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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 from February 1, 2013 - February 28, 2013


The Week in Tennis Hate

Roger Federer is feeling sorry for fans who will attend Sunday's ABN AMBRO championship final. That's because they'll be watching Juan Martin del Pot in and Juiien Benneteau instead of him.

Might as well sell your Rotterdam final tickets, because Fed won't be playing. Courtesy AP/Peter Dejong

Federer, who was seeking a record third consecutive championship at Rotterdam, was upset by the 31-year-old Benneteau in the quarterfinals, 6-3, 7-5, on Friday.  The deed was done in just 80 minutes.  It was only the second time in Benneteau's 13-year career that he had beaten Fed, who looked more like a G-O-A-T than the Greatest Of All Time.  

I feel bad for the fans who don't get to see me now.

Fed's timing was off, in both his ground strokes and his serve.  He couldn't take advantage of the 39th-ranked Benneteau's second serves, hitting them wide or dumping them into the net.  He was spraying balls.  His serve was stinky.  His fourth double fault gave Benneteau match point.

It sounds like Benneteau did not try to the world number 2 Fed as much as he was trying not to beat himself.

"I had to do a lot of good things,” Benneteau said. “I prepared myself to play my game, not to try to play better than I can, but to be aggressive when I could. I needed to show physically and mentally I was here and that I wanted it.”

Federer's response was characteristically audacious:  

"I feel bad for the fans who don’t get to see me now. Hopefully this wasn’t my last time here."

Esther Vergeer quit while she was ahead.  Waaaaay ahead.  The 31-year-old wheelchair tennis great retired earlier this week after a 10-year, 470-match winning streak.  In 95 of those matches, the Dutchwoman double-bageled her hapless, helpless opponents.  She dropped only 18 sets.  She won the singles gold medal at four straight Paralympic Games, including Beijing in 2008.  She won the championship despite facing a match point against countrywoman Korie Homan, the only time that happened during her winning streak.

Gold digger: Esther Vergeer took a fourth consecutive gold medal in wheelchair tennis singles at the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

"Too good!" as ATP Masters broadcaster Robbie Koenig is fond of uttering when a winning shot leaves him grasping for something to say.

She's so good, in fact, she exists in a world without Tennis Hate.  "I'm hugely proud of my performances, my titles (148 in singles, 136 in doubles), and can look back on my career with a great feeling," she said at the ABN AMRO tournament in Rotterdam, where she made her announcement and released a book about her life and career.

I know what it's like to lose a Monopoly game.

If I were a reporter covering this, I'd ask Vergeer if she feels any Hate at all.  Does she get disgusted with herself on the court?  "I should have hit that winner even closer to the line, dammit!"  Is there any part of her game she's seeking to improve?  Does she beat herself up for allowing her opponent to even win a point?

How does it feel to win when you never lose?

NEVER lose?  I'm being too generous.  "I know what it's like to lose a Monopoly game," said Vermeer.  "And I don't like losing.

And finally, we close out our summary of Tennis Hate highlights with an uncharateristically cranky Rafael Nadal.

Hard on hard courts: King of Clay wants more tournaments on clay. Courtesy Clive Rose/Getty.The Spaniard is back on the tour after missing the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the 2013 season, and most of last season with a left knee injury.  He plays David Nalbandian Sunday in the Sao Paulo final in Brazil, after rallying to beat another Argentinian, Martin Alund, 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-1.  It's his second final in as many tournaments.  Last week, at Vina del Mar in Chile, the first clay court tournament of the men's season, the King of Clay was stunned by world number 73 Horacio Zeballos in another three-setter.  It was Zaballos' first ATP World Tour trophy.

I can't imagine football players playing on cement. 

On Tuesday, two days after his defeat, Nadal griped about having to play too many hard court tournaments, saying it will lead to long-term injuries for players that will last long after they retire.

"The ATP worries too little about the players," he said.  "It should care more for them."

Rafa, THIS is a hard court. The tour's hard court surfaces? Like a pillow-topped mattress.He thinks more tournaments should be played on softer surfaces. Like....oh, let me guess....clay.  The seven-time French Open champ said hard courts are "too tough" on players' bodies.

"The ATP has to start thinking about ways to lengthen the players' [Editor's note: his] careers.  I can't imagine football players playing on cement, I can't imagine any other sport involving aggressive movements such as tennis being played on such aggressive surfaces such as ours.  We are the only sport in the world making this mistake and it won't change."

He's forgetting basketball, squash, racquetball and the not-the-beach-kind volleyball.

The 26-year-old said it's too late for him to "reprogram his style" to lengthen his career.  "I only have one," he said. And it's one that grinds out long points from the baseline. With no major changes in the tour on the horizon, Nadal doesn't think he'll be a recreational athlete after he and his sore knees limp off the court and into history.

"After ending the career, it would be nice to be able to play football with friends, or tennis.  But with this surface, I don't think it's going to be possible."




Worthy Opponent: Francesca Marguerite Maxime

Only two and a half hours into my Lenten disciplines this Ash Wednesday, and already, I owe $6 to the swear jar.  

I blame my Worthy Opponent, Francesca Marguerite Maxime. 


And she thinks she's making an ugly Tennis Hate face: Francesca Maxime holds my notebook, filled with useless tips on how to beat her.Maxime, a news anchor with the wholesome cable TV network, Ebru TV, brought out the not-so-family-friendly language from me with her signature inside-out forehand deep to my ad corner.  She also changes direction on a dime, drilling her heavy topspin shot past me into the deuce corner.  Corner to corner she had me, running, as Andre Agassi used to say, from Bradenton to Las Vegas.

"I started playing in high school, and didn't really pick up a racquet again until I moved to Florida in 2006," she said.  "I played there for three years until I came to New York."  

She, too, is a Tennis Hater.  "I'm addicted to it. It's like a bad relationship you just can't leave."

She writes about it in her new book, Rooted: A Verse Memoir:

He asked me if I had a vice, and what was it, and I told him

I like to eat, and he said That's it?

And I said That's it (although I like sex as much too)

unless you want to call playing lots of tennis a vice.

No, tennis is definitely not immoral.  But it is a bit naughty in the way it gets into your head and your dreams, the way you obsess over recreating the feeling, once you've had it, of connecting perfectly with the ball, your mind as still as a winter lake.  Call it passion.

Francesca Maxime plays a lot of tennis.  "I take clinics, play in ladies groups, and am on several USTA Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Mixed Doubles teams."  Like me, she burns with a desire to get better.  Like a Type-A New York journalist, she's ambitious.

"I need more wins than losses this year," she said.  I like how she puts that -- need.  Her results last season were marred by a bad back.

When she's not smiling with Tennis Hate, Maxime just...smiles."Did I mention I hate injuries?" Maxime seeks relief from this kind of Tennis Hate by watching the Tennis Channel and considering the plight of the injured pro.  "Because when I see people like Rafa Nadal out for seven months with bad knees, I feel a little less bad about my human plight, and hate tennis a little less."

In our match today, I got back some good, defensive backhand slices.  Where has that been? Ah, my Worthy Opponent's pace forced me to keep my wrist firm and to hit through the shot, rather than get all wristy and slice down on the ball.  Instead of floating into outer space, or the net, my slice backhand zoomed low across the net and deep into Francesca's court.  It drew an error a few times.  More often, it at least gave me time to recover and position myself in Chicago, before Francesca pulled me east toward Bradenton again.

Maxime concedes her serve is her weakest stroke, but I could not take advantage of it.  I kept hitting the ball long.  In between my own expletives, I heard the voice of Saintly Pro Al Johnson asking me, in his dry, sharp way, "What ball were you looking at?" The one sailing over the baseline, Coach.   

Christians worldwide are abstaining from meat today; I abstained from double faults, double clutch tosses and second serves.  It's a miracle, one brought on by several weeks now of good, solid coaching.  Coach Al and I are reconstructing my service motion, getting rid of, as he calls it, "hysteria." For weeks, I've been starting with the racquet head pointing skyward, no take back.  During last Sunday's lesson, I started working on a take back, pointing my racquet back behind me before swinging it up into that skyward-pointing position.  I tried this motion today, and liked how it felt to release the momentum of the swing into the ball.  I served well.  

By that I mean I got it into the box, made few errors and put some body weight into the shot.  I wish I could say that "serving well" means that I actually held serve.  Nope.  Maxime broke me early and often, beating me solidly, 6-2.  

I've got more work to do to adjust to her pace, to turn quickly and get my racquet back.  And to keep my focus on the damn DARN ball.  

Make that $7 in the Lenten Swear Jar.