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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 Western & Southern Open (6)


Cincy Open: Who Suffered More from Tennis Hate, Ivanovic or Sharapova?

There was no finer display of Tennis Hate than the semi-final match between Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic. It messed with their heads, their serves, their strokes and, in Ivanovic's case, her tummy. 

Ivanovic, seeded 9th, eked out the victory, but just barely, toppling fifth-seed Maria Sharapova in a nearly three-hour-long see-saw battle, 6-2, 5-7, 7-5.  

Here comes lunch: Ana Ivanovic's loss of a 4-0 second set lead makes her sick to her stomach during her Western & Southern Open against Maria Sharapova.What was worse?  Ana letting slip a 4-0 lead in the second set, losing five games in a row to Maria?  Or Sharapova double faulting, twice, while serving for the third set and the match to allow Ivanovic to pull even with her, 4-4?

I really got a little tight," said Ivanovic.  No kidding.

Ivanovic said that, in the second set, she had stopped moving her feet.  "I really got a little tight," Ivanovic said later. "I wasn't moving my feet forward enough and played a little passive."

Any movement seemed to be coming from Ivanovic's gut.  In the third game of the third set, between points, Ivanovic bent over, her hands and racquet between her knees.  She walked over to her chair and called for a doctor, who ended up instructing her to lie down on the court to have her blood pressure taken.

Maria Sharapova winces after blowing another shot in her match against Ivanovic. A blood pressure check for Ivanovic made Sharapova's blood boil.Nerves, or food poisoning?  Ivanovic said she thought she ate something funny.  In her on court interview after the match, she said she started feeling poorly in the second set.

Interesting, how that sick feeling coincided with her plummeting forehand accuracy and her waning focus. 

“I think I ate something bad today,” she told reporters later. “When my coach was coming out, I kept telling him I don’t feel good, like my stomach is really upset. Then it really built up in the third set, and I was not feeling fine. They gave me some pills, and after some games it was better.”

Check her blood pressure!" sniped Sharapova.

The pills, she said, were for nausea.  Sharapova, meanwhile, could have used a chill pill.  She was seething at what she thought was Ivanovic's gamesmanship. Broken back serving at 4-3 in the third set, Sharapova looked at the chair umpire and tapped her upper left arm with her racquet, indicating a sphygmomanometer cuff.

"Check her blood pressure!" she sniped.  

Hell, check mine.  It just went up, typing sphygmomanometer.

Not quite the ground stroke technique Maria was looking for. A rare moment of on court self-criticism for Sharapova.According to The New York Times, Sharapova blamed her Tennis Hate on court officials not telling her what was going on down there, on the side of the court, with Ivanovic being attended to like some 1920s noblewoman at Downton Abbey who just spotted a water bottle on her marble mantle.

“All of a sudden, there is an interruption. You don’t know what’s going on. Is it an injury? And then you don’t get an answer. I don’t think they even know. That’s the tricky part, I guess.”

Sharapova broke right back to make it 5-4.  ESPN coverage showed her shaking her head ever so slightly, and oh so disapprovingly, as she passed Ivanovic near the umpire's chair. She remained so rattled by Ivanovic's courtside doctor's visit that she committed two consecutive double faults while serving for the match, giving Ana a 6-5 lead.

That is so unlike Maria Sharapova.  She has that oft-mimicked pre-service routine for a reason.  She does it to hit the reset button and wipe away whatever happened in the previous point. To see her all unSugarpova-like on the court, frowning, sighing and making snide remarks, was surprising.  To answer my own question, Sharapova suffered the most from Tennis Hate and was unable or unwilling to use her mental tools to fix what ailed her on Saturday night.

This says it all: Elation for Ivanovic, disgust for Sharapova. Who's feeling queasy now?Ivanovic did not buckle this time.  She even hit a vicious cross court winner for match point.  Guess she wasn't feeling tight anymore.  And any throwing up on the court came when Sharapova tried to stretch her 6'2" frame to get that drive.  Her stab backhand framed the ball and sent it sky-high.

Too bad she couldn't take it to Serena Williams in the final.  Williams beat Ivanovic handily, 6-4, 6-1, to win her first title at the Western & Southern Open.



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.

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