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.
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.
II’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."
The 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.
More 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 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.