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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

Entries in Tips (33)


US Open: Ask A Great About Tennis Hate

When I met the 1977 US Open champ and British tennis great Virginia Wade, I didn't ask her about her box at Wimbledon that was being auctioned tonight to raise money for CityParks Foundation.  I asked her about Tennis Hate.

Does she have any tips to keep it from creeping all over my psyche like English ivy at the All England Lawn and Tennis Club?

Being human with Virginia Wade."One word?" she asked.

"Sure, if that's all it takes," I said.

"Why are you supposed to be perfect?" she said.  

"Okay, that's seven, but I'll write it like this to make you consistent, Miss Wade: Whyareyousupposedtobeperfect?

"You're only human, you're allowed to make mistakes," she said, and then quickly moved on to other guests at the event.  Maybe it was my quizzical look when she told me I was human.

John McConnell, the former senior programming exective at ABC Radio Networks, hung in there with me a bit longer.  McConnell loves the game, went to Pepperdine on a tennis scholarship.  I asked him about his most memorable meltdown.

Cool in the newsroom, but don't throw your script into his studio: former ABC Radio broadcasting veteran and tennis player John McConnell and me, at the CityParks Foundation fundraiser."I remember when the No. 1 junior in the world threw his racquet over the fence and into my court, just missing me, at the Los Angeles Tennis Club.  I picked up his racquet and tossed it into the swimming pool," McConnell said.  

Okay, Mr. McConnell, that was someone else's Tennis Hate meltdown that you just described. However, it did include two -- two! -- instances of racquet abuse, so I'll take it.  

He probably wouldn't call it Tennis Hate, but McConnell suffered from something approximating it in his years playing college tennis.    "I once was up in a match, 6-1, 5-0, and I lost it," he said.  "I will never forget how bad I felt." 


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."



I Actually Enjoyed Myself

Haters, I played my first league match of the season, and I didn't throw up.  I didn't throw a tantrum.  I didn't lose.  And I didn't cry.

I actually enjoyed myself.

Worthy Opponent Lori and I celebrate our awesome tie at the USTA National Tennis Center in Queens.That was my goal.  The fact that my USTA women's 3.0 Queens league match with Worthy Opponent Lori ended in a tie, with me winning the first set, 6-4, and Lori to serve for the second set at 5-3, was an afterthought. Maybe it shouldn't have been.  Perhaps I should have really buckled down and made holding my serve in that eighth game my brass ring, but I was too busy focusing on more important matters, like breathing.

My goals were simple.  Stay calm, see the hit, get to every ball

Seriously, have you ever paid attention to your breath in the middle of a match?  I found I hold mine throughout the point.  No wonder I get tight.  Even my lungs are clenched.

I started the match on the way there, repeating to myself in the car my Tennis Story:


  • I get to every ball.  
  • I improve every time I play.  
  • I play with confidence and gusto. 
  • I relish testing my limits and seeing if I can expand them. 
  • I am a Worthy Opponent, respecting my opponent and the game through a positive attitude and good sportsmanship.  
  • I love to compete more than I love to win.

 Yes, Haters, repeat after me: I love to compete more than I love to win.

I was so nervous.  I was filled with dread.  Tennis Hate was yammering away in my head.  I haven't practiced enough.  I don't have a put-away shot.  I shouldn't play in a league until I'm really good.  I'm going to let my teammates down!

I sat in the car for ten minutes, breathing nice big belly breaths, the kind I often don't take because, well, it's just wrong to deliberately push OUT what you've been spending a lifetime sucking IN.  I remembered another part of my story: I convert nervous energy into excitement.  I'm excited every time I take the court.  I thought of Rafael Nadal, jumping around at the net during the coin toss, doing that zig-zag sprint back to the baseline to start the warm-up.  He wants to play.  I was wanting to hide.

By the time my fellow Ball Busters walked onto our assigned courts at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center with the iron smell of rain in the air, I was calm.  I thought of how cool it was to be playing on Court 8, the same court that the top tennis players in the world will be sweating and grunting on in a few weeks.  During last year's US Open, Court 8 hosted Simona Halep, Roberta Vinci and Daniela Hantuchova.

I was cheered by the exclusive welcome extended to me and my profession by the court itself: Media Only.  The message was spray-painted on the court surface at the gate.  

They knew I was coming, so they sprayed a gate. Photo: yours truly.My goals were simple.  Stay calm, see the hit, get to every ball.  I caught myself at times wishing it were over, wishing I was home watching somebody else putting it all out there on the court.  I didn't want to face this pressure.  It reminded me of practicing zazen, Zen sitting meditation, where you sit on a cushion looking at a white wall and counting your breath to three, over and over, fighting off the urge to leap up and demand that somebody turn on a TV to The Housewives of Orange County.  

Tennis is my practice, I thought, standing there on the baseline, getting ready to receive Lori's serve. This is my Zen, my spiritual practice.  I live every moment fully.  I want this moment to go on and on and on, because it's the only one I am living.

I got jammed up when I became a spectator of my own game.  I noticed my Worthy Opponent was winning with cross-court forehand angles near the service line of the deuce court, so I started defending against them by putting more shots to her backhand.  I saw that I was putting a lot of balls short.  She gobbled many of them up, hitting short, angled winners to whichever side she wanted.  Lori made it look easy, like it wasn't tennis. I tried to adjust, and got a few more balls back deep, including some that bounced high and gave her trouble.

 I told myself, I love these pressure points.  These are the sweetest moments of the match. 

My best moments were when I came to net.  I move up to net about 3 or 4 times, not much, but enough to be a big deal for me.  When I got there, I won the point. My biggest triumph was when I went against my deeply-held sense of fair play and courtesy, and hit a forehand volley winner for the break at 15-40, deep into the opposite corner, away from my Worthy Opponent.  I had to stop myself from apologizing: Sorry, Lori, I forgot, I usually hit those back TO you. Oops.  

Oh, yes, service breaks.  Lori and I played it just like some of the pros of the WTA, trading them like cards in a game of Old Maid.  I didn't hold until my third service game in the first set.  Then, the next game, I broke her! Wow!  Then she broke me back!  Shit!  Then I broke her with the aforementioned put-away volley winner.  YAY! And then -- let loose the pigeons -- I held serve at 40-30 to take the first set, 6-4.  

I was pushed to deuce many times during my service games.  I told myself, I love these pressure points.  These are the sweetest moments of the match.  I love facing break points, because I get to see what I'm made of. Lori and I must have reached deuce about 6 times in the second set, me serving at 2-3.  She ended up breaking me, but, Haters, I didn't fizz into a fury.  Instead, I thought, I fought off 3 or 4 break points in that game. Cool.

And then I broke her back.  

I didn't consolidate the break, though.  As was our way on this night, Lori, my Worthy Opponent, broke me back, easily, 0-40.  She was to serve for the set at 5-3 when it was time to stop.   We had been playing for two hours.

In the end, my story came true.  I got to most every ball.  Now, I have to add to my story a clause that says, "and I hit the appropriate shot once I get to it."  I stayed calm.  And, the happiest ending of all, I loved competing on this night more than I loved winning that first set.  


A User's Manual of the Mind

Imagine if you could just turn the volume down on your Tennis Hate.  Imagine if you could reach up to your forehead -- or maybe have your doubles partner do it -- and turn a knob, the one that's over your third eye, to silence that voice that's hissing like a tea kettle, "That shot sucked, you've got the worst forehand in the league, you are never going to succeed at this sport, go take up basketweaving, it suits you better." 

My Tennis Hate is at 11 dB. One louder. Photo, artistry: Me.

Worthy Pro Jeff Greenwald wants us Tennis Haters to do just that when we're playing, to think about dials instead of how sucky and freaked out we are that we're blowing easy volleys.  Rather than standing at the service line, thinking of how I'm serving, 0-5, his "mental game changer" method would have me think of a different set of numbers, ones that indicate the level I'm playing at when it comes to intensity, looseness and focus.

"You don't try to relax," he told me in a recent telephone interview from his base in Marin County, California.  "That doesn't work."

Haters, don't we know this to be true?  The more I tell myself to relax, the more I tighten up.  I have whiffed plenty of shots, especially second serve returns, immediately after exhorting myself to focus on this next shot, get this next shot, nail it.  My tennis game is like a 16-year-old.  The more I command it to be a certain way, the more it rebels and does exactly the opposite.

Imagine if you could reach up to your forehead -- or maybe have your doubls partner do it -- and turn a knob to silence that voice that's hissing like a tea kettle, "You Hate Tennis."

Greenwald, a former touring pro, a national and international senior circuit world number one, sports psychology consultant and licensed therapist, has a two-hour downloadable Tennis Hate reduction method called, "Play Out of Your Mind: The Mental Game Changer." It combines some of the stress reduction strategies he outlined ten years ago in his audio course, Fearless Tennis, with his recent work with performance "dials." 

Jeff Greenwald: Feet Intensity, 8; Looseness, 4: Focusing cue, stay down. Photo: Jeff Greenwald.The work begins, Greenwald said, with becoming aware of what's going on in your body and your head on the court and accepting it.  Yes, Haters, embrace the Hate.  It's what I've been encouraging you to do all along!

"The first thing is accepting the reality of the moment, and that offers you options and perspective," he said. Acceptance begins with awareness.  Greenwald advises scanning your body for tension, and just noticing it.  That's all. Hello, my neck feels like rebar and my service arm feels like a 2x4.

 I remember working with Greenwald on this at the US Tennis Congress last fall.  He had me and several other participants do this mental scan before serving or returning serve.  "Just observe how you're feeling, where your muscles are tight, don't try to relax them," he instructed.  "Now, think about your feet.  Notice your toes, wiggle them around in your shoes." I fluttered my toes, noticing how sweaty they were.  Yuck.  

Uh oh, a judgmental thought.  Okay, Amy, so they're sweaty.  Duly noted, let's move on.... 

"Now bring your attention to the ball," he told us.  He was giving us a pathway, a trail of breadcrumbs, out of our heads, into our bodies and back onto the court.

With Play Out of Your Mind, he offers additional tools to get Tennis Haters into their optimum performance state while in the middle of the on court drama.  After becoming aware of the tension I'm holding in my body, and accepting it, I can now take a course of action to dial up....or down....a deeper level of Focus, Looseness and Intensity.

"Say that you are at an 8," Greenwald said about Looseness.  "You're really nervous, really tight." (Man, I'm this way even in practice, let alone matches.)  "If you can go from 8 to 6, you have good chance to win the match."

He offers a PDF file with his audio course with tips on how to find and drill with this concept of dials and numbers.

Hit down the middle with low tension (1) and move up scale to (10), spending 30 seconds or 1 to 2 good rallies to connect level of tension with ball striking.  Stop after you reach (6) on the dial to see/assess and observe tension level. Discuss with partner or coach.

During the Tennis Congress, Jeff had us start with a level of 8.  Some in the group started really nailing the ball well, interpreting Greenwald's instructions as Intensity rather than Looseness or tension.  "I want you to think of how your body feels when you're really tense and scared on court, really nervous."  

 Crank 'em up. Or down, depending. From Jeff Greenwald's Play Out of Your Mind's Quick Start Guide.

Oh, that dial!  My buddies and I started recalibrating.  I tensed my arm up as hard as I could, pulled my shoulders up toward my ears, where they usually reside, clenched my jaw.  You know, my natural on court state.  I couldn't clear the net.  My fellow Congressmembers were getting the same, pushy results.

Greenwald congratulated us on how tight we were.  "Those are great 8's," he said.  Now he had us dial it down to a 2 or 3.  "What does that feel like?  What's your 3?"  

It took a few passes before I could hone in on the feeling.  I wanted to go all spaghetti, but you can't hit a ball that way.  There has to be some flexing of the muscles of the shoulder, arm and wrist as it pulls the racquet into the ball.  But there it was, a feeling of release, of flow, an uncharacteristic smoothness and fluidity to my forehand that I savored in the experiencing of it.  I couldn't wait to hit the ball again.  It was pleasurable.  It was clean and unobstructed by mental chatter or extra, unnecessary clenching. My balls sailed easy and deep into the opposite court.  


But my Tennis Hate immediately seizes on a conundrum: How do you play Loose without playing Careless?  How do you play with Intensity while staying Loose?  I'm a Type A overdrive kind of player.  I've told myself, in the midst of a match, when I'm losing and wanting to cry or smash my racquet or just check out, let them win, who cares, thinking that that will take off the pressure.  Thinking that that's "letting go" and being "loose."

No, that's playing LOSE.

"You're hitting the heart of the challenge for many," Greenwald told me.  "You're thinking that the solution is by not caring.  You need to care a little bit about winning and losing…but not so much."

Greenwald says the performance states of careless, carefee and careful are on a continuum.  "You don't want to play careful."  That'd be playing at a (10) on your Looseness dial.  "You don't want to play careless, reckless." That'd be, perhaps, a 1 on the Intensity dial.  "You want to find a way to be more carefree, carefree about the results [of a match or a point], which we only have partial control over, anyhow."  

He said working with his dials of Intensity, Focus and Looseness, identifying what my optmium settings are, and learning to conceptualize getting to those levels while in the thick of things in a match, will help me inch further along the path toward...well, if not Rafa Nadal-like mental toughness, then improvement.  One less expletive rant after my forehand down the line sails long, it's over the chain link fence and into the neighboring softball field at the Prospect Park Parade Grounds.

"The best in the game, they want to win badly," Greenwald said of the pros.  "Rafa wants the ninth French Open title, they want it as bad as anybody else, or more." But rather than focus on a result that is not in their control, Greenwald said the pros have learned how to shift their attention away from results and onto their optimum performance state.  Their own little forehead dials.  

Nobody gives us a user's manual of our mind."

"Rafa takes a freezing shower to get out of his head," Greenwald said.  "[The pros] are like a finely-tuned instrument.  Their anxiety is not so much about losing the match as it is performing less than they can and being in a state that they know won't contribute to best tennis. It's the difference between wanting a particular state or winning or losing that match."

His hope for Play Out of Your Mind is to help Tennis Haters like me find that performance state more often.

"Nobody gives us a user's manual of our mind," he said.  "I have made a great effort to take what we all experience at every level and be as human and practical in remembering how the brain works [as possible], to give people tools where they can adjust what's happening in the moment in an effective way. The zone happens two times a year, or whatever.  Mostly, what we're trying to do is have our worst day be better and our best day happen more often.  I think these dials speak to the experience we all have and can help."



Saintly Pro: Joe Dinoffer

Saintly Pro Joe Dinoffer hits two milestones this year. He turns 60, and his tennis training tools company, On Court Off Court, turns 20.  That's a pretty big deal, those two decades, when you think of what a niche market he's operating in.  

 Joe Dinoffer, made a saint for all the times he's had to say, "racquet back." Photo, Joe Dinoffer. Halo conferred by Amy Eddings.

Flip through a catalog or click through On Court Off Court's website, and you'll find the tools in a typical tennis pro's teaching arsenal: brightly colored cones, flat plastic targets, ball machines and big foam tennis balls.

But there are also gadgets like the Forehand Fixer, the Billie Jean King Eye Coach, the Contact Doctor and the enigmatic Arm Pocket Developer, which sounds like a sewing notion.  It's not.  It's an arm band that helps correct for big backswings.

We're still trying to get tennis players to embrace the use of training aids more like golfers do

"These things all definitely help, there's no question about it," said Dinoffer in a recent telephone interview with me.  "I think, intrinsically with tennis, there are people who would use training aids more -- and some do use them -- but there haven't been companies promoting training aids.  One of the reasons is, the numbers are small enough that companies that come up with one or two ideas cannot sell enough of them to stay in business."

That hasn't been a problem with Dinoffer, who started delving into the science of learning out of a desire to help his students improve more quickly.  "We've got a little over 200 proprietary products that I designed," Dinoffer said.  Some are simply modifications for teaching carts and ball baskets, but others clearly involved thinking out of the box, or, in this case, the court.  

The opening salvo in the War On Cones: Joe Dinoffer's Ropezone, which creates target hitting zones. Photo, On Court Off Court.His first product was Ropezone, a set of four, brightly-colored flat ropes that clip onto the net and are used to create target areas.  Dinoffer said Ropezone not only helps players develop directional hitting, it builds confidence.

"When I started my company, I jokingly called it Join The War On Cones," he said. Why the Cone Hate?

Tennis pros walk on court, typically, with a mind set that they're getting paid to find what's wrong

"If you aim for a cone that's 60 or 80 feet away, and you hit it, it's just pure luck.  People fail 95 percent of the time or more," he said.  That leads to Tennis Hate.  Haters, we know where that can lead us: straight off the court and onto the couch.  Dinoffer said target zones are more forgiving than cones, they can be adjusted to a player's skills and abilities and they offer higher chances for success.

"Tennis pros walk on court, typically, with a mind set that they're getting paid to find what's wrong. Consequently, that's what they'll do.  They'll see you, Amy, hitting a forehand [editor's note: I'm cringing here, which tells me he's on to something] and feel like, 'Wow, the more I notice what you're doing wrong, the more I can tell you what you're doing wrong, the better job I'm doing.'  But that's going to backfire on the student.

"I came up with the theory that a 70 percent to 30 percent success to failure ratio was a reasonable thing to help people feel good about themselves and their experience."  What Joe's offering through his products -- the funky Arm Pocket Developers, the ropes, the straps, even the little buzzing electronic shoe inserts designed to cattle-prod you onto your toes -- is encouragement and confidence.  Hey, I can do this, too.  I think I'll stick with this sport.   

A tennis training aid, a Hannibal Lector restraint device, or a goalie mask? You decide. Photo courtesy Square Hit Tennis.It takes a lot of balls, though -- and I don't mean the fuzzy, yellow kind -- to show up at your club and strap on your Flex Trainer.  I bought a Wrist Assist (check out the photo, left) after seeing coaching great Brad Gilbert shill for it on Tennis Channel, and it quickly moved from my wrist to the trunk of my car.  I was too embarrassed to wear it.

Even gadget-less training efforts can draw stares from others.  I once tried replicating a Bryan Brothers kick serve drill, one that involves serving from the baseline on your knees, to force you to hit up on the ball.  Two guys on the next court stopped to watch.  "Is that something you learned from watching Tennis Channel?" one jerk quipped.

I persisted for a few more serves, my cheeks bright red, every ball flopping into the net.  I got up a few minutes later and tried to look nonchalent as I picked out green grains of Har-True that were embedded in my knees.  Ouch.  In more ways than one.

Saintly Pro Joe Dinoffer was sympathetic.  "We're still trying to get tennis players to embrace the use of training aids more like golfers do," he said.  "People swing golf clubs in their backyards more freely to practice than people will swing their tennis racquet.  It could be that to play golf is a serious decision in that it takes half a day and it costs more money.  I guess it motivates golfers to practice a little more.  Tennis, perhaps, is taken a little more casually."

Well.  I'm not a casual type of gal, Haters.  I've put a lot of effort into trying to improve, and it often feels like it's been to my detriment.  That Wrist Assist I threw out cost me $59, and I used it maybe 5 times before I let shame deter me.  These things don't work anyway, I fumed.

I wonder if Joe Dinoffer offers an Attitude Adjustor?

That Wrist Assist, by the way? Joe says his Angle Doctor gets the job done for about half the price, something he hints at in this instructional video.

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