Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Special Pops Skills Challenge and Annual Fundraiser

Many of you know that I've been involved with Special Pops Tennis for a couple of years now. It's an excellent organization that introduces, teaches and even provides tennis competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to participate at Special Pops' skills challenge at Harrison Park, where we worked with the athletes on 10-and-under courts with volleying, ground-strokes and even serves. My previous experiences had been primarily with more experienced (Special Olympics-caliber) athletes but, in many ways, this past Saturday was more rewarding.

Remember the first time you first started playing the game and caught the tennis bug? Well, despite a brief rain interruption which required us to squeegee courts, we had some athletes who were so excited to participate that they couldn't get enough playing and instruction time. To experience their joy is humbling and I am grateful to have found an organization that enables me to utilize my passion for tennis in a service capacity.

The athlete’s challenge was to hit a series of (forehand and backhand) volleys into the court, with more points being rewarded for deep – between the service and base lines – volleys than short ones. Then, forehand and backhand ground-strokes (the ball being tossed to the athletes) were similarly scored as were serves from each side. The last and perhaps most challenging skill for some of the athletes is having to move at least one step to the ball to hit a ground-stroke, which was also tested on each side. The last ‘rotation’ for the athletes was on a full-size court filled with prizes, which were rewarded to the athlete that was able to hit them with a volley, ground-stroke or serve. Food and fun for everyone!

Volunteering with Special Pops is a terrific opportunity for anyone, and I highly recommend it. Whether you can or cannot, I urge you to visit their website NOW (until Sept. 19) to vote to help Special Pops qualify for Chase Community Giving (on Facebook) funding.

PLAY TENNIS FOR A GREAT CAUSE! Special Pops 3rd Annual Round Robin is the organization’s primary funding event, to be held at the Atlanta Athletic Club on Saturday, October 20 from 5 to 10 PM. Sponsored by 680 The Fan, there will be 2 hours of tennis for those that want to play, a silent auction, hors d'oeuvres, and drink, followed by dinner and a live Auction in the AAC ballroom. The cost is $100 to play, or $75 for non-playing guests. Click here to register yourself and/or your guests.

Hope to see you at the event!

Murray more like McEnroe than Lendl

Even though he trains under Ivan Lendl, Andy Murray is more like his coach's rival John McEnroe, at least when it comes to his on-court demeanor and Grand Slam preference.

As a player, Lendl was a fitness junkie who punished his opponents from the baseline, returning everything to wear his opponents down before ripping a winner past them. This description sounds a lot like Murray, who Lendl helped to win his first major at the U.S. Open earlier this week, avoiding the dubious distinction of going his coach one better by losing his fifth consecutive Grand Slam final before winning one.

However, whereas Lendl would probably say that his favorite surface was clay - his first of eight Grand Slam titles was the 1984 French Open, where he came from 2 sets down to beat (ironically) McEnroe - Murray unabashedly proclaims that the U.S. Open is his favorite slam; he won the boys' title on the hard-courts of Flushing Meadows in 2004. This probably comes as a surprise to Britishers, who might naturally assume that the green grasses of Wimbledon - where he won the 2012 Olympics Gold Medal - is his favorite. Obviously, McEnroe would dub his home courts in New York, where he won his first (1979) and most (4) slam(s), his favorite as well.

What tips the similarity scale away from Lendl and towards McEnroe is Murray's on-court behavior. While not quite as brash or offensive as "Johnny Mac", Murray is frequently unhappy on the court, yelling profanities ("eff me!") and other self-critical admonishments which can be quite unpleasant to have to watch. Much like McEnroe, his matches are too often cringe-worthy, and a sharp contrast to Lendl's stoic emotionless demeanor, which remains in tact today.

As the first Brit to win a men's Grand Slam singles in 76 years, perhaps Murray can finally relax, settle down and learn even more from his coach and the other members of the big four (Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic) about how to behave, now that he's joined them as a major championship winner.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

No offense to Isner-Mahut, but Djokovic-Murray are the real marathon men of tennis

It's one thing to rear back and hit aces (or first strike forehands) past an immobile opponent over the course of three calm and sunny days on the soft grass of Wimbledon in front of the quiet and respectful audience at the All-England Club, it's quite another to have to contend with swirling 18 MPH winds and an incredibly fit opponent that runs everything down (33 and 54 shot rallies!), forcing multiple deuces in virtually every game over the course of 5 hours on a hard-court in front of a raucous 'night' crowd in New York.

Let's not forget that Djokovic-Murray played another 50 game, near 5 hour semi-final match at Australia's Open at the start of this year's Grand Slam season (and that Djokovic followed that with a 55 game, near 6 hour match over Rafael Nadal two days later) ... INCREDIBLE!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Andy Roddick's career bookends were Atlanta tennis tournaments

The very first professional tennis tournament that Andy Roddick won was called the Verizon Tennis Challenge, which was played at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Georgia on clay. At the age of 18, Roddick (ranked #89) defeated Belgian's Xavier Malisse in the final on April 29, 2001.

Roddick practicing at BB&T Open on July 19, 2012

Fast forward 11+ years, after a career that included a U.S. Open title, his only Grand Slam win followed by a number one ranking in 2003, along with one other appearance in that tournament's final (2006) and three at Wimbledon (2004, 2005 and 2009) - all losses to Roger Federer - Andy (ranked #27) won his 32nd and last pro final on the newly constructed hard-courts of Atlantic Station at the 2012 BB&T Open on July 22 by defeating Luxembourg's Gilles Muller 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2.