Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Catching up with Bradley Klahn

Bradley Klahn helping the Cardinal. Sameer Kumar is in the
background. (c) Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
A couple of weeks ago, during the NCAA Regionals, I had the opportunity to talk with Bradley Klahn, the former Stanford star who has been serving as a volunteer assistant coach for the Cardinal. Klahn, who won the NCAA singles title in 2010, reached a career high of #63 on the ATP in 2014. Klahn hasn't played since February 2015, at which point he underwent back surgery and has been in rehab/recovery mode ever since.

On this day, Stanford had just won the first round over Notre Dame, a match that was played indoors due to weather, with senior Nolan Paige clinching the win. The following day, Stanford would punch its ticket to Tulsa with a dramatic 4-3 win over host Northwestern.

How are you enjoying your assistant volunteer coach gig? 

It’s been fun. I’m very thankful to [Associate Head Coach] Brandon [Coupe] and [Head Coach] Paul Goldstein for letting me help out the team a little bit. Stanford tennis meant a lot to me and I’ve really enjoyed working with the guys. We’ve got a great group of individuals who work hard and are a lot of fun to be around. 

What’s your focus while you’re doing this? 

Right now it’s just trying to help the team as much as I can, if I feel like I have something to offer the team. Brandon was such a great assistant for me at Stanford and I’ve known Paul a long time. Like I said, I was very fortunate when they asked me to come on board and help out, and just do my best to help the team improve; see them improve as individuals on and off the court. 

A lot of people have been asking about how your recovery is coming. 

It’s coming along a lot better the last couple of months. I still don’t have any set timeline. At this point I’ve been out over a year and had some struggles, up and down, and dealing with injuries is never easy. But I’m still 100% committed to getting back and I feel like I have a good plan right now in place to get me back out there. I don’t have any expectations as to when I’ll get back out there, but I love playing tennis, I love playing professionally, and when it’s taken away from you for a while it gets tricky. I certainly was doing well before I got injured and I’ve dealt with it a while. Now it’s just about finding that happiness and being really grateful for the opportunity that I have to still try and play, and work hard to get back out there. 

Are you following the pro tour much? 

I’ve been following it a little bit. I go in waves. Sometimes it’s challenging when you’re off for so long, you want to be out there, you want to be a part of it, have fun and do what you love. I’ve grown up playing tennis all my life, so when you don’t get that competition for a while, that’s what I miss most, just being out there, competing. 

Are you in contact with friends on tour? 

I keep in touch with them a little bit, and I’m in LA, so I see a fair amount of the guys when they come and train in Carson. Those are a lot of my good friends that I’ve traveled with, grown up playing with through juniors. So that’s another hard part, not being able to spend as much time with them out there. And I keep in touch with my coach, Stanford Boster quite frequently. He’s working with Mitchell Krueger and Stefan Kozlov. He was with Bjorn Fratangelo last year and now Bjorn’s with Brad Stine. 

Did you face Northwestern when you were in college? 

I don’t think we did. We certainly never played at Northwestern. I have family from the Midwest, so coming back to Chicago is nice. I love the area. But no, we never played. 

Are you guys hoping for better weather for tomorrow?

We’ll play wherever they put us. I think that’s the great thing about our team… indoor, outdoor, I think they’re ready. They’ve certainly played well in both places, and Notre Dame is a great indoor team.

[Note: the Northwestern/Stanford match was played outdoors.]

Did you overlap with any of these players? 

No, the seniors this year came in right after I finished. 

So you helped recruit them? 

I certainly met them when they were coming on their recruiting trips when I was a senior. I’ve done my best to keep up with the guys on the team. And once a Stanford Cardinal, always a Stanford Cardinal. 

Nice seeing Nolan get the clinch? 

Yeah, it was great to see. He’s a senior, came out, clinched both singles and doubles points. I’m just so happy for him, playing excellent tennis, staying calm out there and really had a lot of chances throughout the second set. He didn’t quite get them but just hung tough. The team played really hard today, competed tough. 

Thanks a lot. 

Thank you.

For more Bradley, On the Rise contributor Beau Treyz had a wide ranging interview with him last summer. Enjoy! http://beautreyz.podbean.com/e/episode-15-steadily-climbing/

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Midwest Represents in Stanford/Northwestern tussle

The first point was between two brothers from Indiana. The last was between two rivals from Chicagoland. In between was some high drama, terrific tennis, and even some trash talking. In the end, the visiting Cardinal of Stanford defeated the host Wildcats of Northwestern 4-3 to reach the Round of 16 of the NCAA men's tennis championships in Tulsa.

This was Stanford's first 4-3 win of the year. It couldn't have come at a better time.

It was a chilly but mostly sunny day in Evanston, with two elite universities (the only two private colleges in their conferences) that often appeal to similar caliber student athletes facing off. The crowd was good sized and plenty engaged, with just enough Stanford alumni and Tom Fawcett friends and family to spice things up.

Things started well for the Wildcats in doubles. Unlike most college matches, the big focus for many fans was at the #3 doubles spot, where Northwestern senior Mihir Kumar was, for the first time in his life, playing a competitive match against his brother, freshman Sameer Kumar. The Kumars, from a couple of hours away in Carmel, Indiana, were joined by their parents in what was an incredibly proud day for them.

In the match, neither brother played their absolute best, with Mihir getting broken at 2-2 and then Sameer getting broken in the next game. The big point came with Sameer's partner, Yale Goldberg, serving at 3-4 and deciding point. Some excellent net play from Stanford secured them the hold, and poor net play from Northwestern in the next game let Sameer serve for the match. He held at 15 and thus put an end to his brother's stellar college career.

Afterward, Sameer Kumar said of that moment, "It was a little bittersweet. He's done so much for me over my whole tennis career and even outside of tennis, he's helped me so much. I've been watching him since I was 7 or 8 and I came to a ton of Northwestern matches in the past few years. I know he's a little disappointed right now but he's meant the world to me, and I'm very proud of him for his great college career. He's going to do really well in the real world."

Mihir was visually upset after the Cats' loss, but he pulled himself together enough to pose for a family photo. He can also console himself with his post-graduate scholarship, for which he deserves a hearty congratulations!

Northwestern won the other two doubles matches, and thus the doubles point, with Sam Shropshire and Konrad Zieba playing some masterful tennis for a 6-2 at #2 and Strong Kirchheimer and Fedor Baev breaking Maciek Romanowicz for a 6-4 win at #1. Getting the break there was crucial, since Kirchheimer had failed to serve out the match in the previous game despite a 30-0 lead and a match point/deciding point. It also seemed to be a good sign for Northwestern, as they won nearly every dual this year in which they took the doubles point.

Needing only to split singles, Northwestern got off to a bit of a slow start, with Stanford racing out to big leads at 1, 4, and 5 singles. Sameer Kumar at #5 was particularly solid against fellow freshman Ben Vandixhorn, going up 6-1 4-2* and controlling the action with his powerful groundstrokes and generally handing whatever tricky lefty stuff the Libertyville native was throwing at him. Vandixhorn, who has been a clinching machine this season for the Wildcats, managed to make things interesting toward the end, leveling the match at 4-4. After Kumar broke and served for the match, Vandixhorn immediately broke back for 5-5. But the relentless Kumar broke yet again and served out the match without incident to bring Stanford level at 1-1 and turn Kumar into a cheerleader.

"My voice is shot," he said afterward. "Yesterday I was really cheering on my teammate, Nolan [Paige] and he came up really clutch, and today it was incredible by Tom and Konrad" in the final match.

Oh, sorry, #spoileralert.

Within seconds of Kumar's win, Paige closed out a 6-3 6-2 win over fellow senior Fedor Baev at #4 to put Stanford up 2-1. However, things had gotten complicated at #1 singles. Fawcett, who's merciless play got him three set points at 5-1* 40-15, started missing a bit, and Zieba held for 2-5. Zieba broke for 3-5 and then held from 0-30, winning a second deciding point/set point. Fawcett then reached two more set points thanks to a net cord dribbler at 30-30, but the net cord tooketh away on the next point, setting up a third deciding point/set point of the set ... again won by Zieba. In the next game, Fawcett missed an overhead and a volley to go down 5*-6, and then stunningly was broken again, and Zieba had the first set, saving seven set points in all.

Next up, NCAA singles-bound Kirchheimer and Shropshire ended their exceptional dual seasons with straight set wins at #3 and #2 singles respectively. Strong has been outstanding for NU, losing just one match in the entire spring season, a three-setter to Illinois' Aron Hiltzik, while Shropshire went undefeated in regular season conference play. I only saw the last two games of Sam's contest, when he broke Michael Genender and then served out the match, out-poising the talented freshman just enough to seal the victory.

"The guy's an absolute stud," said Northwestern head coach Arvid Swan of Shropshire. "He's been an elite player since he arrived on campus, and keeps improving his game. So mentally tough, incredibly mature, we expect him to win and he wins."

Okay, so Northwestern up 3-2, but behind in the final two matches, at the top and bottom of the lineup. Each match had plenty of drama and jawing from players, coaches, and fans, demonstrating the stakes of the moment for both programs.

Over on 6, Stanford senior captain Maciek Romanowicz was up a set and was midway through the second against Alp Horoz. ("Alp plays long matches because he plays long points." - Swan.) It had become a testy affair. At one point, Romanowicz chose not to return a Horoz serve because he claimed someone -- I assume a coach -- was talking. The umpire gave Northwestern the point and Horoz went on to hold for a 4*-2 lead. But it would be the last game he won. An inspired Romanowicz held, broke, and held for 5-4* at which point Horoz tossed his racquet against the fence, causing Stanford to complain when the chair umpire didn't penalize him. In the next game, Romanowicz stepped up his game even more, hitting an overhead winner, a volley winner, and a forehand winner to set up three match points. He converted on his first, and held up a finger to his lips, shushing the Northwestern crowd.

So as if fate were guiding this entire affair, the match rested with the two best players in the regional: Stanford #1 Tom Fawcett, of nearby Winnetka, and Northwestern #1 Konrad Zieba, of also nearby Glenview. The two towns are a 15 minute drive from each other, and both are 15 minute drives from Evanston. Both guys played on their public school teams for a while -- Fawcett at New Trier (where he joined former Cardinal Robert Stineman in winning a state championship his sophomore year) and Zieba at Glenbrook South. They played "a bunch" growing up, according to Fawcett, and trained together last summer. Now both are ranked in the Top 20 in the country.

The Midwest was definitely representing.

By the time focus shifted to their court, things felt a bit anticlimactic. After Zieba's crazy first set comeback, Fawcett refocused himself, serving up a bagel in the second set. Fawcett then for the third set in a row raced out to a big lead: 4*-1 in this case, on a sweet forehand crosscourt pass. Two breaks up. Finish line in sight.

But then the gathering crowd, or perhaps it was the desperation of the situation, helped lift Zieba. He quickly got to 0-40 on Fawcett's serve, and at 30-40 played an outstanding defensive point to break. Then, serving at 2*-4, Zieba went down 0-40, got it to 30-40 ... and then MORE DRAMA! Zieba hit a second serve long, which should have given Fawcett the break and the opportunity to serve for the match. Fawcett stuck his finger up, but Zieba and the Northwestern coaches argued that he had made the verbal call too late (after he'd missed the return). The chair umpire agreed, telling Fawcett, "I told you before," and taking the game to deciding point. Fawcett argued but smartly didn't let it consume him. Zieba then held and was down just 3-4*.

"It's hard because you get a lot of annoying calls throughout the year in college tennis, it's just part of it," said Fawcett of that moment. "So I argued for maybe 10 seconds and then there's not much you can do after that, you just have to kind of clear your head and think about the next point, so that's what I did. I'm kind of used to that situation."

Fawcett, who admitted afterward he started thinking about the first set after his third set lead slipped, said, "You kind of just trust your training and go after your shots, and that's what I did." Stanford head coach Paul Goldstein said he told Fawcett, "Mentally strong people don't dwell on the past."

Fawcett held at 15 for 5-3, and from 0-15 in the next game hit three fantastic returns to reach 15-40 -- three match points. But Zieba saved all three. So it was time for Fawcett to serve for the match. The crowd tried to rally behind their man, and Zieba got to 0-30. Fawcett looked like he was rushing. But a forehand-down-the-line winner and then an ill-advised Zieba dropshot got the score to 30-30. A Fawcett volley winner set up a fourth match point, and this one he converted with more aggression, finishing off the match with an overhead smash and his team rushing him and a bitterly disappointed home team and crowd.

"It's amazing," said Fawcett of his clinch. "I had a lot of friends from home and family watching so it was a really cool experience, and just happy I could come through for the team." He added, "We're a young team, so the younger guys have to take more of a leadership role. I just tried to do that a little bit today."

"We had two leaders of our team still on the court," said Goldstein of the team's comeback win. "Romanowicz at 6 is our senior captain. He probably didn't play his best tennis at the very beginning, but if there's a guy you want out there, it's those two guys. They've been leaders for our team all year."

Swan, who recruited both Sameer Kumar and Tom Fawcett, said of Stanford, "They're an outstanding team, outstanding program, and I think they'll do well in the Round of 16."  Of his own team, Swan said, he was "really proud." He added, "We're good. We're one of the best teams in the country. Didn't make the final site this year, but if you look at our record, the teams we've beat, we've got a good team. I feel real excited about what the future holds for our program."

For lots of photos from last weekend's action, visit the On the Rise Facebook album at https://www.facebook.com/ontheriseblog/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1174492872585323
Next up for Stanford is their conference rivals, #2-ranked UCLA. "We're 0-3 against them in the season, so not a lot of pressure on us," said Fawcett. "We can just go out and have fun. I really believe in this team, I think we're going to do something special in Tulsa. " Both Fawcett and Goldstein noted that there was historical precedent for a Stanford team going 0-3 against the Bruins but then getting them back in the NCAAs -- the 1996 national championship team, which beat UCLA 4-1 in the finals.

One of the players on that 1996 team?

Paul Goldstein.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Northwestern & Stanford advance to NCAA 2nd round

It was a chilly day in Chicagoland, meaning the action planned for the Northwestern University outdoor courts moved inside. There, the men's tennis teams representing Stanford University and Northwestern University prevailed over the spirited opposition of University of Notre Dame and Valparaiso University, respectively, to reach the second round of the NCAA playoffs. The two victors will meet on Sunday afternoon to determine which will be one of 16 teams to head to Tulsa for the tournament's conclusion.

The day began with the Stanford Cardinal winning a tight doubles point, in which all three matches went to 7-5, with Stanford's Tom Fawcett and Maciek Romanowicz getting the win at #1 and Notre Dame's Grayson Broadus and Nicolas Montoya winning at #3. It came down to #2, where Stanford's David Wilczynski and Nolan Paige fought off a couple of game points at 6-5* to break and claim the doubles point.

Moving to singles, Stanford's blue chip freshman Sameer Kumar got off to a shaky start at #5, going down a double break at 0-3* before righting the proverbial ship and dominating Kenneth Sabacinski 6-3 6-1 to give Stanford a 2-0 lead. Sophomore standout Tom Fawcett, from nearby Winnetka, proved why he's one of the top players in the country (ranked #15) with his 6-2 6-1 takedown of #35 Quentin Monaghan at #1. Fawcett controlled his service games with his howitzer and outplayed Monaghan from the baseline en route to a 6-2 6-1 win.

"Tom's been a leader for us since the day he arrived on campus last year as a freshman," said Stanford coach Paul Goldstein. "Particularly with his work ethic, I've said it a bunch of times but I didn't want to come in and put a freshman at #1 the whole year last year and have to do it again this year. He's just owned that responsibility and I thought he came out -- a true workmanlike effort. I have a lot of respect for Quentin. So I was really pleased for [Fawcett]."

Notre Dame's only wins on the day were both thanks to a freshman: Grayson Broadus. In addition to his doubles win, Broadus overpowered Cardinal senior captain Maciek Romanowicz 6-3 6-3 at #6 singles.
Of Broadus, Notre Dame coach Ryan Sachire said, "Grayson has done a heck of a job this year. He is a guy who has improved throughout the year. We talk about the effect that our seniors have had on our program -- they've set the tone and the younger guys have really benefited. I think Grayson, the level you saw from him today was a byproduct of all that he's put into it, but it starts with our seniors and the culture they've set."

Nolan Paige. (c) Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
It was a big day for Stanford senior Paige, who also got the clinch in singles. Paige's 7-6(3) 7-5 win over fellow senior Alex Lawson was particularly clutch as Notre Dame was up a set and on serve in the second set at the two remaining singles spots (#2 and #3). Paige trailed early in his first set tiebreaker but reeled off the last 5 points (it may have been 6) to take the set. Then at 5-5 in the second set, he broke Lawson at love to serve for the match. Paige double faulted on his first match point, but a backhand down the line pass gave Stanford the win.

"That's two seniors going at it, two athletic guys, with just I think one break all match, and it comes down to execution," said Goldstein. "And Nolan, the last two games, executed."

About clinching both the doubles point and the match, Paige said, "I was really locked in. I was feeling the flow. I wasn't really thinking. It felt good." When asked if he felt added pressure knowing his two teammates were down in their matches, he expressed faith in them. "I knew I didn't have to win. I knew [Michael Genender and David Wilczynski] could come back. But yeah, I was playing really confident and going after my shots." Paige, who will be attending Vanderbilt Divinity School next year, reflected on what it means that every match could be his last. "Yeah, I was thinking about that this morning. I've been playing tennis since I was 3 years old, and I just want to make every match count, just do my best, because I'm definitely going to miss it next year."

Notre Dame's seniors surely hoped for a better result in their final match (although Monaghan and Lawson will be playing doubles in Tulsa, and 2015 NCAA semifinalist Monaghan will also be playing singles). But Sachire took time to praise the culture his five seniors set for his program.

I asked Sachire specifically to talk about what Monaghan has meant to Notre Dame. "Q -- and all the seniors on our team, but him in particular -- works so hard and from a culture perspective, he's advanced our program a couple of levels since he's been at Notre Dame," said Sachire. "I've never coached a harder worker, I've never coached a fiercer competitor than Quentin Monaghan. He's won so many big matches and come through in so many big moments for us. He's a champion."

Goldstein was hyped up by the win. "That's a class team, led by a class coaching staff," said the former Cardinal. "We knew it was going to be tough and it was. It was everything we expected it to be in terms of how those boys competed. We had several matches this year, where we lost that identical match. We came out today and that's the match we've been losing -- we get up a little bit against a quality opponent but we're right there, but we don't put our foot on the pedal and finish. And we finished today, and that's what I'm pleased about."

Northwestern ekes out a 4-1 win

There were some understandable nerves for Northwestern, hosting a regional for the first time since the NCAAs were expanded to the current 64-team format in 1999. Expectations ran high for a win over Horizon League champion Valparaiso. In addition, they faced an impressively loud contingent of Valpo fans who made the 70 mile drive from the northwest Indiana school. Mostly, though, they faced a young, energetic, and talented Valpo team (made up entirely of players from the Big 10/Midwest region), which made the Wildcats work for all four points they won.

"Credit to Valpo. I thought they were outstanding," said Northwestern head coach Arvid Swan. "Really well coached team, plays with a lot of energy and heart. It was very clear to me why they won their league, and in quite a convincnig fashion. We're happy to advance."

Valparaiso came to play from the first point. Their #1 dobules team of Jeffrey Schorch and Charlie Emhardt went up an early break on Fedor Baev and Strong Kirchheimer while at #3, Chad Kissell and Kyle Dunn came back from an early break to get back on serve at 3-4 against Alp Horoz and Mihir Kumar on a ball that touched the roof. But then a fired up Kumar helped engineer a break and the Cats held for the 6-3 win and the doubles point. (Sam Shropshire and Konrad Zieba had previously won 6-2 at #2.)

Sam Shropshire & Konrad Zieba. (c) Jonathan Kelley
Shropshire was excellent in singles, and handily won his match 6-3 6-2 over Kissell at #2, putting NU up 2-0. When Strong Kirchheimer, Northwestern's winningest player this year, went up 6-1 in his match (one of 5 first-set wins for NU), it looked like it could be a quick afternoon. But then suddenly the worm turned, and Valpo came alive.

At #4, Emhardt beat Baev 6-2 7-5. According to Valpo's Ministry of Information, this marked the first time a Horizon League team hasn't been shut out at the NCAAs since 1994. That's 22 years, folks.

At #1, Schorsch went up 5-2* in the 2nd on Zieba and at #3 Dave Bacalla did the same to Kirchheimer. And at #5, Garrett Gardner split sets with freshman Ben Vandexhorn and went up 2-0 in the third. All of a sudden it was close. Things were tense. The crowd was super into it.

"The crowd really lifted them up," said Valparaiso head coach Jim Daugherty of his players. "As a matter of fact, when the chips seemed down in the middle of the match and we lost a lot of first sets, the crowd really lifted them up. We really needed that. They had to dig deep and the crowd really helped them dig deep. I'm glad they played off of that well."

But neither Schorsch nor Bacalla could serve out their second sets. Kirschheimer ended up winning the last 5 games of the match to put Northwestern up 3-1. "That guy's a winner," said Swan of Strong. "He's had a great year -- I think he's lost one dual match. I thought he played really well at the end of the second set, he gave no unforced errors, made every return, made Bacala play on every shot."

At #1, Zieba and Schorsch went to a tiebreaker, which the Crusader won to the delight of the Valpo fans. However, just then, Vandixhorn, who had broken back for 2*-2 and then dug out of a 15-40 hole at 3*-3, broke for 5*-3 on a second consecutive deciding point and quickly served out the match. The freshman got his umpteenth clinch of his remarkable season.

"I think we were all a little bit nervous so just to play hard and get through that first one is good for our team as we look forward to tomorrow," said Vandixhorn, who denied this blogger's joke that he tanked the second set just so he could set up another yet clinch. "He started making a few balls, I didn't really hit out on my shots, and let him step into the ball." He also was disappointed with his serve, and was seen practicing that shot after the match.

About Vandixhorn, Swan said, "The guy's clutch. He's mentally tough, hard worker, great kid. Pleased that we have him on the team, that's for sure." Senior Kumar also had praise for the youngster from the northern Chicago suburb of Libertyville. "Ben has done incredibly. He's just so tough. He stays the course in all his matches. Things get rocky, he always ends up on top." Reflecting on his own four years, Kumar said, "Our team has just improved so much and we're setting records. It's been a great journey for me."

Looking ahead to Sunday, both teams are trying to accomplish something big: the first Round of 16 NCAA appearance under the current coaches. True, Goldstein has only been coach for 2 years now, but given Stanford's legacy and his own expectations, the Cardinal no doubt expect to be contending for national champion soon. Swan, for his part, has coached the Wildcats since 2007, and has taken what was a middle-of-the-Big 10 team to unseen heights.

And then there are the Kumars. A senior and a freshman, from a few hours away in central Indiana, Mihir and Sameer will be playing against each other at 1:00 p.m. at #3 doubles on Sunday. Mihir said he was happy that his parents got to see both kids play at the same site.

Sameer Kumar cheerleading following his singles win.
(c) Jonathan Kelley, On the Rise
"We've never played in a competitive match before," said Mihir. "So it's ironic that what could be my last match will also be the first time I've played my little brother. It'll be interesting to see what colors my parents will be wearing."

When asked, their mother said their father had a plan.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The ups and downs of international tennis travel

Beau in Baku
by Beau Treyz

I thought that if I enjoyed the traveling from tournament to tournament it meant I wasn’t focused on tennis. Most of the time when I tell someone I’m playing professional tennis and that in the last seven months I’ve been to eight different countries including South Africa, Azerbaijan and Tunisia, their first question is about the places I’ve been, not my tennis. I always took that as a slight insult. But now I think it’s just the more interesting topic for most people, and unless they’re tennis buffs, I agree. I usually spend three weeks in each country, because tournaments run in strings of three, so with some days off I can get a pretty good feel for the culture in that area. Hands down my favorite place to live and compete was Stellenbosch, South Africa; definitely go if you can.

I’m not a hippie, but my number one rule when traveling now is to pay attention to the vibe of the place I’m in. Before I started traveling I thought a tennis court was a tennis court and I would be able to just put my head down and compete anywhere I went for as long as I stayed there; I was wrong. Now I know that I play my best when I also have a life outside the courts. In Stellenbosch I was with great guys, and the town had a college in it, so it was like being in any college town in the States and playing tournaments. I was hitting twice a day, going to the gym, walking around the town getting to try the local food and drink; it was amazing. In South Africa they have what’s called a “Red Cappuccino”, which is actually a shot of Rooibos tea rather than the traditional double shot of coffee; after my first one it became my favorite drink while I was there. Even coffee purists would have to admit it’s pretty good. The people of Stellenbosch were friendly, not just polite, but actually warm and welcoming to us players who were constantly wandering the town aimlessly. I felt good in Stellenbosch and that helped me be focused on the court, and I really didn’t have a bad day for the three weeks I was there; the energy of the place was contagious and I’m sure I’ll be going back next November to play the same tournaments.

I spent nine weeks in Egypt, and because of the shape the country is in, leaving the resort wasn’t a particularly enticing option. These tournaments are held at all-inclusive resorts with decent courts, and an average gym, but right on the water with great beaches. Players go here because there are typically at least 6 weeks of tournaments in a row, which allows the players to get comfortable in the environment, save money by not traveling and get into a routine which can help us play well. The thing I disliked about Egypt though was that it felt fake. I was in the same hotel for nine weeks, surrounded by tennis players and old Ukranians and Russians trying to get some sun on vacation. I wasn’t at all able to get a feel for Egyptian culture; all I could see was my next opponent and old Ukrainian guys in speedos: imagine Larry the Cable Guy speaking Ukrainian.

Beau and friends in Egypt
On the tennis side of being in Egypt I will try to avoid going back there because the vibes of the tournament were so bad. Futures tournaments are big business for the hotels that host us, but the tournament directors set the price each night for the rate of the room, and they always over charge. In Egypt the rate for a single room was 90 euros per night, and a double and triple room were the same price at 60 euros per night; online we could have booked a double room for 27, a triple for 20 and a single for 60 euros. Talk about bad vibes; that makes all of us players instantly pissed off knowing that the tournament director is punking us on the prices. Some guys move to different hotels, but then they have to pay for practice courts, sometimes up to 30 euros per person per hour to split the court with four people; that’s ridiculous. On top of that you have to factor in that because you’ve moved out of the official hotel the tournament director will make your life as hard as possible, giving you dead practice balls, making you play first round main draw on Tuesday after playing qualifying matches Saturday, Sunday and Monday; our options are basically pay the extra money and stay in the tournament hotel to be able to be treated fairly, or stay somewhere else and take your chances. Needless to say, Egypt is not high on my list of places to go back to.

After Egypt, I spent two weeks in Heraklion, Greece, which is on the island of Crete, and it was fantastic. The tournament is hosted at an all-inclusive resort, but a bunch of players, including myself, were staying at a smaller bed and breakfast in town because it was much cheaper and had a homier feel than the hotel. After so many weeks at an all-inclusive resort they all blend together and you forget what country you’re in, so as
long as staying somewhere else is worth it, the change of scenery is welcomed by all of us. In Greece, the tournament directors didn’t give those of us who weren’t staying in the official hotel a hard time, which made me a lot more comfortable. What was cool about Heraklion is that it is absolutely a tourist town, and while I was there it wasn’t tourist season so everything was dead. There were three grocery stores, a few cafes, a bakery and a butcher shop; our bed and breakfast was the only hotel open besides the official hotel. The two guys I was rooming with, Robbie Mudge and Rob Galloway, both Americans and former college players at NC State and Wofford respectively spent a decent amount of time at this cafĂ© up the street playing backgammon in our time off. Walking through the town we could count on seeing old men having an espresso and a cigarette or six, talking and playing backgammon every afternoon. We really got to see what life in this part of Heraklion was like for people as they waited for tourist season to come around. We all felt comfortable and played well there, and I know that was not a coincidence.

Without a doubt, traveling the world playing tennis is what I want to do for as long as I can. Getting to see the Pyramids of Giza was one of the coolest days of my life; standing there looking at the Pyramids and the Sphinx had me in awe. It may not instantly put my life in perspective for me, but it raises questions that I might never be forced to answer if I wasn’t traveling. Being submerged in someone else’s culture makes you think about the way you act and the way you think, and getting to take the good things you pick up from different places and work it into your own life is really interesting. Although I didn’t fall in love with every place I went like I did with Stellenbosch, I still learned something from every place I went and that’s the point of traveling and growing as a competitor and as a person.

Beau and Brandon Anandon in Egypt