While each week on the road has afforded me an insight into different culture’s varying perspectives on life, no tournament has felt like it was two trips rolled into one great week.. until this week!
Simply put, my second week, in this my second trip to Mexico, has been an incredible experience so far.
I arrived in Queretaro last Wednesday afternoon for a few days of practice with former Texas teammate, and current Mexican Davis Cupper, Miguel Reyes Varela (ATP 601). After a few days of practice and acclimating to the current elevation (~6000ft), I took my game on the road, to the Club de Tenis en Celaya (a roughly 40 minute commute from Miguel’s house). The qualifying rounds began on Saturday morning for the $10,000 Futures event and I opened with a win against an American, and then followed with another win on Sunday against #11 seed and ATP #1934 Rosas-Zarur (6-4,6-4). No amount of verbose language or window dressing could frame (pun-intended for this match) it as a well-played match. I brought minimal rhythm to the table, but fortunately Rosas-Zarur brought less. It was a battle of who could weather the barrage of bad errors, which, realistically speaking, determines the outcomes of quite a few matches, just ask any pro or collegiate coach, as quite a few of them sit on the sidelines plucking their hair out, one by one in ever-growing exasperation. I was up a break in both sets and did well to hold onto the leads as I finished off the match in straight sets. It was a great confidence booster to hang tough and gut out an ugly W (hat tip to “Winning Ugly” by Brad Gilbert). After most matches I try to do a little extra hitting and physical conditioning. Obviously, one needs to be wary of dipping too deep into the energy reserves during a tournament week, however the ultimate goal is improvement so that serves as a great motivator each and every day. I hooked up with another former Texas standout and Mexican Davis Cup Team member Luis Diaz Barriga (543 ATP). We had a great 45 minute practice. It was short & sweet, but very intense, just what the doctor ordered. I followed the hit with a brief session on the bike, some isometric ab exercises and a good stretch and it was time to call it a day.
Sunday’s match was against #8 seed and 1798 ATP Alexis Carlos of Mexico. I had similarly won 2 matches and progressed to the final round of qualifying last weekend in Estado de Mexico, only to fall 7-5 &7-5, needless to say I was excited to have another crack at it today. The match started well enough, with a hold of serve (so many of the players down here elect to receive first..much to my liking). In Alexis’ first service game, I had multiple chances to break but couldn’t convert, a frustrating proposition in any tennis situation, but especially at altitude where breaks can truly be at a premium. Today was a good serving day and I quickly found my rhythm which enabled me to hold relatively efficiently. I continued to play good games on his serve but didn’t break until the 6th game of the 1st set. I continued to hold and broke again to win the first 6-2. I was eager to get off to a good start in the second set but quickly found myself down 15-40 on my own serve. I played good tennis and was the appreciative recipient of a Carlos missed volley, but it was enough for me to escape with my service hold. Sometimes winning the long games seems to pay dividends down the road (thanks to Clarence Mabry for that and many other invaluable tennis insights), and the theory held true as I won the 2nd set going away for a 6-2, 6-2 finish. QUALIFIED! Another chance at a main draw opponent. My mental approach has definitely matured as a tennis player, no longer am I placing the focus on W’s& L’s, instead I’m making a concerted effort to truly enjoy every aspect of this incredible opportunity I’ve been afforded to chase my tennis dream.
After the day’s tennis activities, Mickey and I raced back to the house and took quick showers, in an effort to meet his dad and Elsa (Miguel’s father’s longtime girlfriend) for a Saturday afternoon meal at Las Laurelas, a restaurant inside a beautiful white-walled Spanish Hacienda.
A very significant reason why this particular week has been so incredible is the separation between my tennis and the experiences of enjoying the Mexican culture in Queretaro. Quite literally we are separated by some 40-50 km, but that distance has really allowed me to maximize my tennis for the day, then put the rackets away and embrace the wonderful Mexican culture. Mealtime has long been my favorite time of the day, but in Elsa’s house in Queretaro, every meal is an opportunity for great conversation and enlightening the ‘poor Gringo’ about all things Mexico. Each meal has taken the form of a 3 on 1 tutoring session. Miguel, Miguel’s father, and Elsa have made even my most ridiculous questions feel welcomed. We have discussed Mexican politics, both past and present, and even jumped into a brief overview of the current presidential race. Food is a common teaching topic as Elsa’s professional training is in nutrition. We even had a brief art lesson, as Elsa has taken to all sorts of art creation and collection in her spare time, with original paintings ranging from realism to cubism to impressionism and also having collected sculptures that include several 18th century pieces.
Most of these conversations have been in Spanish, although they are mindful to switch into English sometimes so I can be involved in some of the rapid-fire give and take.
Humor is a huge part of this household as well, and they’ve had great fun in remembering all sorts of pranks they have played on friends over the years. Humor appears to be deeply woven into the Mexican social culture as well. A very common example is their use of double-sense comments. This basically is the idea of making a seemingly innocent comment, only to see if those around are mentally agile enough to derive the not-so-innocent humor from the one-liner (albures). With Mickey as my guide, I’ve been treated to some of his father’s quick-witted specialties, but sadly, I’m not particularly close to decoding the figurative meanings of some of these saying, but I’ll keep trying.
While I may struggle to grasp some of the quicker verbal jabs, I felt first hand the burn* of a good prank.. a little background first. As I explained in my last entry, there are three types of salsas that come with every meal, and they escalate in terms of spiciness (pica-espanol) from verde, the most mild, to habanero, which borders on the “get the tres leches cake out and fast, because you need 3 milks to extinguish this burn”… ok bad joke, but you get the picture. Mickey and I sat down to get an early start to on Friday’s lunch, as I had to travel to Celaya for qualifying check-in. I, as per usual, began to load my plate to the brim with all sorts of delicious gorditas, bruschettas, etc when Maria (who helps produce some of this amazing cooking) brought over a new dish, a combination of red onions and carrots that were soaked in a semi-clear liquid. I leapt before I looked, and much to Mickey’s excitement, tossed the carrots, onions, and broth all around my plate. Within 30 seconds, I recognized my mistake even though I could hardly see through the tears that were rolling down my face. The onions& carrots were not innocently soaking in some citrus/lime juice, rather they were submerged in a fiery habanero lava-type liquid meant to separate the men from the boys. Mickey had kept his tongue as he saw me eagerly spoon the liquid onto my plate, only to have fits of laughter follow his forced silence. It was all in good fun, but I was the brunt of a great burn.. literally and figuratively. Gun shy has new meaning for me at the Mexican meal table… this gringo has learned a lesson haha.
Wow, didn’t mean to have this one trail on for so long, but I’ve enjoyed this week so much that I wanted to share with all of you.
The two family pets, Romina y El Conejo (I’ll let you judge which is which), pictured to the right, about sum up my feelings for this awesome week.
And to finish on a bang (or a flame, if you prefer) check out what we saw at a street corner on our drive back from the Celaya club on Friday afternoon.
Thanks for reading and main draw singles tomorrow, so I’ll keep y’all posted!