Here’s some tennis news that may have slipped under your radar today. Lucas Pouille, ranked #32, has hired former pro Amelie Mauresmo as his coach.
Why is this noteworthy? Because female coaches in men’s tennis are exceedingly rare. Of the top 20 male players, not one has a female coach. To find a female coach, you need to go down to #27, Denis Shapavalov, whose mother serves in that role. There may be a few other players in the top 100 with mother-coaches. But the Pouille-Mauresmo coaching arrangement is almost certainly the only non-familial one. Continue reading “A Rare Breed”
A while back, I was at a club as a member of the visiting team. We took the court and proceeded to warm up for our doubles match. The woman I was hitting against seemed to be, well, terrible. Her groundstrokes had nothing on them, little powderpuff balls. When I tried to warm up my volleys, her shots either landed limply in the net or sailed over my head. The few that actually made it to my racquet felt like little marshmallows.
Frustrated, I briefly considered saying that I would warm up against my doubles partner. The league rules allow this, but I’d never seen it done before. I pretty quickly decided against it. For one thing, we’d already used up most of the time allotted for the warm-up. I couldn’t very well start the warm-up over, could I? Anyway, my partner and I were obviously better players. Maybe the warm-up, or lack thereof, didn’t really matter.
But the real reason I didn’t request to change warm-up partners? I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. By saying that I wanted to hit with my partner, I’d be essentially telling my opponent she wasn’t a good player. I couldn’t see how to get what I wanted without making this stranger feel bad. Continue reading “The No-Warm-Up Warm-Up”
Here’s an actual transcript from every tennis lesson I’ve ever had:
Me: [hits the ball in the net]
Coach: Watch the ball.
Me: I did watch the ball.
Coach: No, you didn’t.
Me: Yes, I did.
Coach: Did you see the ball hit the net?
Me: [Thinking to myself, “Yup.”] I’m not sure. Maybe.
Coach: Then you weren’t watching the ball. Continue reading “December Challenge: Shadow Swings”
If you play doubles, you’ve almost certainly faced the situation of one player not showing up.
At first, you and your two tennis buddies assume the fourth player is on her way, so you start your warm-up. Midway through your warm-up, you each check your phone for messages. You spend the next ten to fifteen minutes trying to contact your fourth and then anyone else you can think of who can show up quickly. Finally, you spend five minutes cursing your absent friend and plotting your revenge. (Right about now, slashing her tires doesn’t seem like a wholly unreasonable response.)
By the time you’re done with all that, you’ve already eaten up a half-hour of court time. Now what? One player may decide to drop out, leaving the remaining two to play singles. Barring that, you’re left with Canadian doubles. Continue reading “The Tennis Threesome”
A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I sat on the couch, browsing on our laptops for Christmas present ideas for our daughter. (Well, I think he was browsing. He may have been reading about the Patriots.)
In my searching, I came across a ten-foot-long phone charger. I’d never thought about how inadequate the dinky iPhone chargers are until I saw this one. My daughter doesn’t have many outlets in her apartment. With this mega-charger, she’d be able to sit on the couch with her phone while it’s plugged in across the room. Brilliant!
What’s more, this cable was zebra striped! So cute! (If you’re going to give a functional item as a gift, you need to jazz it up a little.) I mentioned it to my husband as I started to order it. Continue reading “Tennis Math and Settling for Quality”
True story from last week’s matches: On Thursday, my partner and I won a match. Afterwards, she complimented me on my serve which had set her up perfectly at the net.
Two days later, we played another match. When it was my turn to serve, I tossed the ball and it went sailing over my head. I caught it and started again. Same thing. The third toss was almost as terrible, but how many times could I catch the ball? I hit it, and unsurprisingly, the serve landed two feet wide.
And so it went for the rest of the match. Toss, catch, toss, catch, toss, fault. I had a case of the yips.
If you’ve ever had the yips, you know the unique stress it causes. A case of the yips can seemingly strike out of nowhere. The simple motion of tossing a ball in the air suddenly becomes impossible. The previously inanimate ball now flies out of your hand, as lively and uncontrollable as a Quidditch snitch. Time is standing still, and everyone is waiting–your opponents staring at you, your partner ready at the net, your coach and teammates on the sidelines willing you to please, for the love of God, get your shit together and serve the ball!
So you try to be more careful in how you toss the ball, which is absolutely the worst thing you can do. You gingerly push the ball up, and it hangs in the air momentarily, mockingly, many inches lower than it ought to be. You’re going to need to rush your serve because the ball was already too low and now it’s dropping. You swat at the ball with your racquet. It lands meekly in the bottom of the net. You’re just lucky it didn’t bounce first.
The charismatic Serbian player Ana Ivanovic suffered from extreme yips in the latter portion of her career. In her first years on the tour, Ivanovic owned a powerful serve that won her many free points. But sometime after winning the French Open and reaching number one in the world, her serving toss went wildly awry. She eventually resigned herself to chasing her wayward tosses. After one particularly acrobatic service motion, sportscaster Mary Carillo drily observed, “That’s a lot of footwork for a serve.”
The yips don’t affect only tennis players. More than one baseball player has been driven from the game because of a sudden inability to throw the ball, missing their targets by wild margins. Professional golfer Ernie Els has been seized with the yips on three-foot putts.
A tennis player with a prolonged case of the yips may try addressing the mechanics of the toss. They might practice tossing along a wall or holding the ball in the fingertips. As good as these suggestions are for learning a tossing technique, they are less effective for overcoming the yips.
That’s because the yips aren’t really about technique. Take the same player on another day, in another venue, and they may serve just fine. I myself served just fine the day before my yip attack–and also, thankfully, the day after. I hadn’t changed anything. The curse just vanished as mysteriously as it had appeared.
Rather than a technical issue, the yips are about what’s going on in the brain. Focusing on the brain, however, doesn’t fix the problem. As any afflicted player would tell you, the more you think about the toss, the worse it will get. A reduced awareness would seem to be the better approach.
But how do you reduce your awareness about your toss at the very moment it’s humiliating you? Telling yourself “Don’t think about the toss” as you’re serving works about as well as you’d expect.
The only somewhat effective trick I’ve heard is to busy your mind with something else. One friend said that when she’s having trouble with her toss, she directs all her attention to her hand holding the racquet. Drawing her conscious mind away from her tossing arm frees her muscle memory to take over.
I remembered her advice during my yippy match, and I did have some limited success with it. My troubles didn’t go away, but my tosses were marginally less erratic and I didn’t double fault. I expect that if I ever need this technique again, it will work better because I’ll already know how to do it, and I’ll trust that it can help.
But I really, really hope I never need it again.
This will be my last post of this week. Have a fantastic, pie-filled Thanksgiving!!!
Yup, you read that right. It’s time to consider men’s lower halves. (Let’s see if this ends up being our most clicked-on post to date…)
A question that’s been on my mind lately is how tight men’s shorts should be. It feels like we’re in an indecisive place in men’s sportswear. Some brands still favor the baggy look that’s been around since Pete Sampras slouched around the courts. Other brands, like Uniqlo, put a premium on a sleeker profile.
I think athletes are transitioning to slimmer shorts, which makes sense since that’s how we wear our jeans and pants nowadays. Still, we have a few hold-outs adhering to a looser cut. And looser also makes sense, right? Tennis is a sport, after all. You want to be able to move.
John Isner springs to mind as the exemplar of a relaxed court style. Here he is at the Laver Cup, with Nick Kyrgios cheering him on in the background.
What are we to make of these voluminous shorts? You could call it classic American casual–not uptight, easy-going, fun-loving. “Slovenly” might be another way to describe it.
At the other end of the spectrum is the French player Benoit Paire.
I haven’t seen any news articles about Paire splitting his shorts during a match, but that back seam is under some serious stress.
To be fair, the shorts do look nicely tailored when Paire is just standing around. Here’s a shot of that:
But he’s professional athlete. How much time is he spending just standing around?
Now, you might be thinking, “Jeez, Deb, isn’t there anything in between these extremes?” Of course there is. The always impeccable Roger Federer hits the sweet spot every time. I could have included him as the obvious “just right” choice. But what fun would that be?
Although I wasn’t a big sports fan growing up, the sound of a baseball or football game on television always evokes a warm, fuzzy feeling in me. Even if I’m not watching the game, the voices of the announcers, interspersed with the occasional crack of a bat or crunch of helmets, conjure up memories of langorous weekend afternoons in my childhood home.
It seems like people had more time back then for sprawling on the sofa to watch the local team. Nowadays, we’re all too busy and our attention spans are too short. We still want to watch, but who has three hours to devote on a Sunday afternoon? (Well, aside from people who write sports blogs, that is.)
Football and baseball have come under increasing pressure to pick up the pace of their games. Tennis, perhaps, is the greatest offender of all televised sports, with a daily schedule for a Grand Slam tournament running more than six hours–or all day, if you get the Tennis Channel.
Tennis already struggles to compete for viewer attention, so it was inevitable that change would come. At last year’s Next Gen tournament in Milan, the ATP began experimenting with ways to speed up the pace of play and create a “high-tempo, cutting-edge, and TV-friendly product…geared towards attracting new and younger fans into the sport,” according to the organization’s press release from that year.
Well, who can argue with high-tempo and cutting edge? Who doesn’t want new and younger fans? At this month’s Next Gen tournament, the ATP continued test-driving its time-saving ideas. Here are some of the changes that could eventually find their way onto the regular pro tours.
- No-ad scoring–Already a number of tournaments employ no-ad scoring for doubles competitions, but the Next Gen Finals was the first place to try it out in singles. My take: I hate playing no-ad scoring, but I don’t mind it too much at the professional level. If I have to vote, I guess I’d say keep playing out the ads. There’s a psychological beatdown when you lose a multiple-ad game, and that adds an interesting element to a match.
- Shortened sets–The shorter sets are first to four games by one. A tiebreak is held at 3-all. The final scoreline could look like 4-2, 4-3. My take: I hate this. What’s next, five-inning baseball? Let tennis be tennis.
- Five-minute warm-up–Typically players warm up for 10 minutes prior to play, although in reality, the process of warming up begins long before the players take the court. A ten-minute warm-up probably isn’t necessary for professionals. (A shortened warm-up was used in this year’s U.S. Open.) My take: Sure, go ahead and change it. Who watches that part anyway?
- The shot clock–The traditional rules of tennis allow for 25 seconds between points, but some pros [coughNadalcough] take longer. The rule was inconsistently enforced, and players had no way of knowing how much time had elapsed. The shot clock already debuted at this year’s U.S. Open and in several of the tournaments leading up to it. My take: If a player is going to be penalized for exceeding 25 seconds, there must be a timer on court for him to pace himself by. (The jury’s still out on whether the shot clock actually shortens average match duration, though.)
- Towel service–Instead of expecting ball kids to scurry about fetching towels as well as balls, players at Next Gen had to retrieve their own towels. The rule change was designed to eliminate an icky hygiene issue, protect ball kids from surly and impatient players, and cut down on excessive toweling. (Looking at you, Nadal.) My take: Totally in favor of this. In the McEnroe movie in Monday’s post, the towels never left the players’ chairs. McEnroe and Lendl managed just fine.
- No service lets–Under this rule, a serve that clips the net and lands in is in play. This rule currently exists during World Team Tennis and adds a level of unpredictability to what is already a lively, almost rowdy format. My take: I enjoy this twist on the game in World Team Tennis, but I don’t want to see it extended to the regular tours. However, I would like to see the ATP put an end to players re-starting their entire first-serve routine after a let (choosing among various balls, picking shorts out of their butts, etc.) (Rafa, I love you, but you can really be infuriating.)
- All-Hawkeye line calling–For Next Gen matches, Hawkeye was used in place of line judges. Players couldn’t challenge any call, except for foot faults. My take: I dislike this change for three reasons. One, challenges don’t really take that much time. Two, the challenge system adds drama to a match, especially if a player runs out of challenges. And three, I’m not in favor of a world where machines displace people. That’s why I still make deposits with a teller and avoid the self-serve check-out lane at the grocery store. People need jobs. Even linespeople.
- Medical time-outs–Under the new rule, players are allowed only one medical time-out per match. My take: Sounds reasonable to me. The needs of an injured player must be balanced with the needs of the opponent forced to cool his heels.
- Coaching–Although the women’s tour uses on-court coaching in non-Grand Slam events, coaching is still forbidden on the men’s tour. The Next Gen tournament permitted player-coach interaction, but only through a headset. Although allowing coaching doesn’t quicken the pace of play, the hope is that the dialogue between coach and player will spark viewer interest. My take: I’m a bit of a purist and prefer a player to problem-solve on his own. Plus, the majority of tour players aren’t American. I’m not going to understand a player-coach interaction in Chinese.
Now, it’s your turn. Which of the changes do you want to see implemented on the pro tours–and which do you want to see in your own matches? Choose as many as you like–and go ahead and argue with me in the comments section!
(And here’s an interesting tidbit to factor into your thinking. Most of these changes were tested at last year’s Next Gen tournament. According to the ATP, as reported by CNN, the average length of these “high-tempo, cutting edge” matches was a mere three minutes less than the average regular tour match.)