Saturday, October 19, 2019

League Watch: On My Own

I knew that when I decided to appeal my rating from 4.0 to 3.5, I would get more opportunities to play league matches, and like Elizabeth Warren, I had a plan for that. I wanted to start playing singles again and in case you didn't know, making yourself available for singles will make you the most popular player in said league. When my appeal was granted, I made it onto a team and just like that, I was about to play my first league singles match in *checks Tennislink* FIVE YEARS.
It's like riding a bike, I told myself. You know how to do it, so just jump right on. My first opponent was someone I'd never met, but from the time we started hitting, I knew this was going to be a tough match. At least I thought so. My opponent was consistent on both sides, decent mover, okay serve while warming up, but once the match started, I was facing little resistance. I wasn't happy with my own play, though. I was hitting a lot of framed shots that stayed in and I felt uncomfortable even after winning the first set. I worried that if she raised her level and I kept framing everything, it wouldn't end well for me.
What do you call it when you're a negative psychic, when you can only predict the bad things about to happen to you? Because, yeah, she raised her level and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't raise mine. And just as quickly as I won the first set, she won the second. Unfortunately, in Florida, that means a third-set tiebreaker.
I hate third-set tiebreakers. Why have a tiebreaker in place of a set when you can have a quick round of "Rock/Paper/Scissors?" Maybe a round of "What Number am I Thinking Of?" Not only are these tiebreaks dumb, but I do not do well with them. Need I remind you of my second stint at sectionals during a rain-delayed weekend? I'm sure the fact that they're dumb and that I don't fare well in them are not related, by the way. Not. At. All.
So, anyway, we get into this tiebreaker and I'm trying to convince myself that I love third-set tiebreakers, live for 'em, even. I didn't have to worry too much -- my opponent started with a double-fault and a few quick errors. I thought she might have been nervous, so I committed to hitting low-risk topspin deep into the court. But of course, she came back to tighten the situation and by now, all our teams are standing around watching us because we were one of the last matches. Still, I hung on somehow and won the match. It felt good. It was hot and it had been a physical match and I was glad to know I was still able to do this.
I won my second match, too, and then that just about did it for me in my region. The captain didn't play me until halfway through the season and I couldn't play the last two matches. Central Florida is just not it for league junkies like me. I knew that if I wanted to keep playing, I'd have to travel. Fortunately, I'm located smack dab in the middle of Tampa and Orlando, so, at maximum, we're talking about an hour both ways. And who doesn't love podcasts?
I found a team which featured a lot of the people I've played with before and I told the captain I wanted to play singles. Oh, did I mention that this was an 18-and-over team and that I'm quite far from 18? My first opponent, though? I would have carded her if I could. She was also accompanied by her coach or dad who sat courtside and who I had to see at each changeover. Later, he was joined by a spectator who had a glass of wine. Yeah, it was that kind of club.
Anyway, I jumped out to a 2-0 lead and was serving well, I thought. I felt pretty good for about 10 minutes. Then I began spraying errors all over the court. And I can even tell you when it started -- the stinkin' drop shot. I do not have a reliable drop shot. I just can't gauge the distance well and it ends up on my side of the net or it's a lob that lands just inside the service line. And I told myself to stop hitting them, but I noticed my opponent wasn't a great mover, and when I'd pull her wide, the dropper would be the smart move IF I WERE CAPABLE OF HITTING THEM. And so that problem just threw my whole game into a tailspin. Oh, also, these courts were har-tru (that's basically everything out here) and they were the worst -- dry, dusty and almost impossible to move through. I'm not making excuses.
I lost in the longest, most-agonizing pair of 6-3 sets I have ever played, and when it was over, I was very tired, and the next day, I was quite sore.
I didn't like losing, but I thought I had better stuff in me and told myself that I just needed to get the errors down. And in my second singles match, I did -- at the beginning. I was playing another young, fit player and my groundstrokes were working well. I was hitting my shots and I thought she seemed resigned that she wouldn't be able to track everything down. I won the first set and then in the second, things got complicated. It wasn't that complicated. My opponent just stopped hitting the ball -- she began poking everything in, and instead of coming in to the net like a smart person would, I just sat at the baseline, keeping these points going. I don't have a lot of confidence at the net, although in singles, you don't need to be super-precise. Which is something I probably should have told myself in that night as I was losing the second set. In the match tiebreak, I never could get on top -- I think I threw in a double fault early, and I never really recovered. Losing that one made me think that maybe I couldn't keep up with these young'uns. Until I woke up the next morning and felt ... nothing. No pain, no creaking. That made me feel good -- I thought that the only thing that I needed to worry about was my head. Well, that's easy, I told myself.
Ha.
The next match was against the type of player I'd normally like, hard hitter, nice serve, lots of pace. I was able to run and retrieve a lot, but when the last shot of the rally came, it was always to her advantage. In both sets, she lost her service game to win the set and both times, I failed to put pressure on her with my serve. I couldn't see in the match what I was doing wrong or how to fix it, but on the drive home, I asked myself how many times she was able to monopolize on my short returns. A lot. What I needed was not just the energy to cope with these players, but also the ability to think through strategy on the court. And I used to be able to do this. At least I thought I was.
After an unsuccessful foray into doubles (although again, it felt as if my game was locking into place), I got another chance at singles. My opponent was another ball poker and I told myself, "That's it -- you're getting into the net and you're not going to stop." And yet, when the set got tight, where was I? Yup, at the baseline, hitting bad-idea drop shots. After she won the first set, I got mad and I told myself -- verbally this time, and loudly -- to press into the court and end these points. And to my own surprise, I did. I won the second set 6-2 and then came my absolute favorite tiebreaker! Yay. Something weird happened during this tiebreak, though. I could sense myself getting nervous and I tried to talk myself down, and to simply breathe. But as soon as the point started, I committed myself to the strategy, to press into the court and to not stop, even if I missed a shot and before I knew it, the tiebreak was over and I had won it.
I wasn't overly joyful about the win because I felt it should have never gotten to the tiebreak situation. But it meant something to pull out ahead in a situation like that. Maybe it's the beginning of a reversal of fortune, the beginning of me settling down into singles again. But one lesson I've definitely learned is that you can be nervous in competition. You have to recognize it and cast it aside to do what you need to do to win.
Easy, right. Yeah. OK.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Postscript: I Went to the U.S. Open!

For the last eight years or so, I'd been telling myself that next year, I was definitely going back to the U.S. Open. But then I'd think of the logistics -- travel, child rearing-related stuff, finances -- and I'd talk myself out of it. This year, I had a bonus incentive. Earlier this year, I'd found myself back in Brooklyn for an unpleasant event -- my father's funeral. It could have been the sentimentality of the moment, but I actually found that I missed my hometown, and wanted to spend more time in it. So I booked my ticket and landed back in New York, and even in the house I grew up in (my mom still lives there).
There was more than one reunion happening. I found out that one of my old co-workers from my first job in newspapers was now covering the Open for a bunch of publications wanting local content on their hometown players. He offered to buy my ticket in advance so I could avoid the long lines of the olden days. I'm old enough to remember when you had to go to Flushing Meadows at the crack of dawn to buy grounds passes. I am sorry, but that is not happening for me on a vacation, no less. So, yes, Michael, thanks for that.
I was glad to know that Michael would be there because as the day drew closer, it only then occurred to me that I would be wandering around the Open by myself. Which you can do, of course. I generally prefer fewer people around me anyway, but what if I got to see Venus Williams (which, yeah, was another good reason not to wait any longer to go to this tournament) and had no one near me to shake maniacally after she hits a winner? I had sort of assumed the answer would be "no one" until a random conversation with my mother. Not only had she never been to the Open, but she really wanted to go! So did my sister in New Jersey. So off we went!
The Billie Jean King Tennis Center is completely different from the USTA National Tennis Center. Same location, completely different experience. The old place was really homey. I still remember walking on the grounds one year and Martina Navratilova just passed me, heading to her match. In the common area! That was one thing I looked forward to every year, but that part of it is largely gone. I did see Amelie Mauresmo shuffling her babies around (I think), but that was just about it. So where were the big wigs? Well, I figured that out by accident, when we stumbled upon a fenced-off area for VIPs. You had to show a badge to get back there. I tried to tell the security guy at the entrance that I was the CFO of JP Morgan Chase, but that I had just forgotten my badge, and I think I almost had him persuaded, but ultimately, we did not gain entry. Ah, well.
I knew I'd only be in New York for a few days, so I had to choose which day I'd be going to the Open. After a lot of back and forth, I finally decided on the first Wednesday -- and I chose wrong. Kind of. (I'll explain in a moment.) Once I got to NYC, the forecast suggested perfect weather throughout my stay, except for one day. Can you guess which day?
Still, the rules have changed a bit for access to stadium courts with grounds passes, which meant that there would be some tennis for us. Armstrong Stadium, which has a roof, would have play that day, as would Ashe, which still cost extra to get into. When we got there, Kei Nishikori was working to wrap up his second-round match with American Bradley Klahn. Nishikori was a game from winning the match in the third set, but blinked (napped might be better term because he went away for a bit), before finally prevailing in the fourth set. By then a lot of us were rooting for him to win quickly because of who was next up.
This is why Wednesday wasn't a total loss.


That's right. Venus Ebony Starr Williams. (And Gael Monfils in the second row.)
The main thing I wanted when I went to the Open was to see Venus play. That's why I chose the first week -- and early. I hate to say it, but you never know. Especially because if Monfils was there, it wasn't to root for Venus -- it was to root for his girlfriend Elina Svitolina. This was not a kind draw. Venus' record against Svitolina wasn't good, either, but given the surface, I thought there was maybe a chance. Maybe.
We were way up there in the stadium during the first set, and it was still a great seat. Check these out:


This angle can also be misleading ...



Well, everyone knows by now how this one went. I was pleasantly surprised to see Venus keep it so close and not so surprised that she double-faulted under pressure at the worst times. I'm about to start a GoFundMe for a coach who can finally get her out of that.
Of course, because of the rain, we were in Armstrong most of the day. (Michael had upgraded my seat to get into Ashe for the day session, but there was more going on in Armstrong, and so I ended up eating that extra five bucks. Oh well.) We kept jockeying for closer seating and slowly, but surely, it worked. Next up was Madison Keys against Zhu Lin, which was over by the time we got comfortable in better seats.


(That's Keys' serve, in case you couldn't tell.)
Then I consumed the most expensive personal pizza I've ever eaten. It was *checks wallet* yes, 14 dollars. Well, when you have a captive audience ...
Anyway, by this time, we were approaching the night session and I wanted to stay because if I could I would just live at the BJK Tennis Center and arrange my life around it. But I had company and I was almost afraid to ask them if they'd be down to stay for just one more match. Of course, they said.
(My family is great.)
So we got to watch Ash Barty take on Lauren Davis, which looks like an overmatch on paper. In person, and even from a distance, the size difference was obvious, too.




Lauren Davis is another one of those players who just has more K-tape on her each time she shows up to a tournament. Bless her heart, which is much larger than she is. She pushed Barty in this match and it might have been the best one of the day.
Then we went home. For an abbreviated version of the Open, it was still pretty great, and plus, we get a raincheck for next year. Which, uh, means we're going back next year. Which means I need to start saving up for lunch NOW.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Last Slam on the Left: #SheoftheNorth > #ThisMama

I am relieved to be past this current Slam without trauma. I hesitate to point out how crazy last year's U.S. Open was (do y'all remember that a court umpire gave Nick Kyrgios a pep talk during a changeover last year?), because this one was the complete opposite. It was unpredictable but only on court, and both singles finals were worth the (exorbitant) price of admission.
Let's start with the women's final, which featured the two finalists from the Canadian Open -- Serena Williams and Bianca Andreescu. Andreescu won that one because Serena had to quit with a back injury. But it seemed that Serena got stronger as the tournament went on, and she started pretty strong. Her footwork seemed to be back, her serve cracking. Everything was working. Meanwhile, Andreescu was on the other side of the draw, in trouble basically the entire time. I still am not sure how she beat Belinda Bencic, but even before that, she got out of two three-setters, a Wozniacki and a Flipkens (and I don't know where I was for that one, but given the variety of both players, it must have been a thing to behold). So I didn't know what to expect, but it wasn't the match we got. Andreescu was dominant, but Serena wasn't exactly offering up a stiff challenge, not until the end.
So what's the takeaway? Serena has lost in four Slam finals since her return and I believe that with the exception of Naomi Osaka, is the only person in that span of time to have made it to multiple Slam finals. No one at the Slams has been more consistent in the last couple of years than Serena. It's almost undeniable that she is feeling some pressure to deliver Slam title No. 24. I can't think of another thing that would explain her performance in that final. All of the wheels came off.
If she didn't win another major, it wouldn't make her less of a dominant force in women's tennis. In paper and in fact, she doesn't need this, but it means something to her. Winning a Slam after having taken time off from having a baby might be more important to her because it would signal a full return to pre-baby form, and maybe her most significant physical endeavor. It's a lot of pressure and I wish she didn't feel it, but she does. You can't keep putting yourself in a position to win and never win. So she'll get it. Like, at some point.
Now for Andreescu, who -- I mean, it is wild to be 19 years old and have a run composed of matches like the ones she had and to bear down to win all of them, including unnerving Serena Williams from the first game on Saturday. Her game is just fun to watch. Obviously, she can slug, but she is a rare young person who uses the whole court and is comfortable changing the pace of a rally. I think she and Osaka are destined to run the tables the next few years.
The men's final also featured the same finalists from the Canadian Open -- Rafa Nadal and Daniil Medvedev. Have you ever watched a match thinking that you'd like to see more tennis due to the high quality of play and then watched in horror as the thing you wanted actually comes to pass? Yeah, that was me. First of all, who expected Nadal to be the most fit of the Big Three by the end of the summer? Any summer. Second of all, watching Medvedev play tennis is like watching a stick figure made of plastic, though, and not sticks. So I don't know how he did it, but he did it and he did it provoking almost-certainly a drunk New York crowd. Medvedev didn't start this tournament well, because mistreating ballkids and sneaking in a middle finger at the crowd is not a good look. But he finished with class and honestly showed more growth in two weeks than most players do over a whole career. (Course I'm not thinking of Krygios. Mind your tongue.) Also, if Medvedev is going to play so many tournaments in a row, he might want to eat something.
Back to Nadal. Now that he is breathing down the neck of Roger Federer's Slam record, which seemed safe just two years ago to me, questions are being asked. Novak Djokovic is still third in that race, but is the youngest and in theory, most likely to add to his total and also make a push for that record. So what does it mean for the GOAT debate? For decades the Slam titles have been the determining factor for greatness. But this time next year, there is a really good chance that race could look differently. What if they all end up with, say, 22 majors? Who's the best? Let's be real. There's only one good answer and it's whoever your favorite is, and that is Rafael Nadal in this TWA house.  I'm willing to entertain discussion because I'm nothing if not polite, but yeah.
It's Nadal.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Last Slam on the Left: Whatta Week!

OK, let's start with what's top-of-mind: Boy, that Goffin upset was a bad call, was it not! Yikes.
So yes, of course, I watched the marquee matchup of the tournament so far: Coco Gauff v. Naomi Osaka. I actually did expect it to be close. But clearly Osaka came prepared. It's not as if Gauff had been playing hacks in previous rounds, but I really noticed her lack of patience last night. Which makes sense -- she's young, and has been well-served by her athleticism so far. But she would win points off Osaka and then fail to reproduce a similar point.
But who cares about the X's and O's, right? After the match, Osaka did something that is essentially unheard of -- she asked Gauff to do the on-court interview with her -- she shared the stage. And I'm not gonna lie -- it made me cry. It was endearing. These two grew up together and it was a moment to lend a nod to the sacrifices Gauff's parents made and the journey she's on. I mean, I get it.
But.
I want to say that I think Gauff has the potential to be amazing. She's not like the Williams sisters in that she has had proper coaching her whole life, so she won't have to unlearn some of the mechanical issues they did when turning pro. She has a great foundation. This is really why I'd like people to leave her alone. Like, everyone. The fans who want her picture. The media who want a minute with her. And Naomi Osaka, who thought it'd be a good idea to share the spotlight with another up-and-comer, perhaps considering that she was another woman of color on the biggest stage in tennis. I get it. I honestly do. She's a great story. They both are, together.
But.
So Coco Gauff is 15 years old. And no one wants to say this right now because we're in a touchy-feely moment, but in sports, we eat our athletes and idols alive. The black ones especially, and especially in tennis. If you need further evidence of this, just look a bit further down the draw to Taylor Townsend, who, along with Donald Young, were touted as the future of American tennis. Then she didn't live up to everyone's expectations and when a young athlete does this, the encouragement decreases in volume and in enthusiasm. Now she has materialized again with a great run here, and it has been in spite of the lack of support. Let's not even get into what happened to Jennifer Capriati. Does anyone else remember the crap that Venus Williams had to take -- from her own countrypeople, too -- about how cocky she was? Venus was 17 and everyone had something to say when she expressed her belief that she could beat anyone. Most of it wasn't good. Because certain attitudes aren't acceptable from certain people. You know.
Unfortunately, I don't doubt this also will happen soon enough to Gauff, but I would like for people to begin treating her like the 15-year-old that she is. I would like for people, especially grown-ass adults, to recognize that pulling on a kid's shoulder bag and begging her for a selfie is draining. I'd like the post-match ESPN interviews to last for three minutes and that's it. And I would like for other players to quit dragging her into the spotlight in Arthur Ashe stadium right after she's taken a worse loss than she probably expected she would. I think I understand what Osaka was doing and it was a beautiful gesture that I would have had no problem with, had the recipient been maybe 19 or 20. Coco Gauff is 15 years old and we are about to wear her out before she even gets going.
So, with that public service announcement out of the way, wow, what a tournament! Basically, as usual, my draw began falling to pieces. For example, picking Aryna Sabalenka to go deep in a tournament bit me in the ass once again. I thought for sure after watching her beat Victoria Azarenka that she'd run the tables, because that was a tough match. Nope. One round later, she's out.
Angelique Kerber. Ashleigh Barty. Simona Halep. Kiki Bertens. Sloane Stephens. Petra Kvitova. All gone before week 2. And of course, this is great for tennis.
But I am ready for tonight (Sun. Sept. 1). Novak Djokovic, he of the sore shoulder and everlasting grudge against randos in the stands, is playing Stan Wawrinka, and when the draw came out, I picked Djokovic for this matchup. But with Djokovic getting all sensitive during practice and cutting short his match prep last round, I don't know. Wawrinka is looking good right now. I think we're looking at four sets ... to Stan?
And then there's Elina Svitolina v. Madison Keys. I had the opportunity to watch Svitolina in person as she beat Venus Williams on Wednesday at the Open. (Oh heck yes, I went back to the U.S. Open and have a post upcoming about that experience!) I also saw Keys that same day and both of them looked really strong and consistent. I would give a slight edge to Keys because of her serve.



Yeah, not a great shot, but had to find some type of way to brag about having been there in person. But let me go get some popcorn and geek out on tennis all night.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Last Slam on the Left: U.S. Open 2019 -- The Women

Well, looks like another boring women's draw, with nothing to look out for until the quarters. Ho hum.
OK, you know I'm just playing. Before we continue, I am declaring this blog a Serena 2018-free zone for the next two weeks after this paragraph. ESPN made a documentary about last year's women's final. Like, last week. Guys. All of us had something to say about it in the moment (including me), but that was last year. And now, everyone's crying "rigged draw," presumably some sort of payback for last year? The last thing I'll say is the other reporting out of this situation suggested that Carlos Ramos will no longer be allowed to chair Serena's matches. This bothered me for a moment -- he called a code violation that later was on the up-and-up, so why is he being penalized? But then, it occurred to me that perhaps the person most excited about the prospect of never having to call a Serena Williams match again might be ... Carlos Ramos.
OK! Let's get into it!

Early Rounds to Watch

Serena Williams v. Maria Sharapova: OK, Serena stans who think this draw is rigged. Who here thinks Maria Sharapova can beat Serena Williams? I wanna see hands. No hands. Exactly. I will be watching this of course because there's history here, and off-court drama but this will be a straightforward match and there's no previous recent history to suggest otherwise. If Serena's back is still a problem, y'all do know she'd quit before she went out and had to lose or retire to Sharapova, right?

Aryna Sabalenka v. Victoria Azarenka: Now here is a match that is a tough call. I like Sabalenka, but Azarenka is starting to play some good early-round tennis in recent tournaments. I think this will be the second-most entertaining first-round match we'll see, close behind

Garbine Muguruza v. Alison Riske: See, Serena stans? It could have been a LOT worse. Like, how the heck is Muguruza, in her current form, supposed to beat Alison Riske, who had a way better Wimbledon than most would have expected, and is probably feeling pretty good about herself?

Angelique Kerber v. Kristina Mladenovic: Kerber has also been shaky this summer. Good thing Mladenovic has been shaky for about a year and a half.

Who Are Our Quarterfinalists?




Why is Sabalenka in red? I kinda like this draw for her, even with Osaka in her quarter. I kinda think she could win the whole tournament. But it's crazy to think that because she does not have an easy draw. My spidey sense says that Sabalenka is waiting for people to stop tipping her for winning tournaments so she can play with less pressure again. But I could be wrong, so why not highlight a horrendous calculation for the world to see?
Man, Serena has a tough quarter down there at the bottom. There's Kerber, who has no problem beating Serena at a major and Ash Barty. Let's not forget Su-Wei Hseih -- that's a three-hour match right there.

Who's Going to Win?

The more I think about this Sabalenka pick, the more I wonder if there's loose glue around here I might have been sniffing. But it could happen. Maybe? I think I might need a backup pick

Last Slam on the Left: U.S. Open 2019 -- The Men

Before we go on, I stand by this draw. Maybe it's crazy. I'm going with my heart!
The hardcourt season on the men's side feels different. It's been fairly unpredictable and mostly, that's because of a guy named Daniil Medvedev, who has collected some impressive wins this summer, including Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the Cincinnati Open, Dominic Thiem (who, I guess doesn't do tennis except clay?) and Karen Khachanov. It's August and Rafael Nadal is still healthy and Roger Federer has played one U.S. Open warmup -- and it didn't go well. So it's weird. And then this draw has a fairly loaded top half and a bottom half that is very friendly for Nadal. I'm not buying that John Millman will be an early problem. But there are a few fun early matchups worth checking out:

Early Rounds to Watch

Denis Shapovalov v. Felix Auger-Aliassime: This is almost as bonkers as that other first-round matchup everyone is talking about. Actually, it's worse. This matchup this early is not really fair and I am not sure who will win. Unlike the other matchup. Patience, kiddies. We'll get there.

Vasek Pospisil v. Karen Khachanov: I'm picking Khachanov, but that's a pretty stiff first-round challenge.

Djokovic v. Sam Querrey: ... if they both win their first round. Hmm.

Frances Tiafoe v. Alexander Zverev: Hear that, Frankie? That's opportunity calling if you can beat Ivo Karlovic in the first round.

Who Are Our Quarterfinalists?




Right, right. Sacrilege. I know. But hear me out.
Besides Tiafoe/Zverev, there is some space in this draw for weird things to happen. Like Federer/David Goffin. We haven't seen much of him this summer, but Federer does not seem to be at his sharpest and this could be a chance for someone who is a bit more in-form, such as Goffin. And with Medvedev in Djokovic's quarter? Djokovic has lost twice to him this year, including already this month.
In the bottom half, I know it's not popular, but I think that even for someone struggling like Stefanos Tsitsipas, there are worse draws. Nick Kyrgios' head is halfway into the next NBA season. Thiem? I don't know. What time do you have? Is the moon in retrograde? Did I really pick him for the quarters? Ay dios mio.

Who's Going to Win?

It's not just because of his sexy ass, but I'm tipping Rafa. The draw's looking good for him, he's healthy (for now) and no Djokovic before the final. I think the biggest potential issue in his half could be Khachanov, who's playing well right now and kinda reminds me of Marat Safin's game, except clearly much less sexy.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

So You Say There's a Hard Court Season Going On

Lots to catch up on over from the last few weeks. Let's stream-of-conscience right in:



1. Things Sofia Kenin Thinks About As She Avoids Eye Contact With the Ball She is About to Strike:
  • Did I turn off the coffee maker this morning?
  • Was the ending of Interstellar literal?
  • How will I know if my toss is bad?
  • How did Black Widow and Hawkeye, despite all the research that went into the Avengers' plan, not realize that one of them was going to have to be sacrificed for the Soul Stone before they got to Vormir?
  • I definitely forgot to turn off the coffee maker. Let me call the fire department real quick before I hit this serve

2. Venus Williams calling her coach down so he could fetch her a coffee is truly the best use of on-court coaching I have ever seen.



Venus made the quarters at Cincinnati, losing in the quarters to Madison Keys. Despite the scoreline (3 and 4), it was pretty tight. Still, Venus is not really herself anymore.
It will always remain an injustice that she had the season she had in 2017 -- had an edge on Muguruza in the Wimbledon final -- and didn't get one Slam title out of it. On days like these, I feel like that was her last, best chance. Some have speculated that she's still playing for the 2020 Olympics, to which I would say, "why?" (If she were trying to get on the team, she'd have a hard time qualifying, especially because there are three women who right now would be named to the team over her, no question. You almost have to choose Bethanie Mattek-Sands for doubles, and that leaves two spots. Would either Williams sister get one?) I really try to never be that person to second-guess someone's career and how long it should last, but I don't know why she's still doing this, especially playing singles. She obviously isn't moving the way she used to, and you can still set a clock to her double faulting in tight moments, such as last night late in the second set. If I saw some improvement in her game, I'd feel differently, because it would be a sign of her working to tweak it, even if it didn't always work. Maybe this doesn't feel like the right time for this conversation -- she did just have the best run of her season. But that run was winning three matches in a row. Against a couple of quality opponents, but still. I hope I'm wrong. I hope she's got another 2017-like run in her.

3. Am I the only one who can't spell Cincinnati correctly the first time?

4. I got a question over on Facebook about Nick Kyrgios. I was running around like crazy this week, and didn't get to see his latest antics until after his match. Here you go!



I don't understand Nick Kyrgios. I think he tries. He's even playing doubles with the only guy on tour with rainbows coming out his ass and I thought he was trying to have more fun, be more positive. Then this type of nasty display comes and I think about that New York Times profile about him in 2016, in which his lack of passion for tennis was on display. It would be a shame to lose one of the most naturally talented and entertaining tennis players of this latest crop, but I don't think tennis makes him happy, so why is he doing it?
If you want to get to the nuts and bolts of what started this -- a serve-clock violation -- I'll say this: You can be right in an argument and still be wronged, but being wronged does not give you free reign to do whatever it is you want in response. Things you don't deserve happen to you more than they should, which is never, as you don't deserve them. But they happen. Your response is directly tied to your level of maturity. If you've watched enough tennis, you've seen a player get a penalty they didn't (or think they didn't) deserve. It's not as likely that you saw that player drag this injustice around with them for the remainder of the match like a soaking wet rag doll. I mean, at the end there, it looked like he spat in Fergus Murphy's direction. That is, um, yeah ... extra.
(Why did he give away a busted racquet?)

Monday, July 15, 2019

Coffee at Wimbledon: We're Gonna Need More Coffee

My favorite form of delusionary thinking is believing that I will simply do housework while I am watching tennis. I can play Pokemon (?) with the kids, work on a writing project. Every year, four times a year, I say this to myself. And every year, the Monday after a Slam, I wake up with sore knees and I can't figure out why. Oh, I realize. It's because I've spent the last three days on them willing somebody to do something, be it Serena, or Roger, or Rafa, or Barbora.
Whoo-whee, where to start. Of course with

Serena Williams
I don't want to harp at the lackluster performance from Serena in the final. I do want to point out that Simona Halep earned that like a mofo.

via GIPHY

She ran down everything and did not give up, did not make mistakes, did not blink. Obviously, Halep knew what she needed to do to win, and it's not often your plan goes ... well, according to plan.
Having said all of that, one thing that seemed obvious from that final was that Serena did not really expect someone to fetch every ball she hit. She wasn't match-tough, and the women she played before Halep did not have the speed, accuracy or quick recognition of an attack opportunity. Serena's played long, grinding matches before and won them. She just didn't have it at this time and she got outplayed at every turn.
Two takeaways from this for me: I really hope she gets a different coach and I am still hoping that Amelie Mauresmo gets the call. She needs more women on her team. Yes, Patrick Mouratoglou did a great job with her, but they can't be on the same page with some of the stuff he says. It's a new season for her, and to take that extra step, maybe it's time for a change. Now seems good!
Second takeway: This doom-and-gloom nonsense about how motherhood has permanently limited Serena. She might never win again! OK, slow down. She had a baby and then came back to advance to Slam finals almost immediately. That's a big deal and there aren't a lot of people showing that kind of consistency right now.
Should she play more? I guess that's a good question, but when I can advance to a Grand Slam final with no warmup, I would feel more comfortable asking that question of a Serena Williams.

The Men's Final
Bahmahgawd was that a match. I don't know what to say beyond that. Well, there's one thing. Novak Djokovic is a fine player. Very good. On Sunday, he won his 16th major, his fifth Wimbledon title. He won it playing the guy who will maybe go down as the greatest men's tennis player of all time (Djokovic is still young) in Roger Federer, who has eight Wimbledon titles. And yet that crowd was pretty firmly pro-Roger. And I was pretty pro-Roger, and I had literally no skin in this game (Dammit, Rafa). My kids were watching with me and they were rooting for Djokovic. Their reasons were better than mine: his name sounds cool and they've seen funny clips of him on YouTube. My reason is just like, I just don't know. When he won, my first thought was, "Crap." I'm sorry! It was. And hearing Djokovic present himself as a potential inspiration, like Federer, made me wince on his behalf. He knows he doesn't get the love of a Rafa and Roger, and that might be a misfortune of timing. If he had a solid decade to himself with his backstory, heck, he would be on every cereal box -- not just Wheaties. But he is not, and he is painfully aware of this and I'm sad that he is. That reaction from the crowd when he said that was also weak.
Also, I think it's safe to say that Djokovic was a lot more fun to like when he had some personality, as he did in those YouTube videos my kids have seen. But he wasn't winning majors then, not at this clip. Is there a correlation? If you clown around too much, does it cause a lack of focus? Roger and Rafa don't imitate other players, but they win slams and they have the love of a crowd. Novak doesn't. I think he needs a foil. A previously unengaged foil. Someone young and able to meet him toe-to-toe. I'm thinking of an Alexander Zverev. Maybe Milos Raonic. Someone who the crowd can feel comfortable about getting behind Djokovic. Yeah, so Novak's problem is coming up with legends. That's what I'm getting at. It's not the worst problem to have, but you don't unlock beloved status like that, either.
Also, less groveling. That would be a better look, too.


Barbora Strycova
BARBORA STRYCOVA BARBORA STRYCOVA BARBORA STRYCOVA



I know I've shared this before, but no one deserved this fine Wimbledon run like she did. She's just automatic in doubles and watching her play is an exercise in grit and court intelligence I loved in Kim Clijsters and Li Na. I just -- man. Because of Strycova, I watched Wimbledon to the very end of the tournament today. Have you ever done that? They like, make an announcement and everything. Very dignified. But back to Strycova. She's just great. OK, that's it.
(Also Su-wei Hsieh is great.)

Is Jelena Ostapenko Going to Have to Paralyze a Bitch?




Yes, she and Robert Lindstedt made the mixed doubles final but I've got five bucks saying he never plays with her again.

The Men's Doubles Final

How do you get hit by an overhead on a bounce in the face while you're at the baseline and have it cause injury? How are you then the same person and get hit later in the neck by the same person? And then how do you, again, the same person -- Nicolas Mahut -- then get a ball straight in the business sack in the very same game? And then how do you then lose a match in five sets? Everyone feels bad about the Mahut/John Isner match, but you know what they say about adding insult to injury? This feels like a very illustrative version of that.

Plus also
And I had missed this previously: Johanna Konta being the first Brit to stand up to British press for trash behavior:



This is why they can't have nice things. Exactly why.
New rule for tennis pressers at Wimbledon: I want a camera on the person asking stupid questions because they need to be known and I personally would like to know if they have even ever held a tennis racquet before.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Coffee at Wimbledon: The Bonfire of my Wimbledon Draws

Welp, I had planned to take the middle Sunday off to update the ol' blog, reacquaint myself with my family and maybe do some laundry. But then I ended up spending the weekend teaching my son about rankings, seedings and women's soccer. Yes, of course we watched the U.S. team bring it home, which led to an awkward question from my son: What about the men's team?
Well, yeah, they play too ...?
I digress. I just finished watching Venus Williams and Francis Tiafoe stand around as groundstrokes and volleys whizzed by them in a second-round mixed doubles match. So while I'm wallowing in disappointment, let's talk about the trash that some of my predictions turned out to be.
But where to start with this first week? I think a countdown-styled approach is the right call!

No. 5 Moment that Torched My Wimbledon Draw:
Serena Williams making the quarterfinals: Yes, it is a bad idea to bet against Serena, no matter how jacked her footwork looks and how lackluster she looked at the French. But sure enough, as the other seeds toppled around her, she looks a little better with each match, although the surface has been giving her a little trouble:




I could watch that 100 times.
And to say the draw has opened up for her is an understatement. No more Angelique Kerber, no more Ash Barty and beyond, no more Petra Kvitova. Still, Alison Riske accounted for two of those seeds, which means she's a little dangerous, too. Am I picking against Serena again? My draw is still singed on the sides. No!

No. 4:
BARBORA STRYCOVA BARBORA STRYCOVA BARBORA STRYCOVA: (Does anyone remember how Kenny Smith used to say "Manu Ginobli" on the NBA pre- and post-game shows?)  She's got that me energy on a tennis court and I hope she wins a major in singles one day.



What do you think she said to Kristina Mladenovic after she hit that overhead at her? You know it was saucy.
Did not quite see her taking out Kiki Bertens and Elise Mertens, but whatever. Draw's ruined. It's fine. Really.

No. 3:
Naomi Osaka out in the first round: It is hard to believe that there is more pressure to be had out there than winning her first Grand Slam over a legend in some heated circumstances, or to back up that first Slam with a second one right away. But obviously there is, and Osaka isn't coping with it well. It's hard to watch her break down post-match. I also think she'll adjust and will figure it out.

No. 2:
Alexander Zverev out in the first round: This looks bad to begin with. But the idea that he is right now having to deal with a dispute with his former agent while he has a veteran -- Ivan Lendl -- as a coach? What?! Lendl can't be cheap, and he's got no advice, no people who can put a layer between Zverev and this drama during a major? What?!

No. 1:
Venus Williams out in the first round: Now, if you look at my draw, it's clear that I had some denial issues about what was going to happen for Venus at this tournament.



And I picked her winning over Cori "Coco" Gauff, but, well, it wasn't to be. I want to spend a little tiny amount of time on Gauff, because for a 15-year-old, it is obvious that she (1) grew up watching Venus and (2) that she's only going to get better. Yes, I saw her lose to Simona Halep already today, and it wasn't pretty, but she needs some legit weapons. She'll get there. But before that, she beat three very experienced players, and that win against Polona Hercog was more impressive to me than anything else she did. I say I'm going to spend a little time on Gauff because as excited as she makes me for the future of women's tennis, I hope we let her live. I hope that we remember that Jennifer Capriati was young, and talented -- and unprotected from fame and its pitfalls. I hope she gets to 18 or 19 at least before she's shackled with unreasonable expectations. But man, she's gonna be good! But everybody cool it, OK?

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Coffee at Wimbledon: The Women

I look at this draw and a few questions come to mind: Whatever happened to Garbine Muguruza? What if Venus loses to her clone? Does Maria Sharapova have one more good run in her -- at, like, any event? What if Ash Barty and Naomi Osaka begin a legendary rivalry that starts right here at Wimbledon? Andy Murray wants to play mixed with which sister? The one who has never been that great a volleyer? Oh, OK, got it.
Anyway, let's check out this draw before I smack Murray upside the head with Venus' racquet:

Early Rounds to Watch:
Svetlana Kuznetsova v. Alison Van Uytvanck: I try to make it a rule to never miss Svetlana Kuznetsova play, or to type her name into my blog.

Donna Vekic v. Alison Riske: Should be interesting. Riske just won a warm-up tournament on grass.

Kaia Kanepi v. Stephanie Voegele: I think the Kanepi Upset Effect only works when she's playing a top seed in the first round, but worth keeping an eye on.

Belinda Bencic v. Ana Pavlyuchenkova: I did have to cut-and-paste that one. So Pavly is a tough competitor and although Bencic looks like she has rediscovered her court legs, this will be a test right out the gate.

Carla Suarez-Navarro v. Sam Stosur: I just like their game styles.

Ons Jabeur v. Petra Kvitova: Jabeur looked good in Eastbourne and Kvitova's getting over injury. Just saying.

Su-Wei Hsieh v. Jelena Ostapenko: What a world. Ostapenko won the French Open, like, two years ago and is now unseeded. Hsieh has one of the most entertaining games out there right now. So this should be ... something.

Victoria Azarenka v. Aliza Cornet: This one's gonna take a while and will involve at least four impassioned entreaties from Cornet to the court umpire with very dramatic hand gestures.

Venus Williams v. Coco Gauff: So in preparation for this post, and this entry, I did go ahead and watch the most recent match I could find of Gauff and it happened to be the one in Wimbledon qualifying where she beat the top seed. She's 15. And I hate to be that person, but watching her reminded me of Venus' game. Didn't see much of her at net, which is where Venus might consider going to win this match. Yes, the similarities are compelling, but this is Venus' best Slam, and even now, in a sort of lull, I don't think this will be a big brawl for her. That'll probably come later, against Aryna Sabalenka.

Who Are Our Quarterfinalists?




Some of these are obvious. Based on what we've seen this year from Serena Williams, it is just hard to see her beating an in-form Angelique Kerber. I mean, Julia Goerges could beat her in the third round. And Kvitova is always good on grass, but Johanna Konta has actually been doing well on it over the last couple of weeks, so she gets a very slight edge.
Hsieh's my fun pick. I know Pliskova just won a grass warmup, but she doesn't bend her knees. Don't any of you find that odd?

Who's Going to Win?
I am not sure! I would give Barty and Kerber the best odds. Osaka has a good draw through to the semis, but she has not been consistent lately. But she's a kid, too, and is the holder of two Slams. I also think this conversation really hinges on the health of Kvitova. If she's ready to go, she is going to be hard to beat. I guess what I'm saying is we'll see.













Coffee at Wimbledon: The Men

I'm sure that nobody but me remembers this, but back in the day, people who won the French Open, or did well at that tournament, used to go into hibernation until just before the summer hardcourt season. The conversation around who had the upper hand from the French to Wimbledon used to feature two entirely different sets of players, and now? Well, things have changed, meaning that Rafael Nadal is as much a contender as Roger Federer. Yet, there are still the specialists. For example, this is the only time of year you hear the name Dustin Brown. Then there are the newbies still trying to prove themselves (not looking at you at all, Alexander Zverev. I wouldn't want you to double fault). So let's dig in (which you should never really do on grass unless you're some kind of barbarian)!

Early Rounds to Watch:
Novak Djokovic v. Phillipp Kohlschrieber: I mean, just because. Rolex has all those great commercials featuring tennis players from the past, and I'm not sure why Kohlschrieber isn't in those commercials because if anyone can tell time and history, it's the guy who's been on tour for 38 years.

Dominic Thiem v. Sam Querrey: What? I mean, what? How are you the No. 5 seed and end up having to play Sam Querrey at Wimbledon in round 1?

Frances Tiafoe v. Fabio Fognini: Fognini's been en fuego lately, but Tiafoe's having a decent year, too. Interested to see how these styles match up.

Rafa Nadal v. Nick Kyrgios: This is a potential second-round match-up and I don't know what to say really, except that they talk about women being moody and unpredictable, and they never once mention Nick Kyrgios.

Who Are Our Quarterfinalists?
Ah, fine. Let's dust off this heavy crystal ball:




I don't understand how you're the top seed and you get a harder draw than the No. 2 seed. I mean, I do, so don't @ me. But man, Federer, barring some wild circumstances, could handle this draw blindfolded up to the quarters. I think Djokovic will get there, too, but there's Gael Monfils, there's Grigor Dimitrov, there's young Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime (what a name, amirite?) and also Ernests Gulbis, who is another one who will show up when he is good and ready.
Nadal has got a lot going on, too. If he can get past Krygios, there's Denis Shapovalov and Marin Cilic to think about.
Regular readers of this corner of the Internet know that if I pick Isner for anything, it's got to be a virtual lock and impossible to deny, but I still hope against hope I'm wrong here.

Who's Going to Win?
I do think we're looking at a Federer/Djokovic final, with a chance for Zverev in the top half. He really has a good game for grass, but he's got some head things going on, too. I also think there's some space for Thiem. He doesn't get great results on grass (and didn't even bother with warmups this time around, so) but his game also would seem to translate well. Maybe taking a set off Nadal at Roland Garros will lift his confidence?
Anyway, I'm going with Djokovic. He's just been too much for Fed lately. OK, gonna do the same for the women and then find my strawberries. I don't have cream. Is milk an acceptable alternative, or ...


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

So You Say There Was a Slam Going On: French Open 2019

For people who have been watching tennis for a long time, Slam seasons can be a little annoying. Slam stans (a term I just made up) are usually not there for the tennis, but for their favorite players. The good thing is that once their player is gone, they are too, so they can't muddy any further the conversations around the great tennis usually being played around a major. Because there are plenty of good things happening during a major tournament on the court, so we don't have to harp on things happening off the court, like Interview-gate, in which two tennis news cycles were spent on whether Dominic Thiem owes Serena Williams an apology or vice versa.
Again, there's plenty of good things that happened on court in the last couple of weeks that deserve more air, so here they are:

1. Rafa Nadal: And no, it's not just him and his sexy ass, although that is a big part of it. Nadal won the French Open for the 12th time on Sunday. Sometime during Nadal's thorough shellacking of Thiem in the fourth set, I began to wonder if there were any other players whose dominance of a surface was more entertaining or ironclad than Nadal's. There was Pete Sampras at Wimbledon, but between us, that was boring. A big swing serve out wide, a volley, another grass title. Gustavo Kuerten on clay? Entertaining, absolutely, but he clearly didn't have that longevity. There's nothing in tennis that can compare to Nadal's performance on clay that I can think of, and I'm willing to take contenders.
It's not just that Nadal always wins on clay. It's that he shows off a new strength in his game each time, especially recently. This year, Nadal's net game was the added dimension. This is impressive when you consider that he starts most return games essentially standing in the first row of spectator seats, but when he got there, he ended points on these delicate volleys that flew in the face of the brutality of the rest of his game. Remember that year he beat Stan Wawrinka in the final? That year, it was his down-the-line forehand when he was stretched wide. That's why he's so entertaining -- it's something new each time. Here is someone who is still working on his game on the surface on which he performs the best. It's quite something to witness.

2. Ashleigh Barty: So Barty's game is just as devastating as Nadal's, and transferrable to different surfaces and the reason I never realized it was because she is not a showman about it. I've been watching her in clay warmups, and in Paris, and I wondered why players had so much trouble with her -- without denying that she has a nice game. But it isn't nice. It's overpowering and it can throw an opponent off-balance. I also did not know her backstory -- that she quit tennis for a while to deal with her personal health and to play cricket. This is a great profile by the way, h/t Courtney Nguyen. Her first Slam title happened in a rather lopsided fashion, but I think Marketa Vondrousova will be better prepared in her next major final.

3. The heavy mantle Serena Williams places upon herself: I wasn't going to say anything about this because there is no way to say anything that isn't high praise about Serena these days without sounding as if you just hate her. I'm going to take a crack at this now, though, because what she's presenting right now is something familiar to a lot of us women who are, er, multitasking. Serena wore a jacket at the French Open that read "Mother, Champion, Queen, Goddess" A reader on my Facebook page raised this and even though I responded, I thought there was more there, and it was hard to get to what that "more" was.



When I had my first child, I was in awe of the ability my body had to bear such a miracle. That kid changed me in ways I can't explain. Before I was a mother, I was a newspaper editor and writer and naturally I took time off after the birth. When it was time to go back to work, I stuffed myself into one of my favorite pre-pregnancy dresses and marched myself into the office. Why? No one told me to do that. I did it because I wanted to signal that I was back, that I was the same old professional and motherhood hadn't affected my ability to be a kick-ass editor. It was pressure placed on me by extension -- women are expected to be all things at all times. That meant never admitting I was tired because I was up feeding the baby at 3:30 in the morning. It meant wearing clothes that barely fit and sitting in abject discomfort because I was not only a mother, but I was here doing my job as I always did with the same dedication and commitment to work excellence and nothing -- nothing -- had changed. I could be all of it at all times. And without making it look hard. That's important.
People, and society, put pressure on you whenever they get a chance. Have you ever worked with someone who waited until the last minute to do something? And then, faced with failure, you get a call from said person asking you for help to fast-track their project because now they're in trouble. There's the attempt to foist their pressure on you. What do you do? Do you accept it and begin also running around like a chicken whose head has been cut off? Or do you tell them that you have a lot going on already, and that their project will be fit in between the things you were already under pressure to do?
Do you see what I mean?
Mercifully, after I had my second child, I realized that that was nonsense. I wore my maternity clothes for as long as I needed. I went to work and I did my job to the best of my ability. I came home and spent time and energy on my family. When I was able to play tennis, I did it as well as I could. The difference was that I was not trying to be everything at all times. Serena Williams is a tennis player and she should be the best tennis player on court that she can be. Everything else can take a back seat on court. It's really OK. Not that the outfit caused her to lose -- I'd say it was that suspect footwork. Still, I believe she wears this mantle all the time. I still think about her U.S. Open loss, how her first defense to the umpire was, "I'm a mother!" What? The pressure of being an active legendary tennis player is plenty for the tennis courts. Let Alexis treat you like the queen and goddess that you are at home, off court. I guess that what I'm hoping for is that Serena Williams is kinder to herself. Serena being Serena is enough. That's a lesson a lot of us can take home.

4. I thought Stan Wawrinka v. Grigor Dimitrov was one of the best matches of the tournament. For a long time, I thought it was a matter of time before Dimitrov stepped up to claim a major, but does it seem to anyone else that the window that might have been his has closed?

5. If Novak Djokovic and Thiem had finished their semifinal match in one day, which was completely possible, does the final have a different ending? Just a thought I've been thinking since Sunday.

6. Whatever happened to Garbine Muguruza?

Sunday, May 26, 2019

So You Say There's A Slam Going On: French Open 2019

Of course I knew the French Open started today.
Kinda.
Well, I knew it would start on Memorial Day weekend. I just didn't realize this was actually Memorial Day weekend?
Seriously, I've been stretched thin, more so than I realized, so for the first time in a while, I unfortunately didn't have my draw breakfast party in my office. Unfortunate also, though, is that I did pick up on the fact that I was missing a major in time to watch Venus Williams flame out to Elina Svitolina. I've said many times that Svitolina's game is utterly boring and it is, but she didn't need much today. I don't think there'd be any shame in sitting out of your least successful major. I mean, Roger Federer did it for, like three years, right?
Also could not help but notice that Nicolas Mahut is playing this tournament in singles. Did he not say he was retiring last year? Uh ...
OK, so true fact -- I was on YouTube looking for writing music when I noticed a clip of Garbine Muguruza's match against Taylor Townsend. And that's when I realized today was kind of a big deal. So I watched the highlights. Yes, Townsend lost, but she played a really good match! But once Muguruza decided to step into the court, she didn't have much of a chance. But still.
Oh, and Kerber got her butt kicked too. We all caught up on the important stuff? All right, let's do some first-round predictions (for the ones that haven't been played yet):

Jeremy Chardy v. Kyle Edmund: This is the only match on the men's side that looks like it could be remotely interesting. But you never know. Maybe Yannick Hanfmann pulls off a miracle against Rafa Nadal?
(Time out)
OK, time in. I just watched some clips with Hanfmann and he is a big, strong dude with big groundstrokes. He also appears to be error-prone. Here's hoping big-confidence Rafa shows up tomorrow instead of early clay-season 2019 Rafa.

Kaia Kanepi v. Julia Goerges: I do not believe Kanepi has ever met a seeded opponent in the first round of a major that she didn't beat. After that, yeah, nothing, but she lives for those first-round upsets!

Sorana Cirstea v. Petra Kvitova: Kvitova, but should be at least entertaining ...

Luksika Kumkhum v. Ana Sevastova: I'd give the edge to Sevastova, but this is almost definitely going three sets, right?

Barbora Strycova v. Sam Stosur: YASSSSSS

Serena Williams v. : Yeah, against whoever. Look, we all have questions about Serena Williams right now. She had a strong 2018, and this year, in Australia, she snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory and let Karolina Pliskova, who was just playing OK, back into the match. She's played one clay court match. Keeps backing out of matches with some injury. Like, what is going on?!

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.