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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

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.  

Superman: Milos Raonic moved to No. 6 in world after Citi Open win. Courtesy 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.  

IMe and Worthy Opponent Abby Scher. Look, Abby, I'm smiling!I’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."  

WASP playground: the grass courts at Piping Rock Country ClubThe 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. 

The country club tour continues at Newport: Mark and I at the International Tennis Hall of FameMore 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 Bollettieri's victims stand and acknowledge his Tennis Hate at the International Tennis Hall of Fame.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.  


Tomas Berdych Gives Me a Reason to Blog

I was content to keep biding my time until the Cincinnati Open before breaking my blogging fast, but the sight of a naked Tomas Berdych in ESPN Magazine jolted me into action.

Haters, repeat after me: I love tennis.  I LOVE tennis!  I lovelovelovelove tennis!

 ESPN, how come you couldn't have photographed Tomas in a return of serve position?

Guess what?  Guys, even super fit pro athlete guys, have body issues, too.  Berdych wishes he had leaner legs.  "Being heavier down low, rather than up top, is what has been working in my case," he tells ESPN.  "The ideal plan would be skinnier and lighter legs and a little bit more on the upper body. But it's not something where you go into a store and say, 'I want that.'"

When the issue first hit, Texas Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder's thick physique and belly jelly roll made the headlines and set Twitter aflutter.  He told ESPN that he initially worked out as an excuse to carbo load.  "My thing was, especially during the season, I would just lift weights and eat -- play for the tie." HuffPo took the big body shamers to task, noting that similar animosity had been directed toward other black athletes, notably Venus Williams (also in the 2014 Body Issue), sis Serena and Taylor Townsend, all tennis players.

 So I totally missed out on Tomas Berdych's presence, until hearing the commentators mention it on Tennis Channel during the cheeky Czech's beatdown of Robby Ginepri at the Bank of the West tournament.  

"Berdych will be having a hard time getting through the crowd to our booth AFTER THAT PHOTO SHOOT IN THE BODY ISSUE."  I could have sworn I saw the TV wink.  

Okay, I gotta see this for myself, I thought, hoisting my laptop onto my....well, yeah, lap.  

Now, if I could only hoist Berdych into it.  Wow.


Gone Fishin'

Well, no, not really.  I don't know how to fish.  But I Hate Tennis is taking an injury time-out to put some Ben Gay on my temples and re-string my thoughts.  

Look for I Hate Tennis Even More, coming as the tour wraps up this fall.  Or maybe when it starts at the Australian Open in 2015.  Depends on how quickly the Ben-Gay works its magic.

I leave you with this bit of Tennis Hate: a tennis ball, found stuffed in the grate in SoHo, corner of Prince and Thompson.



Meltdown of the Moment: Vintage Andy Roddick

One year after winning the US Open as a junior, Andy Roddick has his first major US Open meltdown as a pro during his thisclose 2001 US Open quarterfinal against Lleyton Hewitt.  Roddick was serving to stay in it, at 4-5 in the fifth set. Momentum was on his side.  He'd won the first set in a tiebreak, 7-6, lost the second and third and then regrouped to snatch the fourth set from Hewie at 6-3.   

That look. I know it well. Andy Roddick tries to control his Tennis Hate after a bad overrule from the US Open chair ump in his 2001 quarterfinal against Lleyton Hewitt.I appreciate the look on Roddick's face as he tries to corral all the Tennis Hate he sent galloping around Arthur Ashe stadium.  He takes a big breath and tries to settle himself.  It reminds me of Coach Al, saying to me, "don't get excited.  Get composed before you serve."  

Hewitt, meanwhile, is fiddling with his strings while his squeeze at the time, one of my favorite players, Kim Cjisters, keeps her game face on.  Roddick makes several unforced errors to give Hewitt the break, the set and the match.  The 20-year-old from Australia went on to win the US Open, his first of two Grand Slam titles (He won Wimby the next year).

Roddick got his turn to hoist the trophy at Arthur Ashe Stadium two years later, in 2003.  It would be his only Grand Slam title.  

I can't embed the video.  Click on the link.  It's worth a watch, just to see how the two young guns handled the pressure.  And to see how young they were.  I forget that these tennis pros, especially the ones we're talking about now -- Sloane Stephens, Milos Raonic, Francis Tiafoe -- are barely at legal drinking age.  



Second Set Walkabout

I've heard commentators -- I think it's ESPN's Patrick McEnroe -- talk about players going on "walkabout" for a game or a set.  Often the comment is directed at Andy Murray, who, pre-Ivan Lendl, used to become curiously passive in the middle of a set.  I don't know how his new coach, Amelie Maursemo, is going to help there, as she was known to lose her nerve aplenty during her time on the tour.

Still able to smile after getting bageled in the second set by Worthy Opponent Ting. Must've been the thought of bagels.... But why focus on the pros when I've got my own experience vanishing during a match? The most recent was Friday's USTA league match against Worthy Opponent Ting at the National Tennis Center in Queens.

I did my pre-match mental warmup, reminding myself that I get excited -- not nervous! -- when I play matches and that I love to compete more than I love to win.  I also reminded myself that I get to every ball, but in Tennis Story 2.0, I added, "and I make the appropriate shot when I get to it."  

Too many times in my last match I got to the ball, all right, only to sky it or slap it into the net.  

My story started to waver when I saw Ting hit.  She hit with pace.  She could pull off shots in either corner at the last minute, leaving me stranded in mid split-step in the middle of the baseline.  She scurried up to the ball, racquet back, and smacked it.  Note to self: She gets to every ball and hits the appropriate shot, too. 

Hmmm.  What to do?

I noticed her serve was her weakest shot, and I worked  to make the most of my returns.  I focused on hitting down the line, to take away her ability to just sit there and wait for my slow ball to roll into her strike zone.  And I put some spin on my serve, to make it a little less predictable.

 I stood there and watched to see if it was going in.  I should have been watching Ting.

Ack, mein serve.  I pushed a lot of first serves into the net.  I could not find the height I needed on my toss without sending it way over my head.  I double faulted, and handed Ting the first set, 6-4.

And then I forked over the second set, too, gift-wrapped at 6-0.  

Haters, what happened to me?  And how can I save you from the same fate?

Well, my serve didn't just head blew past Coney Island and went all the way to Australia.  I could not control my toss and felt like a white dude at a wedding reception, unable to find a rhythm.  I was no longer seeing the hit.  Worse, I became a spectator of my own serve.  I stood there and watched to see if it was going in.  I should have been watching Ting.  She was setting up and hammering return winners that caught me flat-footed.  

Call it a walkabout, a letdown, a lapse.  It happens a lot in sport.  You stop competing, stop trying to solve the puzzle that is your opponent, and start THINKING.  

Golfer and Caroline Wozniacki dumper Rory McIlroy apparently goes on walkabout a lot in the golf course of his mind.  McIlroy, a favorite to win ths week's US Open, mentally checked out of the Masters, shooting 71 in his first round, then 77 in the second.  Last week, during the Jack Nicklaus Memorial, he opened with 63, then drooped in the second round, finishing with a 78.

"I think I'm first in scoring average on the PGA Tour on day one.  And I'm like 181st on the second day," he said in a Daily News article.   "I don't know if it's because I've got off to such good starts in tournaments where I may be thinking too much about my score, and I'm up early the leaderboard and I might be trying to push too much and keep it going."

Thinking too much, Haters, about the wrong things.  That's walkabout.  My feet are blistered.

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