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Meltdown of the Week


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 New Haven Open (4)


A Tennis Hater Makes Jewelry for Tennis Lovers

Hazel Nussbaum and I at the New Haven Open last August. Her jewelry line is titled Love Tennis by Hazel, but Hazel Nussbaum comes by her love the hard way, like me, with lots of Hate mixed in.

"My coach said, 'I love hitting with you because we've hit 100 balls and you've probably only missed five, but you got pissed every time you missed those five balls.'"

We shared a knowing look.

"I forget the 95 that were good. I'm focused on the five that were bad."  Oh, yeah, she's a Hater, all right.

I met Hazel at her vendor's booth at the WTA's New Haven Open in New Haven, Connecticut last August.  But I knew of her before that.  

My bracelet. Great gift! Glad I thought of it!Around June, I was searching online for ideas to field to my husband for my birthday (further proof that behind every great man is a smarter, better-organized woman) and I found her sophisticated line of tennis-inspired jewelry.  Mark had dutifully ordered one of her bracelets for me, but it had not arrived by my Red Letter Day (August 19, Haters.  Note it in your calendars. Address provided for flowers and gifts upon request.)  

"Guess who's one of the vendors this year?" Mark had asked me while we watched Marion Bartoli and Sloane Stephens slug out a 3-setter.  "The lady who's making your bracelet!  Maybe we can pick it up at her booth."

We could not.  Nussbaum has been swamped by orders since launching her line in May.  By the end of June, she had received 100 of them, based solely on word of mouth and people like me trolling the Internet for something beside a T-shirt that would express our love of tennis.

Nussbaum came up with the idea for her business two years ago while conducting a similar search. Her mixed doubles team had reached the USTA League nationals in their division (more on that in a moment) and she was looking on site and online for a piece of jewelry to mark the occasion.

You could almost take it off the chain and hit with it."When I travel, I buy jewelry as souvenirs," she said.  "I could not find anything decent.  It was either $2 and wasn't enough for me about tennis, or it was expensive but ... over the top, very literal." 

"They were not stylish, in my opinion."  

Exhibit A: the necklace at right. It takes Tennis Hate to a new, visceral level.    

Nussbaum noodled around with some designs, relying on her background at Unilever as a senior brand manager for St. Ives, which makes deodorants, body washes and lotions.

Encouraged by tennis buddies, who were ordering  Hazel Nussbaum found a manufacturer in Rochester, quit her Unilver job and poured her savings, and passion, into Love Tennis by Hazel.

Love Tennis by Hazel's racquet and ball lariat necklace. So pretty."I'm a tennis nut.  I love it, love it, love it.  It's a borderline obsession, in a bad way.  And I love jewelry to the same degree."

Hazel Nussbaum came by her tennis obsession the way most of us develop our fixations and disorders: her mother.  Her mom was crazy about the sport and taught herself and her daughter to play. "We lived on a dead end in New Rochelle and I had my baby racquet and we just hit."

"Just hitting" with mom was apparently pretty good training. Nussbaum competed in high school and earned a walk-on spot on the Manhattan College tennis team in Riverdale. "I showed up with my Spalding racquet with the zipperhead bag," she recalled.

I swear like a trucker!  People are like, 'Did she really just say that?'"

She had not had any pro instruction up to that point. Her teammates, meanwhile, had played the junior circuit. They called her their "sleeper cell." They showed her how to use different grips and taught her strategy. And they policed her gear. When Manhattan College advanced to the finals of its Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Nussbaum says they demanded that she get a "real" racquet and bag.

Hazel and her mom at her booth at the 2012 New Haven Open.Today, Hazel Nussbaum is a 4.5-level player.  She's playing on two women's doubles teams in the USTA Southern Connecticut District this fall, and, combined, has a 6-1 record so far.   

Nussbaum's 2012-2013 mixed doubles season also is off to a great start.  She's got a 5-1 record with Winners All Too.  That's the team that made it to USTA Nationals in 2010, the trip that launched her business.  

Nationals? 4.5? Just TWO losses in 11 doubles matches? Haters, I'm Har-Tru green with Tennis Hate. 

What I love about Hazel is that she gets this, gets the obsessive, perfectionist, critical voice that can get in the way of enjoying and flourishing in the game.  Even now, with all her achievements, Nussbaum says she still must manage the Tennis Hate that drove her to berate herself for missing 5 out of 100 balls.  

"I swear like a trucker!" she confided. "My partner laughs.  People are like, 'Did she really just say that?'"

Oh, no, she didn't!  

"My husband witnessed me play tennis once, and he was so horrified, he refuses to watch me anymore," admitted Nussbaum. "It's our 'no fly zone.'  He said, 'All your matches, it's either you yelling and becoming a monster or you crying!' He won't come.'"

Yeah, Haters, but at least she's got the good sense not to play with her husband.  One time, that led me down such a rocky road of Tennis Hate, I called my poor husband a mother fucker for executing a drop shot.  (It was on my return of serve! I think I deserve just a little slack here.)  

Nussbaum said her key to shaking off an attack of Hate on the court is appreciation.  She learned this at that 2010 mixed doubles National championship, where her team "got trounced."  

"I'm going to honor the situation," she said she told herself.  "I"m healthy enough to be out here.  I have the time. I've got to put things in perspective."

And when she does, Hazel Nussbaum realizes she's blessed.  She gets to express her love for the game as a player, a fan (Nussbaum, whose mom is Swiss, roots for Roger Federer) and, now, as the founder of a growing business. Sales are robust enough for her racquet and ball lariat necklace, pictured above, that Haters who want their husbands to get one for them this Christmas must wait until January.

Damn!  Yet another thing to Hate my Worthy Comrade, Hazel Nussbaum, for!  



New Haven: Cibulkova Ends Petkovic's Inaugural Run After Injuries

Andrea Petkovic's forehand was not her friend against Domenika Cibulkova.She gutted out a 3-set victory against Timea Babos in the first round of the New Haven Open, but it must have sapped Andrea Petkovic.  She looked sluggish and dispirited in her 6-3, 6-1 loss to Domenika Cibulkova.  Her first tournament since April ended in the second round.

The second set was a wipeout, with Petkovic unable to get her first serves in play.  But the first set was much closer, with both players exchanging breaks.  I hate when that happens. You're supposed to be at an advantage when you serve, but multiple breaks erode your confidence.

And we all know how much of a confidence game tennis is.

Petkovic served to start the first set and was quickly on the defensive, at 15-40.  Cibulkova surrendered those 2 break points with errors, but still broke Petkovic.  She broke her again in the 3rd game.  Ouch.

Check out more photos from the New Haven Open here.

But a couple of double faults and wayward backhands later, Dominika was broken back. Ah, isn't that just like tennis?  Petkovic was on the scoreboard, 1-3.  The momentum was back with the former world number 9.  

Not for long.  Cibulkova started hitting a lot of shots wide to Petkovic's forehand, the kind of shot that Andrea was running for when she turned over her right ankle in Stuttgart against Victoria Azarenka. She dumped three forehands into the net.  Cibi leads, 4-1.

Haters, that wasn't the end of the back-and-forth breaks.  Domenika went away during her next service game.  Petko brought her to 0-40 with a drop shot volley winner, a deep baseline shot that drew an error from Domenika's backhand, and another that got her forehand to sail long.   With a forehand winner off Cibulkova's second serve, Andrea took back one break to make it 2-4.  Miracle of miracles, she held her serve and broke Domenika again to knot the first set, 4-4.

Now it was Petkovic's turn to serve again in the critical 9th game.  Each player was just two games away from the set.  Who would hold their damn serve and who wouldn't?

Andrea wouldn't, Domenika would.  She took the first set, 6-4, after Petkovic dumped another weak forehand into the net. Petkovic played even more erratically in the second set.

Petkovic, sunny and cheerful in her post-match press conference, said inconsistency was the price she had to pay for being out so long.

I'm quite satisfied because I didn't break my neck. That's a development from the last tournament!"

"I really felt like, throughout the whole match, I was playing 3 or 4 incredible rallies or incredibly good shots, and then I'd miss horrible shots that'd I'd never miss in 100 years," she said.  "I have to accept and stay positive in order to come back as fast as possible."

For Petkovic, being positive means looking for the up side in her loss.   "I'm quite satisfied because I didn't break my neck. That's a development from the last tournament!"

She said her right, surgically-repaired ankle felt fine, but conceded that, mentally, she may still be hesitant to lunge for wide forehands, like the ones Cibulkova was pounding for winners.

"It's not consciously, but definitely subconsciously. I worked a lot on that shot because it was exactly the one where I tested my ankle.  It's definitely there. and it's going to take some time." 

Cibulkova said she didn't consciously hit to that wing because of Petkovic's injury.  "I don't know, I had no idea," she said.  "But one of my strategies was to go hard into her forehand, because her backhand was better today, and I have very good forehand."

Cibulkova said her coach has been working with her to make her forehand a weapon. "I was a running player, I pushed the ball back and waited for my opponent to make a mistake.  But then I changed coaches 3 years ago.  He told me the weapon I had and we started working on my forehand a lot. and as you can see, it's working for me pretty well."

Cibulkova will play the number 1 seed and four-time New Haven Open champ Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals.  



New Haven: Bartoli Defeats Stephens, Press Corps Bummed

Marion Bartoli's service motion: works for her!"Man, this is blowing my story," one journo said from the row of desks behind me.  We were sitting in the media center at the New Haven Open, deep beneath the seats of Center Court at the Yale University tennis facility.  The TV monitor in front of us showed Marion Bartoli well on her way to trouncing Sloane Stephens in the first set, a set she'd win at 6-1. 

"You want Stephens to win?" I asked him.  

"Yeah, that's the story," he said.  Stephens, 19 years young, up and comer, 46th in the world, upsetting 27 year old Marion Bartoli of France, world number 11 and 5th seed.  It didn't look like it was going to happen.

But Stephens, sensing the restive pens of the Fourth Estate, gave us something to write about with a spectacular shut down of Bartoli's game in the second set.  She out-powered Marion at the baseline.  Marion's herky-jerky serve broke down, too.  She had 6 double faults, including two in a row that gave Stephens a 4-0 lead.  She served the Frenchwoman a bagel, fresh from New York City and the USTA training center in Queens. 6-0, Stephens.

Sloane StephensCheck out more photos of the New Haven Open here.

Bartoli's a veteran, though, and she flipped a switch and started upping her intensity.  She's got zany ways of doing that.  She does rapid-fire shadow swings while waiting to return. Before serving, she bounces on her toes, legs together and straight as a post, forward, back, forward, back, left, right, center.   Bartoli got into Stephens' head, too, screaming "Come on!!" whenever she won a point, which was more and more often.  

Bartoli had started out saying, "Allez!" but switched to English, to make sure Stephens got the message.  Bartoli was not getting bageled again.

Bartoli saved 4 out of 5 break points that Stephens had against her in the 3rd.  She clawed her way out of a 0-3 hole by clobbering Sloane's short balls for winners, and grabbed a 4-3 lead by breaking Stephens in the 7th game.  

Haters, you all know that it ain't a break until you hold your next service game.  In the see-saw rhythm that defined this match, Bartoli was flirting with being broken right back. Stephens had her at 15-40.  She got there with amazing defense, skying back a deep, hard should-have-been-a-winner shot to her forehand.  Marion, surprised that the ball was coming back, dumped her forehand into the net.

Two break points for Stephens.  "Come on, Sloane, take it to her," said the man sitting two seats away from us along the baseline.

But Marion saved one break point with a one-two combo of hard serve/blistering cross-court winner off the short return, and saved the other with an ace out wide to Sloane's backhand -- a shot she had been going for, and missing, earlier in the match.  One more big 100+ mile per hour serve to that same spot, and she was up, 5-3.  

Stephens, who's like an iceberg on the court, quiet and stone-faced between points, was now looking toward her camp, both hands up in the air, like, "What the hell can I do? She's got me flummoxed!"

It was a funky way to end it, but it was okay," said Stephens.

Bartoli broke her at 0-40.  6-3.  Game, set, match, to Experience.  Youth immediately grabs her big red racquet bag and heads off the court, brushing right past a little girl who was holding out a paper fan for an autograph.

Outta my way, kid, I got unconverted break points to grieve.

"It was crazy," Stephens said of the wild momentum swings in the match.  "I think we both played pretty well.  It was a funky way to end it, but it's okay."

Yes, losing the third and deciding set at 0-40, after you had your opponent at 15-40 the game before, is funky.  But Stephens insisted that she didn't let her level go down.  She says Bartoli was able to ramp hers up.

I asked her if Bartoli's way of ramping up, with those shadow swings and fist pumps and extra-loud "COME ONs!" got into her head.  This was their first meet-up.

Sloane's answer, in a roundabout way: "YEP."

"I haven't been on the pro circuit long enough" to get used to different players' methods, she said.  "Different girls have different ways of doing that.  It is distracting. But when you're playing, you can't let that get to you."

Stephens said some of stuff she saw Bartoli doing between points made her think, afterwards, "Did I just see her DO that?"  She didn't elaborate on what made her jaw drop. I'd guess it was the hopping around Bartoli did before Sloane served.  She even used the word "sportsmanship" somewhere in her remarks.  I couldn't write fast enough.

"Did Stephens just accuse Bartoli of being unsportsmanlike?" one reporter asked another as the press briefing ended.  We'll see, Haters, if the local papers have that as their headline tomorrow morning.  

You know how us media types are.  Always looking for the juicy story.  


I Hate Tennis Covers the New Haven Open!

Melanie's serve not in the ballpark, or tennis court, today.

For three days, anyway. Haters, I'm here with Mark for our annual journey up I-95 to watch big time tennis at this small, intimate tournament. It used to be a combined ATP/WTA event, but the men pulled out 2 years ago, and so did longtime sponsor Pilot Pen. Making this event even MORE intimate Nobody's here!

We're watching America's sweetheart and heartbreak, Melanie Oudin, play Sophia Arvidsson of Sweden. Melanie's strategy of pushing Arvidsson back and drawing errors with deep, heavy ground stokes is working. She's also coming to net and winning points there. But her serve is her downfall right now. There's not much to them and her first serve percentage is low. She's got 2 double faults so far. Sophia has none.

It's amazing how the one shot you have complete control over is also the one you often have the least control over.

That's tennis!