Monday, January 30, 2012

What were ESPN2’s tennis programmers thinking?

For each of the Australian Open men’s semifinal matches, overnight Wednesday and overnight Thursday (here in the U.S.A.), they allotted only 2 and a half hours of air time. That’s right, for a best of 5 set match – which more times than not goes to 4 sets (or 5) – they planned for only 3 short sets of tennis.

Now, could they have gotten burned? Is it possible that one of the semifinalists would blank another, the match would finish early, and the cable channel would be stuck with air time that they might quickly have to fill? Sure, I guess it’s possible. But one need only look at recent history to know that all four of the men’s top seeds have made it to the semifinal round over the past four Grand Slam tournaments to know that the contests would likely be hard fought, and this year they were.

Here’s the problem: the matches aired live starting at 3:30 AM EST/12:30 AM PST in the United States, which means a large number (if not the vast majority) of viewers would be watching them “tape delayed” on their DVRs. I wonder how many got up to watch the match Friday (or last Thursday) morning only to find that their DVD stopped recording the match in the third set … and they missed all the drama!

Of course, ESPN’s programmers were probably worried that they’d lose some viewers of the show that began at 6 AM EST/3 AM PST: Mike and Mike in the Morning. I’d be laughing at the absurdity that a televised radio show took precedent over a Grand Slam tennis tournament semifinal if I wasn’t so upset that I missed the evidently dramatic third set (won by Andy Murray over Novak Djokovic) of Friday’s match. Fortunately, I tuned in live to the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal match the previous night, and caught the decisive fifth set.

If you were unfortunate enough to DVR the matches and failed to manually extend the recording time 2 or 3 hours, I feel your pain. The channel allotted 5 hours to the ladies’ semifinals, and my DVR caught the first five of the six sets played; it ended during the third game of the third set of Maria Sharapova’s win over Petra Kvitova. Oh well.

I'll cut ESPN's programming department some slack regarding Sunday's men's final, even though they only allocated 3 and a half hours to it. No one could have predicted that the longest Grand Slam final in history - 5 hours and 53 minutes, an hour longer than the previous record - would be played. Incredible! (I'll post my thoughts on the match this Thursday.) If, like me, you anticipated an overrun and added an additional 3 hours to the recording (DirecTV's upper limit), your "taped" show still cut off the final decisive game of the fifth set ... and all the post match festivities. Fortunately, the channel aired the match again - right after it ended - as an "Instant Classic". Thanks!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ever been to the 'Happy Slam'? Would love to be there now!

Some friends of mine just got back from Melbourne; they were there for several of the tournaments first night sessions, and loved it. Who wouldn't? It'd be great to escape this winter's rain - again, this morning, really? - to have a chance to see the women's or men's finals live and in person!

I've been to Australia, when my spouse and I honeymooned there coming on 25 years ago. I'm sure it's changed quite a bit since 1987. We didn't go to Melbourne; we toured Sydney, Brisbane and Cairns (our jump off point to the country's Great Barrier Reef, where we spent nearly 2 full days snorkeling). The brief discussion I had with my friends upon their return reminded me about the culture of that "island" down under, a very friendly place where life isn't taken for granted, and is lived without pretension. Want proof? Today's Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal semifinal match was interrupted for more than 10 minutes at 7-6, 2-5 by Australia Day's fireworks!

It's now been 30 years since I attended the U.S. Open, and I've made it a goal to see each of the Grand Slam tournaments before I die. I had been thinking that Wimbledon would be the next one and this summer would've been perfect as a silver anniversary trip if it wasn't for the Olympics, the associated crowds and inflated prices. I'm not sure if I'm - or my spouse is - really that interested in traveling to Paris, so perhaps Melbourne will be next on my bucket list.

Monday, January 23, 2012

More challenges playing winter tennis in Atlanta

Those of us who play winter tennis in Atlanta should be grateful that we can play tennis outside year round, but the first several weeks of January have made this season very challenging, to say the least.

Saturday's senior mixed ALTA matches were rained out and Sunday's regular mixed matches, if played, were in wet conditions that grew increasingly worse as the day wore on.

For those of us who play on both senior and regular mixed teams, a dual weekend rain-out is a disaster waiting to happen. One reason is that there are only so many times available during the week, especially when rain is forecast - as it is for almost this entire week - to makeup the matches, but the main reason is that the regular mixed doubles default time is 1 PM Saturday, right after the next week's senior mixed matches are to be played at 10 AM. If one doesn't play on a large team or one's senior and mixed teams are comprised of the same players, rescheduling can be difficult to impossible. Someone might have to play twice on Saturday! Plus, if you have any teammates that play their flexible league tennis matches during the week, or are members of a USTA team that also plays on Saturdays, you've got real issues as a captain.

It's no wonder that it's hard to find anyone that wants to be a tennis captain.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tennis Book review - Allen Fox's Think to Win

This is an oldie but a goodie. Allen Fox, who's a regular contributor to Tennis Magazine, authored Think to Win: The Strategic Dimension of Tennis in 1993. Although much of the game at the professional level has changed in the nearly 2 decades since the book was published, the information and strategy conveyed is still very much applicable for those starting out through club players.

Think to Win is organized into chapters which are fairly self-contained, and straightforward, on the requisite topics concerning our sport: from ground strokes, volleying, using spin, serving, and lobs to covering the court, strategies, tactics and game plans. It's very comprehensive for singles players; in fact, my only complaint is that the book contains only one short chapter about the game most of us play, doubles, and much of it is dated with the notion that the first pair that gets to the net will win.

But while it would be easy to quickly dismiss a book written almost 20 years ago given the dynamic changes in tennis equipment and thus strategy - particularly the chapters on serving and volleying - there are still valuable fundamentals to be gleaned, particularly for beginning and mid-level players. From the basics such as how playing the ball consistently cross court is a good strategy not only because the net is lower in the middle but because playing down the line can get one out of position and cause you to run more than your opponent to how to recognize (and breakdown) an opponent's weakness.

I also found it interesting that Fox recognized Brad Gilbert's ability to out-think his opponents and use his somewhat limited physical skills to win on the men's tour, which Gilbert later wrote about in his exceptional and highly recommended book of his own titled Winning Ugly shortly thereafter.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Playing tennis in winter conditions can be very challenging

As I wrote last January, being able to play Winter Tennis in Atlanta is more of a blessing than a curse, but it doesn't always feel that way.

As I mentioned in last week's postings, the first Sunday of this winter's ALTA season was rained out and the weather didn't get any better until Thursday night, sort of. In fact it sprinkled here between 4 and 5 PM and the clouds were dark and ominous thereafter. However, because it was so windy - a front moving through - the courts were dried and, except for the fact that it was bitter cold with the wind making it worse, we were able to begin our makeup matches on time at 7 PM.

However, shortly after our matches were underway, it began to snow. I'm not kidding. Fortunately, it was the small dry (from high clouds) variety that didn't persist or change the courts' surfaces to any great extent. But the wind and frigid air was enough to cause most of us to stay bundled or even wear gloves ... and it's not easy playing, or moving around the court that way. The good news is that our team did splendidly, taking all four lines played. Friday night was much better, though colder and below ALTA's 'required' 32 degrees, there wasn't any wind. Our team was able to secure the final victory and the season was underway with a perfect result to date.

Saturday's senior mixed matches began well. It was a cold, 29 degrees when I left my house, but the skies were clear and there was no wind, so with layers it was manageable and by the end of our first matches - both victories - it was bordering on pleasant. We ended up splitting matches with our opponents, whom we'll play again since there are only 4 teams in our division, and we're still in first place (if only by a point).

Sunday's mixed match was a showdown between 1st and 2nd place teams; unfortunately, we are now tied for second with the team that bettered us yesterday (meaning, technically we're in third) but it's early in the season, so it's nothing to be worried about just yet. What was worrisome was the deciding match featured yours truly, who couldn't have played worse unless he'd picked up his racquet with the wrong hand. I realized afterward that I wasn't moving very well - layers again? - probably because I had been sitting around for 4+ hours waiting for my line (5) to finally take the court. I'll need to remedy that situation before it repeats itself this coming weekend.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The best laid plans

... of mice and men often go awry. Will this evening be another of those? After last weekend's rained out matches, here we go again. Sure enough, as predicted last Sunday, it hasn't been pleasant weather-wise this week until tonight, and yet, as I write this, rain is now forecasted for just before this evening's scheduled tennis.

In addition to that, through a confluence of events, on an upcoming weekend, I am struggling to put together a complete lineup, and we may have to forfeit a line (or two). It reminds me of something I've recently heard (or read), if you think you're in control (vs. God), just make plans (and He will humble you). It was probably at an Al-Anon meeting, where Step 1 is to admit that "we are powerless".

Nothing to be done but whatever can be in such situations; wish us luck!

Monday, January 9, 2012

The first weekend of ALTA was a mixed bag

Don’t you hate rained out matches? It tends to spoil one's weekend at any time, but especially when it's the first match of the season (which I hope is not an omen of things to come!). Last year, we battled snow and ice here in Atlanta in early January, but that was after and between match weekends, right? In any case, rescheduling matches is never fun for anyone, but I hope that we've made the best of it by hosting 4 of the 5 lines at the same time one evening later this week ... will be praying for good weather.

Our senior mixed matches Saturday did take place on-time as scheduled - it started lightly sprinkling just after a brief bit of socialization, when all our matches had been completed - but I understand that some ladies' USTA matches were delayed.

Our team's lineup featured three brand new pairings (at least, for this level and league), and all were successful in winning their matches. Even better, it was a very friendly match atmosphere that included my playing an opponent who also lives in our neighborhood. Ours was the closest match, my more skilled female partner making the difference with her exceptional play at the net. Despite falling behind 1-4 and 3-5 (with our opponents serving for the match) in the first set, we won it 7-5. We also came from 0-3 down in the second set to win it in a tiebreak.

We're now looking forward to playing 3 matches in 4 days starting this Thursday night; wish us luck!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Interesting reading/essential information for tennis parents

You may have noticed that I don't have a "Recommended Links" section or page for this blog. It's not a standard feature of this particular Blogger interface and I usually just link within my article to the relevant information. But occasionally, if I come across something particularly noteworthy, I'll dedicate one of my twice weekly posts to point out a site with information that I find interesting ... especially if it's fun to read.

Last summer when I volunteered as a scorekeeper/court-monitor at the Atlanta Tennis Championships, one of my co-workers was Lisa, a “Tennis Mom” who also authors her own tennis related blog. If you’re a parent whose child plays competitive tennis, check out Parenting Aces where you'll find a plethora of essential topics, insights and input from coaches. You can also subscribe to Lisa's Twitter feed @ParentingAces.


Monday, January 2, 2012

What Novak Djokovic and I have in common

2011 was our best tennis year ever, and 2012 looks to be a good one as well.

I started blogging about tennis a little less than one year ago. I didn’t know at the time that 2011 would play out the way that it did: that I’d have so much (other than my own) tennis to write about – more than a hundred posts in all – but I did. While I began last year as a tennis captain once again, after a five year absence in that role, which I knew would provide me with plenty of fodder for this blog, I had no way of knowing that my year would be filled with such varied experiences: from tennis-related volunteering opportunities to unprecedented team success. Changing racquets and improving my game by adding the drop shot were also unanticipated at last year’s start. All in all, it was a fantastic year, one for the books, from Special Pops to the Atlanta Tennis Championships – which will be held at Atlantic Station in 2012 – plus Ultimate Tennis men’s doubles and USTA mixed doubles (2 division & 1 Georgia) team titles.

Looking forward, having finally assembled an ALTA mixed doubles team that can compete for a bag tag, and with a newly strung racquet in hand, I can’t wait to see what the new year has for me in tennis, and best of luck to that swinging Serbian!