I am stepping out on the court. Grandstand court, second biggest at Shanghai Masters after the Stadium court. Still too early for any fans to come and watch practice sessions. Good thing.
I see Mikhail Kukushkin doing some simple warm up near the net and some lady sitting at his bench. I guess his better half. As I am approaching him to say hi, the wind almost pushes me back. I hold on to my hat. Put a twisted smile and shake hands with Mikhail who seems pretty cold and serious. That doesn’t help me at all.
Still I start to believe that he is only very focused on his match and it has nothing to do with me, coming a bit in rush on court and doing quickly some very basic warm up.
I pretend that I am ready to go (which was far from truth), because I didn’t want that he waits for me for even one second. He double checks with me if I am ready. I confirm, with a slightly bigger smile than a first time.
So we start. Directly from the baseline. Here I am. My first hit is starting. My first few shots as an official hitter. I am trying to breathe in a nice rhythm, smooth and with control. That works, but my mind still can’t get completely calm.
I have many thoughts about my performance. Will I keep the good level? Will I reach the expectations? Will I prove my role? Make him happy and do a good job with the warm up?
The wind is blowing in all possible directions, which definitely doesn’t help me to get the good feeling on the court, still being not properly warmed up. Not to mention Mikhail’s strokes which happen to be quite unique, more flat and on the backhand, with some mix of side and back spin.
I am going through a very thick and juicy discomfort while grinding it out, moving my feet and hoping to hit as many nice, clean and deep shots as possible.
I notice the rest of the hitting team in the corner of the court, watching and giving me some support. I see the leader showing me a thumbs up, so I figured I passed.
However, my feeling is not the best and I am not satisfied with the performance. We switch sides, he does some volleys and serves. Then I do few serves. At the end, he asked for few second serves. I remember very well, the first one I missed wide, the second one I missed long, the third one I hit the net and then the ball went long. Impossible! Three second serves missed in a row! I wanted to disappear from the court, feeling very uncomfortable. I imagined then to hit all the remaining serves as perfect as I can. I hit a good second serve finally, however he hits a pretty bad return and for some reason he just shows thumbs up, saying that it’s good enough. We are done with training.
No way! Come one Mikhail, let me serve you 5-10 more good second serves so that you can return properly. That was running loudly through my mind. But he puts a shy smile and shakes my hand saying: “Thanks so much!”. I reply with: “Thank you, it was my pleasure. Good luck with your match!”
I’m leaving the court with some mixed feelings. A feel a bit relieved, a bit excited, a bit worried, a bit happy. It was an amazing experience, and even though I enjoyed it a lot, I was quite nervous, and couldn’t really play my best.
I am walking through the heavy strokes of a wind, in direction of the stadium court, towards the sun. I’m breathing in that Masters atmosphere around me in a hope that it will soon become a second nature to me.
I have a bit time to rest and cool down. I am really looking forward to my next hit. However, there are still those small devils in my mind that make my stomach turn into a black hole. Will I manage to calm down the nerves? Will I just let it go?
More on this coming soon…