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Four weeks in Spain

I have just spent four weeks in Spain playing in four $10,000 tournaments. This is how I would say my trip went …..

First of all, it was two weeks in Mallorca, the same hotel, club, supermarket, gym, etc for two weeks!

As soon as I got there I felt unsettled. This was partly due to the plain looking holiday apartment and even though I unpacked straight away, I did not feel at home for the whole two weeks.

We got onto the clay. British mentality is “we cannot play on clay”, “its tough”, “takes ages to get used to”, “I cannot move on it”, “I cannot play on clay”, “I hate it”. But why? Why can’t we be good on the surface? You can still play your same game which on other surfaces is good enough to win matches. The only main difference is that you have to be prepared to make more balls.

I began my week with the same British mentality. I felt uncomfortable moving on the surface and was saying things like “I don’t like clay”, “I find it hard”. How can you expect to play well when you are telling yourself that you cannot play on the surface you are going to play matches on? I am not saying you will walk on clay and be amazing. It can take a couple of days to get used to it but you are still the same player. After a couple of days of hitting a lot of balls and training very hard in the gym (doing sharp training to get us ready) we were starting our first tournament.

I won my first match 6-1 6-1. I played solid and the girl I played could not cope with it. My second match was against an Italian girl at 9am so I was up at 6am. I lost it 3-6 0-6. It was not good enough. I got down on myself too easily. She is a player who will hit some good shots (she had good drop shots) and you need to accept these but she hit in few at the beginning and I though she was a lot better than she was and my head went down. After losing, I felt really down emotionally. Even though I felt like this, I kept to my routine. I did a good warm down, had lunch and later the same day I was back on the practice court. After that, I was in the gym and tried 200%. This will never make up for losing but it will make you feel better about yourself and make you a better player in the future.

I started preparing for the next tournament straight away. I was on the practice court hitting lots of balls, in the gym, outside on runs and playing lots of practice matches. This got my confidence up and I had more belief in myself. A main reason I had more belief was the fact that no one else in the draw the next week would have prepared as well as I had.

It was time. I went on for my first round qualifying match. I found myself 1-5 down in the first set. I thought to myself “this girl can hit good shots but can she make lots of balls. My aim then was not to miss a ball. I got back to 4-5 but then she took the set. I did not panic, I was prepared to dig in, the question was “How much did I want to win” and the answer was “A LOT”. I knew I had done the right things to get it back to 4-5 so carried on with the same plan. It worked and I came through a good battle to win the match.

My second match was an even bigger battle, there were some tight line calls and emotions were running wild. I lost the first set 6-7 won the second 6-2 and then took the third 7-5. She had a match point in the final set but once again I did not want to lose that match. I had dug in and got through it so was pleased and now was in the last round of qualifying to play the 3rd seed.

The next day, I was on at 9.00am so was up at 6.00am to do some skipping before an early breakfast to wake me up. I went on court wanting to win so badly that in the end I just wanted to win too much. I was playing really well in the first set but in the second my timing was slightly off. I was in yet another three set match. It was time to dig in and fight. The last set was a good battle but in the end I got too tight and lost the set on a tie-break. I could not believe I had lost the match. I stuck to my routine and did a good warm down but emotionally I had hit rock bottom. Once again, I practised later on in which I tried 200%. Then at 7pm, I went on a 40 minute run. I was feeling very sick and still in shock that I had lost my match. It was a very good effort to get through and that night I could not eat that much for dinner and went to bed.

Once again, I was preparing for the third week by practising and in the gym. The third week was in the Gran Canaria so first it was a flight to Madrid before a connection. We sat at the airport, part of us wanting the flight to divert to London but the other part wanted to get to the next tournament and win it. We got to the club that day but it was raining so we could not get on to practice. I decided to go on a run even though I felt really tired from travelling, this was to wake my muscles up. Over the next three days we were planning to train but the rain was getting in the way of our plans. Sharp training was the preparation with a few hits here and there. It was the day of my match and once again it was raining. My opponents had to play earlier that day so I went to the club to watch them when the rain stopped. I made notes on how they played but in the end it was too late to play so my match was rescheduled for the following day.

I won my match 6-0 7-5 and had qualified in my first tournament out in Spain. I was drawn to play A Dvornikova in the first round of the Main Draw, a girl who I had hit with earlier I the week. I was confident I could win as I knew her game style. I was very focused and played well winnng 6-4 6-0. I was through to the last 16 where I had to play the seeded N Bratchikova who was ranked 405. My match was not scheduled until the next day but I did not get to practice due to RAIN (once again).

The next day, I was preparing for my match but yet again rain was my worst nightmare. I warmed up for my match four times and snacked through the day but I never got to play! This meant that the following day both the last 16 and quarter final rounds were scheduled so I would have two matches if I won. After not playing for a couple of days, I had to make sure I was well prepared mentally for my match. I went on, believed in myself, was positive and played well beating her 7-6 7-5. I was very pleased with my performance but had to switch off a bit before preparing for my quarter final. I slept on a sofa for twenty minutes to get some rest. It is always hard to play two matches in one day. After winning your first match you are emotionally on a high, this level drops so you can recover. It is extremely hard to then get back up for your next match. I struggled on this. I felt fine, I was up for the match mentally and warmed up well but when I stepped on the court and started moving my legs felt like lead. I was playing Sandra Klemenschits whose world ranking was 379. She had an extremely different game to the girl I had played earlier that day and it messed me up. I was still on court after shaking the girls hand when my coach Lucie called over the fence “Mel, we have to try and make our flight, I’ve got a taxi”!!! I literally walked off court, changed my shirt and got in the taxi. It was just over an hour till our flight. The airport was only 15 minutes away but we had to go back to the hotel first to get our bags. It would be border line if we would make check in or not. Luckily, with our taxi driver booming it, we made it. It was either that or wait 2 days till we could get to the next tournament.

It was now the final week, the last tournament was on a hard court so I would have to get used to a different surface. This week I got straight into the Main Draw and it was time to really dig in. In my first match on hard, I had to make sure I moved my feet over time and prepared early so I would not hit the ball late. I had a good first day on the surface which was good seeing as my match was the next day. The wind had picked up so it was very hard to get good timing. Matches were going to be won on who ever was the best mentally. I was due to play a UKR girl the following day but I had not seen her. Sure enough, she did not turn up so I had to wait on court for 15 minutes before the lucky loser could come on. This was another mental game. I had to keep myself mentally prepared and keep warm by jumping around. The girl that came on court was a local girl with a small crowd on her side. I found this match very tough. I was tight and starting to panic, finding it hard to relax. I got through the match (even though the girl did have a set point in the first set) 7-5 6-4.

The following day, I only played a doubles match which we won. In the last 16 this week and I had to play another British girl, Emily Webley-Smith who was seeded. Emily is one of my good friends off the court but once you are on the court it’s your job. We had a battling match for over three hours which I came through to win 4-6 6-4 7-6 (3). During this match, I started to feel a pain in my lower back.

The next day, I once again only had a doubles match. This time we lost. I had to get the physio on court for my back; it was killing and hurting just to walk. After the match, I did not know how I would be able to play my quarter final the next day. It was killing to walk but there was no way I was not going to go out there and try. It hurt a lot but I gritted my teeth, relaxed and played extremely well winning 6-2 6-1.

My first semi final in a $10,000 tournament. I was very annoyed that I could not give everything with my back as I was to play the girl I had beaten the week before. Unfortunately my back was too sore to play my game and I lost 6-4 0-6 2-6.

I had had an extremely good trip and learnt a lot. Thank you to both my coach Lucie Ahl and fellow player Rebecca Llewellyn for all their help during the four and a half weeks in Spain.

Mel xx

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