The good, the bad and the ugly – an inside look at what it means to be a female pro athlete in 2018
By Susanne Taylor~
From time to time we like to share the story behind the young female pro athlete on the tour and what it takes to get to that next level. It is not all fun and games and there are many, many factors that you might not even consider that these young pros live daily.
One of our favorites to share is American player, Jacqueline Cako.
Over the past few years that inPhorm has sponsored Jacqueline, as I refer to her, and then am inevitably asked by a fan in the stands if I’m her Mom, or as many of you fans know her by “Jackie,” “Cako,” “JC,” or “Cakes,” (And, by the way, I’m not certain this even covers all the nicknames you will hear for her especially if we include her coach, Joel.) I have been blown away by her integrity, her spirit, her dedication, and her determination and fight. In my opinion, you will not find anyone with higher standards or more real than Jacqueline.
In Jacqueline’s latest blog, which you can also find on her site (https://cakotennis.com/JacquelineCako/covering-some-continents/), she pours her heart out sharing her travel experience for much of this year. Read it to find out some of the many factors that make up a true warrior, the female pro athlete.
By Jacqueline Cako~
The last few weeks have been kind of crazy with tons of travel so I haven’t had the chance to sit down and write. I started off my latest series of tournaments in Monterrey, Mexico where I had high hopes since I was playing great after my training block in Orlando. I was able to arrive early to adjust to the quick conditions. There’s a little bit of altitude since the city is in a valley surrounded by mountains. We were staying in the nice part of Monterrey, but I’ve heard that it can be dangerous. I was told that many people choose to have older cars so they don’t get robbed and have their car stolen. It was hard to imagine that happening in the area we were at, but I was definitely paying attention to my surroundings more. I think the city is beautiful with a lot of colorful houses set into the mountain so I was excited to be back.
The next few days I practiced with a bunch of different players, but unfortunately pretty much all of my practices were on half a court due to the limited number of courts. I felt ready for my first round against Marie Bouzkova from the Czech Republic. I played her in Surprise back in February where I lost so I was ready for a rematch. We were the final match of the day which was a bit unfortunate for me since it was hot during the day but started to cool off towards the evening. I prefer to play in the heat because I generally handle it better than my opponents. We ended up starting my match around sunset so we had to move to a court that had lights for us to play under. I started off playing pretty well and going for my shots but had one bad service game where I was broken. I had chances to get it back on serve in the first at 5-3 by going up 40-15 but I sprayed a short high forehand long and then she served well to close out the set. In the second, most of the games were really close and down 5-4 I once again had chances to break back by going up 40-15, but I wasn’t able to close out the game. It was disappointing since I had the right game plan where I was taking balls early and capitalizing on short balls to finish at the net. Unfortunately, at the most crucial moments, I wasn’t able to convert. Bouzkova went on to win two more matches to qualify into the main draw.
The following day was the player party so we did a late afternoon/evening practice so that we could have a full court to practice on and then just shower and change at the club before the party. We worked on a few doubles things and sharpened up my volleys and overheads along with doing some work for my singles. Then before the player party, we decided to take a quick dip in the pool and go down the water slide they had next to the clubhouse. It was pretty refreshing after a good practice. Things were looking up. The party was fun since I was able to hang out with my friend Jovana and pet an adorable donkey that was at the entrance. Jovana also managed to drag me out to the dance floor to dance which was fun despite being a horrible dancer. It was the perfect evening to take my mind off of tennis.
The following afternoon I was scheduled for doubles with my partner Cornelia Lister. She’s from Sweden, super laid back and a huge goofball so I was looking forward to playing with her. We played Naomi Broady and Sara Sorribes Tormo. Let’s just say it was not a good day for us. I think part of it was that Cornelia and I had never played together nor did we have the opportunity to practice together besides our warmup due to her playing singles the day before. We didn’t intuitively move together and we were up against a good team. Naomi served lights out so I was forced to try to guess where she was serving, and I had a horrible serving day. All around Cornelia and I just didn’t make enough balls so we lost 3 and 2.
We all stuck around another day to practice since our hotel was still covered. Cornelia and I did a whole bunch of doubles drills and points against Joel so that we could have the chance to get used to each others games and begin to move together. At least we knew we could only get better.
That night I went to dinner with one of my friends and took a walk around the mall. We came across a pet store that sold the usual hamsters, mice, fish, dogs and cats, but they also had some unusual animals such as a monkey and a lemur. The monkey was cute but I felt bad that it was stuck in a cage since it obviously wanted to get out. My favorite was the adorable Shih Tzu puppy though.. It’s a miracle I didn’t walk out with it, but the traveling lifestyle isn’t great for a dog so I’ll just have to wait.
Our flight was at 2:30 on Wednesday so I took advantage of the free massage the tournament offered at an awesome spa close by. I was nice and relaxed when I got back to the hotel to be taken to the airport. Check out was still stressful since there was a lack of communication about the number of nights covered. I had thought I had taken care of it the previous night after waiting 30 minutes for the front desk to double check with the tournament. They told me everything was set, but the next day they tried to charge me for one of the nights. After another 20 minutes of arguing they came back and told me that there was no charge. I finally thought I was done with it as I was on my way to the airport, but before I boarded my flight I received an email saying I was charged $150 for one night. I would think that the WTA would have this hotel thing figured out, but not this tournament… After one final email to the tournament, the charge was dropped, but what a hassle. Some players wouldn’t bother arguing for the extra night, but this is what it’s like when you’re grinding to get to the highest levels.
It was past midnight when we finally landed in Bogota and it was immediately apparent that we were in the mountains since it was much harder to breathe. Bogota comes in at around 9500 ft (2900 m) which makes it the highest elevation that I have ever played at. The line at customs went relatively fast so before we knew it we were walking out to find the tournament transportation. Since there was pretty much only one flight option to Bogota, everyone who had lost in Monterrey thus far was on our flight. Every player had a driver waiting to pick them up so there was a cluster of 10-15 drivers all standing together waiting for us which was kind of crazy. At smaller tournaments, they probably would’ve sent a bus to pick all of us up instead. Anyway, Joel and I were some of the first people out, but it was still 1:30 am by the time we got to the hotel to check in. I was happy that check-in went smoothly this year since last year we ended up getting bumped to a different hotel due to the hotel being sold out. I got to the room and immediately noticed that it was older, the toilet was running and the deadbolt didn’t work. I was exhausted though so I just got ready for bed and shut the door to the bathroom to drown out the sound of the toilet. Next thing I know I was rudely awoken from my slumber to the door being yanked open with only the chain stopping it. I immediately started freaking out since it was 3 am and someone was repeatedly trying to open the door. I was frozen to my bed for the 20 seconds it took for the intruder to give up attempting to enter the room. It was so bizarre since the person didn’t say anything and the hotel desk had no idea how someone got the key to our room. At first, I thought it was maintenance or the maid but it was 3 AM! I had a tough time sleeping afterward since my heart was beating out of my chest. In the morning I went to the reception to tell them about the running toilet and found out that the room I had been given was broken and that it shouldn’t have been given out in the first place. In order to make things better, they offered me an upgrade to a suite which was pretty sweet. I lucked out since the room was newly remodeled and twice the size, complete with big living room/dining room. Things were looking up.
After switching rooms and eating a delicious breakfast consisting of some of my favorite fruits, it was time to get to practice. The shuttle schedule sucked since our options to get to the courts was either 10 or 2 so we piled into an uber with two other players. We learned that uber in Bogota generally involves a car the size of a smart car. With three of us players in the back seat and Joel in the front, it was a miracle we fit into the car with our tennis bags. It wasn’t the most comfortable ride since it took 1.5 hours to get to the site due to an accident, but it’s all part of the grind. Things didn’t get easier as no one seemed to know where to get practice balls and water. Just like last year, there was no water to be found. Fortunately, I came prepared with a huge water jug. You would think a WTA that has been around for years would have things together, but nope… If I didn’t know any better I would think that it was the first year of the tournament every year. The courts weren’t in great shape with tons of holes and bad bounces. The key to winning in Bogota is to aim for holes and lines. The first day of practice was tough since the altitude and lack of sleep began to get to me by the end, but I felt better about my game the following day. The second day of practice we got a taste of the weather to come so we had to wait out the rain to practice. I managed to get my two hits in back to back even though it was raining during my second one. I was wet and I was cold, but at least I felt prepared to play my first round of singles the following day.
I drew Elitsa Kostova from Bulgaria in the first round. She had been doing well in tournaments on clay before playing Bogota so I knew she would be playing well. The match was ugly since the ball flies and the bounces are bad since the court had holes. I didn’t feel amazing, but I tried to take everything as early as possible and get to the net. I mixed in some serve and volley and return and volley which all worked well. I went down a break early but worked my way into the match and ended up being up 5-4 and 6-5, but it was just on serve. Unfortunately, in the final games of the set I didn’t return as well as I had earlier so didn’t get the opportunities to close out the set. I ended up losing the first set 7-6. Overall I was playing as well as the conditions would permit. In the second set I went down early but had my chances to break back and get things on track, but she came up with some good shots. I lost the set 6-1, but I actually thought that I was playing quite well on the clay. My focus then shifted to the doubles.
On Sunday the rain began. We were lucky to fit in a practice on Sunday before the rain started in the afternoon. It ended up clearing up so they could at least finish the qualifying, but they played until dark. Cornelia and I were scheduled to play against a Colombian wild card team on Monday. This is where things got interesting. One of our opponents was scheduled to be first on at 10 am and then we were scheduled to play doubles second on not before 12. It was strange since there was no way that our opponent would’ve been able to play at 12 unless her match was 30 minutes. Her match ended up being really long since she ended up winning 6-4 in the third. That threw off the whole schedule so we ended up being moved from 2nd match to 4th with two doubles matches moving ahead of us. I ended up hitting again since hours had gone by since my initial warmup. Just as I was finishing my warmup I could feel the temperature drop and saw the dark clouds rolling in. Around 3:30 pm we finally went on court. We warmed up and played one game before we were pelted with hail and ran for cover. It poured and the courts went under water quickly, but they didn’t want to cancel for the day yet since they had hope the rain would stop. The not before times kept moving but the rain did stop. They told us 5 pm the courts should be dry, but there were huge puddles everywhere with no workers outside trying to dry them so they moved it to 5:15 and finally 5:30, but it seemed hopeless as darkness was coming and the courts had no lights. It was also freezing and since we wouldn’t be able to finish that day anyway they finally cancelled the matches. We took an uber back since they hadn’t decided a bus time. Luckily uber is very cheap in Colombia, costing only $3 for a 30 minute drive back to the hotel. It ended up being a good choice since the bus didn’t make it back until nearly an hour later. Welcome to Colombia.
The following day we were second on the schedule so we were hopeful that we would be able to finish our match. As Cornelia and I were warming up we felt the temperature drop which was a bad sign. I wanted to hit a few extra returns which were when the rain hit and boy did it pour. Cornelia had already left, but Joel and I got stuck taking shelter under the covering at the court since the practice courts were about a ten-minute walk from the match courts. We were out there for a good 30 minutes as the courts turned into a swimming pool. By the time the rain let up enough to walk back I was freezing and a little damp. It was pretty comical to see all the other players emerging from the coverings on the various courts though. It felt like the end of Noah’s Ark. It continued to rain off and on throughout the day, but every time it began to look promising the rain would reemerge. At one point the supervisor asked us if we would want to move inside but my partner and I were the only ones who agreed to it so instead, we waited. It was perfect napping weather so I spent a lot of time curled up on the couch. Some like Joel wasn’t lucky enough to snag a couch so they had to settle for the floor. Finally, by about 5 pm, the courts began to dry off. They canceled pretty much all of the matches except the matches that had already started and ours. Our court wasn’t dry enough to play on so we ended up being put on around 6 pm on center court as it was getting dark. None of us were sure why they didn’t just cancel our match since it was already hard to see as we started our warm up. We got in a whole two games before the clouds opened up to release the latest shower. We were down 2-1 and had to wait until the next day to try again.
That night we went to the player party which was in the city. I didn’t really feel like going after the long days we had been spending at the courts, but Cornelia convinced me to go. It was at a nice steakhouse so I ended up being happy I went. They had a good band playing and I was super impressed with one of the musicians who kept changing instruments every couple songs going from clarinet to guitar to accordion to flute to saxophone along with a couple others. It made for a fun night.
The next day it was Wednesday and once again we left for the site early in the morning to warm up and prepare for the same match. We were second once again and praying the rain would hold off. Once again we got the warm-up in, but right after I changed into my match clothes the sky opened up to dump its contents onto the courts. At this point, it seemed like it was taunting us. Another day of waiting… Fortunately, they decided to move three of the doubles matches indoors and we were one of them. The one downside was that the courts were an hour away. They arranged two buses to take us over at 1:30. One was for all the players, coaches, chair umpires, physio and other organizers, and the other for the lines people, ball kids, and stringers. Traffic really sucks in Bogota since they don’t have any real highways, but once we got out of the city it got better. They took us way out of the city into the middle of nowhere to play at a club. The club had four “indoor” courts aka courts with a roof over them but open sides. Soon after we arrived a huge storm came through and the rain was so heavy that you couldn’t even hear yourself hit the ball. The kicker was that three of the courts started leaking to the point that we could only play matches on one court. We played second on the one playable court and as luck would have it that court had the worst bounces since there were huge discolored patches on the deuce side of the court. As soon as a ball hit the discolored area it wouldn’t bounce so it was a lost point. Figures I was playing the deuce side so I was forced to get in at all costs to avoid losing points on the bad bounces. After three days of preparing for our first round, we played great. We were both serving really well and taking over the net to lead us to a 6-4, 6-2 victory. It was a relief to know that we hadn’t been hanging around for our first round for nothing. During our match, it stopped raining enough for them to start the third match on the court next to us so once they finished it was time to load everyone back onto the bus to go to the hotel. With traffic, it took another hour for us to get back making for another 10 hour day away from the hotel.
Our next round was scheduled as the fourth match on Thursday where we were facing the winner of Colombian Duque-Marino and Natalia Podoroska or the first seeds Miyu Kato and Nao Hibino. They were scheduled at 10 am so we watched a bit before heading to practice since we could see the rain coming. Once again finished warm up right as it started raining. I’ve never been so annoyed with rain in my life. Our opponents finished their match and Duque-Marino/Podoroska won in a super-breaker. After waiting for a few hours for the weather to clear up, our match was canceled since they needed to get all the singles matches in.
Our match was going to be on Friday and Thursday was the cutoff date for me being able to play in the singles qualifying of the next tournament. My next event was in Zhengzhou, China and with qualifying to start on Saturday there was no way I could make it so I had to withdraw and hope that enough people would withdraw from the main draw for me to get in. I was set to play doubles with a Chinese girl Jing-Jing Lu so I decided to go regardless of whether I was going to play singles the following week. I was disappointed that it looked like I wouldn’t be playing singles, but I was committed to trying to do well in the doubles in Bogota. Some players do tank or withdraw from doubles in order to make the next singles tournament but I play every match to win or I don’t play at all.
On Friday we were back to being scheduled second, but this time they wised up and finally started matches at 9 am to attempt to beat the rain. The first match went quickly so we warmed up and pretty much walked right onto the court. Doubles is all about the deuce points and who can put balls away on the biggest points. We didn’t play our best. I was really frustrated since my volleys were really off that day. I made a lot of the right moves but didn’t execute. We lost 6-4, 6-4, but it easily could’ve been a different outcome if we had come out on top in a couple more deuce games.
Bogota I wish I could say it was a pleasure, but the week was pretty miserable. Last year I said I would never come back, but for some reason, I came back since it fit in the schedule. Not always the best way to choose a tournament but what can I do. If it hadn’t rained all week it would’ve been a lot better. I had really wanted to take the tram up to the top of the main mountain and to explore a bit, but rain and ten-hour days at the courts prevented that. After we lost it was time to get out of the country. We took a red-eye thru Houston to LA. When we landed in Houston it took over an hour to get our bags because there was lightening. By this point, there were only 10 minutes until our flight was supposed to depart so the transfer desk claimed that they had to rebook us on a different flight. I’ve traveled enough to know if there was lightening for that long that other flights were likely to be delayed so we checked our bags back in and ran for it. Sure enough, the flight was still there, and we proceeded to sit at the gate for another hour and a half until the weather cleared up. I just couldn’t wait to get to LA to take a proper nap.
In LA I had 12 hours on Saturday until my next flight which was to Shenzhen, China. The 12 hours didn’t seem long enough to do laundry, repack, go for a run and take a nap. I was really excited to be able to do laundry in LA at a friends house since I refused to pay $5 a kilo in Bogota. Instead, I was washing clothes in the sink, which really sucks. Joel strung up all my racquets for me since I was going to China on a solo mission. Before I knew it we got dinner at my favorite restaurant, The Anchor, in Venice Beach before I got dropped off at the airport for my next red-eye flight.
When I got to the airport in LA I received a text that made my stomach drop. I had asked Jing-Jing to practice on Monday which was the day that I would get there. She ended up telling me that she wasn’t sure if she would be able to practice since her back had been bothering her. At this point, the doubles sign-in deadline had just passed so I couldn’t change partners anymore. I immediately started freaking out since I was flying to Zhengzhou just for doubles. If she had told me a couple hours earlier I could’ve made a last minute change and found someone else to play with. Anyone else. I called Joel right away and he calmed me down by telling me that it can’t be that bad otherwise she would’ve given me a heads up to be able to change partners. I agreed but I still felt sick to my stomach as I boarded my 13-hour flight to China.
It was 10 am on Monday by the time I arrived in Zhengzhou where I was greeted by the stellar air pollution. The sky in Zhengzhou seems to have a permanent brown tint to it which is disgusting. Zhengzhou is located inland in northern China which means that the pollution just sits there. When I got to the hotel I dropped off my stuff in the room my friend, Danielle Lao and I were sharing and went to the courts to practice. After being in the altitude in Bogota it felt like I had all the time in the world to hit the ball so I felt pretty good despite being exhausted.
After two nights spent on a plane, I crashed before 9 pm and didn’t wake up until about 12 hours later. I felt good and ready to take on day two of practice since I wasn’t scheduled to play doubles until Wednesday. Partway through my second practice, my doubles partner walked out onto the court and I just knew it was going to be bad news. She told me that she withdrew from singles since she was hurting and that she didn’t think she would be able to play doubles. So many emotions ripped through me… I was pissed, sad, hopeless, lost, isolated and depressed. I had just flown 10,000 miles over two days to get there. I could’ve gone home and practiced for a week before coming, but instead, I was stuck in China by myself for a training week in a place where the air is so bad that you realistically shouldn’t be outside. After dropping the bomb on my practice I had no desire to even finish my practice, but I somehow halfheartedly got through it before breaking down. I really wanted to make the French in doubles which is why I went to China just to play doubles. After Bogota, I was at a new career high of 87 in doubles, but I knew I was going to go right back down since I wasn’t even being given a chance to defend my final from the previous year. Mentally I was fried. As I sat on the curb in front of the tennis center I came to the realization that I needed to get out of there. I had no motivation to practice the next day or to be at the tennis center at all. All I wanted to do was curl up in my room and not move which wasn’t going to be productive. Instead, a plan formulated in my mind that I would go and check something off my bucket list. I decided that I was going to hike Mt. Huashan which was a two-hour train ride from Zhengzhou. The reason I wanted to go there was that last year during the tournament I learned that it was the place of the infamous plank walk in the sky. However last year I didn’t get the chance to do it since I played the doubles final on Sunday and immediately had to fly to the next tournament that night. This time I wasn’t going to let the opportunity slip past me. Danielle thought my hike sounded cool and she actually wanted to go if I held off a day and she lost her singles match. I was confident she was going to win though, and my heart was already set on going right away. Some thought I was crazy to go and do something like that by myself, but to me, I needed it for my sanity at this point so as soon as I got to the hotel I spent two hours researching it and bought my train tickets. It was set and I was going.
It ended up being an amazing day that I will never forget. If you want to read about it I’m going to post a blog post dedicated to my adventure so check it out soon!
Hope you enjoyed reading and I’ll post more about my tournaments soon!