Tuesday, June 26, 2012



When I think about Andy Murray, part of me pities him for being around at a time with three of the best players of all time.  I keep pulling for him to finally break through, and he continues to disappoint.  The other half of me, though, blames him for not changing his attitude, affect, energy, or strategy on the court enough.  He is still way too mopey and negative and whiny out there, and he continues to try certain tactics in big matches that simply won’t work.

To me Murray shows just how much the phrase timing is everything applies to tennis as well as life.  I believe if Murray were playing between the years of say 2000-2003 he would be a dominant #1 in the world and be winning major championships.  He is every bit as good as a Hewitt or Ferrero or Moya or Muster were when they got to #1.  That is plain old bad luck for him.  Instead, he has to face Rafa time and time again in the semi’s of majors, knowing that even if he wins, Djoko or Fed is waiting for him.  That is a tough, tough ask.  Those 6 sets are the toughest 6 outs in tennis history.

That is brutal for Murray.  That makes me feel really bad for him when he comes within a few points of beating Djoko in an epic Aussie Open semi and then takes more and more abuse from the media for losing again.  He absorbs a lot of flack and does a pretty good job of not allowing it to beat him down.

On the other hand, though, Murray needs to change something drastically if he wants different results.  One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  He can’t go out there time and time again with the same attitude and conduct. He needs a change.

Here is what I would suggest for Murray were I his coach:
1)   Act happy and peppy on the court.  Even if he has to completely fake it, keep his body language positive.  You don’t see Rafa pouting or looking defeated during a match and that sends a message to his opponents.
2)   Only hit slice backhands when he is on the run and in a defensive position.  You do not slice your way to major championships anymore.  He also has probably the second best two-handed backhand in the world.
3)   Try to hit every forehand 15 percent harder, and try to hit much, much fewer of them in the middle of the court.
4)   Never hit another drop shot.
5)   Learn to hit that 80 percent first serve to increase his first serve percentage and hit fewer second serves.
If he did these five things (and I know they would be really hard to do, but shouldn’t it be hard to win majors at a time with three of the best ever?), I am confident he could reach the next level.
The question is, can he force himself to do it?  Can he get out of his comfort zone enough?  Will he become more and more discouraged, or will he do what Rafa has done his whole career and make the tough adjustments.  Look at what Rafa has done with his career.  He came in a pure clay-courter, and now he has won all four majors, is a great volleyer, stands close to the baseline at Wimby, and is constantly working on his serve.  That shows to be great you can’t get complacent, but have to constantly look for ways to grow.
In addition to the changes and adjustment lesson, Murray also shows me that yes timing is everything and we can’t change the hand we are dealt, but we CAN choose how we will respond to it.  We CAN make the choice not to mope and wish we were dealt a different hand, but instead to do everything we can to make the most of our cards. 

Look at what Rafa has done in regards to coming up during Fed’s reign?  He could have become angry and discouraged to be behind the greatest of all time, but instead he chose to use it as motivation to be the best he can be.

That choice is always in our hands.


Monday, June 25, 2012


As I sit hear agog in excitement waiting for the 2012 Wimby to get under way, I am truly astounded and in awe of what Rafa and Djoko have been able to do.  Nine straight slam victories between the two (Rafa leading 5-4), trying to make their fifth straight slam final versus one another (on three different surfaces), and taking the game to new levels of physical and mental toughness.
 After their 2011 US Open final I thought they could never bring their great sport to even more physically grinding and grueling heights, but they far exceeded themselves in the 2012 Aussie Open final, the most physical tennis match ever played (I still think the Rafa Fed 2008 Wimby finals was the pure GREATEST ever).  These two gladiators have grabbed the torch from Fed and brought tennis to a place I never dreamed it could go.
 Not only am I amazed, impressed and in awe of their physical greatness and talent as well as their unbelievable spirit and competitiveness, I am also inspired by their class and sportsmanship.  Fed set the standard of class and grace, Rafa continued it, and now Djoko has followed (it took him a few years to mature).  Djoko has grown and evolved so incredibly much these past three years, and I think it is in large part to the standard that Fed and Rafa set for their sport.  They simply left no room for the next great one NOT to be classy.
 The fact that these young men, so competitive, with so much at stake out there can maintain their composure enough to hit unreal shots at moments I am so nervous I am shaking while simply watching on my couch is sick.  The fact that they can do it with class, grace, and humility is even sicker.  Anyone who does not see what an awesome sport men’s tennis is does not get and or appreciate how hard it is to do what these guys do.  They are MEN out there, and they are role models whom I want my children to watch.  We forget sometimes that most are in their early to mid 20s because they conduct themselves with such composure and respect for their sport and all that is surrounding it.
When I look at the difference between men’s and women’s tennis right now, it tells me all I need to know about how amazing these men are.  Whereas in the women’s game, half of them are having meltdowns and choking their guts out, many are constantly injured, many others seem to go from great one month to forgetting how to make a serve the next, and no one seems to have the consistency of greatness or guts and competitiveness (except maybe Sharapova), the top 3 men are a solid as a beautifully pristine mountain.  They are unshakable, indefatigable, and unwavering in their dominance.
Look at what these guys have done the last 7 years.  The top 3 have taken 27 out of 28 slams! Wow, wow, wow!  Only Delpo has stolen the 2009 US Open from Fed.  And if you really know the sport, you know that the physical margin of difference between the top 3 and the rest is not THAT great.  Sure, Djoko has the best backhand in the world.  Sure Fed has more variety than anyone.  Sure Rafa’s topspin forehand has the greatest RPMs ever, but they are winning close, close matches day in and day out against the greatest in the world.  That is mental toughness.  That is head and heart. That is consistent greatness.
Whereas most any mere mortal becomes timid under the tremendous pressure of the huge moments in the huge slams, these three become even MORE aggressive and MORE gutsy.  They go for it even more, even when every ounce of their body probably wants to become conservative.  Look at how Djoko played the four match points in the French against Tsonga.  Look at how he played the two against Fed in the 2011 US Open.  Look at how Rafa plays EVERY big point and EVERY break point against him on his serve.  You think you win 16 slams like Fed has without going for it when it matters most?  You don’t push your way to major championships.  You don’t wait for the other guy to miss.  You have to go out and grab it with bravery and conviction and belief.
I see several lessons from these champions that I can apply to my own life.  First, dominance and greatness are special and should never be taken for granted.  They should be appreciated and marveled at.  Second, to achieve greatness takes unbelievable hard work and patience.  Look at the work these top 3 put in day in day out, week in week out all over the world.  They make it look easy, but it sure ain’t.  They have earned every ounce of their greatness with blood, sweat and tears.  Third, so much of sports and life is mental.  The difference is slight and your belief and state of mind makes all of the difference.  If you walk into that job interview thinking you have earned it and deserve it and will be good at it, you have a lot better chance than walking in timid and unsure.  If you walk up to that girl believing she is yours and you deserve her, she is a lot more likely to go on that date than if you question your every move.  Even when your body wants to get timid, even when your mind wants to shed doubt, you simply can’t allow it to happen.
Part of this rare ability is most likely an innate, inborn talent that is a rare gift and you can’t teach, but I bet part comes with practice and hard work. 
You have to put in the work, believe in yourself, and then GO for it with conviction.  Easier said than done. 
But these three top men show us that it can be done…


When I think about the dearth and paucity (yes, I am an English teacher) of great American tennis players, I have several theories as to why we are producing so little in the way of true champions.  First, everything I said about Ferrer in my previous blog I see lacking in American tennis players.  Perhaps because of our culture of fast rewards and instant gratification, perhaps because of our parenting styles, who knows why, but I do not see a lot of players who are great competitors, who are willing to put in grueling work to win a long point, or who maximize their potential.

With the exception of maybe John Isner (I am still not 100 percent sold on him, though I do like him), I do not see any American players right now whom I consider  great fighters.  Donald Young is a waste of talent, a moper, a whiner, and the farthest thing from a fighter.  Queerie has no fire in the belly and seems so lethargic and apathetic that I have a hard time not falling asleep when watching him.  Roddick’s best days have passed him by (though he is one I do admire and I think has gotten short shrift for his great accomplishments), and Harrison is yet to fully break through.  Harrison may have the potential to tame that temper and turn into a fighter.  The jury is still out on him.

I see all of this (perhaps I am reading way too much into the metaphor, but like I said, I AM and English teacher) as part of a larger cultural statement.  I think a lot of this comes down to our way of life and what we value and are becoming here in America.  Kids today in the U.S. expect fast rewards.  They often do not want to put in the boring drudge work of hours and hours of detailed routine.  They want the quick, flashy dunk, not the fundamental bounce-pass and bank shot.  They want the huge, thumping forehand winner, not the 37 point grinding clay court rally win where you wear your open out.  Many kids here are also raised to believe they are truly “special” and deserve special treatment.  This is surely not the case for all American kids, but I see it every day at work, and I think it is true for many, many of them.

When you combine all of the above cultural factors with our eating habits and the fact that there are so many sports to choose from (in addition to the fact that any great athlete on any urban corner can go play a pickup game of basketball any time for free, whereas to get tennis equipment, a coach, courts to play on, and travel on the tournament circuit is a bit more expensive and involved), it does not  spell success for our youth tennis program.

What are the lessons here?  To me, it reinforces the need for us to get back to basics.  We need to start valuing hard work and maximizing potential more than flashy God-given talent.  We need to emphasize that success and rewards take time and patience and perseverance.   We need all of our kids not to feel so “special” that they think they are entitled and things should come easier for them.

Maybe we should spend a bit more time watching Rafa or Ferrer work a 43-point clay court rally than Kobe or LeBron make some fancy dunk, or some football player celebrate for 20 seconds after a sack when his team is losing by 23 points? 
Sometimes there is beauty in simplicity and tenacity.



No one do I respect and admire more in the men’s tennis game(except maybe my idol Rafa) than David Ferrer.  At 5 feet 9 inches (probably more like 7 or 8 inches), about 160 pounds soaking wet, 30 years old, the guy is an absolute animal.  He truly epitomizes what it means to get the most out of your given talents.  Ferrer is the quintessential example of a great competitor who never complains, never doesn’t give his absolute all on every single point.  He exemplifies what hard work, perseverance, and tenacity can get you in life.

Ferrer is not as strong as Tsonga, not as tall as Delpo or Sod or Isner, not as fast in a sprint as Murray, doesn’t serve like Fed or Roddick, yet day in and day out, week in and week out all over the world there he is in the quarters or semi’s or winning the whole tournament.  He almost never gets upset by someone below him, and he seems not to get discouraged by the fact that he simply does not have the fire power to win a major or beat the big three.  He also rarely gets hurt or tired because of the amazing amount of hard work her puts in off the court.

It has to be frustrating to be the fifth best player in the world having never been to a slam final or never having won a Masters 1000 tourni.  Yet Ferrer seems to know he is getting the most out of his gifts and he never mopes or whines.  He simply goes about his business like a true professional.  He gets after it without any ego or hang-ups, and he has earned the genuine respect of everyone in the game.  Part of me feels bad for him, always losing in some grueling clay court final to Rafa, or being pounded in the semi’s of some hard court tournament versus Djoko, or served off the court at Wimby versus Fed, but then part of me says….hey, he is a millionaire, he is dong what he loves every day, and he is getting every ounce out of his potential. 

It is all how you choose to look at it.  Like so much of life.  Ferrer seems to make the choice to look at his glass so that he feels blessed, grateful, and lucky.  He does not choose to look at his situation in a manner that would frustrate or discourage him.  He actively makes that choice, just like he chooses to work his butt off every point (and I am sure every minute of every practice session).  I can only imagine what is practice workout routine is.

I look at Ferrer and think to myself, what could Tsonga do with that work ethic and toughness?  Where would Monfils be if he had the head and heart of Ferrer?  Berdych surely would have won multiple slams.  Soderling would be a multiple slam champ.  You take those guys’ tools and weapons and give them to Ferrer and he may have 10 or more slam titles.  He shows me that it is much more important and significant to make the most of your talents than to be born with talent.

 Ferrer shows me that sports and life are more about work ethic, attitude, and a willingness to grow and persevere than about God-given gifts.  Ferrer shows me that I will take consistent goodness over occasional greatness any day.  Ferrer shows me that you can defy what people tell you (I am sure he has been told he could never get to 5 in the world at a time with three of the best ever and be there at age 30) if you are willing to work and believe in yourself.  Ferrer shows me that if you give everything you have, not only will you earn the respect and admiration of everyone who knows you, but you will also feel pretty darn good about yourself at the end of the day.

We could all use a little Ferrer in us.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010


At the conclusion of my second ever adult tennis tournament, the Beverly Hills 5.5 division, I had one major belief of mine about tennis and all of sports confirmed: IT ALL COMES DOWN TO HEAD AND HEART. Borris Becker used to say the fifth set has very little to do with tennis, and now I fully know what he meant. What it has to do with is who battles more, who wants it more, who maintains composure, and who is willing to believe and go for it when it matters most.

I knew going in to Saturday morning that I would need to win three matches in about 24 hours if I were to come away with the trophy. I was scheduled to play the quarters Saturday morning, the semi’s Saturday night, and the finals Sunday morning if I made it. Having watched several of my prospective opponents, I was struck by how equal we all were. None of us was good enough to blow the other off the court. The matches would be close, and they would come down to a point here or there.

It would all come down to who competed best.

Very similar to the top level of the pros (at a SLIGHTLY different level, however).

My quarterfinal match on Saturday morning turned in to everything I did not want it to be: an absolute marathon and war. In the third set alone, I had to call the umpire three times because of my opponent’s line calls. It tested every ounce of my physical and emotional reserves. Once I saw him begin to cramp at 3-3 in the third, though, I knew it was mine for the taking. At that moment I fully got how tennis is a one-on-one battle, and so much of it comes down to who is willing to pay the bigger price.

After prevailing in an epic 6-4 in the third battle, I went home and got horizontal and got has many fluids and foods in my body as possible. When I showed up for my semi final match that night, every muscle in my body was on the brink of cramping. I came armed with tons of Gatorade and ridiculous amounts of bananas. Every changeover I was chugging fluids and downing bananas.

When I found out that instead of playing a three hour morning match, my opponent had a walkover, I thought I stood zero chance.
After winning the first, I got down early in the second and decided if I were to have any chance at all in the decider, I basically had to tank the rest of the second set. I lost it 6-1, but had a tough time re-starting and quickly found myself down 4-0 in the third.

It was at that moment that I made the conscious decision that I refused to go down easy. It would have been so easy, quick, and painless to lose two more games, but thinking of what Rafa would do, I battled back and won 6-4 in the third!

I am still not sure it was worth the pain.

That night I could barely sleep from over-exhaustion. I was sure I would have absolutely nothing left for the finals. I especially felt this way when I agreed to do my opponent a favor and play the match at 7 a.m. since he had to be at work.

When I got myself out of bed at 5 am. And it was still dark, I deeply questioned whether any of this was worth it.

But, I finally decided I had not come this far to go away easy. Thank GOD, I won the finals in straight sets 6-3, 6-3. Thank GOD it was a short, and relatively painless match. But at 3-3 in the second when I faced 5 break points and had to battle out a 10 minute service game, I did have to dig deep. I did have to compete. I needed to use MY HEAD and HEART. I broke his will.

For there was very little difference in tennis ability between any of us in the draw.

As Becker said, the difference did not come down to tennis.

I find this to be true beyond the tennis court. What makes Cliff Lee so incredible in the playoffs? When he goes in to Yankee stadium and blanks them, it is because he BELIEVES he will and THRIVES off pressure. What makes Kobe or Lebron who they are? It is not merely God-given talent. It how hard they work and compete. It is their heads and hearts.

I would venture to say that is also probably true of amazing CEO's or fathers, or mothers or teachers or doctors. It always comes down to doing OUR very best. Pushing ourselves to the limit, whether we we or not. As long as we compete OUR best and use our head and hearts, we can be proud.

I bet it is true in almost EVERY area of our lives.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Blog # 20: What Would Rafa Do?

As I played in my second ever adult tournament last weekend in Beverly Hills, I needed to utilize every possible physical and mental resource (even ones I didn’t know I had) to get through the match. I was playing in the 5.5 division (one below the open level), and in my first round match I unfortunately ran into a 6 foot 3 Lithuanian who played college tennis at LMU. What a draw!

No time to ease into this tournament.

Luckily he was playing his first tournament in a while and came out rustier than the Tin Man. I won the first set 6-4 and thought I was well on my way to a straight sets W. Unfortunately, my opponent got much of the rust off, and as soon as the second set began, I knew I was in for a war. He took the second set 6-3, and we were set to go the distance.
Up until this time, it was a friendly match with great calls (I even think he gave me some pretty generous calls), but things quickly began to heat up in the deciding set. He hit a few balls early in the set that just missed, and when I called them out, he started to give second glances. Then, midway through the set, when I was serving at 2-2 40-15, I hit a first serve that he swung at, broke his string, and missed in the net. The serve was either on the back line or perhaps slightly long, but he played it, so I started walking to change sides.

As he was walking to get a new racket, he surprised me when he said, “oh, your serve was long.” I was shocked. I told him even if it were, it does not matter because he played it. This clearly angered him. The next game, when he hit a few balls way out, and I did not bother to say “out” he said, you didn’t make a call (even though they were well out and I was not making a play on the ball). Also, every time I missed he shouted “out!”

This started to make me mad. He would not let it go.

Then, came the big moment. It was 4-4 deuce and I was serving. It was the point of the match; he was running me ragged and I was retrieving like a mad man. I hit a short ball and he pounds his approach to my forehand. I run over, and with my last ounce of energy, hit a passing shot that he dives for and gets by him. I give a huge c’mon! because the ball landed well inside the line. But then I hear “out!”

First of all, I know that there is no way he could have seen where it landed because he was too busy face planting, and secondly, I knew it was a good couple FEET in. I try not to, but I start to go ballistic. I threaten to get an umpire unless he will change his call, and since he won’t, I go get an umpire. I later realized this may have been a mistake, because there is no way she can over-turn the call (and there is also no way I can get REVENGE and call his next two shots out to get to ad-in where we should be!!!). I have to play it as ad-out and I am so distraught that I lose the next point to get broken and go down 4-5.

I walked to the bench at the changeover fuming and ready to quit. I was going to hit four balls over the fence at walk off in a fury without shaking his hand. I had had it. But then a simple thought came to me:


He would not quit. He would not let a bad call get the better of him. He would be resilient and break back. Instead of WHAT WOULD JESUS DO, I had to reframe the question to: what would my sports idol do? What would the greatest competitor in the world do?

I broke back, and ended up winning 12-10 in the breaker after saving four match points.

THAT is what Rafa would have done.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Blog # 19: Why Rafa is my Idol and what we can all learn from him

As I watched Rafa fall to the hard courts in New York last Monday night after defeating Djokovic (by the way, major, major props to Djoko, and I hope he finally starts to get the respect he deserves!), one word came to mind: WOW. Wow, wow, wow.

Just when I think I can't possibly respect, love, and admire the guy any more, he tops himself once again. Just when I think my adoration for him has hit its limit, he goes and gets his career slam. Wow.

And, as always, it is not merely that he came out victorious, it is the WAY he wins. It is the WAY he goes about everything that I treasure and attempt to emulate.

For example, early on in the tournament it is watching him play Istomin and beat him in three close sets and having that match represent everything that is great about sports. Both men were applauding one another's efforts, both men refused to quit or lie down, and when they embraced at the net at the end, it was a genuine embrace of care and respect.

After the final, it is seeing Rafa go out of his way to praise Djoko's attitude and acknowledge how hard it is to lose a slam final. He complimented Novak and said how great his attitude and approach was for kids to see. He didn't have to mention that in his moment of glory. It would have been easy to make it all about himself.

Rafa always goes out of his way to praise his opponent, to show them RESPECT before any match (even a first round match against number 200 in the world), and never to take anyone for granted. He plays every match, nearly every point, with a PASSION and INTENSITY that we all could bring to our jobs. I get the feeling he actually enjoys the PROCESS of each match, each challenge, instead of merely looking to the product or end result.

I believe him when he says "I tried my best" and therefore has nothing to feel badly about after a hard-fought loss. I believe him when he says what he loves most about tennis (and what he missed most when he was out with his knee injury) is the COMPETITION, and not the winning. I can see how seriously he takes PRACTICE and never settles for good enough.

He is constantly looking for ways to get better and is never, ever complacent. Just look at what he has done for his volleys and his serve this past year. Look at what he has done at Wimbledon. Not bad for a clay-courter. The truly great ones in any profession are never stagnant.

All I have to know about Rafa is how he plays break points against him on his serve as well as any huge point in a match. He gets even more aggressive and gutsy when it really, really matters. If he is going to go down, it will not be out of fear, but will be on his terms. All I need to know about Rafa is how he plays the points or the games right after a bad moment. Just watch how he bounces back. That is resilience.

He literally crushes the will of his opponents (think Djoko in the 4th set). One moment from the final captures much of this. It was one set all and Djoko had just salvaged an unbelievable hold (Rafa-esque) to make it 4-3 and Rafa's serve. Novak played three great points to get it to 15-30, and this was his moment. This was his chance. What happens next? Three unreturnable serves. Fitting that the aspect he worked on most and practiced hardest saves him. 5-3, and Djoko's will is broken.

Match over. Career Slam. Slam #9 at age 24.