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Featured Meltdowns

 

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
Monday
Sep012014

US Open: Azarenka Needs 3 Sets to Get Past Qualifier Krunic 

Victoria Azarenka was all fight, emotion and, in the end, song, in her 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 thriller Round of 16 match over feisty qualifier Aleksandra Krunic at the US Open.

Racquet back, flap like a bird: Vika Azarenka suffers a bout of self-criticism in her fight against Krunic.Krunic had knocked off two seeds - No. 27 Madison Keys and No. 3 and Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova -- on the road to her nighttime match on Arthur Ashe Stadium.  She nearly beat No. 9 Vika, who has been injured and hasn't had a lot of match play.

It showed in that first set.  Azarenka had a 3-0 lead but ended up losing it, as Krunic hit amazing winners and used drop shots to her advantage.  So frustrated was Azarenka with Krunic's variety that she started muttering to herself, gesturing to her camp, and, in one weird moment in the third set, chided herself for not moving forward toward a backhand shot thatby sticking her butt out and spreading her arms like a startled chicken.

Vika demonstrates how NOT to set up for a backhand.She was exhuberant in victory, all gush and goofy.  In her on court interview, Azarenka told Mary Jo Fernandez, "I love tennis, I love that yellow ball, I love hitting forehands and backhands, I love the way that feels."  And she coaxed a baffled crowd at Ashe into singing "Happy Birthday" to Gael Monfils.

Later, on ESPN, Vika turned even more philosophical, banishing all signs of Tennis Hate with its best antidote: gratitude.

"Sometimes you forget that life is beautiful.  Sometimes in the tough moments you forget that. But if you can keep reminding yourself that it's a new day, you can do something better, that seems great."

So close to smacking her racquet on the court, SO CLOSE! But Vika resists the urge, tapping it several times instead.

Friday
Aug292014

US Open: Halep Upset, Giving Romanian Newsman His Headline

It was a bad day of Tennis Hate for Number 2 US Open seed Simona Halep of Romania, making for a helluva story for Grigor Culian.

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni is stunned by her victory over #2 seed Simona Halep. She's through to the 4th round of a Slam for the first time in her 17-year career.Culian is the founder, publisher, editor-in-chief, senior reporter, chief cook and bottle washer for New York Magazin, the Romanian language bi-monthly.  He's been covering the US Open and its Romanian players since he founded his paper 18 years ago.  "I have followed her for a couple of years," he said of the 22-year-old Halep, as we watched her play veteran grinder Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia in the Grandstand.

Halep, who reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, the final at Roland Garros and the semifinals at Wimbledon, wilted under Lucic-Baroni's powerful forehand and blistering return game. Simona lost in straight sets, 7-6 (6), 6-2 to a veteran player who leads Halep by ten years and trails her in the WTA rankings by 119 points.

You're not supposed to let your opponent back in a game," said Grigor

Lucic-Baroni is a perennial early-round write-off.  She's lost in the first round 18 of her 31 appearances.  With her straight set 7-6 (6), 6-2 upset of the 22-year-old French Open finalist, she moves into the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time in her career.  

"This is incredible!" she gushed through tears in her on court interview afterwards.  "I'm sorry, I'm goofy!"

ISimona Halep's bags are packed for China, as the WTA tour heads east to Asia.t was incredible, a result that, in the beginning, neither I nor my Worthy Comrade, Grigor, would have expected. Lucic-Baroni was hitting hard and flat and strong, but she was also hitting the ball wide and long. Culian, who played tennis in college and continues to play today (doubles now, the 62-year-old said, in Juniper Park in Middle Village, Queens), said, "She is overpowering Simona, but she makes too many unforced errors. That is the difference between these two.  Simona," he added, "knows how to win the big points."

Ah, but that was before Halep, serving at 5-2 for the first set, crumbled against Lucic-Baroni's aggressive returns, giving up the game and the set on a third break point.  She got a second chance to put Lucic-Baroni in her place, serving at 5-4, but she was broken at love with a double fault.  

"You're not supposed to let your opponent come back in a game," mused Grigor.  "Simona doesn't play aggressive enough."  He said you're supposed to have a killer instinct when you've got a lead.  "

Grigor Culian has that instinct.  He fled Ceausescu's Communist regime in February, 1989, taking advantage of a trip to the United States to visit his sister.  "I filed for political asylum the moment I arrived at JFK airport," he said.  In December, a month after the Berlin Wall fell, Ceausescu's regime collapsed.  Culian was able to bring his then-wife and daughter Stateside.  "I got so lucky," he said.

So many years!  My God, this is so incredible! Every painful moment is so worth it!

Before us, under bright sunny skies on the Grandstand court, dark clouds of Tennis Hate were clouding Simona Halep's game.  She double faulted again to give Mirjana the tiebreak and the first set.  In the second set, she's broken in the third game.  

Culian was matter-of-fact about Halep's Tennis Hate predicament.  "What she has in her mind is two things. Number 1, she was leading, 5-2, in the first set.  Number 2, it was 6-7 in the tiebreak and she lost with a double fault.  And it stays in her mind for a long period.  And when she looks up, the game is over."

And so it was.  Halep's opponent, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who had won two qualifying matches last week after being 4-2 and 5-2 down in the third set, never let her wake up from her first set regret.  Lucic-Baroni won the econd set handily, 6-2, with back-to-back aces.  She dropped her racquet, put both hands in the air and beamed.  She trotted over to her coach, hugging him as if she had just won the whole US Open.

"I had a game plan, I believed in it the whole time," she said through tears on the court.  "I just kept fighting. So many years! My God, this is so incredible!  I live for this!  I'm so lucky to be here!  Every painful moment is so worth it!"

Lucic-Baroni has struggled long and hard to make good on the promise she showed at age 15, reaching the third round at the US Open in 1997 in her very first appearance.  Two years later, she was a semifinalist at Wimbledon.  But injuries and what WTAtennis.com referred to as "off court struggles" hindered her progress. She barely played for much of the 2000s.  It's only in the last four years that she's started to get beyond the first round in tournaments.  This year, she retired in the third round in Doha against Aggie Radwanska, after her back seized up.  During qualifying rounds at Indian Wells, she herniated a disk in her neck.  She didn't play for three weeks after her first round loss at Wimbledon to Victoria Azarenka.

She covered her face and started crying when Daily News reporter Filip Bondy gently asked her to sum up her career so far.

"I'm a little emotional," she said.  "I'ts been really hard.  After so many years, to be here again, so many times.  I wanted it so bad, I would burn out."

Haters, you know I was on the edge of my seat hearing this.  I, too, have wanted success on the court so bad. I've wanted some return on my investment, of time, money, energy, love, and yes, Hate.  Why wasn't I succeeding?  I was trying SO HARD.  I believed that energy, that willingness, that will, should be rewarded with, well, some W's.  Some wins.

A welcome task for former teen phenom Lucic-Baroni: signing balls for adoring fans courtside at Grandstand.But Mirjana Lucic-Baroni has learned something that I'm beginning to experience, too.  That too much will gets in the way.  That a tight grip on the racquet and the mind ruins your game.  That setting a goal, and then letting go of it, sets you free.  Free to win, and not just by vanquishing Tennis Hate.

"I wanted it so bad, I was paralyzed, I couldn't do it," she said.  "Now, I just relax.  I just play tennis."

 

Tuesday
Aug262014

US Open: Ask A Great About Tennis Hate

When I met the 1977 US Open champ and British tennis great Virginia Wade, I didn't ask her about her box at Wimbledon that was being auctioned tonight to raise money for CityParks Foundation.  I asked her about Tennis Hate.

Does she have any tips to keep it from creeping all over my psyche like English ivy at the All England Lawn and Tennis Club?

Being human with Virginia Wade."One word?" she asked.

"Sure, if that's all it takes," I said.

"Why are you supposed to be perfect?" she said.  

"Okay, that's seven, but I'll write it like this to make you consistent, Miss Wade: Whyareyousupposedtobeperfect?

"You're only human, you're allowed to make mistakes," she said, and then quickly moved on to other guests at the event.  Maybe it was my quizzical look when she told me I was human.

John McConnell, the former senior programming exective at ABC Radio Networks, hung in there with me a bit longer.  McConnell loves the game, went to Pepperdine on a tennis scholarship.  I asked him about his most memorable meltdown.

Cool in the newsroom, but don't throw your script into his studio: former ABC Radio broadcasting veteran and tennis player John McConnell and me, at the CityParks Foundation fundraiser."I remember when the No. 1 junior in the world threw his racquet over the fence and into my court, just missing me, at the Los Angeles Tennis Club.  I picked up his racquet and tossed it into the swimming pool," McConnell said.  

Okay, Mr. McConnell, that was someone else's Tennis Hate meltdown that you just described. However, it did include two -- two! -- instances of racquet abuse, so I'll take it.  

He probably wouldn't call it Tennis Hate, but McConnell suffered from something approximating it in his years playing college tennis.    "I once was up in a match, 6-1, 5-0, and I lost it," he said.  "I will never forget how bad I felt." 

Monday
Aug252014

US Open: Petkovic Wins Ugly, But Fans Don't Mind

If Tennis Hate almost defeated Andrea Petkovic, it was tennis love that pulled her through.  Petko, seeded 18th, defeated qualifier Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, as she should have, 7-6 (7), 1-6, 6-3.  But, Haters, it shouldn't have been so ugly.  Both struggled getting first serves in.  Both hit a lot of unforced errors.  Both made some poor shot choices.

Andrea's army: from left, Tina Schulte, Aga Boska, Mariola Joschko and Sabina Redzimska, on Court 5.But the German had something Jabeur didn't, and that was a cheering section.  Four women sat along the sideline, about two rows up, wearing matching T-shirts that spelled out ANDY PET KO VIC.  They chanted, "Let's go, Pet-ko!" and cheered every winner and break point saved.

"We know her personally," said Mariola Joschko.  "We met her in 2009."

"Her dad, Zohan, is here!  He invited us for a beer!  Want to come?"

Haters, I demurred.  I must remain objective, you know.  This is serious stuff, this blogging.

Did I mention that I said, more than a few times, "C'mon, Petko!" during the match?

So did the T-shirt team.  They also cheered loudly when she hit winners (which didn't come often enough, 21 winners to 41 unforced errors) and when she fended off break points (six out of eleven, while Jabeur saved just one out of five).  

Mariola Joschko, a Petkovic fan from front to back.Andrea was able to stare down those break points by some clutch serving.  Overall, she got 65 percent of her first serves in, compared to a miserable 49 percent for Ons.  But that was the big difference between them. Otherwise, they were sisters in sloppiness.  Both had 41 unforced errors for the match.  Andrea double faulted four times, Ons, five.  Their serves averaged around 96 miles per hour, so cautious they were being in getting the darn thing in the service box.

Jabeur slumped around court looking gloomy.  Petko took her Tennis Hate out on her racquet, bouncing it sky-high after she let slip an early break of Jabeur in the third set to go down, 1-2.  

Her fans understood.  Asked if she ever experienced Tennis Hate on the court, Tina Schulte answered, "Doesn't everybody?"  Thank you, Tina.  I don't feel so alone!

What these tennis fans hate the most, though? The French Open.  "They allow too many people onto the courts," said Joschko.  "It's crowded.  It's expensive.  And the people there don't treat you very nice."

 

 

Sunday
Aug172014

Cincy Open: Who Suffered More from Tennis Hate, Ivanovic or Sharapova?

There was no finer display of Tennis Hate than the semi-final match between Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic. It messed with their heads, their serves, their strokes and, in Ivanovic's case, her tummy. 

Ivanovic, seeded 9th, eked out the victory, but just barely, toppling fifth-seed Maria Sharapova in a nearly three-hour-long see-saw battle, 6-2, 5-7, 7-5.  

Here comes lunch: Ana Ivanovic's loss of a 4-0 second set lead makes her sick to her stomach during her Western & Southern Open against Maria Sharapova.What was worse?  Ana letting slip a 4-0 lead in the second set, losing five games in a row to Maria?  Or Sharapova double faulting, twice, while serving for the third set and the match to allow Ivanovic to pull even with her, 4-4?

I really got a little tight," said Ivanovic.  No kidding.

Ivanovic said that, in the second set, she had stopped moving her feet.  "I really got a little tight," Ivanovic said later. "I wasn't moving my feet forward enough and played a little passive."

Any movement seemed to be coming from Ivanovic's gut.  In the third game of the third set, between points, Ivanovic bent over, her hands and racquet between her knees.  She walked over to her chair and called for a doctor, who ended up instructing her to lie down on the court to have her blood pressure taken.

Maria Sharapova winces after blowing another shot in her match against Ivanovic. A blood pressure check for Ivanovic made Sharapova's blood boil.Nerves, or food poisoning?  Ivanovic said she thought she ate something funny.  In her on court interview after the match, she said she started feeling poorly in the second set.

Interesting, how that sick feeling coincided with her plummeting forehand accuracy and her waning focus. 

“I think I ate something bad today,” she told reporters later. “When my coach was coming out, I kept telling him I don’t feel good, like my stomach is really upset. Then it really built up in the third set, and I was not feeling fine. They gave me some pills, and after some games it was better.”

Check her blood pressure!" sniped Sharapova.

The pills, she said, were for nausea.  Sharapova, meanwhile, could have used a chill pill.  She was seething at what she thought was Ivanovic's gamesmanship. Broken back serving at 4-3 in the third set, Sharapova looked at the chair umpire and tapped her upper left arm with her racquet, indicating a sphygmomanometer cuff.

"Check her blood pressure!" she sniped.  

Hell, check mine.  It just went up, typing sphygmomanometer.

Not quite the ground stroke technique Maria was looking for. A rare moment of on court self-criticism for Sharapova.According to The New York Times, Sharapova blamed her Tennis Hate on court officials not telling her what was going on down there, on the side of the court, with Ivanovic being attended to like some 1920s noblewoman at Downton Abbey who just spotted a water bottle on her marble mantle.

“All of a sudden, there is an interruption. You don’t know what’s going on. Is it an injury? And then you don’t get an answer. I don’t think they even know. That’s the tricky part, I guess.”

Sharapova broke right back to make it 5-4.  ESPN coverage showed her shaking her head ever so slightly, and oh so disapprovingly, as she passed Ivanovic near the umpire's chair. She remained so rattled by Ivanovic's courtside doctor's visit that she committed two consecutive double faults while serving for the match, giving Ana a 6-5 lead.

That is so unlike Maria Sharapova.  She has that oft-mimicked pre-service routine for a reason.  She does it to hit the reset button and wipe away whatever happened in the previous point. To see her all unSugarpova-like on the court, frowning, sighing and making snide remarks, was surprising.  To answer my own question, Sharapova suffered the most from Tennis Hate and was unable or unwilling to use her mental tools to fix what ailed her on Saturday night.

This says it all: Elation for Ivanovic, disgust for Sharapova. Who's feeling queasy now?Ivanovic did not buckle this time.  She even hit a vicious cross court winner for match point.  Guess she wasn't feeling tight anymore.  And any throwing up on the court came when Sharapova tried to stretch her 6'2" frame to get that drive.  Her stab backhand framed the ball and sent it sky-high.

Too bad she couldn't take it to Serena Williams in the final.  Williams beat Ivanovic handily, 6-4, 6-1, to win her first title at the Western & Southern Open.