Quintana Roo, Mexico – Day 11

I’d love to start tonight’s entry by saying both girls won, but that didn’t happen. With the mosquitoes leading 27-2, it’s been a rough day in the trenches. Girl number one, who will remain nameless because of her adolescence, (and she’s shy as hell) competed against a Russian today. Overcoming a few early jitters, she settled in and chalked up her first professional loss, playing some great points and tossing in enough nervous errors to eek out a defeat. After the match, she expressed a million thoughts, not the least of which was, “I will beat her next time I play her,” and that’s pretty much symphonic to a coach’s ears. Post-match, I also saw enough teeth to let me know she enjoyed the experience. Girl number two, who will also remain nameless ( I fear notoriety more then popularity!) battled until almost midnight, and despite having some serving issues, played the best match she has ever played against a Division 1 college player. She came away expressing the same sentiment of being able to beat her opponent. Whether they gained a million lessons on this trip (which they did), or just this one, truly doesn’t matter. That they now believe they can beat professional players, means they’ll be training with a different mindset. That in itself is worth the price of admission.

And now on to the resort front….

Having now been here almost two weeks, I’ve made a few observations about the employees here. There’s a pretty palpable hierarchy thing going on. All the workers wear uniforms – apparently to be distinguishable from the guests who traipse around in nothing but flip-flops and bathing suits that are supposed to cover unmentionables but which mention them, contemptibly – and the uniforms come in varying degrees of skin coverage. For example, bellhops dress in safari hats, and tan collared shirts, reception folk bear jackets, while pool attendants sport white cotton and Bermuda shorts and the beach monitors get shorts and puka shells, and well, you get the point. As one moves from habitaciones toward the water, the clothing shrinks, the laborers get fitter and better looking, and one gets the sense that someone in HR is job profiling using a high school yearbook – dorks here and cool kids over there.

What I’ve come to learn is that your associations determine how you (the guest) are treated.

To wit: This morning I stood poolside chatting with a beach bartender (cool group) and a photographer (also cool group but with less masculinity) when one of the reception desk workers (uncool with Chewbacca resemblance – someone didn’t think through the idea that these folks would be greeting guests and the face time would be pretty high), anyway, one of the reception desk workers passed by and saw me high-five the bartender. A few hours later, when I went to reception for my Yes-I-am-a-guest-who-should-be-wearing-a-helmet fourth lost key of this trip, they ignored me. I might not have taken offense, but a few moments later, one of the towel elves (seriously uncool due to hats with bells) said he was out of towels when there was a four-foot stack of fluffy cotton right behind him. I started to question the vengefulness of this social stratification.

Not the kind to hold a grudge, I let it pass, assuming I was just the unassuming victim of some employee altercation in the lounge, and maybe this was just the smart kids way of getting back at the jocks. This resort, after all, spans thirty football fields and who really cares who gets along with the bartender?

Apparently, everyone! Turns out, the previous night, the bartender had a torrid fling with one of the guests (very frowned upon in this here resort where the dominant clientele is couples) and my inappropriately-timed high-five coincided with his morning-after antics, which included bragging to his fellow employees about last night’s catch du jour. I’m now trapped in a tropical soap opera where my inadvertent willingness to converse with a just-turned-adulterer has labeled me pariah.

To be ostracized by a resort labor force, and to walk around as a confederate of immorality in Mexico is rather daunting, and so I’m now relegated to embarrassed smiles and “I’m both sorry and really misunderstood” head shakes to all service folk. Truth is, life’s associations can be pretty costly, but then, for those who know me, I should have already learned that lesson.

I could have ended the story with that last statement, but there’s a point to this whole thing. My experiences in the resort mirror the competitive arena. When these young girls walk out to their first practice session, the other players immediately categorize them by who they are hitting with, who they hang with, how hard they try, and their brazenness to hit boldly or to wither in the face of greater strength. To be exiled after day one can destroy a player, so it takes a lot of mental preparation to overcome the nerves and anxiety one experiences on day one of the first pro event. In other words, if you’re trying to make history, don’t fuck it up on the first day!

See how nicely that all tied together. 🙂


By ccxander

Quintana Roo, Mexico – Day 10

The girls made the cut for this week’s tournament and qualifying starts tomorrow, although their intro to pro tennis comes with its attendant difficulties. With both men and women playing here, the warm up court is a converted basketball court with no fences and a pretty shaky net, which mean there’s a pretty good chance of getting skulled by a 90mph forehand at some point in the day and the way some of these guys chase down balls reminds one of a little kid running away from his mother at the park.

For those who’ve never seen pro scheduling, matches do not have start times, but rather, court assignments, meaning “you are the sixth match on court 4 and matches start at 10am,” and since you don’t know whether matches will take an hour or three, scheduling your warm-up is a bit like global warming – you are aware of things happening, and you think you should do something about it, but there’s a lot of people who think otherwise, and well, maybe I’ll just wait around and see. Tomorrow’s scheduled sees one player who will probably start around 5 p.m., while the other one will take the court sometime between 10 p.m. and sunrise. For those inclined to complain about stuff like this, this is Mexico and they have prisons.

Due to the tournament director’s generosity, one of my girls made the tournament draw, and while that may sound unscrupulous, it really just means she pulled a bunch of chips out of a bag and let the referee fill in the draw sheet. To her though, getting a behind the scenes glimpse of professional tennis’ inner workings was invaluable. To me, who spends time each day explaining how important fitness is, the whole idea of starting a tournament by pulling chips out of a bag just gives me the howling fantods.

Anyway, tomorrow they play their matches. As a result of this week’s hard practice sessions, they are playing much better, but one never knows what psychological issues will arise when thrust into a bigger pond.   They will be prepared for many of them, but the human brain certainly has a will about it – reminds me of that grocery cart wheel.

I’ve noticed a few things about the resort employees lately. Will update you in tomorrow’s blog.

By ccxander

Quintana Roo, Mexico – Day 9


Seven a.m. practice sessions have now become routine and I no longer have to hear the girls’ near-dead whisper when I give them the morning wake up call. Thankfully, I’m already three miles into my day, having strode the sands beneath a rising Caribbean sun, and I’m realizing how well it prepares me for the day. That’s the thing about routines, they place you in a certain mind frame, they organize things so you can become comfortable in uncomfortable situations, they provide a roadmap for success. All that is to say I’ve been working on routines with these kids, explaining tactics and strategies and time management between points and myriad other unsexy things that help athletes compete better. While young minds absorb things quickly, they are also undisciplined and stimulated by any new sensory experience. It is a battle to help them become comfortable – after all this entire professional experience is new to them – but we are making progress.

After practice, we got off the tournament site for a few hours, heading out to Tulum, the ancient Mayan city that hosts ruins and one of the world’s top ten beaches.   I was here last year and wrote an article about Tulum, so I’m including it at the end of this blog entry. The story won a travel writing contest soI guess it didn’t suck as badly as I first thought.


Today we swam in Bomb Pop blue water atop sands so white they could have been wearing hoods. A few thousand years ago, Mayan civilians tramped about this beach to ward off incoming invaders. Now, tourists pack the sea, shooting thousands of photos that do no justice to this breathtaking place.  Across a five hundred yard expanse, Tulum hosts ruins of temples and government buildings and a few residential edifices. The place is swarming with iguanas, which, if you believe the local mythology, are re-incarnated warriors playing sentry to the city’s citadel. Based on how quickly they get out of the way when you chase them, I’m not sure I buy it, but it’s good legend.

When we return to the courts, the girls battle against an Australian and another South American. The tennis is stunning, as though Tulum’s power and history sunk into their souls. They are following routines now, playing with intention, staying focused for longer periods of time.

Crystal waters, ancient stones, and tactical awareness. For this I will travel anywhere.



The Mayan Riviera’s colectivos traverse the pot-holed, coastal thoroughfare with laughable disregard for anthropological safety. Fighting the vaguely digestivesmell inside, I shout “Tulum!” through nine perspiring passengers, and spend the next thirty minutes battling the spinal hum.   Eventually, the white van vomits me onto the highway, and from his quickly-receding window, the driver’s brown finger directs me toward the Ancient Mayan fortress.

At the entrance, weathered women grasp and pull my six hundred pesos through flaking metal bars and then offer professional smiles developed over years of promoting this local attraction to curious tourists. Their insincere wrinkles betray my intrusion into their culture. I hoist my camera and begin the trek over Tulum’s gravelly trail.

Sunlight slants throughspiky palms and I’m uncomfortably aware of the avian life now squawking out my presence. A hundred crunchy strides forward, Tulum’s ruins sit atop a 12-metercliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Like sentinels, iguanas populate the site and legend suggests the reptiles are ancient Mayan souls still standing guard over their seaside home.


Ilock eyes with one of the beasts and stagger backwards as I sense his golden irises pulsing with the history of centuries. His power touches something in my limbic brain, liberating me from the constraints of civilization. I am now his guest, permitted to negotiate the terrain without the shackles of modernity. It is a feeling of freedom I’ve not known before.

Making my way across the seven-acre site considered one of Mexico’s most endearing locales for photographic indulgence, I see El Castillo strike its commanding pose above the coastline.   Anthropologists believe the castle once served as a beacon to canoe-bound sea travelers. Today, however, it is one of three still-standing buildings at Tulum and the way the iguanas patrol its foundation, one gets the sense it will remain erect for years to come.

After some time, amidst the the rubble tunnels and tumbling structures, searching for a connection with the ancient culture that ruled Mesoamerica for over six hundred years, I venture toward the sea. A wooden staircase spits me onto oatmeal-colored sands. Along the sugary beaches that make my tanned toes look like churros, I am struck by the water’s warmth.


Around me, as though being attacked by the liquid army of an ancient civilization,

sun-screened children with fierce faces scamper from the water’s edge. Grown men groan at the beauty of their wives silhouetted against a backdrop the color of faded denim. Selling stitched linens and orange fruits, local Yucatan women pass through the touristy throng.

I recline at the water’s edge, succumbing to the power of the seascape.   Eons have passed here above the sea’s slow shifts : El Castillo’s falling stones, bronzed men eroding into rising reptilian ghosts, and the Mayan culture fading from dynasty into decay.

Beneath me, sandgrains shift and I travel in this passage of time. Wearing leather sandals and cotton breechclouts, Mayan warriors once sat here. They created calendars, written langauge, and art. They stared into the morning’s sunrise, called out to their Gods, and perhaps even waved a welcoming hand to a floating tribesman. I close my sweat-filled eyes and imagine the arrival, relishing in the presence of the past.

As champagne waves bubble onto the shore, I gaze up to find my reptilian custodian eyeing me. A thousand years from now, a lady will raise her own welcoming torch and offer liberty to tribesmen of the world.

For now, however, this is freedom.

By ccxander

Quintana Roo, Mexico – Day 8

Another day of training found my young charges soaked and exhausted. A 250-ball warm-up without a miss, followed by some serious drilling, can do that to a player, especially in this heat. But these kids need this challenge, to battle against the professional players, to feel the pace of the ball and the intensity of the sessions. In the same way that there are surgeons and great surgeons, there are tennis players and great tennis players. Certainly talent is involved, but with practice comes wisdom and confidence, comes mental clarity and belief that one can solve any problem, comes an understanding of the things rookies lack. We had this discussion last night – about surgeons – and these two young ladies seemed to get it. Today’s practices were excellent. When they looked at me with that fish on the shore gasp and eyes rolling northward, I gave them a brief break before heading into the Caribbean for a swim. So we did, in 80-degree waters, surrounded by fish and French/British speaking tourists.

photo 2

There’s an oddity about tourists on the beach. Some of them look like corpses in the morning and then tend toward the porcine in the afternoon. Others feel toplessness is global, and so there are some teenage boys issuing Gumpish gazes that indicate embarrassment, curiosity and a stifled giggle, all rolled up. Too, there are women with dessert-butt who would probably have been better off avoiding the thong – it’s a bit like sending a zip line through the Grand Canyon. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, it’s just awkward to think a bathing suit can just disappear like that. Finally, there are the “beach selfies,” the folks who’ve spent 64% of their lives in the gym and take this opportunity to preen about sporting six packs and Pythagorean cheekbones. If they could Banach-Tarski themselves, clearly they could get a lot more people to notice them.

This evening we hit the beach barbecue and watched some of the day’s beachgoers stuff steak and lobster into over-red faces. With the setting sun and a slight breeze, it was the perfect ending to a hyper-athletic day. Tomorrow we hit at 7am, and then head out to Tulum – Mayan ruins – and what allegedly hails as one of the world’s top ten beaches.

Almost posted this without the biggest news of the day. Yaneli – my chambermaid with the surreal towel talent – seems to be warming up to me again. Today she origami’d a smiling rabbit.


I’m not sure whether it was the sopping floors or her disgust at me walking naked and wet across my hotel room, but my girl has started bringing me towels again. Doesn’t seem like a big deal, but with six showers a day, there’s been a lot of down time waiting for…well, you know…things to dry.

By ccxander

Quintana Roo, Mexico – Day 7

Ate a Teppan restaurant here in Mexico last night, the ones where you sit ten people to a table and the chef/Samurai warrior builds little onion volcanoes that he sets aflame so everyone at the table can “ooh” and “aah “as he burns off his eyebrows. Imagine Iron Chef on Telemundo and you get close. So there I was, chopsticking away at my sushi and trying to have a conversation with a nice German couple when their four year-old son points at me and yells something in German. The mother translates: He said, “Don’t talk with food in your mouth.” To be ostracized by a child who’s recently upgraded his transportation means to tricycles is exceedingly disconcerting.

Which brings me to a bigger point.

Given long enough at the athletic table, you can see the women’s game evolving. What once was a world dominated by men, the game is now becoming more physical, more spin-driven, with higher balls and more angles. The girls are playing longer points, lowering their grips, and moving better vertically. Twenty years ago, this wasn’t happening and even ten years ago, they were still Neanderthalic about their commitment to hitting heavy.

But then, younger generations learn from their role models, and apparently some of these young ladies have been watching the likes of Nadal and Djoker and Murray and Ferrer. Fed is more of a Baryshnikovian throwback player so I’m keeping him out of this. All this is to say the next generation is currently experiencing a Darwinian moment. They are becoming the fittest, the most adaptable, the mutated version of women past and men present. Which brings me back to that little German kid – Sometimes, it is the young who make us remember what we already know.

On the resort front, while dining today, I took a moment to observe the gastronomical watering hole that defines the term all-inclusive. Tourists enter with a frenetic indecisiveness, as though a bout of palsy has taken them while running a 100 meter sprint. With sun-blocked hands and some pretty grotesque lip-licking, they over-fill plates with pastas and steaks and enough fatty sauces to make Biggest Loser candidates seem like nutritional experts.   Plates drop, forks tumble, knives slip, and glasses break, all under the intense frenzy of people who appear to have never seen food, but too, appear to have eaten a hell of a lot of it. The average weight here is north of 250, which means small children reaching up to the counter have a pretty good chance of being muffled, crushed, and then shoveled onto a plate.

The workers keep tight tabs on empty trays, refilling them at about the 20% level, and if you so much as turn your head to watch someone vomit, they’ll bus your plate before you can get your skull back around. Most of them have professional smiles that indicate they are here for your service, but if you watch closely, you can see the various headshakes and hands-over-mouths shock they perform while watching tourists dine.

When the tourists have completed their food acquisition, it’s pretty much a picnic game to see who can finish first – think pie-eating contest and you’re almost there. They stuff and drink and refill and stuff and drink and belch and make faces that suggest something horrible is coming up from inside them, and then push whatever it was back down until it re-appears and they place a hand over their mouth to prevent an unwanted ejection and well you get the idea. It’s not pretty.

Today, the little four-year old came up to me at lunch and he appeared to recently have been attacked by a chocolate ice cream cone.


He was still slurping when he got to me and I pointed at him and said with a big smile, “Don’t talk with your mouth full,” at which point he yelled, “I don’t understand English!” while launching an arcing cocoa stream onto my shirt.   Thus, I’m headed off to do some laundry before returning to the court. Damn kid!

Tomorrow: Practice at 7:30 a.m.

By ccxander

Quintana Roo, Mexico – Day 6





It’s rarely good when a person says, “I think I’m about to die.” But then, as a coach trying to expose younger players to the work required for professional advancement, those words are evidence of success. Thus, when my player said those words to me this morning after ninety demanding minutes beneath a 90-degree sun, I simply smiled and said, “Keep working.”

The day before we witnessed two finalists play a 3-hour-and-40-minute match in midday heat, so my sympathies ran short. John Wooden said, “Sports do not build character, they reveal it.” Whether this type of training breaks or makes these kids, only time will tell.   The truth is, they need to battle through this, grabbing their racquet and pounding away every single day to perfect the imperfectable so they can compete against the international community, knowing that every hour they miss is an hour where their competitors are grinding away on the practice courts trying to better themselves, knowing that the sun will never relent and the real enemies are time and fitness, and knowing that they better get it right before they retire because eventually they’ll look back and think, “remember when.”

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Consequently, we have two more hits scheduled today.

On another note, every morning since I’ve arrived, I’ve hit the beach a little before sunrise, digging my arches into those warm, white Caribbean sands and shedding a few lbs. on my dawn run. Along with the requisite Crayola skies and lapping waves, there’s a pint-sized Mexican man, in what looks like a drab UPS outfit, holding a rake and sporting an upper lip snarl that you just know means “don’t trifle.”


On day two, he gave me a subtle raised-palm wave and we’ve become A.M. acquaintances. His name is Mario. Mario has almost five teeth and sundrenched skin that suggests prosciutto. His job description entails sanitizing the beach of the seaweed that washed up the previous evening, presumably because the thought of morning kelp touching international tourists is just about the worst thing this hotel’s management can conceive.

When I run past, I refer to him as Super Mario for the sheer fortitude it must take to grab a metal rake and to do daily combat against the entire fucking Caribbean Sea, in what has to be the most Sisyphusean job on the planet. The guy is a mensch!

Imagine knowing that you’re going to spend the next few decades getting up early, putting on the same outfit, grabbing the same tool and heading out to the same gritty surface to try to perfect something imperfectable. See yourself laboring, day after day, with little appreciation for your efforts, with no hope of ever stopping the adversarial tide, and knowing that age and sun and the international community will eventually grind you into an old-aged hack who stares at the horizons and thinks, “remember when.”  Waaait a minute….




By ccxander

Quintana Roo, Mexico – Day 5

Around 9:00 p.m. last night, one of my fifteen year-old students played her first professional tennis match. Meanwhile, the other fifteen year-old I brought with me, sat observing, learning and hoping to get into the draw as an alternate. She waited until 12:30 a.m., before retiring for the evening and, as I’m writing this, we’ve just completed a solid 90-minute 7:00 a.m. hit. That is exactly the kind of dedication that will make this kid great. Study the game, deprioritize sleep, and work your ass off when given an opportunity. We hit again today at 1:00 p.m.

As for the one who competed, it was more Darwinian adventure than tennis match. After the application of bug spray, game prep, and a last-minute bathroom purge, she nervously took the court to face a big hitting but very inconsistent qualifier. While the tennis was less than fantastic, other forces took hold. Fifty or so giant moths spent the entire match attacking mosquitoes and settling onto the court in the middle of play. Neither girl was comfortable but my player was born with a entomological phobia, so this insect interjection proved terrifying. Imagine walking through a hundred yards of spider webs and you get the idea. Factor in the bird, which came down to take hold of one of the moths, and then the iguana which had to be chased from the court, and the whole predator/prey dynamic played out on myriad levels.


As the scoreboard lights dimmed, my player too, served as victim.

After the match, we had a long conversation, which included the following:

“What was your strategy?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Do you remember who served first?”


‘Do you know where her weakness was?”

“Not really.”

“What did you do well?”

“I think I playedwell, but I really don’t know.”

While some won’t understand these responses, because they make her sound like she should be wearing a helmet, if we’re being honest, this is pretty standard for a first pro match. These kids are so overwhelmed by their surroundings – the crowds watching, the foreigners talking and pointing, the primal screams from nearby courts, the thought of battling players far more senior to them – that they tend to go mentally numb. On the plus side, I’ve asked the girls to take notes every day since they’ve been here, and I’m now seeing the pages evolve – more insightful, more mature, more detailed. This is why we bring them onto the professional stage early. Ask anyone trying to climb mountains – acclimation takes time.

Update on the towel situation: I’m not sure what happened. Yaneli and I were going great, me with my extra cloth, and she with her animal artistry. I’m not sure if someone tipped her off about my blog or if she just tired of me, but the animals have stopped, the towels no longer appear, and today she didn’t even clean my room. I’m assuming it’s an oversight, what with all the extra attention she gave me this weekend, however, I’m currently sitting on some very sweaty sheets and I can’t shower and the floor is sandy and my minibar is empty and I’m pretty certain I’ve lost a pillow and something reptilian seems to be scratching very close to me at night and now here comes one of my players yelling at me to “Solve the problem.”


Tomorrow: The Training Continues

By ccxander

Quintana Roo, Mexico – Day 4


The girls didn’t get into the event.

They are bummed out but energetic enough to rise early, so we are eating breakfast at 7:00a.m. We plan a day in Play del Carmen before getting back to hit this….

“Excuse me, Coach?”

“Yes? What’s that? A qualifier pulled out and one of the girls is now in the tournament?”

And that’s how this morning went, with one girl preparing for this afternoon’s competition and the other stranded upon the alternate list in the number one spot. For those familiar with pro circuits, this is all too common, sitting around the courts all day waiting to see if someone get sick, suffers from heat stroke, misses their match time, or otherwise decides not to play. It is wound-lickingly excruciating, and frustrating and energy sapping and a thousand other adjectives which suggest ripping out your eyes with the desire to play. One of my girls now feels like that and I’ve got to keep her on the seat’s edge, focused and ready to compete in case the call comes.

Meanwhile the one who got into the event, is resting in the air-conditioned room waiting for her warm up and match-play to begin. It is a very long day where I’m sitting around watching matches, scouting potential opponents, and finding a few free moments to blog about it.  By 7:00p.m., we still have not started her match, so I’ll give today’s results tomorrow.

With the long wait, I’ve had time to expand on some of the more thought-provoking things happening at this here hotel by the sea. I was here for last year’s circuit – which I blogged about – and had a few issues at this same hotel. For those who missed it, here’s how it went down:

Hotel rule: Towels left on the floor will be washed and replaced, while towels hanging up will only be folded and remain in the room. Please consider the environment when determining where to place your towel after your shower.

When you’ve lived your life being pathologically accommodating, this cipher presents considerable pressure. Lupita – she’s left an introductory “Hello my name is” nametag on my nightstand, which means we’re now on a first name basis and I’m burdened with obligation – has this really unaccommodating ritual of making up my room whenever the hell she feels like it. And so, when I take a shower, this decision whether or not to leave my towel hung or floored comes with the kind of responsibility I don’t want on this here Caribbean excursion. As coach to professional athletes, I work out a lot, (in exceedingly hot and humid temps) morning run, on-court drilling, in the gym, all of which implies I’ll be hitting the showers at least a half-dozen times per day. Thus, when I’m done showering, I now have this uncomfortable habit of standing passively in the bathroom, holding my towel in hand, with an I’m-a-puppy-who’s-just-been-spoken-to tilted head, plagued with indecisiveness. I can hang the towel, in which case Lupita might come by and, according to the code, assume I don’t want it washed and I’ll be stuck showering with the same towel eight more times – this actually happened the first few days, and by day three thedamn linen had developed its own personality – before I see her again. Or, worse yet, I can place the towel on the floor and hope Lupita shows up to replace it before I shower again and have to pick up a dirty towel from the floor to dry off, which is sort of disgusting when you consider this is the Caribbean and what’s probably gone on in this room. Plus, between the dirty towels and what I presume Lupita thinks is an obsessive-compulsive showering habit, I’m a little worried she thinks I’m some grotesque creature and that’s why she never shows up when I’m around. And don’t even get me started on the environmental considerations. I’m pretty much a train wreck over the whole thing.

So that was last year. Having learned my lesson, I’ve done a bit of early flirting and gotten ahead of the game. This year’s lady de la casa is named Yaneli, although she’s crossed out two other names on the guest card so she may be changing my sheets under a pseudonym. Per her job description, Yaneli has brought my daily assortment of towels. However, Yaneli has a special talent. She is an origami guru of towel art, and for the last several days, I’ve had a veritable Serengeti of terrycloth animals in my room, which is both unbelievably cool and morally shattering.

IMG_3008  IMG_3026

You can see where I’m going with this.  This sweet little woman is spending some serious labor hours crafting these fabric sculptures just for me, and is leaving them on my pillow with the sort of love and kindness only flirted-with chambermaids can offer. Thus, here I am again, standing at my shower’s edge, dripping wet, feeling the guilt and betrayal and self-reproach of having to destroy this “DaVinci of the Cloth’s” creation. And I’m not certain I can do it. I can only imagine Yaneli’s pouting face when tomorrow morning’s entrance finds her textile elephant with it’s trunk torn off and it’s floppy ears sullied with my personal filth. As I walk across the lobby, I don’t want Yaneli and her cadre of chambermaids pointing at me and shouting, “He’s a naked poacher!”

Last year, I just had a little tete-a-tete with the regulations. Now, I’m burdened with the indecency of cultural destruction, the inhumanity of annihilating art, the disgust of extinguishing the filament dreams of a fiber genius. It’s day four here and I’m already got a Judas complex.

All I wanted was a fucking towel to dry off.

Tomorrow: Damp…likely.

By ccxander

Quintana Roo, Mexico – Day 3

Since it’s dusk and I’d like to enjoy a Caribbean sunset, I’m going to forego structure and just brain dump on this one.

6:45 a.m. On the practice court with two Venezuelans.

7:25 A look from both players that says, “Holy crap do these girls ever miss?”

7:30 A “Has it been an hour yet?’ glare with parched tongues drooping from sides of mouths

8:00 “We are near death. Please let us stop.”

8:30 Exhausted stagger to breakfast where heads decline enough to get omelet in hair while coach laughs knowingly

9:00 2-hour nap while coach goes for 4 mile run J

Free time until 2pm, which for me, includes, several unexpected species interactions including: Alpha-dogging a four foot long iguana, getting struck by a scurrying badger who was either extremely lacking in agility or just damn blind, feeding a weasel (as much as I want that to be a metaphor, it isn’t), and an inadvertent attack from something avian which went after my bread roll like Ghandi on a bender.

Back on the courts for a second practice and then tournament sign-in, which in this case means 128 players standing in a line staring at each other’s fitness levels, girls giggling and guys ogling.

Now awaiting word on whether the girls get into the tournament, or whether we’ll spend the next week training on the practice courts in preparation for next week’s tournament.

As this is our third day here, I decided their comfort level had reached a point where I could make them uncomfortable. To this point, I’ve solved a lot of their travel issues. Today, however, things change.   They said “We have no more towels in our room.” “Solve the problem,” I replied. “We have no hitting partner.” “Solve the problem,” I replied. “We don’t know how to sign in for the tournament.” Once more, I said, “Solve the problem.” As a coach, it is incumbent upon me to teach independence on and off the court. Perhaps the self-reliance gained from these off-court trials will serve as confidence builders when on-court issues arise. Perhaps the Solve the problem mantra will work its way into their subconscious such that it appears in times of competitive despair. One can only hope, right?

I’ve asked the girls to write down their thoughts so far.  Here’s a taste:

“This being my first pro tournament i can already see and feel the difference. I see the different intensity these girls have versus the juniors. I  feel how much they want it and how much they are willing to fight versus the juniors. The atmosphere is also very different. They are very welcoming, everyone here gets that we are all fighting for the same thing and we’ve worked hard for this. I just finished and I’m exhausted after hitting for one hour when I usually do two with no problem back home.  Even the practice is different. Since we only have a limited time, we have to make the most out of that hour. I’ve already learned and absorbed so much and it has been just the first days.  I cannot wait for the rest!”

 “The competition is fierce.  Not in the level of play, but in their hunger to win.  It’s cut-throat. This is not a game to them.  This is work and this puts food on the table. They aren’t mean, but you can feel the intensity, focus, and drive in the atmosphere.  When I visualized a 10K professional tournament, I was expecting 17-18 year-olds just starting out on tour.  But, most of these girls are 24-25 years-old.  Many are in college or graduates.  I respect and admire the drive they still have to unlock their potential. Though the competition is fierce, these aren’t amazing players. The biggest difference between these girls and juniors is their fight and sheer will to win. It’s incredible that this alone can make up for not being a great player, and that’s how many of them are winning matches.  

“Pretty much everyone speaks English here. In the U.S., it’s rare that people are bilingual but for the most part, the players are fluent in at least two languages.  The boys are exceptionally better than the girls.  The worst boy here would easily beat the best girl.  Also, the guys are ridiculously good-looking.

“Finally, the parents. Go to any USTA national and I guarantee there will be at least 3 clinically insane tennis parents.  But most of the people here aren’t traveling with parents and it’s refreshing not to have to deal with that insanity.  

“Sorry I didn’t have much else to talk about, but to be honest, I’ve been too exhausted from playing that I haven’t done much else.”

Ah, the minds of fifteen year-olds!

Off to watch a Caribbean sunset.

Tomorrow: Uncertain

By ccxander

Quintana Roo, Mexico – Day 2

This is week two of a multi-week segment of ITF professional circuit futures tournaments. These are combined events, meaning men and women play side by side. And so, because tennis players’ grunting and shrieking tend toward the suggestive, and since the courts are behind an opaque row of hedges, several curious tourists have poked their heads into the scene wondering just what exactly the hell is going on here.

The six courts consist of a grainy cement, making topspin kick heavenward and slices less navigable than the government’s health care website. Next to the tennis facility, a large soccer field plays host to several tourists and a cadre of tennis players who’ve apparently already lost in the tournament and are looking for a cardio outlet. Soccer skills here run the gamut – from World Cup worthy to one man who has, unbelievably, actually kicked his own ass.

Outside temp is 84 degrees with humidity nearing Federer serve percentages. In tropical zones, it is not uncommon to see iguanas roaming the grounds, and at least two attending parents have already rolled ankles trying to escape these long lizards. Thus, the trainer is unexpectedly busy.

While this week’s tournament plays through it’s final rounds, next week’s competitors are already arriving to practice, to scout, and to acclimate themselves to conditions. This athletic watering hole sees a whole lot of sizing-up, with players pointing, smirking, and intimidating each other with walks and glares. One gets the sense that if the referees weren’t around, this might turn into something UFC-ish.

Quintana Roo’s tournament director is a mailbox-height Mexican with greying hair and the type of smile that suggests he’s taken a few early morning tequilas. Compassion, however, is Sergio’s dominant trait, and he’s eminently accommodating to both players and coaches. Sergio began running this series of tournaments in 2013 and has now secured several local sponsors whose square banners shout philanthropic capitalism from the courts’ rusting chain-link fences.

We spend some time observing the players, the machismo of the South American clay courters, the technical prowess of the Eastern Europeans, the Western Euro flair, and the few Mexican kids that Sergio has given wildcards so that they too can experience the distant world of professional tennis. In a few hours, my young charges will battle some of these contenders.

Today’s practice went well, with both girls gathering a feel for the terrain and recognizing the higher intensity pro tennis requires – some of these women are playing for their families’ food after all. At one point, four doubles players screamed during a third set tiebreaker – two for the winer and two for the loss of a point. It’s a far cry from the junior events back in the States, but that’s exactly the lesson I want these kids to learn. Professionalism demands discipline, focus, commitment, and a level of passion these girls have yet to experience. Their wide eyes tell me they are absorbing it already.

Scoreboard:  Mexico’s Temp + Humidity 187. My water consumption 18.5 litres.   Hours at urinal .75

Tomorrow: Practice at 7:00 a.m.

By ccxander