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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: Errani Takes Meltdown to Operatic Level

Italians do high emotion better than anyone.  So, leave it to Sara Errani, the little bull dog from Bologna, to show us all how Tennis Hate should be done: with hand gestures. 

She gets credit, in arguing chair umpire Richard Haigh's terrible overrule, for refraining from using a middle finger salute.  It was a poor call by the ump at a critical time in the 16th seed's first round match against qualifier Yanina Wickmayer.

Thank goodness to SportsMagicianJJ on YouTube for capturing this.  Otherwise, I wouldn't have understood what happened.  My husband and I were watching this on a big video screen, sans audio, on the grounds of the Lindner Family Tennis Center.  We had no idea what Sara's beef was, but we knew it was meaty.  

It's 3-3 in the third, and Errani hits a second serve wide to Wickmayer's forehand.  Yanina hits the return long, but the umpire rules Errani's serve out. Errani's challenge shows the ump got it wrong, way wrong, but he won't give the point to Errani, saying he has to give Yanina the benefit of the doubt, that she'd have gotten it in play had he not made the call.  He tells her to replay the point.

What ensues is body language opera.  The hunched shoulders.  The little prayer hands in front of her nose.  The delicate little circles she makes with her index finger and thumb.  The flat hands -- "You agree with me?" -- as if shielding herself from his noxious reasoning.

"You're making not one mistake, you're making two mistakes, that's unbelievable!" she cries.

No, Sara.  That's tennis.


Cincy Open, Where Hot Streaks Get Extinguished

People ask me, what do you hate about tennis?  I offer them today's first round ousters of Venus Williams and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who just last week were kicking ass and slaying giants.

That Tennis Hate look: Lucie Safarova, on learning that her match point winner against Venus Williams was actually a fault that puts her in jeopardy of a break.There they were, Venus at the Rogers Cup in Montreal, Jo-Willy at the men's tour equivalent in Toronto, burning through the draw.  Venus, unseeded, was a surprise finalist, losing to Aggie Radwanska but beating her sis, world No. 1 Serena, in the semis.   Tsonga dismantled four Top Ten players -- Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Grigor Dmitrov and Roger Federer -- on his way to becoming the first Frenchman to win the tournament since 1881.  Seriously.

I know Quebec wants to secede, but shouldn't Canada be nicer to the French than that? 

Williams' and Tsonga's success was so 72 hours ago.  As on Wall Street, past performance in tennis is no predictor of future winnings.  I ask you....what's NOT to hate about that?

Here in Cincinnati, Williams lost to the 16th seed Lucie Safarova, 7-6 (2), 3-6, 4-6. It's Safarova's first victory ever over the seven-time Grand Slam winner. Safarova not only handled Venus' big serves, breaking her four times in the last two sets, she kept Tennis Hate at bay when, serving 5-2 for the match, the umpire overruled a line call to give Venus the break, and some hope.  Williams held, but Safarova clinched the set and the match it in her next service game.  

Venus was gracious in defeat, offering no other excuse than that her opponent was better.  "I think she just played really well," she said.  "No matter what shot I hit, she hit a winner, or if I hit it really deep she somehow managed to control it down the line."

At least that one went the distance -- three sets, in nearly two and a half hours of play.  Tsonga's loss to journeyman and Tennis Hate icon Mikhail Youzhny (you'll understand why here) was a wipe out at 6-1, 6-4. This was not the Tsonga who beat four Top Ten players, including Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, to claim the title in Canada last week.   He looked pooped. 

Also going down, but off court: defending champ Victoria Azarenka, who finally succumbed to the knee injury she suffered in Montreal.  

"I'm going to get more treatment and get more work done and should be good for the US Open," she said, her lips to God's ears. "But I had to make this decision.  I feel strongly that it's the best for me at this moment."


Cincy Open: Townsend Advances, "I Belong Here"

It's one big schoolroom out there on the court for Taylor Townsend.  "I'm just trying to take the step to continue to learn and do the right things," the 18-year-old American said following her 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 upset of No. 36 in the world Klara Koukalova.

High on the list of Right Things: Townsend kept herself pumped up. Koukalova, the 32-year-old veteran from Czechoslovakia, looked put upon and miserable from the very first serve.

Clenched fists meet clenched mind: Klara Koukalova failed to unclench her first serve in her loss to Taylor Townsend at the Western & Southern Open.

Maybe her recent divorce in March was weighing on her. Her WTA website bio mentions that she played under her married name, Zakopalova, for 8 years. Today, she was finding no refuge from heartbreak in her sport.

Koukalova's serve....well, Haters, it sucked.  She got just 47 percent of her first serves in.  Townsend took full advantage. It was something she learned from the only other time she had played Koukalova, a loss at Wimbledon in the first round.

"I really, really focused on the return of serve, because that's where I got in trouble at Wimbledon," Townsend said.

TT got in trouble again, in the second set.  While she broke Klara straight out of the gate, she couldn't consolidate it.  Koukalova broke the teen right back in what was the first of five consecutive winning games. Yet here's another thing that sucked. Even in success, Koukalova looked glum. Closing out the second set at 6-4, she walked to her chair like she was on a forced march.

Taylor Thompson, meanwhile, was getting her mind straight from the outside in, keeping any suliking to a minimum.   She'd do a little "uh HUH" thrust with her chin while getting ready to serve for the game or the set. When facing a 0-30 point or break point, she held the ball in her tossing hand and gave it a little spank with her racquet. Obey me, or else.

Thompson continued to follow her game plan, even after blowing two match points on Koukalova's serve by blasting the returns long.  No matter.  The third time was the charm.  Koukalova hit a weak, sad little backhand into the net off another return blast from Townsend.  Match over.  Tournament finished.  Klara Koukalova showed her racquet a bit of the abuse she had been giving herself for most of the match, bouncing it off the court as she headed to the net to shake Townsend's hand.  

"It came down to a point here or there," Townsend said.  "I just tried to fight and stay in the moment."

"As I continue to play these matches on tour and get acclimated against the girls and playing against the high-level people, the more that I do feel like I belong."



Cincy Open: Robredo Pokes a Hole in Sock

Tommy Robredo got it right when asked in his on court interview what the key ingredient was in the Spanish veteran's 7-6 (5), 6-3 victory over American young gun Jack Sock.

"I think mentally, it helped me a lot."  And by that, I'd add that it wasnt just his mental fortitude, but Sock's very apparent lack thereof.

Jack socked in his first round loss to Spanish veteran Tommy Robredo at the Western & Southern Open.Sock was unable to hit the re-set button after losing the first set tiebreak.  He requested a trainer, and had some goo massaged into his upper right arm, his service arm.  But he still looked restless, irritable and discontent.

"Keep fighting, Jack," said a member of his camp.  "Make him earn it."  

He couldn't, not without his mighty serve.  Sock's first serve percentage got lost in the dryer, falling from 65 percent in the first set to 50 percent in the second.  Meanwhile, the years fell away from 32-year-old Robredo's arm.  He was getting 84 percent of his first serves in play and winning 75 percent of those points.  

Sock appeared like he was battling himself.  In the middle of one of his service games, he approached the chair umpire, crouching down in a squat and looking up at him, looking like a supplicant before God.  Please make this match go away.   

What can Sock bring from his doubles success? Maybe he needs some team spirit.

He lost his fight.  Pushed wide to his backhand wing by Robredo, Sock didn't even make an effort to cover Robredo's to-be-expected blast into Sock's wide-open deuce court. 

I've been in the middle of matches where I find myself thinking the same thing.  Why bother? I hate this game.  I suck.  I don't have it today.  

If not today, when?  

Maybe there's something he can bring from his doubles success.  Sock won his second ATP tour title in doubles in Atlanta last month with Canadian Vasek Pospisil.  The pair are undefeated at 10-1.  What's the secret?  The team spirit?  The feeling that someone is sharing the moment with you, there to back you up?  The crowd was trying to do it.  Maybe Sock needs to let them in.

Robredo, the No. 16 seed, is doing pretty good for an old guy.  He reached the round of 16 in Toronto last week, losing to Grigor Dmitrov. Robredo faces another big-serving American, Sam Querry, in the second round.


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.  

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