The Eddie Herr International Championship at IMG Academy in Florida is one of the most prestigious annual junior tennis tournaments and I had the honor to participate in this event in early December. Coming into the tournament as the number 2 seed, I knew there would be a big ‘red target’ on my back resulting in some extra pressure so I have been preparing for this competition for months. Lucky for me, my first match was not the most challenging, so it was a perfect way for me to ease into the tournament and get my groove. Day two was dramatically different; the ‘walk in the park’ was suddenly over and the battle began full force. The second match was like rollercoaster. My opponent was very skilled, very fast on her feet and before I knew what hit me, I lost the first set 3:6 which was in a way a great wake-up call and a signal to up my game so I managed to take second set at 6:1 but it took a lot of effort so I needed to catch my breath a bit and as a result found myself in a very uncomfortable 4:5 15:30 position. At that point I told myself ‘No way I am going down without a fight!’ so I elevated my game several notches and it was what was needed to win the third set 7:5. I was pumped!
The next two rounds were tough but I came on top and
made it to the semifinals. My opponent there was very strong highly ranked international player with very impressive record. I knew I had to focus and do my very best from the very beginning of the match as there will be absolutely no time to blink. Even though I was a little nervous going into this match I felt that I am very well prepared for it both mentally and physically. My feeling was right – the match went my way, 6:4, 6:0. And with that I was in the finals!
So the big day came and there I was walking to Grand Stand to play my final match. To say that I was nervous is to say nothing. My hands were literally shaking and it took me a while to tie my shoelaces. I didn’t know much about my opponent except for the fact that the day before in her semifinal match she beat the number 1 seed 6:2, 6:0. My coach was trying to calm me down; he told me to just breathe and play my game and I kept repeating these words in my head like some sort of a mantra ‘Breathe and play your game, just breathe and play, one point at a time’. I started strong but so did she. The first set had to be decided in tiebreaker. I came on top with marginal score 7:4.
That took a lot of concentration on my part and as a result in second set I found myself once again in a very uncomfortable 2:4 situation. It was time to ‘catch my monkeys’ as one of my mental coaches says. I took a deep (very deep indeed!) breath and ‘stepped on my accelerator’ to increase the intensity of my game. It worked as I won the next 4 games so with 6:4 score in second set I was the champion at last. I think the entire IMG Academy heard my victorious ‘C’MON!’
Then there were my friends congratulating me and hugging me, tears of joy (my coach was so happy I believe I saw a tear running down his cheek), phone calls with my mom and dad, getting the trophy, posing for pictures, celebration dinner. It was such an awesome day! I felt so happy!