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, 2013 - November 30, 2013


Available Courts Spotted in Brooklyn

There wasn't one, but eleven -- ELEVEN, Haters! -- open courts at Lincoln Terrace Park in East New York!

 Okay, so it was 35 degrees and breezy outside. Whatever. OPEN COURTS, Haters! in BROOKLYN! Celebrate! Photo: AE

Not only was no one there, the park's gates were wiiiiiide open.  This is a big deal, Haters.  I have courts just a 10-minute walk away from my apartment at the Jackie Robinson Park, but the tennis pro there thinks he owns them.  He locks them up when he leaves, which, if he doesn't have a lesson, can be 5:00PM.

But wait, there's more!  The  Lincoln Terrace courts were renovated this summer by the Parks Department  They're in excellent condition, save for the nets.  Someone needs to teach Parks how to hang tennis nets properly.  There's no sag in the middle.  

And if you're setting up a net for a singles-only court, with no doubles alley, get the right net for it.  I spotted this work-around for a net that was too long for the court.

 Net Origami: Someone got creative with an extra length of net. Photo: AEI'm going to get my ski suit on and go out there and hit.  November, be damned! The Australian Open is in 7 weeks!


Worthy Opponents: Thomsen/Simon Sent Packing!

Haters, I'm jumping like Serena after a Grand Slam victory!  Surinder Singh and I took out Worthy Opponents Tam Thomsen and Nelson Simon, 6-2, 6-1 like a metal pipe to the knees.

It's not Halloween, it's Tennis Hate: from left, Surinder Singh, Nelson Simon, me and Tam Thomsen. Photo: Selfie.

Well, it always feels like a metal pipe to the knees when the Mighty Singh serves, or hits that forehand drive down the middle.  But, Haters, I did my part, too, though I didn't realize it until I double faulted at 40-0 serving the third game of the second set. 

"That double was the first point we got off your serve the whole match," Nelson said during the changeover, after I held, 40-15, to bring me and Surinder to 3-0.  For real?  I didn't even realize this.  

In total, Thomsen and Simon won just two points off my serve.  Guess this game isn't so bad, after all.  It wasn't like I was firing them in there.  I'm still working on that.  But I placed them where I intended, nice and wide to both Tam and Nelson, giving Surinder plenty of opportunities to poach cross-court returns.  

It's still a revelation to me: playing with a plan.  Too often, whatever strategery I come onto the court with dissolves as soon as I hit a few bad shots or my opponent starts winning points off of a pattern that I recognize, but feel I can't do anything about.  It's like water hitting the Wicked Witch of the West.  Game plan?  I'm melllllting! Suddenly, all I'm thinking about is my technique.  Mental tennis guru and senior champion Bob Litwin had warned against this when I played with him a few weekends ago.

 I lost 2 points on my serve, Haters.  Guess this game isn't so bad, after all.

"I don't care how ugly my strokes are," he told me.  "If I get the ball where I want it to go, does it matter how it looked?"  (Read more of his wisdom here.)  "We focus on form, on racquet back and follow through and all those things, rather than, 'Where are you hitting the ball?'" 

Instead of obsessing about my toss or my take-back, I focused on the ball, and where I wanted my racquet to hit it so that it would go where I wanted it.  Eyes on the ball.  Simple, huh?  Not really, not for this Hater.  But I'm getting there.

2013-2014 Indoor season record:

Singh: 2

Thomsen: 1

Strozier: 1

Simon: 1

Eddings: 1!



Feast of All Souls

It felt like the first weekend of the rest of our lives.  Mark did not have to go to work, having retired from the radio business and his regular freelance gig at 1010 WINS.  After 10 years of me working weekdays and him working weekends, we have a schedule in which we both have the same days off.


Meeting of Minds: from left, Bob Litwin, me, PJ Simmons. Photo: Mark Hilan.

We chose to spend this day, an uncharacteristically mild All Souls Day, in Long Island playing tennis with my new US Tennis Congress buddies, founder and Road to 4.5 Tennis blogger PJ Simmons and tennis national and world champion and mental game guru Bob Litwin.  Bob and his wife, Jo Ann, had invited us to play at the Village Club of Sands Point, a country club on the grounds of a former Guggenheim estate.

PJ was looking a little less frazzled.  "I haven't played in 6 weeks," he said.  Bob warmed us up, while Mark and Jo Ann played on the court next door.

First thing Bob said to us, as we took up positions on the service line: "I hate warming up on the service line."

I heard that from tennis teaching pro Paula Scheb at the Congress.  She told me it only leads to short backswings.

Bob didn't like it for a different reason.  "It doesn't replicate a match situation.  You'd never warm up like that at a tournament."

But he obliged us.  As we took turns hitting Bob's feeds, he asked us what we were using our warmups for, what we were focusing on.  Focus?  He's talking about that already?  But we're just getting started.....

I caught myself up short.  Yes, of course.  It needs warmed up just like muscles do.  PJ said he used it to work on his relaxation and his breath.  He said he wasn't too worried about whether he was dumping balls into the net or shanking backhands.  

The courts at Stony Point's country club. There were more like this: empty. The platform tennis courts? Packed. Proof of Tennis Hate. Photo: Amy EddingsMe, I am focused on just those things.  I'm warming up my technique, thinking about whether I'm getting my racquet back, whether I'm stepping in, whether I'm using hitting through the ball.  I was focused on form.  Bob encouraged me to focus on function.

By function, he meant a particular area of the court.  He suggested right in the middle of the back of the court. "See if you can hit all your balls there," he said.  Bob encouraged us to not worry about how we get them there.

"I don't care how ugly my strokes are," he said.  "If I get the ball where I want it to go, does it matter how it looked?"  He says the process of teaching tennis is broken.  "We focus on form, on racquet back and follow through and all those things, rather than, 'where are you hitting the ball?'"

PJ was hitting the ball with good pace and direction, nice and deep.  I noticed his footwork, how he quickly worked his way up to a short ball.  He moved very well.  I know he's been working on that. I read his blog.

It took me a few minutes to shift my focus from my constant mental chatter of "racquet back, pivot, out in front, follow through" to hitting the ball into the middle of the back court.  Several of my shots fell short.  I was pushing them, too.  I did a Jeff Greenwald: I scanned my body for tension.  My neck was tight.  My right shoulder and forearm were, too.  Hmm, duly noted.  By just noticing the tension, it started to disappear.  I recommitted to focusing on the center of the ball, watching it off my strings and sending it to the middle of the court.

"There!  That was it! What did you do?"  Bob said after my next shot.  "Whatever it was, it was noticeable."  

He encouraged me to stay with one particular tip that was working for me, rather than sampling suggestions like a college football player at a buffet.  

"Once you find what works for you, you have to do it all the time, own it.  If you keep working on other things, then you forget what it is that works to reel you back into focus."  

Later, Mark joined us.  We played doubles, Mark and the national grass court champion Bob Litwin versus The Bloggers.  If PJ and I didn't win, at least we'd have something to write about.  

I warned PJ about Mark, who was camped so close to the net, he could have used it as a hammock.  "He's good at net, so don't try to scare him off by hitting the ball right at him."  

If PJ heard me, he didn't let on.  We lost several points when PJ tried to pass Mark up the line or drill the ball right at him.  Pop goes the put-away.  Mark's ability to volley where we ain't was impressive.

Bob kept up his coaching during the games.  Serving to me, he held up the ball for a moment and looked at me, as if to say, This is your target.  Go get it.

I hit several solid returns, past my poacher husband.  I kept scanning my body for tension and releasing it, kept feeling my body loose and relaxed, kept trying to see the blur of the ball as it left my strings.  And.....I kept getting more consistent.  Hey, this stuff works.

Have no fear, Haters.  Tennis Hate wasn't banished completely from these bucolic grounds.  During one point, I had returned Bob's serve and had come up for a short ball, joining PJ at net.  Bob and I got into a little back-and-forth before I swatted a volley wide.  I let out a yelp, a verbal slap upside the head.

"Okay, so there was that shot, but what about the two that preceeded it?" Bob asked me, seeking to nip the blossoming negativity in the bud.  Oh, yeah. Those.  I guess they count, too.  

It's amazing to me how easily I discount the good in my game, while giving such weight to what's bad.  Maybe I'm too much a journalist.  Bad news makes headlines. Good news is rarely thought of as news at all.  We call them fluff pieces.

We wrapped up our day with Bob, PJ and Jo Ann with lunch at the club's restaurant, talk of the next Tennis Congress and why most of the best tennis players on tour have big hearts and good character. On this Feast of All Souls, a feast for the soul.  Tennis, with four great Worthy Opponents with big hearts and good character.  And time spent with a saint -- my husband Mark, who's put up with me when I've been small of heart, miserable on court and not much fun to play with.

Today -- every day -- is a chance to recommit to a new, more empowering story and start the first day of the rest of your life.  

Love means nothing in tennis, but only in calling the score. Photo: Jo Ann Litwin.


US Tennis Congress: Tennis Hate Takes Center Stage

An audience of Haters, more than 50 strong, elbowed their way into an auditorium in beautiful Peachtree City, Georgia to join me in a group gripe about their tennis games.  Those passing by the panel discussion, held October 12 at the inaugural US Tennis Congress, could hear the collective grinding of teeth and mental gears, like the "monsterous machine running without oil" of the Orwellian Two Minute Hate.

Mental tennis guru Bob Litwin is trying to ruin my Tennis Hate Zen.

I was so proud of us.  

We let it all hang out, me included, before three Saintly Pros of the mental game: 10-time Grand Slam winner Anne Smith; former pro, multiple senior national champion and sports head shrinker Jeff Greenwald; and the 2013 Men's 65 grass court singles and doubles national champ, USTA Eastern Tennis Hall of Famer and mental performance coach Bob Litwin.

They sat on a small dais, facing us, the fearful, the angry and the bewildered, for a session titled "Mastering the Mental Game."  As the moderator of this discussion, Haters, I did my damnedest to represent I Hate Tennis at its hateful best.

Cluttered and prickly, just like my Tennis Hate: a stray ball at the Dolce Atlanta - Peachtree City tennis courts.These Pollyannas weren't going to get me to break a smile and lighten up.  Hell, I've got a reputation to uphold! No, Haters, I was going to prove to them that some nuts can't be cracked.  I'd prove to them the wispiness of their wishful thinking, the quaintness of their naivete.

I got nowhere with them.  But they got somewhere with me.

I have always thought that I'd cure my Tennis Hate by becoming better at the game.  If my strokes were stronger, if I had a reliable weapon, if I developed some consistency, if I was more successful, I wouldn't be so down on myself.  Ten years later, after hundreds of hours of lessons and thousands of dollars' worth of clinics, I'm still not where I want to be.  And that gets the Tennis Hate churning even more, because now, I'm doubly frustrated.  I not only suck, I suck after a decade of trying NOT to suck.

From Smith, Litwin and Greenwald, I learned that I've been approaching the solution to Tennis Hate ass-backwards.  My mental game doesn't get better because my forehand is getting stronger and more consistent. My forehand and other strokes get better as I become more adept at handling my emotions.  

"You can have the best technique, but if you can't control your emotions. if you get all upset and don't have good body language and can't keep your intensity level where it needs to be, your technique won't matter," said Smith.

We only had an hour, and I had a list of questions the length of my arm, some culled from a pre-Congress questionnaire that participants had filled out.  

* "How can I play as well as I practice?"

*  "How can I avoid choking, especially when I'm trying to close out a set or a match?"

*  "How do you train your mind to go for your shots, regardless of the outcome, even if that outcome is losing the game, the set or the match?"

And this one, which got a chuckle from the audience when I asked it:

*  "If confidence comes from past successes, how can I get confident when I'm losing all the time?"

I'll riff off this last question as a way of illustrating the different approaches Greenwald, Litwin and Smith bring to the mental game.

For Saintly Pro Anne Smith, it's about acting as if.  Body language is one of the four keys she teaches through her Mach4 training system.  (Mind set -- or self-talk -- intensity level and cueing language, like "strings down" as she preps for her forehand, are the others.)  

Want to feel more confident on the court? said Anne.  Act like you're confident.  That's right.  Pretend.  Shoulders back, head high, confident stride during the changeovers.  

I always thought I'd cure my Tennis Hate by getting better at the game. Turns out I was approaching the solution ass-backwards.

It reminded me of the aphorism, "move a muscle, change a thought."  

All three panelists were quick to point out that I can't be confident about winning.  I'm skating on thin emotional ice if I base my confidence -- or my self-worth, for that matter -- on future outcomes like winning or losing.  I build my confidence on the things I can control.  And I can best control my thinking.

"Be confident about choosing your reactions on the court," said Greenwald.  "Get better at that, at being looser [no, Haters, not loser, there's another "o" in there], at dropping tension, at committing to hitting through the ball.

"The thought that you're having doesn't have the last say."

Rewriting my story already: smiling with Bob Litwin.Move a muscle, change a thought.  In Greenwald's case, the muscle movement comes with noticing tension.  He encouraged us Haters to scan our bodies for tightness, especially in our necks, shoulders and forearms, as we get ready to serve or return.  Just by acknowledging its presence, the tension melts away.  He said this technique is much more effective that telling yourself to relax.

Bob Litwin initially threw me with his take on my confidence question.  "Confidence," he said, "is what I can reasonably expect of myself."  He's confident, for example, in his second serve.  He said he makes about 99% of them.  

Oh no.  My heart sank.  Isn't that results-oriented?  If I've got to base my confidence on the consistency of my shots, I'm in deep doo-doo.  

But Litwin wasn't finished.  He gave another example, one I have often felt.  "Whenever we [he and his wife Jo Ann] go into New York City, I'm confident I'm going to find a parking spot right in front of our destination.  It doesn't mean I'll always get one.  But that doesn't stop me from driving directly to the restaurant, or wherever we're going."

I've done that.  Driving home from work, I visualize a nice, wide-open space in front of our building.  I dont fret or worry about whether one is going to be there, or seethe at the prospect of circling the block several times.  Why do that?  I'm better off expecting good things to happen.  I've got, as Litwin said, a "story," and it goes like this: I get what I need from the Universe, when I need it.  At least, when it comes to parking.  

Tennis?  Now that's another matter.

Litwin suggests we Haters get clear of the story we tell ourselves about tennis, and then, like Jeff Greenwald, make a choice.  Choose to write a different story.  

"All the things you hate about tennis," he said, looking at me, "are the reasons I love it."  He loves the challenge of getting consistent, of figuring out a Worthy Opponent.  His story, his mission statement, includes the desire "to see the perceived pressure moments as the sweetest moments" and "to love the competition more than I love to win and to accept whatever the outcome with dignity and class."

Guess that means no pouting and no racquet-breaking.

Haters, we've got some work to do.  I'm going to uncover my current, Hate-inducing tennis story and, yes, in the let-it-all-hang-out spirit of social media, share it with y'all!   A selfie with words! But I'm also going to write a new story.  I'll post that, too.

Haters, join me.  Let's write a new story for the new tennis season.  We've got a few weeks before the professional tennis season officially begins anew for -- already? -- 2014.  I'll be sharing Bob Litwin's strategies for articulating your current tennis story and for writing a new one.  Use them, and tell me what you found.

Because I've got a story we're in this together, and together, we can encourage each other to be the best competitors we can be, both on and off the court.