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2008: 1st PlaceCissy, Mom, Me, Bill, Marna, and Bob at the Caddy Shack
2008: 1st Place

 
Cissy, Mom, Me, Bill, Marna, and Bob at the Caddy Shack

 
2007: 2nd Place2005: 1st Place
2007: 2nd Place

 
2005: 1st Place

 
2003: 1st Place2001: 3rd Place
2003: 1st Place

 
2001: 3rd Place

 


The first weekend in November will always hold a special place in my heart. For many, the month of November means college football, pumpkin pie, and winter coats. For me, November means Lake Conroe, Bob & Marna, and the National Mother-Daughter Hard Court Championships. Since I was a sophomore in high school, my mom and I have made the drive to Conroe, Texas to take to the courts at the Walden Racket Club. We have only missed the tournament twice in the past nine years: in 2004, my sophomore year at A&M, the team was competing in Hawaii, and in 2006, my senior year, I qualified for the National Indoors in Columbus, Ohio. The tournament is held in the Walden retirement community on Lake Conroe and each mother-daughter team is housed by a different family. Bob and Marna Leasure have been our faithful hosts for seven years and are my surrogate grandparents. They have rooted me on during matches at A&M, I attended their 50th wedding anniversary party, and they have encouraged and supported me every step of the way. I am their proud eighth and oldest “grandchild.”

 

The weekend is exactly the same every year, for there is tradition in every event: We drive down on Friday and have dinner at the Caddy Shack, Walden’s local hangout. Painted on the restaurant’s back wall is a scene of people hanging out on the golf course. For a small fee you can have you and your family painted into the scene. Every year my mom and I look forward to searching for the new faces, but the real feat, however, is noticing the “disappearances” that have been painted over due to not so hush-hush family feuds. This year Bob and Marna met us for dinner at the Caddy Shack along with their friends and my fellow Aggies, Bill and Cissy Hardy. Bill and Cissy came and watched my mom and I play last year and cheered me on in the past down at A&M. They also would stop by to say hi at the A&M football pre-game show where I was a radio co-host in college. 

 

The tournament begins on Saturday and it is quickly apparent during the complimentary breakfast who is out for blood and who is there for a fun social weekend. I would say my mom and I fall smack dab in the middle of that spectrum, we always come ready to play, but our number one goal is to have fun together. The draw was smaller than usual this year and I don’t know if it had to do with the ailing economy and rising travel costs or the sheer intimidation that the Lubinsky duo always brings to the table. All this is to say, we got a bye first round, then didn’t even give up a game in the semi-finals. Because we only had one match on Saturday, it gave us the freedom to drive an hour north to Aggieland for the mini-tennis reunion tailgate. I got to see some of my favorite faces from my days at the Mitchell Tennis Center: Coach Kleinecke, Russell Brandes, Phil and Dee Springer, Joe and Barbra Armon, Monty Gibson, and Kevin O’shea. It was their support and encouragement that made playing for the Aggies incredibly special.

 

We drove back to Walden for the Saturday night cocktail party and banquet at the Yacht Club. I am convinced the cocktail party was inserted into the event calendar for the sake of the daughters competing in the tournament. It is not unusual to see many bellied up to the bar to ease the stress of playing with their mothers. Someday I plan to purpose a toast to all the hard working daughters who have to run around like chickens with their heads cut off as their sweet lil’mothers stand up close to the net and scream, “Yours!” Okay, so I am exaggerating a wee bit. The cocktail party and banquet are always my favorite parts of the weekend. All the mother and daughter teams along with their weekend hosts gather to chat, laugh, and reminisce on years past. I am however, not exaggerating when I tell you that the evening can be a perfect time to get scouting reports on your opponents. And let me tell you, the report is not always, “just hit it to the mom.”

 

The finals are held on Sunday and my mom and I were ready, based on the “cocktail scouting report,” to face off against a tough team. The mom just retired from coaching for 24 years at a community college in California and the daughter is a teaching pro in Arizona. We came out swinging to take the lead 4-1. Unnerved, our opponents came storming back, and despite our one set point, captured the set in a tiebreaker 9-7. Here is where most mother-daughter teams would fall apart. Dejected after being ahead and still losing the set, the “You should have’s” and “If only you could have’s” start flying. My mom and I, however, communicate very well. It is our secret weapon. We sat down on the changeover and talked about what we needed to do differently, what we did to get us the lead in the first set, and what our plan was for the second and third. What I admire most about my mom is her mental approach. Now don’t get me wrong, she does have a mean slice backhand, consistent serve, and killer volleys, but her “ain’t over till it’s over” attitude has always inspired me. There have been moments over our seven year tenure at the tournament where I felt like our ship had sailed, but it was in those moments that my mom was always ready and willing to climb back on board. After the first set changeover we never looked back. We played smart and aggressive throughout the next two sets to win 6-3, 6-3 giving us our third national championship!

 

In each of the three matches where we have captured the title the match point has always been quite memorable. In 2003 we played a strong team where the daughter was the head coach at the University of Kansas. After winning the first set easily 6-1, we found ourselves in a tiebreaker for the second. On match point at 6-5 my mom jumped in the air “a la Michael Jordan” and smashed an overhead for a winner. She turned around to me, let out her signature “Whoo Hoo,” and we threw our arms up victoriously in the air! In 2005 we battled against an infamous team from Ohio. The daughter played for Bowling Green University and the mother was ranked in the top 5 in the nation in women’s 40s. I am not exaggerating when I say that they were the worst sports that I have ever competed against in all my years of tennis. During a score discrepancy in the second set she turned to the crowd and screamed, “Of course you agree with them, they are from Texas!” While the mother fumed, the daughter cried, and accused us of cheating between sobs. Throughout the third set the mother threw her racket and used some “choice” words when the momentum would shift in our favor. We kept our cool and went on to win the match 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. On match point my mom dropped to her knees to hit an incredible volley that nailed the mother right in the stomach. Victory never tasted so sweet. Needless to say they didn’t stay for the awards ceremony….lame! This year the mother and daughter that we played were both very effective at the net. My mom made sure to remind me on match point to stick with our number one tactical strategy of keeping the ball down the middle. I served the ball and like clock work the daughter returned it deep and came charging in. I held my ground, set up, and ripped a forehand down the center of the court causing our opponents to collide! Once again…. “Momma knows best!”

 

Now you can see why the first weekend in November will always hold a special place in my heart. I hope to compete in the tournament someday with my own daughter. What makes mother-daughter doubles so special is that you just can’t pick your partner. You have to play with the “cards you are dealt,” and in my mind God dealt me a royal flush.



Atlanta, Evansville, St. Joe

The Road to my 2nd Pro Doubles Title!

Fellow Aggie, Dell Perry, who provided my mom and me a place to stay in AtlantaMy mom's college roomate, Jennifer, and husband, Gary
Fellow Aggie, Dell Perry, who provided my mom and me a place to stay in Atlanta

My mom's college roomate, Jennifer, and husband, Gary

My mom with Jennifer's prized mule, HoochMy mom's maid of honor, Pam Landy
My mom with Jennifer's prized mule, Hooch

My mom's maid of honor, Pam Landy

The Pro-Am in Evansville, Indiana with our host Don SmithAt the Psychiatric Museum in St. Joe, Missouri with Aggie teammate Sarah Foster. This case contains the stomach contents of an insane women: saltshaker lids, nails, buttons, safety pins and more!
The Pro-Am in Evansville, Indiana with our host Don Smith

At the Psychiatric Museum in St. Joe, Missouri with Aggie teammate Sarah Foster. This case contains the stomach contents of an insane women: saltshaker lids, nails, buttons, safety pins and more!

Ice & Stem: 20 mintues on, 40 mintues off(L to R) amidst the ball kids: opponents, my partner Lauren Lui, and yours truly
Ice & Stem: 20 mintues on, 40 mintues off

(L to R) amidst the ball kids: opponents, my partner Lauren Lui, and yours truly

A victory smooch from my #1 Fan in St. Joe, BettyLocal t.v. news interview with the champs!
A victory smooch from my #1 Fan in St. Joe, Betty

Local t.v. news interview with the champs!


Sometimes the journey we're on takes unexpected turns (no pun intended!) After a slow start in Atlanta,  and a wonderful few days in Franklin, Tennessee with my mom's dear friends, I picked up the pace in Evansville, Indiana. But here's where the road got bumpy:

I stormed through my first two rounds, setting up a college re-match with the infamous Baylor Bear, Zuzanna Zemenova (ZZ), in the Quarterfinals. I lost to ZZ three times during my days at A&M and was excited to get to play her under different circumstances. She came out swinging, in typical ZZ fashion, to take the first set; however, we were neck and neck in the second set, and I could tell she was starting to fade. I was serving at 4-5, hit a fabulous approach shot to take the net, she barely gets it back just dipping the ball out of reach, I lunge across my body with my left foot and then...SNAP, CRACKLE, POP. Next thing I know I am surrounded by a line judge, the trainer, the tournament director, ZZ, and my mom. Their voices swirl around me as I grasp my swelling ankle: the trainer, "You're okay, you're okay," the tournament director, "She has to retire,"  ZZ, "Anna, I am so sorry I shouldn't have hit that shot!" and my sweet mom, "Lord, be with Anna." I was forced to retire and hopped off the court. The prognosis for this "unexpected turn": Severely sprained ankle, stem and ice 20 minutes on, 40 minutes off, and elevate. (Stem: electronic current is sent through 4 sticky pads outlining the injured area to stimulate the muscle.)  

I passed the time over the next few days doing exactly what the doctor ordered. Luckily I had two ways to take my mind off the pain: my trusty Harry Potter novel, Goblet of Fire, and chats with my mom. (I got to see some hilarious photographs at her college roommate's house in Tennessee that I felt needed some serious explanation!) When Sunday rolled around it was time to make a huge decision: pack up and go home or head to St. Joe, Missouri for the last tournament. I decided to stay on course, knowing I wouldn't have to play again until Wednesday. I have had several ankle injuries in the past: broke my left jumping across a creek when I was ten, tore all the ligaments in my right sliding on a clay court when I was sixteen, and sprained both countless times playing basketball in high school. I had experienced the worst with both ankles and knew as the swelling and pain began to steadily decrease I would be able to at least "attempt" to play. 

With it triple taped and braced up I took to the court in St. Joe and won my first singles match. My side to side movement was quite limited, however, and I lost next day in three long sets. Down but not out I still had doubles to play. My partner, Lauren Lui, and I had lost in Evansville in the Quarterfinals and were poised to redeem ourselves in St. Joe. I could effectively move up and back in doubles but occasionally yelled out "Yours!" sending Lauren on treks to scrape and dig out balls in the back court. We steam rolled through our first two rounds and came up against a talented team in the Semifinals. One of the girls was from England and had once reached the second round of Wimbledon, the other was a standout at Georgia Tech University. Down 4-6, 3-5 (Deuce), with no-ad scoring in doubles this put us down match point,  I served and rushed the net only to see our opponent hit up a lob that sailed over my partner's head. It was as if we were watching the ball in slow motion, our fate seemed to be sealed. It was then that Lady luck appeared, the lob landed out by inches, we had been saved by "the skin of our teeth." The celebration was short lived as we soon found out selves down again, this time 0-40 (quadruple matchpoint.) We saved one incredibly by reflexing several blistering volleys at the net, our rackets blocking and defending as if they were shields. We clawed our way back to deuce and I asked Lauren if she would "take it," meaning she would receive during the no-ad point (their 5th match point). What I love about Lauren is she is always cool, calm, and collected, willing to return during the no-ad points with a shrug of her shoulders. I looked her square in the eye and said, "No matter what happens, thank you for taking all the ad-points. I am proud of you." Unable to produce against Lauren's penetrating backhand return, our opponent's volley landed wide, and I could hardly contain myself! I leapt over to Lauren and said with a wide smile, "Someone wants us to win this!" And..................we did! We took the second set in a tiebreaker and won the third set 10-point tiebreaker 10-5. I really pulled my weight in both tiebreakers and played like an animal at the net. During one critical point the chair umpire missed a call on the baseline. The ball was at least a foot out but for whatever reason she didn't make the call (The umpire's make all the calls in the pros, no questions asked). With my mouth wide open, and my eyes fixed in disbelief on the chair umpire, I somehow managed to hit the ball back but it was immediately cut off at the net by our opponent and smashed seemingly out of Lauren's reach. In one fluid motion Lauren stretched out with all her might to reflex the ball into the open court. Winning that point (twice!) set us up with our first, and only needed, match point! After a double fault from the former Wimbledon competitor (just proves that even veteran's can't escape nerves!), the words that seemed so far away down 0-40 were spoken, "Game, Set, Match, Lui Lubinsky!" The "cool cucumber" (Lauren) and "the ferocious feline" (Me), with a little help from Lady Luck, had landed a spot in the finals!

I was excited to get another crack at a doubles title as I had fallen short with Bo in Sumter and it had been over a year since my first pro title in Evansville last summer. With line judges surrounding the court and ball kids in every corner we took to the stage ready to soak up every moment. We faced off against a veteran from Israel and another college standout who played for this year's National Championship Team of UCLA. We came out strong in the first set taking it 6-2. They regained momentum in the second set to force a deciding 10-point tiebreaker. Before every 10-point tiebreaker I love to look at my partner with a big toothy grin and say, "Alright, this is my favorite part!" to help get them energized but unlike many of my partners in the past, Lauren thrives under the pressure as well. We shot out of the gate to go up 4-1. During one point I ran from the baseline to the net to retrieve a drop shot but couldn't stop myself with my bum ankle and ended up knocking over a chair on the sideline! My speed despite my ankle, coupled with the noise from the falling chair, overwhelmed the Israeli and she sent her volley wide. They picked up the pace to even the score at 4-4, we then took the lead to go up 6-4, but nerves reared their ugly head, and all of a sudden we lost 4 straight points to go down 6-8. Just two points away from defeat......Deep Breath......We fought back to 8-8 and with my adrenaline pumping I yelled out a VERY loud "C'mon!" at which point Lauren looked at me wide-eyed and said, "Whoa you're scaring me." I looked at her with fire in my eyes and said, "I want to win this." And.........we did......eventually, by a score of 12-10. Five match points down in the semis and two points away from defeat in the finals, we were the champions!

Winning this pro title was extra special because I got to share the experience with two of my biggest fans, my mom and Betty Long. Betty has been my St. Joe host for the past two years. She is my dad's best friend's friend's mom (how's that for six degrees of separation!) She is the sweetest little lady I have ever known, besides my own grandma that is. With her Life-Alert hanging around her neck and cane in tow she cheered me on the entire tournament. (There were times in the doubles matches when I thought my mom was going to reach over and press the Life-Alert button because she herself was having a heart-attack!) We got to make a speech during the awards ceremony and it was such a joy to publicly thank my mom and Betty for supporting me. It brought tears to her eyes when I thanked her for being my #1 fan and for making me goulash (a dish that is often described as having "everything but the kitchen sink" in it!) 

So yes, even though my journey took an "unexpected turn,"  in the end I found my way, and "fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith ( 2 Timothy 4:7)."

My three week journey by the numbers:

3164 miles traveled by car from Dallas to Atlanta, GA; Franklin, TN; Evansville, IN; and St. Joe, Missouri
841 dollars made in prize money
802 current singles ranking
671 career high doubles ranking
Harry Potter books I read
3 fabulous hosts: Dell Perry, Don & Jane Smith, and Betty Long
2 pro titles to my name

1 sprained ankle

Semifinal Showings




Aggie Super Fan Russell Brandes and doubles partner Lauren Lui       My Wichita Hosts: Cathy, Ed, & Melanie
Doubles Partner Lauren Lui & Aggie Super Fan Russell Brandes  
Cathy & Ed Harned, my housing family from last year and Melanie Miller, my host this year.


June 16-21: Houston Pro Classic
I teamed up with Lauren Lui, a Houston native, and current Northwestern student to take the doubles by storm. We played well together beating girls from Scotland and the Bahamas in the Round of 16 6-3, 6-4 and a team from Japan in the quarterfinals (who took out the #1 seeds first round) 6-2, 6-3. We lost to the eventual champions, twin sisters who played for Notre Dame, in the semifinals 6-4, 6-3. I loved playing with Lauren for two reasons: #1 She is laid back and alot of fun and #2 she is calm as a cucumber and came up with excellent "I" formation strategy. ( "I" Formation: in doubles the serving team's net player typically stands caticorner up at the net when their partner is serving. In "I" Formation the net player squats down up at the net on the center service line and pops up to one side or the other after the serve is hit. It challenges the returning team to come up with a good return or else, in our case that is, we would pounce in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" fashion!)
The best part of my trip to Houston was the faithful support of the one, the only, "Sign Guy", Russell Brandes. To say that  he is a Super Fan is an understatement. I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined that a landlord-tenant meeting at On the Border in College Station during the Spring of 2005 would give birth to arguably the biggest women's tennis fan in A&M history. Small manila folders taped with computer print-out phrases: "Masterfully Done", "Get Pumped", & "Reload" evolved into larger than life maroon and white signs that could be seen from any seat at the Mitchell Tennis Center. It was like stealing candy from a baby when I informed him that the signs and rowdy heckling were not allowed at a professional tournament. Though at times he looked about to burst, he maintained a classy and reserved "cheering demeanor" that would have made even the tournament directors at the All England Club (Wimbledon) very proud!

June23-28: Via Christi Pro Classic in Wichita, Kansas
After losing first round in singles in Houston, I refocused and regrouped to reach the semifinals in Wichita. In the first round I beat the #2 seed from Brazil ranked #441 in the world 6-4, 6-0; outlasted my opponent in the Round of 16 6-4, 3-6, 6-1; dominated in the quarterfinals 6-3, 6-3,  and fell in the semifinals to the #5 seed 0-6, 6-7. I played well and effectively executed all that I have been working on. More importantly, it was a crucial mental breakthrough for me as I had struggled in my past two tournaments being an automatic main draw entrant. In my first year as a professional tennis player I battled through qualifying rounds at every tournament which "warmed me up" and fueled my confidence leading into the main event.  Now with a ranking of #779 in singles and #672 in doubles I am eligible to compete in the main draw of lower level events and qualifying draws of higher level tournaments. When I first started this whole process, I was told that it takes two to three years to really break into the mix. Now, one year later, my ranking has consistently and steadly improved and I look forward to facing tougher competition at the next level.
My success on the court I contribute in large part to my comfortable housing situation off the court. I felt right at home with my dad's antiquing friends Mike and Melanie Miller. Melanie, clad in University of Kansas or Kansas City Chiefs attire, cheered me on during every match. It was such an encouragement to look up on change overs and see her smiling beneath her Jackie O sunglasses and pumping her fist with delight. At night Melanie cooked up a frenzy and we dined on everything from chef salad to catfish. Mike made for hilarious running commentary during our evening entertainment of reality tv: The Next Food Network Star (my favorite), Bachelorette, America's Got Talent, and Design Star to name a few. As for me, I sat back on the couch counting my blessings in their wonderfully eclectic house, and ate mound upon mound of Melanie's Strawberry Shortcake! 


Professional Year One in Review: June 2007-2008
    

                        Singles:

·  Finalist in the IV Copa Mazatlan “Club El Cid” Torneo  (April 2008)

·  Semi-Finalist in the Via Christi Pro Tennis Classic (June 2008)

·  Advanced to the Round of 16 in tournaments in: Ft. Worth, Wichita, St. Joe, and Obregon

·  Wins over professional players ranked as high as: #300, #425, #445, #505, #536, #655 in the world

·  Received the Sportsmanship Award at the Baylor Medical Pro Classic in Ft Worth (June 2007)

Doubles:

·  Won the Evansville, Indiana Fifth Third Bank Pro Classic (July 2007)

·  Finalist in the Palmetto Pro Open (May 2008)

·  Semi-Finalist in the Houston Pro Classic (June 2008)

·  Semi-Finalist in the Portimao Ladies Open  (February 2008)

  

Up next: Road Trip to Atlanta, Georgia; Evansville, Indiana; and St. Joe, Missouri! Luckily my dear mother will be along for the ride...................

 


  

 


     Doubles Finalists in the Palmetto Pro Open


Faithful Sumter Aggies: Les Carpenter and Tom Olsen                               Doubles Partner Bo Verhulsdonk from Holland
           Faithful Sumter Aggies: Les Carpenter 
                             and Tom Olsen


               Doubles Partner Bo Verhulsdonk 
                                 from Holland


Doulbes Finalists at the Palmetto Pro OpenMy #1 Fan, Coach, and Friend: My Momma
                      Award Ceremony

                       My #1 Fan: My Momma
                                 


RESULTS
Round of 16: 7-6, 7-6
Quaterfinals: 3-6, 7-6, [11-9]
Semifinals: 4-6, 6-3, [10-4]
Finals: 6-2, 2-6, [6-10]                                                                                                         

                                                          
Competing in the Palmetto Pro Open exposed a rollercoaster of emotions:
Excitement: It was the first tournament where I was automatically entered into the main draw based on my new ranking (#845) and wouldn't have to battle through the qualifying rounds. It was also the first time since my days on the courts of Aggieland that my mom would be able to see me play.
Frustration: I had been struggling with acid reflux prior to leaving for South Carolina and was unable to mitigate the pain, nausea, and fatigue associated with the illness before my first round singles match. It was a disaster to say the least.
Determination: I had previously asked my friend Bo Verhulsdonk to play doubles and was determined not to let her down despite my weakness (I began to feel better and better as the tournament progressed thanks to my trusty Maalox and Prilosec). We had never played together before, yet instantly connected on the court, bringing complimentary strengths to the table: the brain and the brawn if you will. Bo was the brawn: powerful and aggressive with an incredible serve and unmatched overhead. I was the brains: cunning and crafty with precise returns and effective topspin lobs. Each match was so closely contested , yet it was our ultimate goal (which we voiced before every match) that brought us through the most intense and nerve wrecking situations: Have Fun.
Gratitude: In typical Aggie fashion, the Association of Former Students came through  to provide housing for my mom and me in Sumter, South Carolina. This is the third time on my professional journey that I have been fortunate enough to find a place to stay through the association, the other two cities being Evansville, Indiana and Augusta, Georgia last year. We stayed our first night with Tom and Jackie Olsen. Tom, Class of '56, is a retired Air Force Major General who still works for the city of Sumter to coordinate defense and improvement of Shaw Air Force Base. The rest of our week in Sumter we spent at the home of Les and Margy Carpenter. Les, Class of '69, is a retired Army Reservist who is now the Dean of the University of South Carolina Sumter. Their encouragment and support throughout the week was a true blessing.  During changeovers I would look over to see my mom bellowing with laughter in between Jackie and Margy or watch the sunlight flash off the Aggie rings of Tom and Les. It is meeting people like this that make my experience all the more wonderful.

Up Next: This Texan is finally playing back on her home turf! I will be competing in Houston June 14-22 at the Downtown Met. If anyone is interested in seeing me play, please email me and I will send out more information as the date approaches.
                                                                                                       


 

Success South of the Border: Mazatlan





FINALIST AT THE
IV COPA MAZATLAN "CLUB EL CID" TORNEO



Qualifying Round of 32: Defeated a Columbian 6-7, 6-4, 6-1
Qualifying Round of 16: Defeated an American 7-5, 6-3
Main Draw Round of 32: Defeated the Chilean I lost to in Obregon 6-3, 6-1
Main Draw Round of 16: Defeated an American 6-3, 2-6, 6-2
Main Draw Quaterfinals: Defeated an Argentinean 7-6, 3-6, 6-1
Main Draw Semifinals: Defeated a Russian 6-3, 6-2
Main Draw Finals: Lost to a New Zealander 6-7, 7-6, 4-6

2 Timothy 4:7 "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."

South of the Border: Los Mochis, Mexico

 
                           1                                          2                                               3                         
                                                                Club Casablanca Tenis Femenil Torneo

Last week's tournament in Los Mochis was my first experience competing on red clay, or in tennis jargon, "grinding it out on the dirt." Tennis on clay can make for quite the frustrating ordeal and the phrase "bad bounce" consistently ricochetes off every player's lips. Please direct your attention to the above photographs (courtesy of Cassandra Chan, my Australian roomate) for a lesson in "Bounce Terminology":
#1: Here we have an extremely rare specimen, the coveted "Normal" bounce. In the event that this does occur, cue the Hallelujah chorus!
#2: This bounce I like to refer to as the "Mexican Jumping Bean." In this event the ball takes a last second leap into the sky, and forces the player to hit off their back foot in an akward fly swatting motion.
#3:  And this, my friends, is a player's worst nightmare. I will refer to this bounce simply as "R.I.P." In this event the ball bounces and "Dies" causing the player to completely and utterly whiff the ball (Notice where I am swinging and where the ball is). You have two options when this bounce occurs: scream or smile. I prefer the latter.

On the Court:
Qualifying Round of 32: Defeated an American 6-4, 6-3
Qualifing Round of 16: Lost to an Argentinean 2-6, 7-6, 4-6

South Americans are born and bred in the dust of the red clay. Americans on the other hand grow up on the concrete, hence the stigma that follows even our nation's best, Andy Roddick and James Blake, at the French Open every summer. I have played on clay many times, but the clay in the United States is Har-Tru, a green "imitation" clay that is very fine and doesn't significantly affect the speed of the ball.  Red clay on the other hand is very thick and "grabs" at the ball in a sense, extremely slowing down the pace of the game. All this is to say the odds were stacked against me against the fiesty Argentinean. In an epic three and a half hour battle, I slid around the court a la Rafeal Nadal, clawing, scrapping, and digging for each and every point. I really enjoyed the challenge of competing on red clay and felt good about my gritty performance despite the loss.

On to Mazatlan.........







 

South of the Border: Obregon, Mexico

VI Copas Itson Torneo
Obergon, Mexico

On the Court: 
The four tournaments here in
Mexico consist of a 32 player qualifying draw, meaning you must win two matches to advance to the main draw. 

Qualifying Round of 32: Defeated a girl from
Viet Nam (7-6, 7-5). I was down 1-4 in the first set tiebreaker and 3-5 in the second set but managed to claw, scrap, and dig my way out. She was very robotic in her movements and maintained a poker face throughout the entire match until the end.... after the last point she tilted her head back, threw her arms out wide, and belted out "NOOOO!" It was like watching R2D2 from Star Wars blow a fuse.

Qualifying Round of 16: Defeated a girl from
Guatemala (6-1, 6-4). This was a tough match mentally as I had befriended my opponent during my previous tournaments in Mexico last October. We had played several practice sets, all of which I won, but all of which were very closely contested. She is an extremely talented 17 year old who competes for Guatemala in Fed Cup. I was down 3-4 in the second set before I "kicked it up a notch" as Emeril Lagasse would say, and reeled off the last three games. (For all you who are unfamiliar with Emeril Lagasse he is a famous chef on the Food Network who spices up his Cajun cuisine by furiously throwing in cayenne pepper and yelling "BAM!") 

Main Draw Round of 32: Defeated a girl from
Mexico (6-0, 6-0). In tennis terminology this is referred to as "bagel-ing." I called my mom after the match and she asked, "So did you play the mayor's daughter or what?" No she wasn't the mayor's daughter, but she was a local wildcard, meaning the entire city of Obregon was present to cheer her on. Luckily my years as a Fightin' Texas Aggie playing in front of a hostile University of Texas crowd had prepared me for such an exhilarating environment. During her only game point of the match she hit a high lob that bounced deep into the court. I calmly steadied myself to hit my favorite shot in all of tennis, a shot that always made my college coach's blood curdle, an overhead from the baseline! I could see the crowd in my peripheral vision, on their feet, hissing...jeering, but in one strong motion I smashed the ball in the opposite corner......silence is, and was so very golden.

Main Draw Round of 16: Lost to a girl from
Chile (4-6, 4-6).  The match turned on only a few crucial points each set. She had a very effective serve which I managed to break only once. I played well, stayed aggressive the entire match, and am not the least bit discouraged. "Aggies never lose; they just run out of time."


Off the court:
From the beaches of
Portugal, to the slums of Mexico. Quite a transition yes....but I am always up for a new challenge.  Before I arrived in Mexico I had been studying Spanish with an online program called Rosetta Stone. I practiced for an hour each evening for three weeks leading up to my trip. I have really stepped out of my comfort zone, pushed aside my perfectionist tendencies, and forced myself to strike up a conversation whenever possible. I shared a hotel room with girls from Chicago, Australia, and the Netherlands and acted as translator for our group. We had free Wi-Fi at the courts and I passed the time by continuing my online Spanish lessons and talking to friends and family on Skype (an internet phone accessible with a headset.)

So all is well South of the Border, the only real frustrating part is brushing my teeth with bottled water…. I think I will survive.

On to the red clay courts of
Los Mochis.....

Adventures in London & Portugal

          Adventures in London & Portugal

And we are off.....Buckingham Palace
And we are off.....

Buckingham Palace

Big BenLondon Bridge
Big Ben

London Bridge

Our accomodations in Loule: Casa BelmontBackyard property equipped with fish pond, orchards, swimming pool, and tennis court
Our accomodations in Loule: Casa Belmont

Backyard property equipped with fish pond, orchards, swimming pool, and tennis court

First experience on a carpet tennis courtDelighting in monk firsh and prawn kebabs
First experience on a carpet tennis court

Delighting in monk firsh and prawn kebabs

Feasting on Tamboril, traditional Portugese stewTennis Center at Vale Do Lobo
Feasting on Tamboril, traditional Portugese stew

Tennis Center at Vale Do Lobo

Vale Do Lobo BeachSaturday Loule Market
Vale Do Lobo Beach

Saturday Loule Market

Annual Loule CarnivalWelcomed by getting eggs smashed on our heads!
Annual Loule Carnival

Welcomed by getting eggs smashed on our heads!

Prominent Portugese PoliticiansChurch where we sang my beloved
Prominent Portugese Politicians

Church where we sang my beloved "Quao Grande Es Tu"

Albufiera MarinaCave we crawled through on Albufiera shore
Albufiera Marina

Cave we crawled through on Albufiera shore

Downtown in FaroOur simply adorable Scottish hosts
Downtown in Faro

Our simply adorable Scottish hosts

AlbufieraExploring with Mungo & Gaynor Manderson
Albufiera

Exploring with Mungo & Gaynor Manderson

On Praia do OchaAlbufiera countryside where we heard the
On Praia do Ocha

Albufiera countryside where we heard the "Sound of Silence"

Hotel Montechoro tennis courts (room provided by Mungo & Gaynor)I felt right at home.....
Hotel Montechoro tennis courts (room provided by Mungo & Gaynor)

I felt right at home.....

Jim & Elizabeth brought their visiting grandchildren to Albufiera to meet usBus Tour to Lisbon: Tower de Belem
Jim & Elizabeth brought their visiting grandchildren to Albufiera to meet us

Bus Tour to Lisbon: Tower de Belem

St. Jeronemo's Church & Monastery
St. Jeronemo's Church & Monastery



The mysterious sound of singing Monk's echoed in the wallsMonk trapped in a confession cell
The mysterious sound of singing Monk's echoed in the walls

Monk trapped in a confession cell

Entrance to Rossio SquareSnacking on Gofrees in a streetside cafe
Entrance to Rossio Square

Snacking on Gofrees in a streetside cafe

Street Elevator


Street Elevator

View from the top of the elevatorCastelo de Sao Jorge
View from the top of the elevator

Castelo de Sao Jorge

On our way to catch the bus in Portimao100 stair fortress we braved every morning on our way to catch the bus
On our way to catch the bus in Portimao

100 stair fortress we braved every morning on our way to catch the bus

Went on many a morning run on Praia do Rocha
Went on many a morning run on Praia do Rocha







Tennis Center in PortimaoMy doubles partner Danielle beside Sarah
Tennis Center in Portimao

My doubles partner Danielle beside Sarah

Rain...rain...go awayPassed the time by reading One Free Lousy Packet of Seed
Rain...rain...go away

Passed the time by reading One Free Lousy Packet of Seed

Leave it to an American to teach the Scots and the Brits how to play Indian PokerThe London Eye
Leave it to an American to teach the Scots and the Brits how to play Indian Poker

The London Eye

View from the topI prefer Long John Silvers
View from the top

I prefer Long John Silvers

Fascinated by a conveyor belt of sushi during our four hour delay in the Gatwick airport
Saw the musical Wicked with Danielle, my doubles partner, and Becki, the girl we stayed with in London

Fascinated by a conveyor belt of sushi during our four hour delay in the Gatwick airport

Gig Em' Ags...home at last 
Gig Em' Ags...home at last

 




 

Portugal Week Three: Albufiera

On the court: Portimao Ladies Open

Singles:
Match #1: Beat a girl from Brazil 6-1, 6-4
Match #2: Lost to the same French girl I beat last week 4-6, 3-6.  Blasted Napoleon! It was a great match from start to finish, decided only by a few points here in there. There were three other girls in the tournament who suffered similar fates, all losing to players they had beaten last week. There is definitely something to be said for the revenge factor.

Doubles:
Unfortunately, Sarah and I never got to play together because neither of us had a doubles ranking (You have to win a round in three separate tournaments to get a ranking, up until this point I had only won rounds in two tournaments). The draws are always very small, limited to four qualifying teams and sixteen main draw teams. A girl from England, named Danielle Brown, approached me on the first day and asked me to play with her (she had a ranking and also had received a wild card into main draw from the tournament director.)
Danielle and I made for an excellent team, reaching the semi-finals:
Round of 16: Won  6-3, 6-1
Quarterfinals: Won 6-1, 3-6 [10-3] (Ten point tie-breakers are played in lieu of third sets)
Semifinals: Lost  2-6, 1-6
Thanks to great tournament with Danielle I now have a doubles world ranking of #828!   

Off the court:
My last week in Portugal can only be described by a familiar children's song: "Rain, rain, go away, come again another day...." There were a total of four days completely rained out at the tournament. I passed the time by reading One Free Lousy Packet of Seed (a delightful British comedy) and indulging at the Sweet Factory candy kiosk in the mall beside the courts. 
Unfortunately, our original housing plans fell through as the family turned out to live in an adjoining city too far from Portimao. Sarah and I stayed in a cheap hotel called the Santa Catalina, from which we made the ten minute trek every morning to the resort host hotel to board the tournament bus. A ten minute walk doesn't sound very tiring, but add in a tennis bag and a 100 stair decent through the Fortaleza do Santa Catarina (built in 1621 by the order the Algarvian, Joao de Castro, for the protection of the city from Spanish pirates and Moors) and you might reconsider saving only 20 euros per night by not staying in the host hotel!  
Despite the rain, the beach in Portimao, Praia da Rocha, was still absolutely breathtaking. On several mornings, I braved the ominous black clouds and went for a run next to the waters edge. It took me exactly 22 minutes to run the length of the beach, touch the westernmost rock, back up the beach and across the pier, touch the peppermint stripped light house, and back down the pier. Whew!
Our flight back to the states took us again by way of London where we enjoyed a river cruise down the Thames, went up in the London Eye, and saw Wicked the Musical. 
And now here I sit, back in my house in Richardson, attempting to get over jet lag. It is 11:20 p.m. but with the time difference feels like 5:20 a.m. As I reflect on this past month, I can't help but smile...what an experience...what a journey.  

Up Next: Mexico in April............


 


  

Portugal Week Two: Albufiera

 
On the court: Albufiera Ladies Open
I like to think of my matches in Albufiera as a series of battles. In each I played a different role against an onslaught of talented foreign opposition.
 
Match #1: (Defeated a French girl 6-4, 6-3) I am the Duke of Wellington sparring against Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo. With swords swirling I manage to masterfully knock my French opponent off her mighty horse. I stand proudly with one foot atop my wounded duck and decide to further savor the “sweet” taste of victory by devouring my favorite ice cream concoction: strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla…..(Neapolitan/Napoleon….same thing)
 
Match #2: (Defeated a Spanish girl 6-2, 7-5) I am the Incan warrior King Atahualpa defending my empire against the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. Her bejeweled sword and shiny armor is no match for my flint tomahawk and camouflaging body paint. I skillfully scalp my opponent and march proudly back into the dense forests of Peru, contemplating what to do next with her head: shrink or sacrifice?
 
Match #3: (Defeated a Spanish girl 1-6, 6-1, 6-4) I am Davvy Crockett battling against General Santa Anna at the Alamo (I know he is a Mexican General but just humor me for a moment, I wanted to be Davvy Crockett in this saga). She pins me down early, knocking off my coonskin cap. Down but not out, I muster up what strength I have left, belt out “Remember the Alamo,” and proceed to choke her to death with my trusty coonskin…..
 
Match #4: (Lost to a Russian girl 3-6, 2-6) I am “Ana” Lubinsky a poor Russian peasant trying to escape the tumultuous reign of the Rurik Dynasty’s Tsar Ivan IV, better known as “Ivan the Terrible.” In an attempt to flee my homeland I vanish into the night on foot; however, the countryside is plagued with snowfall and my boot tracks leave a “Hansel and Gretel” trail behind me. During her early morning quail hunt, Tsar Ivan’s dogs pick up on my scent and begin to follow my tracks. As I trudge through the snow, I hear barking in the distance and quickly build a snowman to hide behind. Unfortunately, Ivan sees right through my disguise, beheads the snowman, plants a snowball in my face, and drags me back to a life of serfdom…..
 
Off the court:
After a memorable week with Jim and Elizabeth, Sarah and I were left wondering what the rest of our time in Portugal could possibly have in store. We were originally going to stay with Peter and Marianne Sluimer (the missionaries who arranged for our stay with Jim and Elizabeth) but were forced to seek out other accommodations after learning that Marianne is the proud owner of numerous cats (Sarah and I are both highly allergic.) Luckily for us Jim knew of an elderly couple from Scotland who happened to be offering their hotel room in Albufiera for the week while they went home for doctor’s appointments. It gets better….the room was at the Hotel Montechoro, the site of our next tournament! What were the odds?
 
Mongo and Gaynor Manderson (that’s right, sounds like names straight from a Harry Potter adventure) were pleased to help and even offered to show us around Albufiera the day before they left for Scotland. They are quite an interesting couple: Mongo looks like a friar and wears dark black sunglasses and Gaynor waddles like a duck and sounds like a Scottish cartoon character. Like Jim and Elizabeth they made for fabulous tour guides. We walked along the beaches of Ohlos D’Agua picking up shells, watched the daredevil kite surfers, and marveled as waves crashed against picturesque red cliffs. That afternoon Mongo insisted we hear the “sound of silence” and drove us up through the Albufeira countryside. We stopped off on a hill overlooking a pristine lake in the distance and listened…. and heard absolutely nothing. It was positively amazing.
 
Later in the week, after my defeat by “Ivan the Terrible,” Sarah and I made arrangements to take a tour bus to Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal. At the entrance to the city, just before we passed over the 25th of April Bridge, stands an enormous statue of Jesus atop a cliff. Towering in the sky with his arms outstretched, it was as if he were blessing and protecting the city from above. Our eyes then drifted to the approaching coastline, the third busiest port in all of Portugal, as hundreds of boats and cranes dotted the never ending shore. Our first stop on the tour was the Belem Tower which was used in the 15th century to defend the Tagus waters from attacking pirates. Next we headed to Jeronimo’s Monastery and walked in wonder amongst confession cells and elaborate tombs as the sounds of singing monks echoed in the distance. Before boarding the bus we walked to Pateis de Belem, a pastry shop built in 1837, legendary for first baking Portugal’s famous crème tarts. Delicious is an understatement. Our final stop was in Rossio Square. We walked up and down the bustling cobblestone streets that sold everything from Lacoste to hand made leather bags. We delighted in Gofrees, a thick waffle dessert drizzled with caramel sauce, at a street side café in the shadow of the square’s elaborate entryway arch. We then made our way up narrow winding streets to Castelo de Sao Jorge. The castle was built in the 6th century by the Moors and was later captured by Manuel I. Several historical events took place inside the walls such as the first Portuguese theatrical production and the reception of Vasco De Gama upon his return from expedition in India. The view from the castle was breathtaking, silently reminding me, “Quao Grande es Tu……”
 
On to Portimao….