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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 tennis (12)


Outdoor Season Over. Inside Job Just Beginning.

It was carved into the Har-Tru by one of the little girls who were taking a lesson with Saintly Pro Al Johnson ahead of mine, an "I was here" statement on the last day of the 2013 outdoor season at Prospect Park Tennis Center. Grace.


It was the little girl's name, but it's a good description of what I'm feeling as the summer comes to a close and tennis season pauses to move indoors.  Grace, as in, the free and unmerited favor of God, the Big Kahuna, the Force, the Unseen Hand that supports my meager efforts at proficiency in anything, let alone tennis.

Lessons learned this summer?  Eye on the ball, eye on the ball, eye on the ball.  Really.  It's the first thing you hear from a coach and it never grows old.  Eye on the ball.

"Your eyes make the shot," Coach Al tells me.  I've resisted this wisdom.

No, no, no, no, it's my swing that makes the shot.  It's the kinetic chain, that rotation of the hips and torso into the swing of the arm into the path of the ball that I can't seem to get.  It's my racquet head speed (sluggish) and my footwork (clumsy).  Once I get these elements down, in the proper order, then I'll have a forehand and a backhand to be reckoned with!

Your eyes make the shot.  How can it be that simple?

Coach Al is relentless.  He repeats again, "Your eyes make the shot."  It has taken me months to let go of the aforementioned skills checklist and to believe that Coach Al just may be right.  If I don't see the shot, I can't make the shot.  All those other skills follow from first watching the ball all the way to the point where my racquet meets it and spanks the living hell out of it.

How can it be that simple?  

I have spent countless hours on the court in frustration during a match, wondering why I'm still pushing with my forehand or shanking the ball into the sky off my frame on my backhand, perplexed at the volleys that sail long and the groundstrokes that land short.  Can all these problems be greatly diminished, even vanquished, by just focusing more fully, quietly, completely, on seeing the hit?  

This summer, I've learned the answer.  Yup.  Making the ball my only focus keeps a lot of other gunk from sloshing around in my head, the black, corrosive thoughts that wear away at my confidence and Tennis Love like rust on the underside of a 1981 Ford Pinto.  It's almost comical, how simple this prescription is.   Eye on the ball.

Simple, but not easy.  I am constantly looking up, watching where the ball is going, looking to see if it is going in.

"If you see the ball into your strings, you don't have to look up, because you'll know it's going in," says Coach Al.  That's how much of a difference he thinks seeing the shot can make for a 3.0 player like me.  

Really?  Really.  And I thought I needed a windshield wiper finish and a Western grip.

Alright, this is what I'm going to focus on.  This is all I'm going to do.  My matches, my lessons, my clinics, will be training sessions for my eyes. Just seeing the hit and developing this focus is all I want to work on right now. I'll leave for another day the kick serve and the buggywhip forehand finish and all the other shiny skills that I think will catapault me into the ranks of the Marginally Good.

Grace is the unexpected gift that always comes with letting go, the quiet at the end of the crying jag, the color that comes back to the fingertips when your fist unclenches.  






Pippa's Backhand -- and Backside -- Makes Daily News Swoon

Pippa and Nico are tight-lipped about their doubles strategy. Photo: Daily News
Here's what gives weight to the New York Daily News' claim that it has the best sports page in the city: it featured tennis in yesterday's edition.
Granted, Haters, it wasn't news about the current ATP tournament in Halle or the WTA Wimbledon warm-up at Birmingham.  That would only happen if favorite punching bags Tim Tebow or Alex Rodriguez were in the stands.  
No, it was a page 13 photo of Brit Pippa Middleton, sis of Princess Kate, and her boyfriend, Nico Jackson, in a post-tennis embrace in London, one that involved mutual bum-grabbing.
Glad to see Pippa is getting in the spirit of the upcoming Wimbledon tournament, with her all-white outfit.
As for actual tennis NEWS, French tennis acrobat Gael Monfis says he won't be playing at Wimbledon.  He said he withdrew his request for a wild card because he had to deal with a personal problem.  He did not elaborate.  
Monfis is in the quarterfinals at the Gerry Weber Open, as is Roger Feder, Mikhail Youzhny and German wild card Mischa Zverev.
As for the women at the Aegon Classic, try saying these quarterfinalists' names three times, fast: Kirsten Flipkens, Magdalena Rybarikova, Sorana Cirstea and Francesca Schiavone.  So much easier to pronounce Laura Robson and Heather Watson, but the British gals were eliminated.

Miracle of Easter: We Beat Singh/Thompson!

My husband and I thought we were offering ourselves up like lambs to the slaughter for the Easter feast when we agreed to square off against Worthy Opponents Surinder Singh and Tam Thompson at the Prospect Park Tennis Center.  Singh is undefeated for the indoor season, and Thompson is a tough customer on the doubles court. She's got the game and the guts to serve and volley, Haters.

It may look like a tennis ball, but it's really a hand grenade when Tam Thompson volleys it at you."You can thank us later," we were thinking to ourselves as we made our intention to play together known to Tam and Surinder.

But here's an Easter miracle: We beat them in a tiebreak.

Click to read more ...


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.


Murray: Hard Work Pays Off, Even Without Vomiting

Murray, smiling, or trying to. Photo courtesy of Reuters.Haters, I'll have to remove Andy Murray from favorite son status of I Hate Tennis. He's unrecognizable, physically and mentally, from the sulking, swearing player who let his mind get in the way of his considerable gifts.

Consider this comment he made after finishing his 2012 season with a semifinal loss to Roger Federer in the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in front of his countrymen in London on Sunday: 

"I would have liked to have finished with a win, but that didn't happen.  But for me, it's been the best year of my career by a mile," he said.  

Murray says his success will motivate him to work hard next month, when he begins what sounds like a grueling off-season training regimen.  But first, a more grueling task: finding a Christmas gift for his coach, Ivan Lendl.    

More on that in a moment.  But first -- Murray, focusing on the positive?  Haters, let us pause to consider this miraculous makeover.  To quote another sulker, John McEnroe, "You cannot be serious."

The Sunny Scot beamed on.  Here's more from the ATP's report:

"Why I would look back on that [his accomplishments this year] negatively now would be silly because I've achieved things I've never achieved before. I have to look back on it positively. If I don't, then that would be worrying.”

News flash, Haters: worrying about your shots is not the way to improve them.  Murry told reporters he may have lost in the end to Federer, 7-6(5), 6-2, but he was pleased -- yes, he used that word, pleased -- with how he continued to try to make things happen on the court, to think about ways to win matches "rather than waiting for my opponent to lose them."

The 25-year-old has had a breakthrough year.  He reached the finals of Wimbledon, the first Brit to do so since 1938.  He lost to Federer and cried on Centre Court during the post-match interview, but didn't let those tears dampen his resolve during the rest of the season.  Two weeks later, he beat Federer on that same court to take Olympic gold, then won his first major by beating defending champ Novak Djokovic at the US Open.

Murray elaborated on his new I Love Tennis outlook in for BBC Sport.  

"Sometimes when you lose a tough match or a big final, you spend the next few days thinking, 'Is it worth it? Is all the training making a difference? Will I ever be good enough to win one of these big events?'" Just the next few DAYS spent ruminating like that, Andy?  Me, I've taken the I Hate Tennis pledge as a Monthly Sustainer.

"I've been through so many highs and lows already," Murray told BBC Sport's Piers Newbery, "and to experience the sort of highs that I did in the summer made me realize it absolutely was worth it."

I've never actually got as far as vomiting in training, but I've certainly felt like it.

Absolutely worth it to train so hard, Murray can't take a breath.

"Most people would normally stop when they're struggling to breathe," said Murray, proving he's not only a master of the tennis court, but of the understatement. "But if you push yourself through that, you might feel horrible at the time but you'll feel better once you get off the machine or the track. It's pushing it that extra bit that makes all the difference."

But even Iron Man Murray has a breaking point.

"I've never actually got as far as vomiting in training [...] but I've certainly felt like it. Many, many times I've ended a session flat on my back with the world spinning above me."

Glad he got that off his chest, if not his stomach.  It humbles me to think Murray is putting in that kind of work, and wondering about the usefulness of it all when he loses.  What's my excuse, with just one lesson a week?  I'm not struggling to breathe, Haters, I'm just struggling.   

Meanwhile, Murray reveals his current struggle is not with being aggressive on the court or living in the "what if's" of a semifinal loss in the season-ending London event.  It's finding a Christmas present for Coach Lendl, who rarely smiles while watching his charge, even when Murray won Olympic gold and the US Open trophy.

He says he's considering giving Lendl a sense of humor.  

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