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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

Cincy Open: American Women Punch Ticket to Main Draw

Nicole Gibbs walked off center court to the twanging opening chords of "American Girl," a victory serenade from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.  The 21-year-old California girl recovered from a 15-40 break in the first game of the third set against Italian veteran Francesca Schiavone to break back and take it all, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.  

Lauren Gibbs whalloping a forehand to Francesca Schiavone.She joins another young American (cue David Bowie), 18-year-old Taylor Townsend, in getting through their two qualifying rounds and into the main draw of the Western & Southern Open.  

Townsend's road was easier.  She beat Spaniard Silvia Soler-Espinosa in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3.  

And let's not forget another American making inroads at this critical US Open warm-up: me.  This is I Hate Tennis' inaugural coverage of the Western & Southern Open.  Know, Haters, that I will do my very best to cover the worst that can trip you up in this intense game: the meltdowns, the racquet smashes, the ball abuse and mid-set wak-abouts.  And, of course, I'll give you the best that tennis has to offer, the moments when players pick their way out of their mental swamps and back onto solid ground.

The sweetest victories in tennis are the ones over yourself.

Taylor Townsend gave a fine example of this.  Yeah, sure, the scoreboard made it look like she had an easy time over Soler-Espinosa, but she was in the weeds in the sixth game of the second set.  She fought off four break points before finally succumbing to Silvia with a weak second serve that clipped the net cord and floated long for a double fault.  She turned right around to break back Soler-Espinosa, sowing doubt in the mind and heart of the 22nd seed Spainiard with blistering return winners.  SSE lost the game at net with a forehand volley that sailed wide.  

She's young, she's very young," said Schiavone of Gibbs.

The qualifying match between 2010 French Open winner Francesca Schiavone and Nicole Gibbs was filled with more mental mud puddles, especially for Franny, who, at 34, is in the twilight of her singles career.  After losing the first set, Schiavone was in control in the second, serving at 4-1 when signs of trouble started to emerge like swamp gas bubbling up from her unconscious.  Gibbs had been egging herself on in the game, glaring at her camp in defiance after hitting a forehand winner down the line to level things at deuce.  Take that, signora

Schiavone apparently thought this was in bad form.  When Gibbs won the next point with a return that hit the net cord and dribbled over into Schiavone's court, it was Schiavone's turn to glare.  She stared at Gibbs, arms out wide in that classic, Italian "WTF?!?" gesture, when Gibbs didn't immediately offer the customary wave of apology.

She turned to face me and my husband, sitting behind the baseline.  "She's young, she's very young," Schiavone said.

Ma che schifo, esclamo Francesca.

Schiavone promptly double faulted on her next service.  Then, totally undone, she dumped a desultory forehand squash shot into the net.

Schiavone was still ahead, 4-2, but her errors started to mount.  She got caught in No Man's Land in half-hearted attempts to get to net, punting the ball into the net or wide.  She foot faulted, letting out something in Italian that didn't sound like it was very nice.  She won the second set, 6-4, but didn't appear very happy about it.  

Haters, the ony thing you need to mind on the other side of that net is the ball, not your opponent's gamesmanship.

Francesca broke Nicole in her opening service game in the third, but handed it back, with interest, in a 0-40 disappearing act in the fourth game that started with another foot fault and a long conversation with the chair umpire.  In that game, and the next four that rounded out the set, Schiavone only won 8 points.  Her first serve percentage dropped to 36 percent, quite a slide from 69 percent in the second.  She went from hammering Gibbs' second serve to barely getting it back in play.

Gibbs, meanwhile, got stronger.  Her service game percentage didn't falter, remaining in the 70s.  She stopped doing the whole "C'mon!" thing.  She didn't have to.  She had already let loose a squirrel inside Schiavone's head, and her job was to just play a steady, solid, error-free game while the critter chased its tail.  

Haters, let this be a lesson to you.  The only thing you need to mind over there on the other side of that net is the ball.

Nicole Gibbs faces fellow American Christina McHale on Tuesday in their first round match.  Taylor Townsend turns right around and goes out again tomorrow, Monday, to take on the Czech Klara Koukalova. Also qualifying is Varvara Lepchenko, who gets to face a struggling Samantha Stosur tomorrow.  


What I Didn't Do on My Summer Vacation

Milos Raonic is living inside my TV, I’m sure of it.  Every time I turn it on, he’s there.  Lifting the trophy high over his Brill-creamed jet-black hair at the Citi Open in Washington last Sunday, the sixth ATP tour title for the 23-year-old Canadian.  

Superman: Milos Raonic moved to No. 6 in world after Citi Open win. Courtesy Three nights later, there he was, this time in front of his compatriots in Toronto at the Rogers Cup, beating Jack Sock  That thousand-foot stare of his, that double dip service motion with his ball-tossing left arm.  Then last night, Raonic entered my living room again, showing a rare glimpse of Tennis Hate after a forehand approach shot that sailed long and gave Delish-iano Lopez the break and, a game later, the semifinal berth.

It made me realize what a grind the Tour can be, especially this time of year, in August on the hard courts of North America.  So many big ticket WTA tournaments, one right after the next.  This week it’s the Rogers Cup in Toronto for the men, Montreal for the women.  Last week, it was the Citi Open for the men, Bank of the West in Cali for the women.  Next week, the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati for both guys and gals.  New Haven the week after that for the ladies, Winston-Salem for the gents, then the final Grand Slam of the season in New York City at the US Open on August 26th. 

I’ve been a slacker by comparison.  Summer, once a time when I’d play as often as four times a week, now has me averaging about one match and a lesson.  That’s only two hours on the court.  

IMe and Worthy Opponent Abby Scher. Look, Abby, I'm smiling!I’ve played this summer with Abby. She and I go way back, to when I just started playing tennis ten years ago.  She’s seen me at my sulking worst, bemoaning my pushy forehand on our changeovers, shouting “FUCK!” after double faults. She gently suggested I should start changing my attitude by changing the little yellow frowny-faced rubber vibration dampener I was using.

I've been enjoying a weekly Thursday game with longtime Worthy Opponent Beth Allen.  I've been working on my forehand drive with Coach Al, and feeling like it's time to seek another Saintly Pro to unlock the mysteries of "turn, step in and hit."  

WASP playground: the grass courts at Piping Rock Country ClubThe biggest treat so far was playing on grass for the very first time, at the Piping Rock Country Club, in Great Gatsby country on Long Island.  Super-duper exclusive.  Driving through the winding blacktop roads of Locust Valley, I caught glimpses of exquisite mansions through the rhododendron. They let me through the club gates because of tennis great and mental performance guru Bob Litwin, who invited me to watch him play for the Gengler Cup in the International Tennis Club of America's USA v. Canada match.  

I stood out, Haters, like Bethany Mattek-Sands at a black tie dinner.  I strolled onto the well-groomed grounds wearing a bright magenta top, black shorts and orange-red Adidas tennis shoes.  Everyone else was in tennis whites, from their visors to their shoes.  Oops.

"You're easy to spot in this crowd," Joann Litwin, Bob's wife, said as she gave me a welcoming hug.  She bailed me out, taking 20 minutes to drive to their home nearby to grab an entire color-appropriate tennis outfit for me. Joann brought everything, including shoes -- they fit! -- and a sports bra.  A white one.

We found an empty court and started hitting.  "You don't want to get into baseline to baseline rallies on this stuff," Joann told me.  I could see why grass callls for the serve and volley.  The ball bounced low, which meant hitting up on it, which meant easy sitters for the player who could get to the net first.  It didn't travel too far into the court after the bounce, a perfect scenario for the aggressive player who could move in and hit an approach shot.  Haters, my approach shot is more like a leave shot.  But I liked challenging myself to run in and hit the volley.  Joann dug out some excellent passes. 

The country club tour continues at Newport: Mark and I at the International Tennis Hall of FameMore grass was to be had at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, in Newport, where we watched Lleyton Hewitt and Ivo Karlovic, and witnessed former world number 1 Lindsey Davenport and coaching legend Nick Bollettieri's inductions.  

Nick Bollettieri's victims stand and acknowledge his Tennis Hate at the International Tennis Hall of Fame.Nick crushed his acceptance speech.  Looking out at the assembled tennis pros, players and industry folk sitting on white chairs on Center Court's grass, he asked anyone he'd ever yelled at to stand up.  From our vantage point in the nosebleed bleacher seats, it looked like half the audience rose to their feet.

Lots of tennis, but nothing like the hard yards of hours and hours of play to hone skills and match savvy. And the opportunities to spend those hours under sunny skies, when court fees are cheap, are waning.  I view tennis in August with anticipation and dread.  The delicious abundance of these US Open warm-up tournaments means Labor Day is coming.  It means we're tilting closer to winter than we are stretching away from spring.  It means year-end championships in Shanghai and London, echo-y indoor bubbles and arenas, layers of warm-up clothes.

I'd better get out there and hit.  


Tomas Berdych Gives Me a Reason to Blog

I was content to keep biding my time until the Cincinnati Open before breaking my blogging fast, but the sight of a naked Tomas Berdych in ESPN Magazine jolted me into action.

Haters, repeat after me: I love tennis.  I LOVE tennis!  I lovelovelovelove tennis!

 ESPN, how come you couldn't have photographed Tomas in a return of serve position?

Guess what?  Guys, even super fit pro athlete guys, have body issues, too.  Berdych wishes he had leaner legs.  "Being heavier down low, rather than up top, is what has been working in my case," he tells ESPN.  "The ideal plan would be skinnier and lighter legs and a little bit more on the upper body. But it's not something where you go into a store and say, 'I want that.'"

When the issue first hit, Texas Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder's thick physique and belly jelly roll made the headlines and set Twitter aflutter.  He told ESPN that he initially worked out as an excuse to carbo load.  "My thing was, especially during the season, I would just lift weights and eat -- play for the tie." HuffPo took the big body shamers to task, noting that similar animosity had been directed toward other black athletes, notably Venus Williams (also in the 2014 Body Issue), sis Serena and Taylor Townsend, all tennis players.

 So I totally missed out on Tomas Berdych's presence, until hearing the commentators mention it on Tennis Channel during the cheeky Czech's beatdown of Robby Ginepri at the Bank of the West tournament.  

"Berdych will be having a hard time getting through the crowd to our booth AFTER THAT PHOTO SHOOT IN THE BODY ISSUE."  I could have sworn I saw the TV wink.  

Okay, I gotta see this for myself, I thought, hoisting my laptop onto my....well, yeah, lap.  

Now, if I could only hoist Berdych into it.  Wow.


Gone Fishin'

Well, no, not really.  I don't know how to fish.  But I Hate Tennis is taking an injury time-out to put some Ben Gay on my temples and re-string my thoughts.  

Look for I Hate Tennis Even More, coming as the tour wraps up this fall.  Or maybe when it starts at the Australian Open in 2015.  Depends on how quickly the Ben-Gay works its magic.

I leave you with this bit of Tennis Hate: a tennis ball, found stuffed in the grate in SoHo, corner of Prince and Thompson.



Meltdown of the Moment: Vintage Andy Roddick

One year after winning the US Open as a junior, Andy Roddick has his first major US Open meltdown as a pro during his thisclose 2001 US Open quarterfinal against Lleyton Hewitt.  Roddick was serving to stay in it, at 4-5 in the fifth set. Momentum was on his side.  He'd won the first set in a tiebreak, 7-6, lost the second and third and then regrouped to snatch the fourth set from Hewie at 6-3.   

That look. I know it well. Andy Roddick tries to control his Tennis Hate after a bad overrule from the US Open chair ump in his 2001 quarterfinal against Lleyton Hewitt.I appreciate the look on Roddick's face as he tries to corral all the Tennis Hate he sent galloping around Arthur Ashe stadium.  He takes a big breath and tries to settle himself.  It reminds me of Coach Al, saying to me, "don't get excited.  Get composed before you serve."  

Hewitt, meanwhile, is fiddling with his strings while his squeeze at the time, one of my favorite players, Kim Cjisters, keeps her game face on.  Roddick makes several unforced errors to give Hewitt the break, the set and the match.  The 20-year-old from Australia went on to win the US Open, his first of two Grand Slam titles (He won Wimby the next year).

Roddick got his turn to hoist the trophy at Arthur Ashe Stadium two years later, in 2003.  It would be his only Grand Slam title.  

I can't embed the video.  Click on the link.  It's worth a watch, just to see how the two young guns handled the pressure.  And to see how young they were.  I forget that these tennis pros, especially the ones we're talking about now -- Sloane Stephens, Milos Raonic, Francis Tiafoe -- are barely at legal drinking age.