Ariel Hsing: 'I was way too nervous'
Ariel Hsing will be blogging for espnW throughout her training for the Olympics in London this summer.
Losing to someone you've never lost to before is the worst. And that's exactly what happened to me at the U.S. trials last month, when I dropped the second match 4-1 to one of my best friends, Erica Wu. I know exactly what happened though. I let her get into my head. It's not just because she put her photo as the wallpaper on my iPad (true story -- she set it when I wasn't looking!). Erica played extremely well, and I was way too nervous right from the start.
My coaches had calculated I would play my toughest opponents on the last day, but then everything switched and I was forced to face the top-seeded players on the first day. I knew this was a high-stakes event, so I put a lot of pressure on myself. When I went up against Erica I didn't play my usual game, which is to attack and put quality on the ball. As I became more and more anxious, I played worse and worse and just couldn't regain my focus.
Though I felt super discouraged afterward, I realized right away I needed to let it go and think about the next match. I had nine more matches ahead of me, so it was important to move on. I turned to my mom for words of encouragement; she always knows what to say. She told me to just play bravely and freely and know I had practiced long and hard enough. Hearing all of this really helped me calm down and relax.
I'm happy to say I did it. I learned from my early mistakes and only lost one match for the rest of the tournament. That was to Jun Gao, the eventual winner. And I'm not beating myself up over that one -- she's an amazing athlete who has tons of experience. She's a four-time Olympian and former world champion … and she's also sometimes my coach! My dad has taken me to train with her in L.A. (we live in San Jose) for three week-long sessions. She's a smart player who has learned to completely change her strategy -- from the placement of the ball to the pace of the game -- within a few points. She's basically unpredictable.
Even though I lost to Coach Gao, I ended up in second place overall, earning a spot on the team for the 2012 world team championships, which start Sunday. Erica will be there, too! I've known her for more than eight years and we've always been good about not letting matches get in the way of our friendship. My hometown clubmate Lily Zhang and former doubles partner Judy Hugh are also part of the team. We're all around the same age, except for Coach Gao, so it's nice to do homework together, joke around and dance like crazy to whatever songs we're addicted to at the moment.
Our goal at this year's world championships is to medal, of course, but if that doesn't happen, we would be happy with staying in the first of the three divisions, as we did two years ago. We're putting pressure on ourselves to rely less on Coach Gao to score important points and instead to carry our own weight on the team. Hopefully, we'll play as many as 20 matches over the course of the tournament. It'll be great practice for us and a great chance for me to continue to master my nerves.
I also hope to watch and learn from -- and maybe play against -- all the high-level players, including the world's No. 1 and No. 2 Ding Ning and Liu Shiwen, both on the Chinese team. It's going to be fun and maybe a little scary -- I can't wait!
Check back in April for Ariel's take on the table tennis world championships, and read Ariel's first blog entry here.