Don't switch tennis rackets in the middle of a tournament. Don't commit to tournaments on three different surfaces in three months spread over three countries. And don't forget to practice.
Those are some of the lessons 21-year-old tennis pro Derrick Rostagno has learned during his first full year playing the Nabisco Grand Prix world-wide tennis circuit.
A year ago, as a qualifier, Rostagno fought his way into the quarterfinals of the Volvo Tennis-Los Angeles tournament before losing to Stefan Edberg of Sweden.
"I knew I was playing very well at this time last year. . . I hadn't done a whole lot of winning up to that point," Rostagno said. "I'd had some good tournaments, but never in a Super Series event like (Los Angeles)."
This year's edition of the Volvo Tennis-Los Angeles is set to kick off today at UCLA's Los Angeles Tennis Center, and Rostagno, who lives in Brentwood, is ready. "I'm at home. I've got my mom cooking for me. It's great," he said.
Even though he reached the round of 16 at the Australian Open, the semifinals at Houston last fall and Auckland in January, and a number of quarterfinals, the life of a touring tennis professional has been one lesson after another for Rostagno.
"I've had my shaky moments the last four or five months. . . going from clay to grass to hardcourts," he said. "I've been changing rackets. I've been really confused with what I want to do."
Rostagno laughed, and added that things got so bad he was "changing rackets in the middle of tournaments. In the middle of Cincinnati, I switched rackets the morning of one match."
And then there's the traveling and varying tournament conditions that a touring tennis pro must get used to.
After playing the clay courts of the Italian Open and French Open last spring, Rostagno went on to play three grass tournaments, two in England, and then four hardcourt events in the United States this summer.
"I learned about tournaments I can conceivably do well in, and others that there's no way in a hundred years I could ever learn to play under those conditions," he said.
With so much time spent finding hotels, catching planes, preparing for matches, Rostagno found himself without many chances to work on his game.
"I spent a lot of time in Europe with very little practice time, there are very few practice courts available," he said. "That really hurt my game. I didn't know that hurt it as much as it did."
Even with some mistakes, Rostagno has played well enough to get his ranking into the low 40s. Right now, he's ranked 51st in the world.
Saying his progress has been "pretty gradual," Rostagno pointed out that "Whenever I felt I was playing well, I usually won a few matches and played some great tennis."
That kind of consistency is something Rostagno has been trying for.
"When I was a junior I would hack a couple of weeks, do great. And then do miserably for a little while," he said.
"I haven't done that so much in the pros. I've been pretty consistent. That makes me happy because that's what I was aiming to be--a little bit more consistent and keep a minimum good level of tennis."
Just completing one year on tour has been beneficial for Rostagno.
"Maturity has a lot to do with it. Getting to know the way I function. I made some big mistakes this year, it being my first year. . . I learned more about what my game is and what kind of strengths I have out there on the court. . . Hopefully I can put it to use."
Still, playing professional tennis has no comparison for Rostagno.
"It's demanding, for sure," he said. "It takes a toll on the body. But the rewards are so great, it makes it worth it. I enjoy it very much."