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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
Sunday
Jan192014

Australian Open: Oh, How the Mighty Are Falling

Another towering threat in the Australian Open has been felled.  Number 3 seed and four-time Grand Slam champ Maria Sharapova, all 6'2 inches of her, came crashing down in the Round of 16 at the hands of 5'3 Dominika "Diminuka" Cibulkova, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.

Dominika was dominentika over Sharapova in the Aussie Open Round of 16. Photo courtesy Getty Images.

Some light is now filtering down to the forest floor.  Seedlings like 30th-seed Eugenie Bouchard, Simona Halep and Garbine Mugaruza -- Garbine Mugaruza! -- are now getting Miracle Gro pep talks from their coaches. 

Cibulkova was thisclose to letting Sharapova slip through to the quarters in straight sets.  Cib was up 5-0 in the second, but got tight, letting Maria reel off four straight games.  To her credit, she knuckled down and closed out the set, holding up a clenched fist in triumph.  She learned her lesson in the third set and never let her foot off the gas.  

"I came into this match believing 100 percent that I could win it," she said in her on-court interview.  Cib credited her victory to confidence.  But, as with Ana Ivanovic's upset of world number one Serena Williams Saturday, journos will likely give more of a nod toward Sharapova's injury.

After losing the second set, Sharapova called for the trainer and received a ten-minute medical time out for what what Maria said later was a hip strain. 

It was just maybe few seconds I let my thinking go away." -Dominika Cibulkova

As I watched on TV, I thought, gamesmanship.  Maria's going to use the bum butt to regroup and come out firing, and Dominika is going to let the long wait rattle her.  But it didn't.  "I wasn't thinking about it," she said in her post-match interview.  She WAS thinking about Maria's service toss, which she caught a couple of times near the end of the match.

But that long break didn't phase Cibulkova.  What was getting to her was Maria's ball toss.

"I was getting like a little bit angry about that, you know.  I was keep talking myself, like, Why she doing that?  I thought it was on the purpose."  

I know the feeling, DC.  I burn with fury whenever Mark starts chatting during a changeover about the little adjustment he's made that has him cracking forehand winners down the line against me and my Worthy Comrade.  He's doing this on purpose. He's rubbing it in.  He hates me.  I hate him more.  I'm calling an attorney after this match. 

I haven't called an attorney. Yet.  And Cibulkova stopped the mental bleeding.  

"It was just maybe few seconds I let my thinking go away," she said.  "That what I was also working on during my preseason, you know, to let me stay focused and not to let my thoughts go away."

Cibulkova has beaten Maria on a big stage like this before.  She dominikanated Sharapova in the quarters of the French Open, 6-0, 61.  But that was five years ago, in 2009.  She must have a scrap book of that match, a little memory shrine in her head that she visits to remember what that felt like, because she rode that feeling all the way into her first quarterfinals Down Under.

When Ivanovic stepped inside the service box for Serena's second serve, it was like watching a New Yorker cross Eighth Avenue 

Ivanovic's victory was more unexpected.  The 14th-seed had never won a match against Serena in their four previous meetings, never even took a set from Williams.  She's been in one quarterfinal since her French Open victory in 2008.  You've got to get into the Way Back Machine to remember that victory, before her toss went awry and her confidence crumbled.  

But here she was, doing what no one on the women's tour does: cracking winners off of Serena's vaunted serve. Ana had 33 winners to Serena's 22.  She won 60 percent of second serve points, compared to a paltry 41 percent for Serena.  When Ivanovic stepped inside the service box for Serena's second serve, it was like watching a New Yorker cross Eighth Avenue in front of a line of cabs at rush hour: Bold.

On center court, in Rod Laver Arena, defending men's doubles champs Bob and Mike Bryan were shown the exit by Minnesota native Eric Butorac and his doubles partner, Raven Klaasen of South Africa, 7-6 (9), 6-4.  It's the first time in 10 years that the twins haven't made the finals.  

Even more stunning is that they were beaten by two guys who've only been playing doubles together for four months.  

Wednesday
Jan152014

Australian Open: And You Thought the Heat Played Basketball

Heat continues to be the biggest threat for tennis players trying to advance through the draw at the Australian Open.  The forecast for Day Three in Melbourne is 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Celsius sounds so much better, a meager little number, just 41.  

The players aren't so fortunate: kids staying cool at the steamy Australian Open. Photo courtesy Getty Images.

No matter how you count the notches on the thermometer, if these temperatures last through Thursday, it will be the worst heat wave in more than 100 years for Melbourne.

The heat is keeping Serena Williams up at night, though it didn't seem to hurt her on court Wednesday. She rolled through No. 104, Vesna Dolonc, 6-1, 6-2,  The win is her 60th at the Aussie Open, tying her with tennis great Margaret Court.

"I kept waking up in the middle of the night last night, just paranoid," said Williams.

"I just wanted to stay hydrated.  The last thing I want to do is to cramp in this weather.  It can happen so easy.

On the men's side, top seed Rafael Nadal plays his second rounder.  So does No. 4 Andy Murray and No. 6 Roger Federer.  Americans Jack Sock and Donald Young try not to melt against 24th-seed Andreas Seppi (Sock) and 25th-seed Frenchman Gael Monfils.

Despite the heat, there were plenty of marathon matches.  Daniela Hantuchova prevailed over Karolina Pliskova, 12-10, in the third set.  Florian Mayer upset 14th seed Mikhail Youzhny.  American up-and-comer Madison Keys was up-and-out after three sets against Jie Zheng.

Sabine Lisicki blamed the heat for the Wimbledon finalist's quicker-than-expected exit.  Australian Open.com writer Darren Saligari took issue with her excuse:

 

After her 2-6 6-2 6-2 loss to Monica Niculescu, Sabine Lisicki tweeted: "Got beaten by the heat today. Very unfortunate but that's life. Thx so so much for your support out there!!"  

Presumably she forgot it was Niculescu who was hitting all those winners, not the sun.

Unseeded American Sam Querry hung in there to beat 23rd seed Ernests Gulbis, who hasn't made it past the second round in his six appearances at the Aussie Open.  

Gulbis is an epic Tennis Hater.

 

The 25-year-old Latvian should kick the spare tire around his middle, not the racquet.  Time for me to take down the Gulbis picture posted at my cubicle at work.  

 

 

Sunday
Jan122014

Australian Open: Nadal Over Wawrinka, Li Over Azarenka

The Australian Open is about three hours away AS I TYPE.  Talk about Tennis Hate.  I'm hating 16 hour time zone differences and draw sheets.  I'm scrambling to submit mine by 7:00 PM Eastern Time for Tennis Channel's contest. Every day, at WNYC, I work under deadline pressure.  Why should my Sunday afternoons at home be any different? 

 

Serena Williams seems likely to pick up her 18th Grand Slam title, which would put her in the same company as Chris Evert and Martina Navratalova.  Yeah, she has to beat Victoria Azarenka, but she can do that.  She just did in Brisbane, and Williams' last take-down of Azarenka was for the US Open title in September.  It won't be easy, though.  Both of those matches were close, with Serena needing three sets to beat Vika at Flushing Meadows.

But there's Li Na lurking in the semifinal, to spoil it all for Serena.  Haters, you know how I love that.  If Li gets past Serena, she could see a rematch with Vika in the championship round.  Azarenka is going for her third consecutive Australian Open trophy.  

Li Na could upset the conventional narrative of this tournament in so many ways.  It would be awesome.

I want Li Na to beat Vika Azarenka in a go-for-broke three-set chamionship match.

What I'll be looking for to entertain me in the interim: an early exit for 7th-seed Sara Errani, who suffers from Tennis Hate and doesn't think she belongs in the Top Ten.....an upset of Azarenka by young gun Sloane Stephens in the Round of 16, just like she last year to Williams in the quarters...a Kerber/Kvitova nailbiter in the Round of 16.....and, in third round action, Jersey girl Christina McHale besting 10th seed and former world number one Caroline Wozniaki, who's too distracted by plans for her upcoming wedding to Rory McIlroy.  

On the men's side, I'm actually predicting more unpredictability than on the women's half of the draw. Unconventional, I know.  I don't think Andy Murray is going to go very far.  He's recovering from back surgery. Philip Kohlschreiber can take him in the quarters, after he confounds John Isner, who will suffer a letdown from his skin-of-his-teeth 7-6(4), 7-6(7) victory over Yen-Hsun Lu (who?) in Auckland.

I'm making a sentimental pick, by-passing a world number one Rafael Nadal/world number 2 Novak Djokovic dream final, for a championship match between Nadal and 8th-seed Swiss Stan Wawrinka.

Stan will have to upset Djoko in the process.  He came close last year in the fourth round in Melbourne, leading at one point 6-1, 5-2 (ah, the Tennis Hate that ensued!).  It was one of the best matches of his life and in tennis. Stan's no longer languishing in the fading Federer's shadow.  He stepped up his game in 2013.  He climbed back into the top ten for the first time since May 2008 -- reaching his current spot of 8th in the world in July, a career best --  and collected his fourth ATP World Tour title at Oeiras, his first since 2011.  

So, payback time for Stan when he meets Djokovic in the quarters.  I think he can do it, and defeat Berdych, too, in the semis.  But he won't get Rafa.

What I'll be looking for to entertain me in the interim: Ryan Harrison, losing his cool and busting some racquets over the shots of quicksilver trickster Gael Monfils in the first round....16th seed Kei Nishikori, newly empowered by advice from Hall of Famer Michael Chang, giving Nadal a scare in their fourth round match....the battle of the beautiful one-handed backhands in the fourth round between Wawrinka and 9th seed Richard Gasquet....a first-round battle of the old-timers, American Michael Russell and might-as-well-be-American Dmitry Tursunov (Russian, seeded 30th)....and how quickly the Greatest of All Time, Roger Federer, will get sent home to his pregnant wife and twin daughters.  

 

Friday
Jan102014

Blowout Loss for Nelson/Eddings, Even With Top Seed Singh Out

"We lived up to the blog," said Worthy Comrade Nelson Simon of our Tennis Hate-fueling 6-0, 6-1 loss to Worthy Opponents Tam Thompsen and my beloved, Mark Hilan.  

To the victors go the smiles: Tam, Mark, me and Nelson. Photos: EddingsTam and Mark won by smart, consistent play.  Power player and top seed Surinder Singh was not a factor, out for a meet n' greet with corporate sponsors.  Is he taking JuggleBox to a new level -- eco-friendly tennis racquets, perhaps?   

It was a shaky outing for Nelson, his first return to the Brooklyn recreational tennis tour since an injury in December. Nelson's normally rock-solid at net.  But he consistently missed volley winners, even when Mark and Tam hung balls above him like mistletoe.  He was kissing the net, not the trophy.  He also shoud have asked Santa Claus for a first serve.

We lived up to the blog."

Haters, I wasn't any better.  Though my serves were consistent, our Worthy Opponents' strategy of hitting down the line past or over Nelson or short to me foiled us, again and again.  And again.

"We'll figure it out," Nelson said to me during a changeover, "next week."

I was getting close to losing my cool.  I was swearing under my breath and over it.  I felt like crying.  I felt like dying.  I felt like quitting.  I hated all these feelings.

Okay, I thought, this is where you have to practice all that shit you talk about in your blog, like mental toughness, staying in the moment, eyes on the ball, blah, blah blah.

I wiggled my toes and took a deep breath into my belly and scanned my body for tension, like Jeff Greenwald taught me.  I thought about my intensity level (number 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, with a bullet!) as Anne Smith taught me.  I even took a moment during a break to re-read my tennis story, a la Bob Litwin.

"I love to compete as much as I love to win.  I LOVE to compete as much as I love to WIN," I whispered over and over, looking like a crazy street person on the subway, arguing with herself.

"And how did that work for you?" Litwin asked me later.  I had called him, dejected.   

Oh, for about two points.  Two miserable losing points.

"They kept getting us with the same patterns, over and over again.," I whined.  "They kept lobbing high over Nelson at net to my backhand.  I couldn't do anything with this.

And they knew this, and kept doing this to me!"

Yes, to me, Haters.  It's all about me.  

Bob wisely suggested I de-personalize this.  "Write a different story," he said.  "'When my opponent hits a deep ball to my backhand, I respond with the appropriate shot.'  

But they're attacking me, Bob!  It's called an attacking shot.

Litwin suggested I avoid that word.  It makes me feel a certain way, like attacking back, and not in a sportsmanlike kinda way.  He also suggested that I practice with my coach the shots that Tam and Mark were using to attack me.  Okay, wait, let me rephrase.  That they were using to try to win the point.  

Bob, who helps hedge fund guys stay calm and focused, said he tells them to practice patience while waiting for the elevator, not while they're watching the market collapse.

"Most of our good practice happens in the lesser world, at the elevator," he said.  "When you're tense, you won't remember to take a deep breath unless you do it when you're not tense."

Another tip: love the process of not doing well.  "Everything is always in a state of change.  Suffering comes when we don't accept that."

That's it!  New story: Losses help me get better.  Losses are....enjoyable.  

I'm Tinkerbell and I can fly!

No, I' ve got this.  I love Tennis Hate.  I do.  I really, really REALLY do.  Really.  Do.

 

 

Thursday
Jan022014

First Match of 2014, First Loss

Two days into the new year, and I've recorded my first defeat of 2014.  Typical, is what my Tennis Hate would normally growl inside my head.  

But, Haters, you should know by now I'm not normal.

Under construction: My game? No, our restaurant. Henry, Tam, me and Beth outside Krupa Grocery in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn.

In point of fact, it was one of those weird psychological phenomenas known in sports as a "good loss."  It was hard-fought, lost by my partner, Beth Allen, and I to Worthy Opponents Henry Strozier and Tam Thompson in a tie-break.  

Okay, so Beth and I let slip a 4-1 lead.  And, yeah, Tam and Henry's climb back started by breaking me at 0-40. Oh, and now that you mention it, we never adjusted to their deep baseline shots and their lobs.  Like Mark McGuireI'm not here to talk about the past.  

New year, new beginnings.  Let's talk about what we did well!

Oh, for cryin' out loud, grumbles my Tennis Hate.  If you must....

Beth heroically clawed her way out of a 0-40 deficit, stoically holding serve to put us up 5-3.  I worked on my new story that says I am a wall at the net and got some volley winners, even a put-away backhand overhead. And I only audibly swore once -- just once! -- saying something untoward about Henry's wicked slice backhand return of my serve during that 0-40 sadness.

Yes, my new tennis story is still under construction.  It needs some tweaking and some turbo-charging to really make it send me into a new way of being on the court, and, yeah, in my life.  We all know tennis is life and life is tennis.  

"Show me how you are in tennis and I'll show you how you are in the rest of your life," I can hear my dear pal, Betsy Rapoport, say.  

Funny she should say that.  One part of the rest of my life that is, literally, under construction, is the restaurant Mark and I have a little piece of.  

Under construction, just like my tennis story: the bar at Krupa Grocery.

It's called Krupa Grocery.  It's up the hill from the Prospect Park Tennis Center, so Worthy Opponents and I piled into our car, Mark at the wheel, and checked out its progress.

One look at the huge walk-in refrigerator had Tam convinced we meant business.  "This is a major operation!" she said.  

I told her I hope the food lives up to the walk-in.

 

The space is still raw in parts, the long wall to the left still chipped concrete and bits of exposed brick.  The kitchen was filled with boxes, tools and sheet rock.  No oven yet or fryer or stove.  Four contractors milled about.  One guy was crouched behind the bar, wrestling with some plastic tubing.  Mark indicated where the banquette along the wall would go, and where the tables would go.  

Towards the back of the space, in one of the two bathrooms, someone had indicated with marker and masking tape where various bodily functions go.

Construction workers need blueprints for everything, apparently.

We're just bit players in this restaurant drama.  The vision and oversight is our partners'.  But it still feels thrilling to be a part of something real and tangible, a place, a hangout.  It will feel good to see people in it, eating and drinking and joshing with the bartender. Or with Mark, who will work there weekday mornings, serving coffee and breakfast eggs and pastries.  

I admire him for taking such a leap of faith in his professional life, ending a 35-year career in broadcasting last October to prepare for this restaurant gig.  I think about who I'd be without being on the air.  I'd be...what? Normal.  Unremarkable.  That's my story, at least for now.  How I am in tennis is how I am in the rest of my life.  

 

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