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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
Monday
Mar032014

Proof of Tennis Hate #11: Tennis Racquet, Pigeon Killer

One of the perks of my job in broadcasting is the chance to TV while I work.  And not just one television show, Haters.  I can watch three at once on the monitors mounted in the studio.

What kind of grip is he using? And is he setting up for a forehand clobbering, or a backhand? Modern Family's Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) is playing with fear.

Tonight's offerings: CNN on Russia's military maneuvers in Ukraine, NY1 on Mayor Bill de Blasio's after school expansion dreams and a re-run of Modern Family's 2010 season finale, the one that had Mitchell trying to kill a pigeon with a tennis racquet.  

Really, Mitchell?  You're going to ruin your strings that way.  Think of the feathers, stuck in the mains and crosses.  And the blood.  It's sure to alter your swing speed.  

You should have grabbed a baseball bat, the preferred weapon of New York City cabbies and private livery car drivers.  Or a hockey stick.  They get blood on them all the time.

Sunday
Mar022014

Proof of Tennis Hate #10: Not Even Worthy of Trash Pickup

This forlorn, nearly-grey tennis ball was spotted at the corner of DeKalb Avenue and South Elliott Place, not far from the tennis courts of Brooklyn's Fort Greene Park.  

Tennis Hate meets Road Rage. Photo: A. Eddings

But its matted, nearly-smooth nap tells me it spent more time in a dog's mouth than it did on the court.  That would make it a victim of gentrification, in Spike Lee's mind.  The black filmmaker, who grew up in Fort Greene,fumed last week that the park looked "like the motherfuckin' Westminster Dog Show."

The ball's companions in neglect? Leaf litter, crusty old snow and a car part.  It looks like the windshield wiper fluid reservoir, victim of a side swipe or someone who got really, really mad when they spilled blue windshield cleaning fluid all over themselves. 

Haters, you'd be forgiven for thinking this looked like a New York City street on garbage pick-up day, stuff strewn thither and yawn by New Yorkers who think putting something next to the trash receptacle is the same as putting trash inside it.  Well, street cleaning has been a little lax these last few weeks.  Street sweepers and garbage truck crews have been too busy plowing and salting roadways, due to the bazillion snow storms we've had so far this year.  Another one, with up to five inches for New York City's mean, unclean, streets, is rolling in tonight.

At least it will cover over this latest blight against the noble sport of tennis. 

Tuesday
Feb252014

Stan Smith, Fashionista

Stan Smith is trending. In fashion, not tennis. 

She doesn't know who Stan Smith is, but damn, the tennis shoes named after him are super fresh. Photo courtesy Man Repeller.com.

Man Repeller revisits the 1970s sneakers, as well as cuffed, stiff denim jeans, in a recent post.

 I love the look, especially the floppy black bow. The little square handbag is super-cute, too, but I am of a certain age where I need too many "essentials" to warrant something that small.  

Like dental floss. I have a crown that sits so high above my gum line that a mouthful of steak can hide behind it. I feel like a chipmunk, packing her cheek bags for the lean season. Or Handiwipes. Where would I put those in that bag? Or my iPad, for that matter? How would I ever read The New York Times on the A train? I refuse to go back to the origami-folding maneuvers required by the newspaper. It's so last century. 

Man Repeller isn't the only fashionista sporting Stans. Elle wrote about the all-white, go-with-everything flat-soled shoes.

 Author Danielle Prescod went out into a snow storm to buy pairs in every color, inspired by the tennis shoe chic of designer Phoebe Philo, who was breathlessly deemed by fashion blog Into The Gloss as "the coolest woman ever."

Smith's kicks are also style-worthy enough to be mentioned by French rappers. Lunatic, in "H.L.M. 3," sings about training in his "Stan Smith blanches."  (That's "white Stan Smiths," Haters.)   The song's got a pretty catchy hook, even though I don't understand a single word.  Then again, even in English, I don't understand most rap.

 Phoebe Philo, the coolest woman ever, could up her cool quotient by actually PLAYING A SPORT.

All this cooing about Stan Smiths has Tennis Hate melting my brain like last month's heat wave at the Australian Open.  That's because these women are unabashedly unathletic.  They wear the shoes ironically. Prescod initially overlooked the sneakers because she didn't want to "revisit the ghosts of my very unathletic past," but swiftly moved from denial to acceptance in order to get that "carefree-girl-in-her-twenties" look.  

Man Repeller redeems herself somewhat by acknowledging from the get-go that "There is something distinctly phony about wearing a pair of shoes named after a man whose name you have heretofore never heard." But she declares herself exempt from such judgment because her mom did it first:

My mom spent the greater portion of the 90s not playing tennis but wearing the tennis sneakers, named after the famed tennis player, with effectively everything.

Yes, blame Mom.

I'm also pissed because, Haters, I had these shoes about six years ago.  I was cool way before Phoebe Philo.  It's just that no one knew it.  

Wait till Philo and her fashion house, Celine, get wind of my black sports socks and red Adidas pairing.  She's still got time to incorporate it into her 2015 Spring Collection.

Soon to be trending, and in a good, unhumiliating, fashion-forward way.

Friday
Feb212014

Lion-Hearted Tennis: How To Play Without Fear

There was a woman who did readings using both the Western Zodiac and the Chinese Zodiac.  She told me my Western Zodiac sign, Leo, guided the public me, the persona I show to the world, while my Chinese sign was my inner self.  The saying goes in Chinese astrology that your animal "hides in your heart."

 Run, Rabbit, run....right off the court and into the locker room, to cower under a towel.

Well, that explains a lot.  Especially in tennis.  I so want to be aggressive on the court, forcing the action, making deep approach shots and coming to net.  But my Rabbit wants to stay back on the baseline.  Bunny's content just to get the ball back over the net and watch, wide-eyed, to see what my Worthy Opponent will do next.

In this match, I could only wish that Rabbit would remain hidden in my heart, because Bunny was leaving droppings all over the damned court. 

How to win in tennis: bite your Worthy Opponent's head.

I used everything I could think of to keep my focus on the ball, and not on my fear.  I wiggled my toes in my shoes.  Yep, I'm here.  I took slow, deep breaths.  Yep, I'm alive.  I tried to see the seams of the ball.  Yep, I'm playing tennis.  

Oh, good God, I'm playing tennis.

My Worthy Opponent had clean service games, winning them with nary a point gained on my side.  I could barely return her serve.  They had a lot of top spin, and were on top of me in a blink.  It took me several games, Haters -- games, not points -- to consider standing back a bit to give myself more time.  That's what fear does to me.  It takes away my ability to think on the court.

Performance coach Jeff Greenwald, in his book, The Best Tennis of Your Life, says fear comes from wanting to avoid the bad feelings that come with trying and failing.  "It's the avoidance of fear that is in your way," he writes.  "And the only effective way to deal with this pattern is to begin facing your fears head on."

Make the call to someone you want to play with, hit out on your shots, play the tournament, don't give up in matches, stand tall when things aren't going your way, practice hard, tell your partner what you need. The more you face your fear, the easier it gets, and the better you will play.

Okay, that's one way of going from bunny to lion.  But just wanting it doesn't make it so.  I like the idea of facing the fact that I'm scared. Just acknowledging its presence gives it less power.  I'm scared. AND I'm going to get to every ball.  I'm scared.  AND I'm going to see the hit.  I'm scared.  AND I'm going to turn, and extend the butt of my racquet all the way through the shot.  

In In Pursuit of Excellence, sports shrink Terry Orlick advises turning fear into focus.  "An absolute connection or full engagement with the step in front of you clears your mind of all other thoughts and relaxes your body enough to have a great performance.  Pure focused connection works wonders here."

This is the conundrum of Tennis Hate.  How do I get pure focused connection when I'm filled with fear?  How do I get out of my own way?  How do I shift gears?  Sometimes, it feels like I can't will myself into a better mindset.  It's my sick mind trying to heal itself.  Where will I get that power?

The power, Greenwald and Orlick are suggesting, is in bringing myself back to the present moment, to the ball. Just the ball.  Just the job ahead.  See the ball, hit the ball.  Repeat.

An I Hate Tennis face from the King of the Beasts.

"During the event, focus on the doing," says Orlick.  "A cat pursuing a mouse [or a lion chasing a rabbit] is not thinking about what she should be thinking about.  She is focused on the doing."  He suggests developing refocusing strategies to use during moments of fear.  We've all seen the greats doing this between points.  Kim Clijsters, rearranging her strings.  Maria Sharapova walking to the back of the court, taking a few breaths and bouncing on her toes.  Rafael Nadal cleaning the red clay off the baseline and stubbing the toes of his shoes against the ground, one foot at a time.  

The thing is, we Haters have to practice these actions, too, not just our volleys and groundstrokes and serves. That means embracing these pressure situations.  They're our sandbox.  We get to practice our re-centering techniques there.  

We get to shape our destiny, overriding the alignment of the stars.

 

 

 

Saturday
Feb082014

Sharapova is Russian, and Proves It With Olympic Torch Honor

Wait, Maria Sharapova is really Russian?  All this time, I thought she was just kidding.  Gal's been living and training in Florida since she was 7.  Her English is spotless.  With all her endorsements, she's practically her own brand.  

My Little SharaPony: Flowing locks, flowing flame, at Sochi. Photo courtesy of Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty.

Doesn't that make her an American?

But there she was, proving me wrong, running into Fisht Stadium with the Olympic flame during the opening ceremonies in Sochi, Russia.  The Black Sea resort city is her hometown.  Sharapova, a silver medalist for Russia two years ago in London, joined five other Russian Olympic medalists in the torch-lighting ceremony that capped a really trippy Opening Ceremony spectacle.

Russian history: What a long, strange trip it's been. Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty.

To understand the great sweep of Russian history, from Peter the Great to Joseph Stalin, you need to take some psilocybins.

Sharapova also had a chance to enhance her Russian street cred by taking NBC Sports' Mary Carillo out to eat some Sochi delicacies.  Guess Carillo needed to carbo-load before NBC's two-week broadcast schedule got underway.  Together, they were filmed making a "cheese boat," which appears to be nothing but a slab of dough piled with cheese and pinched at both ends, to keep the melting cheese from dribbling out.

Sharapova's Tweeted proof that she and Mary Carillo actually ate some of this spread. Not a vegetable in sight.

Sharapova later Tweeted out a photo of her actually taking a bite of her cheese boat.  Carillo's just pushing her plate of dough around.  No wonder Maria moved to Florida.  Otherwise, she'd never know what fresh fruit looked like.

 

 

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