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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 tips (7)


US Tennis Congress: Emilio Sanchez Coaches Coaches

Day One of the inaugural US Tennis Congress had attendees getting loose with a pro-am game of king of the court, and several pros getting ready to iron out our wayward strokes with a coaching session by Emilio Sanchez. He's a coaches' coach.  He captained Spain's Davis Cup team for three years, culminating in its Davis Cup victory in 2008.

Emilio Sanchez-Vicario, Doubles Silver Medalist, 1988, co-owner of Sanchez-Cabal Academy in Florida. Photo: Amy EddingsHe was putting Lucasl, one of the instructors at his Sanchez-Casal Academy in Florida, through a V-patterened footwork drill at the baseline.  At the bottom of the V was an orange cone.  Sanchez fed to the right and left of the cone, alternating between Lucas' forehand and backhand, and just a little in front of the line of the cone, so that he had to move up and into the ball.    

The point wasn't to turn Lucas' legs into butter, though I could see how that could happen.  It's a tough, demanding drill.  To keep your form throughout all that lateral and diagonal movement?  I'd need divine intervention.  But Sanchez stressed to the coaches to feed the ball in such a way as to give the student time to get their feet under them and make their shot.

Lucas loads up for a forehand. And what an awesome one it was. Photo: Amy Eddings.

Sanchez told them that, in a junior academy situation, about 20 percent of their training time is spent one on one.  "You want that time spent having them hitting successful shots."  

He said he stops his players when he sees their form breaking down, and urged pros to do the same.  He says he's seen pros on the court turn into human ball machines, mindlessly feeding the next shot and not even looking up to see what their students are doing.

"Thirty thousand times.  That's how much a person has to do something in order to write it on the brain," he said.  I swallowed hard.  Just another reminder to stay patient while changing bad stroke habits.  "Tennis is difficult because you need to repeat."

But he said it's much more critical to have players play correctly than to go on winning with poor form.  

"Winning is one thing," Sanchez said.  "Playing well is another."

Today, we start to learn how to play well.  I've got sessions on the forehand and the slice serve.  Watch this space.




US Tennis Congress: Warm-Up Southern Welcome

Peachtree City, Georgia is dripping with Southern charm and hospitality, even on its tennis courts. Within minutes of walking alone onto one of the two well-maintained courts at Pebble Pocket Park, a man who was teaching a woman backhands invited me to hit.

Oozing Southern hospitality, and sweat: me and George Beauchamp. Photo: Amy Eddings

An hour and a half later, my new buddy George Beauchamp and I were sweaty and flush with the fun of long rallies.

Haters, I'm here in Peachtree City for the first annual US Tennis Congress, just down the road at the Dolce Hotel and Resort, and scared as all get out that I'm going to show top instructors like Emilio Sanchez just how well I can shank the ball.  So I was at the court in this little park in Peachtree City, looking to hit against a wall and practice my serves.  

You know, like cleaning up the apartment before the cleaning lady comes.

I was grateful to hit with George Beauchamp.  It took the jitters right out of me.

George told me he teaches tennis. I could tell. Watching him initially, with his sister, Martine, I heard the verbal mannerisms of a teaching pro: "Bounce? Hit!"  And then, as her ball arced over the net, "That's riiiiiight! Gooooood!"

I didn't ask him how old he was, but he's old enough to be "somewhat retired." He moves well, getting smoothly to wide balls and deftly fielding the inevitable loopy long shots from my forehand wing.

"May I give you a tip?" he said. "Don't tilt your racquet face up and don't hit under the ball. I know you have to clear the net, but...."

I mentally finished the sentence for him. "But we're not talking Empire State Building here, lady."  

"You should hit the ball further out in front of you," he continued.  "Don't let the ball push you around.  Hit it earlier."

Know what keeps you focused on the court? Your eyes.

I nodded.  Sounds familiar.  I thought of my Sunday sessions with Coach Al.  Pivot, with your racquet back, then move toward the ball.  See the hit.  Your eyes make the shot.  Because of hearing these instructions, over and over again, I was able to take what George was saying and make it make sense.  Different set of eyes on my game, different way of delivering instruction, but the principals are the same: prepare early, so you play the ball instead of it playing you.  Get your racquet back and then move to the ball, TO it, not away from it.  Watch the ball. See the hit.  

"You don't play your opponent when you play tennis," George said.  "You play the ball and the lines.  You shouldn't even be looking at your opponent, except to see how the ball comes off of his strings."

Later, at the net for a quick breather, my Southern friend got Socratic method on me.  

"Know what keeps you focused on the court?" he asked.

I thought of Coach Al.  Your eyes make the shot.  Without hesitation, I answered.  "Your eyes."  

He smiled.  "That's riiiiight."

I felt encouraged.  These are the basics.  They are like a hammer, a wrench and a screwdriver.  You should never abandon them, no matter what new gizmo is being hawked near the cash register.  George Beauchamp did me a great favor, hitting with me.  He warmed me up physically and mentally for the weekend of instruction ahead.



Saintly Pros: Nate Chura

Nate Chura, radiating goodness at the Brooklyn Heights Casino.Saintly Pro Nate Chura is my Tennis Yoda.  

He's got such a healthy, wise perspective on the game, I suspect he spent several years living under the root system of a tree on some boggy planet in deepest space, communing with the Force.

Actually, Nate's deep respect and love of tennis comes from years of playing and teaching it.  He started playing when he was 11. At 15, he knew he wanted to teach tennis.

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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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Mental Toughness: Victoria Azarenka

I like reading about how pros pull their heads out of the oven when they're down in a match.  World number one Victoria Azarenka, who's had some memorable tantrums and tears on court (I'm already prepping her appearance in Meltdown of the Week), was sliding toward a first set loss against Ana Ivanovic in Madrid.  She was down, 1-4.  Ivanovic, former top female player in the world (don't you want her to come back all the way?  I sure do) had taken 21 of the first 27 points. I could see myself cracking a few racquets if I were Vika.

But I'm not her, and here's why.

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