1983 was a year I will remember as one that I learned much from the game of tennis, from my opponents and Coach Peter Holmes. The hitting with young Mark Leuba was the perfect way to implement the tactical and technical input from Pete.
I began 1984 well, I won the 16 and under division at the Albany Junior Open 7-5, 7-5 in the final against good buddy Dale Jones. I also gained some revenge on John Knuimann in the final of the Lawley Park Club Championships 7-5, 2-6, 6-4. I never forget a score.
It was however my form against Mark that really gave me an indication I was heading in the right direction. I remember a match I played with Mark, we played best of 5 and I
beat him 1,4 and 3. I believe that the day I turned 15 on January 25 1984 I gained confidence. I was no longer intimidated by Mark's Number 1 State Ranking , I played the ball, not his reputation.
had such a strong group of players in Albany that a State Squad comprising a group of 13 to 16 year old's from Perth came to town to play our best
players. I was fortunate enough to gain a spot, from memory eight players per team. I suppose that Holmsey's influence and our local talent offered a great weekend's competition for the squad from the City.
I played a kid by the
name of Graham Watson first up and was getting smashed 5-1 in a first to
nine games match.
believe that's when I first started to think about tactics, what was
working and what wasn't. I still remember reeling off 8 games straight
beating Watson 9-5, a good win.
My next match was against Damian Hampson and 'Hampo' and I got along well, he was a funny guy and a great player.
was getting beaten 6-2 but came back and had a point to level at 8 all
but he saved it and won 9-7. Hampo was ranked 3 in the State for 16's.
I was disappointed in the loss to Hampo but I won a doubles match with Pete and Albany won the weekend easily, our country tennis players showed up the City's best juniors. I put that down to Pete's coaching and an endless amount of practice and match play opportunities for all of Albany's best players.
knew all of the Perth juniors' rankings as I followed their profiles through
tournament results. Part of me had a high respect for their tennis achievements, the other part of me felt like an equal.
proved in '84 though that as a 15 year old I could match it against guys who were ranked
way higher than me. In fact I didn't even have a ranking until I was nearly 16. If I did have one I didn't know the number, wasn't interested.
I played two State Championships and had two near misses. I in fact drew Mark in the first round of one tournament and lead by a set and 4-3. I won just one more game. I also lead Hampo in another by a set and a break, I won just three more games. The area that I was struggling in was the 'equal' self evaluation, part of me didn't believe I could beat these guys.
This was strange because my form against Mark was impressive in our many practice matches. I felt the issue was that I was in some sort of fish bowl at State Championships, big crowds, big reputations, ranking points up for grabs. A whole new 'uncomfortable' World for a kid from a small town. It may have had something to do with that first ever Albany tournament I played. There was much that I did not like about tournaments.
Putting my near misses into perspective, Mark lost in the final of the tournament that he struggled past me in the first match. Could I have made it to the final if I had beaten him ? I questioned myself for a long time after the loss.
The loss to Hampo was especially disappointing as he went on to win the title. Perhaps that title could have been mine but I will never know.
I still believe that playing seeded players in the first or second round can work to the challenger's advantage. Early on in tournaments is the time to play them, before they get grooved. I will never begrudge a tough first match, that's when all players are at their most vulnerable.
My one and only State Title came in the form of a Doubles win with my good mate 'Jonesey' which I documented in an earlier chapter. I enjoyed doubles but I yearned for recognition in singles, not just a reputation as a country kid who could push the City's best. I wanted a title. The work rate had to improve.......
Chapter 10 to come