Bode’s tennis adventure goes downhill quickly
Vail, CO Colorado
HONOLULU, Hawaii – Rafa and Roger can relax. Bode Miller is no longer on the slippery slope to challenging them at the U.S. Open.
America’s most successful skier made a quick exit from a U.S. Open qualifier Thursday, falling 6-4, 6-2 to Erik Nelson-Kortland in an opening match at sectional playoffs in Honolulu.
“I had no time to prepare, no time to come have a guy hit 1,000 balls at me like I used to do when I was little,” Miller said in a post-match interview with The Associated Press. “If you don’t do that, you don’t have any reason to have expectations.”
Miller, who won three Alpine skiing medals at the Vancouver Olympics to bring his career total to five, was a state high school champion tennis player in Maine.
Tennis means a lot to Miller, who has played since he was a kid. His family owns and runs a tennis academy in New Hampshire and Miller still plays at a high level in the offseason. So, when the USTA agreed to bankroll his trip to Hawaii and donate money to his charity in exchange for him playing, he jumped at the chance.
But Miller said the combination of no practice, temperatures in the mid-80s and a tough opponent who plays more than he does – Nelson-Kortland was an all-conference Big Sky player in 1998-99 – left him with very little chance. After going down an early break in the first set, he actually fought back to 4-4 before getting broken again.
The second set was quick.
“It gets hot like that, I get claustrophobic, can’t breathe, can’t motivate myself to focus,” he said. “Between sets, I was dying. I had nothing left.”
In an effort to put the “Open” back in the U.S. Open, the USTA is awarding one spot at Flushing Meadows to the winner of a series of qualifying events taking place this summer.
The draw in Hawaii is relatively small – 10 players – but Miller still would have had to win four matches to advance to the next level. Next month, the 16 sectional winners will travel to Atlanta to play for a single spot in the U.S. Open qualifying draw, which takes place the week before the main tournament begins.
That wasn’t Miller’s true goal, though.
With this trip, he raised some money for his charity and got a free trip to Hawaii.
“I’m not embarrassed,” he said. “If they want to give me free trips, I’m up for it.”
Some world-class athletes wouldn’t be so quick to put themselves out there in a situation like this. Miller, though, has never been like most athletes. Besides the tennis adventure, he has also signed one-day contracts to play baseball for the Nashua Pride of the Canadian-American baseball league, as a way to raise money for charity.
“I don’t have an ego about tennis or most sports,” he said. “I like playing sports. I’m fine with losing. For where I’m at, I thought I played close to my level and I’m fine with that.”