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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 June 1, 2013 - June 30, 2013


Wimbledon: Tennis Hate Flows into Week 2 with Serena Upset

Tennis Hate continues to be as thick as the clotted cream on the strawberries at this year's Wimbledon.  The latest Greatest to go down: Serena Williams.

The reigning Queen of Wimbledon, uncharacteristically humbled. Courtesy Agence France Presse/Getty Images

Sabine Lisicki, the 24th seed, improved her record against the defending Queen of The Grass to 1-2 with a 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 upset.

Lisicki pulled it off despite being 0-3 down against Serena in the third set.  Normally, with the kind of tennis Williams has been playing lately (she came into the match with a 34-game winning streak), that kind of lead has pundits talking about who Williams will play in the next round.  Heck, after Maria Sharapova's upset in Wacky Wimby Week One, everyone had given Williams her 8th Wimbledon title.  

To add more nails to the coffin that everyone thought Lisicki was building out there on Centre Court, the German was 0-40 down, after having clawed her way back to 3-4 in the deciding set. Haters, it was Tennis Hate at its finest.  After a string of errors, seemingly bewildered by Serena's strong, deep returns, Lisicki made some big, clutch serves and leveled the game to deuce.  Wow!  

Lisicki does a victory face plant on Centre Court. Courtesy Getty Images.Then, serving for the game, Lisicki moved up to a short reply from Williams and decides to dink a little drop shot into the deuce court.  Huh?!  Serena put it away to bring the game back to deuce.  Lisicki shook it off, slammed an ace wide, then drew an error from Williams to wiggle out of what could have been a confidence-deflating loss.  

Here's how the WTA website described Lisicki's unexpected escape from Serena's clutches:

"[A] few huge serves here and a couple of big forehands there and Lisicki was right back in it, catching up to 4-all and, after an overhead that just missed the baseline from Williams, getting an opportunity to serve for the match at 5-4. And she converted - with one last inside out forehand winner, the No.23-seeded German finished off the No.1-seeded five-time Wimbledon winner." 

Lisicki was shaking and crying in her post-match BBC interview.  

"I'm so happy!" she cried.  

Uh-oh.  That's not the thing to say when Serena's around.  She recently mocked Maria Sharapova in  Rolling Stone for cooing the same phrase in interviews about her love life with Williams' former flame, tennis player Grigor Dmitrov, "the guy with a black heart."

Williams has called such sentiments "boring."  Her exit from Wimby spells the end, for now, of that delicious little story line.

All smiles on Centre Court for Lisicki....except while hitting. Courtesy Getty Images.Asked by the BBC interviewer how she was able to keep from dissolving into self-defeating self-loathing and other aspects of Tennis Hate when facing 3 break points -- and blowing a match point -- Lisicki said she just "hung in there."

"I was able to enjoy it," she said of the match.  Indeed, she SMILED, even when Serena got two successive points after her shot hit the net and wobbled weakly onto Lisicki's side of the grass.

She also said she was feeling some mojo from the clay court season.

“[It] gave me a little more energy knowing that she won the French Open and I beat the French Open champion three times in a row in my last three appearances, so…good omen."

Williams acknowledged that Sabine "played really well."  She also flatly said she should have done better.  "I definitely, probably should have made some shots.  Huge room for improvement."

When those sorts of results can happen to a player as good as her, there's absolutely no reason why it can't happen to me.” - Andy Murray on Serena Williams' loss

When SERENA WILLIAMS, one of the best female players of all time, says there's "huge room for improvement" in her game, it takes a bit of the bite out of my own despair at ever getting this game.

Meanwhile, Serena's ouster is acting as a weird omen of sorts for Andy Murray, who worries that he, too, is going to be hit with the Upset Virus going around the All England Lawn Tennis Club.

"When those sorts of results can happen to a player as good as her, there's absolutely no reason why it can't happen to me," he gulped. "That's why I'm not getting ahead of myself, and no one else should.”

Murray straight-setted Mikhail Youzhny and will face a resurgent Fernando Verdasco in the quarterfinals, who's playing better since ridding himself of that super-gelled mohawk he'd been sporting.  The product was limiting his movement on the court.

The other quarters in the men's draw:  Novak Djokovic (no surprise there) vs. Tomas Berdych; David Ferrer takes on Juan Martin Del Potro, through to the Wimby quarters for the first time;and  an all-Pole match between sleeper Jerzy Janowicz vs. Lukasz Kubot.

Sabine Lisicki is on to the quarterfinals, where she'll take on Kaia Kanepi.  In the other quarterfinal matches, it's Aggie Radwanska against Li Na, Petra Kvitova vs. Kirsten Flipkens and Marion Bartoli against the last American standing, Sloane Stephens.

The Sloane Ranger rallied from a set down to beat Monica Puig, who has had an outstanding first Wimbledon as a pro.  She said patience is what has helped her get over her own recent bout of Tennis Hate.

This photo says it all about winning and losing, Tennis Hate and Tennis Love. Can't we just wave at the winner? Must we TOUCH them? Puig and Stephens at the net.

As the WTA's website noted, Stephens hit a plateu after a breakthrough run at the Aussie Open.  

She won only two of her next nine matches and stayed put at No.17 in the world. But in the last month and a half she has won 11 of 14 matches, and is now primed to keep clawing up those rankings - how did she break out of her spell?

"I just kept believing in myself," she said. "I mean, it was a bad time. But just knowing that I am a good tennis player helped. I'm Top 20 in the world for a reason. I didn't all of a sudden snap my fingers and get good. I put in a lot of work, a lot of sweat, bad hair days, all that other stuff, to get where I was.

"I realized I couldn't just let that go to waste."

Haters, I've got the sweat and the work down.  All I need is the bad hair day.  Anyone want to grease me up for a mohawk?

I'm happy for Sloane, but I'm rooting for the veteran, Marion Bartoli.  She's come close to winning Wimbledon, losing to Venus Williams in 2007. She's such a grinder.  She's a loner.  Everyone mocks her wacky warm-up swings, her unconventional double-handed forehand, her herky-jerky service motion.  

A victory for Bartoli at the end of this wild Wimbledon of slips and falls, upsets and injuries, would be fitting.  


Wimbledon: Nadal Out in First Round

The freshly-groomed, bright green grass of Centre Court at the All England Lawn Tennis Club did nothing to muffle the sound of Rafael Nadal, crashing out of Wimbledon.

 Nadal wipes disbelief from his face in 1st rd Wimby ouster. Photo courtesy

Rafa, just weeks from his triumphant and record-breaking 8th victory at Roland Garros, petered out against Belgium's Steve Darcis, 76 (4), 76 (8), 64.  Darcis is ranked 135th in the world.  

It's the first time Nadal has lost in a first round in 34 Grand Slam appearances.

The match stats show Nadal played a sloppy game, with 24 unforced errors.  That is the same number of errors Darcis racked up, but he hit 53 winners, while Rafa hit just 32.

Nobody was expecting me to win. So I had to play a good match, relax, and enjoy the game.  That's what I did. -- Steve Darcis

Here's how Ben Rothenberg tells it in The New York Times:

Nadal was often exposed during the match when trying to run around his misfiring backhand to strike a forehand. It is a tactic he often uses with great success on clay but the quicker grass courts proved less forgiving.

The 29-year-old Darcis has never beaten Top 5 players. Until writer Barry Newcombe notes that this early exit is worse than the second round beat-down Nadal suffered last year at Wimbledon at the hands -- and awesome serve -- of Lukas Rosol.  Rosol played out of his mind, the best of his career.  Darcis' win was impressive in a different way.  He did what Nadal often does.  He took control of the match from the get-go, holding six break points in Nadal's first four service games.

The odds were surely stacked against Darcis. He had played at Wimbledon only three times before – and was a First round loser a year ago. In twelve of his previous Grand Slam appearances he had lost in the First round.

Darcis's best performance at Wimbledon before today was to reach the second round in 2009. His best results have been on the Challenger circuit but he did have one good year on grass at Eastbourne in 2012 when he reached the semi-finals before quitting with a back injury against Andy Roddick. Today at Wimbledon Darcis kicked away his previous record for ever. He gained one of the historic wins of any era at the Championships. Moreover he did so against one of the unquestioned giants of the game. Nadal had 20 wins on grass going into this First round match

But Nadal had not played the Wimby warm-up in Halle, Germany this year.  Nadal doesn't like to give excuses for his losses, but he hinted at this one in his post-match face-the-press conference.

"The opponent played well.  I had my chances.  I didn't make it," he said.  "So in grass is difficult to adapt yourself, to adapt your game.  When you don't have the chance to play before, I didn't have that chance this year, is tougher.  I didn't find my rhythm."

Nadal says his knee didn't hurt in his loss to Darcis. But what about his confidence? Courtesy AFP/Getty Images.But sports reporters -- those hungry beasts -- would not let this go.  They were on the hunt for Tennis Hate, and there's no better Hater story line than the one that posits that the 26-year-old King of Clay plays too punishing a game and is grinding his troubled knees right out of the sport.

Q.  You turned a lot around your backhand to play your forehand, and also you didn't move that well.  Was your knee 100% today?

RAFAEL NADAL:  I think you are joking.  I answered this question three times or four times already.  I don't gonna talk about my knee this afternoon.

Only thing that can say today is congratulate Steve Darcis.  He played a fantastic match.  Everything that I will say today about my knee is an excuse, and I don't like to put any excuse when I'm losing a match like I lost today.

He deserve not one excuse.

Q.  You talked a little bit in Paris about your schedule, adjusting it.  I'm wondering if you think you might need to look at that more closely.  Obviously you love playing on the clay, but it's a lot of matches.  Is that something you think going forward you need to look at more closely? [TRANSLATION: IS IT YOUR FAULT YOU LOST BECAUSE ARE YOU PLAYING TOO MUCH?]

RAFAEL NADAL:  What?  I didn't understand that.

Q.  In Paris you talked about your schedule, maybe adjusting it.  I'm wondering if you think physically it's a lot on your body to play so much on clay, even though you love that surface. [TRANSLATION: IS IT YOUR FAULT YOU LOST BECAUSE YOU ARE PLAYING TOO MUCH?]

RAFAEL NADAL:  If I play too much?  That's the question?

Q.  I'm wondering if you need to look at your schedule. [TRANSLATION: SHIT, HE'S ON TO ME, HE REALIZES I WANT TO KNOW IF HE'S TO BLAME FOR PLAYING TOO MUCH.]

RAFAEL NADAL:  In which way?


RAFAEL NADAL:  To play less?


RAFAEL NADAL:  I cannot predict the future.  I cannot say when I do a calendar if it was wrong or if it was positive.  Since six hours ago was a perfect calendar, now is a very negative calendar.  That's not true.

Darcis, meanwhile, credited his serve (13 aces to Rafa's 6) and his resolve to "do something today" with his unexpected triumph.

"I think today I serve very good.  I could use a lot of slice.  And I think he didn't like it so much," he said.

"Of course, he didn't play his best tennis.  But I knew it is the first match on grass for him.  Me, I played already four.  So I think it helped me today."

Haters, I zeroed in on what Darcis said he did to prepare mentally for his match with one of the greatest players of the sport.  He said it was "easy."  He actually used that word.  EASY>

"Nobody was expecting me to win," he said.  "So I had to play a good match, relax, and enjoy the game.  That's what I did."

Huh.  Nobody expects ME to win.  Even me.  Ah, but there's more from Zen Master Darcis:

"But I really wanted to do something today.  You know, if you go on the court, if you try to have fun, it's not the good point.  So I really try to fight.  I knew I could have a chance if I play a good match.  That's what happened today."

One can get TOO relaxed in a lop-sided match and giggle your way right into the locker room.  You still have to want to win.  You still have to be willing to fight, to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, to chant a favorite sports cliche during changeovers.  

Darcis will need to keep chanting.  He faces Lukasz Kubot of Poland next.  And he could see John Isner or veteran Lleyton Hewitt in the Round of 16, should he beat his personal best and get past the third round in a Grand Slam.



Wimbledon: Djokovic: Path "Not Easy" to Final, Eyes Roll 'Round the World

Novak Djokovic wants to convince you that it's going to be hard work, not an easy draw, that pulls him into the Wimbledon men's final in a fortnight.  

"Some people would say I was lucky with the draw," the world number one and 2011 champ said. "But it's a Grand Slam, so I don't think there is any easy way to the title."

Thanking his lucky stars: Nole gets easy draw at Wimby. Photo courtesy Getty.

Puh-leeze.  Nole is the only Top Five player in his half of the draw.  His toughest opponent is the 35-year-old German Tommy Haas, seeded and ranked 13th, whom he wouldn't meet until the fourth round.  

Let me pause here, though, to say I'll be looking forward to that match, and rooting for the old guy. Haas is seeing a late bloom on the rose bush of his career.  He upset Djokovic in the 4th round in Miami, the third oldest to beat a Number 1 since August 23, 1973, when the ATP rankings began.  His other two wins in his 3-5 record against Djokovic came in 2009, at Wimbledon and at Halle, another grass court tournament.  If Nole is feeling over confident, or is tested at all by, possibly, American big server Ryan Harrison or Jeremy Chardy in a third round, Haas could slip through.  

The grass is DEFINITELY greener on Djokovic's side of the Wimbledon draw.Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal gets to make Roger Federer's life miserable in a likely quarterfinals matchup, while Wimby runner up and Olympic gold medalist Andy Murray could see trouble in Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in their section's quarters.

Don't tell me Djokovic wasn't high-fiving everyone in his camp when he saw his draw. 

As I write, Roger Federer opened the tournament by calmly dispatching Romania’s Victor Hanescu in straight sets, 63, 62, 60. There was no sign of any sweat as he pulled his bandana off his head following match point.  All in a day's work, folks.  

On the women's side, who is likely to beat world number one and defending champ Serena Williams?  Except, maybe, herself.  Serena stirred up a bunch of grass clippings coming into Wimbledon with her thoughtless musings on the Steubenville rape case and Maria Sharapova while in earshot of a reporter for Rolling Stone.

"Do you think it was fair, what they got?" she said, referring to the two high school football players who were convicted of raping a drunk 16-year-old girl while others watched and texted the details.  "They did something stupid, but I don't not.  I'm not blaming the girl, but if you're a 16-year-old and you're drunk like that, your parents should teach you: Don't take drinks from other people."

Ugh.  And then there was her end of a phone conversation with sister Venus, in which she appeared to be talking about Sharapova, who's dating a guy Serena used to date.  

"She begins every interview with, 'I'm so happy, I'm so lucky' -- it's so boring," Serena sniped.  "She's still not going to be invited to the cool parties.  And, hey, if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it."

According to the New York Times, Serena said she approached Sharapova at one of those cool parties (it had to be cool, Serena was invited), last Thursday's WTA pre-Wimbledon soiree, to apologize in person.  

"I said: ‘Look, I want to personally apologize to you if you are offended by being brought into my situation. I want to take this moment to just pour myself, be open, say I’m very sorry for this whole situation.’ ”

I'm sorry if anyone was offended: Serena's apology tour stops at Wimbledon.IF Maria was offended?  I suspect she was.  In her pre-Wimby media interview, she took a swipe at Serena's relationship with coach Patrick Mouratoglou. 

"If she wants to talk about something personal, maybe she should talk about her relationship, and her boyfriend that was married, and is getting a divorce and has kids,” Sharapova hissed.  

Oooh, cat fight!  Let's hope they get a chance to settle the score with their racquets, on Centre Court, in the final.  That's where Serena and Maria would meet, as they are on opposite sides of the draw.

In first round news, fifth-seed Sara Errani was bounced by Monica Puig of Puerto Rico in straight sets, 63, 62.  It was Puig's first match on grass as a pro.  

Sports Illustrated sums up the Tennis Hate for Errani, the runner-up in the 2012 French Open and a semi-finalist in three of the last five Grand Slams:

The loss marked another humbling Wimbledon exit for Errani.

Last year, the Italian went an entire set without winning a point in losing 6-0, 6-4 in the third round to Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan. Shvedova was the first player in a Grand Slam to achieve a so-called "golden set" by winning 24 straight points.




Going Public With My "Tennis Beast"

Haters, as faithful I Hate Tennis followers, you already know the map of my tennis psyche (convoluted, twisted, winding and full of pedestrian zones, one ways and detours, like the tiny little streets of Florence).  Now, with the help of good, old-fashioned radio, thousands of others know it, too.

My Tennis Beast, growling. Photo: Stephen Nessen

My Tennis Hate was featured in my colleague Richard Hake's "Weekend Staff Picks" and broadcast over WNYC's 50,000 watt airwaves to all within its radius.

Hake himself has played tennis.  "When i was in high school, I took lessons," he told me.  "I never played regularly, but I like it."

Haters, therein lies the key to curing Tennis Hate: play sporadically.  


 Follow the bus route in Florence to understand my mental game.


From Love to Ugh: League Match Tonight

Haters, I've got a USTA League match tonight. Only lima beans provoke a greater gag reflex.

Put me in a tennis clinic for 5 hours at noon in the Florida heat, and I am happy. But tell me I am playing "for real" and I find myself thinking of ways to pull my own hamstring.

I doff my flop sweat-stained cap to the pros who put themselves through this every week.

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