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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 October 1, 2012 - October 31, 2012


True Grit: Margaret Osborne duPont, 1918-2012

Margaret Osborne duPont in action. Rest in peace.Yes, she was married to one of THOSE duPonts, DuPont Chemicals, makers of Corian counters, Teflon frying pans and Kevlar military vests.  But Margaret Osborne duPont, the daughter of Oregon ranchers, was impressive for her own achievements. DuPont, who died October 24 at the age of 94, was a tennis champion.  

According to Robin Finn's obituary of duPont in the New York Times, Margaret Osborne duPont won 37 Grand Slam titles, including singles titles at Wimbledon (1947), the French Open (1946, 1949) and what would later be known as the US Open (1948, 1949, 1950).  It was called the US Championships then, and played on grass at Forest Hills.  

But duPont really showed her mettle in doubles.  Of those 37 Slam championships, 31 of them were in doubles.  She and the equally impressive Louise Brough held 20, a record that stood until 1989 when Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver tied it.  What a team she and Louise Brough, winner of 6 Slam singles titles and 21 Slam doubles titles.Brough were.  They had a winning streak that lasted for 8 years, from 1942 to 1950.  They dominated the US Championships, winning the doubles title 12 times in 14 years.  Imagine seeing their names next to you and your partner's when the draw was posted.  Might as well just shake hands at the net before the coin toss and go home.

Ah, but that's the hater in me.  Margaret Osborne duPont mastered that corrosive aspect of the sport. She was, according to the obit, "renowned for refusing to wilt under pressure.  When she lost, it was rarely in straight sets.  Several of her matches set longevity records."

One of those matches sounds like the US Championship equivalent of John Isner's and Nicolas Mahut's epic, 2010 Wimbledon match that took 183 games stretching 11 hours and 5 minutes over the course of 3 days. DuPont's endurance test -- make that tests -- took place in 1947, at Forest Hills.

Over two days, she and Bill Talbert outlasted Gussie Moran and Bob Falkenberg in an epic 71-game mixed doubles semifinal, a record that stood for more than 40 years. In the same tournament, vying for the singles title, duPont came from behind to defeat Louise Brough, her friend and doubles partner, in 48 games, winning the last set by 15-13. It was the longest women’s final at Forest Hills.

Brough had match point at 6–5 in the third set in that final against duPont.  And yet they remained friends and doubles partners.

Bellevue Hall, near Wilmington, DEI'm adding my own interpretation to the facts here, but I think duPont also showed true grit and mental toughness in her personal life.  She divorced William duPont Jr., a man 22 years her senior, in 1964, during the Mad Men years when D-I-V-O-R-C-E was a word you whispered, like C-A-N-C-E-R. A year later, after her husband died, she turned her back on his splendid digs at Bellevue Hall in Delaware (where there were tennis courts on the grounds!) and moved with her son to El Paso, Texas, the hometown of her friend Margaret Varner Bloss. They lived together and started a business.

 Bloss was one of her doubles partners.  They were runner-ups at Wimbledon in 1958, losing to Althea Gibson and Maria Bueno. She excelled at squash and badminton, too, and is a Hall of Famer in those sports.  Bloss had been married to a horse trainer, and she and duPont formed the DuPont-Bloss Stables.  They gave their horses names like Net Effect, Super Set and A Smash. What, no Meltdown, Double Fault or Smashed Racket?

She did not regret the move from East Coast high society to Texas border ranching.  I was never impressed by the duPont name.  I'm still not," she told the El Paso Herald Post in 1998.

Well, I'm impressed by the tenacity and skill of Margaret Osborne duPont: businesswoman, rancher, athlete, tennis champion. I hold my racquet high in salute.



Proof That Tennis Hate is Universal #3

In space, no one can hear you scream, but in tennis hate, no one can hear you scrape your chair.A chair at the Prospect Park Tennis Center in Brooklyn proves there's more way to direct your ire at a tennis ball than just hitting it.  You can cut a little mouth into it and stuff it with a metal chair leg.


Do the Loco [service] Motion

Strike a trophy pose: Marion Bartoli at the 2012 New Haven Open.The serve is the only shot in tennis in which you have complete control, but I'm still waiting to experience this truth.  I feel I'm being toyed with by some mischiveous force inside me that, at whim, flips the ball over my head on the toss or jerks it too far to my right, or pulls my head down as I bring my racquet through the ball. Into the net it goes!

I've tried various methods to cure this defect.  I've practiced just tossing the ball, focusing on releasing it at the just-so point, using only my shoulder, keeping my wrist and elbow still.

To work on ball placement and consistency, I've resorted to basketball for help. More precisely, I use a steel bracket that anchors a backboard onto a chain link fence at a schoolyard one block from my apartment building. The height of the lower bracket is about where I would contact the ball for my serve, so I figure it's a good gauge for how high I need to place the ball. It's all about the visuals on the Internet, so here are photos, showing you what I mean. 

Nope, not a good toss.Ah, just right.The second photo looks like I was actually going for the higher bracket, but that's the fault of my upward angle.  Haters, I have a hard enough time tossing a ball and swinging a racquet.  You should have seen me tossing a ball and taking a picture with my iPhone. The guy waking up that morning on a nearby park bench did, and immediately vowed never to drink Mad Dog 20/20 again.

All this tossing practice works until I try to incorporate my other arm; you know, the one holding and swinging the racquet. I struggle all over again to find my rhythm and balance.

Ian Westerman of Essential Tennis recently posted this instructional video about gaining accuracy and consistency with the service toss.  He, too, advocates practicing an isolated, step-by-step method. But watch, Haters.  This trips him up.  Ian can't for the life of him get a tossed tennis ball into the wire basket he's placed at the service line until he brings his racquet arm into play.  

I don't know a thing about teaching tennis, but I wonder if this progression method on the serve is useful. There are so many elements operating at the same time that I think it's folly to isolate them and build upon them.  And yet, this progression technique is what every teaching pro uses.

Jim McLennan of Essential Tennis Instruction take a different approach. [Editor's note: fellow tennis bloggers, can we start using a thesaurus? How about Indispensible Tennis? or Crucial Tennis? or Can't Do Without This Tip Tennis?] He also recommends standing at the baseline and practicing the toss, but he suggests placing your focus on your balance, rather than the ball's height or its position upon release.  

"Far too many players shift their weight forward during the toss, rather than during the hit," he said in an e-mail promoting his web instruction.  "Shifting forward too early...robs the swing of power and rhythm."

He recommends practicing tossing the ball while keeping your weight evenly distributed through both legs.  "Monitor your balance as the ball peaks," McLennan suggests.  And "if you're off balance, make corrections."

Oh, were that it were that easy, Jimbo!  Make corrections.  [Sigh.]

Again, at some point, you've got to hit that damn ball with your racquet.  This, McLennan said, is where rhythm comes in.  Here's a video he offers on that:

Oh, yeah, the "frying pan" pushy serve.  Been there, done that.  No, wait, do that.  [Sigh.]  McLennan's suggestion about pulling the racquet through the shot is baffling to me.  It feels so awkward and contorted.  I keep thinking to myself, what do I do with my elbow? Best not to think about my elbow, and just "see the hit," as Saintly Pro Al Johnson tells me.

To see the hit, I've got to hit the courts.  My indoor season begins Monday!  In the meantime, Haters, tell me about your loco service motions, and tell me what tips you've heard that have helped you improve.   


Meltdown of the Week, October 13th, 2012: Novak Djokovic at Shanghai Masters

Haters, it's been a while since Novak Djokovic has had a really good I Hate Tennis moment, because he's been loving tennis so much.  The Serb is 10-0 since losing to Andy Murray in the US Open final in September.  He leads the ATP World Tour with 70 match wins and has, along with the US Open crown, trophies from the Australian Open, Sony Open in Miami and the Rogers Cup in Toronto sitting on his mantel.

But that was all forgotten when he blew this lengthy, thrilling point at the Shanghai Rolex Masters today against Murray, who was seeking his third consecutive Shanghai title.  Murray breaks him to serve for the first set at 6-5.  No smiles for the Djoker, who seems intent on pushing his racquet through the surface of the court.

High speed smashingPutting weight into it

Here's the pitch......Strike three, yer out!






What's amazing and admirable is that Djokovic regrouped to win the title.  He took the second set, fighting off Murray who, at one point, was serving for the set at 5-4, 30-0.  Two more points, and the match was his.

Here's how ATP World Tour's website described the Djokovic comeback: The Djokovic fightback began in the following point. He hit a ‘tweener to claw his way back into an exchange that Murray was winning and clinched it with a drop shot. Murray had his first match point at 40/30, but a forehand winner from Djokovic thwarted the Scot. Murray then hit a forehand long on a break point for Djokovic to surrender his advantage.

A pulsating tie-break followed, with Murray squandering four more match points at 6-4, 8-7 and 10-9 before Djokovic converted his fourth set point with a forehand winner to send the contest into a deciding set.

Murray fended off a break point in the fifth game of the third set, but could not keep Djokovic at bay in the seventh game as the Belgrade native engineered a 4-3 lead. Murray saved two match points on serve down 3-5, but Djokovic converted his third opportunity to claim a memorable victory. 

So, is this an example of a "healthy" meltdown, one where Nole demolished his racquet and then put the first set behind him?  Is there such a thing?  Sometimes I hear commentators giving players kudos for showing their emotions on the court.  Other times, they sniff and stiffly say they should bottle up their emotions and focus on the next point.  

I think tennis hate is universal.  There's no getting around the frustration of missing a shot you should have had, or making the same mistakes over and over again, even though you tell yourself you should know better. But I, for one, can't afford the luxury of smashing my racquet.  I'm not getting them for free. I also find it too difficult to surf the rage wave and transition quickly back to calm, tranquil mental waters.  

But Djokovic?  He apparently knows how to swim with the sharks.  Swing away, Nole, swing away.  And keep racking up those broken racquets and titles.  


Record Attendance for Award Ceremony for I Hate Tennis' US Open Cake Winner

Beth Allen does a Rafa and bites her trophy. I get out of the way. Photo: Mark HilanWorthy Opponent Beth Allen collected her historic double-cake winnings in the 2012 I Hate Tennis US Open Cake Contest last night in Brooklyn, before a record crowd of 14 avid tennis fans and I Hate Tennis readers. The official presentation, conducted in the Sunset Park home of USTA League Women's 3.0 co-captain Deb Fantera, benefitted from its pairing with Fantera's party celebrating the beginning of the Ballbuster's indoor season later this month.

The attendance record edged out the previous one set at the ceremony for Caitlin Thompson, the winner last May of the 2012 French Open I Hate Tennis Cake Contest Women's Bracket.  The presentation for Allen also was noteworthy for the high number of tennis lovers in the room who appreciated her winning predictions of a Victoria Azarenka/Serena Williams final and an Andy Murray/Novak Djokovic championship match.

Thompson's audience, meanwhile, at the WNYC Newsroom, consisted of people who appreciated free food.

It was chilly last night, but our band of merry tennis Haters were transported back to the sunny and hot days of late August with fond memories of the US Open.  Or was that flush on everyone's cheeks due to the blood sugar spike from the cakes?  Partying Haters had their choice of apple spice cake or devil's food cake.

The spectators gasped in anticipation as I pulled out two big, square brown boxes from an extra-large white plastic bag.

"Have you gone big time and created your own logo and brand?" Allen asked as she saw the logo stamped on the sturdy boxes.  Haters, you may recall that I baked the cakes for Thompson and French Open I Hate Tennis Cake Contest men's bracket winner Surinder Singh.  

That's Devil's food on the left, apple spice on the right. The sentiment: Beth Allen, you're a winner....two times over!

Once I cracked open the boxes, it became obvious I did not bake these cakes.  Just look at them.  No cracks or slouching frosting.  I subbed Ivy Bakery in Greenwich Village for the task.

Where's this frosting slouching off to? Not to French Open victory.Now THIS is an I Hate Tennis Contest Cake! Chocolate truffle eyeballs save this cake from decorating disaster.Haters, before you start complaining to the chair ump, let me remind you substitutions are completely legal under World Team Tennis rules. 

Congratulations again to Beth Allen, and thanks to all who participated in the contest.  You make blogging fun.  And tennis, too.  The Ballbusters' indoor season starts October 27th.  

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