Monthly Archives: August 17, 2022

As of today, Vijay Singh is still in the running to win the U.S. Open. In case you were thinking of trying this yourself, here is a look at Singh’s six days a week training schedule as reported in the New York Times this past week.

1. Get up at dawn and ride a stationary bicycle for twenty minutes
2. Train with weights for thirty minutes
3. Use a medicine ball and cables to mimic swing for thirty minutes
4. Hit balls for an hour and a half
5. Play a five hour practice round
6. Eat lunch
7. Putt and hit balls for two or three hours
8. Eat dinner
9. Work out for ninety minutes

When he’s not doing this or playing in a tournament, he goes on high-altitude hikes. He also studies the mental part of the game with Robert Parent, author of Zen Golf.

There is a good reason that he is a champion and you and I are not.

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I was a student at Old Dominion College during the years 1968-70. This was an amazing period in the history of the United States. Protest actions in different areas developed into movements that would bring huge changes to American society.

In 1962, Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring and ushered in the environmental movement.

On June 27, 1969, the day of Judy Garland’s funeral, a large group of gay men resisted arrest during a police raid on The Stonewall Inn in New York City and touched off the Stonewall Riots. A seminal moment in the gay rights movement.

On March 7, 1965, Martin Luther King led a group of 600 marchers from Selma to Montgomery in support of the the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Before they could make their way out of Selma, they were beaten and gassed by police.

In between acid trips and Jimi Hendrix concerts we were also marching in support of civil rights, but in a safe harbor. We were mostly white in a mostly white college. We weren’t subject to fire hoses, police dogs, and bombs. In a testament to the racism at the time, people were shocked by the Kent State killings and horrified, but not necessarily surprised, by the treatment of African-Americans carrying out the same protests.

While I was watching the semifinals of the 2005 NCAA Division I lacrosse championships, I learned that lacrosse played a role in the civil rights movement.

Unlike tennis which started out as an upper class sport and is still an upper class sport, lacrosse was originally played by Native Americans. You know what happened to Native Americans. What happened to lacrosse? By the 1960’s, it was played almost exclusively at prep schools and elite east coast colleges. It was a white sport played by rich white kids.

There were exceptions. Jim Brown, the great Cleveland Browns running back, played at Syracuse in the 1950’s. Some consider him the best lacrosse player to ever play the game. There was also a team at Forest Park High School in Baltimore, Maryland – a hotbed of lacrosse. That is where Miles Harrison, Jr. took up the game. He went on to attend the predominantly black school Morgan State College and it was there in 1970 that he started a lacrosse team. Their coach was a white Jewish administrator at the school, Chip Silverman.

They picked up their sticks, ignored the “nigger” comments and took great joy in pushing the rich white boys all over the field.

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King had already been murdered. John Carlos and Tommie Smith had already raised their black gloved hands in protest on the podium at the Mexico City Olympics. The least these players could do was go out and represent their fellow students and athletes by playing out the same struggle for recognition on the lacrosse field.

Lacrosse is not a tame sport, it’s a full contact sport. Players wear helmets and padding. Some of the Morgan State players were football players who’d never played the game before. They picked up their sticks, ignored the “nigger” comments and took great joy in pushing the rich white boys all over the field. They felt even greater joy in defeating Washington and Lee, the Virginia school named after the Confederate leader, which was the top team in the nation at the time. How sweet was that for a black man in the 70’s?

What is the legacy of this team of football players and lacrosse players with a coach who’d never coached lacrosse before? Kyle Harrison led Johns Hopkins to an undefeated season and their first NCAA championship in eighteen years. He is the 2005 NCAA lacrosse player of the year. Kyle is the son of Miles Harrison. John Christmas, an all-star player at Virginia, and Towson midfielder Oliver Bacon are also sons of men coached by Silverman.

And you know the movie is coming soon to your neighborhood. Harrison and Silverman wrote about the team in their book, Ten Bears. It has been optioned by Warner Brothers.

Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in the country. It has spread from the east coast across the country to the west coast and, finally, there are top African American players at the high school and college level.

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I’m just getting over the French Open and here comes Wimbledon in eight days. I thought I’d get into the mood by watching a Wimbledon final between John McEnroe and Björn Bjorg. I was around in the early 1980’s and paid close attention to tennis but I never realized that all eleven of Borg’s grand slam championships came on grass and clay. Five (straight) Wimbledon wins and six at Roland Garros. As far as I know this is unique in the history of tennis.

For a good reason.

You have to be willing (and able) to slog through endless twenty-five stroke rallies for five sets on powdery red clay and lots of red mud if you want to win at Roland Garros. Rafael Nadal had already won five tournaments on clay this year before he arrived in Paris and took the championship.

Wimbledon champions, on the other hand, take every opportunity possible to roll a shot deep into their opponent’s court so they can get to the net and stay there until they get an easy put away.

While I was rooting around the web looking for help in explaining such a dichotomy in Borg’s play, I came across one of the finest pieces of sports writing I’ve ever read. Tim Pears has written a profile of Borg for the British paper The Guardian that uncovers the deep conflicts you’d expect to find in the fiery competitor who transformed himself from a racket throwing “nut” into an iceberg of imperturbable calm. Pears calls on everything from Patanjali’s yoga sutras to filmmaker John Cassavetes to explain Borg’s struggle to transform his inner self to the point where he could pursue his deep passion for tennis without burning up in the process.

“Yoga”, according to the sutras, is “the ability to direct the mind exclusively towards an object and sustain focus in that direction without any distractions.” A tennis ball is as good an object as any other.

Another sutra states that “The mind can reach the state of Yoga through practice and detachment.” Focus and detachment, a good description of Borg’s on court demeanor. Win the point or lose the point, you couldn’t tell by looking at him. While you could easily find John McEnroe deep in the throes of despair over a missed shot or busy berating fans and officials with the most creative trash talk ever heard in the quiet world of tennis, across the net, there was Borg standing at the baseline idly bouncing a few balls on his tennis racket waiting for everything to blow over so he could get back to work.

Nobody bothered to taunt Borg because they knew it was a waste of time. Tweak McEnroe just a little bit and you had an afternoon of entertainment waiting for you.

McEnroe needed Borg. You didn’t see him losing it when he played a match against the unflappable Swede. What was the point? Borg presented him with a blank slate, nothing. There was nothing to provoke McEnroe so he was forced to concentrate on playing tennis.

Which is exactly what he did, sublimely, in their 1980 Wimbledon final. He fought off seven match points to win the fourth set tiebreaker 18-16 and even the match at two sets all. Anyone else in Borg’s position would have been so shaken by failing to cash in on seven match points that the fifth set would have been a routine slide into defeat. But this is Borg. He calmly walked to the baseline and fought through an 8-6 fifth set to win the match.

McEnroe needed Borg. You didn’t see him losing it when he played a match against the unflappable Swede. What was the point?

A quick look at the sports pages tells you that championship athletes who have mastered parts of themselves well enough to perform exceptionally well in competitive situations don’t necessarily make exceptional human beings. Borg had problems with drug abuse after retiring and even suffered an overdose. Conversely, bad behavior on court doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person. McEnroe was voted “Father of the Year” by the National Father’s Day council and you can see him everywhere in tennis today.

They were a fascinating contrast not in personality but in how they chose to deal with their personality. McEnroe could not control himself. Borg could control himself only too well.

There are probably a number of reason tennis isn’t as popular now as it was during the time of Borg and McEnroe. We’re desperate for a rivalry. Of course we’d love to see a show of superb tennis in a big time grand slam final. But what we really want is to see two people willing to play out their deepest passions and tortured desperate selves to the point where the only thing left is pure, sublime tennis. That is what Borg and McEnroe gave us.

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The French Open just ended and yet we’re only nine days away from Wimbledon. Why not visit a little lawn tennis history. I am watching the 1981 Wimbledon final between John McEnroe and Björn Borg. Let’s set the scene.

Borg won his fifth straight Wimbledon the year before by defeating McEnroe in probably the most exciting Wimbledon final and possibly the most exciting tennis match ever played. McEnroe saved five match points in the tremendous fourth set tiebreaker and finally won it 18-16. Borg won the match and fifth set 8-6. He went on to win his first U.S. Open later that year and already had the Wimbledon crowd booing him in reaction to his furious outbursts at referees and anyone else

In 1981 it was even worse. He was fined $1500 for an outburst Even though I was around at the time and paying attention, somehow I didn’t realize that Borg won Wimbledon five (straight) times and the French Open four times but never won a US Open and didn’t win the one Australia Open he entered. This is strange because clay court players are usually baseline players, at least clay court champions and Wimbledon champions are usually serve and volleyers. Borg was never a great volleyer and his second serve, at least here with a wooden racket, it looks like a lollypop, cautious and high. He has a pretty good serve and can serve and volley but he’d much rather lure you to the net and put a dipping passing shot by you.

He was a very cautious player. He wasn’t aiming for the lines, he was aiming to get the ball a few feet beyond the baseline but with so much topspin that you had to stay back. It says a lot about his mental makeup that he could win Wimbledon once let alone five times with that cautious, get the ball back approach.

but for some reason he could not win on a hard court, at least not the Grand Slam. It is pretty fun to watch. First of all, it is those wooden rackets and the serves look slow, glacially slow and the announcer at the beginning hopes that there are no bad feelings in the crowd, even in this time. Back in 1981, Americans were not too popular, not because of our politics this time, but because of the antics of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. John McEnroe would throw fits and Jimmy Connors would play up his opponent using the crowd, or play up the crowd. So, the announcer is hoping that the audience, the fans, do not applaud McEnroe’s errors. He wants them to be civil and McEnroe’s serve, it is the snaky, twisty, winding, bounce the ball a few times, lean forward and rock back and forth with the racket, bring the racket behind and then snake a serve, left﷓handed serve, wide down the line, whatever and he strokes. He just kind of lays the racket back and swings it. You wonder what he would do with a modern racket. McEnroe’s quickness is pretty incredible. He is kind of like a Dominican ballplayer, the way that the Dominican ballplayer’s learn to play field balls when they are growing up, is they just throw balls off a wall all day long. The wall in the house, the wall outside and that is what McEnroe did. He got up close to a wall and he just hit against the wall repeatedly so that he could work on his reflexes. What is even more amazing is how quick Borg is in covering the court. The crowd is quiet. It is almost like they are kind of waiting for John McEnroe to explode and that is probably why the announcer who is British says at the beginning of the match that he hopes that the crowd is a very polite crowd and does not do something such as applaud one of the player’s errors. He is anticipating an explosion by McEnroe and he is hoping that Wimbledon or just the sight of Wimbledon itself, playing at Wimbledon can confer the kind of decorum on the crowd so that we do not have any of that unpleasant behavior that you might have elsewhere. There is also a different in that time because the announcers are so quiet. I turned on in the middle of a broadcast at one point I stopped it and then started again and I thought well maybe I had lost my sound because the announcers were actually quiet while they played the points. And they played this one particular point which was pretty indicative of both of the athleticism of both players, McEnroe comes in, well nothing new there, he always does. Borg miss hits it and it goes high. McEnroe jumps up in the air and smashes an overhead lance right on the line. Borg is right on the line. Gets another overhead up and then McEnroe just hits an easy overhead for a winner. But how Borg got to that shot I do not know, that is just a quickness that is exceptional. Borg wins the first set 6 to 4 and now the crowd is starting to get on McEnroe. They are cheering Borg and they are starting to applaud when McEnroe does not do well. And of course when McEnroe does not do well it is not his fault. The first thing he will do is look down at the grass and see if there was a chunk in the grass that caused the problem or he will look at his racket or he will look around or he will look at a lineman, usually not himself. There are no composite rackets here and the players also do not take forever and have to minutely scrutinize every single ball before they play with it. Is there a professional player today that does not take three balls and then throw one of them back? I am assuming that that is just an opportunity for them to mentally take the time for them to get it together. There is not that much difference between the balls; I know that. We were in the first game in the second set and at deuce McEnroe serves up a double fault. McEnroe is like a vacuum cleaner at the net. He approaches the net with no surprise there, puts a volley in the corner, Borg hits a sharp cross-court passing shot and McEnroe glides from one end of the net to the other and puts it away. McEnroe how has the advantage and he misses his first serve, turns around and looks back at the grass, at the baseline to see if that was the problem. And then someone yells out something to him, one of the fans yells at him. He misses his second serve too and gets his second double fault in the set and shoots his racket at the guy and says “thank you very much” just as sarcastically as he possibly can. Now he has someone else he can blame for real. You think tennis is not more popular than it is because players spend most of their time walking back to the baseline after missing their first serve? McEnroe is leading 5-4 in the second set when he takes a really bad tumble slipping coming in for a volley. It is a full force battle by now. They look like they are moving in slow motion with those graceful shots the way McEnroe just takes his racket back and swings at it, no full twist, 180-degree windup like you see today. Just takes the racket back and swings and Borg with his relaxed backhand. Borg seems to be bringing the racket back rather than twisting his truck. He wraps it all the way behind him and forward. Well, he is up 4-30 when they have a marvelous point. McEnroe just shows mastery, slices, long, deep slices mixed in with top spin forehands and then a very flat cross-court background. Finally the short ball and board manages to come in. McEnroe hits a very hard passing shot at him and Borg is long enough and quick enough to get to it and get it back enough over the net for a winner. Amazing athletes. And we do not see Brad Gilbert up in the third row or Pam, I cannot remember what her name is, sitting in the front row speaking while the point is going on interviewing somebody. We get the announcers who are quiet and let us watch the points. How cool is that. Borg is standing in the alley, see if he can track down that left-handed twister wide. He uses that positioning now and then to hit a passing show outside the line that lands in the corner on the opposite side of the court. I believe the previous year was an amazing match. It was Borg and McEnroe again and I believe that Borg managed to win his fifth straight Wimbledon in a fifth set Wimbledon finals. And there is I guess, if there was a tiebreak it went to 18-16 okay. I need to research that. I am beginning to remember McEnroe now after every point that he makes an error or does not win the point he is just beside himself. It is if he was saying how could this possibly be happening to me. How could it possibly happen that I, I would lose a point, that I could hit the ball into the net. Borg is serving with McEnroe at 6 to 5 and twice he comes in to take the second serve, gets a backhand and dumps it into the net on the way to the net. Borg wins the game and they go to tiebreak, 6-6. McEnroe is down 1-5 and the tiebreak is an incredible point. Borg serves, comes to the net and puts it behind, volleys behind where McEnroe is to reach back and get up a lob that goes over Borg’s head. Meanwhile he gathers himself together enough to come into the net and then win the next point on a volley. Very, very heavy play. I take that back, McEnroe was up 5-1 for that point. Not only that but as far as I can tell the audience, the fans, the stands are not filled with celebrities. Sometimes McEnroe will come in and have an impossible volley to pick up. The ball does not quite make it, he goes into the net or kind of drops dead a few feet before the net. And he is looking at the ball, why are you not with me here, what could possibly be the problem, can’t you just get over the net. At the end of the third set at 6 games on we are going to another tiebreak and the crowd is yelling out “Borg, Borg, Borg”. At one point in the third set McEnroe dives full length across the grass to get the volley up, gets it up, unfortunately Borg is standing there and just taps it in. But, how often do you see that? He is just going for everything. He is completely sprawled out, racket full length. Borg’s second serve looks like a
lollypop. I am sure I have seen harder second serves in my tennis league. At 2 all in the third set, tiebreaker, they played back and forth. McEnroe gives Borg some slices and gets ready to come in on a backhand approach shot and goes into the net. He goes down on one knee as though he has just lost his grandmother. Had McEnroe won a Grand Slam by now? McEnroe makes two brilliant shots, one a very shot cross-court passing shot and a one down-the-line passing shot and takes the tiebreaker in third set. McEnroe is up 5-4 in the first set when Borg serves to stay in the set. ****. I am wrong. Princess Diana is there, Prince Phillip, Princess Michael Kent I believe, that is celebrities. When did Princess Diana and Charles marry? Were they married by then or was she getting ready to be married? Yeah they were not married yet. She is now Lady Diana Spencer, she is not Princess Diana quit yet. You do not really need to look at the scoreboard. You can always tell who won the point by looking at McEnroe. If he won it okay maybe he would be neutral, maybe he would be buoyant. If he did not his hands are on his hips, he is looking at the racket, he is looking at the ball, he is looking at someone to blame or someone to be mad at including himself. Forget what I said about tennis not being very popular because most of the time you are watching the server go back to the baseline to serve his second serve because if that were the case then baseball would be pretty unpopular too because a huge percentage of baseball consists of no action whatsoever. It is not just that McEnroe throws fits, it is that he has the most attitude of any tennis player who has ever lived. If the calls do not go his way, if the ball does not go over the net, if he does not get the shot where he wants it to be then the entire world sucks. When things do go his way he puts his hands up to the sky as if to say okay now you finally got it right, let us just keep going here, no more deviations from the plan please. Borg and McEnroe’s entourage have to sit in the same box, one in front of the other. That is kind of uncomfortable I think. I think I was wrong. I believe the score is 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4. The third set tiebreaker is a doozy. McEnroe gets the first point as Borg serves and volleys. McEnroe hits a really sharp return right at him and he sends one of the new balls long. On the second point McEnroe gets a serveless winner, he is up 2-0. McEnroe serves and volleys, serves down the middle. Borg gets the ball up, McEnroe comes in and puts it right down the line in the deuce court and leaves a sliver of space to his left through which Borg sends the ball. It is 2-1. Borg serves right into McEnroe’s body w ho sends the return wide. McEnroe gets a short ball to come in on in his backhand. He puts it into the net, it is just as though the world had ended it is that bad. Serving volley wide by McEnroe who then hits a cross-court volley winner. We are now 3-3, one set all. And the announcers are quiet, they are quiet. I am just thrilled. It is like being at the game, the match. McEnroe gets Borg running a good serve and two good volleys and on a good serve and a good volley and he is up 4-3. God he covers the net. It is like a blanket. It is just like a Hoover, a vacuum cleaner, a Rota rooter, nah. On the next point Borg comes in with this swinging backhand volley to the add court and McEnroe hits a beautiful cross-court volley right past him for a winner, 5-3. McEnroe does it again. Borg comes in with that same low two-handed backhand volley and this time McEnroe just puts the ball over him. It is not a lob, it is not a passing shot, it is just kind of over his left shoulder and lands in the corner. The guy’s touch, his range of strokes, is pretty incredible. The only thing he does not do is hit with extreme power and that is because he likes that wooden racket. It is now 6-3 McEnroe. One more point to go up two sets. Sheer genius is the term that the announcer applies to McEnroe’s last two shots. Well, I guess I cannot agree with that. This time Borg sets up the swinging volley and passes McEnroe cross court. He is still in there. He saves the first of three set points. How did Borg win so many Wimbledons. I mean I can see how he won them but I am, doing his swinging volleys there halfway into the net, I just do not get it. Oh yeah and the electronics, there is actually a person there touching the net to see if there is a net-court on the serve. Of course we have, I do not know what it is called, but we have an automatic way of doing that and pretty soon we will have shot spot. Borg hits a running cross-court volley that McEnroe manages to get back and hit before in there. He has got the second set. There you go. Let us set the scene here. McEnroe had already been in the final against Borg the year before in Wimbledon on an incredible match. I think that one of the set tiebreaks went to 18-16 and it was a five-set match and he had been booed there because he had already run into trouble with having outbursts. This year he had already been fined $1, 500.00 for an outburst at an earlier match and this is the tournament when he got into a few fights and came up with the phrase “You are the pits of the world and you cannot be serious”. So I think what is most amazing sad to say is that McEnroe got through this entire match without any big blowups. He had already had his blowups and he knew he had a chance to win the match and he managed to keep his cool. Heaven knows what would have happened if he had gone down two sets first though. That might have been more entertaining. Wimbledon got back at McEnroe by not inviting him to be an honorary member of the club which is usually what you do when you win the award first and then McEnroe got back at them by not going to the champion’s dinner. What can I say, it is that difficult thing you know when McEnroe and Connors were around when you had true stars. But the price you paid was behavior like McEnroe’s. Pretty disrespectful and disruptive behaviors to your opponent and to the organizers. I do not know why it is in tennis but when you have basketball and you have a star they do not have to be disruptive. They do not even necessarily have to be charismatic, they just have to be good. For instance you have someone like Kobe Bryant, okay, not a good example because he is controversial to die for. Get someone like Kevin Garnet, he is a star. He is not controversial he is just very good. Tim Duncan is a star. But in tennis evidently being really a beautiful player and a really elegant and very, very good player on the court is not, you know, there are two kinds of tennis stars. One of them is one who is beautiful. You could have someone like Anna Kornikova who is beautiful but never wins a match. Or you could have someone like Rafael Nadal who is beautiful and does win matches. Or you can have someone like John McEnroe who wins matches and is controversial. Heaven forbid if we had all three. I think what we might want to have is somebody who is charismatic, who is a winner. If you are going to be controversial then be controversial about what should change so that tennis is more popular. To give it more of a team point of view, to somehow change Davis Cup so that it gets more press and more involvement, at least here. Billy Gene King is the closest to come to that. She has been doing tennis for some time and she is starting to make progress, and this is not a bad time for me to express the fact that I think what could make tennis more popular is to make it much more of a team sport.

Borg: He won the French Open six times, including four consecutive titles (1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981) and Wimbledon five consecutive times (1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980).

‘I never acted like a jerk against him, ’ McEnroe would admit. ‘I had too much respect.’

By the way, for a brilliant article about Bjorn Borg in Britain’s Guardian Unlimited, click here.

Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 255 user reviews.

When I first visited Paris in 1980, my travel companions and I usually chose to meet up at Le Jardin des Tuileries, the beautiful gardens that stretch from the Louvre to the Place de Concorde. During our walks in the Tuileries I passed the Musée du Jeu de Paume many times but I never figured out why a modern art museum would be given the name “game of the palm”. The mystery has been solved. The answer lies in the text lurking in the background of the poster for the 2005 French Open.

The name and year of the tournament are painted over text on a poster that looks like it could have been pasted to a wall during the student demonstrations in the 60’s or nailed to a tree during the French Revolution.

What does that text say? The answer takes us on a journey that starts with the Renaissance and passes through the French Revolution and World War II while picking up the history of tennis along the way.

The poster was created by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa. The text is a quote from Rabelais:

“Words, when proffered…freeze and become ice upon contact with the cold of the air and we cannot hear them anymore…now that the rigors of winter have passed, and the serenity and softness of spring have arrived, they melt and make themselves heard”

François Rabelais was a friar, physician, classical scholar and author who lived in France during the Renaissance. In 1532 he published the first book of a series called Gargantua and Pantagruel. The stories derided the practices of the Roman Catholic Church and satirized the excesses of French royalty. His fictional Abbey of Thélème was a palace many times more sumptuous than any of the King’s chateaus. The detailed descriptions contained layouts of “jeu de paume” courts, the game that is the precursor of modern tennis still played today under the name “real tennis”.

On June 20th, 1789, 578 members of the Third Estate, representatives in the French legislative body who were not clergy or nobility, gathered on an indoor jeu de paume court at Versailles. All but one of them signed the Tennis Court Oath, a document that called for a written constitution and stated that authority derives from the people, not the nobility. The French Revolution was officially under way.

What is the answer to the mystery? Musée du Jeu de Paume, now called Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, was originally built to house two indoor tennis courts during the reign of Napoleon III. From 1940-44, Hitler’s regime used the museum to store works of art confiscated from French Jews.

All but one of them signed the Tennis Court Oath, a document that called for a written constitution and stated that authority derives from the people, not the nobility. The French Revolution was officially under way.

Which brings us to the present. The artist Plensa had a show at the museum in 1997 and made the connection between art and tennis. What is he saying with his choice of the Rabelais text? The structure and rules of tennis have changed but the political atmosphere appears to be frozen, fixed.

Politicians have responded to the current atmosphere of terrorist bombings, something Spain has experienced firsthand, by taking away some of the liberties a constitution provides and creating a mountain of new laws and restrictions. Meanwhile, words of protest are cordoned off or carted off to jail before they can be heard.

Plensa reminds us that we make the rules and we can change them. Late spring in Paris might be a good time because, in his words, “We need to breathe normally again.”

Leave it to an artist to evoke a world of ideas with a simple poster for a tennis tournament.

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 296 user reviews.