Posts Tagged U.S. Open

How I Was Kidnapped For Ransom Money Because Of My One-Handed Tennis Backhand

Stan and his backhand

Stan and his backhand

I experienced a very discombobulating adventure the other day during my second visit ever to the US Open tennis tournament. I went with some tennis buddies who have gone annually for decades and knew their way around.

Prior to going, I had viewed an interactive graphic about the one-handed backhand (OHB) tennis swing that is a dying stroke. It’s what I do, although almost no one learns it anymore…the two-hander is easier to master. But world number 4, Stan Wawrinka, won the Aussie Open last year with one of the most beautiful OHB in the game. So imagine how excited I was to read that Stan was playing in Arthur Ashe stadium, and I could watch him live from my seat.

Surprise! There are maybe 18 courts at the Billie Jean Tennis Center with so much simultaneous action you are frustrated often about who to watch next. And you are right up close to the players in these outer courts and smaller stadiums, rather than practically touching clouds in the uppermost cheaper seats we had at Arthur Ashe. So my group watched Andy Murray, Jo Willie Tsonga, Juan Monaco, Angelique Kerber and many other top-ranked players everywhere except Arthur Ashe. I loved it.

But around 4:00, I left my fellow enthusiasts, said that I had to see Stan the Man and mentioned that my cell phone was running out of battery. No problem, just meet us at Parking lot “F” at 6:00. Easy.

Off I went to admire Stan’s graceful OHB and try to learn how I might do what he does. It’s so elegant and powerful. You never see it on TV the way you can live. A real highlight of the day. At 5:30 I headed alone to the parking lot, following a map and guidance from a policeman and many US Open staff members. Still no problem…until I didn’t remember all the grass and trees when I was walking that morning from Lot “F” to the tennis courts. Nor did I recognize the lot when I was taken there by the shuttle bus. It was totally under the highway, rather than open to the sky as I remembered. Sim the driver drove me all around it. But nothing looked familiar.

Was I in a dream? Had I lost my mind? Intense disorientation. With my phone dead by now, I asked the bus driver if he would call my buddy on his mobile. Sure, but Sim only reached voice mail. A second call to a different friend resulted in the driver being told that he had the wrong number. Very strange, because Sim said he dialed the number I gave him. When I dialed the second number, I reached my friend and told him I was “lost.” I’d gone to the lot, been looking for almost half an hour, but still couldn’t find him. Where was he?

Only when I handed the phone back to Sim did he realize that my friends were parked in a DIFFERENT Lot “F”!!! There are two of them, and my buddies never realized that during 25 years of attending the Open: I was directed to the lot that caters to the tennis center. They always parked in another lot nearby that serves Citi-Field, the home of the New York Mets baseball team. As Clint Eastwood’s character responded in one of his films, “What a clusterfuck!”

When I finally headed back to the US Open exit/entrance and walked a bit to the left out the gate instead of a partial right, I found my mates, and heard their version of what happened. My first friend Phil hadn’t recognized Sim’s phone number, so he didn’t take the call. My second friend Y heard the strange message and ethnic accent, so he thought it was a wrong number. Then the first said he heard the message and became very concerned and nervous. Here is what he heard: “Hello Phil, this is Sim, and I have Ira here in the car. We are driving around, and he wants to talk to you.” Phil thought I had been kidnapped, and when he spoke to Y, they were both disturbed by this total stranger with a foreign accent using their names and stating that “Ira” was in his car. My buddies were sure Sim was going to ask for a ransom!

When I asked them how much they thought the ransom would be, I imagined they’d say $5-10,000. But no such luck, they figured my life was only worth $200. That gave us another laugh. Phil said with a dying phone, I should have stuck to the group “like Velcro.” Friend Y never realized that I would go to the wrong Lot “F,” because he didn’t know it existed. So he never mentioned Citi-Field.

And that is how my desire to improve my OHB caused my friends to decide that I was kidnapped for a ransom.

An unexpected conclusion to a great day of tennis. And an hour later Sim called to make sure I’d found my friends. Unforgettably nice guy. I hope he never finds this story and learns how misunderstood he was and how confused some Connecticut tennis players can be, when they make it to Queens in New York…

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Another One Bites The Dust

I won a set today 6-2. It was the first time in a year of singles contests that I have ever been victorious against Bill, a four-days-a-week tennis player. He never gives up, he never makes it easy, he is as tenacious, “as Nadal,” he says. And he is a much much stronger player than I am. Even though he hadn’t played tennis in almost six months.

This is the third time in the last month or so that I have finally beaten someone who has always defeated me. The changes in my racket, strings and grip are paying off fantastically. So is the frequent practice. There is one more man I play with a lot who has never lost a set to me. I will keep on attacking that hurdle until I surmount it.

Nadal wins first US Open—2010

When Nadal and others win, they drop to the ground, kiss the clay, hold their disbelieving, crying, amazed and incredulous heads in powerful, skilled and sensitive hands. Sometimes, like Djokovic this year at the US Open, when he defeated Federer, they remain standing with eyes glazed and stupefied.

stunned Djokovic after conquering Federer

Other times they lie on the court on their backs or stomachs or roll around and dirty their clothes. In an instant their serious, stern, killer eyes and expressions transform into tears, stunned smiles and emotional release. It often intrigues me. Is it an act that they know the audience expects? The picture of the winner lying on the ground is frequently chosen to illustrate the news story.

So what am I feeling two hours after this challenge was met…or at the moment of triumph? A bit tired, of course. But no elation. There was an inevitability about it. My coach had predicted it would happen, that I could do it. My opponent had promised that it had to happen some day, and he said how proud he was of my accomplishment.

I also felt that I had arrived at the intersection of a dream and a reality. Yesterday this man and I played as well. I was ahead at one point 5-4 and was serving. As we sat on the bench during the changeover after odd games, I was conscious of this rare opportunity. But then I choked and ended up losing 6-8. Today at 5-2, I did all I could to rouse myself to really want to win, to play my hardest, to not throw points away with poor placements and dumb shot selection.

This time I made it. The great thing about a “first” is that it is a once in a lifetime event. The sad thing is that it can never be repeated.

Nevertheless, I did raise both arms in a victory acknowledgment, when I won the set point.

Immediately we played a rematch that I lost 4-6. I had been down 2-5, but fought back as best I could.

A friend saw me play in a tournament two weeks ago. “You don’t have that killer instinct,” she told me. “You aren’t as aggressive as the other opponents. Can’t you hit the ball harder? Don’t you want to really win like they do?”

As competitive as I think I am, I can never forget it is a game. But that is a crappy attitude. It involves constant rationalizing. In practice I can hit a solid ball. But I lack the confidence to do it in a contest.

In the army during bayonet practice, I would thrust my rifle (with the knife attached) at the soldier opposite me and scream “Kill! Kill! Kill!” as I was ordered to do. I was very surprised and upset to discover how quickly I really wanted to kill the guy I was facing. It scared me to discover how little it took to change my attitude.

But I can’t yet duplicate that emotional experience from 50 years ago. I want to. I want to be tougher. What will it take for me to find that inner child that hates and lusts to destroy my “enemy?”

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59 Is The New 30

Article from the NY Times, 7/29/09 by Thomas L. Friedman. (Summary: Tom Watson’s golf run at the US Open was freaky unusual — a 59-year-old man who had played his opening two rounds in this tournament with a 16-year-old Italian amateur — was able to best the greatest golfers in the world at least a decade after anyone would have dreamt it possible. Watching this happen actually widened our sense of what any of us is capable of.)

Last April I took a break to caddy for the former U.S. Open champion Andy North when he teamed up with Tom Watson to defend their title in the two-man Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf tournament in Savannah, Ga. So it was with more than a casual spectator’s interest that I watched in awe on Armed Forces television from Afghanistan as Watson made his amazing run at winning the British Open at age 59. Watson likes to talk about foreign affairs more than golf. So to let him know just how many people wanted him to win, I e-mailed him before the final round: “Even the Taliban are rooting for you.” Read the rest of this entry »

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