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 November 1, 2012 - November 30, 2012


Thursday Doubles: Service Hold, куда вы идете?

My banya rally cap. It exudes confidence in a match. Just ask Henry Strozier.No, I did not just post a naughty phrase in Russian, though you're right, Haters, to think I would.  It would certainly expand my on court repertoire, which has fallen into an F-bomb rut of late.  

куда вы идете 

is Russian for "Where did you go?"  I'm thinking like a Muscovite today, in homage to the new film version of Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina."  (A delightful piece in the Dance section of the NYTimes focused on the movement in the film).  

I also used today's game to unveil my new rally cap: a felt wool hat I picked up while doing a post-Sandy/Election Day/Nor'easter shvitz at the Brooklyn Banya.

The hat protects the top of your head and ears from the intense heat of the steam and sauna rooms at Russian bath houses.  Today, it shielded me from my own internal inferno of scorn and dismay over my vacationing service game.  

Worthy Comrade Henry Strozier and I were defeated soundly by our Worthy Opponents, husband Mark and USTA women's league 3.5 stalwart Nancy Bowen, 6-2.  I was broken every time I served.  I also missed several cupcake floaters that Mark lobbed to my backhand. Instead of licking the frosting off my fingers, I was licked by my own tendency to swing and to look over at the other side of the net to make sure the court hasn't moved on me in the last 2 seconds.  

Me, Henry Strozier, Nancy Bowen: ready for our post-match platza.Mark got into a rhythm on my slow serves, slicing them back low and short, right past my Worthy Comrade Henry Strozier. Nancy didn't miss a trick at the net, pounding back everything I tried to get over her head.  (Yes, Haters, I was reduced to defensive lobs from the baseline.  It's a respectable shot, I know, but I'd give a million rubles for a good, hard drive.)

On the plus side, I won an overhead dual with Mark, finally getting a weak reply from him at the baseline that drifted wide.  And my banya cap did not fall off in the process!  It's a keeper. 

I haven't seen "Anna Karenina" yet, but it's on my 2012 bucket list.  It looks beautiful and tragic.  Just like tennis.


Soderling: Sidelined by Mono and Seriousness

Robin Soderling, before mono left him too weak to play, or make a fist.Robin Soderling the Giant Slayer has defeated Rafael Nadal on the King of Clay's favorite surface, the red crumbled brick courts of Paris.  He's triumphed over the Greatest Player of All Time, Roger Federer.  But the giant slayer cannot beat back a bout of mononucleosis.  The viral infection has pinned the Swede far behind the baseline -- actually, the sidelines -- for a year and a half, and maybe for good. Soderling tells he may not return to the sport.

"Overall, it's getting better, but I'm not as desperate to come back anymore tomorrow," he told ESPN's Ravi Ubha.  "I will give it a shot, of course, but I learned to live with the thought that maybe it will not be possible. Whatever happens, I will feel I did all I could." 

That has included a trip last spring to doctors in California, who discovered a thyroid problem.  The discovery hasn't led to improvements for the 28-year-old, who says he struggles to rack up a string of good training days.

"The hope, the hopelessness, then the hope again, then the hopelessness -- that really kills me," Soderling said.  Wait, is Soderling talking about his recovery from mono, or his recovery from tennis hate?

"I feel really good, then I start to practice, and then I think maybe in a couple of months I can come back and I really believe it. Then I do a bit too much and wake up one morning not feeling well again."

Sodering is a Hater on the court.  He famously mocked Nadal in a 2007 Wimbledon match by mimicking Nadal's pre-serve shorts tug.  


He now says it would have helped him to "relax a little."  

Meanwhile, Nadal is having the last laugh.  He has started praticing again, after missing most of the season because of ongoing knee problems.  He told reporters today he intends to return to the same shape he was in before his shocking second-round exit at Wimbledon.


Western Grip Seen in Western Art

Detail from Balthus' "The Street." Training for the men's or women's tour? Can't decide.

I think of the rise of extreme grips like the Western grip used by Rafael Nadal and Dinara Safina as recent developments in the modern game.

Here's proof that it was around as early as 1933, at least in France. That's when French painter Balthus created "The Street." This budding tennis player is one of several strange figures in the painting.

Check out that grip! And how she's pointing to the oncoming ball with her non-racquet hand! She's even got her weight on her back foot, ready to release into the shot as she follows through.

All she needs is some strings in her racquet and a ball with some bounce left in it and it's game on.

Here's the bigger picture, without glass glare.

 "The Street" by Balthus. Museum of Modern Art, New York City.


What We've Got Here is Failure to Communicate

Haters of a certain age will recognize this scene from the 1967 Disney animated classic, "The Jungle Book."They may also be saying to themselves, "Hey!  That's exactly the conversation I had with my doubles partner last weekend!"

"Whatcha wanna do, mate [to get past that buzzard who keeps poaching our shots]?"

"I dunno, mate.  WhatCHOO wanna do?"

In singles, I'm the only one who can sort out what is going right or wrong in a match.  On some days, this is like cutting my own hair, with the same disasterous results.

Doubles is supposed to be different.  Doubles is supposed to offer the tennis equivalent of someone to run the razor up the back of my neck.  I've got a Worthy Comrade to bounce strategic ideas off of, get encouragement from, laugh off missed shots with.

But this can only happen if my partner wants to talk.  

I played a match a few weeks ago with a Worthy Comrade who was as tight-lipped as a KGB agent.  Our Worthy Opponents included my husband Mark, who frequently employs a return lob on my serve over my partner's head and high to my backhand.  A money shot.  Ka-ching! 0-15. 

"Whatchoo wanna do against these guys?" I ventured.  "How do you want to protect against Mark's lob?"

"Let's just see what happens," was the response.  Oh, blimey!

What happened was a break of serve.  We were quickly down in the first set, 1-3.  I didn't know what to do, or, at this point, to say.  My Comrade was not the strategizing type, nor did they really want any rah-rah talk from me when we faced critical points.  

All the coaching I've ever received in doubles has emphasized the importance of communicating with your partner.  Pat Blaskower, in The Art of Doubles: Winning Tennis Strategies and Drills, writes this:

All good doubles teams communicate frequently between points (sometimes after every point if it is a very critical game).  They share ideas; give positive and specific suggestions for point-playing; encourage one another to stay confident; and even sometimes confess to anxiety or "choking."  

She also includes a great example of "vulture talk:"

Sgt. Pat Blaskower. You're already on her bad side, because she doesn't have a good one.Don't walk on the court and allow your opponents to witness a conversation such as this one:

"What side do you play?"

"Oh, I don't care.  Do you?"

"No, not really.  Shall I play forehand?"

"OK.  Shall we serve? We won the spin."

"Oh, I'm not real confident of my serve.  You want to serve?"

After a discussion like this one, be assured that your opponents are, at best, supremely confident and, at worst, sure that you two are a couple of lunatics who quite possibly have no idea what you're doing.

Blaskower doesn't mince words.  The introduction to her book -- the introduction, mind you, where the author sets the tone and invites the reader to join her on the deeper journey -- reads like a drill sergeant's withering critique of a new recruit.  Welcome to doubles, shit-for-brains. You double fault on my watch, you drop and gimme 50 pushups.  She must have been quite a coach.

She divides the doubles world into 3 types of players: those who make things happen, those who watch what happens and "those who wonder what the hell happened":

These are the players whom you have heard say, "I can't think and play at the same time.  I just hit the ball."  Freely translated, this means, "You can fill you head with fancy strategy all you want, but if I hit the ball hard enough at you, you'll probably miss, so why do I need all those expensive strategy lessons?"

As a member of the Watch and Wonder camp, and too afraid to continue reading Blaskower's book (get it for $1.40 used on Amazon!), I turned to former doubles Top Ten doubles tour player and teacher Anne Hobbs for advice.  

"You must meet your partner where they are," she told me.  "The best way to get him or her to communicate is to get on their level first.  Help them feel comfortable, with no demands."

This is especially true, she said, when my Worthy Comrade is serving.  I often start a doubles match by sidling up to my partner and asking her or him what they plan to do with their serve, so I can anticipate the return.  

"May I suggest that is not the right question," Hobbs said gently.  (Blaskower would have had me doing wind sprints.) "It puts too much pressure on the server.  Leave it them to tell you what they are going to do with the ball."  

Meet your partner where they are."

I'm surprised I didn't realize this on my own.  When faced with the same question, I've often responded, with just a touch of steeliness, "I plan on just getting my serve over the net and in the box." (Now leave me alone and get back over to your side of the court.)

So, don't put pressure on your partner when he or she is serving by asking them -- or telling them -- what they should do.  And don't try to get a talker to talk.  It will shut them down even more.  I got it.  

"But what if we've lost the first set?" I asked Hobbs.  We've got to talk then!  It's like a marriage going south.  Time to start the therapy sessions.  "How do I talk to my partner about what we're doing wrong or what we could do better?"

Again, Hobbs suggested I wasn't asking the right question.  My Worthy Comrade, she pointed out, was what she calls an "impulse player" rather than a "conscious player."  The impulse player prefers to react, rather than bring any awareness to what they are doing.  Trying to get them to do so by asking them to think about themselves or us as a team won't work.

"Focus on your opponents," suggested Hobbs.  "Turn it around.  Ask your partner, 'What do you think we can do to frustrate them?'  In psychologist's language, keep [the conversation] away from their ego!"

Pat Blaskower recommends suggesting a combination of shots that allows both players to share responsibility for the outcome of the next point.

Good doubles teams know this and experiment with solutions to problems. When things get rough, they never retreat into sulky silence leaving their partners alone, exposed to the enemy and fearful to utter even simple words of encouragement.

Don't be a lunatic, or a vulture with a bad blonde mullet.  Quit living in the 60's, for one thing.  And absolutely talk to your partner.  Hobbs' and Blaskower's suggestions make me all the more committed to do so, even with my KGB Agent of a partner.  But rather than hopping up and down on my branch of the baseline, trying to force a conversation, I will pratice communicating in a way that puts my partner at ease and keeps the channel open. Only then do we have a chance of figuring out what we wanna do and not ending the match as roadkill. 


I Am Still Learning

"I am still learning."  

Michelangelo said that.  I know, because I have a magnet on my fridge that says so.  

I believe in magnet sayings.  

I also have one that says "He has needs."  

Like I said, I believe in magnet sayings.

Where were we? Oh, right. Michelangelo.  The creator of David. The man who channeled God and painted the Sistine Chapel.  The carver who caressed the Pieta out of marble. A master of multiple creative disciplines.  He was still learning?  

Yes.  He kept a beginner's mind about his art.  It's a good reminder for me, a true beginner in tennis, to do the same.

Writer and Zen practitioner Natalie Goldberg says in Writing Down the Bones:Freeing the Writer Within that every time she sits down to write, she has to come back to beginner's mind, "the first way I thought and felt about writing.  In a sense," she continues, "that beginner's mind is what we must come back to every time we sit down and write. There is no security, no assurance that because we wrote something doo two months ago, we will do it again.  Actually, every time we begin, we wonder how we ever did it before.  Each time is a new journey with no maps."

Believe everything you read on refrigerator magnets. Then ignore them.The same is true for tennis.  This I know for sure.  Just because I was killing volleys last Sunday in my latest lesson with Coach Al didn't mean I did so yesterday in my doubles clinic at Roosevelt Island.  I kept feathering them back, too much underspin, no body weight behind them, as I frequently do when I'm tense and tight and unconfident.  

I am still learning.  

Here's another writer, screenwriter and creativity teacher Julia Cameron, of The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, in a similar vein:

At the heart of the anorexia of artistic avoidance is the denial of process.  We like to focus on having learned a skill or on having made an artwork.  This attention to final form ignores the fact that creativity lies not in the done but in the doing.

"I am writing a screenplay" is infinitely more interesting to the soul than "I have written a screenplay," which pleases the ego.  "I am in an acting class" is infinitely more interesting than "I took an acting class a few years ago."

I am still forehand, my follow-through, my serve, my backhand, where to stand in doubles, how to talk to my doubles partner, how to talk to myself.  Still learning....and getting better.

Page 1 2 Next 5 Entries »