Monday, December 31, 2007

2007-- The Year in Review

As the year draws to a close, here is my Best of 2007 List:

**Marryin’ of the Year: Kim Clijsters
**Marion of the Year: Bartoli
**Diamond of the Year (every year): Neil
**Seminar of the Year: Grand Slam Stringers Symposium
**Rain of the Year: Wimbledon
**Reign of the Year: Roger Federer
**Drama Queen of the Year: Serena Williams
**Goodbye of the Year: Bud Collins
**Good to Have You Back of the Year: Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon
**Appendix of the Year: Amelie Mauresmo
**Comeback of the Year: Serena Williams, Guillermo Canas
**Fix your Hat of the Year: Donald Young
**Racquet of the Year: Prince O3 SpeedPort Blue
**Engagement of the Year: Martina Hingis & Radek Stepanek (wait; forget about that one)
**Farewell of the Year: Tim Henman
**Welcome Back of the Year: Lindsay Davenport
**Reversal of the Year: James Blake signing a big Prince contract, then returning to Dunlop after being unable to find a Prince frame he wanted to use
**Tennis Website of the Year: what do you think?
**Scandal of the Year: betting in pro tennis
**Technology of the Year: Prince SpeedPorts
**Pants of the Year: Rafael Nadal
**You’re Wearing that? of the Year: Bethanie Mattek
**Isn’t that Dress a little Short? of the Year: most of the WTA Tour
**We’ll Never See That Again of the Year: Marion Bartoli in the finals of Wimbledon
**Jacket of the Year: Roger Federer
**Jackass of the Year: John McEnroe
**Bush League of the Year: Agnieszka Radwanska’s 14-and-under standing at the service line routine against Maria Sharapova at the U.S. Open
**Strangely Not Missed of the Year: Andre Agassi
**Newcomer of the Year: John Isner
**Commercial of the Year: John McEnroe’s American Express “Dispute” ad
**Good Riddance of the Year: Kim Clijster’s dopey retirement/marriage/pregnancy debacle
**Stupid Marketing Gimmick of the Year: Wilson’s constant barrage of different bags carried by Roger Federer during major tournaments
**Unappreciated of the Year: Fabrice Santoro (we’ll never see this entertaining game again)
**Cool New Guy of the Year: Novak Djokovic
**Wait ‘till Next Year of the Year: Novak Djokovic; Agnes Szavay
**I Wish You’d do Better ‘cause I Like Watching You Play of the Year: Patty Schnyder
**I Don’t Get It of the Year: why so many WTA Tour players seem to lack a basic knowledge of the serve

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Stop the Screaming

I just finished watching Maria “Shriekopova” lose at the U.S. Open, leaving me with one less “screamer” to have to deal with (the other 2, Venus and Serena Williams, are still alive as I write this). I almost feel bad that I enjoyed watching a player lose -- negativity is not my normal mindset -- but the decibel levels these 3 women bring to the court are annoying and unnecessary in my opinion.
Andy Roddick can hit a serve 150mph while making hardly a sound; Roger Federer can work his magic in blessed silence, and we hardly hear a peep from diminutive yet powerful Justine Henin. Why, then, can’t these 3 players, and numerous others of lesser stature, play without the constant screeching?
They can, of course, but choose not to when the going gets tough. In many of their matches, all 3 are fairly silent until the points become important. Then, the speakers get turned up, and I turn the volume off. A friend of mine, a tennis pro with decades of experience, tells me he will not watch a match played by Sharapova or the Williams sisters. I have a hunch he’s not alone. I have a plan which, if implemented, could solve this problem.
It is completely within the rules of tennis for a player to petition the umpire if he or she feels the opponent is interfering with their ability to concentrate on the match. Whether it involves movement or sound, a player is not permitted to do anything to cause distraction once the ball crosses the net to the opponent’s side. The speed of shot used in modern tennis guarantees the grunt is going on while the grunter’s opponent is trying to get lined up to return the shot; this could constitute a hindrance. The only person who could correctly say that the "grunt" was a hindrance would be the "grunter's" opponent.
The hindrances would be addressed in the following manner: the first protest would bring a warning. The second would force the point to be replayed. The third, and any subsuquent, protests would force the umpire to give the point to the complaining player.
If I were the opponents of Sharapova, Venus or Serena I would, at every opportunity, protest to the chair umpire whenever the vocal histrionics began. Now, I know what you’re thinking: the complaining player would be accused of gamesmanship, and would doubtlessly save their protests for the biggest points of the match. My answers are: I think these player’s screams constitute gamesmanship at its worst, and always seem to get louder as the points get bigger: break, set or match points always bring screams so loud as to endanger the hearing.
If players knew their “grunts” could cost them points or focus, they would almost universally drop in volume, or cease altogether. Then, we could all watch tennis in peace.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

What's the Greatest Tennis Feat?

I just finished watching Roger Federer beat Richard Gasquet to reach the finals of Wimbledon, his ninth consecutive Grand Slam final. Surey, this is one of the greatest feats in the history of tennis. But, just where does it rank in the grand scheme of things? To figure that out, we must examine some of the other great (Open Era) tennis accomplishments (in no particular order):
1. Calendar year Grand Slams by Rod laver (1969), Margaret Court (1970), and Steffi Graf (1988, including Olympic gold medal);
2. Winning 4 or more Slam titles in a row: Martina Navratilova (6 in a row from 1983-84), and Serena Williams (4 in a row from 2002-03);
3. Winning Slams in at least 4 consecutive years: Bjorn Borg (Wimbledon from 1976-80, and the French Open from 1978-81), Martina (Wimbledon from 1982-87), Pete Sampras (Wimbledon 1997-2000), Chris Evert (U.S. Open 1975-78), and Federer (Wimbledon 2003-06);
4. The French/Wimbledon double, won by Borg in 1978, 79 and 80; Martina in 1982 and 84, Serena in 2002, Steffi in 1988, 93 and 95, Laver in 1969, Court in 1970;
5. The unlikey surface/playing style Slam: Adriano Panatta (serve-and-volley player winning the French Open in 1976);
6. The multi-surface Slammer: Jimmy Connors (U.S. Open winner on 3 different surfaces in 5 years);
7. The winning streaks: Guillermo Vilas (50 match streak in 1977),Evert (125 match multi-year clay court streak), Martina (74 match streak in 1984);
8. Longevity records: Evert (at least one Slam per year from 1974-86), Ivan Lendl (8 consecutive U.S. Open finals from 1982-89), Sampras (year-end #1 for 6 straight years), Connors (8 years between Wimbledon titles);
9. Feats of versatility: John McEnroe (76 singles titles, and 77 doubles wins), Martina (singles, doubles and mixed at all 4 Slams, along with over 100 titles in singles and doubles);
10. the career Grand Slam: Evert, Navratilova, Graf, Laver, Court, Serena, Andre Agassi, and Billie Jean King.
I think that, obviously, the calendar year Slams should be #1, followed by the French/Wimbledon doubles and consecutive year wins at the same slam. It's a tossup to me whether Federer's Slam finals streak (never before done) or the career Slam should be 4 or 5. Winning 4 Slams in a row, while a remarkable achievement, doesn't compare to the feats listed above.
That's my take; what's yours?

Friday, July 6, 2007

Learn (the Right Things) from the Best

I so often hear people comment about doing things “like the pros”, that it made me stop and reflect on just what we can, and should, learn from the world’s best players. It’s not what I hear these folks talking about, either. Forget about “big power”, “huge topspin”, “serve lots of aces”, and things of that nature. The best lessons we can learn from the pros are in five main areas.

First of all, top players are fanatical about conditioning, and rightly so: they earn their livings with their bodies. Weight training, cardiovascular exercise, stretching and proper nutrition are a necessary part of every pro’s day, even in the off-season. Paying particular attention to the shoulders, legs and core muscles, top players go to great trouble to ensure injury-free play. You rarely see a pro at Dunkin’ Donuts, either.

Next, high-level players know you can’t hit a heavy ball without a heavy racquet. The last time I saw it noted, the average racquet weight on the women’s tour was 11 ounces, and the men were 1 oz. higher. Heavier frames allow for more power with less effort, better shock absorption, and more stability on off-center hits than a similar, but lighter, racquet. The higher power level of a heavier frame means it can be more flexible, a real boon to the arm, as well. Remember, you can’t hit (or return) a 120mph serve with an 8 oz. racquet!

Third, good players recognize the importance equipment maintenance makes to their results. Even if a pro uses the same racquet for his or her entire career, they replace them constantly as the fibers break down, ensuring consistent feel, power and control. They also restring regularly, knowing that neglect of this vital area often means the difference between winning and losing. Even grips are regularly changed to ensure arm health.

Fourth, top players know they can’t survive without coaching. Roger Federer may go for spells without one, but you never see any other pros without a watchful eye over their shoulder. Even if not trying to make stroke changes, a good coach can help make sure they don’t slip into bad habits, and be a great aid in scouting and formulating tactics.

Finally, good players know that attitude means everything. They go into a match knowing they have to give their best on every shot, not dwell on the past or hope for the future. This is where they have it all over the rest of us: staying in the present.

Now, you may not play tennis for a living, but you can learn from what the world’s best players do. First, make a commitment to fitness. Hire a trainer if you must, but get off the couch between matches. You don’t need to exercise at a professional’s pace, but lifting weights twice a week, plus a couple of good aerobic workouts, would make a huge difference in your health and performance. Get up 30 minutes early during the week and work out. And replace some of that junk food with healthy meals.

Next, you may need to make some tough choices on equipment. If your current racquet is several years old, replace it with a new one of the same model, or the closest new version you can find. Your pro or trusted racquet specialist can help you navigate the sea of models out there to find the best fit for your game. Also, use the heaviest racquet you can comfortably swing. No matter how light and easy that 8 oz. job you may have is to swing, you’ll get more power, feel, comfort and stability from a heavier one. Replace it, or have it customized by a knowledgeable racquet technician, and have your pro see how it works for you.

Third, replace your strings and grip if you haven’t done it in a while. It’s not badge of honor to use the same string job for years on end, and the money you save in stringing may be outdone by doctor bills for tennis elbow or shoulder injuries. If you play 3 or more times per week you should, in my opinion, restring all of your racquets at least every 3 months. Change the grips, too, even if you use an overgrip. While you’re at it, have your racquet technician make sure your grip is the right size for you.

Fourth, make a call to your local pro for a “check-up” on your strokes. Without a coach’s watchful eye, bad habits can develop, robbing you of power and/or control, and exposing you to injury. After your overhaul, make regular appointments to check your progress.

Finally, work on your attitude. Don’t get caught up in the politics and personalities of the game. Relish the competition, and try to improve something every time you go out. Sure, it hurts to lose, but think of all the less pleasurable things you could be doing at the time. Feel better for having played today, rather than stressed out.

Sometimes, one person can help you with all these things. If you live or play in my area, please feel free to contact me and arrange to have your game and equipment examined. Whatever you decide to do, and whomever you decide to do it with, please do it soon.

My name is Matt Steverson, USRSA Master Racquet Technician and USPTA Certified tennis professional at Sylvan Lake Park in Sanford, Florida, part of the Seminole County Parks and Recreation Department.
This blog is designed to be a venue for my opinions, rants and miscellaneous ramblings regarding the world of tennis
I’ve been a tennis player since 1973, and was one of the players to start the program at NAIA powerhouse Auburn-Montgomery.
I’ve taught tennis, either full- or part-time, since 1978.
I was one of the first stringers to be certified by the United States Racquet Stringers Association (USRSA) in 1986, and now hold the USRSA’s highest level of certification, Master Racquet Technician (MRT).
I self-published the newsletter Racquetech (some of which was featured on the Tennis Warehouse website), which helped usher in detailed equipment analysis, and examined ultra-lightweight racquet technology for the April 1999 issue of Tennis magazine. I’ve strung racquets at many top high school and college tournaments, and have handled tournament stringing for many top professional players, in addition to countless local casual and tournament players.
OK, enough about me. Please check my postings often. And, please feel free to leave your comments. After all, tennis is not a one game played by just one person.
And please visit my website