February 28, 2009

Tennis Duckies!

It's not all fun and games here at Tennis Fixation. I am out researching, finding the gear that works for you and helps you "bring it" when you hit the court. So here is the latest thing I've dug up - these cute little Tennis Duckies!

What are they for? I don't know. What will I do with them? Hide them from my husband. They were just too sweet to pass up. And since they were only 75 cents each and I couldn't decide which was the cutest, I bought all 4 of them.

I'm pretty sure carrying at least one of these around in my bag will bring me good luck when I play so I know this was a worthwhile purchase. What to do with the other 3? That will have to be the subject of a future post. So you'll just have to keep checking back . . . .

© Kim Selzman 2009
All Rights Reserved

February 27, 2009

Good for Andy Roddick!

The top men tennis players are supposed to be in Dubai right now, playing in the $2.23 million Dubai Tennis Championship. I say supposed to be - Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer pulled out before the tournament even began with injuries. Andy Murray dropped out hours before his first match with a viral infection.

But the defending champion, Andy Roddick, is not playing for an entirely different reason. He declined to play because he disagreed with the decision to bar Israeli Shahar Peer a visa to play in the tournament. Amazingly, I haven't seen much about this in the news and it seems incredibly newsworthy to me (there is a piece on the San Francisco Chronicle's website praising Andy's decision). Andy Roddick is the defending champion. Andy Roddick is the No. 1 United States men's player. And it appears that Andy Roddick is the only top-level player with the guts to stand up for something that not only he, but many in the tennis world, claim to believe in. The difference is it's probably costing Andy Roddick a lot more money than it's costing me or anyone else in the tennis world.

Photo by Mark Humphrey/AP
© Kim Selzman 2009
All Rights Reserved

February 26, 2009

"Tennis Beyond Big Shots"

I just finished reading another great tennis book for the second time: "Tennis Beyond Big Shots" by Greg Moran. If there was ever a book that should be required reading for ALL tennis players, this is it. Certainly for all beginning tennis players.

His basic philosophy is:
The foundation of a winning tennis player is not power and aggression but consistency and control. From here on out, I want you to forget about the "hit-'em-as-hard-as-you-can" mentality. It's a waste of time and a recipe for disaster.
Those of us who have lost to players we SHOULD have beaten, know how important consistency can be. Moran goes on to explain the shots and the strategies that can help you gain more consistency, more control and (hopefully) more wins.

But I like his book for all of the other things he includes because, like him, I think they are just as important when playing tennis. He spends a few chapters discussing the mental challenges of playing and how to overcome them. He talks about playing with "tennis snobs" who may look down on your game and how to deal with them. He tells you how to find and, even more difficult, how to divorce yourself from a tennis pro. He has a whole chapter on etiquette! His Commandment No. 10: Turn Off Your Cell Phone!

"Tennis Beyond Big Shots" is a book you can pick up, read the chapter or two that you need, put down and come back to again in a few days or a few weeks. And, as with everything, on a second read, I find even more valuable information in it. I highly recommend it.

© Kim Selzman 2009
All Rights Reserved

February 22, 2009

How to be a Great Tennis Partner!

I play for four different tennis teams right now. That means, with shuffling line-ups and subs, I may have four different partners each week. In the course of a month, I can theoretically be partnered with sixteen different people!

So, each month, I may be learning how to partner and achieve success with sixteen different people. And, sixteen different people may be sizing me up, considering my tennis game, deciding if I am the kind of partner they ever want to play with again.

Consequently, I try to not only play my own game well (hit good shots, apply logical strategy), I also try to be a great tennis partner. I try to be the person that anyone would be happy to find out they are partnered with.

What makes a great tennis partner? Here is what I think it takes:

1. A great partner communicates. Sometimes a great partner has something really helpful to say, an insight into the other team or an observation about your strokes. Sometimes she has something encouraging to say, about not getting down when you're behind or continuing to play aggressively when you're ahead. Sometimes she is just talking to assure you that she is still hanging in there, playing the match point by point, and hasn't checked out on you or thrown in the towel. I can't think of a time I had a partner who I didn't like because she talked to me too much.

2. A great partner focuses on the match. Of course, that does not mean that we haven't all played with partners who talked too much. I've played with people who seem to be talking constantly. And as long as they are talking to me about the match, I'm good. But the focus has to remain on what is happening on the court. So, until the match is finished, I'm sorry but I don't want to talk about how sick your dog is or what you might make for dinner tonight. Save that for later. Right now, focus on what you can do to help win the match.

3. A great partner is always upbeat and optimistic. Guess what? Sometimes you lose. Sometimes NOTHING goes your way and no matter how well you play, the other team creams you. But a great partner will never let this destroy her attitude or ruin the match. Because, even when you're losing, you hit some good shots, ace some serves, run down balls that appeared to be sure-fire winners and get them back just one more time. A great partner sees this, appreciates it, pumps you up and just keeps plugging away with you. A great partner does not believe the match is over until its truly over.

4. A great partner is flexible and willing to change. You may not know what you are going to face in a match. What you see in the warm-up and the early part of the match, may not be what is happening later in the match after your opponents have truly warmed-up and gotten into a groove. A great partner is not tied to just one way of playing. She doesn't think anything you say is ridiculous and is open to trying your suggestions for how to turn a match around.

5. A great partner doesn't take it personally. It's only tennis after all. Nothing I say about your game is meant as an insult. And I don't take anything you say as an insult to me. So if I yell at you to switch and get the ball or I urge you to come in to the net because you're getting pinned down in baseline rallies, I only mean it as a helpful observation and not as a negative comment on your tennis skills. And I won't be upset about anything you say to me during a match. Because, just like you, I want to be a great tennis partner!

© Kim Selzman 2009
All Rights Reserved

February 16, 2009

When Politics & Tennis Don't Mix

OK. So this is not a blog about women's pro tennis. But, in case you are not aware, something very unfortunate has happened recently on the WTA tour.

The United Arab Emirates has denied a visa to Israeli (i.e., Jewish) tennis pro Shahar Peer, effectively preventing her from competing in the Barclay Dubai Tennis Championships. The Dubai tournament is considered one of the biggest WTA events, following the four Slams. An excellent article on the issue and what, if anything, the WTA may do in response can be found here, on the New York Times tennis page. In this situation, I have to agree with the New York Times: "There is always going to be international conflict, and athletes in the middle. But they can’t be abandoned there when there is a choice. Tennis should finish its business in the gulf this month, and say bye-bye, Dubai."

Photo by Mick Tsikas/Reuters

© Kim Selzman 2009
All Rights Reserved

February 14, 2009

All About Tennis Love

Happy Valentine's Day! This seems like a good time to discuss a burning tennis question - why does love mean nothing in tennis?

You might think Wikipedia, the ultimate "I don't have time to think about this too seriously" resource, would have figured this one out. But in fact, it has very little to say: "Thought to be derived from the French term, "l'oeuf", literally "the egg", meaning nothing." That's it for Wikipedia on this one. Now, I'm not French or anything, but since when does "the egg" mean nothing?

And don't think I'm the only one questioning Wikipedia here. As has been pointed out by at least one other tennis trivia buff: "Some people like to think that “love” is a corruption of the French “l’oeuf” (“the egg”), because the figure zero looks like an egg. But so far as I know, nobody can produce an authentic use of “l’oeuf” in this sense in French."

This guy goes on to offer his own explanation: "Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable says that it’s probably derived from phrases like “to play for love” (i.e. to play a game for the love of playing it, and therefore for nothing in the way of stakes.) The Oxford English Dictionary seems to support this view. The word was used in English in card games like whist before it is recorded in connection with tennis." He's citing Brewer's AND Oxford! Who can argue with that?

Finally, here's a really interesting theory: "An explanation of love is that the scoring system was copied from the game sphairistike, which was played by British officers in India during the 19th century. That game's scoring system was based on the different gun calibres of the British naval ships. When firing a salute, the ships first fired their 15-pound guns on the main deck, followed by the 30-pound guns of the middle deck, and finally by the 40-pound lower gun deck." Maybe it's me, but I fail to see the connection between tennis and sphairistike.

My conclusion on this is - I don't care enough about the origins of the use of "love" in tennis to think about it anymore. My attempt to answer this question has degenerated into me looking at some very cute "Love Means Nothing" tennis t-shirts. As long as I end up with something to wear, I'm happy!

© Kim Selzman 2009
All Rights Reserved

February 11, 2009

To Serve or Not To Serve

Here is something I pay attention to at the beginning of every match I play. When someone wins the spin of the racket, do they choose to serve first or receive first? If they choose to serve, I'm happy because I almost always want to receive first. If they choose to receive, I think I have to be a little more on my toes because they have obviously read "Winning Ugly" by Brad Gilbert.

I know you've read "Winning Ugly" at least once. I've read it a few times (as one of my kids pointed out to me recently) and find something new in it every time I pick it up. This book is full of the most basic information on how to play ordinary, fun tennis. My first read was, I hate to admit, very eye-opening. I had been playing tennis for a few months but had never thought much about mental preparation before a match, warming up properly and what I should and shouldn't have in my bag (which I now have thought about quite a bit).

And this one little rule of Brad's - Never Serve First - really stuck with me.

Brad Gilbert spends several pages discussing this seemingly trivial issue. I mean who cares who serves first? Let's just get the match started already! The match will be determined by who's the better player, right?

But Brad convinces you to take advantage of every opportunity you get in a match, no matter how small. So I thought about this rule a lot, applied it, and have come to not only agree with Brad Gilbert's rule, but to think that anyone who ISN'T choosing to receive first must have lost their marbles. Because here's what it comes down to for me - as Brad points out, I'm not warmed up at the beginning of a match and my serve is certainly not warmed up. So if I get to serve second or maybe even fourth (if my partner takes our first turn serving), my serve seems a lot better than if I serve first.

And if, for some unknown reason, my partner and I lose the first game, no big deal. We're on serve. That's the way its supposed to happen. We're not behind in the match at all. (In fact, when this happens as it does occasionally, I say this very thing to almost every one of my partners on the changeover and I'm sure they get tired of hearing it. Sorry.).

If we win that first game and break the other team, that's great! We're already up a break and we haven't even served yet! Its a small psychological advantage but it means a lot to me so I'm guessing it can be disheartening to my opponents.

So here's your takeaway point for today: 1. Never Serve First! And, if you haven't read "Winning Ugly" yet, go ahead and serve first.

© Kim Selzman 2009
All Rights Reserved

February 5, 2009

Why Are You Losing to Weaker Opponents?

I often play ladies that I THINK I should beat. And yet, on many occasions, I have either lost to such opponents or I win only after a long, drawn-out battle. Beating these weaker players should not be as much work as I'm making it. Here are a few tips I'm going to apply to make my tennis life easier against this type of opponent.

1. Don't underestimate your opponent. Sure, the lady across the net is 30 years older than you and outweighs you by a good 75 pounds. But don't be fooled. In tennis, looks are often deceiving. The out-of-shape opponent is invariably the master of placement. Or lobbing. Or bullet serving. Always be ready to play a good game of tennis, no matter who shows up on the other side.

2. Be prepared for inconsistency. Maybe the hardest thing about playing a weaker opponent is that they just don't have a plan. You really don't know what is going to happen next because there is often very little if any logic to their shots. And it is well known that mis-hits and frame shots can produce all kinds of winners. So be on your toes and ready for just about anything to come back across the net.

3. Be patient. You may like points that are quick, with short rallies and someone hitting a definite winner. Well, with a weaker opponent, you need to be very patient and wait before trying for the winning shot. Since all kinds of things may be coming back at you, it may take a few more exchanges to get the right shot that allows you to put the ball away. So don't rush the point. Wait for your opportunity.

4. Be prepared to work hard. Even with a weaker opponent, especially with a weaker opponent, you have to do your job. And that means you may have to chase a lot of balls down. It can feel like you're doing all of the work while your opponent is just happily getting the ball back. And she probably is! But keep up the work and win the match point by point by point.

5. Just relax. Finally, calm down. Relax. Enjoy yourself. Tennis is a game after all and getting stressed about it will only lead to you tightening up and playing badly. So loosen up and realize that it may take you a little while to beat the weaker opponent, but ultimately, you will!

February 3, 2009

When It's "Time" to Play

So you're scheduled to play tennis. Sounds simple enough. Well, just remember - you can't play tennis all by yourself. A few other people are planning to be there too. And if you want those people to invite you to play tennis again in the future, follow these simple rules of tennis scheduling etiquette:

1. Show up to play. Is this really a rule? Unfortunately, yes. I've been at more than a few doubles matches where one of the players simply didn't show up. No phone call. No message at the club desk. No notice at all. While it doesn't seem like this needs to be said, when you sign on to play a match, other people are expecting you to play. So if you say you're going to play tennis, show up! And if you can't make it, try to find a sub or notify the other players. Nothing is worse than three ladies standing around on a court, wondering where their fourth is. And nothing will make you less desirable as a player than getting a reputation as being unreliable.

2. Don't be late. It's not enough to follow Rule 1 and just show up. Please be on time. Other people have arranged their schedule to accommodate playing with you in this match. So be courteous by being punctual. And if you just can't avoid being late, call and let someone know.

3. Don't leave early. This is a rule for fun matches as opposed to league matches. (I assume you're not going to leave your league match early. If so, that is a whole other topic.) If you've agreed to play for an hour and a half, don't show up and announce that you can only play for 30 minutes. Again, other people have blocked out time to play with you and when you leave a match ridiculously early, that pretty much ruins the match for them.

February 1, 2009

My Heart Is With Federer

If you did not just weep this morning for Roger Federer, then you are truly without feeling. As he stood on the podium, trying to compose himself and thank the crowd, sponsors, etc. for watching him get beaten, again, by Rafael Nadal, he had a complete breakdown. He could not even speak and finally had to back off the microphone. It was several minutes before he gave it a second try and was able to say a few words. I was in tears.

Ultimately, he was very gracious in his defeat as was Nadal in his victory. For so long, Federer has been an icon for icy stoicism. To see him have such powerful emotions and prove that he is a regular human being after all will swing a lot of people over to him, myself included.

Congratulations to Nadal on his win but I may have to start rooting for the underdog - Roger Federer.