2022 WTT Youth Contender Vila Real: A Memorable Experience
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Isabella Xu

2022 WTT Youth Contender Vila Real: A Memorable Experience

(By Isabella Xu)

From February 26th to 28th, I took part in the 2022 WTT Youth Contender Vila Real in Portugal; my first international tournament. A week before the tournament, I was not feeling well prepared, and I wasn’t ready to fly all the way to a country and continent I had never been to before to compete. As the tournament date drew nearer and nearer, I thought to myself, This tournament is too soon. 

In what felt like the shortest amount of time ever, the day of our trip to Portugal arrived. After I boarded the plane, I tried settling in for the long flight ahead. However, my mind started to wander. As I was overthinking, I got more and more anxious and nervous. I wondered, What if I get injured? Who will I warm up with? I have no coach or teammate. I don’t know anyone there. It got to the point where I wasn’t looking forward to the tournament at all. I just felt like going back home, where everything was familiar. I tried using a movie to distract myself, but it wasn’t much use. 

As I was venting out my feelings to my mom, I was reminded that it’s very normal to be anxious about going to a place you’ve never been before to compete. Eventually, I was able to shrug off all my worries and negative thoughts and put away any expectations. This allowed me adjust my perspective and change my nerves into excitement instead. Although it meant stepping outside my comfort zone, I would be able to gain a new experience, which was exactly what this trip was all about in the first place. 

When we finally landed in Portugal, I met a girl from India who also didn’t have anyone to practice with other than her coach. Luckily for me, her coach thought it would be great for us to practice with each other. Throughout the entire tournament, we warmed up together and quickly became friends. 

On the first day of the tournament, my first Under 17 event match was against a Brazilian girl. With no expectations for myself, I had no pressure at all and was relaxed. I ended up winning the match 3-2 after being down 1-2 and was quite pleased with myself. My second match was against a Spanish girl. Again, this match went to the fifth after I was down 1-2. In the final game, I was down 1-7. Somehow, I managed to stay calm and make a comeback to win 13-11. After winning two, fifth-game matches, I was excited to see some improvement from my last tournament, where I had disappointingly lost multiple close, fifth game matches against strong opponents. 

Since I was performing a lot better than I had anticipated, I was more determined to defeat the top seed of my group. However, I was also a lot tighter this match and lost 0-3 because of my expectations had risen. Although the games were close, I was a little disappointed in my result, since I knew I had a chance to win. Nonetheless, I still advanced second out of my group. In the round of 32, I lost to a different Spanish girl 1-3. Again, I knew I had a chance to win the match but was unable to adjust and do so. 

The next day, I was feeling off during warm up before the Under 19 event. My first match against a girl from England with a close to the table long pips style didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped. Although I was able to make some adjustments during the match, I was quite frustrated. I had just played above what I originally expected the day before, so I had hoped that it would continue on to the next day. Instead, I had to turn to a new page and adjust my mindset for my next match. This helped me to start fresh and try my best to do better than the previous match. Following that match, I played Puerto Rican girl and won 3-0 with clear improvements in comparison with the prior match. My last and final match for the event and tournament was yet again a 0-3 loss with close games to a Swedish girl with short pips on backhand. 

Isabella Xu

I gained new learning experiences from not only each of the games and matches, but also from my opponents as well as the other girls that I watched. My first international tournament gave me more motivation and helped me recognize more of what I needed to work on and improve. Even though I started out not even wanting to take part in the competition, I ended up taking away a memorable experience and even new friendships. 

Of course, big thanks to my parents and my coaches for their hardwork. Huge thanks to Bowmar Sports for their sponsorship and support!

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