Uzbekistan

So I’ve been meaning to post this since the first week in Uzbekistan, but since the wifi was so bad for the entire 2 weeks I couldn’t upload photos. And photos are very important!!

This was quite the journey…

Before going to Uzbekistan I asked all the players I knew that have traveled before to see what their thoughts on Uzbekistan was and if they could give me a little info on what to expect. Not one person said they liked Uzbekistan. Red flags right? Half of the players I talked to said it’s “doable” and the other half said it’s “shit.” Not the answers you want to be hearing before going to a country you’ve never been to.

My journey to Uzbekistan started from Seoul, Korea. Surprisingly there are a lot of non-stop flights from Seoul to Tashkent (capital city of Uzbek). I’m guessing South Korea and Uzbek have a lot of business. My final destination was going to be a city called, Karshi (about 450 km from Tashkent). But in order to enter the country I needed to pick up an on arrival visa in Tashkent (I could not pick up the visa anywhere else). The journey from Tashkent to Karshi is no joke. It only takes one hour by plane, but this flight only operates a few times a week by one airline. So what most players do is take a 6 hour taxi. Yup, you heard correct. 6 hours!! So many of the international flights arriving Tashkent arrive in the evening so after arriving you would need to be in the car for another 6 hours. And driving through the night can be quite dangerous as the roads are horrendous and the lighting is..well there is no lighting. There was no chance I was going to take the taxi.

My flight from Seoul arrived on a Friday night and lucky me there was a flight to Karshi Saturday morning. But flying also had it’s difficulties.

1 of 5 security checkpoints before checkin while it rains

Security took forever and I thought I was going to miss my flight. When I was checking in I figured I was going to have excess weight. Cheap as it was, I was 10kg’s over and paid only $10!! But I had to go to the ticket office (more time) to pay for the extra weight. The lady asked me if I had Soums (local currency) to pay in. A little background on the currency here.So the government rate is about 3,000 Soums to $1 USD. There’s a black market though and you can get about 8,000 Soums for $1. Pretty crazy! If you ever decide to travel to Uzbekistan it’s recommended you bring enough cash so you can change with the local people here. I didn’t have Soums to pay for the excess baggage weight and for some reason I had a $10 bill in my wallet and asked her if it was okay. Luckily she took my $10.

It’s hard to imagine that of all the places in the world for a tennis tournament Karshi, Uzbekistan would have one. Karshi has a whopping 200,000 population, but it really feels like 100. I saw no one during my time in Karshi.

One thing I noticed in Karshi was that almost every car on the road was white.

And every car on the road can be a taxi, just need to haggle around with the price. The first few days I asked the hotel to help me call for a taxi, but later I learned that there was no point as you could call any car on the street.

It was a tough week for tennis as I lost a close match in the 1st round, but ended the week on a strong note getting immersed in the culture a bit by eating with some locals. So May 9 here was “Victory Day” when the Germans surrendered to former “Soviet Union” in World War 2. A few people from the club invited some of the players to eat with them to celebrate and honor those that lost their lives during the war. The drink of choice for dinner, Vodka. Not surprising. To be honest I’ve never got a good vibe from people from this region (Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan). From the facial demeanors and the way they talk is very aggressive and strong. But they are actually really nice and friendly people. As the old saying goes, “Can’t judge a book by it’s cover.”

Next stop was  Samarkand, Uzbekistan..

Had to go in these old beat up cars with no air condition for 3 hours with all our bags! I shared the car with another player and we were cramped up in the back of the car holding our bags while the driver drove swerving by pot holes and passing slow cars. This driver had the worst body odor of all time! Any time he rested his arm on the door of the car I got a solid whiff of that awfully pungent smell as I sat directly back of him.

When we arrived to the new city I was really looking forward to a bigger hotel and better wifi. But I was greeted with the same wifi if not worse and a room where the air conditioning did not work. I asked the front desk to help me fix the air condition in my room four times before I finally gave up. But what Samarkand had was more people, more liveliness, better food, tourists (which meant places to site see walking distance from the hotel!), and a couple universities surrounding the hotel. I’ve got to admit, it was a bit weird seeing people after not seeing anyone in Karshi.

According to Wikipedia, “Samarkand is one of the oldest inhabited cities in Central Asia.”

This trip to Uzbekistan has been one of the most challenging trips I’ve had since playing professionally. The first week losing in the first round on a Monday was a disaster for my mind. There was absolutely nothing to do in the city and no wifi so all I had was time for thoughts to myself.  Repeatedly asking myself why I even decided to travel so far to an unfamiliar territory. But you know what as hard as this trip was I got through it! And I got to see something new, experience a different culture, and meet new people.

Don’t mind the tan lines

Finally made it to Paris and will playing my first round tomorrow!

 

 

 

JJ

 

 

Line Calls

$50,000 Gimcheon, Korea 

 

It’s 5-6 in the first set I’m serving at Deuce (after being up 40-0 in the game) there’s a ball that lands outside of the baseline, I’m waiting for the call. One, two, three long seconds pass by and still no call by the umpire. “In” says the umpire. Like a tea pot waiting to scream, I burst. My mind goes crazy internally. I did not win another game after that. What’s crazy is right before the match I was talking to the umpire and saying how tough it is because there is no baseline referee. Which in tennis makes it extremely difficult for the chair umpire to see everything for the entire match. Little did I know it would hit me in such a pivotal point of the match. These things are not new to me though. I know that at times the first 2 rounds of a tournament will not have all the lines covered. I know that I will get some bad calls and some bad calls that go my way. I know that some of these calls can come at some unfortunate times. I really do.

This is the second time this year where line calls in a match have really got the best of me. I’ve played eight tournaments this year and somehow it almost feels like the chair umpires have a bounty on me. They are out to get me. Unfair. Bad line calls happening at the most critical times. After the first time I really blew up in a match this year and visibly lost the match because of bad line calls I vowed to myself to never do it again. Keep my mind in check. Then today happened. So surely I haven’t completely got my mind in that state where outside noise/distraction doesn’t affect me.

I spoke with my Taiwan professor (ex-professional tennis player) after the match and we talked a bit on what happened today. We both know that these bad line calls happen. And yes, it may seem like it’s unfair. My professor told me that these line calls are out of our control.  He told me sometimes in his profession as a professor there are situations or events that are out of his control that make his job more difficult to do or overcome. My professor’s example really hit home for me.

In any sport, any profession, or life itself there are so many factors that are outside of our control. So many things that are trying to distract us, trying to take us off course, and take us out of our game. When these things happen in our life it’s how we deal with the distractions that’s most important. Do we let the bad line calls affect us so we can’t play anymore? No! I could have totally changed the outcome of the match today. Not saying I would have won or lost with this attitude, but I sure as hell would have given myself a better chance.

 

 

 

JJ

 

We out here

It’s been great to finally get back out there after being sidelined for almost 5 months. It hasn’t been easy though. I had plans to have a strong off season in December and start off the year in January. My injury had other plans for me. I was delayed another 3 weeks at the start of January. Not being able to play Australian Open for 2 consecutive years really hit me hard.

I started my journey back playing in a Japanese company league. As some of you may know Japan is quite cold during this time of the year, a few bits of snow flakes fall sometimes, but that’s about it (my sarcasm coming into play). Even though we played indoors this particular facility didn’t have heating so we were playing in 35-40 degree weather. I’m wearing leggings and skin tight long sleeves all through my first match and I still feel cold. Aside from the weather I had a great time getting back into competition mode in a team setting. I forgot how much I missed playing on a team (Michigan days). Our team ending up advancing to the final rounds and we were the eventual winners !

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After Japan League I decided my body was ready enough to get back into tournament mode so I took my long awaited trip to Australia for the first time. It wasn’t for the Australian Open, but I was still ecstatic to get back out there. I had a tough go in the first 2 weeks back, losing two close 3 set matches. The comeback has been a bit tougher than I thought it would be. This has been my longest time off since playing on the tour and I thought I could pick off where I left off. Patience. This is the one thing in the last few weeks I’ve been trying to encourage myself to do. At the top level of tennis every little detail matters and when you take an extended amount of time off there things that may be off or that need fine tuning. This is biggest thing I’ve learned since starting back again.

 

Yup we stayed here at this Hotel Motel

Yup we stayed here at this Hotel Motel

Grinding

Grinding

Reunited with my boy Evan King

Reunited with my boy Evan King

Touristy things

Touristy things

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After Australia I flew back to Taiwan to play Davis Cup for the first time. Going into Davis Cup I was a little worried about playing 3 out of 5 sets for the first time; wasn’t sure if my body was ready to handle the pounding. I was also a bit more nervous than usual before the match. I remember playing at Michigan during my college days I would get pretty nervous only because I was playing not only for myself, but for my school. This time I was playing for Taiwan.

Results did not go as planned as we lost two 5 set matches on the first day. I had 2 match points in my match, but was battling with some stomach problems throughout the match so I was unable to finish in the 5th set. It was a great experience playing a 5 set match for the first time though. I will definitely have more experience going into a 3 out of 5 set match next time. Our team lost, but I had a great time battling with the Taiwan team.

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Thanks Kerry for coming out!!

Thanks Kerry for coming out!!

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I’m on my way back to Japan. Hopefully not too cold!!

 

See ya there!

 

 

JJ

 

 

 

 

2016

I’d like to start off by saying how extremely proud I am of my mom fighting cancer another year! She’s been incredibly strong this year. It hasn’t been easy, but she is continuing to fight and words cannot express how thankful I am to have her. I just remember going in for foot surgery this October and how scared I was (being my first surgery and all). Doctor told me the procedure was going to be 20-30 min and only needed local anesthesia. I was so scared I wanted to be put to sleep for the procedure. I can only imagine what my mom has gone through.

There are so many things that 2016 has thrown at me. 2016 has given me many opportunities once again, some I was able to capitalize on and some I came close to pulling through. This year was a really defining year. Although I’ve had more success this year (ranking wise), I think out of all the years on the professional tour this one has been the toughest.

As tennis players you never want to focus on your ranking, but you do need to be aware of it and being aware of the ranking helps you set goals. In the beginning of the year I was playing a lot of close matches against good opponents, but couldn’t quite breakthrough in any of those matches. Then I saw my ranking drop in April as well as a foot injury that set me back this year. It’s tough because it’s your 5th year on the professional tour and you know you can compete against the best in the world, but results aren’t quite getting there. Then before you know a lot of outside voices are starting to influence you. A lot of times it’s from friends and family who ask you questions about your career choice and 100% they don’t mean anything when they ask these questions. It also doesn’t help when you get on social media and start comparing yourself to other peoples lives. The snowball effect. It’s something I think many of us are guilty of.

I am proud of myself for fighting through those tough times this year though. I figured something out towards the end of the year and my results started to show. It was unfortunate my injuries took me out of competition the last 3 months of the year, but I’m glad I was able to make a big breakthrough this year.

It’s been awhile since I’ve spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with family in the same year and I’m extremely grateful for that time. As we get older it gets tougher and tougher to have the whole family get together.

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It’s been a great 2016 and looking forward to 2017!

 

 

 

JJ

 

 

 

7

Hi All!

Sorry for being MIA. A lot has happened since my last tournament in September. As many of you know I had been battling a foot injury since April. The pain has been on and off. But after my tournament in Taiwan it started to get worse. Through a network of friends in Taiwan, I was recommended to get my foot looked at by a physical therapist. He took one look and said, “What is that??” He called his network of doctors to see if they could figure out a solution and treatment plan. The last doctor we met with recommended that we do immediate surgery, same day! I’m sitting there in the doctor’s office trying to think if I have time to think this surgery through. The doctor reassured me that the recovery process would be short and that the team of doctors around me would do their best to get me back on the court ASAP!

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It’s been three weeks since my surgery now and I’m recovering quite fast. Can’t thank these doctors enough for helping me through this tough time. Seeing the physical therapist every day, doing my exercises, and making the most of my time off! I appreciate those who have sent me messages already; also to the new friends in Taiwan that have helped keep me company. I even experienced my first typhoon during this time off….have to admit, I was quite the wuss.

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P.S. If you’re wondering why my title is “7” that was the number of my surgery gurney.

 

 

Much love!

 

 

JJ

Mental Battle

It’s been a crazy 72 hours. On Thursday I was scheduled to play my quarterfinal match in Nanchang, China. With the forecast saying rain all day. Woke up Thursday morning only to see no rain though, but cloudy. Warmed up and got loose. Ready for the match at 11am and then it began. Rain. Well, you can’t even call it rain it was misting/spitting just enough to make the lines on the court slippery. This spit was persistent. As soon as we’d finish 2-3 points we’d have to stop. My opponent and I would go back to the bench and wait 5 minutes. Go back out and play a couple more points. This happened 4-5 times. And mind you you don’t get a warm up if you’ve stopped less than 15 min. We’ve now gotten to 5-6 in the 1st set, I’m serving and the rain finally comes. We pack up and go inside.

After two hours and some not so tasty food in my body because the only available food source is at the courts we are back on the court. As soon as we arrive on the court it’s spitting once again. We do the same for the 2nd set, on and off. This time I’m able to get ahead and manage to get myself two match points on my opponent’s serve. He finds a way to save those two match points and now the rain is coming. Inches away from finishing the match and we have to stop. It was about 3pm when we stopped the second time. We waited till about 6pm and the supervisor canceled the singles matches for the day. The doubles matches that were scheduled would finish indoors. And I was in doubles as well. Finished doubles at 8pm and was back to the hotel at almost 9pm . 12 hour day!

The feeling of being so close to finishing a match and having to think about it all night and all morning is indescribable. My singles match could potentially take 3 points or 2 hours. We resumed Friday and my opponent came out firing, I lost the first 5 points. Now serving 5-3 0-40 I’m starting to really think. Somehow I manage to come back and not lose a point after that. As soon as we finished it started to rain again. Was just so relieved to finish that match. I would later lose in the semifinals, but just tough tough mentally having to deal with this situation.

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I am now currently still in Nanchang, China at a hotel by the airport. Was scheduled to fly out at 8:30am this morning. Our plane left the gate, but then just stopped for 30 min. They announced that we would have to go back to the gate because of mechanical problems. Then 20 minutes later they announced that we would be delayed even longer because of the typhoon hitting Taiwan. We had to go through customs again and take a bus to an organized hotel. You hate to have days like this, but it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry. Better to take the precautions. Lives depend on it. Even though I’m complaining I’m not complaining 🙂

 

People getting restless waiting on the plane

People getting restless waiting on the plane

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Bus ride to hotel

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nice business cards upon entering the room

nice business cards upon entering the room

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See you Taiwan!

 

 

JJ

New Beginning

I don’t even know where to begin…

It’s been an incredible 2 weeks in China. It has been over a year since reaching my first Challenger final and all the expectations of myself to keep up that level really just made me lose sight of enjoying tennis. I started focusing on results, chasing ranking points, focusing on wins and losses, as well as other player’s wins and losses. I lost sight of why I love this game and why I play this sport. Playing at a professional level requires a level of determination to want to be the best so in essence you treat it as a job, as it should be. But I can’t tell you how many times I haven gotten off the court in the past year just shaking my head and asking myself, “What am I doing?” Wanting to quit. It’s easy to think that way though when all you think about is the end result.

I play this sport because I enjoy the challenge, the problem solving, and the grind. Not the results. Results follow if you focus on the process. And I can’t thank my doubles partner enough for helping me through these two weeks. Always encouraging me and getting me in the right mindset. Thanks JP!  As well as all my friends and family for sticking with me. It’s just the beginning. Time to get to work!!

Spent the first week of this trip celebrating one of my best friend's wedding! Congrats CS and Mind!

Spent the first week of this trip celebrating one of my best friend’s wedding! Congrats CS and Mind!

First time going to Kazakhstan! And no luck of finding Borat..

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And then the most epic travel day from Kazakhstan to China. From my bag being stuck in the security X-ray monitor because the people in front of me decided to put their passports on the belt and it got sucked underneath to spending a 4 hour layover in some old musty hotel the airline provided.

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5am……

Finally making it to Chengdu! Why we are smiling, not sure

Finally making it to Chengdu! Why we are smiling, not sure

To new friends in Chengdu!

To new friends in Chengdu!

To JP throwing me under the bus at the player's party. This girl wanted JP to sing a song in front of everyone and he said, "I'll only sing if Jason dances."

To JP throwing me under the bus at the player’s party. This girl wanted JP to sing a song in front of everyone and he said, “I’ll only sing if Jason dances.” All for a cute stuffed Panda.

I got one of these for the first time!

I got one of these for the first time!

To new friends in Qingdao!

To new friends in Qingdao!

#taiwan

#taiwan

 

Thanks for all the love!

 

 

JJ