Thursday, May 16, 2019

LEAGUE WATCH: I'm back! ...??

When last we left, well, me, I was deliberating whether I should appeal my rating from a 4.0 to a 3.5. I didn't feel like a 4.0 and there are more league opportunities for 3.5 players out here. So I appealed, and it was successful. Just like that, I was a 3.5. Sure, that years-long climb to get to that higher rating was all wiped out, but oh, well. You gotta crack some walnuts to eat the walnut. Something like that.
I promptly signed up for my usual 7.0 mixed combo team, expecting to play better now that the pressure of carrying a team was off. My partner and I strutted onto the court and started warming up against our opponents. I was feeling really good. Then I took a look down at my racquet strings, which were barely still connected. I'd just switched racquets and only had one of those. I figured that if the strings broke during the match, I'd have to use one of my old ones, so I switched out racquets towards the end of warmups and yikes! I'd been hitting that stick for probably six years and in that moment, it felt completely foreign to me. There was no pro on site to work on my new racquet, so I took a deep breath and forged ahead.
The first set probably lasted about 20 minutes and every second of it I spent cursing my luck, and wishing I'd had a backup. My partner was playing pretty well, as were our opponents, and every time it came to my racquet, I botched the point. I decided to switch back to the original racquet for the beginning of the second set, and I felt much better. Unfortunately, my inward drama had no effect on the opposing team. Despite much tougher points in the second set, we still lost. And the strings never did break.
I am aware of the mental issues that have settled into my game, especially in league matches. I just don't know what to do about them. Having to play with a backup racquet should not be a big deal. So why was it? Why did I allow it to derail my entire match?
No one's been able to answer that for me in a way that leads to making an actionable plan. Enter Steven Pressman, the author of "The War of Art." It's a great kick in the booty if you tend to procrastinate, as I do. In it, Pressman writes about the differences between amateurs and professionals. He references Tiger Woods a couple of times, including a time that Tiger was about to hit a shot off the tee and in mid-swing, a fan snapped a camera shutter in his face. Tiger was able to stop his swing, reset himself, and hit the ball straight down the fairway for over 300 yards, all with barely acknowledging the offending fan with a withering glance. Pressman's point was this (and I quote): "He could have groaned or sulked or surrendered mentally to this injustice, this interference, and used it as an excuse to fail. He didn't. What he did do was maintain his sovereignty over the moment. ... And he knew that it remained in his power to produce the shot. Nothing stood in his way except whatever emotional upset he himself chose to hold on to."
Powerful stuff. Can be translated onto the court? Well, I read this book passage just in time to test this theory for our last combo match of the season.
Within about 10 minutes of our match start, my partner and I were down 1-3, and it was because of me. I was making dumb mistakes -- I barely could get the ball in play. Then I had a thought: You don't have to let what happened affect the rest of the match. You can still hit your shots. I focused in on improving my footwork, and on their weaknesses, and before I knew it, we had reeled off five straight games to win the set.
We faced another deficit in the second set -- we were down 3-5 with me serving to stay in the set, which I still really felt good about. But all of a sudden, we were down 0-30, then 15-30. I served out wide and, hearing no call, walked over to the other side to serve again, but my opponents were staring at the spot. (SIDE RANT TIME! Look. It's either in or out and you have to make a timely call. If you are not sure, you do not summon a committee of your best tennis buds to analyze the mark. No. If you are not sure, the point belongs to your opponent! That's it! This is actually in the rules.) I stayed on the other side and bounced the ball to serve again, and at that point my opponent says, "Yeah, that's out."
There aren't a lot of things that annoy me while I'm playing tennis -- it's usually the highlight of my day. But when people do that, I get annoyed. I have unleashed on people who do late calls on important points, on any point. I was annoyed then, and I said so. I lined up to the ad side and hit essentially the same spot, and my opponent barely got a racquet on it.
This is what Pressman is saying, I think. You are always in control, even when people stare at a ball mark for 30 minutes before calling your shot out. You choose how to respond.
No, we didn't win the match. But I felt good about the way I played. When we went down early in the tiebreak, I lined up to serve and my partner whispered right before he turned around: "Just get it in." When you think like that when you play, that's you choosing how to respond.
(By the way, that's a bad way to respond. You don't respond to nerves by embracing them. Not if you wanted to win or anything like that. Never think this, and never say it to your partner. I mean, feel free to say it to your opponent, though.)
Anyway, we'll see what happens. Knowing how to respond to something is not the same as doing that thing consistently.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

We Got Some Salty Tennis Players in Miami

I am regularly surprised by things that happen in pro tennis. I couldn't have told you that Naomi Osaka would win two Slams in a row by the time she was 21. Or that Serena Williams would back out of both Indian Wells and Miami. (Well. That's not as surprising.)
But if you were going to ask me if there was one top player I could think of who would say something mean to her opponent at the handshake, it would not be Angelique Kerber. And yet, here we are.
In case you missed it (and some people are apparently hoping you missed it), Kerber, who lost last week's IW final to Bianca Andreescu, played in the second round in Miami against ... Andreescu. During the match, Andreescu called twice for a medical time out with an arm problem. At the end of each time-out, she went back to the court. It was a great match. Full disclosure: It was nearly 1 a.m. when it ended in my corner of the world and I was drifting in and out of sleep, and when the final ball was struck, I snapped awake to see the two players meeting at the net. Kerber said something and she looked irritated, but it didn't register and I went to sleep because I was tired. It was the next day before I saw the clip while fully awake:





OK!
First, Kerber is not Miss Shade Academy, so this is wild to see from her. Second, there are players who are very dramatic where I wouldn't be surprised to hear them getting called out








.
Andreescu was not playing that card. So, what on earth was Kerber talking about?
Third is this apparent effort by Kerber and the WTA to pretend that the whole thing ... never happened? The WTA scraped it off their website and the next day, Kerber makes this nice Twitter post in tribute of the teenager.




Here is a crazy idea. Maybe just (wo)man up and say sorry if you did something wrong. Because it's not a good look when you are a tour veteran and you pitch a fit after a talented teenager beats you for the second time in some days. Calling someone a drama queen in a huff after you lose to this person is a pretty drama-queen thing to do. Mainly, I just want to know what she meant. And another thing: When did the WTA get into public relations? You know what I can find at this moment on the WTA website? Full accounting of Serena Williams going postal at the U.S. Open. But we're protecting Kerber?

Speaking of drama queens, on to the next tennis controversy in Miami. Apparently, Nick Kyrgios won a crucial point in his match Monday by serving underhand. And well, social media thought that was (wait for it ...) underhanded. Look, serving underhand is annoying and tricky, but it is an acceptable tennis play. I play with some people who do that. Yes, they're 70-80 years old. It is legit, though. It's exactly like a drop shot. Tennis, as I've said, is 99.9948278 percent mental. Part of that means being ready for anything. I mean, as a player, no one likes when someone does this. But is that what we're doing now? We're playing nice? I hope that's not true because I'm working on my underhand serve after I hit publish.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Andrees-who?

Strangely, I have not dedicated too many key strokes to Bianca Andreescu before, but I will rectify that now. And I'll just start with WOW.
So I watched that Indian Wells final and it was one of the most entertaining finals I've seen recently. This final, Andreescu v. Angelique Kerber, was what happens when two players showcase their strengths ... and when, mercifully, one of those strengths is not a serve. They have good serves, yes, but no one was acing their way out of trouble. Lucky for us, they had to slug their way through the trouble.
I've written before about Kerber's unconventional game, and I still have trouble understanding how she does this all the time -- advance to big-time finals, and usually win them. For a minute, it seemed as if that was going to happen again.
OK, so Andreescu. I am impressed. It's not just that she's 18 and had a great run through this tournament. Think about the players you know who have the variety that Andreescu displayed the other day. Seriously. Off the top of my head, I have Roberta Vinci, Conchita Martinez, Fabrice Santoro. Santoro's too far maybe. But anyway, what do those players have in common? At the height of their careers, when they were masterfully displaying that variety, they were in their late-20s and early 30s. This chick is 18. Unfortunately, I had the volume on during the match, so I could hear the commentators saying that she was going to the drop shot too much. Never stop, Bianca! Because guess what? It worked and if you are fortunate enough to have powerful groundstrokes that can keep someone pinned to the baseline, then yes, the drop shot is an intelligent play. Just because a player starts running in doesn't make it less effective. Kerber's returns on that shot (except for that one lucky slice up the line on a dead run) did not leave Kerber in a winning position. Plus, no one drop shots anymore, and it's annoying. Andreescu is 18 and is already learning how to use the entire court.
Yes, she has room for improvement. She fairly limped over the finish line on Sunday, so the fitness maybe could use some work.



But as far as I can tell, when it comes to the brainy part of tennis, she's already ahead of any of the young women I've seen coming up so far.
Not much to say about Roger Federer going down to Dominic Thiem in the men's final. It was entertaining, and Thiem is about to mess around and bring back the one-handed backhand. His backhand is definitely better than Fed's right? That's what I saw.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Hot Takes About Indian Wells

Shame to see that Sloane Stephens didn't play Indian Wells this year. I was wondering about her form, especially considering her rough start to the year. Maybe she took some time ... what? Did you say she did play this tournament and won just three games against Stephanie Vogele, a player who has made nary a peep on the tour for some time? Ah, OK. I want to say something snarky, but Stephens is streaky and could just as easily pull off the French Open before another severe swing in the opposite direction.

BREAKING: Phillip Kohlschreiber has a nickname on tour that's easier to spell than Phillip Kohlschreiber! That was my biggest takeaway from the response from this tweet from yesterday:


Kholi! I love it. It's mine now.
Oh, and so, Nick. There's not a nice way to say this, but there's a difference between an inconsistent player producing inconsistent results versus a consistent No. 1 player losing to an unseeded opponent. Kyrgios has a ways to go before he can call out comments like these.

One day, I am going to do a longer post about the Venus Williams of the early aughts and the player she is today. She's having a good run at IW -- that win over Petra Kvitova was peak vintage Venus, only in the grit she showed. But to suggest that we're seeing a vintage Venus in regards to her game? No. She was never this good in her "heyday." Her court awareness, her willingness to take the net IN SINGLES and the way she uses her backhand is all present-day. She has been working on her game. It didn't leave her in 2008, only to return in 2017. She is better now than she ever was, regardless of her age. Full stinkin' stop.

I honestly don't know how Elina Svitolina does it. I probably would if I took a bit more time to watch her play, but, man. Her game is boring. I don't know. Is it just me?

Here is my current salvo in the war I am waging against on-court coaching for women only:


That's it. That's the whole salvo.

Alright, gotta go to work. Or ... do I? ...


This is quite the slate for today and I definitely feel like I have the sniffles all of a sudden. 

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Therapy with TWA: The First Person I Ever Converted to Tennis

I haven't been posting much lately, and that's because I've been dealing with family issues. I thought, even against all the evidence I had to the contrary, that at some point, the weight of the responsibility of caring for my sick father would be alleviated once he got better. That actually didn't end up happening.
My father died a couple of weeks ago and since then, I've not been in the mood for much, least of all tennis. So here I am, back on the therapy couch.
Did I ever tell you guys about how my dad became a tennis fan?
So about 16 years ago, I was becoming obsessed with the sport. I was playing it, was dating a guy I met because of it, was actually getting good at it. I loved watching it on television. Whenever I talked to my dad, he would talk to me about boxing and I would talk to him about tennis. I never really liked boxing. My dad loved boxing. I hadn't watched boxing since I was under his roof because we had one television and I had no choice. We're talking Mike Tyson's heyday here. And honestly, growing up in Brooklyn with Tyson knocking out everyone lined up against him? It would have been sacrilege not to follow that. But that was the depth of my boxing expertise.
Now, despite my possibly obvious disinterest in the sport, it didn't change my dad's determination to narrate each blow of the recent match he watched. I listened. He was super jacked about it. But still, no dice. No boxing fandom for me.
My dad eventually moved to a housing development with a pool and tennis court. When we went to visit one time, he wanted to have a hit. One thing you should know about my dad is that he was very meticulous about his appearance. And yet, he came out with my then-boyfriend and I to his tennis courts and allowed photographical evidence of his completely wack tennis game to be recorded. Now, I would never actually share those tiny images of him completely mishandling his racquet and looking decidedly uncoordinated that I took on a Motorola Razr nearly 13 years ago.








Bah, he wouldn't have minded.
But here's the thing. So it never occurred to me that I should start watching boxing because my dad liked it. For me, it was like, "No, I didn't see that fight. Let's talk about something else!" And we could. There was no shortage of things to talk about with him. There was life, movies, books, current events, and the like. But my dad knew that I had this new passion and did not resolve, as I did, to talk about something else, or to allow the other person to ramble on just because. No. My dude became a tennis fan. And I'm not talking about folks who are Serena/Maria/Fed stans. He watched all the matches. He trended towards the young Americans and women's tennis, especially the rivalries. It never ceased to surprise me just how much he got entrenched. He knew all the player names, and when we turned on tennis at his house, he could go on about Marion Bartoli's game, or that of Simona Halep. I know he still loved boxing.
It's not like I feel guilt for not becoming a boxing fan, because to expect someone to pick up a sport because someone they care about cares about it is a lot. But he did it.
What does that say about him?
Things I didn't fully understand until now.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

AO'19: Some Things that Surprised Me at the Australian Open

Some things about the Australian Open were fairly easy to guess: Novak Djokovic bringing home the men's title, the flaming-out of all the Australian men at their home tournament, very hot weather. Others were not, and it's a good time to re-examine those things now:

1. The sudden confrontation with the end of Andy Murray's career: Before he took the court for his first-round match, Murray had a hit with Djokovic that ended with him in physical and emotional pain. At a press conference, Murray said the Aussie Open might be his last tournament, although he was hoping to end it all at Wimbledon. Now, at this moment, Murray is recovering from a last-ditch surgery that hopefully can help his hip heal so he can play without pain. But just in case it doesn't, we should let the record show that, yes, he finally brought the Wimbledon crown to the home crowd. Back in the day, Murray hired Amelie Mauresmo to be his coach and everyone clutched the pearls. Since then, there has not been a more vocal pro-woman male player than Murray. Women appreciate this. Men claim to appreciate this, and then make the claim that because men attract larger ratings, they should be paid more than women. (Hi, Rafa. Still loving that sexy ass, but that's foul.) These days, Mauresmo is working another male pro, Lucas Pouille, and she will have her work cut out for her. After a recent win, Pouille was asked about the decision to have a (gasp) female coach. His response -- that Mauresmo's gender shouldn't matter -- is the mark of Andy Murray, whether he returns to court or not.

2. Serena Williams: Now, I didn't have her advancing past Simona Halep -- her footwork has been shoddy since she returned to the tour. But her footwork has improved quite a bit and she was able to advance to the brink of the semifinals. But what happened when she was up 5-1 in the third set is basically unheard of when it comes to Serena. True confession time: I was watching the match on mute, so I didn't hear the chatter about her injury until the next day. Sure, they showed close-ups of her stumble, but it didn't register at that point that it hampered her play. And frankly, it never looked as though it did. She had plenty of opportunities to close that match and she didn't. Whether it was tentativeness or injury or whatever, she didn't finish it out. A lot has been made of the fact that she didn't call for a trainer. Maybe she didn't need one? Now her coach is out in the world saying that she didn't call for a trainer because she knew the tournament was over for her. He got that out of his own head, having acknowledged that he never spoke to her. Look, I've said since the breastfeeding thing that she needed to cut bait on Patrick Mouratoglou. He is clearly a great tennis mind, but the man is really mostly interested in himself. And then there's the business of the foot fault on match point. Was it a foot fault? I have no idea. But it was one point of a match with many points (and three other match points ...) and to blame her loss on that call, even if it was wrong, is crazy. But yet, there was that groundswell. I'll just never get over the crowd that wants to paint Serena Williams as a perpetual victim, even when Serena isn't doing that.

3. How ineffective Nadal's game can be: Watching Nadal get picked apart by Djokovic, it became clear to me why Nadal's best results come at the French Open. He is a grinder, a physical player who works points until he can seize an advantage. Unfortunately for him, Djokovic is not a patient man. Djokovic is able to cut points short in his favor and the whole cat-and-mouse approach isn't going to work on him at his current level. Nadal's game can grind down most of the field -- he advanced to the final, after all. But against Djokovic, it didn't work. If Nadal wants to truly challenge Djokovic in his current form, he's going to need a first-strike sort of approach himself.

4. Maria Sharapova's results: Double bagel in the first round, beating Caroline Wozniacki, taking Ash Barty to three sets? What has happened here?

5. Ana Pavlyuchenkova's results: Every time I fill out a draw with Pavly in it, I hover over her match and think the same thing every time: "She could win that. But will she?" And again she showed flashes of what she can do. Taking down Sloane Stephens is a big deal and normally I'd have something to say for her bowing out to Danielle Collins, but Angelique Kerber also lost to Collins which is still blowing my mind.

6. Naomi Osaka winning the Australian Open: She's a kid. She's not supposed to win two Slams in a row, both under extreme duress against wily veterans who are Slam champs themselves. I don't know what keeps Osaka calm in closing out these matches, but I need some of it just so I can get through most days without chucking items at people.


Thursday, January 24, 2019

AO'19: Random Thoughts

It's been a while. Still with the personal stuff, but that doesn't mean I haven't been watching tennis. I have thoughts. Here they are:

Frances Tiafoe: I come from a long line of West Indians who believe that working hard would lead to great success. Because of this, there is this steady line of progression through my family line as far as I can trace it. My grandfather would leave his country of origin to come work citrus fields in Florida, paying steadily for the entry of each of his children, then his wife. His children came, saw, got a job and showed their children how to make something of nothing. It really is the ultimate Houdini trick. When you grow up seeing each generation pushing for the coming crop and it's your turn, what do you do? You go above and beyond. Someone's got to set the bar for whoever is next. So when I read about Frances Tiafoe beating Kevin Anderson, then advancing into the quarterfinals of a Slam and making comments like this: "It means the world. I worked my ass off, man. I told my parents 10 years ago I was going to be a pro and change their life and my life," well, you get it. It makes sense. All he saw growing up was pushing boundaries. Why not keep pushing boundaries?

Serena v. Pliskova: It really is an insult to make excuses for Serena at this point. So let's not do it. If she sprained her ankle and never tried to get it checked, that's a decision she made. The foot fault call was important, and perhaps unwise and incorrect, but let's not forget she was up 5-1. When you are leading like that, you can create as many opportunities than you need. One foot fault does not make a match. Having said all of that, I was stunned watching the second half of the third set play itself out. Serena had hit the gas towards the end of the second set and all the way up to 5-1, so it was crazy! Even at the end, there was no one clear reason for the plot twist, well, besides Serena having an injury.

Federer losing to Tsitsipas: I haven't written about Stephanos Tsitsipas before. I will rectify this now. He's pretty good. I haven't seen what happened against Nadal yet, but in his match against Roger Federer, he showed a maturity that suggests to me that he will win a Slam, and probably before Alexander Zverev. One thing I personally look for when I see up-and-comers playing straight legends is how they react to victory. Usually, if they're all excited they hit an ace, or won one set, it doesn't bode well. But Tsitsipas kept his head down against Federer for the most part. He's almost ready.

People Coming Out of Nowhere: Danielle Collins had a nice stretch of success last summer, then went away. As I write, she's playing Petra Kvitova in the semifinals. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has been flirting with success for a long time now. Beats Sloane Stephens and Kiki Bertens and makes the quarters. Amanda Anisimova taking out a title favorite in Aryna Sabalenka. My point is to make your draw with your gut, not your brain. Also that we are in for a heckuva ride this year, and the newbies are at the wheel.

Rafael Nadal: and his sexy ass hopefully will win the Australian Open, glistering in sweat.