Tennis Prose



“Beast mode”

I’m playing a USTA tourney in Tampa at Train Smart in Arbor Green. My first opponent “Richard Linden”, is a local who smiles mockingly when I start to crack a couple of winners in the warm up. I like to hit some finishing shots in the warmup but this fella didn’t like it. He was very steady and consistent off both wings and that smile conveyed a message that he was laughing at my best shots. This might be a battle.

Sure enough, he breaks me at love in the first game. Ouch. He hit some nice shots when I gave him easy, neutral balls with decent pace. So I concentrated more on doing something with my shots. Bang, I break him at love. Then once I got comfortable trading with him I began to slow ball him. High slow deep balls. Boy did he hate them, he even waved his arms in dismay – during the point, when he saw I was going to give him a fourth straight slow ball. Needless to say, he could not get back on track and the final score was 61 60. It was a relief because after the first game and the warmup, I was thinking this match might be a long three-setter. My oh my, how slow balls can change everything.

I went to get a yogurt at the Public two miles down the road and the young woman named Sarah at the register asked How are you doing today? She was especially friendly so I told her, I’m playing a tennis tournament down the road and I just won my match. She then told me I have to get in “beast mode.” That’s a pretty cool term, I never heard that before. She said she uses it all the time. So I gave her a card and asked her to check out the site so she could see how the tournament went.

The next match was against the #2 seed “Joe Snow” who has a brand new red Mustang convertible. Joe has a very good serve, and an attacking game. He hits a forehand cross court winner on the first very ball of the first point, and then takes the 1-0 lead. Even though Joe is a little overweight he has a potent game. But his movement to wide balls is exploitable and I feel quick as a cat today. And also, I stay locked into Sarah’s “beast mode.” Very few unforced errors, maybe just two or three tops, and so I lose only one game for the rest of the match, 61 61. Now it’s on to the finals at 9 am on Sunday against the #1 seed.

Many interesting things happened at the tournament. Two people bought my Marcelo Rios book. Alan, the director of the event told me several stories from his life in tennis, such as working with Maurice Gibbs kids. Gibbs was good friends with Nick Bollettieri, who sent Alan to work with the Gibbs kids who were tennis players. Alan went to Key Biscayne and spent a week there getting to know the family, before making a trip to England with the kids for some kind of a junior event. One night at dinner Alan answered the phone and a man asked to speak with Mr. Gibbs, it was a fellow named. Turns out it was THAT Bill Gates, as Bill Gates and Maurice Gibbs would talk about once a week, Mrs. Gibbs informed Alan, because they were good friends.

Alan also told me one of his players hit with Rios at Bollettieri’s once and Rios, who was infamously anti-social in his early ATP years, did not offer any conversation whatsoever with the young player.

Swapping tennis stories with another player at the tournament, he told me a former well-known frugal American ATP #1 used to hit with coaches at Saddlebrook and the custom was that the pros would give a tip for the hit. This certain player, when it came time to give the tip, pulled out a $100 and asked if he could break it. The hitting partner could not and thus did not receive any tip for his services.

There were some other stories about the colorful head of a major academy, when he wanted his office to be made bigger and construction was delayed, much to his frustration, the academy boss pulled out an axe and smashed it into a wall, telling the worker that now he could get started on enlarging his office! There would be no more delays!

And my old friend from New Jersey Juan Coronel is playing in the Arbor Green event too, he lives in the Tampa area during the winter. Juan, who is Panamanian, looks a lot like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Two years ago he had never seen Tsonga and so he went to the U.S. Open to see Tsonga. The Frenchman, shirtless, was hitting with his coach Eric Winogradsky in the morning on an outer court. Juan was standing near the net post by their bags and at the break when Tsonga walked to get some water, he made eye contact with Juan, his knees nearly buckled, as Juan said, “Finally I meet my son!” The stunned Tsonga just said, Damn, but in French.

Stay tuned for the story about the final…

Great final, “Mick Jagger” had a huge serve, classic strokes, reminded me technically and physique-wise of Kucera, tall thin and upright, very good athlete, but unlike Kucera this guy prefers to give the ball a ride rather than play counterpunching defense like the mechanical Czech. I foolishly elected to serve to start the match and he broke me. But I broke back and the set was a dogfight, me basically counter punching him with defense, chasing balls down, passing shots and mostly trying to lure him into long slow backhand to backhand exchanges from the baseline. One shot I recall fondly is guessing early on his inside out forehand to my backhand corner and getting there in perfect time to get the outside of the ball and hitting a perfect angle pass that landed on the line about three feet from the net. Before it even landed, Mick said, “Great shot.”

My serve was not on today, 9 am start time, cold, didn’t get enough warmups. But somehow with a 4.0 level serve I still fought to a 5-2 lead which didn’t hold up as he suddenly upped his game and got it back quickly to 5-4. He served to level but that game was a long battle and I somehow won it despite the thought creeping into my mind that “Damn I just wasted a 5-2 lead and it’s about to be 5-5, this could blow the whole match for me.” He was really annoyed that he blew that set and expressed his displeasure.

The second set, Mick, I could tell, was quite annoyed. I know two quality players down here who know Mick and said it was would be a very tough match, and both thought he would beat me, as these two tournament players know both of our games. But I was amped up and determined and was fueled by the fact that his backhand could go off sometimes, but other times it was consistent. Just keep getting the ball back, mix up your shots, high and low, slow and fast, different points of the court, keep him guessing, I told myself.

To prevent falling asleep early in the second and letting him back into the match, I summoned inner anger or “beast mode” for my emotional theme instead of “Oh wow lucky me to steal that set, maybe he’ll just give it away now.” Mick came out angry and spirited too and he raised his level again. On the 15-all point in the first game I turned the tables and moved him from side to side, forcing him to hit shots from both alleys, but he desperately tracked both balls down. But I was still ready for his desperation, ripping forehand and made the tricky low forehand volley. Huge point. 30-15. No letdowns. This was a wounded tiger and I can’t let him let him get on a roll to feel good about himself. Like Jim Courier once said, “Step on his throat.” Beast mode.

I kept playing the ball deep, high, low, slice, and when he tried to play my game I stunned him with a forehand up the line which he missed long. Then an easy slow ball right down the middle which he netted, yelling to himself, “So discombobulated.” My weird unpredictable different spins, different pace and depth on every ball totally threw him off and I won the second set (6-1) and title. But it was not as easy as it sounds, this guy is a very respected player down here and he was the #1 seed. Huge win, one of the best in a long time, nothing compares to winning a hard-fought tennis match.

The trophy for winning is interesting, it’s a picture frame with the draw and an action photo (see above). Very nice. And the tourney director Alan Williams said some famous players have won events here (Train Smart at Arbor Green in Tampa), including Todd Woodbridge and Jim Courier, who both have the framed champion “trophies” in their attics somewhere.

Met some super nice people, here, Bob Davis, a fellow Volkl user sold me two of his old Tour 9s. Ralph Parsons, the father of the open singles champion Jimmi Parsons, who is also a big hockey fan like me.

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  • Dan Markowitz · January 15, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Way to go beast. Hope the #1 gives you some competition.

  • Steve · January 15, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    You’d think you’d have tougher opponents in Florida than in the North East.
    Was this an age or rating specific event?

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 15, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    It was a great match, aside from my serve, it’s one of the best I’ve played in a long time. This guy could hit and was a serious player, two top players down here who know us both predicted he would beat me today. Steve, yes it was 45s. I think the players I beat were better than the scores indicated, my defense and quickness and variety of shots baffled them and they could not get into any rhythm. The finalist said in the second said, he was “so discombulated.” My awkward game throws a lot of good players off because it’s so different. Two other recent tournament opponents said similarly, “I feel like I forgot how to play tennis.” And “I feel like I’m on Mars.” Ask Dan about my game: )

  • Steve · January 16, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    If you play at Van Saun (or somewhere around N.NJ/NYC) this summer I’ll come and watch.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 16, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    Steve where do you play in the summer/spring? I play a lot in Englewood, Manhattan and mostly Teaneck and Leonia, we’ll have to get together for lunch or dinner or a hit sometime. I used to play at Van Saun for the leagues but stopped when I began to play USTA tournaments ten years ago. Also occasionally played at the other courts in River Edge around the corner from Van Saun but my hitting partner moved to Madrid for a year, she used to play at Louisville.

  • Steve · January 22, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    That sounds fun. I can easily get to Englewood. There’s usually free courts in Emerson. I often play at Fort Washington Park on weekends in NYC.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 22, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    We’ll definitely get together in the spring Steve,



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