From the moment I met Fontang I had a good feeling about him. He struck me as intelligent, professional, and motivated, which was exactly what I was hoping for. Right from the first day I was impressed with the things he said and opinions he had. After the 4 week period with him, he clearly and confidently stated where he thought I needed to progress and what I needed to do to reach the next level and I could not have agreed more. The tactical and "playing style" changes he mentioned required me to leave my comfort zone but I knew that in order to improve and move forward in the rankings, I had to be willing to push myself and make the changes necessary. After a brief discussion with one another, and then with Tennis Canada, we were ready to officially begin working together.
Beginning work with Fontang was a new and eye opening experience. From the technical standpoint there are not many who are better. He has a deep understanding of all aspects of the game and his ability to adapt and efficiently apply his knowledge on the practice court is impressive. There has not been one circumstance or situation, over the course of the 1 year I have already been with him, where I had a doubt in my mind concerning his teachings.
Suddenly, at the age 22, Fontang convinced me of things I needed to start doing to become a true "pro". I needed to lose weight, sustain a healthy diet, spend time every day on injury prevention and a fitness regime, and of course the hours needed to be spent on court in the attempts to transform my game and put it on the right path to reach a higher ranking position. Many of these things I have obviously heard before (such as diet and injury-prevention) but my confidence in him and hearing him say those things made it easier for me to accept what was indeed the only way. Suddenly, the path I needed to take, although now much more strenuous, seemed clearer.
We set goals that we wanted to accomplish by the end of 2013 and wrote them down. We came to agreement on the things I needed to work on and the things I needed to change. Everything was right there on paper and now imprinted in my mind. I knew what I needed to do, the difficult part is doing it.
Fontang came to Florida (with his Family of a wife and 2 kids) for the off season training period and we started training hard. Everything started off well and we spent hours on the court and in the gym. After two weeks of intense training, and with some technical improvements already becoming noticeable, I began to feel strange. I woke up one morning and could barely move on the court. I struggled through a 90mins practice that I literally walked through. I couldn't hit more that 4 balls without felling exhausted and needing to sit down. We quickly came to the conclusion that I was just fatigued from the 6 hour day we had the day before. However, I got a fever after practice and was forced, against my will, to take the afternoon off.
The next day I felt fine and we proceeded with our "biggest" day yet of 7 hours on court and in the gym. That night, another fever hit me and more weakness the following day. I was getting fevers more frequently now and my throat was starting to swell in several areas. Knowing that something was up, I saw the doctor and soon, to my complete shock, found out that I had mononucleosis.
This was devastating news. I didn't know how long I would have it or when I would be healthy or strong enough to play again. I only heard terrible stories of what it can do to an athlete. Fontang returned to France and I withdrew from all the tournaments in January including the Australian Open. This was a huge speed bump and came at a horrible time as this was supposed to be the period where we did the most work on making changes in my game. I layed in bed and stayed indoors for 12 days, at which point I started feeling a little better. I was lucky to have my parents and girlfriend with me during that time which made things easier and more positive. I started a very strict diet (courtesy of Mama) and, 5 weeks after the original diagnosis and with 13 pounds less body fat, I was back on the court gradually hitting balls again.
In some ways, my diagnosis of mono was a blessing in disguise. The previously horrible diet I had, may have been harder to change. Basically, having mono and being forced on the "mono diet", made it easier for me to maintain the diet I had started and keep the weight off. This paid huge dividends throughout the year. I felt lighter and faster on the court and, perhaps most importantly, had less soreness and fatigue the following morning after a tough match.
The diet changes I made are simple enough. I completely cut out any and all junk food. I don't drink anything other than water and cononut water (occasionally a diet coke but it's all good.. zero calories :)). I stopped eating deep fried food, burgers, pizza, chinese, etc. Pretty simple and "common sense" changes, at least for an athlete. I never really thought I would be able to feel the difference on the court from eating better but now that I see how big of a difference it made with me and experiencing it first hand, It's hard to imagine ever going back.
Since I was just slowly getting back into it, it was pointless for Fontang to come back to Florida so he remained in France and I hit with my dad in Florida for what started as 30 mins a day but soon became 1h 30 mins. I had played just enough tennis to be ready to represent Canada in Davis Cup in Vancouver at the beginning of February. Having not played a singles point in almost 2 months and still not being 100% from the Mono, I would only be ready to play the doubles match with Nestor.
I was joined by Fontang the following week and we began a small stretch of tournaments. The first two tournaments I played I was still not quite ready but soon felt stronger on the court. It did not take long before I started having some encouraging results and even though there were ups and downs, we were making progress.
I was having success on the Challenger tour and soon started winning matches at ATP events. After a solid spring and a good showing at Wimbledon, I made my first ATP semifinal in Bogota and followed that with a Challenger title in Vancouver in front of family and friends. I went straight from finishing the final in Vancouver to a plane and took an overnight flight to the masters event in Montreal, which would become by far the best tournament of my career up to that point. After winning 4 matches and notching my first top 10 win, I ended up losing in the semifinals. This was an amazing and emotional tournament for me, and it felt like, in more ways than one, a dream come true. Reaching a career high ranking of 39 the following week, Fontang and I already achieved our year end goals.
Immediately following our success in Montreal, we sat down to re-evaluate our year end goals since I was already guaranteed to stay in the top 50. We soon came to the conclusion that a realistic, yet still challenging, goal would be end to the year in the top 32 and in a position to be seeded at the Australian Open in 2014. Following a semifinal showing in one of my last ATP events of the year in Basel, and after losing a close 3 set match to my childhood idol, Roger Federer, we again reached our goal to end the year at exactly #32.
As 2013 comes to an end, Fontang and I are re-evaluating our plans for the next year. Our goals are higher and our vision greater. With a level head, hard work, and a good support team, anything is possible.