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Posts Tagged Roger Federer

Unexpected Chit Chat With Champion John Isner

Chris (holding Champion's trophy), Ira and John chit chat at Newport—7/15/12

I’m texting in my seat near the end of the singles finals being televised live at Newport, RI last Sunday, when a distinguished man in a blue blazer taps me on the shoulder and asks me if I’d like to go on the center court with him as soon as the match is over and meet the players, John Isner and Leighton Hewitt. John is ranked number 11 in the world and defeated Djokovic and Federer this year. He only turned pro in 2007, has one of the fastest consistent serves in the game (130-140 mph) and is 6’9″ tall. Leighton is a former number one making a comeback after major toe surgery just two months ago. Puzzled and surprised, I say “Sure.”

Five minutes later, I am “plucked from anonymity,” (as a friend said), and walking behind shoulder-tapper Chris Clouser, Chairman of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, with a couple of others right onto the grass court in front of 3700 people to watch the awarding of the trophies and super-sized (3 X 5 feet?) prize checks. The view from right next to the umpire’s high chair is definitely more intimate. And I am definitely a bit self-conscious. But however this is happening, I am enjoying it.

Skylar (glasses on head) collects John Isner's autograph—7/15/12

Leighton leaves quickly, but my daughter, Skylar, obtains his signature on a tennis ball, as well as Champion John’s ten minutes later. Chris brings John over to me. As we shake hands, I tell him that at Skylar’s 21st birthday last year at a hotel in New York, she recognized him in the bar. Also that she’d almost caught one of his kick serves that flew over his opponent’s racket, when he won the same tournament in 2011. Small world.

Life is full of surprises, and this was really a good one. Totally upbeat, memorable and captured for posterity.

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Federer as William Tell

Joe Marshall sent me this video above of Roger Federer imitating William Tell—both Swiss he points out. Just yesterday I saw a video with a similar trick on the ping pong table by Marty Reisman, also a champion who I will talk about shortly. When you see skill like this, it helps me understand how these top talents can place the ball so accurately.

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Digging Deeper When You Are In A Hole

Andres Vargas (rt) and Chris Binnie (who won the 9th match in the final)

On February 25th at the college squash national quarter finals, Trinity’s #3, Andres Vargas, defeated Franklin and Marshall’s Mauricio Sedano, 12-10, 12-10, 11-8. The closeness of the final numbers doesn’t reveal a startling comeback I witnessed in what I may recall correctly was the second game. Vargas was down by a score of 3-9. It only takes 11 points to win, although you have to win by at least two points.

There were less than 10 of us watching this game on the side courts with no bleachers. The eight or so folding chairs were mostly empty of fans. But standing beside me was a Trinity team member who does not rank in the top 9, so he was not playing that day. He casually said to me—in response to my expression of concern that Vargas was in deep trouble—”Don’t worry, Vargas will win this game.”

I was shocked. What made him think that? How could he be so sure? He was absolutely certain. When the score increased to 5-10, so that F&M’s player just needed one more point, my Trinity neighbor repeated his prediction. “Vargas has heart. He is the ultimate fighter. He will win this game.”

And then something emotional and inexplicable happens…Vargas wins two more points. It’s a 7-10 game. The distance to the finish has been cut to one point for F&M, but “ONLY” five points for Vargas. Still seems impossible to me. Yet having just won four out of the last five points, the momentum has clearly shifted to Vargas’s side. Trinity fans are hopeful. Maybe it isn’t impossible. F&M needs just one little point in the next five or so efforts. But it doesn’t seem like such a sure thing any more.

Remember that the first game was very close. It had been tied at 10-10, before Vargas squeaked ahead to a victory. This was not a pushover competitor. In this game, F&M had been ahead by 6 and then 5 points…Nevertheless, Vargas claims the next five points, forcing his way to another 12-10 win.

I turned to his Trinity teammate beside me. “How come you are not surprised?” I asked. Vargas had just won 9 out of 10 points. “He just digs in and wins. He is a fighter,” was the explanation. Not very clear nor satisfying to me. But he did it. I had witnessed it.

When Andy Roddick was playing Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2009, there was a moment when Roddick was up a set and winning in the second set tiebreak 5-2. I was sure—well 99% sure—that Roddick would win two points, before Federer would win five. But Roddick blew it…and maybe never recovered. He lost the match in the fifth set by a score of 14-16.

Federer just dug deep. And he does it over and over. In a recent interview, Roddick said that Roger plays consistently at the highest level, whereas the other top 10 pros like himself lose focus, have more off days, are unable to maintain winning game play.

I tried to dig deep at tennis today, like Vargas and Federer. We were behind 0-3, and I was serving. I tried to be a killer, instead of a gentleman who doesn’t mind losing. It is my biggest challenge. But I believe I can do it…and we came back to win that game 6-4. Who’d a thunk it?

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Michael Moschen’s Passion For Practice

A week ago I went to NY University to again see a neighbor of mine perform his rare art on stage. Sometimes Michael Moschen juggles balls with extraordinary finesse or humor. He can simultaneously bounce balls continuously with the soles of his shoes. Other times he moves objects in ways so unusual and dexterous that you can hardly believe what you are seeing. He has created new illusions and motions with objects like metal sticks and circles, is inspired by everyday actions like a curved shape rolling down a hill of sand, and invents maneuvers that no one else even imagines, much less is capable of executing. Check out some of his videos, particularly the giant triangle inside the museum (go to 2:00 if you are impatient) in the video above and from 2:30 to 4:12 in this one below:

But it’s his dedication and years of practice to acquire a “skill set” that I want to focus on. This time I was connecting his words and actions to my desire to improve at tennis and squash. You could relate it to any skill that you are working on.

He has one segment of his show involving four billiard-ball-sized crystal spheres that he manipulates in each hand and up to seven of them with both hands. It takes maybe six minutes. But he told me that after he thought of this feat, he practiced for hours every day for two years, before he was ready to go public. You won’t believe what capabilities his hands and fingers have.

In last week’s performance, he said that he normally practices four hours each morning and four hours each afternoon. Every day. I can’t imagine anyone practicing something every day. Or even six days a week. Doesn’t life invade any planned routine? But he insists he is constantly practicing.

The next night a friend said he’d read that for someone to be an outstanding professional athlete, like one of the top 100 tennis players in the world, you have to practice at least four hours every day for 10 years. And of course this assumes you have some natural talent to begin with. Practice alone won’t make you an outstanding player if you are uncoordinated or can’t relax or have poor vision or are too small in some sports or too heavy in others.

Jaime Escalante says you also need “ganas,” which is Spanish for desire. Richard Heckler says you have to practice the motion 300 times to begin to get it, but 3000 times to really integrate it into your brain and muscle memory.

Of course the the most successful pros know how important constant practice is. After winning this year’s Australian Open, Roger Federer admitted,

“Look, it’s no secret I’ve struggled the last, what is it, five matches I’ve played here in the States. It’s disappointing, I think, my performance overall, if I’ve got to analyze right now after the match.

“But I fought as much as I could under the circumstances with my game having issues at the moment. Definitely lack timing. I don’t know where that comes from because I played so nicely in Australia. So it’s disappointing to not be able to back it up.”

“[This loss] only fuels my desire to go back to the practice courts and come back even stronger. I don’t like to lose these type of the matches. I’m looking forward to the clay court season now. It helps to kind of move on to a different surface. Definitely need to practice harder, and that’s what I’ll do.”

So practicing is clearly needed to improve any game or skill. Enjoying those weekly contests without practice in between may be fun or frustrating, but it is unlikely to make you a much better player or performer. Practice, practice, practice. Let’s do it!

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Catching Up And Choking Up

If playing and watching sports often results in our forgetting about “real life,” and the drama of sports is often regarded as a metaphor for “real life,” then how much can we adapt from sports success and failure to improving our daily lives?

A lot, I hope. When an athlete or team is way behind and comes back to win, what can we learn from that to help us also upgrade our own performance…in sport as well as possibly going from rags to riches? Or personal setback to major achievement?

And just as a player way ahead often blows his/her lead, what can we glean from that choking that will stop us from doing the same in our own athletic contests and also our personal quests? So we don’t go from castle to hovel, from happy marriage to divorce?

There is this sports announcer thing about momentum, more confidence, change in mood, reviving, rallying. What is it all about? What happens on a psychological level that obviously affects the physical level and then the score and final result?

I have seen recently a few sports situations that make me think about these changes for the better and worse (when one comes from way behind, someone else blows their big lead, right?).

So let’s explore this subject in a series of posts. First some Wikipedia definitions: A “choke” is a failure to perform in sport due to anxiety. This is a form of panic attack in which the athlete may literally experience breathing difficulty or otherwise lose physical composure. Successful champions do not choke, but are “clutch” players — rising to the occasion under pressure rather than collapsing.

In sports, clutch refers to competent and/or superior play during high pressure situations. Most often it is a successful action taken under high pressure during a game, usually at the end, that may result in a significant change on the game’s result. In the mainstream, performance in important situations is often attributed to some wealth or deficit of character that causes a particular outcome…

So I was watching a college squash match, and the Trinity player was behind one game to two. (A winner needs three games out of five.) He’d just been crushed in the third game 2-11. The score in the fourth game was 6-10, so it only takes one more point to 11 for Trinity to lose this individual match to Dartmouth. Although the odds of a Trinity comeback are incredibly remote, I have some faint intuition that this game is not yet over. But I don’t say anything, don’t want to jinx the outcome. I’m all for Trinity.

The score inches up to 7-10, 8-10. Now the fans sense defeat is not inevitable. The players must realize it a bit as well. 9-10, we are almost there. What is going on? Is the Trinity player gaining confidence? He must have more hope now than when it was 6-10. What about his opponent? From a sure or very likely win, enormous optimism, maybe even cockiness, he has to be worried, more fearful, tightening up on his shots.

Suddenly it is 10-10, the unimaginable has happened. It’s a new game. More tension, excitement, many minutes of back and forth. In fact there are six match points total, until Trinity’s Parth Sharma wins 16-14. What a turnaround! Now Trinity has the momentum, the greater enthusiasm; his opponent has to be debilitated and let down. Sharma wins the fifth game easily 11-3, and that individual match goes to Trinity.

How did that happen? How can we make that happen? In sports. Or off the court. People do rise to riches. They do get the girl. They do zoom from doom to boom?

Last year at the Wimbledon final, Andy Roddick wins the first set, goes to a tie break in the second set, and takes a huge 5-1 lead. Read the rest of this entry »

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Playing My Best Tennis After Weeks Of Terrible Tennis

In spite of my injured right arm and shoulder, I have continued to play tennis and practice squash. In the last two months, my game steadily deteriorated to terrible, and then recently it became (for me) sensational. I am ecstatic today, after playing the best tennis of my life. How did this happen? Here is a little account of my journey from awful to fantastic.

I was doing real well in July, until I injured myself I believe in the gym. That month I played and practiced tennis 14 times and squash once.

August was busy and sore, although I played/practiced tennis 10 times and hit squash balls (no games yet) with a friend twice. September has seen me on the tennis court 12 times and the squash court three.

My tennis game had suffered enormously, and I was very discouraged. I guess the injury had some influence, but I didn’t feel any aching while playing (just after for a bit) and wasn’t aware that it was affecting my performance. But I constantly hit the tennis balls long or into the net. My serve was weak, and I had a negative attitude. My team lost more sets than I could accept easily. As relaxed as I am about losing, I was really fed up.

Then a number of things changed, so that in the last week, I have played the best tennis ever. My team has won six out of seven sets: 6-1, 6-0, 6-1, 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3. I must confess that I have had three different partners in those three matches. But my playing has been superior…for me, and compared to my previous results.

My net game is vastly improved and the backhand volleys are often powerful instead of dinky. Many of my volleys are gentle, finessed at side angles that are impossible to return. My forehand strokes are harder and IN THE COURT. I was always hitting the ball too long, over and over. And my backhands are better, although there is still plenty of room to add power.

So what happened? Read the rest of this entry »

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Federer Plays Chess on the Tennis Court

He just won Wimbledon and the most Grand Slam titles of any player ever. He may be the greatest player ever. How is he so good?

A coach of 50 years, Frank Adams (who’s ideas and videos are on this site) said that Roger has better instinct and intuition than his competitors.

Writer Cynthia Gorney said “…Federer — who usually has uncanny on-court telepathy about what his opponent plans for three shots hence and exactly how to wreck it…”
(From a June 21, 2009 New York Times Magazine article by her about Rafael Nadal.)

Looking ahead reflectively at chess moves is essential to be a champion. But to do it as well on a tennis court? I have enough trouble anticipating just the next shot coming back at me. How does a pro predict three shots ahead? Let’s see, if I hit here, then he will hit there, then I will hit there and he will hit here…all in fractions of a second. I suspect his brain and reflexes work faster than most humans, so that he has more time to react and plan. Plus he has superb—actually the most superior—handling and placement skills. The tennis announcers are always saying he has great hands, great feel.

There are men I play with who claim they can look at the angle of the server’s racket and anticipate which side of the serving box the ball will go to. I can’t. Some of the other guys don’t believe the first guy can actually do that. Can you?

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