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 from March 1, 2013 - March 31, 2013


Miracle of Easter: We Beat Singh/Thompson!

My husband and I thought we were offering ourselves up like lambs to the slaughter for the Easter feast when we agreed to square off against Worthy Opponents Surinder Singh and Tam Thompson at the Prospect Park Tennis Center.  Singh is undefeated for the indoor season, and Thompson is a tough customer on the doubles court. She's got the game and the guts to serve and volley, Haters.

It may look like a tennis ball, but it's really a hand grenade when Tam Thompson volleys it at you."You can thank us later," we were thinking to ourselves as we made our intention to play together known to Tam and Surinder.

But here's an Easter miracle: We beat them in a tiebreak.

Click to read more ...


Indian Wells: Lob Rally Draws Tennis Hate From ESPN

ESPN's Chris Fowler sent me running for my laptop when he mentioned the "epic moonball rally" last night between Caroline Wozniaki and Angelique Kerber.  He said "moonball" with such disdain!  


And yet, it was what allowed Wozniaki to eventually triumph over Kerber for the first time in their last four meetings and to advance to the Indian Wells 2013 final.



Caroline was ahead in the third and decisive set, up 3-1, but it was a pressure point, 30-all.  Kerber returned with a deep backhand right at Wozniaki's feet, prompting her to react defensively with a moonball.  Kerber took the high ball out of the air with her leftie forehand, hitting a sharp, cross-court angle that got yet another moonball response from Caro.

Two can play at that game, thought Kerber, and she joined in.  A murmur starts to swell through the crowd: "Hey, are we watching pro tennis, or a USTA 3.0 women's league?"

Yet no 3.0 player I know, including myself, could have kept it up for a 38-shot rally.  Most of the time, those high bouncers have me flailing helplessly deep behind the baseline, as I fall back into the cold embrace of the bubble.  

About 20 shots into the rally, Wozniacki goes for a hard, flat cross-court backhand, but Kerber's been knocked senseless by the lack of oxygen in outer space.  She replies with a moonball, setting up another rally that Kevin Ford, Evgeny Terelkin and Oleg Novitskiy might have enjoyed on the International Space Station, had they not been preparing to come back to earth today.

On center court at Indian Wells, the tennis ball's space mission finally ended when Wozniaki came up to a short sitter from Kerber and hit a flat, hard backhand deep into the deuce court to end the point.  

"I think she was moving better and hit the ball a little bit higher," Kerber said after Wozniaki defeated her, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5.  She admitted it changed the momentum of the match.  "I was not expect these balls."

Neither did anyone else.  A journalist asked her what she was thinking during the moonball rally.  Was it, "I haven't played this way since I was 5"?  Or, "I'm going to kill myself if I end up being out-moonballed"?  Or, "God, I hope Tennis Channel took a commercial break!"

"What I'm thinking... I don't know. I try to play the point. Doesn't matter if it's high or if it's flat. It's a different style of game, but it's tennis," said Kerber.

Yes, Haters, it's tennis.  Moonballs are a legitimate shot.  

Or, as Caroline Wozniaki put it afterwards, "I was trying to figure out a way to win. And it doesn't really matter how."



Indian Wells: Azarenka, Stosur, Withdraw; Nadal Beats Error-Prone Federer

The BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells continued its bid to be the most Tennis Hate-filled tournament of the 2013 season with the quarterfinal withdrawals of top seed and defending women's champ Victoria Azarenka and Samantha Stosur.

Let's go to the (physio) tape: Azarenka throws in the towel after crying into it over injury withdrawal.

It's the latest weirdness to happen in a tournament that saw aging Aussie Lleyton Hewitt oust last year's finalist and 15th seed, American John Isner, and South African Kevin Anderson taking an hour and 55 minutes to kick the Spanish Bulldog and 4th seed David Ferrer to the curb.  Or to the cactus.  After all, it IS the California desert.

Azarenka was set to meet Caroline Wozniaki before she pulled out of the tournament with tendinitis and inflammation in her right foot and ankle.  It's a holdover from an injury she sustained in Dubai.  According to Sports, the feisty, competitive Belarussian was seen hobbling around during her practice session and crying into a towel.

"I tried absolutely everything I could to do, but I have been advised by the doctor, by my own team, that it's just a very, very high risk already," she said.  

Wozniaki will face Angelique Kerber, who's beaten her in their last three meet-ups.

Stosur pulls calf, pulls out of Indian Wells. Sports Illustrated says it's only the second withdrawal in her career. Photo courtesy Getty Images.Stosur's withdrawal handed Maria Kirilenko a walkover and sets up a Kirilenko/Maria Sharapova semifinal.

If Sharapova wins, she bumps Azarenka out of the world number 2 position.  

It's a shame.  Azarenka is unbeaten on the court so far this season, with a 17-0 streak that includes her second Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.

Stosur also realized the extent of her injury during practice.  In a statement, she said she "felt something go" in her right calf muscle while serving for the match against Mona Barthel.  


"I had a bit of a rough start to the year and I feel like now my tennis has really picked up, and I've been playing really quite well these last few days," she said in a statement.  "I don't know if you can get any more unlucky than that."

It FELT like a walkover: Nadal breezes past Federer in quarters, 63, 62. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.Unlucky is not the word to use for defending champ Roger Federer, who was felled by long-time rival Rafael Nadal in straight sets.  The word of the match, instead, is sloppy.  They say the most telling statistic in the men's game is the second serve percentage.  Federer won the point on his second serve a measly 29% of the time, compared to 52% for Rafa.  Mr. Bad Knees now has a 19-10 record against Mr. Bad Back.




Hitting the Wall

When long-distance runners talk about hitting the wall, they mean the dead legs and overwhelming exhaustion that comes from gobbling up all their bodies' stored-up glycogen. When tennis players talk about hitting the wall, they're usually more literal.  

My Worthy Opponent, ready and waiting at the corner of Greene and Waverly Avenues.

They're talking about a form of practice that doesn't need a court or another tennis player.

When I Hate Tennis talks about hitting the wall, it's about both.  Because when I've tried to hit against a wall, I've developed such a mental weariness that it's made me want to chuck the racquet and eat a box of donuts.

My Worthy Opponent, Marcy Rosewater, was singing the praises of wall-hitting.  "It really helps me focus on my strokes.  I can feel what I'm doing wrong and correct it."

"Not me," I moaned.  "I hit the ball, it hits the wall and then dies in front of me, or sails above my head."  Oh, yeah, I failed to mention that often, I hit the ball over the wall itself. This is quite a feat, Haters.  Take a look at that handball wall above.  It's, like, 20 feet high.  

I sighed.  "The only thing I seem to get to work on is being a better ball retriever."

"You just have to keep at it.  You get into a rhythm," said Marcy.  

Well, YOU do, I said to myself.  I could feel Tennis Hate blooming like a black rose in my chest. Where were those donuts??  

Now, I'm a True Grit kind of athlete.  I've taken 2-hour spin classes. I've been on century bicycle rides.  I've been to Saddlebrook's grueling, 5-hour tennis clinics in Florida, and have relished them.  Eventually, after rolling my eyes and whining, I suit up and show up.  I'll take Marcy's suggestion and try once again to put some time in front of the wall.  But I'm stunned by the knowledge that my default setting is, I can't do this!  It's not fair!

I'm inclined to think something is wrong with me.  I need to change my mindset, reduce my frustration, BE POSITIVE, visualize happy hitting.  Sports psychologists encourage this.  

But I'm intrigued by Oliver Burkeman's book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking, who surveyed psychologists and philosophers working in the field of happiness and found this:

The startling conclusion at which they had all arrived, in different ways, was this: that the effort to try to feel happy is often precisely the thing that makes us miserable.  And that it is our constant efforts to eliminate the negative -- insecurity, uncertainty, failure, or sadness -- that is what causes us to feel so insecure, anxious, uncertain, or unhappy.

The solution, what Burkeman calls the "negative path" to peace of mind, involves "learning to enjoy uncertainty, embracing insecurity, stopping trying to think positively, becoming familiar with failure, even learning to value death."

I got familiarity with failure down, no problem.  Value death?  Got to work on that one.

I've been in a funk about my game.  In the middle of a lesson or a game, I can feel myself pushing the ball, swinging from my wrist, not my shoulder, leaning toward the ball from my waist rather than bending my knees, all the bad habits I've been told not to do.  I've taken thousands of dollars' worth of lessons, have spent 10 years on the court trying to develop a forehand drive and a finishing volley. Why do I keep reverting to my old, tentative, pushy ways?  I can't do this!  It's not fair!

I have toyed with the idea that tennis isn't for me, and I should take up something more immediately gratifying and endorphin-producing.  Like baking donuts.

I've been asking myself: If this is the best that I'll ever be, is that okay?

But I don't really want to give up.  That's not the True Grit creedo.  I really love tennis.  I enjoy the camaraderie, the warm-up rituals, the courtesy and sportsmanship embedded in its rules.  I love how physical it is, and mental, too, how it requires total and absolute focus from moment to moment, much like meditation. When I achive those precious seconds of concentration, everything dissolves -- the court, my opponent, Tennis Hate and the infernal chatter of what W. Timothy Gallwey calls Self 1.  I feel free and powerful and alive, even if I lose the point.  

So, I've been playing with my Tennis Hate rather than against it.  It's okay that it's there.  I'm not, as Burkeman describes in his book, "trying to drown negativity out with relentless good cheer."  I'm trying to seek "the happiness that arises through negativity."  

I've been asking myself: If this is the best that I'll ever be, is that okay?  What does it mean to have limits? What happens when I reach mine?  Will anybody kick me off the court?  Will no one want to play with me ever again if they don't see continued improvement toward a kick serve like Samantha Stosur's?  No, really: Will others love me less?  Will I have less value if I don't get a good, strong forehand approach shot?

That's the mental part.  Technically, I've been following what my Saintly Pros, Anne Hobbs and Al Johnson, have been telling me, and that is to simplify what I do, narrow my focus.  I think of two things while I hit a groundstroke: turn sideways to the approaching ball and extend through the shot, "swing to catch."  At the net, I think of getting my racquet out in front of me for my volley.  That's it.  I practice leaving all the running commentary on the sidelines, in a messy pile with my warmup pants and coat.

When I expose the lies my Tennis Hate tells me, I start to find some peace -- even joy -- on the court.  When I put my focus on simple tasks, like turning my body sideways to the ball, I experience the sweetness that comes with executing something you intended to do.  It's easier to just turn sideways and swing through the ball than it is to follow a ten-point checklist: "Racquet back? Check! Body sideways? Check! Left hand extended out to the point of contact? Check! Butt of the racquet toward the ball? Check!" Ad nauseum.

Forget those donuts.  Where's my racquet?