By Isabelle Marshall, Tour Officer
On the evening of the 12th of March 2022, a handful of Blues players landed at LAX. After a short walk in the heat to our hire cars, we drove to our hostel in East Hollywood. We were quite tired from the journey so we had a quick dinner out, bought some snacks for next few days and got an early night.
The jet lag woke us up early at 6am and so we headed out in our cars to Santa Monica Beach for an hour. We were still adjusting to driving on the right side of the road, as well as some of the 8-lane highways that LA had to offer so we left in plenty of time to get to training that afternoon.
We arrived at the SHOQ academy in Orange County just before noon and were greeted by head coach Kevin Jackson. After briefly explaining the program that he had put together for us, we were quickly put to work under the California sun with tough hitting drills, work on movement patterns, and conditioned point play. By 5pm, our legs were aching and we were getting hungry so based on the recommendations of the coaches, we headed back to Santa Monica to an entertainment complex that would have something for everyone. Whilst walking back to the cars, we came across a street packed full of people dancing in pairs to latin music and watched as partners were swapped an it seemed friends were catching up whilst spinning each other around the streets.
Again, we woke up early, and headed to Huntington beach, 5 miles from the tennis academy. After some intense games of beach volleyball we headed to training for 11am. This time, Coach Jackson had brought along some of the academy’s junior players and we were all mixed in for hitting drills and a lot of matchplay. At 6pm, we thanked the coaches for having us, shuffled to the showers and headed back to Central LA for a basketball match that would see the LA lakers take on the Toronto Raptors. After a deep emersion in a classic part of US culture, we grabbed a hamburger on the way back to the hostel and got ready for the early start the next day.
One of the most highly anticipated days of the trip came as we were up early to drive out of LA across to Indian Wells for the ATP and WTA 1000 tournaments. By far one of the hottest days of the trip, we were astounded by the physicality of the players to compete in the conditions. Favourite matches of the day included the likes of Swiatek, Badosa, Rublev and Dimitrov. We also spent a lot of the time watching the practice courts and Chris and Brendan even managed to grab a selfie with Nick Kyrios. A quick trip to the merchandise shop rounded off an amazing day of tennis and we drove 5 miles to our classic American motel in Palm Springs where we stayed for the night.
The next morning we drove to a local park in Palm Spring and after some bargaining with the locals, we managed to get a 2 hour hitting practice in with the stunning view of the mountain range surrounding us. We showered and drove back to LA, stopping off at one of the most talked about restaurants leading up to the tour; IN-n-OUT burger. It was, luckily, everything we had hyped it up to be. We checked back into the same hostel in East Hollywood when we arrived back in LA that afternoon and headed out, taking a sight-seeing walk along Sunset Boulevard before catching a bus up to the Hollywood Hills. A kind and friendly stranger helped us out on our route and gave us directions before we hiked from the mansions of Hollywood, to the viewing point of the Hollywood sign, looking over the entirety of LA as the sunset.
Back to Santa Monica Beach we went on Thursday morning, for many contested games of beach volleyball, and a quick paddle in the Ocean. We grabbed a light lunch on the way back to the hostel, grabbed our tennis kit and headed out to the esteemed Beverly Hills Tennis Club. The club was a mini paradise of perfectly kept tennis courts, a small pool and quaint dining area in one of the most high-rolling neighbourhoods we’d every been to. The head coach Anne White welcomed us warmly, introduced us to her friendly group of members, which included former Blues Captain(2000), Brian Kend who told us many fantastic stories about his time playing tennis at Oxford. We also learned about a historic link between Oxford tennis and BHTC through the late Larry Bachman who was a an OULTC patron and the founder of BHTC. After lots of fun playing countless sets of doubles and introducing the members to ‘Dingles’, they very kindly hosted us for a meal. The serenity of the club in the evening and the kindness of BHTC’s hospitality was the perfect way to cap off the LA leg of the tour.
We were up early as we knew we had a long drive ahead of us and began the first leg of it, from LA to Pismo beach, along the very scenic Route 101. Our short stop at Pismo beach included a few well-needed naps and a little kick-about to stretch our legs. We made it to the next stop, San Jose beach just before sunset, and played outrageously competitive games of beach volleyball until there was no light left to play. We finally completed our journey to San Francisco by 10pm and checked into our central hostel, grabbed some well-needed dinner and got a well-needed sleep.
We had planned to practice on park courts in the morning ahead of our match the next day but sadly the weather had other plans and the courts were not suitable to play on for most of the day. This gave some players to search for a desperately needed racket stringing service whilst the rest of us took ourselves on a long walking tour around San Francisco, visiting the Golden Gate bridge, Pier 39, and walking up Lombard Street. We teamed up to make a huge dinner in the hostel together which everyone enjoyed.
We set off in the morning, via the winding Lombard St, and headed to University of California, Davis, about 1hr15 out of San Francisco. The coaches and players greeted us kindly and we played a full on afternoon of matches against some of the best players in the Big West Conference. It was an experience to see how constant cheering, boosting up teammates and ‘getting pumped’ are really important parts of the US University Tennis Culture. Coach Steidlmeyer kindly hosted us for a BBQ after the match and we compared the differences and similarities between our university systems and in particular, the sports culture. We took a 2 hour drive East, after the match, picking up some supplies for dinner, and settled into our cosy Airbnb on the outskirts of Yosemite valley.
The final full day of the tour consisted of a hike in Yosemite National Park and happened to coincide with Grace’s 23rd birthday. From the drive, to every step we took on the hike, the views were overwhelmingly stunning. After some worries about whether we would complete the 6km, 4000ft, hike whilst the sun was still up, our pace and stamina meant we actually completed the hike 15 minutes ahead of the minimum recommended time, including a lengthy lunch break at the top of the mountain overlooking Yosemite Valley. We stopped not he side of the road next to El Capitan on the way out of the National park and noticed a tent that was pegged to the cliff face where climbers where resting, suspended 2000ft above the ground. Many of us were fans of the documentary ‘Free Solo’ so to see the colossal size of El Cap with our own eyes was mind-blowing. When we returned to the Airbnb, to celebrate Grace and Bara’s birthdays, we enjoyed a Korean BBQ feast organised by Grace and sang happy birthday with an unconventional birthday cake.
We woke up at 5:30am and sleepily wished Bara a happy birthday before piling all our stuff into the cars and heading back to LAX. The 6 hour drive went surprisingly quickly, as did the whole of the tour and we handed back the rental cars, boarded our flights and said goodbye for now to the US.