Friday, December 2, 2016

"Late to the Ball" by Gerald Marzorati - Becoming a tennis player at any age!


Barbara Youel | Towpath Member Contributor

“Late to the Ball” by Gerald Marzorati is a coming of (older) age story of a former professional reader and editor, who decided to become a competitive and match-ready tennis player on a national scale. As a fifties-something player, Marzorati challenged himself by engaging coaches, trainers, friends and opponents to find skill and meaning in this game. Despite his fear of a late entry to tennis, where (according to him) his years were approaching “the anteroom of the aged,” he was eager to learn and expend both considerable time and money to find that if he plays better, he will win more. “That’s how you grow. And growing is what playing is all about, ultimately, or should be, “ urged Coach Krill.

It’ a great story, told in a conversational style, and full of references that proves he has decades of literary and academic prowess. But before you think this is all too academic, he takes us through all the familiar angst and anguish of the novice tennis player. We will recognize our own struggles on the court – you know – the brilliant “all planets in alignment” shot to a candidate for the all-time tennis bloopers on YouTube, no less.

Marzorati passes along all kinds of tennis tips from tennis pros to professors.

1. “To hit a tennis ball well, so many things have to go right. And then you have to be ready because it is coming right back at you, and you have to do it again.”

Oh yeah……….this just about covers the big picture! Should we stop reading now? But wait, there’s more…

2. “…top tennis players could anticipate where a serve was going by picking up not the ball’s trajectory or even the motion of the racquet but by glimpsing tiny shifts in an opponent’s torso early in the service motion.”

Reminds me of that sixties’ tune – “Easier Said Than Done”…

and, my favorite…

3. “If you want time to slow down, become a student again.”

Seriously, this just about sums up Marzorati’s love affair with tennis. It may explain why youngsters will never be old enough to drive, or graduation is so far away or…. you get the idea. Apparently young people are so busy learning all sorts of things, they feel that life’s in slomo –nothing will ever come to fruition. So if you are in mid-life or later and think time is zooming by way too fast, go out and learn something new, whether it’s tennis, some other sport, a new language, cooking, philosophy or memorizing all the state capitols (you never know when Jeopardy is in your future).

I have been pondering of late (just an expression but it works here) my coming to this wonderful game of tennis some 15 years ago (in mid-life more or less, but who knows how long I will live?) and then starting to run 5K’s “late in life” 5 years ago. Recently I ran a 5.5 mile relay in the Akron Marathon, something I have never done before and never even thought about doing. When some said I had come to running (or even tennis) “late” I began to question that assessment and asked myself if that’s a view from a wide-angle lens or microscope. When I hear players new to tennis say that they are “late-comers” to the sport, I think they reflect a relative notion, one they may be comparing to the lucky youngster given tennis lessons at age 5 or some high school or college wunderkind. But are the newcomers really “late?”

When you are ready to improve your serve, develop your forehand, tighten your volley, or run faster, the readiness IS all…and you are never late. Learn something new and put Father Time on a slow burner. The time is now and it is just right.

Oh, and Mr. Marzorati, I don’t think you are late to anything.


* Gerald Marzorati is former editor of the New York Times Magazine and has written about tennis in the New York Times and on NewYorker.com. He is 63. Late to the Ball (Scribner - 2016) is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and public libraries. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Weird tennis rules & match scenarios - Part 2

Kristianne Bontempo & Katelyn Caniford | Towpath Tennis Contributors

How many times have you played a match and wondered, “Is that legal?” Well with all sorts of odd-ball rules and strange scenarios, you might find yourself frequently questioning the rules. We’re here to give you a list of ten uncommon situations you might find yourself dealing with during your matches.

1) I was playing a match one time and I hit a shot that was floating in the air, but looked like it wasn’t going to go over the net. As the ball was floating, my opponent reached over the net and hit the ball. Is that allowed?  No it’s not allowed. The ball must cross onto HER side of the net before she makes contact, and as long as she did not touch the net, THEN it is okay to follow-through over the net. The only situation when a player may reach over the net to play a ball, is if the spin or wind brings the ball back over the net to the side of the player(s) who hit the shot. Then your opponent can reach over the net to hit the ball.

2) I once played a match where my opponent was cracking open a new beer every so often while changing sides. Are you allowed to have alcoholic beverages during a USTA match? Surprisingly we cannot find any rule against this, but we would hope players would wait at least until after the match is completed to consume any alcohol. If the facility prohibits alcoholic beverages on the court then that player should certainly abide by their rules.

3) Is there a limit to how many lets you can serve in a match? Someone once tried to call a fault for doing so. No! Serve as many times as you need☺

4) Is there a rule that prevents the receiver from “crowding” the service box when returning serve? You and your partner can stand anywhere you want on your side of the court BUT seriously why would you want to considering 1) You can be distracting your doubles partner who’s returning. 2) You can get hit by your opponent's serve and lose the point anyways. 3) You need to let the service ball bounce before you hit it. 4) Your opponents could claim a distraction if you look like you’re intentionally distracting them.

5) I played a doubles match one time where my shot fell too short while lobbing and I told my partner to “watch out.” We ended up winning the point. However, my opponents told me I cannot talk when the ball is leaving my racket and that we can only talk when the ball is coming towards us. Is this correct?
No, this is not correct. You are allowed to speak to your partner at any time during play. Just try to be respectful about it. For example, this could become an issue if you and your partner are so loud that it affects your opponents' concentration or ability to set up the point. They in turn are allowed to ask for a let. 

6) During a singles match, your opponent’s hat flies off in the middle of the point. Is it considered a let or a loss point? In an officiated match, a hat, glasses, ball or racket that falls during a point is considered a let. If an item falls again, then there will be a loss of point. HOWEVER, in an UN-officiated match it is up to the opponent (not the player who dropped the item), to call the let. Also, if the ball in play happens to touch anything that you wear or carry (other than the racket) or any part of your body, then you lose the point.

7) If you whiff a serve, is it considered a fault? Yep sorry! Good news is if you swing and miss an overhead (or any other shot for that matter), you can try to retrieve the ball after the permitted one bounce or no bounce and that is legal. Your partner can make an attempt to play the ball if you whiff a shot as well.

8) What happens if my opponent is serving and purposefully comes to the baseline every time with only one ball? Therefore if she misses, she can take her time walking to get another ball in order to delay. The official rules state that if the first serve is missed, then the second serve should then be hit without delay. Even though the rules also state that there is a 20 second provision in between points, that doesn’t apply to first and second serves. Your opponent should have two balls with them every time they step up to serve.

9) Can you switch hands when playing tennis? There are players that are ambidextrous that can play with two forehands/two backhands (ie. Monica Seles). It might screw with your opponent's head but yes, it is legal to switch racket “handed-ness” during play.

10) I once hit a shot that was clearly going out. Both my opponent and I know it, yet he calls the ball out but then reaches up and catches it. Is this allowed? No. According to the rules, if a player catches a ball before it bounces then that player automatically loses the point. Players are always considered to have the benefit of the doubt that the ball is in, until it touches the ground.

To study up on other weird tennis rulings, check out Miscellaneous USTA Rules. You never know when you're going to need it!

Do you have a question or weird scenario that you'd like to know the ruling of? Email us with your question!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Revamping the USTA rating system

Katelyn Caniford | Towpath Tennis Pro

      With the busy summer USTA season officially ending and fall season now in full swing, many players are in the process of getting their ratings set. Whether you’re a brand new player doing this for the first time or you’re returning from a long hiatus, in order to play on the USTA tennis leagues, a rating is needed. Unfortunately, anyone that’s had to endure this test has encountered first hand just how frustrating and sometimes inaccurate it can be.

       One of the biggest problems with the USTA rating system is their lack of detailed questions. The test begins with several yes or no fill-ins trying to categorize you anywhere from a world class player to a total beginner. The problems occur when you get deeper into these questions. For instance, back when I had to rate for the very first time, I had just committed to playing division II tennis. Long story short I got rated a 5.0. Now granted, I was a decent high school player, but no state champion deserving of a 5.0 rating. Not to mention I had just graduated high school and had never played USTA adult league tennis before.
       So why did they rate me as so? Was it solely because I was committing to play in college? The real question is, can the USTA really make a good evaluation of the type of player I am based on that one answer? No. There are many tennis players out there on college teams that couldn’t even compete with the average high school player!
       Another example is the classic story of a returning tennis player trying to get back into the USTA leagues. Take a former 5.0 college player who hasn’t touched a racquet in 20 years, has had two knee replacements, and isn’t nearly in as good of shape as she used to be. Should this player still be rated a 5.0? According to the rating system, if that was her last published rating, then yes. Even though the test doesn’t ask her when the last time she played was, or the injuries sustained (injury questions happen during the appeal process).
      Now obviously the USTA can’t come and watch everyone play who needs a rating (they tried it for years with people raters). So what’s the solution here? More detailed questions with a little more leeway. The yes or no questionnaire is fine and does cover a lot. A text box discussing dates and severity of injuries sustained or time off from playing would make a significant difference. Also, rather than a computer making an immediate decision, it would help if the USTA could review answers prior to giving out set ratings. This might not work for brand new players but it would be a good system for someone returning from a long break from the game. That way, they don’t even have to worry about going through the appeal process.
       It’s safe to say that the USTA doesn’t have the time or the man power to force groups of people to monitor their rating system-but they need to. They would save so much time having to sift through appeals if they would review the tests to begin with. Even just adding a few more text boxes so players can explain their history with the game would make a huge difference. 

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

How much would it cost to attend all 4 major grand slam tennis tournaments?

Katelyn Caniford | Towpath Tennis Pro

Tournament
Month
Town
Australian Open
January
Melbourne
French Open
May - June
Paris
Wimbledon
June - July
London
US Open
August - September
New York City

 Any tennis fan dreams of attending one of the major grand slam tournaments at some point in their lifetime. However what if you were able to attend not just one, but ALL of the majors. How much would that cost? Where could you secure the best deals? Well we’re here to give you the breakdown of how much multiple trips like this would cost, and the best methods to save money.

Let’s assume that a regular couple living in Akron, Ohio were trying to attend all the major tournaments. They also would love to see the quarterfinals in each event. Economically, the best way for them to save on their finances would be to purchase “tour packages”. These are a perfect option when traveling overseas. Some of the best packages are available on TWS Tennis Tours (http://www.twstennistours.com/) or Tennis Tours (http://www.tennistours.com).

TWS Tennis Tours seemed to have the most bang for your buck as a typical package would include not just tickets to the event itself, but the hotels and flights as well. They have tours for all of the majors aside from the US Open. One of their most popular packages is for the Australian Open which they call the “Australian Luxury Tour Package”.
Included are - 4 quarterfinal tickets (or 3 semi-finals tickets instead),
-          a round trip economy air flight from LAX to Melbourne with private airport transfers to and from the hotel
-          a booking to a five-star suite hotel with daily breakfast buffets
-          At the event itself-access to the championship bar and corporate lounges, and VIP access to the main gates
-          Private walking tours and a tour of the local art museum are included as well
-          Buggy to ride around in and an exclusive wine tasting

topfemaletennisplayers.com
This particular package assumes that you will be staying for 2 whole weeks and the cost would be $14,950. However, in order to save even more you can drop your stay down or sell off the other tickets included (assuming two individuals are going). This would most likely drop the whole cost down to about $7,500.

Now of course, there are going to be things you’ll need/want to do that might not necessarily be involved in these tour packages. Such as food and attractions. It’s safe to budget about $400 for the attractions assuming that you’re attending about 4 events at $100 each. As for food, you’re looking to spend about $1,100 assuming your meals are eaten at places other than fast food restaurants. Also keep in mind too that if you’re a drinker it might be a good idea to add on another $9-$15 per day depending on how much you plan on consuming.

Similar packages on TW Tennis Tours are not nearly as expensive as they are only over 5 days, don’t include a flight, and typically only give you two tickets instead of four. Their Wimbledon and French Open packages are fairly similar to the Australian package above, except this time costing $6,350. Add in a round trip flight for $1,100 per ticket and you’re at a total of $8,550 just for the essentials. Add on the $400 for attractions and $1,100 for food and you’re looking at about $10,050 for the whole trip.

Fortunately, for a couple living in Akron, Ohio the US Open isn’t nearly as expensive as the overseas tournaments. To attend the quarters and semifinals of the open (types of tickets they offer) and staying in a 3 star hotel over 5 days, you’re looking to spend about $1,695 each. Factor in the food and attraction prices, plus money for gas ($100 on the high end depending on your car) and you’re looking at a little $5,000.

One way to save even more money when traveling to the US Open is by purchasing tickets for the first week of play rather than waiting for the later rounds. That way, not only are you saving money but you also get to explore all the action on the grounds. A lot of the less expensive ticket packages for the first week even grant you access to all of the courts!

Overall on the high end of attending the quarterfinals of all four majors for two people at a moderate comfort level, expect to drop around $33,000. Of course these are all rough estimates and you can definitely eliminate staying at nicer hotels or maybe not eating a high class meal every night. Either way though, definitely be prepared to drop a pretty penny if attending these grand level events is on your bucket list.

For those of you that would LOVE to attend the majors but just can’t fit it into your budgets, there are plenty of other tournaments to attend that might get you more bang for your buck. Indian Wells, Key Biscayne, and the Western & Southern in Cincinnati are just a few that will give fans a more intimate atmosphere to see your favorite players at a much better price tag!

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

5 Tips for Playing College Tennis

Katelyn Caniford | Towpath Tennis Pro

So you just graduated from high school and you’re getting ready to head off to college. You’ve signed your letter of intent to play tennis and now your focus is all on your training. You feel prepared, but are a little unsure of what to expect. College tennis is a whole new environment, and it can be incredibly overwhelming at first. Here are some tips to help you adjust to your brand new team.

Exercise and Train

coachjpweber.com
One of the most important aspects of playing tennis in college is the training regimen. You’re now playing at a much higher level than you were before. Because of this, you’re going to have to exercise and train much harder. Spend your summer playing as much tennis as you possibly can (aim for 4-5 days a week) and try to hit with players that are at your same level or better. Also, develop an exercise plan for yourself that utilizes a lot of sprints as well as drills for changing direction. If you’re lucky, your coach might even have a summer program for you to follow which will make this even easier for you!

Get to know your new team

One thing I was very happy I did prior to officially going off to college was getting to know some of my teammates ahead of time. This made the transition into college tennis that much easier. If you’re close by, go to some of their matches and start talking to them about the team, what their competition is like, etc. In this age of social media, it’s also incredibly easy to connect with some of the other recruits in your class online. Who knows, maybe you’ll even find a roommate ahead of time if you make it a point to reach out to them.

Be a team player

In a lot of cases, your college team is going to consist of the players who were all the best on their high school teams. Because of this, it’s easy to expect to walk in and be one of the top players. Leave that mindset behind. College tennis is a completely different level and everyone’s a good player. Try and be open to wherever your coach thinks you would fit best. Maybe they see you as a doubles expert or a guaranteed win at six singles. Regardless of where you get placed, have an open mind and be a team player. Remember that both your coach and your teammates are counting on you to play your part for the overall success of the team.

Develop a relationship with your coach

Your coach is the most important link between your game and your success on the team. They recruited you, which means they think that you’re not only a great player, but a great person as well who they want to be part of their success. Show them the appreciation and respect they deserve. Of course there are going to be times where you disagree, but the more you take it upon yourself to get to know them the better off you’ll be. Don’t be afraid to talk to them if you’re unhappy or uncomfortable with something. If the team is important enough to them, they’ll be happy to sit down with you and listen to what you have to say.

Stay Positive

There are going to be times where it’s going to get hard, real hard. You’re going to want to give up and quit and that’s ok. It’s only natural to feel that way when you’re dedicating so much of your time to something of this magnitude and missing out on other fun opportunities in the process. The best advice I can give here is to stay positive and stick with it. Nothing is ever easy, especially in the environment that is college tennis. However, once it’s all over you’re going to look back on those years and be glad you did it.

Having the opportunity to play college tennis is a huge blessing. You’re going to get to travel to all kinds of cool places and get to know incredible people. Remember that not everyone gets an opportunity like this so be open to all the endless possibilities and most importantly, have fun!  

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Saturday, July 2, 2016

12 Things You Didn't Know About Wimbledon

Kristianne Bontempo | Towpath Tennis Contributor

In it's first week of the 139th run of the oldest Grand Slam in history, The Championships, Wimbledon, we've seen a fair share of drama as well as a lot of rain. But while cheering on players like Marcus Willes, your average tennis instructor from England who beat somebody ranked 719 spots ahead of him, or cringing as defending Champions Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic crack under pressure, trivial thoughts creep into our head, "What's with all the white? Has there ever been a Wimbledon where it hasn't rained? Why is it that strawberries are synonymous with Wimbledon?" Not to worry, because we thought about that too and took it one step further to present you with the 12 things you didn't know about Wimbledon!
ESPN2 - Wimbledon Championships on Vimeo
  1. Before Wimbledon was Wimbledon, the tournament began in 1877 consisting of only 22 players in its first Gentleman's Singles Championships. 
  2. Tennis players wear white because back in the 1800's it was unsightly for them to show any sweat spots on their clothes. Wearing all white disguised the problem. 
  3. The All England Club that hosts this historic tournament has a total of 54 grass, clay, and indoor tennis courts-19 of which are 'show' courts which are preserved for the Championships. 
  4. You may be denied admission as a spectator if you show up in ripped jeans, dirty trainers (sweat pants and shirts), sports shorts, or generally look like a punk rocker or biker.
  5. Tennis Champion Shirley Fry from Akron, OH is among only 10 women who have won a singles title at all 4 Grand Slams (Wimbledon 1956), and only among 6 women who have won all 4 doubles titles (Wimbledon 1951-1953).
  6. At the Champions Dinner there was a long held tradition of dancing between the two Singles Champions, which had ceased until Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams brought it back in 2015. Also, before they started dating, Andre Agassi had the pleasure of dancing with Steffi Graf after his only Wimbledon title in 1992.
  7. You can be a member and play all year round at the All England Club. The membership which is limited to 376 members are past Wimbledon Singles Champions, high politicos or are among the rich and famous. But not to worry, because if you know at least 4 full members who are willing to write a letter of recommendation for you, then you're a shoe-in for the waiting list with all the other 1,000 hopefuls.
  8. Even though Buckingham Palace is a mere 7 miles away from where the tournament is held, the Queen of England has only attended Wimbledon 4 times in her 64 year reign (1957, 1962, 1977, 2010). 
  9. The official Wimbledon headband is too colorful for Wimbledon. Nick Kyrgios was forced to turn it inside out during his 2015 run at the tournament.
  10. The longest recorded tennis match in history was played on Court No. 18 at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships when John Isner defeated Nicolas Mahut, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68 after a grueling 11 hours. The shortest recorded Men's match at Wimbledon was a Men's Singles Final in 1881, when William Renshaw defeated John Hartley, 6-0, 6-1, 6-1, in only 36 minutes! 
  11. The Wimbledon Championships only has a completely dry tournament about once every 20 years. The 'Middle Sunday' is reserved as a day of rest, however rain has forced play four times in Wimbledon history-1991, 1997, 2004, and now 2016. 
  12. Strawberries were the fashionable thing to eat back in the late 1800's, and they just happen to make their seasonal appearance at the start of the tournament. And there you have a delightful coincidence and a yummy tradition!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Tennis Burnout- Taking time off

Kristianne Bontempo & Katelyn Caniford | Towpath Tennis Contributors

So you’re feeling the tennis burnout. Weeks go by and you realize you’re not progressing in your lessons, as well as not winning your matches. It’s easy to get frustrated and want to quit altogether, but before you make any decisions you might regret, here’s some tips on how to get your game back when you feel like you’ve hit a wall.

sportspsychologytennis.com
Take time off - If you’re beginning to feel like playing all the time is doing more harm than good, you might want to consider taking a break from the game. Especially if you’re starting to feel both physically and mentally exhausted. Don’t feel guilty, even the professionals need a break here and there. Create a short term plan for yourself by taking a week off and if you don’t find that you’re missing tennis just yet, try extending your break a little longer. Maybe a whole month is what you’ll need to feel rejuvenated and excited about the game again.

But the team needs you - If you’re struggling to decide if taking some time off is really necessary, especially if you’re team is pressuring you to play or you’re committed to a weekly drill, then try first minimizing the days you want to play. If you’re currently playing 4 days/week, cut it down to 3, then 2. Time away from the court will not only be beneficial to your physical and mental well-being, but it will give you time to hopefully forget some bad habits you felt like you were struggling with in your game. 

Forget the negative thoughts – “I’m no good, my teammates think I suck, I just want to quit.” Sometimes walking on the court can become a dark, dreary place if you’re stuck in a funk. But if you absolutely refuse to take a break, then it’s time to change how you look at the game. Why did you start playing tennis? Did you want to get fit, want to play with your friends, or do you really just love it? Many times when players get into this downward spiral, coaches will often have players start back at the basics—in other words, strip yourself from what is making your tennis experience so negative. If you’re on the biggest losing streak of your life, take a few private lessons to focus on your biggest crutch. If you don’t like the people you’re playing with, find another group. If you’re feeling too much pressure to win your matches, then skip a match or two.

One good thing to keep in mind here is that even if you do end up needing a short break, remember that you’re not missing out if you don’t play for a while. Even if tennis is your time for socialization, your friends won’t forget about you. They’ll understand that you need to do what’s best for you and when you do decide it’s time to return, it’ll be like you never left! Also, make sure that when you do make your big return that it’s when you’re excited about tennis again! Think of your ‘comeback’ (even if it’s a week) as a fresh start to a whole new you. Come back with a positive attitude and start having some fun again! 

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