Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Tennis Battle of the Sexes

Speaking of the famous "Battle of the Sexes" exhibition match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in 1973, Dave Winship writes at

It could be argued that her victory was as significant for women's rights as Rosa Parks's bus protest was for the civil rights movement. But it was hardly a match of equals. Riggs was a 55-year-old ex-player at the time, while King was in her prime. Although the most-watched tennis match in history prompted a seismic shift in the perception of women's role in sport and society, it also served to confuse the issue. Equality, in this context, is not about sameness and uniformity. Biological differences render notions of sameness between the sexes nonsensical. Men and women are different but equally important. And it is this equality of importance that should determine issues like the distribution of prize money.

Exactly. Impeccable logic strikes again.

It was politically incorrect to know that back then. After Riggs' gamesmanship got Margaret Court to choke, Billie Jean King had no choice but to take up the challenge. But I never liked it. That rascal Riggs. There was no way to do anything but lose that match against a 55-year-old ex-player.

And yet, her victory proved him wrong.

The top women have no better chance against the top men than a 98-pound wrestler has against a 198-pounder. But that doesn't mean their class' competition is less important.

Winship goes on to argue that Wimbledon should recognize the equality of importance by equal prize money for women, and I agree.

Read the rest.
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The Perils of Switching

Switching in doubles -- it sounds like such a good idea, doesn't it? But beware the perils of switching, because it can set your team up for the Switch Trick Play.

Here's an animated tutorial that explains. Click the link below. The lesson will open in a new window, which you can resize so it doesn't take up extra room on your screen.


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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Coaching Tennis with Drills

Drills are an effective training technique, but I feel that they are overemphasized today and sometimes inappropriately used. The result can be counterproductive. So, here's some food for thought on that subject. I hope it encourages you to carefully observe the effect of drilling on players, so that you get the most out your drills and never have them backfire on you.

We naturally assume that if you drill something into a player's head, he or she then will automatically repeat the pattern during play, rather like an automaton, unconsciously.

Well, that is sometimes true. For example, drilling can "groove" a new or changed stroke, so that the muscle memory instilled becomes more or less automatic. But drilling alone won't give a player that new stroke under match play conditions. At some point you must stop feeding him shots for that stroke and practice executing that new stroke under less-than-ideal conditions, as during actual match play.

Drilling is even less effective when you're trying to teach a tactical pattern. That is CONSCIOUS behavior, involving CONSCIOUS decision making. If you try to drill that tactical pattern into players' heads with mind-numbing repetitions of a drill, you will succeed in nothing but numbing their minds.

In that state of mind a person's state of consciousness dims. So what? Memory of what he's doing also dims. For example, you forget a dream moments after awakening, don't you? That's because it occured while you were asleep -- in a lowerd state of consciousness -- and thus leaves little or no trace behind in memory.

In The Inner Game of Tennis, Tim Gallwey speaks of this phenomenon and its implications. Natural Learning doesn't take place because memory is impaired. So, especially when teaching tactics, you want to RAISE the player's level of awareness and alertness, so that he or she will remember the lesson, recognize that particular situation during matchplay, and recall what to do in it.

Now here's a little story to illustrate what I mean:

Once upon a time, there was a basketball coach who liked the running game. That is, he wanted his teams to fast-break off defensive rebounds, beating the other team down the floor to score by an easy lay-up. He had a good team. In fact, about halfway through the season, it was undefeated. Yet he was frustrated by his failure to get them to run their fast-break during games. One day he said, "Girls, what's the matter? Do you get amnesia out there?"

They felt bad. It wasn't that they weren't trying to do everything he said. In fact, it was quite the other way around: they recklessly "sacrificed their bodies" diving for loose balls to impress him.

His solution, a conventional one, was to "overpractice" fast-breaking. At this point, there was a lull in the schedule. So, for over a week, every practice began and ended with fast-breaking drills. There was a good deal of fast-break drilling in the middle too. In fact, every other kind of practice was minimized to afford over an hour of fast-breaking in every two-hour session. It got so bad that, every time you closed your eyes, you heard "Exit! Outlet!" and saw a replay.

They repeated this drill so often it became like tying your shoes. They didn't even have to think about it anymore. The kid who got the rebound turned, and there was the kid who was supposed to get the exit pass, and she turned and there was the kid breaking for the basket. Boom. They were on automatic pilot, and I thought I was gonna scream if he didn't cut it out already and stop making them run that play over and over and over again.

Not that I didn't expect this practice to work: it's just that it was boring me to death.

Was I wrong! The next game was a disaster. Their whole game fell apart. You could almost see the little cloud around each kid's head. They obviously couldn't even see straight through it because they passed the ball right to players on the opposing team. They did this so often that I was sitting there wondering, "Can't you tell red from white uniforms?" It was THAT bad! (The other team soon learned that they would pass to anyone who waved at them for the ball.)

Run their regular offense? What offense? They forgot their whole game. Shoot? They did everything but shoot. I finally started yelling "Score!" every time a kid had a shot to keep her from just dribbling or passing the ball around some more instead. It was like they forgot that you dribble and pass to get a shot, not just to dribble and pass the ball around. And they never learned from a mistake: they just kept repeating it over and over again.

Astonished, I wondered what had gotten into their heads. I am ashamed to say that enough of it had gotten into my own head that I didn't notice till the second quarter that they hadn't fast-breaked once! And the head coach hadn't said anything about it during time-outs. I kept quiet till I could tell that he hadn't noticed either. Then I elbowed him and said, "They aren't fast-breaking."

He gave me a jaw-drop and that one, slow blink that annihilates what you just said.

It was too embarrassing. So, at first, he acted as though it wasn't happening. But finally, during half-time, he gently called it to their attention that they weren't fast-breaking and reminded them to do so. He reminded them during time-outs in the second half. He was quite patient: he did not get mad at them. But there was no way those kids could remember to fast-break when it was time to — namely, when a defensive rebound came off the board. Their minds were a blur.

So much for trying to drill fast-breaking into their heads.

Read more here at the Main Site.


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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Links to Tennis Magazines

Speaking of tennis magazines...
Australian Tennis Magazine
BBC Sport: Tennis
Bob Larson's Tennis News
Carolyn Nichols Tennis
Tennis Industry Magazine
Tennis Server
Tennis Week

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Monday, September 25, 2006

The Latest Pro Tennis Singles Ranking

The latest WTA Tour Rankings:
1 Amelie Mauresmo, France
2 Justine Henin-Hardenne, Belgium
3 Maria Sharapova, Russia
4 Svetlana Kuznetsova, Russia
5 Kim Clijsters, Belgium
6 Elena Dementieva, Russia
7 Nadia Petrova, Russia
8 Martina Hingis, Switzerland
9 Patty Schnyder, Switzerland
10 Nicole Vaidisova, Czech Republic

Kuznetsova and Clijsters both moved up.

The ATP Tour Rankings:
1 Roger Federer, Switzerland
2 Rafael Nadal, Spain
3 Ivan Ljubicic, Croatia
4 David Nalbandian, Argentina
5 Nikolay Davydenko, Russia
6 Andy Roddick, United States
7 Tommy Robredo, Spain
8 Marcos Baghdatis, Cyprus
9 James Blake, United States
10 Radek Stepanek, Czech Republic


Yeah! A photo of an unenraged tennis player!

Mario Ancic
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Thursday, September 21, 2006

September 2006 issue of The Operation Doubles Connection

See the Septermber edition of The Operation Doubles Connection for what's new at Operation Doubles, the monthly Q & A, shotmaking tip, and doubles quiz, plus a featured website and tennis news.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006


Sports Illustrated posts this about that disputed call on Jelena Jankovic's serve in the semifinal:

In the most talked-about fault of the tournament, Jankovic was a point away from a 5-2 lead over No. 2 Justine Henin-Hardenne in the second set Friday. Jankovic had already won the first set, and was on the verge of a huge upset when her serve was ruled out.

The 19th-seeded Jankovic began questioning chair umpire Enric Molina, looking for an opinion. "Did you see it?" she asked him.

They bickered for a moment and Molina told her, "I'm not a machine."

Jankovic had one of her two instant-replay challenges remaining, but did not use it. Flustered, she then double-faulted, dropped the final 10 games and lost 4-6, 6-4, 6-0.

After the match, Jankovic seemed more upset that Molina did not give her guidance on whether to challenge the call, rather than the ruling itself.

"I'm telling him he has to be involved in the calls," she said. "He can see better. It was a tough point."

I can understand why she's upset -- but not at HIM. What is Jankovic thinking? That the Chair Umpire should ADVISE the players on this decision?

Let's get real. Maybe he'd love to. But what if he was wrong? He'd feel terrible, and you'd be madder yet at him. Plus, then what happens when he advises both players in a match and one later accuses him of helping you win by deliberately giving her bad advice and you good advice?

Sorry, it doesn't take an Einstein to forsee such problems with what Jankovic wanted.

Frankly, I bet she was really ticked off at the rule but afraid to knock it and just found the Chair to be a safe scapegoat.

The only part of a tennis match that is supposed to be a matter of pure luck/guesswork (like choosing Door Number One, Door Number Two, or Door Number Three) is the opening coin toss. The rest should depend on skilled perfomance. If you make the shots, you win the point.

It's the media that wants to inject all this artificial, storytelling chancy gambling for drama where it doesn't belong -- by forcing players to play Russian Roulette with their decisions of whether to challenge a call.

What if that serve had been in? Then this meddling-media imposed rule cheated Jankovic out of a big point and injected its influence heavily into the outcome of the match. That's not right. That's not fair play.

And THAT'S the problem. Dave Winship commented on this a while back in Hawkeye: Using the right technology in the wrong way.

Instead of ushering in a new era of fairness and accuracy, the fanfare ... has produced nothing but a half-cocked Hawk-Eye which isn't even under the control of the umpire. It's as if the window of opportunity has been opened only for officials to put up some eye-catching curtains. The powerlessness of the umpires has been compounded by the inhibition of players disposed to save their challenges for potentially critical moments late in each set. The arbitrariness of limited challenges produces intrigue and strategy, but players will soon feel short-changed when they realise that inconsistency and unfairness have merely been reconstructed when they could have been eradicated. ...Hawk-Eye should be a discretionary tool in the hands of chair umpires empowered to view an instant replay to resolve doubtful calls whenever they see fit. On clay courts, umpires already respond to limitless appeals by players. ... Instant replay technology is too good an opportunity for tennis to waste. The various authorities should be constantly reminded that the goal is the elimination of erroneous calls and there should be nothing else on the agenda.

I agree.

So, let's not blame the chair. It's the players' unions, the tournaments, and the media they cater to -- a media so jaded it needs to spice up sports with juicy extraneous controversy like this. They say it's necessary to keep us interested, but I suspect that they're the ones in need of this boosted stimulation.
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Friday, September 08, 2006

What's New at Operation Doubles Tennis

Many people use the terms strategy and tactics interchangeably. I don't, because tactics are but means of achieving the strategic objectives. The result of being fuzzy on the difference between strategy and tactics is usually tactics out of context -- that is, tactics out of the context of a strategy that orients them to aim at THE strategic objectives in a situation.

For example: What if you sent your army to a battlefield without generals (strategists) and just told them to win the fight? The tacticians (the captains) would do this and that. Some would attack a town or high ground just because it's there, even if it isn't a strategic objective in this particular battle. Some would steadfastly defend an unimportant position, taking heavy losses for nothing, instead of retreating and reinforcing another unit that is defending crucial ground. Perhaps nobody would secure a crucial bridge. In short, you can see that...

  • some inappropriate tactics would be used
  • some units' actions would foul up the actions of other units
  • the objectives pursued wouldn't necessarily be the strategic ones.
Not the way to win.

A new lesson at Operation Doubles explains the difference between tactics and strategy:

Strategy is the science of art, as in "military craft." Nowadays, in other contexts, the word strategy is often loosely used as another word for tactics, but strategy and tactics are different.

Strategy is a systematic approach to winning by getting the upper hand, by tipping the balance in your team's favor. It's a game plan -- a way of playing. Strategy is holistic, its purview the big picture. In contrast, the scope of tactics is narrow. The purpose of tactics is to achieve the objectives designated by strategy. So, tactics flow from strategy like branches flow from the trunk of a tree.

Read the rest.
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Thursday, September 07, 2006

US Open Quarterfinals

In men's Singles Quarterfinals action, unseeded Mikhail Youzhny of Russia defeated Rafael Nadal of Spain 3-6, 7-5, 6-7(5), 1-6. Youzny's reaction? "Unbelievable." Rafa said, "I am trying to fight, but I wasn't," Nadal said. "I was not my best in the fourth, no? I know I lost a big opportunity. And after that, Mikhail is playing unbelievable ... all winners."

Don't you just love the way this guy wades fearlessly into English? It can get a bit confusing at times, but for the most part, we understand him just fine.

Youzhny just would not be discouraged. He took heavy blows but took them in stride and hung in there -- time and again. As if unimpressed, answering great play with great play. The result was a seesaw battle through the tiebreak in the third. Then it was Rafa who became discouraged, dropping the first five games of the fourth set.

Though neither of these men is a pusher, what happened is what happens in a match where a pusher can't discourage his opposnent. THAT eventually discourages HIM. And he then loses the same way his opponents usually do.

Mental toughness is everything in this game.

In another unbelievable effort, Youzhny paired with Leos Friedle of the Czech Republic to defeat the top-seeded defending champs Mike and Bob Bryan of the United States in the men's doubles.

In other men's action, top-seeded Roger Federer of Switzerland and fifth-seeded James Blake of the United States both advanced into the quarterfunals and will play each other.

Ah, he makes it look so easy, doesn't he?

Andy Roddick of the United States has already reached the semifinals by defeating Lleyton Hewitt of Australia.

Both Roddick and Blake are playing well, and Blake performed very well under pressure, saving all 15 break points in his match against Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic.

(Da! Look at all those good players from the Czech Republic!)

On the women's side, Amelie Mauresmo of France, Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium, and Maria Sharapova of Russia, and Jelena Jankovic of Serbia-Montenegro advanced to the semifinals.

Sharapova is getting away with gamesmanship in her screaming "grunts" at her opponent on every shot. I suppose that's because there's no machine to diagnose a scream at your opponent, differentiating it from a natural grunt of effort in hitting the ball. The officials obviously don't want to make the call.

Asked whether she realizes that she's bothering opponents, her anti-answer was "I don't worry about it."

Yes, dear, of course it's no bother to YOU. How's that for pure, unadulterated, in-your-face narcissism?

And here's more mockery: Observers thought that her father had coached her during a match when he pulled a banana (rich in potassium) out of his bag and she did then did likewise at the next opportunity. Asked whether this was just a coincidence, she replied, "Probably."

But in the latter case I don't blame her. Haven't reporters anything better to do than try to make something out of nothing like that? The reply she gave them is what they had coming.

And, hey, how about Navratilova? Martina Narvratilova of the United States and Nadia Petrova of Russia defeated Ana Ivanovic Serbia-Montenegro and Maria Kirilenko of Russia to advance to the quarterfinals, where they will meet the Number One seed, Lisa Raymond of the United States and Samantha Stosur of Australia.

See the schedule here.
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Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day Weekend at the US Open

Yesterday Andre Agassi's father got his unhappy wish that Andre would play no more and risk permanently injuring his back. Benjamin Becker of Germany defeated Andre -- obviously hindered by his back but playing hard and well anyway -- in a good match 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-5, in the third round of the US Open.

In the first minutes of his retirement from the pro tour, Andre said:

The scoreboard said I lost today. What the scoreboard doesn't say is how much I've won. I found loyalty. You have pulled for me on the court and in life. I've found inspiration. You've willed me to succeed. I've found generosity. You've allowed me to stand on your shoulders to reach my dreams. And I will take you in my memory for the rest of my life.

Men's Singles

Today in the 4th round:
  • Andy Roddick of the United States beat Becker in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.
  • Rafael Nadal of Spain beat Jiri Novak of the Czech Republic 6-1, 7-6, 6-4.
  • UPDATE: Lleyton Hewitt of Australia beat Richard Gasquet of France 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3.
Tommy Haas of Germany, Marat Safin of Russia, and Mikhail Youzhny of Russia advanced in third-round action today.

Women's Singles

Amelie Mauresmo of France beat Serena Williams of the United States 6-4, 0-6, 6-2.

Time out. WHAT? I hate that! Mauresmo gave away a donut in the second set! How on earth do players do that and then suddenly wake up and win the next set 6-2! Grrr!

In other 4th round matches, Justine Henin Hardenne of Belgium, Dinara Safina of Russia, Maria Sharapova of Russia, Lindsay Davenport of the United States, Tatiana Golovin of France, Jelena Jankovic of Serbia and Montenegro, and Elena Dementieva of Russia all advanced into quarterfinals.

Men's Doubles (3rd Round) teams that advanced today:
  • Martin Damm the Czech Republic and Leander Paes of India
  • Ashley Fisher of Australia and Tripp Phillips of the United States
  • Paul Hanley of Australia and Kevin Ullyett of Zimbabwe
  • Mark Knowles of the Bahamas and Daniel Nestor of Canada
  • Jonas Bjorkman Sweden and Max Mirnyi of Belarus
  • Fabrice Santoro of France and Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia and Montenegro
  • Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra of France
Less than half the players on that list are in the singles: only Jonas Bjorkman, Max Mirnyi, Fabrice Santoro, and Arnaud Clement. I don't know why they call the doubles players "doubles specialists" though. The specializing is done in singles. It leaves the doubles draw wide open for players who aren't good enough to compete in the singles.

Women's Doubles (2nd and 3rd rounds) teams that advanced today:
  • Ana Ivanovic of Serbia and Montenegro and Maria Kirilenko of Russia
  • Janette Husarova of Slovakia and Elena Likhovtseva of Russia
  • Nathalie Dechy of France and Vera Zvonareva of Russia
  • Kveta Peschke of the Czech Republic and Francesca Schiavone of Italy
  • Dinara Safina of Russia and Katarina Srebotnik of Slovenia
  • Maret Ani of Estonia and Meilen Tu of the United States
  • Zi Yan and Jie Zheng of China
  • Lisa Raymond of the United States and Samantha Stosur of Australia
  • Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain and Paola Suarez of Argentina
Mixed Doubles (1st and 2nd round) teams that advanced today:
  • Martina Navratilova and Bob Bryan of the United States
  • Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain and Sebastian Prieto of Argentina
  • Nathalie Dechy and Fabrice Santoro of France
  • Vania King and Vince Spadea of the United States
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New at Operation Doubles: Strategy Roundup

New Lesson on the Main Webstite:

Strategy is a systematic way of playing the game. Like a basketball team's game, a doubles team's game is an integrated offense and defense. It includes a game plan and special plays. For example, a basketball team's game comprises a regular offense and defense, which are basketball formations played strategically. The team's game also includes a variation or two and some special plays. The special plays are in-bounding plays, jump-ball plays, a fast-break, a press, a press-break, and so forth.

In doubles your offense is the Both-Up Formation or the offensive mode of the Up-and-Back Formation; your defense is the Both-Back Formation or the defensive mode of the Up-and-Back Formation. Your special plays include the poach, the No-Switch Play, the Safe-Switch Play, Australian Doubles, and so on. These parts make up a working system.

Read the rest and see the illustrations in this new lesson, Strategy Roundup, at the main website.

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Rain Delay at US Open

Play is suspended at the US open due to rain. Yesterday . . .

James Blake, the top-ranked American, has reached the third round by defeating Teimuraz Gabashvili of Russia in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6.

In second-round action yesterday, Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium defeated Ai Sugiyama of Japan 4-6, 6-1, 6-0. Believe it or not, in the third set there were many long rallies, but Sugyama just couldn’t win a game.

Roger Federer of Switzerland defeated Tim Henman of the UK 6-3, 7-4, 6-5. One wonders how good Henman would be if it weren’t for the unforced errors -- 38. What a waste. What would the score have been if he had made half that many? Not giving in to the push to get dramatic about his results and future, he told reporters,

The (way I played in the) third set is the way that you need to try and play. But not two sets to love down. I can reflect on a couple of moments where I began to make life a little bit difficult for him. You can't really afford to give him the start that I did because he's got enough confidence and he's playing at such a high level, he certainly doesn't need any help from me.

In first-round mixed doubles action before a packed house yesterday afternoon, Bob Bryan and Martina Navratilova defeated Mike Bryan and Corina Morariu. 6-7, 6-4 , 10-4.

In other news, Andre Agassi's father fears Andre is doing permanent injury to his back and hopes his next match will be his last.

Get the latest scores here when play resumes.
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Total Strangers

Why are we so fascinated with stars? Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova are total strangers. Yet millions of people feel like they know them and care about their successes and failures - perhaps even more than they care about their neighbor.

Answer: It's a kind of magic. A trick of the storytelling trade.

First you need a character. He or she needs enough depth to seem real, seem like a real person. Then you wave your magic wand, performing all sorts of tricks to make that character "sympathetic." This simply means that you do things to make the audience side with your character. Then, to glue your reader to your novel (or your viewer to the movie), you cast a spell on the reader to make him identify with the character. Then provide an emotional touchstone and make your character want something. Really want something. Want it very, very much.

Zap. Reader is hooked. He relates to a figment of the imagination as if it were a real person. The character is nothing but blotches of ink on a page, but the reader is emotionally involved in the image of the character you have painted.

Then just send your character off in pursuit of whatever he wants, and torture the reader every step of the way with all the trials and tribulations the character goes through.

Notice that you have all the ingredients of a story in an athletic contest, especially one like tennis, in which the focus is on a single player in one-on-one competition with another for something both want very much. A lot of money and a shiny trophy. Like Indiana Jones, they are in hot pursuit of the Holy Grail. This is perfect protagonist-antagonist action. And there are many opportunities for giving us an emotional touchstone with some photo of "tennis rage."

True, these are real people, not mere characters.

Or are they? Most of us never lay eyes on them in person. They are but flickering flashes of light on a TV screen. We are relating to their IMAGE. Their public persona. We really know less about them than we know about the fictitious characters in a novel.

Hollywood learned long ago that stars are selling handles for their products, so they cultivate (and exaggerate) interest in them. Well, not really. Real people aren't always interesting. You'll learn that fast if you try to write a novel with a main character who's a little too real.


Like, say, Pete Sampras.

So, the industry has ways of getting stars to put on a public persona that's - well, interesting. Mr. Sampras wouldn't do that, and I don't blame him.

Mr. Agassi gave it up long ago. In fact older players generally do.

I suspect that's because they find it a little dehumanizing. That public persona is just a caricature, a cartoon figure - that is, flat, without human depth. A human being is so much more. I suppose they come to realize that we are relating to their image, not them, so that they remain complete strangers to us.

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