Monday, November 28, 2011

Tennis Books – some gift recommendations

Read any good books lately? Do you read tennis books for self-improvement, enjoyment or any other reason? I’ve read several that I can recommend no matter what your motivation for reading is.

The Thanksgiving holiday falls on my birthday every few years – as it will next year – so I usually get a present before the traditional gift giving season arrives. Last week, I used my Amazon gift certificate to purchase a tennis book that I’ve yet to read: Allen Fox’s Think To Win: The Strategic Dimension of Tennis, which was published nearly 20 years ago. Unless I’m mistaken, Fox frequently writes for Tennis Magazine which, like Bill Simon’s Inside Tennis, I read cover-to-cover almost as soon as it comes in the mail. But I haven’t read a tennis book in a while, so I decided to give this one a read. Besides, the offseason is a great time for self-improvement off the court, since playing time is limited due to the weather.

The last tennis book I can remember reading was Agassi’s Open, a gift I received a couple of years ago. It’s pretty good and interesting unless you’re not a fan of his. I was lukewarm to him during his playing days, and I enjoyed it even though I usually read tennis books about improving my game in lieu of autobiographies or biographies. However, one of my favorite tennis book reads is John McEnroe’s autobiography You Cannot Be Serious.

The two best tennis books I’ve ever read for improving my game were Winning Ugly by Brad Gilbert and Unlimited Doubles by Steve Tourdo. Gilbert’s book helped me to raise my singles level from 3.0 to 3.5 while Tourdo’s helped me to learn the important keys to success while playing doubles.

A tennis book that I would be hard pressed to recommend is considered a classic by many: The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey, which I found to be a difficult read of which little applied to me.

What are some of your favorites?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Is anybody watching the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals?

Is this a tournament that you’re taking time out of your day to watch, either live or tape delayed? Is the fact that it’s only on The Tennis Channel hurting your ability to see it (or interest in watching it)?

I have no idea what the Nielsen ratings are for this season ending tournament of the men’s professional tour, and I consider myself to be a pretty big tennis fan, but I’ve only watched very little of this event on TV even though I’ve taped several of the matches. I just can’t get in to it; it’s never seemed like a very important tournament (no offense to Roger Federer, who’s won it more than anyone).

I know it’s an honor for some to even make it into this round robin tournament (e.g. Janko Tipsarevic this year), but let’s face it: usually (not necessarily this year) a lot of the players are tired or injured, the men’s season is way too long, and many of us are no longer playing tennis either. I don’t know about you, but I’m more interested in watching the pros play when I’m playing more myself.

Even for those obsessed (can never get enough tennis) fans, that the tournament is airing exclusively on The Tennis Channel has to hurt the audience for the event. Plus, that it’s being played indoors, under unusual lighting and on an atypically colored court – a different ambience from what is usual – detracts from it as well, in my opinion.

Lastly, part of the reason I enjoy watching other (besides just the Grand Slam) tournaments on television is the commentators. Even when the tennis is mediocre, hearing Brad and Darren, or the McEnroes, talk about the play, the players and our sport can make it interesting and entertaining enough to watch. Without them, meh.

Still, I might be in the minority and, as always, I welcome others’ opinions.

Monday, November 21, 2011

We’re getting our tennis courts resurfaced!

Unfortunately we’ll have to play the winter ALTA season before they’re redone.

Having your neighborhood tennis courts resurfaced can be very exciting. Yes, there is downtime when you have to find another place to play for a week or so (weather permitting) while the courts are being resurfaced, but then you’ll have years of enjoyment before having to worry about having them redone again.

In my old neighborhood, the process was expensive and few and far between and it didn’t take long before new cracks appeared after each resurfacing. When I moved to Marietta, however, I thought my new neighborhood’s courts must be new because they didn’t have any cracks at all. As it turns out, the Homeowners Association sprang for Premier Courts, which have a “rubber, sponge-like” layer beneath the 3 coats of acrylic paint – which comprises the surface of a tennis court – such that cracking is all but a thing of the past. The flexible layer allows these paint layers to "coast" across the hard surface beneath instead of being subject to the cracking that occurs with the expansion and contraction caused by seasonal temperature changes. That’s the good news. The “bad” news is that the “sponge-like” layer retains water from rainfall and, as the courts age as ours have and seams in the paint appear, moisture comes up from beneath while one is playing (from the pressure of your weight on top of it), even days after it has rained. You start out playing on dry courts, but they become wet while you’re playing, especially in high traffic areas at the baseline etc. However, it doesn’t ever really get too wet (slick) to play or make the balls unplayable either.

The great news is that resurfacing these types of courts is less expensive than usual because there are no cracks to seal: whereas in my old Towne Lake neighborhood, it was upwards of $45,000 to redo our 3 courts, it’s going to cost “us” less than $10,000 to resurface all 4 Premier Courts here in Marietta! Of course, the initial installation of these types of courts was pretty expensive.

Now that the decision has been made to resurface the courts, I’m impatient for it to be done. Unfortunately “we” waited too long to decide that it needed to be done, and resurfacing can’t be done after November 1st here in Atlanta. So, we’ll have to suffer through one more season of ALTA before we’ll have new “to die for” tennis courts … and we’ve opted for the U.S. Open Blue color, which naturally costs a bit more;-)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

After an overcommitted fall, it’s time for a break … and time to heal my tennis elbow!

Hindsight is 30-30 (15-15, 40-40 or something like that;-) and if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t. This fall I played men’s ALTA on Saturday mornings (and we practiced Thursday nights) and USTA mixed doubles on Friday nights, and had to make time for T2 “50 and over” doubles and Ultimate Tennis mixed doubles on Sundays, Monday or Wednesday nights. Yes, it was crazy, and I’m glad it’s over.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to play tennis, men’s and mixed, and thoroughly enjoyed my partners and almost every match, win or lose, even though I don’t generally play as well during the fall season, for whatever reason. But given my family (and other evening) commitments during the week, finding time to play my flexible tennis league matches was a challenge given my partner’s availabilities and mine. And, given my fall successes (or rather lack thereof) I wasn’t always in the best spirits at the end of the day throughout September, October and the first week of November. But even if (my partners and) I’d won more matches, I still think that I would have ended up feeling like I’d sacrificed too much time that could/should have been better spent, which is how I feel now.

I remember when I first started playing tennis and caught “the tennis bug”, I was obsessed and couldn’t get in enough playing time. Playing men’s ALTA wasn’t enough, so I started playing mixed doubles as well. Then I started playing K-Swiss (now called Ultimate Tennis), which was only a singles league at the time. Additionally, I had a friend in the neighborhood that was equally obsessed, and we’d play singles (usually on our lunch hours) at least once a week. I couldn’t get enough and never thought I’d feel like I do now, after this fall’s overdose.

Maybe it’s the fact that my elbow started hurting about a month ago, after I’d had one of my racquet’s restrung. This is a normal occurrence for me, but it usually only lasts about a week (or at most two) and then all is good. But perhaps because I was playing non-stop, there wasn’t time for any healing to take place as usual. So it has stayed sore, and if I wasn’t taking a couple of Advil before playing, it would be unbearable. I feel kind of wimpy because my “over 50” partner has always suffered from this ailment – he’s learned to live with it – and yet I have lost some enthusiasm for this wonderful sport of ours just because of a little pain?

Well, I’ve backed off for now and am only playing once a week: our regular mixed doubles practices on Sundays – in preparation for the winter’s season(s) – have begun. I’m certainly hoping that my elbow will heal and that I can regain my zest for playing over the next couple of months before January.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Special Pops Tennis - Fall Classic 2011

Last weekend I attended the Special Pops Tennis Fall Classic at the Racquet Club of the South; I worked as a volunteer umpire all day Saturday and Sunday morning: working 4 singles matches indoors on Saturday morning, 3 doubles matches on Saturday afternoon, and a semi-final & final on Sunday morning.

Much like the 2011 Special Olympics at Emory University - where I volunteered as an umpire last May - the event was well organized/run by the Special Populations Tennis Program, Inc., formally founded as a nonprofit in 2005. It’s a terrific group of people whose mission is “to provide a meaningful year-round tennis experience to children and adults with intellectual disabilities”.

I highly recommend this organization, its volunteer staff and Board of Directors (many of whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet), and hope that you will consider volunteering at their events in 2012.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tennis season(s) winding down

As the men’s pro tour heads for the season ending championships in London, Atlanta’s amateur tennis leagues – ALTA and USTA – are coming to an end for this year as well. This week/weekend marks the end of the fall ALTA season, with City Championships, and tomorrow will be the second of four rounds of USTA mixed doubles playoffs.

It has a been a great year, one to remember, which began with my return to the ALTA captaining ranks – after a 5 year absence – for my neighborhood’s burgeoning mixed doubles team, the beginning of this blog, Special Pops Tennis and the Special Olympics, volunteering and attending the finals of the Atlanta Tennis Championships, our USTA Georgia Mixed Doubles Championships, meeting Mary Joe Fernandez, and my return to playing in both the Ultimate and T2 flexible tennis leagues.

While organized tennis wanes, off-season retooling begins, and it’s important to use this time wisely to prepare for winter tennis in Atlanta.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tennis Rules – they are there for a reason (all of them)

I’ve been called pedantic, which isn’t the worst one can be accused of, I suppose, because I’m not one of those that believe rules are made to broken, that they’re arbitrary or optional. This has at times caused others dismay, even disdain, and it’s hard to understand why.

Much of our society operates best on so many “unwritten rules” of manners, ethics and etiquette; much of sport requires rules. In fact, tennis isn’t possible without written rules about the size of the court, the height of the net, regulations about the racquets and balls, and how to keep score. So the United States Tennis Association has compiled “Friend at Court: The USTA Handbook of Tennis Rules and Regulations”, and the 2011 edition is a 324 page PDF file. Additionally, there is “The Code: The Players' Guide for Unofficiated Matches”, a 7 page supplement. ALTA, in turn, has spent 40 years refining their 4 page document which details how to conduct league matches.

Even after all these years of development and refinement, there are some tennis players and team captains that feel they have a choice as to whether to apply or follow these rules. Their attitude toward those of us who respect the rules and try adhering to them is that “we” are the problem or the “bad guy”. Sometimes they even act like rebellious children to an adult parent, their own or someone else’s (“you can’t tell me what to do” or “you’re not the boss of me”); it’s laughable. Recently, an opponent of mine tried to make me feel guilty for enforcing a rule – “I’ve never had anyone apply that one before” – by pleading he’d been generous to my partner and I while ignoring an earlier rule (a false claim, in any case).

If everyone would take the time to learn the rules, and then play by them, there wouldn’t be as many controversies as there are in many league tennis matches; perhaps everyone could focus on improving their attitudes and tennis skills and be grateful for being able to participate in this great lifetime sport of ours.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Seasonal performances – is your tennis game consistent throughout the year?

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve just noticed that my game's success varies during the year. While I’ve detailed the differences in Atlanta’s weather and what it does to the playing conditions in the Winter, Summer and Fall, I’d never noticed that my own personal performance varies by season until last night.

I recalled that in the fall of 2010, my various ALTA partners and I lost all but one match and, though my USTA partner and I lost but one match that fall, it was a particularly ugly one (in the playoffs). Again, this fall, my game has suffered as has my record. I was 2-3 in men’s ALTA and though my USTA partner and I are undefeated, my former USTA partner and I – we’re playing Ultimate Tennis together – are 1-3. This contrasts with how I started the year. Last winter, I was 5-2 in ALTA mixed doubles – with a variety of partners – and 5-1 in men’s doubles during the spring. Also last spring, I played and won with three different USTA partners and was undefeated. During the summer, while I was only 2-3 in mixed doubles my Ultimate Tennis partner and I went undefeated 4-0. Counting the 2-2 record I compiled last winter during the senior ALTA season, my record (including playoffs etc.) over the past 14+ months is 35-23 (60%), but it’s 23-8 (74%) if you leave out fall play.

What accounts for this 14% different in my (and my partner’s) winning percentage in the fall vs. the rest of the year? Should I give up playing tennis in the fall? I'll get a chance at some redemption tomorrow night; my undefeated USTA partner and I get to play in our first playoff match together since we won at the Georgia State Mixed Doubles Tournament this summer.

Wish us luck!