Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Lack of Aggressiveness Can Be Risky

There isn't much free tennis instruction left on the Web, but one excellent source of it is still Jeff Cooper at About.com's Tennis.About.com. So, if you're looking to improve your game, I encourage you to check it out.

I especially want to direct your attention to Four Safe Ways to Be More Aggressive:

Aggressive tennis usually carries more risk than defensive tennis, but there's a risk in failing to be aggressive, too. Every ball you hit during a point that you should have already won is a needless chance for you to miss.

Here are four ways to be more aggressive, ranked from least to most risky....

Read the rest.
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Friday, October 27, 2006

DW: Round-Robin Rashness

By Dave Winship

The Next Generation Adelaide International, starting on the first day of 2007, will be the first ATP event to use the new experimental round-robin format. ATP chairman Etienne de Villiers appears to have sold the idea to tournament directors, members of the ATP Player Council and a whole host of concurring players and pundits who may well have paid scant attention to the detail. "We will have 12 tournaments or so experimenting next year," said De Villiers, who is keen to make the new format mandatory for 2009. "Most of the players are very positive about this."

Tournament directors would not have needed much persuading. Delray Beach tournament director Mark Baron was just one of those voicing unreserved approval. "Spectators will get to see all the seeded players at least twice, which is great," he enthused. "Before, if a top seed had a bad match, he was out. Now, you could see him in the final. And we'll start on Sunday, which allows us to have a big family day, something we've always wanted. All in all, this is great news for our event."

The round-robin has previously been used only at the year-end Masters Cup and the World Team Championship in Dusseldorf.

Apparently, the French phrase rond ruban derives from an 18th century French military practice. When officers sought redress of a grievance by means of a petition, their superiors were sometimes inclined to seize and execute those whose names headed the list, so it became customary to sign such petitions in a circular form.

If Etienne de Villiers heads the list of round-robin advocates, the name of Rafael Nadal is not far behind. "People want to see Federer or Roddick. Now perhaps me," the world number two told reporters recently, "and this way they will see them at least twice, instead of once. If the world number two or the number one lose in the first round, it is a catastrophe for the tournament." It's rather ironic that Nadal should attribute his recent run of poor form to fatigue because round-robin tournaments will certainly make the tour schedule even more onerous than it is already. While tournament directors rub their hands at the prospect of starting the round-robin events on Sundays, overlapping with the final day of the previous week's tournaments, the Spaniard will see his seven-day working week become an eight-day one! Tournaments like the pre-Wimbledon Stella Artois Championships in London will probably opt for a 48-man draw, with 16 groups of three. The finalists will therefore play six matches instead of the five required previously. Ouch! No wonder Roger Federer has turned against the idea.

Even if the Tour eventually sees the light and replaces groups of three with groups of four, other worrying factors will surely surface. One such drawback is the potential for players to indulge in "tanking" or not trying too hard once they have ensured their progression to the elimination stage. Lindsay Davenport is concerned about such dubious tactical ploys. "There (could be) a lot of fixing if your friend needs you to win or lose or whatever," she warned. "A lot of things could happen. There are some kinks to be worked out for sure."

"I'm very, very excited because this is something I petitioned for for a long time," said Mark Baron. I hope he and his fellow advocates had the foresight to sign their names in circular fashion. Otherwise, it's off with his head!

Copyright 2006, Dave Winship -- all rights reserved worldwide

Dave Winship is an L.T.A. coach at the Caversham Park Tennis Club in Berkshire, England, and the author of OnTheLine.org magazine at www.tennisontheline.org.

See Dave's profile and an index of all his posts here.


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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

October 2006 issue of The Operation Doubles Connection

See the October edition of The Operation Doubles Connection for what's new at Operation Doubles, the monthly Q & A, shotmaking tip, and doubles quiz, plus the featured websites of the month.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Player Profile: Bill Tilden

Photogenic, eh? That's a famous photo of Bill Tilden in a tournament match (Wimbledon, I believe). I edited out the crowd in the background because the quality of the old black-and-white photo is so poor.

When people talk about the greatest players of all time, he must be on the short list.

Bill Tilden dominated tennis for more than a decade, winning seven United States Championships, three Wimbledon Championships, and two professional titles. Born William Tatum Tilden II on February 28, 1893 in Philadelphia, he learned to play tennis at the Germantown Cricket Club. In 1913, with Mary Browne, he won the U.S. Mixed Doubles title. A late bloomer, however, he didn't reach the men's singles final till 1918.

Then he held the title from 1920 to 1925 and again in 1929. Tilden became the first American to win the men's championship at Wimbledon in 1920. He won it again in 1921 and in 1930.

Look at this picture-perfect jumping overhead in another famous photo of Tilden in action. One wonders what he could have done with one of today's rackets.

He was all about domination and commanded attention wherever he went, earning a reputation as one of the most colorful sports figures of the 1920s. George Lott wrote this of him entering a room:

Immediately there was a feeling of awe, as though you were in the presence of royalty. The atmosphere became charged and there was almost a sensation of lightness when he left. You felt completely dominated and you heaved a sigh of relief for not having ventured an opinion of any sort.

Not a nice person. That need to have power over others and to dominate them, in order to feed his ego by vaunting himself on others, came through in other ways too. (Which I shall not go into.)

But he was nonetheless an amazing tennis player.

Moreover, like all such people -- people with a predatory outlook and a manipulative nature -- he was an observant student of human nature. People like that always are, like predators always studying other people to figure out how to really get to them. And, like all such people, he was an expert at mind games.

Hence, it's no wonder that Bill Tilden practically invented sports psychology. Well, that isn't exactly true, because nice people like George Lott understood it too. But Tilden popularized the art of sports psychology in his books, which are still considered classics in that regard.

Tilden also won several doubles (1918, 1921-23, 1927) and mixed doubles (1913-14, 1922-23) for a record total of 16 U.S. titles. Among his other titles were many indoor U.S. championships and Italian singles, men's doubles and French mixed doubles, all in 1930. In Davis Cup play, his 21 wins in 28 matches helped the United States hold the trophy from 1920 to 1926. He died June 5, 1953 in Hollywood, California.


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Andre Agassi, the I-Formation, and more

The November/December issue of Tennis Life Magazine features an article on doubles by me entitled "How to Win Doubles with the I-Formation." It will be a keepsake edition of Tennis Life that features a comprehensive reflection on Andre Agassi with contributions on why he is so special by Bud Collins, Vic Braden, and Nick Bollitieri. Get the details about this Collectors Edition here. It will hit the newstands on November 21 (subscribe by October 15 to receive it in the mail).

Look for an article by me on teaching Australian doubles in TennisPro Magazine (the magazine of the Professional Tennis Resistry) next year.
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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Federer did WHAT?

Am I the only one who thinks this a bit rich?

Federer posts it on his ATP blog, writing...

I have had many fans write me about a t-shirt I wore during practice the other day. It was blue t-shirt Nike made for the US Open and they borrowed the theme of James Bond and instead of the "Man with the Golden Gun", they wrote that "Roger Federer is the Man with the Golden Racquet." You can see my shadow and the text in the shirt. Nike made it in different colours and I think it looks really great. I have always been a James Bond junkie....tell me how cool that guy is????

Uh-HUH. Which guy?

For an interesting take on Federer's blog (which is largely a cultural geography lesson for us), read Federer's Superlative, Blogful Life at No Man's Land.

Sneaking extra hot sauce into somebody's food? At HIS age? Come on!
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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Joy of Tennis

To many players, a tennis match is just an exercise in hitting forehands and backhands. In other words, it isn’t a GAME. It’s like a race or some other form of competition in which you just try to do something better than the other competitors do it – run faster, jump higher, skate better, and so forth.

There’s nothing wrong with this view of match play, but it greatly limits your playing experience. It makes you like an eighteenth century sailor who sees nothing but the “waste and void” surface of the sea, having no idea what an intriguing, colorful, and diverse world teeming with life lies underneath the surface. Or, you might say that it’s like watching a black-and-white silent movie instead of a Technicolor movie with reverberating surround sound in stereo.

In other words, you are missing out on a lot. Why not enrich that dull playing experience? Why not follow the USTA’s advice and “Get into the GAME.”

Tennis is a GAME, not a track-and-field event. To view it as but an exercise in executing forehands and backhands makes as much sense as viewing a chess match as an exercise in picking up the pieces and moving them from place to place on the chess board. It’s so much more than that.

Much more than just hitting shots better than your opponent does. The game’s the thing. Tennis is a fascinating game.

I am continually amazed at how little even advanced players with NTRP ratings of 5 and 5.5 do not know about strategy and tactics. Often, you could write everything they do know on the back of a post card!

Their answer to everything in singles is to either come to the net or go back to the baseline. In doubles, it’s basically the same: play both-up. If there’s a problem, play both-back. Often you hear advanced players revealing that they don’t even know what strategy is, for they regard a statement like “Hold you own serve and break the weaker opponent’s serve” as a strategy. That ain’t a strategy: it’s an objective you might devise a strategy to achieve.

And don’t get me started on the average recreational player, club player, and social doubles player. Look around. The world over, the vast majority don’t even know that, in doubles, you should NOT look back to watch your partner hit the ball.

That’s the first thing to know about playing doubles, something you learn by experience if you just have your head in the GAME. Yet millions play doubles regularly for decades without catching on.

Why are so many playing matches on such a superficial level and missing out on so much?

I think it’s psychological, a result of politically correct memes that have people thinking it’s bad to make errors. Indeed, making many errors is practically viewed as a character flaw. So, players think it’s all about how well they hit the ball. Younger, developing, players obsess about their form, strokes. I think it’s also due to politically correct memes that have people thinking it’s bad to want to win. You’re supposed to say, “I just play for fun.”

Wrong on both counts. Obsessing about form is perfectionism, which is an exercise in futility and the kiss of death tennis – a game of errors. So, this attitude is a recipe for frustration in a sport like tennis.

And as for wanting to win being wrong, let’s run a logic check on that.

I’ll never forget my lesson on the morality of games. I was a little child playing checkers with my sister. She HAD to win, so she started losing on purpose, leaving me no choice but to jump her checkers. I was furious. That was cheating. She cheated me out of my chance to win. SHE was the one who won that way. And she did it by cheating.

Bottom line: if you’re not going to play to win, don’t play the game. Playing to win is a moral imperative in any game.

Yes, wanting to win and playing to win takes some guts, because you might not win. That’s what you risk. That’s what makes it exciting.

Indeed, that’s what makes it FUN. More than fun, actually. It’s a blast. A thrill. As major league pitcher Nolan Ryan once said, “The greater the pressure, the more I like it.” Excitement. It’s what we live for. When you get into the GAME, you relish it.

And, if you lose, it’s a bummer. But the sun rises on the morrow. And you’re ready for another thrill.

Since it’s a game, it isn’t just an exercise in hitting forehands and backhands. As William Talbert said, you can get as much, or more, fun out of outfoxing your opponents as you can get from whacking the devil out of the tennis ball.

In my own experience, once my eyes were opened to the intriguing and fascinating world beneath the surface of match play, I fell in love with tennis. Getting into it adds a whole new level to your playing experience. A rich and satisfying one.

For, tennis is an athletic game of chess. There is no other lifelong recreational sport like it in this regard.


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Saturday, October 07, 2006

DW: On-Court Coaching Is Bananas

By Dave Winship

The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour has experimented with on-court coaching at tournaments in Montreal, New Haven and Stuttgart so far this season and wider experimentation is anticipated in 2007. Dee Dutta, Corporate Vice President and Head of Marketing for Sony Ericsson explains: "For Sony Ericsson, our sponsorship of women's tennis is all about connecting players to fans, be it through our technology or through introduction of innovative entertainment concepts. We are committed to respecting the great traditions of women's tennis and the one-on-one gladiatorial battle that makes tennis so exciting, while also testing creative ideas that will enable the sport to continue to compete and succeed in the entertainment marketplace."

Illegal coaching became a hot issue during this year's Italian Open when Roger Federer claimed that Rafael Nadal was being coached from the stands.

Temperatures rose higher at the US Open when cameras clearly revealed Maria Sharapova's entourage communicating with her by means of visual cues and signals. Her father, Yuri, and fitness coach Michael Joyce were seen at various times motioning her to drink and eat bananas. The discontent threatened to boil over. It was the bananagate scandal. "The cheating is out of control," Daniela Hantuchova complained. "There are signals and words instructing the players. I've complained to the umpires, wondering how they can't hear this when I can." Meilen Tu went further. "There's so much cheating going on as it is, they might as well legalise it," she said.

Sharapova was unrepentant. "Right now I'm sitting here as a US Open champion," she said. "And the last thing I think people need to worry about is a banana."

On-court coaching has all the signs of being a half-baked effort to address these concerns. But it will not stop clandestine coaching from the stands.

Nor is it fair. Many lower-ranked players cannot afford to travel with a coach. There are many logistical problems too. What happens, for example, if two players drawn against each other share the same coach? 'Miking up' the coaches is a pretty lame idea if viewers are not provided with some kind of language translation service.

Innovative ideas are fine, but they should be treated with the utmost caution when they involve rule changes that would skew the fundamental nature of the sport. It can hardly be considered a "one-on-one gladiatorial battle" if, at the moment a combatant's shield bites the dust, he simply scratches his head and, in the parlance of 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire', opts to phone a friend? At the US Open, Andre Agassi summed it up: "Tennis is ... a sport that forces you to solve problems by yourself. It's a vehicle for education, a great thing for somebody's life. That message needs to be sold better."

All in all, on-court coaching is not just a misguided experiment, it's bananas, it's an unacceptable interference with the very principle of singles competition. It's nonsense for Sony Ericsson to claim that the traditions of the game are being respected. Since when did entertainment become the raison d'etre of sport anyway? Tennis may happen to be entertaining but it does not and should not have to sell itself in the "entertainment marketplace". The WTA Tour seems to be kow-towing to its sponsors in a manner that jeopardises its very integrity.

Copyright 2006, Dave Winship -- all rights reserved worldwide

Dave Winship is an L.T.A. coach at the Caversham Park Tennis Club in Berkshire, England, and the author of OnTheLine.org magazine at www.tennisontheline.org.

See Dave's profile and an index of all his posts here.


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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Playing Tennis: Turning Your Attention Outward

Have you ever played tennis to music? I mean background music without words, loud enough that you must raise your voice a bit to talk to your opponent. If you have, then you know the remarkable effect it has on your performance.

The background music affects your mood and makes it easy to get into the zone, doesn’t it? Why?

Here’s my theory, the product of an odd combination of background knowledge I have in areas you normally wouldn’t view as connected. I’m interested to hear what others think.

The key to understanding this is, I think, in understanding that we can direct our attention in either of two general directions, inward or outward. In this, we are quite different from animals, who rarely direct their attention inward. They have little need to, because they don’t talk and therefore don’t need to interpret written and spoken language. They don’t study. They don’t plan. You get the idea.

Therefore, they are always alert and well aware of their surroundings.

On the other hand, we spend a huge portion of our time REFLECTING, that is, turning our attention inward to think. We do this while reading, while working on a computer, while trying to figure out some puzzle, while consciously thinking what would be the best way to respond to something, while trying to remember some fact or instruction (recall something from the brain’s vast system of freeform relational databases).

The next important thing to note is that, whenever we reflect, we become more or less ABSORBED in our thoughts.

For example, while you are working on a computer, you become absorbed in the screen, a reflection of what’s in your mind, and you are oblivious to the rest of the room, the weather outside, the sounds of traffic on the street, and so forth.

That’s good. Otherwise you’d constantly be getting distracted and never would figure out to make that goshdarned JavaScript work. The same thing happens while you are solving a math problem. It’s called “focus.”

Again, for example, have you ever been reading a novel and not heard your wife say, “Honey, get me a beer”?

She said it, but you didn’t hear it. Actually, you did hear it: it just didn’t register. That is, it was filtered from your consciousness. In fact, it made such a light impression on your brain cells that no memory persists of hearing it.

Right now, while you are reading this, you are unaware of the pressure of your butt on the seat you’re sitting in. Well, not any more, eh? By mentioning it, I snagged the attention of your brain cells and made that incoming sensory information leap to consciousness on you.

The same thing would happen if, while you were reading that novel, your wife yelled, “Fire!” That you would hear.

The brain is a marvelous organ. It is programmed to filter certain types of information from consciousness and under certain conditions. If, for example, you live near a railroad or an airport, your brain learns to filter out the loud noises. You don’t even hear them anymore. Correction: you aren’t aware of hearing them anymore.

But let those flights start coming in from a different direction because of unusual winds and you suddenly become aware of them.

We almost never have our attention turned wholly outward or inward. Normally, our state of consciousness is somewhere on the continuum between extremes. So, we are always more or less absorbed in our thoughts. While asleep, we are extremely absorbed.

Nonetheless, we have two definite mental modes of operation: one for when our attention is focussed primarily inward and one for when our attention is focused primarily outward. We filter much more of what's going on outside the mind when we are in the first mode.

Our ability to filter unnecessary incoming information is crucial. For example, when you are talking to somebody, you "tune out" the picture on the wall behind him and the sound of the footsteps in the hall. If you couldn't do that, you'd miss most of what he says and wouldn't remember his name or face. He'd be nothing more than another object in your field of vision to you. (People suffering from NPD have trained their brains to filter all but the information they seek and consequently have a problem in this regard, one that superficially resembles mild autism.) Again, for example, if you want to find a health-care product on a store shelf and can't focus on one item at a time -- if you "see" everything in your field of vision -- you're going to go nuts.

But while playing tennis, the danger is filtering too much, filtering things we should be aware of.

Playing tennis is a PRECISION physical activity that requires our maximum powers of judgment. That means it requires maximum input of sensory information about the court situation, the speed of the approaching ball, its trajectory, its spin, where the various parts of the body are and how they are moving, and so forth.

If we are busy thinking, turning some of our attention inward, we are going to miss a lot. The brain will take fewer snapshots of the approaching ball, for example (as with slow-speed filming). Result? We judge its speed less accurately. We won’t see the ball as clearly. Result? We won’t notice as much information that tells us about the spin on it, like the fuzz, the seams, and the trajectory. We collect less body information as well, information about our balance, the position of each part of the body, the speed and direction in which various parts are moving, and so forth. In other words, our kinesthetic perceptions take a performance hit, too.

How much can a person miss? An incredible amount. For example, have you ever wondered how your doubles partner could fail to see an opening as big a barn door in the opposition’s court and hit somewhere else instead? Then you know what I mean. He or she never NOTICED that big opening. It was right there, big as life, in their face, but they never noticed it.

Why? Because they were THINKING. Not SEEING. Too much of their attention was turned INWARD.

If this sounds like it supports what Tim Gallwey teaches in The Inner Game of Tennis, that’s because it does. The IGOT Method aims at focusing your attention OUTWARDS, raising AWARENESS of what’s going on out there, on the court.

Ignoring what’s going on in your head.

That little voice in your head will shut up if you pay no attention to it. (Since it’s your ego, it’s narcissistic and so that’s all it wants = attention.)

It might as well be me, standing at the net post and barking orders at you while you're trying to play: “Watch the ball. Bend your knees. Step into the shot. Get the racket back early. Hit deep to deep. Keep the ball far away from that opposing net player. And yadda yadda yadda. Hey, you DIDN’T WATCH THE BALL. What’s the matter with you? Why can’t you do a simple thing like watch the ball? You are pathetic. You always do this.”

Could you play if I did that to you? Then don’t try to play with that voice in your head doing that you.

I think these facts show why playing and practicing with background music makes it so easy to get in the zone. It draws your attention outward. So, you don’t just hear the music, you hear the ball. You see it better.

In other words, the music gets your attention. It gets your attention turned outward. Hence, it gets your brain into the outwardly focused mental mode, “tuning out” the jabberbox in your mind and thereby minimizing your awareness of thought and your level of absorption in it.

The additional attention you are paying outward improves your timing, ball judgment, speed, and coordination dramatically. You are “in the zone” and playing “out of your mind.”

It is quite simply that – getting out of your mind. And into the real world.

This is why I say that even strategy and tactics must be taught with a view to minimizing the need for memory of verbal instructions, which must be THOUGHT of and recalled during play. For one thing, there’s simply no time to search your brain’s database for the right rote rule of what to do with the approaching ball. For another thing, the moment you start THINKING (remembering) what to do, you turn a good deal of your attention inward, becoming less aware of the approaching ball and the court situation.

This is why boiling strategy and tactics down to no-brainer rules like "Hit deep to deep and short to short" doesn't work. In other words, rote doesn't work. Instead, as much as possible, strategy and tactics must be taught visually. It must also provide a solid foundation of UNDERSTANDING. Only then can the player apply this knowledge during play without thinking.

Indeed, you must play by just seeing what to do and doing it spontaneously, without thinking. Like you drive an automobile. For more on this see this article at the main website.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Player Profile: Lleyton Hewitt

Lleyton Hewitt is a 25-year-old Australian tennis player, born on February 24, 1981 in Adelaide, South Australia. He is 5 feet 10 inches (180 cm) tall and weighs 180 pounds (77kg). His father was an Australian rules football-player.

He lives in Adelaide. His coach is Roger Rasheed. And he is well supported by the Australian cheer squad The Fanatics. He is currently suffering from a knee injury that will require about five weeks rest.

Though this former World No. 1 could come roaring back to the top of the game at any time, at this point his career seems to have already peaked. His best achievements are winning the 2001 U.S. Open and the 2002 Wimbledon men's singles titles.

An early bloomer, Hewitt was one of the youngest men to win an ATP tournament when, as an unknown 17-year-old, he won the 1998 Adelaide International, defeating Andre Agassi in the semifinals. Only two other players, Aaron Krickstein and Michael Chang (both of the United States) were younger when they claimed their first ATP title.

He rocketed to the top of the game, and on November 19, 2001, at the age of 20, Hewitt became the youngest man ever to be ranked No. 1 in the world.

He held that ranking for 64 weeks until June 16, 2003. Then after two weeks at No. 2, he regained the No. 1 spot for four weeks. However, in 2003, he became the first defending Wimbledon champion to lose in the first round. Since then his highest ranking has been No. 3.

Lleyton improved his serve in 2004 and 2005. Late in 2004, he began devoting much time to weight training and bulking up. Whether that has helped is hard to say, but he did reach the final of a major again, the 2005 Australian Open.

Believe it or not, however, he is the only Australian ranked in the top 100. He is currently ranked No. 15.

Hewitt plays right-handed and has a two-handed backhand. He’s a precision counterpuncher from the baseline. Relentlessly competitive, he has exceptional speed, a solid serve, and an excellent service return. In the power department, Hewitt is quite respectable. In fact, he has no major weaknesses. Lleyton’s groundstrokes are both consistent and placed on a dime. Which may be part of his problem. When you’re playing out of your mind, like he was early in his career, you can flirt with the lines. And if you get lucky on top of it all, you are fooled into thinking that actually have that much control. So, maybe he’s simply not leaving himself enough margin for error today.

Here is terrific point between him and Roger Federer...

A 45-shot point between Lleyton Hewitt and Roger Federer at the Pacific Life Open at Indian Wells, California.

Hewitt's greatest weakness, however, is in his head. The mouthy “bad boy” persona he puts on shows as childishly contentious at times, as though he takes it personally that his opponent is trying to keep him from winning. Is this behavior gamesmanship? Or the manifestation of a truly strange attitude toward competition? In either case, Hewitt gets personal with his fierce competitiveness. He is the epitome of “the raging tennis player,” roaring and fist-pumping AT his opponent, often with a look that could kill. The effect is that of gloating, taunting, intimidating, and personal hostility, which of course has no place in sporting competition.

Is it just a psych job, or does he really feel deprived of his due by someone trying to keep him from winning? Is he oblivious to the impact of his words and actions on the human being across the net?

Here’s some evidence for the oblivious theory: Once, after defeating a fellow Australian in his home town of Adelaide, Hewitt claimed that he could not believe some people in the crowd were cheering for his opponent against him.

"It’s weird," he said. "But it’s the stupidity of the Australian public."

Why is that stupid> Because, he said, they just root "against" the "better players." He felt entitled to their support, because he is from Adelaide.

What does he think people are? Objects that won’t react to that insult just as he would?

But, whether the fist-pumping psych job is calculated or not, like all such psych-jobs, it gets old. It no longer works on his opponents, who have come to expect it of him, just as they came to expect a John-McEnroe fit to interrupt play (till McEnroe deigned to let it continue) at any crucial point in a match. Hewitt’s immaturity expresses itself in things like blaming the fans, the surface, and the linespeople for his failures.

Oddly, most of his crude behavior just gets him publicity and admiration from a fan base of people who love to imagine themselves as free of the stifling restraints of political correctness as a Hollywood star or sports hero is. Through players like Hewitt, they get to vicariously “cross the border” and let ‘er rip by acting out without fear of censure.

Once, however, he stepped in it by saying something that the captious press in its hunt for controversy could play the race card on. Secure in the knowledge that the odds would be a million to one, everyone mobbed up on cue to show how non-racist they are by attacking him. Which is just as sickening as racism.

Here's the story: In a match at the US Open against the American James Blake (who is black) Hewitt asked to have a black linesperson removed, because that linesperson had called two foot faults on him. Microphones overheard him saying:

Look at him. Look at him and you tell me what the similarity is. Just get him off the court.

Sounds like a mealy-mouthed accusation of racism to me, not racism. What? If a black accuses a white of racism, the white is guilty of racism, but if a white accuses a black of racism, the white is still guilty of racism? Absurd.

In any case, we can’t be sure what he meant. You can’t jump on a few vague words like that uttered in the heat of the battle, because at such a moment things don’t always come out the way they’re meant. And Hewitt didn’t have to say exactly why he wanted the linesperson removed: he was entitled to just ask that a linesperson he had lost confidence in be removed. That linesperson was removed.

The tournament referee, Brian Earley, was exactly right:

"There was no gesture in the direction of Mr. Blake when he made the comments about 'the similarities,'" Earley said. "He did not use Mr. Blake's name. He didn't say 'my opponent.' He made no reference to Mr. Blake. ...

"Whether it's misconstrued or not, I can't tell you. I only can say that I would have to draw conclusions from what I see and what I hear that he was definitely making a racist remark. And I can't do that."

Hewitt himself denied any racist intent.

James Blake didn’t make a big deal of it. He played down the incident, saying he gave Hewitt the benefit of the doubt because the remark was made in the heat of the battle. And he said he was sure the referee was calling it honestly as he saw it.

Besides, Hewitt was probably accusing the linesperson of racism. Perhaps frivolously -- just to blame somebody else for his foot faults. If so, that isn't racism, but it is obnoxious to falsely accuse people of things. The whole incident is no worse than things Hewitt does that people excuse as “boys being boys.” Indeed, taunting his opponents and looking at them as though he hates them, calling the Australian people “stupid,” and calling a disabled umpire a “spastic” are abusive and therefore more offensive.

The man simply has no respect for other people of any stripe. That is a personality problem.

He had a four-year relationship with Belgian tennis player Kim Clijsters. The two announced their engagement just before Christmas 2003 but broke up in October 2004 for secret reasons. On January 30, 2005, after dating her for but six weeks, he proposed to Australian actress Bec Cartwright, marrying her less than five months later in July. Their first child was born in November. He carefully keeps her from photographers and sells the image rights to her.

In January 2006, he was voted the 10th most-hated athlete in the USA.

He is a man who cannot get enough attention. It is nirvana to him. He prefers admiration, but he will go for negative attention in lieu of positive. Hence, he is also a charmer to win admiration, fabulously gracious and polite with fans and well-wishers. He loves signing autographs and will sign no end of them. His wedding was in a public place, the Opera House, and charged admission, blocking the view of the non-paying public with curtains! In short, he is a man who basks in the glow of all this attention like Bill Clinton does. And like Clinton, he has a hair-trigger temper that will throw an unexpected tantrum the moment things aren’t going according to his script.

It goes without saying then that his opponents should deny him attention. No eye contact, no reaction to anything. Act as though he isn't there. Also, never do what he wants, what he's playing you to do. Instead do anything but. Refuse to follow his script.

Lleyton loves to play for his country in Davis Cup competition and has amassed more Davis Cup victories than any other Australian.

The Australian Open is the championship he desires most. He could make a comeback in 2007. Though he seems no threat Roger Federer or Raphael Nadal, Hewitt could make it back into the top ten. We shall just have to wait and see whether he gets his head together and makes the necessary changes in his game. Keep up with latest about him here and here.


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