It’s Saturday afternoon in China, I have just won my semifnial match against Taiwan’s #2 player. After the match the reporter asks me, “Are you feeling the pressure of tomorrow’s match? There’s a lot on the line.” For those of you who don’t know where I’ve been this past week. I’ve spent it in Shenzhen, China playing a wildcard tournament for the Australian Open Main draw. What a great opportunity to play in a Grand Slam main draw. With these tournaments it’s important to not put any extra pressure on yourself. In the back of your mind though you know winning could be life changing. To be honest, in my first 3 rounds I felt the pressure, but it was just normal pressure before competition.
My answer, “I’ve just finished my semifinal match and I’m trying not to think about tomorrow and to enjoy this moment right now, but my heart is racing a bit faster now because I know what’s at stake.”
In the finals I went up against a familiar opponent, Yoshito Nishioka (a tough and fesity opponent who can run for days.) I had just played him two weeks ago in Japan. Having lost the 1st set and leading in the 2nd set I was not able to defeat him in Japan. I knew what I was up against though, a physical physical match.
Finals days. My “uncle” who has been with me all week told me I had been sleep talking during the night, something I hadn’t done all week. Is that a sign of pressure? In my mind I was trying to get rid of all those thoughts of Australian Open. Just trying to think of this as another match. Such a strange thing, the mind. How it can be so powerful and yet helpless.
It’s finally gametime. Nishioka has elected to receive first. I can’t help it, but the pressure keeps building. My legs (quads specifically) are quite heavy and my heart is racing. The heaviness in the legs would continue for four games. Eventually I started to settle in. I won the first set and had a lot of momentum going into the 2nd. For those of you who play sports know how easy it is for momentum to shift. Playing at the highest level, opponents will try their best to break your rhythym. In the 4th game of the 2nd set the momentum shifted. I started making mistakes I didn’t make earlier. I lost the 2nd set. At the start of the 3rd set I started to feel my muscles twitch (early signs of cramping). By the 3rd game the muscles started to go in and out really fast. I could no longer stay in points as long as I wanted. I look across the net and see my opponent running around like there’s no tomorrow. I just looked up and said, “Whyy?” Probably one of the most important moments in my tennis career and of the match and my body decides to give in.
Game, set, match. Just like that. I’m sitting on the bench while the tournament officials roll out the trophy presentation in disbelief. Just thinking to myself, “What the hell happened?” I couldn’t have been any closer. That’s the cruel world of sports. I couldn’t imagine what it’s like for Olympics or the World Cup, a game that happens every four years.
At the end of the day though as much as a loss stings like this, it’s important to put life in perspective. I think sometimes we demand so much of ourselves and put way too much unnecessary pressure to climb the ladder. Easy to say and harder to do of course.
Just got to remember that Life’s an adventure!