Monthly Archives: April 2005

In Tenn DVD Magazine: a review

I recently received a copy of In Tenn Video Tennis Magazine. Here are my thoughts.

It comes on a DVD and there’s a lot of stuff in there: drills, lessons, body mechanics, nutrition, interviews with players and organizers, celebrity events. It’s like Tennis Magazine on steroids. (Maybe I should find a different expression in today’s sport’s climate.)

Let’s start with the advertising. If I’m listening to the radio, I just go to another channel when I hear a commercial. If there are commercials on all of the AM sports radio shows, not an uncommon occurrence, I go to my FM channels. When those annoying subscription cards fall out of the magazine I throw them away. If they stick in the magazine and make it hard to turn the page, I rip them out. When I come across those pages of glossy ads that seem to go on longer than the magazine itself, I flip through them as quickly as possible.

On this DVD there are 15 second subscription teasers and 30 second commercials at the beginning and end of many features. You can’t TiVo past them but, luckily, you can fast forward.

There aren’t a lot of DVD magazines out there but tennis is a good subject for video. You see the drills played out. You see how computer software can analyze your tennis stroke. There is a good example of this here. There is good instruction in using proper body mechanics which is important. Most recreational tennis players I know have injury issues. I particularly like Corky Cramer’s lesson on using your entire body to hit a tennis ball. Swinging at a tennis ball with your arm only instead of engaging your feet, legs, butt and core muscles is a prime contributor to tennis elbow and other arm injuries.

One piece features an interview with yet another family pooling their resources to get their children to the top of the professional tennis world. Tom Stafford is a multimillionaire African American. He and his wife Michelle, their children Jabari, 9 years old, and Emira, 7 years old, the tennis instructor, the trainer and their agent make up Team Jamira. If their children decide not to play tennis that’s o.k. with their parents but whatever the children choose to do, Tom Stafford says, “We’re gonna make sure we get them to the top.”

Editing video footage is its own kind of editorializing, you can’t edit without a point of view. But the editorializing is stonger in print media because the writer chooses the words to present the subject. In a video magazine, people speak for themselves.

This feature for instance is begging for commentary. Stafford is taking his multimillionare business model and applying it to his kids and that’s pretty scary. I mean, this is a guy who said the following in a Sport Illustrated article: “I know for a fact that if my kids keep going, they’ll be the Number 1 players in the world one day. My daughter’s gonna kill these bitches. She’s gonna be on the tour by 11. I guarantee it. Mr. Williams ain’t the only crazy motherf—– out here.” Since very few sentences in the article passed without Stafford swearing, I don’t know how In Tenn managed to get a G rated performance out of him.

Put Brad Gilbert and John McEnroe in a studio on ESPN and let them go at it. They’d be happy to pick players apart, blast tennis officials and each other.

What’s missing is editorial voice. This is a problem with tennis media in general. How often do you read a controversial article in a tennis magazine? And here, except for editing, there is no voice. We don’t even see the interviewer.

Not that they don’t criticize tennis. Mac McIngvale, chairman of the Tennis Masters Cup in Houston, talks about the poor job organizers do in marketing tennis events. I can attest to that. Each year when I tell people that I’m going to the WTA Tour Finals at Staples Center, everyone is surprised to hear that a tennis event is in town.

McEnroe is talked into expressing his well known views about the Davis Cup schedule and the lack of personalities today. Tennis was more popular when you could see McEnroe and Jimmy Connors acting outrageously on a regular basis. The Williams sisters have been propping up tennis for a while. It’s time for something new.

Put Brad Gilbert and John McEnroe in a studio on ESPN and let them go at it. They’d be happy to pick players apart, blast tennis officials and each other. I listen to this kind of thing on sports radio all day. It’s called passion. Tennis fans are as passionate as any other sports fan. Check out this thread at It goes on for six pages and gets a bit nasty in places.

At $22.95 for four quartery issues, In Tenn costs about twice as much as my monthly Tennis Magazine subscription. It’s definitely worth it.

Meanwhile, let’s see how we can get more passion and editorial coverage of controversial issues into tennis media.

Emile Griffith, Benny Paret and sexual identity

On March 24, 1962, Emile Griffith beat Benny Paret so badly in a World Welterweight title bout that Paret fell into a coma and died ten days later. People were horrified to hear about this death in the boxing ring. The bout had been televised live but it was ten years before boxing appeared on television again.

The fight has been revisited recently in anticipation of the release of a new documentary, Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story by Ron Berger and Dan Klores. The documentary will air on USA Network on April 20 at 9pm ET/PT.

The documentary contends that you can’t look at the fight without looking at Griffith’s sexuality. People in the boxing community knew that Griffith went to gay bars. At the weigh-in, Paret called Griffith a maricon, the Spanish word for faggot. The fight almost started right then and there. At one point in the fight, Paret put his hand on his hip and blew Griffith a kiss.

There were likely a few factors contributing to the disaster in the ring that night. The referee, Ruby Goldstein, had recently suffered a heart attack and wasn’t effective enough to keep his customary control over the fight. In his previous bout, Paret had taken a terrible beating in a Middleweight Title fight with Gene Fullmer.

Clearly Griffith was unremittingly vicious as he pummeled Paret in the corner of the ring in the 12th round. Did the faggot taunts play a part in the outcome of this fight? In an interview with Bob Herbert in the New York Times today, Griffith repeats what he’s said before. He is sorry that Paret died and he is still haunted by his death, “but what he said touched something deep inside.”

At the end of the interview, Herbert asks Griffith if he is gay. Griffith said that he’s had sexual relation with men and women and he would like to ride in this year’s Gay and Lesbian Parade but he’s not gay. The Sundance Film Festival blurb says that Griffith lives with his long time roommate and adopted son, Luis Rodrigo.

Hatred comes in all shapes and sizes. Yesterday in a courtroom, Eric Rudolph gloated over his victory in avoiding the death sentence by accepting a deal that gives him four consecutive life sentences for bombing the 1996 Olympic Park, two abortion clinics and a gay nightclub. Rudolph’s brother is gay.

He is sorry that Paret died and he is still haunted by his death, “but what he said touched something deep inside.”

It seems to me that self hatred is the most brutal variety. I once had a closeted roommate who threatened me by saying that she knew police in the neighborhood, implying that she would send them after me, because I had been brazen enough to sleep with someone on a first date. She had been raised Catholic, her mother had been raised in a convent, and her aunt lived in an open lesbian relationship but, still, she could not be open about her sexuality. She could not reconcile her church and family’s views with her own deeply felt identity.

If self hatred stopped at self torture, that would be awful enough. But it doesn’t. Self hatred and the pain caused by an impossible situation – you know in your heart that you are gay but you also know that you should hate yourself for it – lashes out in a violent and deeply passionate way.

Very good films about past events always reveal something important about the present. Being gay may be more acceptable but it also seems to be accompanied by a rising culture of hate. If nobody steps in soon enough, hate can kill.

how to chart a tennis match

I finished my league match early last week then wandered over to another court to scout my next opponent. Instead of just watching the match, I charted it. I learned enough to develop a good game plan to use against this opponent when I play him next week. I also learned how bad some players are at keeping score but that’s another matter.

There are a few ways to chart a tennis match. For about $130 you can buy software for your Palm or other handheld PDA and mark the placement of each shot. At the end of the match, the software will spit out a mountain of statistics such as forehand return winners, winning percentage when serving wide, and one statistic that probably doesn’t get much above zero: backhand overhead winners.

Or you can fill out a sheet that ticks off various categories of shots such as this chart on Ron Waite’s Turbo Tennis page. At the end of the match, you just add up the number of tics and churn out some statistics.

But I like to look at a match point by point. I want to know how long the points are, I want to know how a player responds to pressure situations, I want to write notes if I see something I can use, and besides, I’m cheap. I have developed a chart that has a line for each point played. I use simple abbreviations such as UE for unforced error, BH for backhand, V for volley, and other obvious shorthand notations.

I recorded the last five games of my next opponent’s match. Here’s what the chart looks like:

Let’s look at the first game.

On the first line you can see that the server, Bugs (identities have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals :0), gets his first serve (F) in and hits it to the T in the service box. There are 5 strokes in the point and Bugs wins it by hitting a backhand (BH) winner (WI) to the ad court (AC). Watch these backhand winners, they’re going to pile up.

He loses the second point by hitting an unforced backhand error (UE BH) into the net (N).

He wins the third point because his opponent hits a forehand (FH) into the net.

He wins the fourt point by hitting a backhand dropshot (DS) winner off an approach (AP) shot.

Bugs wins the game bringing the score to 2-2 because his opponent hits a backhand error wide (W) to the ad court.

In the next game, Road Runner gets only 3 out of 4 of his first serves in and double faults (DF) while Bugs hits two winners and forces an error (FE) by hitting a forehand to the deuce court.

Bugs gets a break point (BP) with a backhand winner to the deuce court then gets the break (BR) by hitting a forehand winner wide to the ad court. Road Runner’s game score is now 2-3.

Make a deal with a teammate or bribe someone to get them to chart one of your matches. Surely someone owes you something.

Bugs drives everyone crazy because he can hardly move, he has a limp, and he’s older than I am. But he’s undefeated in our tier this year and nobody can figure out how to beat him. Everyone I ask suggests moving him around the court, side to side and back and forth. But if you look at this chart, you see that he not only covers the court well but he hits winners when pulled wide and also hits winners when pulled into the net. Not only that but six of his eight winners are backhand shots. He has a nasty inside out backhand slice that spins away from you.

Looking at all this information and my notes tells me three things:
1. Attack his serve. His first serve percentage is high but he has a straightforward and predictable serve. Once he gets moving he moves well but if I can hit sharply crosscourt or down the line off the return, I have a better chance of getting it past him. That’s how it is when you get older, you start slower but once you get going you’re o.k.
2. Keep the ball away from his backhand. Hit everything to the middle and let him make errors. Be prepared to be patient and get every ball back while waiting for an error.
3. If he’s drawn to the net, he likes to dropshot so move in when he gets a short ball.

Charting a match is just as useful for your own game. Maybe even more so. Make a deal with a teammate or bribe someone to get them to chart one of your matches. Surely someone owes you something. If I’d seen a chart of my own matches, I would have known how many points I was losing by coming to the net so often and I would have changed my game much sooner.

You can download blank tennis charts here as a PDF file. Try it and tell me how it goes. I’ll tell you how I manage against Bugs.

photographic memory

When I practice by myself, I put nine green targets on the court and I aim at a target for each stroke I practice. When I switch to a different target, I look at the new target, close my eyes and point my finger where I think it is. I then open my eyes and see how close I came to pointing directly at it. Not very close much of the time it turns out.

Two friends on an adjacent court saw me doing this today and wandered over. They were able to repeatedly point directly at the target with their eyes closed. How did they do that? They are photographers is how they do that. What can you expect? They are visually framing images every day of their working lives. That’s their job.

One of the photographers turned to me afterwards and said, “But you don’t hit the ball with your eyes closed!” Very true grasshopper, but you also don’t look at the target as you are hitting the ball, you look at the ball. As you hit the ball, you have an image in your mind of the target area. The more accurate that image is, the more successful you will be.

Our bodies are incredibly talented organisms. If we give ourselves an image of hitting a ball to a particular target in a particular place, our body can figure out how to do that repeatedly and accurately.

I got this exercise from Robert Parent’s book, Zen Golf. An excellent book for all parts of the mental game in sports, by the way. I know there are lots of “Zen and the Art of” books out there but this guy has actually sat down and meditated. He expresses great wisdom and is very good at simply communicating that wisdom.

Parent describes a client who was very accurate in an inaccurate kind of way. If the line of a putt called for the golf ball to go into the hole from the right, he’d call the putt a “right lip putt.” Because his image was the right lip of the hole instead of the center of the hole, he repeatedly left the ball at the right lip instead of getting it into the hole. Think about this. You have to be very skilled to pull that off. It’s harder than getting the ball into the hole.

Our bodies are incredibly talented organisms. If we give ourselves an image of hitting a ball to a particular target in a particular place, our body can figure out how to do that repeatedly and accurately. Imagine what must be going through Roger Federer’s mind as he threads the ball through openings that very few other players see. His accuracy is phenomenal. His images are probably phenomenal too.

topspin backhand and Roger Federer’s forehand: technique follows intent

Since I abruptly said goodbye to my longtime hitting partners and therefore don’t have anyone to hit with anymore, I hit against the backboard today. The wind was gusting and I was getting frustrated because it was pushing the ball into my body very strongly and I couldn’t hit a backhand. To deal with my frustration I decided to find a target on the wall and hit every backhand to that target. Since the target was pretty high, I had to hit up on the ball. After a little while I had developed a pretty good topspin backhand.

This is pretty significant because my backhand stroke usually produces a ball that looks like a dead duck or, maybe, a knuckleball. It has no rotation and floats and wobbles before landing in the general target area I aim for.

If you’re Joe Niekro or Tim Wakefield, this is a good thing. If you’re a tennis player it is not. The ball will take longer to get to its target and it doesn’t have two big advantages of topspin. When you hit a ball with heavy topspin it explodes and bounces high when it hits the court. Also, because you are coming over the ball, you can hit the ball really hard and have a better chance of keeping it in the court.

The point here is that I didn’t use technique to develop the topspin shot, I used intent. I chose a target on the wall and did whatever I had to do to get the ball to that target. I didn’t say to myself, “Accelerate up the back of the ball,” or, “Hit from low to high,” or, “Finish with the racket high,” or any of the other instructions you might hear if you were taking a lesson in how to hit a topspin backhand.

The point here is that I didn’t use technique to develop the topspin shot, I used intent. I chose a target on the wall and did whatever I had to do to get the ball to that target.

We’ve encountered this before. For a while I had a two-part follow-through on my forehand. I’d hit the ball, hesitate, then follow-through as if I’d just remembered that I should follow through. My tennis instructor, Sean Brawley, is certified by the Inner Game of Tennis guy, Timothy Gallwey. Sean’s approach to this problem was to ask me to think about where I wanted the ball to go and notice where my racket ended up. Again, no instructions about technique; just think about where I want the ball to go and notice what my stroke is.

Strangely enough, I started hitting the ball with Roger Federer’s forehand. O.k., probably at one-quarter speed, but still, I hit up and over the ball as the racket went in a circular arc in front of my body and ended up with the racket face pointed down at the court. It’s a much smoother stroke than my former herky jerky forehand and only required a good suggestion from my coach and some awareness on my part.

There is enough rubble and litter rolling around in my brain already. I don’t really need to add any other unnecessary instructions to the mix.