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Sunday, January 29, 2012

NEWS: In the presence of greatness–Men's tennis redefined at the 2012 AUSTRALIAN OPEN Men's Championship

Novak Djokovic drops to the court upon his victory

I have been in the presence of greatness. I have seen history in the making. I have been awed and made virtually speechless by the accomplishment. To what am I referring? The Australian Open Men's Singles Championships between Raphael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. No, I wasn't actually IN Melbourne, Australia to witness this spectacle. But that did not matter since I was enjoying it from the comfort of my couch, at 3AM EST, and enjoying all of its magic.
    Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal put on a show that, to any tennis fan, was breathtaking. And for anyone who thinks tennis is for wimps, (like someone I encountered in December of 2011 on the tennis court attempting to play hockey) I think these two world-class athletes put this notion to rest once and for all. The matchup was a classic–number one in the world Novak Djokovic against number two in the world, Rafael Nadal. Djokovic was the returning champion, and up to this point, had beaten Nadal in every one of their last six meetings. This title is the one that began Novak's meteoric rise to the top of men's tennis by winning the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and US Open in 2011–three of the four coveted Grand Slam tournaments in a tennis season. 
    The stage was set after Novak beat Andy Murray, world number four, in five tough sets. Rafa had beaten his arch rival Roger Federer, world number three, in four stimulating sets. All this took place within just a few days ago, and hours of both physical and mental fortitude sucked the life from all four of these competitors. But two needed to return and do battle in the final–and do battle they did!
    The match was won by Novak Djokovic by a final score of 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5. Lasting 5 hours and 53 minutes, it has become the longest men's singles final–in a Grand Slam tournament–since the battle between Mats Wilander and Ivan Lendl for the US Open title in 1988–that match lasted 4 hours and 54 minutes. 
    Groundstrokes were routinely hit at 75-100 miles per hour, and serves continued to be pounded like missiles to each other at speeds in the 120s. Let's not even discuss how many miles they ran, in short but explosive bursts, as they covered the court for 20 to 30 stroke rallies. This was a test of will as much as a test of skill. Neither would back down.
    Let me say it once again: how can one who enjoys athletic competition not be enthralled by this sport? Novak Djokovic may be the 2012 Australian Open Men's champion, but I personally feel like the winner. I have witnessed what I consider to be one of the greatest testaments to the quality, sportsmanship, and courage that tennis provides. 
    Thank you very much gentlemen. Take a well deserved rest. I look forward to more in the upcoming season.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

FAVORITE SITES: Timeless Tennis by Gary Bala

Posted: Saturday, January 21, 2012
A few "Don'ts" in Doubles
Playing doubles? Here are a few "Don'ts" in Doubles (what NOT to do when playing).
*Courtesy: Idle Hour Tennis Club (Est. 1911), Drexel Hill, PA USA

Download my interview with Gary Bala of TimelessTennis.net as we discussed some of our favorite 34 Reasons to Play Tennis

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

EPISODE 84 (Podcast): W.W.L.D. (What Would Lendl Do)

Can an old dog teach new tricks?
Andy Murray hires former Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl to help in his own pursuits for those titles against the best in the business. How do they compare, and what can Lendl bring to Andy's game that will help him make it over the finish line after losing in three Grand Slam finals?
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Monday, January 16, 2012

REFLECTIONS: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Arthur Ashe (1943-1993)

"It's a burden all right. But AIDS isn't the heaviest burden I have had to bear. No question about it. Race has always been my biggest burden. Having to live as a minority in America. Even now it continues to feel like an extra weight tied around me." -Arthur Ashe. From his 1993 book, Days of Grace
Each year we enjoy championship tennis–in August–during the US Open at a place named Arthur Ashe stadium in Flushing Meadows, NY. But for an african-american tennis player attempting to be successful in the racially-charged 60s and 70s, Arthur Ashe needed to shine like a beacon of light in sports and beyond. His tennis spoke for itself with his wins in three of the four Grand Slams championships–Wimbledon, US Open, and Australian Open. And his famous and well-crafted win over Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon in 1975 is still discussed, even today, by tennis strategists. 
    Through his success and humble demeanor, he inspired people to look past the concept of skin color as a underlying restriction in their lives. He may be mostly known for his tennis, but his "service" and "love" for others–two notable tennis terms–continues to be felt through his inspiration reflected in the lives of generations to come.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

NEWS: A new tennis year begins in a Grand Way

January 16 - 29, Melbourne, Australia

In the world of professional tennis, a season that never really ends, there are actual breaks that delineate one year from the next. One could look at the calendar to see this as a numeric year change to 2012, or one could simply watch the tennis community get excited for the first major tournament of the year that begins this month. The tournament? The Australian Open played at Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia. The reigning champions from 2011? Novak Djokovic of Serbia and Kim Clijsters of Belgium.
     First known as the Australasian championships, it was renamed in 1927 to the Australian Championship, and then subsequently in 1969 to the Australian Open. This was originally a grass-court championship from 1905 -1987 much like Wimbledon in the UK. But in 1988, a change was made to a hard-court surface that lasted for 20 years until a cushioned, medium-paced, acrylic surface, similar to that used at the US Open, was chosen as a successor. The Open is played in the middle of the Australian summer, and this new surface has properties of less heat retention. Given the fact that Grand Slam tournaments require best 3 of 5 set matches (instead of the traditional 2 of 3) on the men's side, both Rod Laver and Hisense Arena feature retractable roofs to combat the Australian sun.
     So while we are probably shoveling snow or at the very least buttoning our coats neck-high (remember I live on the east coast of the US), gather warm thoughts from the extreme heat and humidity experienced at the Australian Open which runs January 16 to the 29th. All the big names, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Wozniaki, Kvitova, and Sharapova will compete there. And since this is the first of the four Grand Slam tournaments of the year that include Wimbledon, and the French and US Opens, precedents may be set, on both the ATP men's and WTA ladies tours, that may dictate how 2012 will unfold.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

NEWS: Ivan Lendl to coach Andy Murray beginning 2012

Shown at the 1992 US Open against Jimmy Connors
It would appear that an old dog can teach new tricks. Ivan Lendl, winner of eight Grand Slam championships in the mid to late 1980s, and forerunner of the modern power game, has been hired by Andy Murray with the ultimate goal being a Murray Grand Slam win (or two). Officially retired as of December 20, 1994, Lendl won the Australian Open twice, the French and US Opens three times, and came in second of two at Wimbledon in 86 and 87. With an 81.8% career winning record, and 144 career title, he knows a little about what it takes to win the big ones. 
"I am really excited to have the opportunity to work with Andy," Lendl said. "He is a unique talent and I look forward to trying to help him reach his goals."
While Murray has been relatively successful, having reached the Australian Open final and the semifinals of the other three Grand Slams last season, he still has a few details to iron out in his game if he intends to take away the winners trophy. Lendl may be just the man to help him. His machine-like style from the baseline, no-nonsense fitness and strength commitments that were legendary, and relentless all-court game may be something the quirky and somewhat unpredictable Scot may find "educational" as it applies to own style. The 2012 season will be the test of this seemingly unlikely pairing. 

But then again, opposites do attract!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

REFLECTIONS: The TOWEL says it all

About ten years ago, tennis was thriving in this country. The pro circuit was ripe with new talent and heavily invested in legacy players who could be depended on for greatness. Rackets have changed, and strings have changed too. Balls have undergone their own scrutiny, and we've seen the addition of technology with the advent of the service line beep, the net chord chirp, and the challenge system that creates its own oohs and ahs from the crowd. But one thing has stood the test of time. The tennis towel. 
    Now it may have been relegated to a place of simple utility since it is used to wipe the sweat from the brow, hands, arms and racquet grips of players. But what other item is as important to a player on the court? Why do I know it is important? Just watch a match. After virtually every point, the pros on the ATP tour motion to a ball person to deliver the towel to their hand. And it is for good reason as no player wants to be impeded by a slipping grip or sting of sweat in the eyes while trying to deal with balls moving at 100mph. My only question is this: when did it become the ball person's job to have this towel on immediate standby? 
    I have watched tennis for over three decades, and I know that even as recently as the year 2000 the towel duties were the player's responsibility. Watch a match from a decade ago and see the players dealing with their own sweat rag whenever necessary. I've seen them dripping on the court from one rally to the next and not "going to the towel" for comfort. Has Rafael Nadal EVER had a rally without a towel being handed to him afterwards? I don't mean to pick on him as this seems to have become the norm. My question is WHY? Do these ball persons really want to be handling someone else's sweaty towel? Is it somehow a badge of honor? Do they believe the champion perspiration will seep into their pores? Or have the pros just come to expect this as part of the service?
    When players come onto the court, they are usually burdened with two bags to carry. I've always wondered why a ball person could not help them do the toting. Also, when leaving the court after a match (other than a final), I've seen players scampering to pack-up their goods without any assistance. If they can handle all that after three or four hours of play, I don't see why they cannot pick up and then drop off their own towel like they did even ten short years ago.
Prized possession under my tree

What made me think of towels? Look at the picture of my prized 2011 holiday gift and see why terry cloth and stitching are near and dear to my heart–unless I'm on the court. Then they are close to my brow, hands, arms and racquet grips just like the pros. The only difference is that I need to pick it up and throw it down on my own.