Follow Me
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

Entries in Grand Slam (19)


US Open: Azarenka Needs 3 Sets to Get Past Qualifier Krunic 

Victoria Azarenka was all fight, emotion and, in the end, song, in her 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 thriller Round of 16 match over feisty qualifier Aleksandra Krunic at the US Open.

Racquet back, flap like a bird: Vika Azarenka suffers a bout of self-criticism in her fight against Krunic.Krunic had knocked off two seeds - No. 27 Madison Keys and No. 3 and Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova -- on the road to her nighttime match on Arthur Ashe Stadium.  She nearly beat No. 9 Vika, who has been injured and hasn't had a lot of match play.

It showed in that first set.  Azarenka had a 3-0 lead but ended up losing it, as Krunic hit amazing winners and used drop shots to her advantage.  So frustrated was Azarenka with Krunic's variety that she started muttering to herself, gesturing to her camp, and, in one weird moment in the third set, chided herself for not moving forward toward a backhand shot thatby sticking her butt out and spreading her arms like a startled chicken.

Vika demonstrates how NOT to set up for a backhand.She was exhuberant in victory, all gush and goofy.  In her on court interview, Azarenka told Mary Jo Fernandez, "I love tennis, I love that yellow ball, I love hitting forehands and backhands, I love the way that feels."  And she coaxed a baffled crowd at Ashe into singing "Happy Birthday" to Gael Monfils.

Later, on ESPN, Vika turned even more philosophical, banishing all signs of Tennis Hate with its best antidote: gratitude.

"Sometimes you forget that life is beautiful.  Sometimes in the tough moments you forget that. But if you can keep reminding yourself that it's a new day, you can do something better, that seems great."

So close to smacking her racquet on the court, SO CLOSE! But Vika resists the urge, tapping it several times instead.


US Open: Halep Upset, Giving Romanian Newsman His Headline

It was a bad day of Tennis Hate for Number 2 US Open seed Simona Halep of Romania, making for a helluva story for Grigor Culian.

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni is stunned by her victory over #2 seed Simona Halep. She's through to the 4th round of a Slam for the first time in her 17-year career.Culian is the founder, publisher, editor-in-chief, senior reporter, chief cook and bottle washer for New York Magazin, the Romanian language bi-monthly.  He's been covering the US Open and its Romanian players since he founded his paper 18 years ago.  "I have followed her for a couple of years," he said of the 22-year-old Halep, as we watched her play veteran grinder Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia in the Grandstand.

Halep, who reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, the final at Roland Garros and the semifinals at Wimbledon, wilted under Lucic-Baroni's powerful forehand and blistering return game. Simona lost in straight sets, 7-6 (6), 6-2 to a veteran player who leads Halep by ten years and trails her in the WTA rankings by 119 points.

You're not supposed to let your opponent back in a game," said Grigor

Lucic-Baroni is a perennial early-round write-off.  She's lost in the first round 18 of her 31 appearances.  With her straight set 7-6 (6), 6-2 upset of the 22-year-old French Open finalist, she moves into the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time in her career.  

"This is incredible!" she gushed through tears in her on court interview afterwards.  "I'm sorry, I'm goofy!"

ISimona Halep's bags are packed for China, as the WTA tour heads east to Asia.t was incredible, a result that, in the beginning, neither I nor my Worthy Comrade, Grigor, would have expected. Lucic-Baroni was hitting hard and flat and strong, but she was also hitting the ball wide and long. Culian, who played tennis in college and continues to play today (doubles now, the 62-year-old said, in Juniper Park in Middle Village, Queens), said, "She is overpowering Simona, but she makes too many unforced errors. That is the difference between these two.  Simona," he added, "knows how to win the big points."

Ah, but that was before Halep, serving at 5-2 for the first set, crumbled against Lucic-Baroni's aggressive returns, giving up the game and the set on a third break point.  She got a second chance to put Lucic-Baroni in her place, serving at 5-4, but she was broken at love with a double fault.  

"You're not supposed to let your opponent come back in a game," mused Grigor.  "Simona doesn't play aggressive enough."  He said you're supposed to have a killer instinct when you've got a lead.  "

Grigor Culian has that instinct.  He fled Ceausescu's Communist regime in February, 1989, taking advantage of a trip to the United States to visit his sister.  "I filed for political asylum the moment I arrived at JFK airport," he said.  In December, a month after the Berlin Wall fell, Ceausescu's regime collapsed.  Culian was able to bring his then-wife and daughter Stateside.  "I got so lucky," he said.

So many years!  My God, this is so incredible! Every painful moment is so worth it!

Before us, under bright sunny skies on the Grandstand court, dark clouds of Tennis Hate were clouding Simona Halep's game.  She double faulted again to give Mirjana the tiebreak and the first set.  In the second set, she's broken in the third game.  

Culian was matter-of-fact about Halep's Tennis Hate predicament.  "What she has in her mind is two things. Number 1, she was leading, 5-2, in the first set.  Number 2, it was 6-7 in the tiebreak and she lost with a double fault.  And it stays in her mind for a long period.  And when she looks up, the game is over."

And so it was.  Halep's opponent, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who had won two qualifying matches last week after being 4-2 and 5-2 down in the third set, never let her wake up from her first set regret.  Lucic-Baroni won the econd set handily, 6-2, with back-to-back aces.  She dropped her racquet, put both hands in the air and beamed.  She trotted over to her coach, hugging him as if she had just won the whole US Open.

"I had a game plan, I believed in it the whole time," she said through tears on the court.  "I just kept fighting. So many years! My God, this is so incredible!  I live for this!  I'm so lucky to be here!  Every painful moment is so worth it!"

Lucic-Baroni has struggled long and hard to make good on the promise she showed at age 15, reaching the third round at the US Open in 1997 in her very first appearance.  Two years later, she was a semifinalist at Wimbledon.  But injuries and what referred to as "off court struggles" hindered her progress. She barely played for much of the 2000s.  It's only in the last four years that she's started to get beyond the first round in tournaments.  This year, she retired in the third round in Doha against Aggie Radwanska, after her back seized up.  During qualifying rounds at Indian Wells, she herniated a disk in her neck.  She didn't play for three weeks after her first round loss at Wimbledon to Victoria Azarenka.

She covered her face and started crying when Daily News reporter Filip Bondy gently asked her to sum up her career so far.

"I'm a little emotional," she said.  "I'ts been really hard.  After so many years, to be here again, so many times.  I wanted it so bad, I would burn out."

Haters, you know I was on the edge of my seat hearing this.  I, too, have wanted success on the court so bad. I've wanted some return on my investment, of time, money, energy, love, and yes, Hate.  Why wasn't I succeeding?  I was trying SO HARD.  I believed that energy, that willingness, that will, should be rewarded with, well, some W's.  Some wins.

A welcome task for former teen phenom Lucic-Baroni: signing balls for adoring fans courtside at Grandstand.But Mirjana Lucic-Baroni has learned something that I'm beginning to experience, too.  That too much will gets in the way.  That a tight grip on the racquet and the mind ruins your game.  That setting a goal, and then letting go of it, sets you free.  Free to win, and not just by vanquishing Tennis Hate.

"I wanted it so bad, I was paralyzed, I couldn't do it," she said.  "Now, I just relax.  I just play tennis."



French Open: Serena, Defending Champ, Ousted in 2nd Round

If there's any reason for women's world number one Serena Williams to succumb to Tennis Hate, retire and open her own nail salon, it was her listless, straight-set loss to unseeded Garbine Muguruza.  It took just over an hour, 64 minutes, for the 35th seeded 20-year-old from Spain to demolish the defending champ.

Winning just four games against the 35th seed leaves a sour taste in Serena's mouth. Photo, me.Williams won just four games in the entire match.  That's not like her.  She couldn't find any rhythm on her serve, winning just 55 percent of her points on her first serve.  Her second serve point percentage was in the basement, 27 percent, compared to Muguruza's 68 percent.  The vaunted slugger hit only 8 winners.  EIGHT.  That's one for every other game.  That's just not like her.

Serena's Tennis Hate was visible on the court, according to The Guardian:

She moved sluggishly throughout and, although fighting to the end, was clearly distraught at her inability to keep the ball in play and racked up 28 unforced errors. At one point in the penultimate game, she shook visibly before serving and seemed on the point of collapse, but she gathered her composure to finish.

Finish the game, but not the tournament.  Muguruza made sure of that.  

"It’s amazing,” Muguruza said of her victory over Williams, by far the biggest win of her young career.  It's her sixth Grand Slam ever and only her second appearance at Roland Garros.  “I didn’t expect that. But I played very, very good. I am really happy. My plan was to be very aggressive and I think I did it very well."

Moment of victory: Muguruza in disbelief as world number one dumps a match point return into the net. Photo, me.Williams, who had to withdraw from Madrid earlier this season because of left thigh trouble, said nothing was physically wrong with her.  A journalist pressed her on this point, saying she had overheard Williams muttering that she couldn't serve.

"No, I just couldn't serve," Serena said, in a rare, publicly critical self-assessment.  She never talks about her game like that.   It's just not like her.  

"It was one of those days, you can't be on every day," Serena said.  "Gosh, I hate to be off during a Grand Slam, but it happens.  It's not the end of the world.  It is what it is."

"I honestly never saw her play like this," Williams said of her opponent.  "We'll see if she can keep it up."

Ahhhh.  That's my girl.  Show me some of your characteristic bravado.  That means you're on your way back from this super ugly loss.

But Williams said something different to Muguruza at the net, when it was all over.  "She said, if I continue to play like this, I could win the tournament," Garbine told reporters in her post-match interview.  

Muguruza's mug shows nothing but pride and pleasure. Photo, moi.She'll play Anna Schmiedlova, another unknown, who triumphed in three sets over Williams' sister, Venus, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.  

Just to keep the American Tennis Hate going, Sam Querry is also simmering on the sidelines.  The 26-year-old, who's been struggling to regain the confidence and form that had him as high as 17th in the world in 2011, lost to 31-year-old veteran Dmitry Tursenov, 6-4, 7-5, 6-1.  

Every picture tells a story, and this one sums up Serena's match. In control of the point, she dumps an overhead into the net. Photo, moi.


Australian Open: Wawrinka Wins, Getting 1st Slam Title and 1st-Ever Victory Over Nadal

Stanislas Warinka beat a wounded world number one, Rafael Nadal, to lay claim to the Australian Open championship title, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.  But most of all, Stan beat Tennis Hate out on Rod Laver Arena.  It was really starting to push Wawrinka around in that third set.

Stan delivered: first Slam victory, first win over Nadal, first time as World No. 3. Photo courtesy Getty Images. 

Wawrinka was a Stanimal at the start, doing the unthinkable:  he won the first set.  He'd never won a set against Nadal in their 12 previous meetings.  Wawrinka also got an early break in the second against Nadal when Rafa's back seized up, apparently on a first serve.   Rafa bent over at the baseline and squeezed his eyes shut in pain.  

Not his knees, for once. Nadal's history of injury-plagued Aussie Opens continues. Photo: Amy EddingsIt's rare to see that from Nadal.  The guy plays with pain all the time.  He's got two creaky knees, one that kept him out for 7 months and caused him to miss last year's Australian Open.  He's been playing with a huge blister on his hand.  So to see Nadal doubled over like that, and breaking down briefly into a towel, you knew whatever he was feeling in his lower spine had to be bad. But the crowd thought it was gamesmanship, and booed Rafa when he took an injury time out.  Even Stan was barking at the umpire. 

Wawrinka kept his cool and closed out that second set.  But, as ESPN commentator Brad Gilbert puts it in his classic, Winning Ugly, "Beware the Wounded Bear."  And beware the Wounded Bear on Vicodin.  Especially Rafa Nadal.  The guy came back last year after a seven-month break to tend to one of his many knee problems to tear through the 2013 season and return to the number one spot.  You knew he wasn't going to let Wawrinka win in straight sets.

Wawrinka must have been thinking the same thing -- I can't let one of the greatest players ever to lose another set! -- so he gifted Nadal with the third set.  He wrapped it up with unforced errors and tied it with a bow by letting go of two break point opportunities.  

Stan almost let it go in the fourth set, too.  He was the first to break, getting Rafa to go up 3-2.  But nerves and Wawrinka's old story of being the Fighting Failure got to him.  (The tattoo on his left arm is a Beckett quotation, ''Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.'')  He couldn't buy a point in the sixth game and gave the break right back at 0-40.  

Maybe Wawrinka re-read his tat during the changeover and decided that the way to fail better is to win.  Stan brought Rafa to another nervy 15-40 spot.  He looked at his box, pointed to his head and punched it a few times. That must've rattled something into place, because Wawrinka seized the moment, the game, and, serving it out at 5-3, the fourth set, the match and the tournament.  

Maybe Wawrinka re-read his tat during the changeover and decided that the way to fail better is to win.

It took Wawrinka a few beats to even acknowledge his winning shot, a gutsy inside-in forehand from inside the service  that he blew down the line into the corner of the deuce court.  Nadal, who usually owns the baseline, a champion defender, a guy who gets to every ball, just stood there, flat-footed, and watched it sail past.   

It's the 28-year-old Wawrinka's first Grand Slam victory.  He becomes the number 3 player in the world.  That other Swiss, Roger Federer?  He drops from 6th to 8th.  

Wawrinka was muted in his victory celebration.  He wasn't beaming or bumping his chest (Djokovic) or pointing to the sky (Murray) or doing wirlygigs (Tsonga).  He just smiled.

He said during the trophy ceremony that he was still wondering whether he had won.  "Last year I had a crazy match, I was crying a lot after that match," he said of his five-set heartbreak against Novak Djokovic in the Round of 16. "Let's see if I'm still dreaming."

To Rafael Nadal, he said, "Your back is going to be fine."

Down Under, everything is topsy-turvy and upside-down.  It's been a tournament of upsets.  Rod Laver Arena is where Nadal and Djokovic sat down during the 2012 awards presentations after their epic, record-shattering five-hour, 53 minute final. It's where the usually calm, cool and collected Federer became undone and wept openly after his 2009 loss to Nadal.  

Now it was Nadal who was tearing up as he accepted the runner-up trophy. "I'm sorry to finish this way.  I tried very, very hard."  

He called it was one of the most emotional tournaments of his career.

Photo: Amy Eddings




Australian Open: Nadal Advances to Final to Play Surging Stan

Rafael Nadal did what he usually does when he faces Roger Federer: he beat him.  And he did so fairly easily, too, in their Australian Open semifinal, 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-3. Nadal has now beaten Federer 9 times in their last 11 Grand Slam meet-ups, and owns a 23-10 record against the Greatest of All Time.  

Nadal gets the GOAT's goat. Photo: Aaron Favila/AP

Which again brings up the question: IS Federer the greatest of all time?  

Certainly, Rog has the record of most Grand Slam wins -- 17 -- and the  most consecutive weeks as Number One. But the 27-year-old Nadal, "in the meaty years of his career," as Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim put it, is just four Slam wins away from tying that record.  His career trajectory still seems on the rise, bad knees be damned, while the 32-year-old Fed's is trending downwards.

IS Federer the Greatest of All Time?

Federer has entered this season trying to shake things up, with a new, bigger racquet and a celebrity coach, 6-time Slam winner Stefan Edburg.  But the strategery was no match for Nadal.

"For nearly two weeks now, Federer had played like the Federer of old — but Nadal beat that Federer, too, for the most part," said The New York Times' Greg Bishop.

"I tried a few things," Federer said.  "I think Rafa does a good job of neutralizing you."

Check out Nadal the Neutralizer:

Nadal said it was his best match of the tournament. 

"I think I played great," Nadal said.  His only dissatisfaction with his level of play was on a point during the first set tiebreak.  Yes, Haters., just one point.  I can only dream.  

Here's how he analyzied the tiebreak:

In the deuce position I made second serve return with a backhand that I had mistake.  That is the only point I am not happy about the way that I played on the tiebreak.  With 5-1, I missed a forehand down the line but it was the right shot.  Missed it for just little bit.

It's a little window into Nadal's Tennis Love, how he learns from his mistakes.  He doesn't get into whining and self-flagellation, doesn't indulge -- at least, in front of reporters -- in self-pity.  IHis analysis was a dispassionate dissection of what was working and what wasn't.  He asked himself simply: Was it the right shot at the right time?  

Nadal plays for the championship against Federer's countryman, the now-best Swiss player on the tour, Stan Wawrinka.  He defeated Tomas Berdych, 6-3, 6-7 (1), 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) in their semis.

It's Stan's first Grand Slam final, and he'll be unnerved, no matter what.  Stan is 0-12 against Nadal.  The blog Busted Racquet points out that Nadal has not lost a set against Wawrinka.  But Stan had lost to Novak Djokovic 14 times in a row before upsetting The Djoker in the quarters Wednesday night.  With the top seeds Djokovic, Serena, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka ousted during this year's Aussie Open, why not bet on Wawrinka beating Rafael Nadal?

"I didn't expect to make a final in a Grand Slam and now it's happening," Wawrinka said.  "I'm just really happy."

He's got another day to enjoy that feeling before looking across the net at Nadal.

Page 1 2 3 4 ... 4 Next 5 Entries »