Wednesday, February 28, 2007

It's Almost Painful

It's almost painful. It reminds me of back when I taught high school Biology. Every now and then a kid who was failing would say something to me like "Biology isn't working."

I suppose my eyes widened. Yeah, right: Biology was failing, not him. I couldn't resist asking, "Do you mean that YOU aren't doing well in Biology?"

I mean, if we don't even have that part straight, can we hope to address the problem? There's a mental virus in this attitude that dis-enables.

Tim Henman ain't 16. He's 32. Yes, I know the Brits have expected WAY too much of him, but give them a break: they invented the game, okay? Maybe they would like to see a Brit win Wimbledon every once in a while.

It's time to stop managing expectations, Tim. The only one's expectations you're managing are your own.

To play so consistently, to not drop serve having not played for so long, it was a bit surprising.

That's his comment after starting the season with a 6-1 6-2 win over France's Nicolas Mahut in Las Vegas.

BTW, Nicolas who?

Friday night, Saturday, I felt awful, I was feverish and not really enjoying my experience of Vegas. But by Sunday, I came out here and hit for half an hour, started to feel better and then today I felt good on the court.

I am just excited to be out on the court. I still think a little bit cautiously having had the knee injury and been out for quite some time, but to be playing with no pain and moving better and better is the most important thing."

So, it's a great achievement to just be out on the court, pain free, and moving a little better. Don't look for trophies anytime soon.

I love his game, but it seems more the product of function fitting form than the other way around.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Racket Wobble

I bet you've seen no end of photos showing players hitting the ball with a closed racket.

Or have you? Are we really seeing what we appear to be seeing here?

Is this just before or just after contact? We can't tell but it makes a big difference.

Yes, the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. So, if you are hitting a RISING ball, it could come off a slightly closed racket face at an angle that would clear the net.

But you can't tell in a photo whether the ball was on the way up or down.

Also, players today are generating tremendous racket-head speed. That racket is closing and closing fast through the hitting zone. So fast that by the time the ball is only an inch or two away, it has already closed.

But that doesn't mean it was closed at contact.

We are talking about milliseconds (one-thousandths of a second) here.

Today I saw a video that raises even more questions about whether players are actually striking the ball with a closed racket face. It's an eye-opener. Watch what happens to the racket at contact on Roger Federer's forehand.

Could that be what we're actually seeing in many of those photos? Nothing but racket wobble?

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Tennis Form

Tennis is an odd sport. It's a sport in which a great deal of emphasis is put on form. Compare it with, for example, baseball or softball. In those sports nobody gives a hoot about their form when swinging the bat or throwing the ball. They're just focused on hitting the target. It's the same in basketball.

Most people learn tennis with some formal instruction, if only through free Recreation Programs as children. But most people learn these other sports in pickup games as kids. They get very little instruction.

A coach may later come along and teach a kid to get more arc in his shots or adjust her batting stance a bit. But this is nothing compared to the instruction tennis players get.

Now, if you go around the world and watch people play baseball, softball, and basketball, you will notice few variations in form among them. They all swing and throw and shoot pretty much the same way.

But if you go around the world and watch people play tennis, you'll see no end of extreme variation.

What's more, at the lower levels of the game, you'll notice that form is often unnatural, rigid, and downright awkward.

For example, pay attention to how many people you see playing tennis while somehow managing to never bend their knees. Or their elbows. It's true, isn't it? People are that tight, that un-spontaneous, and that inhibited in their movement while playing tennis. Why?

How anyone can run on legs with no knees I don't know, but watching it reminds me of Big Bird. In fact, you see people all over the place out there playing stiff-legged and stiff-armed. They look clutsy, don't they? Rather like robots whose joints need oiling.

And it isn't just recreational players and at the club level. Where the pro tour lacks real depth, as farther down the doubles draw or lower down in the women's draw, you see some pretty bad service motions.

Which means that problems with form are so common we find them that high in the game.


I dare say the problem is too much instruction. On form that is. But also, tennis lends itself to a kind of superstitiousness about form. That's because making a good tennis shot is a very difficult thing to do. One-third of tennis shots are so far off target that they go out or into the net.

So, you have a game in which every nice shot is somewhat of a miracle. People think that if they can just perfect their form, that ball will start going in.

Wrong. The incorrect assumption is that errors are caused by bad form. Wrong. Errors are caused by what the racket did to the ball during the few milliseconds of contact. You can use perfect form and blow the shot or use lousy form and hit a beauty.

Form is just efficient. It just eliminates the superfluous so that less can go wrong. It just reduces the risk of error. That's all. There's no magic in it.

When playing tennis becomes an exercise in executing forehands and backhands, it stops being fun. Why? Because it stops being a GAME then.

The GAME's the thing.

You should almost never be thinking about form while playing a match. You should have your head into the GAME instead. Which is an athletic game of chess.

Tennis is much more fun, exciting, and interesting when you are there. So, be thinking about strategy and tactics, not form.

AND look at your errors. I mean really look at them. How far out was that last shot? An inch? A foot? Notice. Where exactly did you aim it? Most people unsee these things, but if you take note of them, you will automatically correct for them. That will do far more good in reducing your errors than thinking about your form will.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Determining a High School Team Ladder

Some high-school tennis coaches determine their team ladder by ladder matches, and others pick the team and assign them ladder positions.

When I began coaching high school, I was skeptical about ladder matches. I just didn't see how you'd find enough time to play enough of them to be reasonably sure of the results.

For, on any given day, a kid can play badly, and you don't want that messing up your ladder - all because of ONE challenge match.

And if your real No. 3 is playing No. 4, you win easily at No. 4, but you may well be losing matches at No. 3 that you would win if your team's real third-best player was playing at that spot.

And I didn't like the idea of shortening ladder matches to fit them in, because, generally, the more abbreviated the the format, the more likely upsets are. Upsets are great, but the whole team suffers when they screw up your ladder in ladder matches.

Another thing that can happen is that Player B usually beats his or her teammate, Player A, because of a purely psychological dominance, as we often see among siblings or friends who have played together for a long time. But you still want Player A at the higher ladder position, because he or she will win more matches at that level than Player B would.

So, I started coaching high school without ladder matches. I didn't want that responsibility though, because, hey, I'm not infallible either. Some players just LOOK better than others because their strokes are prettier.

So, I gave ladder matches a shot. And I never looked back.

What a relief. No more agonizing over these decisions. No more wondering if the kids thought I was playing favorites.

In fact, I found that these matches are very important before the season starts. Competition among themselves prepares players for meets much better than any other kind of practice does. Hey, the pressure is actually DOWN when they go out there for their first meet of the season! And they are in competitive mode, never caught unready by the season's first meet.

And, as for the kid who just couldn't beat his older brother? Well, guess what? When he knew he had to, he learned how.

I made it work by varying the format a lot. Some matches were little 21-point matches. Often I'd work these into a round robin of four players close in ability. Others were a single no-ad set. Yet others were a pro set. Occasionally we went best-of-three no-ad. That way I had sizable database of scores to go by.

So it was normally pretty clear what the ladder should be. And if the record was unclear between two particular players, then I'd have them go best-of-three while the rest of team practiced.

So, that's my two-cents' worth. Once I switched to letting the kids slug it out for their positions, I never thought of going back to the old way.

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Operation Doubles: Tennis Strokes & Shots

I try to improve Operation Doubles in some major way every winter, when things are slower. This year the major improvement has been in the "Tennis Shots & Strokes" section.

It used to be limited to shot-making tips for strokes and shots that doubles players often have trouble with. But this year I'm including basic instruction on the mechanics of stroke production. (Fancy name for "how to swing at the ball").

An evolutionary step in cyberspace makes this possible. There are now many good videos out there that I can post. Cooperation is a wonderful thing.

Here are a few you might want to check out:
The Forehand and Forehand Grips
The Drop Shot
Varying Spin

BTW, I often get asked about this.... Two sections of Operation Doubles merely introduce some topics: the rest of the information on those topics is available only the Strategy Guide. Topics like switching, Australian Doubles, and the Angle of Return are covered much more fully in the Strategy Guide.

So, no, I don't give it all away for free.

This mainly affects the sections entitled The Basics and Doubles Strategy, although it also occasionally affects a topic in some other section that is covered in the Strategy Guide (e.g., The Mechanics of Positioning).


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Friday, February 23, 2007

Clijsters to Retire and Marry on July 14

It's no longer just a hint. Belgian player Kim Clijsters will skip the French Open to get ready for her last professional tournament on the grass at Wimbledon.

The date for her wedding has now been set: On July 14, the day after Wimbledon, she retires and marries the American basketball player Brian Lynch, who plays for a club in her home town.

Clijsters is a former No. 1 and former US Open champ, who is only 23 years old. She is currently ranked No. 4.

She says she'll be happy to get out of the limelight and live life as a private person.

Note, however, how much limelight this story is getting ;-)

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tennis: Playing to Win

There was a time when I didn’t much enjoy playing tennis. I thought my problem was that losing bothered me and that I cared too much about winning. I kept trying to “have fun” and “just play for fun.” That is, I kept trying to correct my attitude, bringing it into conformity with what’s accepted and acceptable = politically correct.

But there was a disconnect. An inner conflict that heightened the harder I tried. I’m sorry, but my Hypocrisy Detector kept going off. I don’t know about you, but my Hypocrisy Detector really bugs me, so I do my best to keep it quiet.

As I grew as a person, I learned to pay attention to my instincts. I learned that when something feels wrong, you should stop and think about it, because it is unnatural, and when something is unnatural it probably is wrong.

So I thought about this. Didn’t take long. Because political correctness on this issue makes no sense. So I ditched it.

Instead of trying to pretend that I didn’t feel what I felt when I blew a shot or lost a match, I stopped fighting myself. I accepted and owned my feelings.

Guess what? A miracle happened. It was like releasing the valve on a pressure cooker. My sense of humor was back. Things were in perspective again. Yes, blowing a shot or losing a match is a bummer, but that’s all. It’s no moral failing of cosmic significance. Nothing to be that afraid of.

But I really wanted to make that shot and win that match, and I wasn’t going to lie to myself about that anymore. No more pretending that I was “just playing for fun.” I often went out and just hit for fun. But when I played a match, it was to win, and I wasn’t going to lie to myself about that anymore.

Suddenly I was having fun. More than fun – I was having a blast.

I went from a choker to someone who plays her best under pressure. Now I could truly say, like major league pitcher Nolan Ryan, that the greater the pressure the more I liked it. Now I relished moments before the serve on a big point. Now I found them thrilling, almost mouth-watering. Now, on an off day, I was never despondent: I knew I could and would get my game going great guns. There is no greater confidence a person can have.

When you play a game, you lay something of value on the line. Your feelings. You risk the disappointment and chagrin of losing. It takes a bit of courage to do that, just as it takes (far, far greater) courage for a soldier to lay their life on the line in combat.

Have that courage. Lay it on the line: play to win.

Sometimes you will. Sometimes you won’t. But your life will be the richer for it, and your character will be the better for it, either way.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Operation Doubles Connection - February issue

The February issue of The Operation Doubles Connection (the free Operation Doubles monthly newsletter) is now online. For information about this newsletter and how to subscribe, see here.


  • What's New at Operation Doubles
  • Featured Tennis Website of the Month
  • This Month's Doubles Quiz
  • This Month's Q & A
  • This Month's Shot-Making Tip

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Antwerp: Mauresmo Wins the Diamond Studded Racket

Amelie Mauresmo of France won the Diamond Games in Antwerp by defeating Kim CLijsters of Belgium, 6-4, 7-6 (4). She wins a diamond studded tennis racket for winning the title three years in a row.

TIMEOUT: Will you guys please ditch the cliche? You know, the photo of the tennis player with the wide open maw and clenched fist. I can see it now: some comedian gets on stage and asks, "What am I?" and then clenches his fist and opens his mouth as wide as he can in a roar of rage. The audience cries, "A professional tennis player!"

So cut it out. Do you have to practice some journalistic recipe for success superstitiously like automatons till you've beaten us over the head with so often it has lost all meaning and stimulus? We are bombarded with so many photos of "tennis rage" that they strike us as comic now. Okay? So, get a new idea already, will ya? (And try a little variety.)

TIME-IN: Last month, Mauresmo failed to defend her Australian title, losing in fourth round of the Australian Open. Because of a thigh injury, she considered skipping the Diamond Games as a precaution.

As for retiring Belgian Kim Clijsters, she won the Sidney title in January and reached the semifinals of the Australian Open. She hints on her website that she may skip the French Open in order to prepare for the summer grass-court season.

The former No. 1 is 24 years old and is going to marry an American this summer. She has announced that she will retire before the end of the year.

You've probably noticed that the tennis world seems stunned. In fact, the way she talked about retiring prompted Peter Bodo to say that sounded like she viewed her leaving the tour as an "escape" rather than a retirement. Reporters cannot seem to believe that she desires the new life, so they keep asking her if she's changed her mind.

Stay tuned.
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Saturday, February 17, 2007

I am not kidding...

I am not kidding. This is for real.

"The Lazy Man's Way to Wimbledon"

Toldja I warn't kidding.
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Friday, February 16, 2007

Sharapova Named UN Goodwill Ambassador

Maria Sharapova of Russia has been appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Her work will include promoting international efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals for the world’s poor by 2015.

My first step is to focus on the Chernobyl-affected region, where my family has roots. Today, it is poverty and lack of opportunities that pose the greatest threat for young people in the Chernobyl region.

She announced a $100,000 contribution of the Maria Sharapova Foundation to eight youth-oriented projects in rural communities in Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine that still suffer the after-effects of the Chernobyl disaster of 1986.

The money will fund projects improving computer access, promoting ecological awareness, and restoring sports facilities and hospitals in the three countries most affected by Chernobyl. These projects complement UN work helping Chernobyl-affected communities.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Davis Cup: Roddick Puts US into Quarterfinals

The US Davis Cup team made it into the quarterfinals with Andy Roddick's defeat of the Czech Republic's No.1, Tomas Berdych, in four sets.

The first set was close, with each man holding serve till the seventh game, in which the netcord gave a service break to the Czech, who then closed out the set 6-4.

Berdych played well and perhaps on another day....

But Roddick's confidence was in no way shaken. He felt he "was hitting the ball pretty well" and even told his captain that between sets. Roddick then played with heightened intensity in the early part of the second set.

Just what the doctor ordered. Not that Andy had played without intensity earlier. To the contrary. What I mean is that he really bore down and became aggressive at this crucial moment. The ability to do that - to even know WHEN to do that - is a mark of a true competitor. Frankly, I think that's what meant by "the killer instinct."

Serving aces and hitting winners, Roddick broke Berdych in the second game. Thus Andy undermined the Chech's confidence, giving him the idea that, oh well, maybe this wasn't his day to beat the world's No.4 after all.

Which is wrong, but that's what the mind does. So, Berdych's level of play went down and the match was never after seriously in doubt.

“My plan was to play more aggressively than two days ago” Roddick said afterwards, “hit firmer balls because I knew he [Berdych] was good at being aggressive and if I had given him a chance, this could have turned into a very-very long day for me.”

I think so. Andy can sometimes be faulted for poor strategy, but here he was doing it right. He knew just when to put the pressure on, during that little letdown of relaxation Berdych had to have at the beginning of the second set.

Download the scorecard for this match: Tomas Berdych (CZE) v Andy Roddick (USA) (PDF 212 KB)

Here are how the other battles went.

What's coming up in April...

Visit the Davis Cup website.
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Monday, February 12, 2007

Jeez Andy, just win the match = don't assassinate the President!

In Davis Cup play, Andy Roddick of the United States beat Ivo Milnar of the Czech Republic.

But that's not the news. One of Andy's serves nailed Czeck President Vaclav Klaus in the chest.

Take it easy, Andy. I like this guy.
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Saturday, February 10, 2007

How to Play Australian Doubles

Here's an animated tutorial on how to play Australian Doubles. It will open in a new window, which you can resize so it doesn't take up extra space on your screen.

How to Play Australian Doubles (416 KB)

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Importance of Doubles in High School Tennis

When I began coaching high school tennis, I soon learned that your doubles is the key to achieving maximum success.

Why? Because your overall win-loss record in the singles is mainly a function of the quality of singles players you're blessed with. As a coach, generally, there isn't a lot you can do during the season to affect it.

For example, I was coaching in a fairly small school that went up against outstanding big ones in two states. Almost every big school has one outstanding singles player. So, we rarely fared well at No. 1 Singles. And there wasn't anything we could do about that.

The rest of the way down the ladder, it was a matter of depth, and in that category we generally fared well, because it was a good tennis town and many good tennis players chose that school.

Still, we were dissatisfied with our performance. We felt we could beat the State Champions of Minnesota, but we just kept loosing those dual meets. We kept losing the No. 1 Singles and both doubles matches when playing in Minnesota.

Our problem was that we played half our meets in Wisconsin and half in Minnesota. Wisconsin had a 6-3 format in which you could use your six singles players again in the doubles round. Minnesota had a 3-2 format with one round of play that required seven different players to fill the three singles and two doubles slots.

To really confuse things, our State Tournament format was 2 and 2. And invitationals in both states came in many different formats.

The bottom line is that we had to constantly reshuffle our lineup and doubles partners. That was a disadvantage that didn't hurt us much in Wisconsin, but it killed us in Minnesota, because those Minnesota doubles teams were doubles specialists who played with the same partner virtually every day of the season.

In fact, I learned the Switch Trick from one of those little devils! She must have played it on our No.1 Doubles team 50 times during her high school career. Till one day I happened to be in exactly the right spot to see what she was doing, and that was end of that.

Then I started to wonder how many more tricks these wily Minnesota doubles specialists knew that we didn't and that you couldn't find in any book or get in any lesson.

I looked at the statistics and decided that we had to start breaking even in the Minnesota doubles events to beat those rivals. For, realistically, there was no way to increase our percentage of singles match wins. The key to more team wins was to stop getting skunked in Minnesota doubles.

That in-season coaching CAN affect.

So I developed a team system for doubles play. (This system eventually grew into Operation Doubles.) The idea was that, knowing the system, you could go out into a doubles match on any given day with a teammate you had never partnered with before and know what to expect from each other.

It was simple: how to handle lobs, the Switch Trick Play and lob plays to avoid the Switch Trick. A little poaching. And the proper eyework and footwork at net.

I was actually surprised at what a big difference these few team conventions made. Our players really did go out there and play much better doubles, simply because every player on our team could be counted on to do certain things a certain way, no matter whom they were playing doubles with today. It made partners look like they had played together for a long time.

Moreover, actually teaching them proper eyework and footwork at net, plus the Switch Trick, and the No-Switch and Safe-Switch lob plays had a tremendous impact. Much bigger than the goal I had set: we didn't just break even in the doubles event; we were usually sweeping it now.

And that was in Minnesota. In Wisconsin, you just didn't win a doubles match against us. Ever. I was as surprised about that as anyone.

Where this really made a difference in overall success was at the State Tournament. We were often outmatched by Milwaukee area tennis powerhouses. Since doubles is more a game of strategy than skill, our doubles teams often beat Milwaukee area teams comprised of much higher ranked players. These seemed like huge upsets, but they weren't, because we could repeat those victories year after year. Especially on my boys team, which lacked enough highly ranked players but always had plenty of good, competitive athletes.

Result? Our players were just much better doubles players and therefore beat doubles teams comprised of better tennis players.

Which is very satisfying. That's when you know that your team is fulfilling its potential.


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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Player Profile: Serena Williams

Last week, Serena Williams became the third-lowest ranked player to win a Grand Slam tournament since 1975, when computer rankings began. And, ranked 81st in the world, she demolished the world No. 1, Maria Sharapova, 6-0, 6-2 in the final.

Serena was born September 26, 1981 in Saginaw, Michigan and grew up in Compton, a violent suburb of Los Angeles, California. She won her first tournament at the age of four and became a professional at 14.

In 2000, Serena and her sister Venus won the doubles gold medal at the Sydney Olympics. She was ranked No. 1 in the world from July 8, 2002 – August 10, 2003. She was the International Tennis Federation World Champion in 2002. She played fewer tournaments in 2003, and on September 14 of that year, her older sister was murdered.

In 2004, the other women had gotten used to the hard-hitting pace of the Williams sisters and were no longer psychologically intimidated and dominated by it. So, though Serena continued to play well, the magic was gone, and she had a disappointing season. She did not play much of 2005, losing in the third round at Wimbledon and the 4th round at the US Open. She hardly played at all in 2006, losing in the third round at the Australian Open and the 4th round at the US Open.

Serena's Australian Open championship is the more unusual when you consider how little Serena had been practicing, as this account by the New York Times reports:

Baris Ergun, the Williamses’ hitting partner, said that he arrived in Florida from his native Turkey on Dec. 1 to work with Serena, but that they ended up practicing sparingly. “Only 10 times in 40 days,” Ergun said.

When they did practice, Ergun said, Williams would usually hit with Venus, who he said was recovering from left wrist surgery and unable to hit her two-handed backhand, but was able to hit one-handed backhand slices.

Such little practice and then only with weakened hitting partner! Yet Serena was convinced that she would win the Tier 4 tournament at Hobart her 95th ranking had reduced her to. She lost in the quarterfinals to 54th ranked Sybille Bammer. So, Serena threw a fit and locked herself in her hotel room, refusing to speak to her coach/mother, Oracene Price. That Times article quotes Serena as telling reporters that the only way her mother could get through to her was via email and that Oracene sent many messages trying to appease her, asking where she was, and begging her to come out and practice. Serena ignored them.

Instead, she said, "I went to this field where no one was and had a ‘Rocky’ moment." But Rocky wasn't like Serena. Rocky didn't think he was so superior to everyone else that he could beat them without effort. Indeed, Rocky was a modest man, almost humble. He worked harder than all the others. He OVERachieved.

"I was a bad student this past fortnight. I yelled at her, and said some things under my breath, but I'd like to thank her so much. I didn't mean it, but you know what I'm like. Thanks Mom." = happy Serena's version of "Girls will be girls" upon winning the Australian Open.

We'll see how long the magic lasts this time. It will be as long and as consistently as luck and a psychological pump-up job can boost her confidence to the moon and thus keep her hot enough to whale away with reckless abandon at risky, low-percentage shots and have them go in.

AND as long as her opponents let it get to them and keep surrendering mentally to the barrage, instead of keeping their wits about them and doing whatever it takes to break her game down and use it against her.

In her own words:

I was probably at half a percent. - after losing in the third round at Wimbledon in 2005 to the unseeded Jill Craybas.

I just needed to regroup. I was able to take some time off and look at some matches and a tennis court and say, ‘Wow, I should be there and do that,’ and get hungry again. There’s nothing like being hungry for the sport of tennis, and I was really eager and famished, and I needed to feed. But I think some of it was that I was dealing with a lot of stuff, and I was just trying to figure out my game and trying to figure out what I wanted to do and make it work. All I wanted to do was be the best tennis player, and at the same time I wanted to be really happy and do what made me happy. The thing that makes me happiest is playing tennis. I love winning. - recently, on taking most of 2005 off

I don't read anything. I don't. One time I read like - I think it was like '99, I read this article. It was really good. I was like, "Oh yeah, I'm the bomb." I just got too headstrong. I was just like, you know what, I don't want to be like some of those celebrities walking around, just so full of themselves. I always want to be down-to-earth, want to be a person like when you meet them, they're the same person that you think of them in the article or something. - after barely defeating Shahar Peer, 8-6 in the third set at the Australian Open.

Say what?

And she says this after making us all cringe by summing up that terrific match in which Peer played her heart out (coming within two points of victory) with the dis "I didn't play all that well today"?

So, nobody should entertain a belief that they can beat you unless you let them, right?

Ha-ha-ha-ha. That's the most outrageous thing I've ever heard. As if anyone would do that on purpose. I think everyone wears watches these days, except for me. So, yeah, ha-a-ha, like I said. That's so funny. - upon being asked about reports that a young fan in her box flashed his large watch in the sun toward the court whenever her opponent served from the opposite side.

Therefore, when I went and played in the final I KNEW there was no way I was going to lose. I had God on my side and I was just relaxed, and I knew there was only one black girl that day winning. Also I was the only black girl playing so I narrowed down that black girl to me! :) FOR THE RECORD I DON'T THINK I AM FIT AS I CAN BE...... IMAGINE WHEN I AM............ scary thought - on her Website

What are we to make of all this? Nothing, really. Serena's life is hers to live. I wonder what makes people think she must live it to their specifications. On the other hand, people don't have to like her, either.

She has great talent, and is psychologically a tremendous competitor. She wins by just going for everything, whaling on everything. If her shots go in, she wins.

But her game is strategically and tactically vulnerable. In fact, she boasts that she doesn't even think about strategy and tactics, presumably because her game is so great she doesn't need them. She has an unrealistic image of herself. She's immature, thinks she's "da bomb" and is so special that no one can beat her unless she lets them. Like most such people, she lacks a professional work ethic. For, if you're just inherently superior, why sweat?

She is therefore beatable. Her confidence is her secret weapon, but it is artificial. So, you CAN take it away.

Unfortunately, there's a sort of projective identification that gets going when she's hot. Her opponents start having as much confidence in her supposedly miraculous abilities as she does. They too start behaving as though they share her belief about herself, as though they too think she's unbeatable. They look like deer caught in headlights.

Come on, ladies. Learn from what she does so well - COMPETES. Then cut the superstition and sit down with a court diagram and pencil and figure out how to beat her. And never forget your sense of humor when you step out on the court with her (or anyone, for that matter). It's your best armor against psychological warfare, which, after all, is all in the head.

For more on this, see Peter Bodo's excellent analysis.


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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Serena Williams

I'm planning a post on Serena Williams in her own words, but the material for it is still an amorphous blob. So, here is my take on her game.

Her great talent is doubtless, but I think her performance on any given rests on how high she has herself pumped up psychologically. She says she doesn't think out there, that she isn't a thinker who plans strategy and tactics.

It looks like that's true. If everything she whales on goes in, her opponent is dismayed, and that steamroller keeps rollin' on to victory.

But a lot of those shots are low-percentage shots. So, when she's hot, they go in and she wins. The other side of that coin goes without saying.

It's a psyche job. Too many players think there's some magic involved, something special about them that makes them inherently superior to mere mortals, something that makes them able to whale on low-percentage shots with abandon and make them go in.

But it isn't. That's why this "magic" comes and goes.

She should start thinking a little strategy and tactics. Just as the men discovered that Lleyton Hewitt has feet of clay, the women will rediscover that Serena Williams does too. Then she'll have to take another year or two off to come back as something "new" again.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

A Kind of Magic

Roger Rasheed quit as Lleyton Hewitt's coach, saying the pair can no longer work together after Lleyton threw a temper tantrum in the lockeroom.

Yeah, so what? You already knew that, didn't you? The point is, Why is anyone surprised?

For those of you a little too young and a little too old to know what a temper tantrum is, I note that it is a device a three-year-old uses to operate the Mother Object, simply by making Mother's world pure hail till Mama does whatever the big baby wants.

Not exactly rocket science.

That's why Baby's tantrum flips on and off like a light switch. Tantrum on, tantrum off. Just like that.

Then you have to find a new coach.

What magic playing Pretend does. While pretending you're special, you actually believe it. But magic comes, and magic goes. Magic comes when you've got others believing what they see of you there in the Looking Glass, that you're special, a cut above the rest, that you will make any shot you try, however unwise.

But when they see you have feet of clay, the magic goes, because you can't just psyche them out anymore. And then, of course, you can't psyche yourself up into the stratosphere anymore. So, then you really do have to be better than them on any given day to beat them.

Confidence based on illusion/delusion is a shaky thing. It's just a kind of magic that comes and goes.

To be more than a flash in the pan, you have to practice just as hard, work just as hard, and have the total dedication all the mere mortals you're competing against do. This year, we'll probably see whether Lleyton is up to it or not.

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Oh My.

Tommy Haas practicing his serve at Rod Laver Arena
during the Australian Open

'Nuff said.
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