This past February, I competed in the Dallas Open — an ATP 250 event.
It was my ATP tour debut, in fact.
The Dallas Open is an elite and exclusive tournament. I felt extremely blessed to have the opportunity to play in it.
Was I excited? More than you know. It’s opportunities like this that I’ve been working toward my whole life.
Nervous? Absolutely not – nervous would be underselling it.
I was terrified.
Here I was, a sophomore at SMU, and standing on the other side of the net playing against me was Austrian Jurij Rodionov, who was just ranked outside the top 100 in the world.
Needless to say, Rodionov got the better of me that day in the first round of qualies at the Dallas Open, but I learned a valuable lesson.
Stay in the moment.
Don’t let the defeat overshadow all the hard work I put in to get here.
Truthfully, it’s made me a better tennis player.
It’s why I chose to join SMU in the first place.
I want to learn, improve my game, and be molded into the best player I can possibly be.
And in just a few months, I’ll get another shot at The Dallas Open.
But this time, things will be the different.
I played tennis at a small high school in Bronxville, New York, so attending SMU was a natural fit for me.
I didn’t have to worry about walking around campus amongst 70,000 undergrads or anything like that.
It instantly felt like ‘home,’ you know?
Another big reason for my decision was Coach Grant Chen, who’s become a mentor for me in so many different ways.
Coach Chen sold me on SMU almost immediately with all the various tournaments and opportunities he offers his players throughout their time at SMU.
Not only that, but his connection to the professional level pretty much sealed the deal for me. That’s where I’m trying to take my game, and I have complete faith in Coach Chen in helping me get there.
Since I’ve been at SMU in my first two seasons, I’d say my serve has improved the most out of all the arsenals in my game.
It’s not perfect, and I still have room to improve, but I’ve worked hard with Coach Chen and the rest of the coaches the past few seasons to make my serve a weapon against my opponents.
Another area I’m looking to improve more in is my transition game to the net.
I’m a baseline player, and I like to rally from the back.
But the ability to close out points at the net is an important feature to my game, and would doubtlessly take me to the next level.
These are just a few specific examples of how I’ve enhanced my game since arriving at SMU.
I know my tennis isn’t perfectly polished, and I’m fine with that. I have the utmost trust in Coach Chen and his ability to help my game improve in every practice, match, and tournament.
When I look at my past two seasons at SMU, the moment that stands out the most is winning the 2022 AAC Conference Championship last season.
I was named the AAC Tournament Most Outstanding Player, and while I’m proud of myself for winning that award and putting my team in a position to win, that’s not why that tournament is so special and means so much to me.
First of all, it was the first AAC Championship in school history, and I think that’s a testament to Coach Chen and the rest of the team for all the work we put in to reach this milestone.
Another key reason this tournament is so memorable to me is because I was able to clinch victories for my team in both the semifinals and finals.
If you play tennis, you know that there isn’t a better feeling in the world than clinching a victory.
Doing it in back-to-back matches against UCF and Memphis are moments I’ll remember and cherish for the rest of my life.
It’ll be difficult to top the double-clinch of that spectacular conference tournament, but I look forward to plenty more memorable moments and achievements in my next two years at SMU.
As thrilled as I am for the upcoming season with SMU, I can’t deny a little bit of extra excitement for competing in the main draw of The Dallas Open in February.
This time, though, I have a completely different mindset.
I’ll have my normal butterflies, sure, but I’m not going to be terrified.
I’m not going to be intimidated.
I’ve improved my game immensely since last February, and I’ve excelled in big-time moments on the court over the last 12 months.
The Dallas Open is an amazing opportunity to play against some of the best players in the world, but when it comes down to it, it’s just another tournament.
I’m not going to psych myself out like last time and think of it as the biggest tournament of my life. I’m going to play my game and do my best.
Be in the present.
If lightning strikes twice and I play Jurij Rodionov again, that’d be amazing. I’ve gotten to know him a little bit since we last played, and I’ve been able to pick his brain about his approach to the game, fitness tips, improvements he’s been able to make, etc.
But if I’m being completely honest, I’ll play who I play.
I’m as focused as I’ve ever been, and I’m motivated to get back out there to showcase everything I’ve learned and improved upon in the last year.
If that’s not an advantage, I don’t know what is.