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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 in doubles (9)


Blowout Loss for Nelson/Eddings, Even With Top Seed Singh Out

"We lived up to the blog," said Worthy Comrade Nelson Simon of our Tennis Hate-fueling 6-0, 6-1 loss to Worthy Opponents Tam Thompsen and my beloved, Mark Hilan.  

To the victors go the smiles: Tam, Mark, me and Nelson. Photos: EddingsTam and Mark won by smart, consistent play.  Power player and top seed Surinder Singh was not a factor, out for a meet n' greet with corporate sponsors.  Is he taking JuggleBox to a new level -- eco-friendly tennis racquets, perhaps?   

It was a shaky outing for Nelson, his first return to the Brooklyn recreational tennis tour since an injury in December. Nelson's normally rock-solid at net.  But he consistently missed volley winners, even when Mark and Tam hung balls above him like mistletoe.  He was kissing the net, not the trophy.  He also shoud have asked Santa Claus for a first serve.

We lived up to the blog."

Haters, I wasn't any better.  Though my serves were consistent, our Worthy Opponents' strategy of hitting down the line past or over Nelson or short to me foiled us, again and again.  And again.

"We'll figure it out," Nelson said to me during a changeover, "next week."

I was getting close to losing my cool.  I was swearing under my breath and over it.  I felt like crying.  I felt like dying.  I felt like quitting.  I hated all these feelings.

Okay, I thought, this is where you have to practice all that shit you talk about in your blog, like mental toughness, staying in the moment, eyes on the ball, blah, blah blah.

I wiggled my toes and took a deep breath into my belly and scanned my body for tension, like Jeff Greenwald taught me.  I thought about my intensity level (number 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, with a bullet!) as Anne Smith taught me.  I even took a moment during a break to re-read my tennis story, a la Bob Litwin.

"I love to compete as much as I love to win.  I LOVE to compete as much as I love to WIN," I whispered over and over, looking like a crazy street person on the subway, arguing with herself.

"And how did that work for you?" Litwin asked me later.  I had called him, dejected.   

Oh, for about two points.  Two miserable losing points.

"They kept getting us with the same patterns, over and over again.," I whined.  "They kept lobbing high over Nelson at net to my backhand.  I couldn't do anything with this.

And they knew this, and kept doing this to me!"

Yes, to me, Haters.  It's all about me.  

Bob wisely suggested I de-personalize this.  "Write a different story," he said.  "'When my opponent hits a deep ball to my backhand, I respond with the appropriate shot.'  

But they're attacking me, Bob!  It's called an attacking shot.

Litwin suggested I avoid that word.  It makes me feel a certain way, like attacking back, and not in a sportsmanlike kinda way.  He also suggested that I practice with my coach the shots that Tam and Mark were using to attack me.  Okay, wait, let me rephrase.  That they were using to try to win the point.  

Bob, who helps hedge fund guys stay calm and focused, said he tells them to practice patience while waiting for the elevator, not while they're watching the market collapse.

"Most of our good practice happens in the lesser world, at the elevator," he said.  "When you're tense, you won't remember to take a deep breath unless you do it when you're not tense."

Another tip: love the process of not doing well.  "Everything is always in a state of change.  Suffering comes when we don't accept that."

That's it!  New story: Losses help me get better.  Losses are....enjoyable.  

I'm Tinkerbell and I can fly!

No, I' ve got this.  I love Tennis Hate.  I do.  I really, really REALLY do.  Really.  Do.




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. 


Worthy Opponents: Good and Plenty

My teammates watching Karen and Ellen win their match.No, that wasn't their names.  But one gal wore pink and the other wore black, and they were plenty good.

My Manhattan USTA League 3.0 team is in the divisional playoffs, and Antoinette and I were teamed up again for 1st Doubles.

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Victory, in Spite of Myself

We're 1-0. Watch out, Brooklyn!My serve was wobbly, to say the least.  I wasn't hitting through the ball.  I was more nervous than Mitt Romney at a Cinco de Mayo celebration in Arizona.  And despite all that, Saintly Teammate Antoinette and I beat our challengers in our USTA League match at Sportime on Randall's Island, 6-2, 7-6 (5).

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Worthy Opponent: Richard Codor

Amazing, how he can still play with a poison arrow in his back.

Richard Codor knows what he wants when it comes to tennis.  He wants to play early, at 7:00AM, before the heat of the day.  He wants to play on Court 6B, the tree-shaded clay court farthest away from the Prospect Park Tennis Center's clubhouse, to minimize the glaring early morning sun.  And he wants me to stop catching my toss over and over again before my serve.

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