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Summer Blog: O'Brien in Canary Islands (Updated 7/6/09)

Tuesday, June 23

After winning our first and second round doubles and then having a walk over in semi’s, Borja and I found ourselves in the doubles final. Due to this we had to change our flight that was scheduled from Melilla to Madrid. We now instead caught a plane from Melilla to Malaga, where I would meet a friend if mine and stay the night and then catch a train the next morning from Malaga to Madrid.

Our doubles final stared well and we found ourselves tied at 5-5 in the first set. After a few easy volleys were missed and a few loose points, we were down a set. We came out strong in the second and managed to win it 6-2. It was one set all! We knew it was really time to focus as it was a 10-point tie breaker rather than a full third set that would decide this match. However, we got off to a bad start and ended up loosing the 10 point tie breaker 10-5. After the match, we had the prize ceremony and then interviews. My interview was funny, as I couldn’t speak Spanish and Borja had to translate everything I said back to the audience.

After having a shower and packing up, we headed to the airport to catch our plane to Malaga. My tournaments in Spain were over. I learned a lot this tour and was happy I managed to pick up my first ATP point. I was ready to go home to South Africa to see my family and friends. I was meeting my girlfriend at the South African airport as she was to spend a couple of weeks with me in South Africa. This made me even more excited to get home. I have a month of holiday in South Africa, and then on the 13th of August I will catch a flight back to Atlanta to start my first semester at my new school, Georgia Tech.

I cannot wait to be a part of the Yellow Jacket tradition and be an asset to the team.

Go Jackets!


Monday, June 22

I started out my next match slow and was out-played in the first set. My opponent served well and had lots of momentum winning the first set 6-1. I knew I had to raise my game to have any chance of qualifying this week. Starting the second set with a new mind set and attitude, I managed to hold serve a few times and find myself 6-5 up on serve. A couple big returns and a sneaky chip and charge allowed me to break and win the second set 7-5. I knew I had to keep this level up and play smart to win this match. At 4-4 in the final set, a couple of unlucky points on my serve and I was down a break. Before I knew it, I was shaking my opponents hand a loser. It hurt to loose a match this close, especially when I had a few chances to break early in the third. However I took any positives I could from the match and decided all I could do now was focus on doubles.

Sunday, June 21

Today my match started well and I managed to win the first set 6-4. After loosing the second set 6-4 and getting a good start in the third I managed to win the match 6-3 in the final set. I was in the final round of qualifying and had to play a guy named Carlos Gomez. My match had finished early, and after having a practice and a shower at the tennis club, Borja and I decided to go to the city centre to look at the shops and find some food. The city somehow reminded me of my travels to Morocco. There was a similarity in the buildings and the way the people dressed and acted.

Saturday, June 20

So I had just arrived at my final destination of my three Spanish futures. What I quickly learned about the island of Melilla, is that, it is actually on African soil although it is regarded as a European country because it is under Spanish ownership. Once collecting my bags from the airport and catching a cab to the hotel, our taxi driver showed us the border of Melilla and Morocco. The border was only 100 meters away from the airport! Once we checked into the hotel, Borja and I were anxious to get to the courts and have a practice as we were playing the next day.

The surface this week was one I had never played on. It is called “tennis quick”, a surface that looks like a whole lot of stones have been glued together. The surface was quick and slippery making it hard to move. Non-the-less Borja and I after a good afternoons practice felt ready and confident for our matches the next day. After looking at the draw I saw I had drawn a Spanish player that happened to be one of our friends. Never nice to play a friend but I realized I was here to do one thing and that was win.

Tonight we took a walk to the beach to find a nice Italian restaurant for dinner and get an early night sleep.

Friday, June 19

Today we woke up early and had some breakfast at Borja’s grandparent’s house where they all wished him happy birthday. We are now at the Airport waiting to catch our 2 pm flight to Mellila.

Thursday, June 18

Once in Madrid, Borja and I went to his friend Marco Verdasco’s restaurant for dinner. This was a special dinner as we were celebrating Borja’s 23rd Birthday! We sat and ate dinner with Fernando (ranked No. 8 in world for singles) and Marco Verdasco, and then went to flowers to celebrate.

Wednesday, June 17

My singles match was scheduled for 12 p.m. Tied at two games apiece in the first set, I had break points but was unable to convert them and lost the set 6-3. The second set I got broken early and ended up losing 6-3. I was hoping to play better in the match. I realized that these things happen and took all positives I could from the match. I then went to the hotel to pack my bags and catch a flight with Borja back to Madrid.

Tuesday, June 16

Today I was ready to play. When we arrived at the courts they were soaked. Play was suspended for an hour, so instead of starting at 10 we started at 11. I knew this was an important match as I was playing for my first ATP point. Although I didn’t play my best tennis I got through the match and won 6-4 7-6, winning the second set tie break to my relief 7 points to 3. I had achieved my first ATP point. This was more a feeling of relief than happiness. My next opponent was a guy from Spain who was ranked 490 in the world.

This evening, Borja and I unfortunately lost our doubles match very close. The doubles format is different to singles as there is no ad scoring and the third set is a super tie breaker. We lost 6-4, 3-6, 10-5. We were disappointed but realized we had been out played rather than playing badly. All I can do now is focus on my singles match tomorrow.

Monday, June 15

I had a full rest day with neither singles nor doubles the day after my qualifying match. I decided to sleep in and get in some gym and practice. My Parents went to go see the Volcano. The myth behind the active volcano is that if it does erupt it will cause the island of La Palma to sink and crash down into the ocean causing a huge wave that will hit the coast of New York. It was very interesting to learn about this myth. My parents told me the volcano was extremely cold towards the summit and there was zero population around it.

This evening it rained extremely hard, which is apparently very unusual in Tenerife at this time of the year.

Sunday, June 14

I was happy to have progressed to the final round of qualifying. Josh and Borja drew each other, and Borja won in straight sets. In the final round of qualifying I was to play another guy from Great Britain who was not ranked.

I played a much better match in this round and won easily, 6-1 6-1. I was in the main draw! Unfortunately for Borja, he lost in the final round of qualifying 7-5 in the final set. Tonight, we all took an ice bath to get our legs recovered and went for a walk through town to look at all the little tourist shops.

We found a nice restaurant for dinner and enjoyed a nice meal. Josh and I decided to eat rabbit as we had never tried it before, it was surprisingly very good. When we got back to the hotel and went on the internet, I saw that I had drawn a boy from Russia who was ranked 1050 in the world in the first round. His name was Alexander Lobkov. Borja and I also received a wild card into doubles play, and drew an Italian and Lithuanian boy.

Saturday, June 13

My Parents seemed very excited to finally get to watch me play. The match started out with no breaks and with only three breaks of serve in the whole match between the two of us. I won the match 5-7 6-4 6-4.

Friday, June 12

On Friday the day of sign in, we all signed in and had a couple of practice sessions to get used to the courts. This was the first time I had ever competed on carpet so I was interested to see how I would do in my matches. O

nce the draw had come out, I drew a guy from Great Britain who was ranked 1400 in the world. He went to Armstrong Atlantic University in the U.S. Armstrong won the NCAA division II title, and the gentleman I was playing against played No. 2 singles for them and was ranked inside the top 15 in NCAA Division II singles.

Wednesday, June 10

Today we had a flight from La Palma to Tenerife. In Tenerife, I would be meeting my parents at the airport as they were arriving for a holiday and to see me play. They haven’t seen me play in about two years as I have been in college in America. Once in the Tenerife airport Josh (ex team mate from Tennessee Tech), Borja and I caught a taxi with my parents to apartments called Casablanca. We rented a car as we were not staying at the tournament hotel and would need our own transport to and from the courts.

This tournament was played on carpet. The points seemed to be a lot shorter and serving well was key to doing well in the tournament. Here, like La Palma, the beach sand was black and still intriguing to me as I had never seen it. Tenerife is a much more populated island. It seemed like there were many tourists, and when asking the hotel desk for a nice Spanish restaurant she said “everything in Puerto de La Cruz is foreign.”

Sunday-Tuesday, June 7-9:

Borja and I were out of the tournament, and unfortunately did not manage to get into doubles. The next few days consisted of training in the mornings and doing some light gym sessions in the afternoon combined with some running. The next tournament was in Tenerife and was on a surface called carpet. Carpet being a much quicker surface than hard and clay. Borja and I realized this would be a good week for us to maybe make some big results. This made us realize that hard work was important now in order to hopefully achieve some results next week.

In the afternoons, many Spanish kids started to jump off the rocks into the ocean. Borja and I were temped to do so, until we heard that one player had hurt his ankle climbing back up the cliff and another player stood on a sea urchin. That turned our decision and made us realize it was probably better to watch them jump rather than doing so.

It was our last day in La Palma and time to have our last practice and pay for the hotel at the courts. We thanked the tournament organizers for the tournament, and caught the bus back to the hotel. Once at the hotel we packed our stuff and watched some TV. We soon fell asleep.

Saturday, June 6:

Today I woke up early again, as I had to warm-up Borja for his match. After eating breakfast, we caught the bus to the courts and had a hit. Borja unfortunately lost in the final round of qualifying and after hearing that we were 5th and 7th on the lucky loser list, we knew there was no way of getting into the main draw. Today was an exciting day as it was finals day at Roland Garros. All the Spanish people were very quiet as there boy Rafael Nadal was not in the final and they had to watch Nadal’s rival win the French open when they all undoubtedly expected Nadal to win the title.

The meals that we ate for lunch at the courts often consisted of a starter of spaghetti and then a main of chicken and fries or salad with a bottle of water. The courts were situated on a mountain with a beautiful view over the ocean, I often wondered whether I was at a tennis tournament or on a holiday.

Tonight Borja and I played cards with the other players. Basically, all of them were Spanish which is different for me as I have to rely on hand signals to communicate. After winning a couple of cokes from a few of good hands in poker, Borja and I headed up to the room for some sleep. The days are usually pretty hot. I’d guess around 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but it’s the humidity that gets to you as you sweat so much often when not even doing any exercise.

Friday, June 5:

This morning I woke up with energy and got ready to get on the court and play my match. I was really pumped up and excited, as I had heard that the guy that I was playing was the champion of Spain for boys U/18. I realized this would be a great result if I were able to win. Borja and I had some breakfast and headed to the courts for our usual routine of warming up our strokes and muscles. Once again, Borja played before me so I cheered him on. He won 6-3, 6-1 and was through to the final round of qualifying.

It was now finally time for me to play. I knew if I won I was in the main draw and it would put me in a great spot of getting my first ATP point. We both started by holding serve until 4-4, where I managed to break his serve. Getting really fired up I was anxious to hold my serve and win the first set. After having three set points and saving five break points, I unfortunately lost my serve and the set concluded in a tie break that I lost 7-4. As the second set started we continued holding serve until he broke and I lost the set 6-3. I was disappointed with my loss, but realized that I had still played a great match and knew that people would now be a little more scared to play me. The guy I lost to won the next day in the first round and got his second ATP point.

After stretching and talking about my match to Borja, we caught the bus home and had dinner. We again walked along the boulevard.

Thursday, June 4:

My alarm went off at 8:15 a.m and I got up to take a shower. Borja and I went down to get some breakfast and then catch the bus to the tournament venue. We were both a lot more serious today as we knew we had important matches ahead of us. Once having warmed up, I sat and watched Borja win in two easy sets.

I had some lunch and then went the physio to stretch me out in preparation for my match. When ready to play my match, I went to the tournament desk and the organizer said my opponent had hurt his wrist and had pulled out. This was upsetting for me as I really wanted to play and get a win under my belt. None-the-less I was through to the final round of qualifying. Borja and I watched some matches and cheered our friends on before catching a bus to the hotel. We had a shower and had some dinner.

After dinner we decided to take a walk along the boulevard which was next to the beach and get an ice cream. It was “De locos” as the say in Spain, meaning unbelievable, sitting right by the waves talking and making jokes. We saw it was getting late so we decided to go back to the hotel and get some rest. All we watch on TV is the Disney Channel as it’s the only English Channel. It must be really funny to see us watching Tom and Jerry but at least we understand it and it keeps us relaxed.

Wednesday, June 3:

It’s Friday, and today we signed in for the tournament. We woke up to an amazingly hot morning in La Palma, and went to go eat a big buffet breakfast on the patio right by the ocean. The hotel has a nice deal going. It is 42 Euros for bedding, breakfast and dinner. We eat lunch at the courts for about 10 Euros.

After breakfast we went for a run on the black sea sand of La Palma and looked at the huge volcanic mountains around us. We really are on such a remote island in the middle of nowhere.

We then caught the tournament bus to the courts to train and the sign in for the tournament. Sign in was between 4-6 pm. Once having signed in we took a swim in the swimming pool at the courts, and then caught the bus back to the hotel to grab a shower and watch some TV while stretching. When we went downstairs we had a look at the draw. I drew an Australian player ranked around 1200 in the world, and Borja drew a Spanish player with no ranking.

Once eating dinner we jumped on the internet to talk to our families in skype and now it’s off to bed for a good nights rest.

Tuesday, June 2:

Borja and I got up early this morning to get a taxi and head to the airport. We were headed for the Canary Islands. Our first flight was headed for Tenerife, one of the seven Canary Islands. Borja and I each took three seats to ourselves and slept the whole way.

Once we arrived in Tenerife, we had some lunch at the airport and caught our connecting flight to La Palma. Once in La Palma, we took a taxi to our hotel which was on the other side of the island and watched some Roland Garros. One very interesting thing about this island is that the sea sand is black as this is a volcanic island. Some locals told us that this island is alleged to be the steepest in the world.

Tonight we took a taxi to the courts for a light training session. We had a very nice buffet dinner on the balcony and now it is time to get a good nights rest.

Monday, June 1:

Borja and I organized a fun Davis cup type tournament practice with two of his friends. While playing sets against each other, Feliciano Lopez (top 30 in the world) started training next to us. It was nice to meet him and watch him play and talk to him about his French Open match at Roland Garros.

Tonight, Borja organized for us and a couple of his friends to go out for dinner with Fernando Verdasco (top 10 in the world) as he had just arrived back from Roland Garros. It very interesting to hear what he said about the French open and all his success in the past year.

We then packed our bags and did laundry.

Friday-Sunday, May 29-31:

On these days we really didn’t do a whole lot outside of training in the morning, head to the gym and run. At night we relaxed in the apartment.

Thursday, May 28:

Today we slept in until about 11 and then went to the courts to practice. After practice, we did a session in the gym and then went back to Borja’s house to meet his Grandparents. They can’t speak a word of English so it was very funny to watch us try to communicate. We stayed there a while and ate a famous Spanish dish called “Paella” for lunch, while watching the French open on TV.

Tonight Borja and I went and watched a movie at the cinemas and then relaxed in the apartment.

Wednesday, May 27:

Once arriving in Spain after traveling for 11 hours from South Africa, all I wanted to do was get to my friend Borja’s house and sleep. However, to my disbelief, for the first time in my travels all over the world my bags did not arrive. So once Borja picked me up from the airport, my bags didn’t arrive at his house until late this afternoon. While waiting for the bags to arrive, Borja and I went to the tennis club and practiced and then went to the Juan Carlos Primero Park to do some running.

This evening, when we got to Borja’s house the bags were there and we enjoyed a nice home cooked meal and called it an early night to prepare for tomorrow’ training.


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