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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

Indian Wells: Gulbis Smashes Racquet, Dmitrov

Ernests Gulbis got his Tennis Hate under control long enough to beat the hearthrob of the tennis media and Maria Sharapova, Grigor Dmitrov, 2-6, 6-1, 7-5. 

I break racquets with this: Ernests Gulbis, triumphant over Grigor Dmitrov. Photo courtesy Stephen Dunn/Getty Images.

It came with all of Gulbis' signature qualities: his rocket serves (he had 10 aces), his casual, devastating drop shots, his awkward Warrior Two forehand wind-up, his racquet abuse.

Yes, Haters, before bearing down on Dmitrov, Gulbis bore down on his racquet, down 0-3 in the third set.

"This is great stuff," he told Tennis Channel's Justin Gimelstob and Lisa Leslie in a post-match interview. They were playing video of Gulbis' racquet-busting action in slo mo. "This is when the emotions come out."

He went on to offer a vigorous defense of Tennis Hate. "I don't think it's not that bad. It's not that bad for the sport. You have to be respectful to your opponent. You can't break his game or rhythm. To the crowd, you also have to be respectful."

But the respect ends there. "It's my racquet. I respect it or not, it's my business."

Dmitrov, seeded 15th, was upset by 20th-seed Gulbis. Photo courtesy of Stephen Dunn/Getty Images.Of his opponent, Gulbis said Grigor Dmitrov is not all that. "Everyone talks about him being the next number one," he said. "I think he still has a way to go."

Gimelstob and Leslie were grinning, drunk on Gulbis' willingness to be blazingly, even foolishly, honest in front of rolling cameras and live mics.

It's my racquet.  I respect it or not, it's my business."

"Tell us about your serve, talk us through your technique," said Gimelstob.  He didn't really want to know.  The question was just a way of setting up the real purpose of the interview, which was to get Gulbis to talk about his racquet-busting tendencies.

Gulbis, stretched physically. Often, stretched mentally. Photo, courtesy of Stephen Dunn/Getty Images."If you know a thing called Russian roulette, then you'd know," said Gulbis of his service toss. "I throw the ball up and I hope it doesn't go too far away from me."

My Tennis Hate love for Ernests just grew like The Grinch's heart on Christmas Day.

Gimelstob and Leslie, stoked by Gulbis' candor, both went on to ask versions of a question that boiled down to this: How can someone like you win like that, when you're such a hot mess?

"I just went for my shots," he told them. "I didn't think. and just went for some shots. I was lucky to break him early. That was key."

Ah, Tennis Haters, he didn't think. In the end, he did what any mental tennis guru will tell you: stop thinking about your missed opportunities and your woulda-coulda-shoulda's, and hit the damn ball.

Here's Gulbis, Tennis Hate in full flower, at Indian Wells a year ago against Andreas Seppi.

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Reader Comments (1)

People! Stop the hate! Now!!
The following is a letter I wrote to a tennis hater:
While recently visiting your campus to watch two female players play a match, I overheard some of the Cal Tech professors, including yourself, talking about the well-known sport of tennis. I happen to be working at Racquets, a prominent tennis magazine, and as their editor, I wanted to enlighten you about a few things that you may not know or understand. You and your colleagues were ridiculing my good friend Sloane Stephens, one of the players playing that day, for committing her life to tennis. You and your colleagues, were not only criticizing Stephens, but also the sport itself.
To the outsiders looking in through the fence, tennis seems like an innocent, elementary sport. People watching from the sidelines think that anyone could run back and forth and hit the ball over the net. Many start to think they are watching a dog obedience tournament, where the winner is the dog that can chase down the most tennis balls while passing them back to their owner. A good tennis player however, does not rely on the variables of speed and strength. Every tennis player knows the physical basics and tactics behind the sport. Nothing in tennis is secure. There are the variables of the racquet, the surface of the court, the weather, the opponent’s skill level, the spin and the speed of the ball...need I go on? These many complicated factors help to make tennis fascinating and a sport that no one can ever truly figure out.
Because of its many intricacies very few players will be able to compete on the professional level. To perform consistently well, like current top world male players Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, and female players Sloane Stephens and Serena Williams, a tennis player must spend an ample amount of time on the practice court, and always be aware of their mental and physical game. Sloane Stephens, for example, may make what she is doing seem easy, but anyone who is on a world class level does this. This can be said for all types of sports, so it is unfair to degrade tennis based on this assessment. Believe it or not, Stephens is still very young and has a great deal to learn! However, it’s hard for many people to understand that.
Tennis is such a difficult sport to figure out and master because of it’s many components. There is more to tennis than what meets the eye. Something that many people on the outside of the fence forget, but is never forgotten by professionals, is the importance of the mental game. Tennis teaches its players about the basics of the mental game: discipline, concentration, and strategy. In tennis, players must keep their discipline and concentration. The whole time a player must keep their “game face” on, instead of smashing his or her racquet against a wall or the hard surface of the rectangle. Indeed, in order to play well, you have to keep your shots within the confines of the rectangle. When you lose your temper, you lose your concentration.
Reviving your concentration once it is lost is one of the hardest things to achieve during a match. Many tennis players make the mistake of dwelling on the last point that he or she lost. On the other hand, if a tennis player can stay in the moment, he or she will not dwell or stress about past mistakes or future anxieties. Certainly, a good tennis player has to be aware of your mistakes, but deal with them in an objective, non-emotional manner in order to improve. Psychologically, when a player in any sport learns from their mistakes, they achieve much more. The same goes for tennis. Uncalled for anger and distraction are the nemeses of tennis players. When the mind imagines what the future can bring, anxiety sets in. When attention is placed in the here and now, however, actions that need to be done have the best chance of being successfully completed. In one minute tennis can make you feel like the most brilliant performer of all time, and in the next minute tennis can make you feel like an absolute beginner.
Putting aside the physiological component, now let me ramble about the importance of the serve and the strokes. In tennis, the serve starts the points in every game, set, and match. All serious players have exceptional first and second serves. The serve plays a huge role in determining the outcome of your match. Something that many beginners do not understand is that the toss is more important than the speed of your serve. Watch the toss, repeat the toss, experience the toss, see the toss, be the toss! The motion of your hands and arms during the serve depend on the placement of your toss; therefore, the placement of your toss is highly influential on the outcome of your serve, which is influential on your game, which is influential on your match.
As I indicated earlier, only the few people interested in tennis will ever make it to the professional level. But there is a way to do this, and that is the repetition of not only your serve, but also of your groundstrokes: the forehand and the backhand. For now, I will focus on the forehand, the most commonly used stroke in the game. There are many great players in the Hall of Fame who are there due to their fabulous forehands. However, the only way one can achieve a spot in the Hall is through practice. Practice and training, the most annoying aspects of tennis, are the only way to achieve success. After one finishes practicing, one gets a coach, and hits a few billion perfect shots after that. A great tennis player needs to learn to literally get a grip. After learning to get a grip, then you have to learn where to stand, how far away from the net you should stand, the angle in which your racquet makes with the ball, where the ball is placed on your racquet, then how far you put your arm back to hit the ball, how strong you hit the ball, the placement of the ball, I mean there are a ton of factors that play into the perfect forehand. It’s not just, as you suggest, hitting a round ball back and forth.
Tennis is a blend of the pure combination of intense, violent action, in a place of total contentment and tranquility. It is one of the greatest sports invented, and yet it seems so simple: a few squares and boxes inside a rectangular surface. Don’t fall for what may seem simple and don’t fall into the trap of poor preparation, overconfidence, lousy shot selection, and the inability to stay calm. Many people similar to me are tired of people ridiculing this enjoyable sport.
I will conclude with a famous quote by Jean Borotra, a famous past tennis champion, about a concern that I share: “the only possible regret I have is the feeling that I will die without having played enough tennis.” For the people who play it, tennis is a passion they take very seriously. You should not judge the sport of tennis from outside of the rectangle. Millions of tennis players around the world actually spend most of their lives wanting to learn how to play like a pro. But once you reach a certain level, you can play this sport for a lifetime. Now, let’s compare that to some other sports. Tell me, can you play football, lacrosse, or hockey for your whole life? When they get older, tennis players never lose their ability to hit that ball. Once the technique and mental tactics are conquered, they will never leave.
I will now leave you with the following piece of wisdom: love is a crucial part of tennis. If you don’t have it, you will never get it.

March 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnna F

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