Feb/20

21

Delray Beach Notebook

Noah Rubin has created a clothing line for his “Behind The Racquet” interview feature series on Instagram. He has the name of the series on his black shorts and black shirt but he still wears Asics shoes and uses a Head racquet. I sat behind him during his match with Yoshihito Nishioka and noticed he does something different. At every changeover he puts his racquet on the ground about five feet away, in different spots five feet away. When the ballkid picked it up to give it to him, Rubin politely declined and puts it back in the place he wants, five feet away. An odd quirk.

A normal quirk for a tennis player is to go out and practice after a match. Ugo Humbert is a very hard worker. The French lefty now ranked 44 in the world went back to work an hour or so after both of his singles wins here. He beat LL Stefan Kozlov in three sets and Miomir Kecmanovic 64 76 (his first win in four tries vs the Serbian) but those hard fought victories were not enough tennis for the day for Humbert. He hit the practice court with his coach and did a series of different drills. After beating Kozlov, Humbert’s first drill was standing in the middle of the baseline and being fed no pace balls and he fired forehand strike winners and then backhand winners.

This is clearly a player with serious ambitions. Humbert, who beat Monfils at Wimbledon last year from two sets downa and won his first title in Auckland this year (vs Paire) will play Frances Tiafoe in the quarterfinals. Tiafoe won their one meeting at NEXTGEN finals last year in four sets 42 43 34 41.

In other years celebrities have come out to the tournament such as Greg Norman, Michelle Wie, Fred Stolle. Bob McAdoo, and this year I spotted three. Boxing judge Steve Weisfeld, who will officiate the Fury vs Wilder match in Las Vegas this weekend, former 70s and 80s player Van Winitsky (who is interested to publish a book about his tennis life/career), and Pablo Arraya, the former pro from Peru, who I interviewed for my next tennis book, Facing Guillermo Vilas. Pablo said he could not play his hero Vilas because he was too nervous and the first time he played him the announcer misidentified him as Pedro Arraya from Paraguay. Steve Weisfeld is an old friend from Bergen County, we know each other for decades in boxing, and we even played tennis at Van Saun Park in Paramus, NJ, next to the merry-go-round. Steve kindly bought a copy of my latest book “Close Encounters With Donald Trump.”

Pat Cash is here, in a working capacity. He is co-coaching new American sensation Brandon Nakashima with coach Beauregard Treyz, a former college player who told me he connected last summer with Nakashima through another player he worked with. Nakashima had been coached by Larry Stefanki for four years.

Many qualities stand out about the 18 year old, he has rock solid technique and a smart way of playing (no low percentage shots, perfect mature behavior and focus). He also is unintimated by playing seasoned, established ATP veterans like Jiri Vesely and Cam Norrie. While Norrie vented his frustrations and tried to pump himself up through the whole match, it was Nakashima who carried himself like it was just another match on the ATP Tour. Calm, focus, sticking to the plan, self-belief, no signs of any stage fright or immaturity or cracking under pressure. Nothing bothers this kid at all. He shows nothing but a Terminator machinelike concentration on destroying the opponent.

The day after beating Norrie, he practiced with Denis Istomin and it was the same thing. Nakashima, without a shirt, playing veteran Istomin in tiebreakers like a top 30 veteran, on dead even terms. And unleashing winners too. There was no interaction with Istomin, no disrespect or respect, just work. Nakashima shows no emotion on the court, no weakness, no desire to be popular with other players. Just work. Just striving for the goal. Already at 18 he has an aura mystique that some players never have.

There was a moment in the Norrie match, second set, where something happened that might have flustered or shaken Nakashima’s concentration. Nakashima was serving and in the middle of his motion the audio recording started playing, a male voice shilling some product or service, the announcement that plays during changeovers was accidentally turned on (or maybe somebody had a wicked sense of humor and wanted to see Ice Man Nakashima’s reaction). The interruption was loud and it caused Nakashima to miss his serve. Nakashima’s only reaction was to look at the chair umpire to make sure he got a first serve do-over. He did and it was back to business. No nonsense, no shenanigans. Nakashima held and won the game and the match a few minutes later, 75 62.

Nakashima is as impressive as any 18 year old I have ever seen in the ATP. If there is one area which may need improving it’s his physical strength. He has a good built but no muscular definition in his chest or arms or shoulders. A good training regimen of daily pushups and pullups and some upper body weight work will make him even more intimidating and stronger. Pat Cash said he is going to try to work on that with Nakashima.

Cash told me how he connected with Nakashima. A few weeks ago a mutual friend contact him about Nakashima and he did some research and liked what he learned about the kid and decided to get together. This is their first week.

After the practice with Istomin yesterday, Nakashima, Treyz and Cash went over to the far side practice courts, where Nick Monroe was fine tuning, for more work. Cash wanted to do a volley drill with Nakashima. Cash put on his signature headband and went to one baseline left corner with Trezy on the right side corner. Nakashima was across the court just inside the baseline. Cash wanted him to run forward and hit volleys off each of their alternating feeds. It was a drill to sharpen his volley.

They did this for about ten minutes. After one volley, Cash instructed, “Don’t drop the wrist, hit through the volley.” On the next ball Nakashima did exactly that and hit a perfect volley. Then after they sat down and Cash talked with Nakashima on the bench and Nakashima looked him in the eye absorbing every worl of wisdom from the former Wimbledon champion of 1987, 76 62 75 over Ivan Lendl.

They talked about what Nakashima had to do next – autograph session at 2, stretch, eat. Nakashima had his first priority though, “I have to get some food in me.”

Then Pat Cash was kind enough to tell me about his memories of Facing Guillermo Vilas which were fantastic. They played at 1986 Wimbledon first round, won by Cash 64 62 63 and then years later in a special grass exo in Argentina, which was the last time Vilas played on national TV. It was a big event in Argentina and gave Cash a perspective of just how popular Vilas was in his homeland.

One of the special thrills about going to a pro tournament like this is the people you meet. Former players with stories galore. Like a guy named Marc Georgian, who coached senior gold ball legend Val Wilder. Another guy was playing on a court in Sweden at 10:30 at night when Stefan Edberg and Tony Pickard suddenly entered the court to practice.

I also bumped into two friends and former opponents from NJ, who I had no idea they would be in Delray Beach, Duncan Lamonte and Marcelo Bustamonte.

It was another dream week of pro tennis. Oh, and I forgot to mention I got a text this week from Justin Gimelstob kindly expressing appreciation for the supportive article I wrote last week.

The only thing that went wrong all week was I did not get to hit a single ball in four days and my practice session with former pro Lisa Bonder Kerkorian in West Palm Beach fell through. Maybe next time.

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114 comments

  • catherine · February 25, 2020 at 12:50 pm

    The WTA in Doha and Dubai – decent draws but not exactly star studded. This is how women’s tennis looks when it’s minus a big crowd puller, or two. IW begins the season again.

  • Andrew Miller · February 25, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    Good idea on the exemptions – players would be relieved.

  • catherine · February 25, 2020 at 1:03 pm

    From what I could see of Kenin/Yastremska Sofia appeared out of sorts and overwhelmed – Yaz did not have to do very much. Kenin admits she is struggling.

    Empty stands for most matches – usual problems. Oil money brings these events to the Middle East.

  • Andrew Miller · February 25, 2020 at 1:03 pm

    Bartoli’s not coaching JOstapenko?

  • catherine · February 25, 2020 at 1:42 pm

    I don’t know – I can’t recognise her at Penko’s matches but maybe I’m looking at the wrong people.

  • catherine · February 25, 2020 at 2:24 pm

    Muguruza bts Tomjlanovic 6-1 6-2; Mugs is a ‘players’ player’ – she doesn’t inspire mania but she gets the job done efficiently, even gracefully, when she’s on form.

  • catherine · February 25, 2020 at 2:52 pm

    Next opponent Yastremska so Mugs avoids rematch with Kenin. Yaz may prove a little difficult. Penko meets Kvitova. I’m not a great fan of Jelena’s game but she’s had a difficult time recently and it would be nice to see a close match – Petra should win handily I should think. She spoiled CSN’s farewell party – 6-0 in the 3rd.

  • Andrew Miller · February 25, 2020 at 6:13 pm

    CSN was very good – couldn’t break through to get “the big one”. Liked her a lot.

    Muguruza is worthy of a book. Total conundrum. Will have to listen to a podcast on her or some radio interviews. A lot going on in between the ears. Said it before, she’d be great for one of those Spanish psychological film dramas. One of the more fascinating WTA players in many years – even moreso than other riddles in the sport.

    There are few players in the sport that can go from zero to the speed of light like Muguruza. It’s hard for me to think of any: most need some kind of long period where they get better and better. Not her. Just a few matches and boom, she’s a threat to win.

  • Andrew Miller · February 25, 2020 at 9:41 pm

    Tennis.com podcast with Brian Baker excellent. He’s the USTA travel coach for Chris Eubanks, who has his own coach and Baker is one of the travel coaches.

    He has the makings of an excellent coach based on what he said, has a different message for each player. Nina Pantic asked him how he saw his career in light of his injuries and what’s interesting is that he appreciated when players look at their careers and take into account their injuries. In other words he never sees it as an excuse – he said when it comes to pro tennis often what a player needs is a long enough stretch when they are healthy to climb the rankings.

    He thought he had a good chance to get higher than his career high around the fifties. I believe him. One of a few players to break through in the way he did having been off the tour for six years.

    I think he was also a very serious player. He said his wife was an athlete as well and had been a runner I think, and how she had to understand his mentality at tournaments and how he couldn’t just stay away from tennis after a match, how there was a recovery process and then a match prep process. He said he couldn’t have been on tour without her help.

    I thought it was also interesting and this always gets me, is that players on tour are hyper-aware of the competition. Winning and beating other players matters a lot. This helps put Djokovic into perspective when he says he is inspired by Federer TO WIN MORE SLAMS. These guys are trained as tennis machines and they savor the chance to play each other.

    It would have been interesting to hear how he looks at improvement. I see it in terms of match play when you lose, how close do you lose, how do you lose. Did you get the match to three sets? If you are losing to the same guy, are you improving against them? Nina Pantic didn’t go there, but it may not have been relevant as Baker’s careers was defined as much by his injuries as by his comebacks.

    It’s too bad Baker wasn’t able to have a full career. But I hope he stays with the coaching and has some successful pupils. It would be nice to see a player say I’m here because my coach believed in me and helped me get there and this one is for him. I think any coach wants to hear that.

  • catherine · February 26, 2020 at 1:15 am

    Rybakina sees some sense and hands Barty a w/o in Acapulco. Sloane Stephens loses SS to Zarazua – that’s right – who ?
    Kyrgios w/draws with a wrist injury. Cut down the basketball might just work.

  • catherine · February 26, 2020 at 2:05 am

    Andrew – Mug’s press interviews aren’t particularly revealing – but she definitely controls them. Just says what she wants to. Nice voice. Maybe in Spanish she’s more talkative.

    I love her M Court quote – total insouciance : ‘I really don’t give a damn what she says.’ I believe her. Most WTA players are too frightened to voice any opinion at all.

    Notice she does breathing exercises quite a bit on court. That’s one of the things Conchita helps her with – keep calm. So there’s some jitters behind the self-control.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 26, 2020 at 8:40 am

    Brian Baker is one of your best inspirations in tennis, only a small few players have had to deal with the injury surgery challenges that Baker has suffered through and yet he actually managed to comeback after over six years out and achieve his best results. Then he got slammed again in AO vs Querrey and was out again. He did come back again but only had some doubles success then his body broke down again. Talented player. Porsche talent inside a Honda Civic with 150,000 miles on it body.

  • catherine · February 26, 2020 at 10:40 am

    Doha – Sabalenka bts Sakkari SS – finishing 6-0. Bertens loses to Zheng – unexpected. Barty has yet to play so she’s coming in with no match play since the AO.

  • Andrew Miller · February 26, 2020 at 12:29 pm

    The Porsche/Honda Civic Brian Baker, priceless. Really is. His decision to play doubles was a deliberate one – he wanted to stay in the game, found he could do it through doubles until he couldn’t. Possible Brian Baker the Grant Hill of tennis, aka a can’t miss player who only missed because his body couldn’t cooperate. Never a case that he wasn’t good enough!

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