often say, “I don’t feel like I deserve to be a #1 Ivy League player”. Confidence was definitely something I struggled with. For people who have read my previous post, they know how important I believe confidence to be as one climbs up the rungs of tennis.
Everything really took off for me this year. This was the first year in college where I really felt like I made significant improvements in my game and it showed in the results. I was consistently putting more returns in play, utilizing a more effective out wide serve, and playing a more controlled aggression. With a couple lucky breaks here and there, I won nearly all of my big matches and qualified for NCAA individuals, a fitting culmination to my college career.
So now back to the question driving this college reflection topic in the first place: was Yale the correct choice for me?
Yes. For two primary reasons.
- I had no way of knowing that I would eventually want to play tennis. Hindsight is 20/20 but the present is all we have and I made the correct decision for myself with what was available to me during my recruiting process.
- I needed Yale. And not for the people, the degree, or any other sappy crap that everyone repeats either. I needed Yale for the confidence. I was as high as 15 in my class nationally as a high school senior but never even gave professional athletics a second thought. Why? Because I wasn’t confident in my abilities. I didn’t think I was good enough to play professional tennis so why in the world would I not leverage my tennis to get the best possible degree? Playing #1 for all four years of my college career is exactly what I needed. I needed the constant feedback of feeling like I belong with the best. It took a full 3.5 years in college but in my second semester of my senior year, I finally felt like I belonged with some of the top players in college tennis.
Did I have my disappointments with my college tennis career? Of course. It’s no fun going 5-23 in conference matches over 4 years. A tougher schedule would maybe have resulted in an uglier overall record but the team surely would’ve improved more. I would’ve had more chances to match up against ranked players to try and prove myself and gauge my level. All of this pales in comparison to the confidence that playing #1 afforded me, though. Sure, if I attended UCLA instead it could be theoretically said that my tennis would be better than it is now. However, that tiny seed of a dream left in me that still clung onto the idea of being a professional athlete would’ve long been crushed. Instead, that seed within me, with the positive reinforcement of being the best player at Yale, has grown each year to the point where I am now comfortable chasing that dream. My tennis may have been better, but there is no way in hell I’d be calling myself a professional athlete now.
Now that I’ve dragged you through a brief summary of my college tennis career, it’s about time I provide that “definitive” guide.
- You have no idea where you will be in four years. Chase your dreams of the present, not what you think they will be in four years. It turns out what I ultimately chose was the complete opposite of what I originally chased.
- Winning isn’t everything. Winning can’t certainly feel like all that matters to competitive individuals, but to borrow a cliche, enjoy the process. The process of getting to where you want to be is the most important, not the immediate satisfaction of a victory.
- There is no definitive guide to college tennis. No matter what school you choose, you will become a product of your experiences at that school. Ironically, I think had I chosen a stronger tennis program, I would be done with my tennis career at this point.
For those hoping to play college tennis: follow your dreams. I followed mine and along the way I happened to stumble on another dream to follow and work for. Passion is the driving force of success and is a necessary ingredient of achievement. If you have passion for something, don’t let it wither away. Believe in it, develop it, work for it, protect it.
For now, I just received a wildcard into qualifying for the upcoming Taipei 25K this coming weekend so I’ll be flying off to Asia tomorrow! I’ve been in Long Island training with Martin Wostenholme, a fantastic coach, trying to get ready for this opportunity.
Special shout-out to Martin, the Yeary family for providing housing, and all my friends at The Creek! I’ll be back soon. Hopefully I can pick up a point and crack the ATP rankings on this trip. That’d be a good start to a long road. Good thing that long road is my dream. Enjoy the process!
I think once the full realization of my team career being over hits me, I’ll sit down and write a reflective post on my college tennis experience. For now, though, my thoughts on this past weekend:
2-5. That’s how Yale Men’s Tennis will end our 2017 Ivy League season. It’s certainly not a pretty record, but it belies just how close we were. Against Cornell on Saturday, we served for the team match twice in the deciding match before Cornell finally stormed back in front of their raucous home crowd for the 4-3 victory. From what I saw, we had at least 1 team match point, it’s certainly possible we had more. Columbia, on the other hand, was a clear step above us. They controlled the match from start to finish and if not for an agreement to play out remaining matches, our score would’ve been 0-4 instead of 2-5.
At the end of the day I think it came down to confidence for us. We’ve been bringing up the rear in Ivy League men’s tennis for so many years that it’s hard to overcome our mental disadvantage. In a game of such small margins on the ATP Tour, how are players like Djokovic and Federer able to consistently win the big points? They have the confidence in themselves that they are supposed to win, deserve to win, and will win. Even though we know we’re good enough to compete with the best in the Ivy League (we certainly showed it in our non-conference play), in Ivy matches, other teams look across the net and have that inherent confidence in their ability to win. That confidence manifests itself in more relaxed, aggressive, and simply better play in clutch situations. Just as I’m sure Federer had the tiniest seed of doubt in his ability to beat Nadal half a decade ago, I think that Yale Men’s Tennis has the tiniest seed of doubt in our ability to consistently beat our Ivy League foes. I hope the team can take confidence in our stride forward this year and make next year the breakthrough in which we successfully challenge the top tier of the conference and reset the mental game with which we fight against as well.
Along the same “confidence” vein, this weekend was a big weekend for me and my individual tennis career at Yale. Coming into the weekend, I was the highest ranked Ivy player in the ITA national rankings and I was also 1 of 2 players who was 5-0 in the ivies at #1 and in the running for Ivy League Player of the Year. Needless to say, just like anyone else in my position, I was very nervous. After winning at Cornell in a relatively straightforward match, I had a showdown at Columbia against my competitor for Ivy League POTY. I had known for a couple weeks that this match against Columbia would likely decide Ivy League POTY and also perhaps the NCAA individual berth from our conference. As the date drew nearer, I placed immense amounts of pressure on myself to make sure I performed at peak level on Sunday as I knew all of my season’s goals rested on the outcome of that match.
The match started about as poorly as it could’ve. In perhaps under 10 minutes, I was down a double break 3-0 and he was up 40-0 in his service game to move to 4-0. Truthfully, thoughts of just wanting to not be beaten too badly crept into my mind. Miraculously, he missed one or two shots, I finally hit a couple good ones, and with a clutch return on the deuce point, I broke back for 1-3 and that was all I needed. Despite being broken again for 1-4, I knew that it was possible for me to break and that’s what I clung onto mentally. As long as there’s a possibility, even the slightest one, what more could I ask for? If there’s even a chance of it happening, then it’s worth fighting tooth and nail for. I came all the way back in the first set and eventually won it in a close fought tiebreak 7-6(6).
The second set? Carbon copy of the first except this time he didn’t flinch and continued playing absolutely lights out. I was crushed 6-1. Again, self-doubt began creeping in. “How could I win against this guy? He must’ve made one error that entire set. Can I even buy a point in the ten point breaker?” Before the match tiebreak began I reminded myself, all I needed was a chance and I definitely had a “chance”. At the start of the tiebreak, I guessed right on an approach shot and hit a passing shot that painted the inside part of the line. A couple errors from him later (I’m sure he was nervous as well), and all of a sudden I was switching ends up 4-2. Again, I told myself, “Is there a chance you can go 4-2 on this end as well? Yes.” Every single point I played, I told myself I had a chance to win it and so I fought for it as if my season depended on it (because really it did). Changing ends again, I’m up 7-5. Now I’m TRULY close to closing this match out. As I step up to the line for my second service point, I remind myself of all the hours that I spent in team practice and the many hours I spent practicing alone in my spare time. All of the buckets of serves I hit when I came out to practice an hour and a half early. I bounced the ball a couple of times and I told myself, “you’ve hit this serve too many goddamn times. You’ve worked hard all season. You deserve to win this point”.
Ace out wide. 8-5. A missed first serve from him later, I step up to the line and repeat the same line to myself. “You’ve worked too hard all season. You can win this point. You deserve to win this point.” While it may have been momentary, repeating to myself how many hours I had spent in extra practice gave me the confidence to go for my shot. Inside-out forehand winner. 9-5. By this point I knew he was feeling the pressure. I could sense it from across the net and I could feel my confidence soaring. With the return back in play I took two big forehand cuts at the ball. Big ball, big target. The first one brought a short ball. The second drew the forced error. 10-5.
“Winners make their own luck”. I’ll be completely clear, here. I 100% believe that I got lucky in this match. I think that Shawn Hadavi, my opponent, outplayed me for much of it. Even in that match tiebreak. How many times out of ten am I going to hit that ace out wide? How many times out of ten am I going to successfully hit that inside out return winner? It’s very possible I would’ve still won those two points in a different manner but it’s a moot point. Winners make their own luck because they are prepared. The countless of hours out at practice are solely for the purpose of being prepared for situations like this. Getting those extra couple percentage points on that serve.
Perhaps 5% of my match on Sunday was luck but I needed to be prepared to go 95% of the way on my own and, to me, that’s what “winners make their own luck” encapsulates. Without the extra practice sessions on my own or with a willing teammate, I would not have made it there. I did put in those hours, though, and all of that time paid itself off. I gave myself the opportunity to get a little bit lucky.
While I think POTY is pretty much locked up, the NCAA berth is still very up in the air. I have no regrets, though. There truly is nothing more that can be done and that is peace of mind. Even if I don’t get the berth, I accomplished one of my ultimate goals in college tennis becoming conference POTY and I can move on from college tennis knowing that I did everything within my power to get my chance at NCAAs. That feeling is not just worth all the extra hours over my four years here, it’s priceless.Read More
After Saturday’s close 4-3 loss to Princeton, our Ivy League record stood at 1-3 with 3 straight losses. The disappointment stemming from three straight conferences losses, effectively seeing our dreams of an Ivy League title or NCAA berth crushed, was overwhelming. Perhaps it was their confidence or their experience, but ultimately Princeton was the team who performed under pressure. With their team in a dire situation, Princeton’s 4, 5, and 6 singles pulled out close matches to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 victory against us. While we certainly squandered several opportunities to close out the match, credit has to be given to Princeton for their fight and their performance under pressure.
Luckily, turn-around time was short, as is often the case with sports, and we took the courts again the following day to face-off against Penn. This time, YMT was able to come out with the 4-1 victory to improve our record to 2-3 with two more matches left to go.
While, it’s disappointing to not meet our team goals, I still have several individual goals. I’d like to be Ivy League Player of the Year and receive an NCAA individual berth, both of which are still attainable for me. It’s what I have been working hard for all of this year and I feel fortunate to still be in a position to compete for my goals. With a lot of work and a little bit of luck hopefully I can achieve them!
As per usual, YMT’s biggest fan, my mother, made it out to the matches (she has yet to miss an Ivy match I’ve played in) and this time she even brought along my brother and father! Always nice to have familial support by the court! One more weekend of Ivy League tennis left to go…definitely hasn’t hit me yet that I only have 2 more Ivy League matches in my careerRead More