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Finding Roger Federer Meltdown footage on YouTube is like finding a seat on the Number 4 Lexington Avenue subway at 9:30 in the morning. [Non-New Yorkers, take note: it's rare.] The Greatest of All Time usually deals with blown shots by dragging his middle finger across his forehead and tucking his hair behind his ear. Not this time. This was a semi-final match with Novak Djokovic at the 2009 Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, Florida. Djokovic just broke Fed in the third and deciding set and was up 15-0 when the Greatest of All Time took his eyes off a routine approach shot that could have evened the score. Federer went through lots of racquets when he was playing the junior circuit; wonder if he felt a little wave of nostalgia upon banging this one hard into the court.

On the Sideline
Saturday
Apr192014

These Swiss Don't Miss: Federer, Wawrinka, in Monte Carlo Final

It's an all-Swiss final at the Monte-Carlo Rolex tournament on Sunday, with Stan Wawrinka going up against Roger Federer.  How convenient for the citizens of the Principality of Monaco that they share the same national colors of red and white with the Swiss!  Fans can don face paint for either player and not draw the ire of Prince Albert II.  

The Stanimal feasts on David Ferrer, 6-1, 7-6(3), to reach Monte-Carlo final. Photo courtesy Getty Images.

In a twist, it's Stan who enters the match as the top Swiss men's tennis player in the world, not Fed.  Wawrinka is ranked third in the world, behind Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, and Fed is fourth.  Roger could elbow his Davis Cup teammate aside with a win tomorrow.

Federer defeats an injured Novak Djokovic, showcases his healthy wrists, in Monte-Carlo semifinal Saturday. Photo courtesy of USA Today.

Beside that bit of ranking friction, there are other story lines that recommend this match.  Fed has never won Monte-Carlo.  It, and Shanghai, are the only ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophies that have eluded the Greatest of All Time.   He has come close.  He was runner-up to Rafa, King of Clay, three years running, from 2006 to 2008.  

While Federer has 22 Masters 1000 trophies to dust, Wawrinka has none.  He, too, has come close.  This is third Masters 1000 final (there was Rome in 2008 and Madrid last year).  Though he's a daunting 1-13 against Federer, Wawrinka has been having the year of his career.  He won his first Slam, the Australian Open, in January.  To get it, he had to shake off another losing streak by beating world number one Rafael Nadal for the first time in 12 matches.  A month earlier, Wawrinka snared the title in Chennai for a second time.  He is 19-3 since the start of the season.  As my husband often says as he stares at his cards at the blackjack tables, "he's due."

And if all of that isn't compelling, Serena Williams' coach, Patrick Moratoglou, likes the Monte-Carlo final because it's a one-fingered salute to all those teaching pros who are coaching their kids to hit two-handed backhands.

It was Wawrinka's backhand that demolished David Ferrer, 6-1, 7-6 (3) in their semifinal.  Stan avoided Ferrer's fierce forehand as much as possible, wearing him down through backhand-to-backhand duels.  He raced out to a 5-1 lead in the first set in under 30 minutes.   He reined in his unforced errors for the second set tiebreak quickly enough to get a 4-0 advantage early on Ferrer.  

"It was important to move well, be aggressive. That was my plan," said Stan.  At one point in the match, after handing his towel to a ball kid, Wawrinka crouched down on his haunches, sprang up, and did a series of football-player-running-through-the-tires steps  while waiting for Ferrer to serve.  I thought, uh oh, is he cramping? No. He was just reminding himself to move his feet.

Roger Federer reached the final by upsetting defending champ and wounded world number 2 Novak Djokovic, 7-5, 6-2.  Nole's been nursing a wrist injury all tournament long, but it didn't seem to hurt him until today.  He walked onto the court with his right forearm heavily bandaged and a heavy look on his face.

"It's unfortunate that when you're playing at this level against Roger, big tournament, that you are not able to play your game because something else is taking away all your energy and effort," Djokovic was quoted as saying in USA Today. "This injury has been present for last 10 days, and I tried not to think or talk about it. I did everything I could, really. I was on the medications every day, I was doing different therapies, injections." 

Djokovic said he's going to take some time away from tennis.

"I just rest now. I cannot play tennis for some time. How long, I don't know," Djokovic said. "I'm going to rest and see when it can heal 100 percent, then I will be back on the court."  His next scheduled stop on the tour is in Madrid, which starts May 4.  And the French Open is beckoning.  It starts May 25.  




Friday
Apr182014

Saintly Pro: Joe Dinoffer

Saintly Pro Joe Dinoffer hits two milestones this year. He turns 60, and his tennis training tools company, On Court Off Court, turns 20.  That's a pretty big deal, those two decades, when you think of what a niche market he's operating in.  

 Joe Dinoffer, made a saint for all the times he's had to say, "racquet back." Photo, Joe Dinoffer. Halo conferred by Amy Eddings.

Flip through a catalog or click through On Court Off Court's website, and you'll find the tools in a typical tennis pro's teaching arsenal: brightly colored cones, flat plastic targets, ball machines and big foam tennis balls.

But there are also gadgets like the Forehand Fixer, the Billie Jean King Eye Coach, the Contact Doctor and the enigmatic Arm Pocket Developer, which sounds like a sewing notion.  It's not.  It's an arm band that helps correct for big backswings.

We're still trying to get tennis players to embrace the use of training aids more like golfers do

"These things all definitely help, there's no question about it," said Dinoffer in a recent telephone interview with me.  "I think, intrinsically with tennis, there are people who would use training aids more -- and some do use them -- but there haven't been companies promoting training aids.  One of the reasons is, the numbers are small enough that companies that come up with one or two ideas cannot sell enough of them to stay in business."

That hasn't been a problem with Dinoffer, who started delving into the science of learning out of a desire to help his students improve more quickly.  "We've got a little over 200 proprietary products that I designed," Dinoffer said.  Some are simply modifications for teaching carts and ball baskets, but others clearly involved thinking out of the box, or, in this case, the court.  

The opening salvo in the War On Cones: Joe Dinoffer's Ropezone, which creates target hitting zones. Photo, On Court Off Court.His first product was Ropezone, a set of four, brightly-colored flat ropes that clip onto the net and are used to create target areas.  Dinoffer said Ropezone not only helps players develop directional hitting, it builds confidence.

"When I started my company, I jokingly called it Join The War On Cones," he said. Why the Cone Hate?

Tennis pros walk on court, typically, with a mind set that they're getting paid to find what's wrong

"If you aim for a cone that's 60 or 80 feet away, and you hit it, it's just pure luck.  People fail 95 percent of the time or more," he said.  That leads to Tennis Hate.  Haters, we know where that can lead us: straight off the court and onto the couch.  Dinoffer said target zones are more forgiving than cones, they can be adjusted to a player's skills and abilities and they offer higher chances for success.

"Tennis pros walk on court, typically, with a mind set that they're getting paid to find what's wrong. Consequently, that's what they'll do.  They'll see you, Amy, hitting a forehand [editor's note: I'm cringing here, which tells me he's on to something] and feel like, 'Wow, the more I notice what you're doing wrong, the more I can tell you what you're doing wrong, the better job I'm doing.'  But that's going to backfire on the student.

"I came up with the theory that a 70 percent to 30 percent success to failure ratio was a reasonable thing to help people feel good about themselves and their experience."  What Joe's offering through his products -- the funky Arm Pocket Developers, the ropes, the straps, even the little buzzing electronic shoe inserts designed to cattle-prod you onto your toes -- is encouragement and confidence.  Hey, I can do this, too.  I think I'll stick with this sport.   

A tennis training aid, a Hannibal Lector restraint device, or a goalie mask? You decide. Photo courtesy Square Hit Tennis.It takes a lot of balls, though -- and I don't mean the fuzzy, yellow kind -- to show up at your club and strap on your Flex Trainer.  I bought a Wrist Assist (check out the photo, left) after seeing coaching great Brad Gilbert shill for it on Tennis Channel, and it quickly moved from my wrist to the trunk of my car.  I was too embarrassed to wear it.

Even gadget-less training efforts can draw stares from others.  I once tried replicating a Bryan Brothers kick serve drill, one that involves serving from the baseline on your knees, to force you to hit up on the ball.  Two guys on the next court stopped to watch.  "Is that something you learned from watching Tennis Channel?" one jerk quipped.

I persisted for a few more serves, my cheeks bright red, every ball flopping into the net.  I got up a few minutes later and tried to look nonchalent as I picked out green grains of Har-True that were embedded in my knees.  Ouch.  In more ways than one.

Saintly Pro Joe Dinoffer was sympathetic.  "We're still trying to get tennis players to embrace the use of training aids more like golfers do," he said.  "People swing golf clubs in their backyards more freely to practice than people will swing their tennis racquet.  It could be that to play golf is a serious decision in that it takes half a day and it costs more money.  I guess it motivates golfers to practice a little more.  Tennis, perhaps, is taken a little more casually."

Well.  I'm not a casual type of gal, Haters.  I've put a lot of effort into trying to improve, and it often feels like it's been to my detriment.  That Wrist Assist I threw out cost me $59, and I used it maybe 5 times before I let shame deter me.  These things don't work anyway, I fumed.

I wonder if Joe Dinoffer offers an Attitude Adjustor?

That Wrist Assist, by the way? Joe says his Angle Doctor gets the job done for about half the price, something he hints at in this instructional video.

Sunday
Apr132014

Proof of Tennis Hate #12: Lost Ball on Fulton Street

I spotted this lonely little guy dropped between the stoops of Greenlight Bookstore and the coffee shop, Greene Grape Annex along Fulton Street in Fort Greene.  Did someone pull it from their pocket and drop it there, along with the napkin they had just used to blow their nose?  

No one does this to baseballs. Or hockey pucks.  Or footballs.  I'd be hard pressed to find an abandoned basketball here.  But people feel just fine about abandoning what looks to be a perfectly good tennis ball.  Tennis Hate.  It's universal.

Lost in the line for coffee: a tennis ball outside my favorite coffee shop, Annex, on Fulton St in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Photo: mine.

Saturday
Apr052014

Petkovic Wins, Weeps, at Family Circle Cup Semis

She won, so why was Andrea Petkovic crying into her towel?  She rallied after a shaky first set to beat hard-charging Aussie Open semifinalist Eugenie Bouchard, 1-6,  6-3, 7-5 in Charleston, S.C.  She beat Tennis Hate in the third set, steeling herself to come back from a 4-2 deficit.  Why the tears?

Not Tennis Hate, but Tennis Love: Petkovic cries with relief on reaching Family Circle Cup Final. Photo: Amy Eddings

Well, maybe it's because she hasn't been a finalist since last August at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., where she fell to Magdalena Rybarikova in straight sets.  Maybe it's because it's the farthest she's gotten so far this year. She was booted in the first round in three of the seven tournaments she's played; in Dubai, she didn't even get out of the qualies. Maybe it's because she's injury-free for the first time in three years, playing the way she used to.

"I was just so relieved and I was proud that I came back from all these injuries, and I never thought that I would play finals in the big tournaments again,” she said, according to the L.A. Times.

Petkovic had a breakout year in 2011.  She won her first WTA tournament at Brisbane.  She was the only player on the tour to reach three Grand Slam quarterfinals (Australian, Roland Garros and US Open).  She broke the Top Ten for the first time, reaching ninth in the world in October....and then the wheels started to come off.  Her wheels.  First, it was her knee that gave her trouble after her US Open run.  Then, in the second round of her comeback tournament in Stuttgart, Petkovic rolled her right ankle so hard, the bottom of her shoe was parallel to her shinbone.  Then, more knee problems, and a back problem, and she's down to 143 in the world one year later.  

Petko is now ranked 40th in the world, and I am rooting for her.  She gave my husband a sweaty hug after beating Roberta Vinci at the US Open in a match on the Grandstand court.  We had slipped into second row seats behind the baseline.  Andrea had run over to her coach nearby to embrace him when Mark leaned over the rail and shouted, "Hey, Andrea, can I have a hug, too?"  She flung herself up and into his arms, making us fans for life.

She faces Jana Cepelova of Slovakia, who, too, resurrected her game from the dead, down 4-1 in the third set tiebreak against Swiss qualifier Belinda Bencic.   

Sunday
Mar232014

Top Five Break-Up Tips for Andy Murray

I'm not Andy Murray's BFF.  I don't even know the guy, though I did get close to his DNA.  I held a bottle of water he had left in the interview room at the US Open a few years back.  No, Haters, I did not take a swig from it.  Ew.

He just wasn't that into you, Andy: Murray, Lendl, split because Lendl couldn't spend the time with the world #6. Photo, courtesy Getty Images.

But if I were his best friend, I'd throw my arm around his shoulders, steer him to a quiet corner of the pub and offer him these tips for getting over his split with Ivan Lendl.  

Even though theirs was a professional liaison -- coach/player, mentor/mentee -- and Lendl was on Murray's payroll, that doesn't mean that feelings weren't involved.  Murray himself spoke of feeling "gutted" when asked about the split a few days ago in Miami, where Murray took out 32nd-seed Felciano Lopez in straight sets in the third round of the Sony Ericsson Open

1.  You are still a champion, and have more championships in you.  I know, I know, you were 0-4 in Grand Slam finals until Lendl joined your camp.  In your first year of working with him, you won an Olympic gold medal in the Summer Games in London in 2012, and a US Open title later that fall.  Then, nine months later, you won Wimbledon, the first guy to do so from Great Britain in 77 years.  That success is yours.  Sure, Lendl was a key ingredient, but the magic ju-ju doesn't disappear with him.  He taught you a way of going about your game that you can continue to rely upon, match after match.  It's yours.  Lendl doesn't take that with him.

"The mental side of the game is something that I learned a lot, working with him," Murray told Tennis Channel commentator Mark Knowles after his victory against Lopez, who Andy's mum calls "Deliciano."

2. Keep your eye on the ball.  Yeah, Tennis Instruction 101.  But now is not the time to let thoughts of what was and what might have been or should have been sneak into your head on court, especially after missing a shot.  You yourself said that the matches you played, post-breakup, "were not particularly fun."  Find something to love -- how 'bout that sunshine in Miami, huh? -- and repeat after me: bounce, hit.  Bounce, hit.  Bounce, hit.Ivan Lendl may have coached Murray to a Wimbledon victory, but it's still Andy's trophy. Maybe that's why Lendl wants to spend more time playing the senior tour. Photo courtesy Getty Images.

3.  There are other fish in the sea.  Even for a moody, down-at-the-mouth guy like you.  The world of tennis is filled with people who think they know how to improve your game.  You'll find someone who YOU think actually can.  Don't rush it.  I know you want someone in place by the French Open in May.  Take your time.  You've gone for long stretches without coaches.  Don't rush into something now, just because you think you need a coach in your box when you defend your Wimbledon title this summer.  A coach doesn't win Wimbledon. YOU win Wimbledon.  (See Tip #1.)

4.  Stick to your standards.  You wanted more time with Lendl.  Lendl wanted more time to pursue his own trophies on the senior tour.  You didn't want a coaching relationship that was "half-baked."  Don't blame yourself, or think, "Maybe I was asking for too much."  There was an article on just this sort of thinking a year ago on HuffPo:

Do you find yourself saying yes all the time to certain things in the relationship when in fact you really do not want to do them? Well, this is a sign that you are part of the women who love too much club. If you keep saying yes to things and situations that do not fill your heart with pleasure, you are not only being dishonest towards him but you will also fill your heart with anger and resentment over a long period of time.

Just substitute "players" for "women," and "coach" for "him," and you'll see how you shouldn't let this happen to you.

5.  Make a fun change.  I stole this suggestion from an About.com Teen Advice column.  Yeah, you're 26, but the underlying principal is the same: "Breakups can be good excuses for fresh starts. Make a fun change: give yourself a makeover, get into a new hobby, join a new after-school activity or redecorate your room. It'll make you feel happy and give you a big burst of confidence." 

Now, go out there, champ, and take it to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Tuesday. You're doing great!