Thursday, December 16, 2010

Do Not Stress Over Your Competition

By: Stan Popovich

Many athletes sometimes get anxious when they play against a tough opponent. They get nervous on who they are playing and they get so worked up that they lose focus on playing their game. In the end, they make mistakes and end up beating themselves up if they do not win. As a result, here is a list of techniques that a athlete can use to help manage the stress of playing against the competition.

The first step is to learn as much as you can on your opponent. Although this may seem obvious some players may think they already know what they need to know. Remember there is always something to learn about your competition. Read the stats and reports about your opponent and watch him or her play. Try to figure out an angle on how you can beat your competition. The more you know about your competition the better your chances are you will win the game. This will also help to reduce your worries about who and what you will be facing in your next game.

Do not assume anything about your competition whether they are stronger or weaker than you. Every player has his good and bad games and just because you may be facing a stronger opponent does not mean that you will lose. Remember that before you start playing, you and your opponent both have an equal chance of winning. You are both starting from scratch. This should help you to give you confidence going into your next game.

Focus on how you can best strive for perfection in your own game instead of worrying about your opponent. For instance you are playing the number player in the tournament and you are nervous. Instead of focusing on how good your competition is, focus on how you can play your best game. Concentrate on how you can better play the game or how you can best improve on your problem areas. Focusing on your game will definitely help you when you are nervous in playing a stronger player.

Realize that you cannot win all of your games and that also includes your competition. You may be the best player in the world, however you will still lose eventually. No one player can win all of their games. Yes, they may have some winning streaks or win ninety percent of their games, but they will still lose some games. When facing a tough competitor, use this fact to your advantage. Even the best players will make some mistakes and lose.

It is not uncommon to get nervous when you play a better opponent. The key is not to psyche yourself out just because the competition gets tough. Remember that some games will be easy to play and some games will be more difficult. All you can do is to focus on your game and play the best you can. This will help you in the long run and will help you to stop worrying whether you will win or lose.

Tennis San Diego, Tennis Charlotte, Tennis Atlanta

Monday, December 13, 2010

Do Not Let Fear Affect Your Game of Tennis

By: Stan Popovich

Sometimes, fear and anxiety can get the best of us in tennis. The key is to know how to manage that fear and anxiety. As a result, here is a brief list of techniques that a tennis player can use to help manage their fears and every day anxieties.

Occasionally, you may become stressed when you have to play in an important game. When this happens, visualize yourself doing the task in your mind. For instance, you have to play in the championship game in front of a large group of people in the next few days. Before the big day comes, imagine yourself playing the game in your mind. Imagine that you are playing in front of a large audience. By playing the game in your mind, you will be better prepared to perform for real when the time comes. Self-Visualization is a great way to reduce the fear and stress of a coming situation.

Sometimes we get stressed out when everything happens all at once. When this happens, a person should take a deep breath and try to find something to do for a few minutes to get their mind off of the problem. A person could read the newspaper, listen to some music or do an activity that will give them a fresh perspective on things. This is a great technique to use right before your next game.

Another technique that is very helpful is to have a small notebook of positive statements that you can carry around with you. Whenever you come across an affirmation that makes you feel good, write it down in a small notebook that you can carry around with you. Whenever you feel stressed, open up your small notebook and read those statements. This will help to manage your negative thinking.

In every anxiety-related situation you experience, begin to learn what works, what doesn’t work, and what you need to improve on in managing your fears and anxieties. For instance, you have a lot of anxiety and you decide to take a small walk before your game to help you feel better. The next time you feel anxious you can remind yourself that you got through it the last time by taking a walk. This will give you the confidence to manage your anxiety the next time around.

Take advantage of the help that is available around you. If possible, talk to a professional who can help you manage your fears and anxieties. They will be able to provide you with additional advice and insights on how to deal with your current problem. By talking to a professional, a person will be helping themselves in the long run because they will become better able to deal with their problems in the future. Remember that it never hurts to ask for help.


Stan Popovich is the author of “A Layman’s Guide to Managing Fear Using Psychology, Christianity and Non Resistant Methods” – an easy to read book that presents a general overview of techniques that are effective in managing persistent fears and anxieties.

Tennis New York, Tennis Pittsburgh, Tennis Atlanta

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

TLN profile: Tracy Sinclair of Chitown Tennis- “For Me, It’s Perfect!”

Many athletic kids are good at more than one sport. Just think of what pro tennis would be like today if Rafael Nadal had chosen soccer over tennis -- Roger Federer might still hold the number one ranking! Or if Svetlana Kuznetsova, winner of both the US Open and the French Open, had chosen cycling, her parents sport– and instead rejected it because she thought it was boring! Or if Tracy Sinclair hadn’t come back to tennis after choosing swimming over tennis- Chitown Tennis would be short one sharp player!

“I played tennis (and was a swimmer) from about ages 5-14,” says Tracy. “But when I hit high

school I had to choose between the two sports. I chose swimming.” (Can you believe that!) “In the long run, it might have been better if I had chosen tennis, since it's easier

(and more fun to play tennis ) to do that as an adult.” Like the rest of us, she got smart, and, ultimately, tennis was her choice. She picked it up again when she moved from Cincinnati to Chicago at age 33.

A member of Chicago Tennis since 2007, Tracy is a 3.5 competitive player who has won about half her matches. Like most of us, she is a fan of her league, which for her is “a better experience” than belonging to her private club.
“I think it’s fantastic. I play lots of matches, it’s easy to set up, and it’s inexpensive.(Tracy, middle, with cousin Kelly and brother Andrew at last year's Michigan/Notre Dame game.) Tracy, who at the beginning of the season played 4-5 times a week, has played many “really close” matches this year, losing twice in tie breaks after splitting in pro sets. If I had won all those matches I would have a better record. Even matches that appeared to be a blowout one way or another were actually tended to be really competitive…

If you are looking to get back into the sport, this is a great way to do it. I’ve also found that even if you have friends that play, they are not necessarily going to play at your level. Chitown allows you to set up competitive matches easily.”
“I think Chitown is a good way to secure matches. It’s a really good value. In other leagues, people may not play. In the league, it is within your control how often you play and you can schedule as many matches as you want. You are not paying for court time. People are really nice, and they are out there to have a good match. I don’t mind that I lose more matches than I win. Just playing helps me improve. For me it’s perfect.”

Beats swimming, Tracy, doesn’t it?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

TLN Profile: Nicole Talent-- “Playing Through the Pain” in ChiTown

Nicole Talent is not just her name, it also reflects her tennis game. This 3.5 competitive player in ChiTown Tennis, our Chicago area League, has a solid 17-13 record. Nicole has playing since high school. As an adult, like so many of us in TLN, she was looking for a social/tennis combination when a Google search brought her to ChiTown Tennis in 2009.

For Nicole the ChiTown Tennis has met her two goals. 1) Finding players: “It’s been a really good experience, it’s convenient, and everyone been really nice.” 2) And being social: “It’s fun to meet new people,” Nicole says.

Nicole is glad to be back to tennis after a broken toe forced her to lay off tennis for a few weeks. How did that happen? Not on a tennis court, as you might think.

It’s likely that almost everyone reading this has suffered some sort of tennis injury or other physical (or mental?) problem at some point that keeps you off the court,  whether it’s something minor like a blister, or something much worse, like a broken ankle.

Asked about how her injury occurred, she confessed: “Dancing in my apartment.” Although this interview was conducted by phone, you could almost hear her face turn red! (You could certainly hear it in her voice.) Her toe is still taped but, like a tennis trooper, she is “playing through the pain.” It’s terrific that you are back to playing, Nicole. But are you still dancing?                                     
Nicole tries to play three times a week. Her major rival is Denise, who has defeated her three times. “But one of these days I’m gonna get her.” Nicole says. Look out, Denise. There’s some 3.5 talent behind that threat.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

TLN Profile: Martin Spielmann – Have Racket, Will Travel

Martin Spielmann loved the 2009 Tennis League Network tournament at the Crandon Tennis Center in Key Biscayne, FL, just a few miles from Miami. He had such a good time that it’s a good bet that if all air travel were suspended, this 4.0 tennis devotee would even be willing to drive there when he goes back in November.
If you follow pro tennis, you may know that the Crandon Tennis Center is home of the Sony Ericsson tournament held at end of March through early April. Andy Roddick won it this year. It’s also the home of The Tennis League Network National Invitational Tournament, where last year Tennis Boston’s Martin Spielmann met his goal of moving past the round robin, which is run according to this format:

Players are grouped in mini-divisions of 5 players. A round-robin is played using a 10 pro set format (first to win 10 games). Depending on the number of participants the top performers qualify for championship Sunday and the single elimination tourney.

On Saturday, it came down to Martin’s last match and he was fortunate to beat Kyle Free from St. Louis to qualify for the Sunday single elimination tourney. Although Martin lost his first match Sunday, he ended up playing doubles with other players who were also eliminated. “Having pickup doubles games with players from all across the country after I was eliminated was my favorite part of the whole tourney. Losing ended up being a blessing in disguise. I even took a break and walked across the street to the beach for a swim, only to come back and play more doubles until my flight home,” said Martin. The loss won’t keep him from returning to Key Biscayne in November, since everyone who went the first year is invited back. That means he has another chance to compete and go to the beach! 

Like many of us, Martin’s forehand is his strongest shot, and his weakest is his backhand. Nonetheless, he wins more than he loses. And he has only good things to say about his league. “Everyone I’ve played has been a great sport. It’s competitive and it’s fun.”

There is little doubt that Martin Spielmann is dedicated to tennis. On two different occasions when his club closed in the middle of a match, he and his opponent left to continue the match at another location. One time Martin and his opponent drove around the suburbs of Boston looking for a tennis court with lights. Unable to find one, they had to resume the match another evening. Recently Martin and his opponent drove almost a half hour to another club to finish a match. Unfortunately, Martin lost that one.

Martin (at left with Ricki Ciolfi) almost didn’t even go to the 2009 National Tournament. Work and family responsibilities would have meant rearranging his schedule to go and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to make it. After a tragic accident suffered by a co-worker, Martin decided to reconsider. “My friend’s accident was a wake-up call. You never know what twists and turns life has in store for you, so I decided to go for it. How often do you get a chance to play a tennis tournament in Miami? I had help from my family and friends to make the trip a reality. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.” says Martin.

It’s likely that TLN’s national tennis invitational doesn’t have a bigger cheerleader than Martin Spielmann. He is also a Boston league fan who learned about it from a friend two years ago. “I couldn’t continue with a team I had been on, so I thought it would be a good way to meet and play against new opponents.” Growing up, during summers Martin played almost every day at local courts in his home state of Connecticut. The last few years, “I’ve worked at getting better. Last winter I had contract time with a friend and we focused on drills. The extra work really pays off in matches.”

Watch for it- someday there may be some other Spielmanns in Tennis Boston. Martin has Mondays mornings off, and during the summer runs Daddy’s Day Camp, when he takes the older three of his four children (ages 10, 8, 6, 3) to the tennis courts. The littlest one is going to be joining them soon. Being half Swiss, Martin is a huge Roger Federer fan. When in discussions to name the children, Roger was always at the top of his list. The 6 year old is named Peter, whose name was partly inspired by Martin’s second favorite player, Pete Sampras.

So get going, league players. (at left are Steve Kushner, Steve Chagnon and Ajay Patel) If you are winners in your leagues, you too could end up traveling to Key Biscayne for TLN’s November 5-7, 2010 national event (see below for details about how to qualify), where you could even meet up with Martin Spielmann for a little tennis and a walk across the street for some more sun and fun. Life’s a beach, isn’t it? No, it’s a tennis court, actually.

Five Ways to Qualify (By Invitation Only):

(1) Players who have won their respective season playoffs receive a playing entry into the Tourney.

(2) Players on the Top 100 all-time Legacy Wins in the Tennis League Network.

(3) Any player that refers 5 or more players in 2010.

(4) There will be about 10 at-large bids for friends of the league and most active players in various communities.

(5) Players who attended the 2009 National Tourney.

Monday, July 12, 2010

TLN Profile: Tom Emmitt—A Comeback Kid at 48

As you have probably learned, the range of skill levels varies widely in the Tennis League Network, which is one of its primary advantages.

Some are beginners, and others play at such a high skill level that they achieve entry into their league’s Elite division. Meet one of those players--Tom Emmitt.

Tom is unique because he is one of about only a dozen players in the Elite division of Tennis Los Angeles, where you can play tennis all year long. 
As a 4.5+ player, Tom has won the championship in both the 2009 Summer League Men's Advanced 4.0, and the 2008 Summer Season Men's Competitive. 

Like many league players nationwide, Tom is one of those comeback kids. He dropped out of tennis for what turned out to be a two-decade sabbatical. He explains:

“I love to play tennis and in college I played 4.5 hours a day. But it was an obsession, and there was tremendous pressure to improve. Finally, there had come a point after playing high school and college tennis many years ago that when I stepped on the court it wasn’t fun anymore. I did other things for a long time. After putting my rackets away for 20 years, I decided to come back to tennis. Why not? I’m still competitive. Most important is that I have rediscovered the joy of playing tennis, and truly love every minute that I am out on the court. But I don’t have to care about it. Even if I lose, I can be happy that I got on the court and played. It is also a great form of exercise that trains the legs, as well as the core.”

Watch out for that “still competitive” comment”, all you Los Angles players. This guy is dangerous. “I would say that I am a solid 4.5, who occasionally plays up to a 5.0 level, and unfortunately, occasionally plays down to a 4.0 level.”

The primary reason Tom likes his league is that “It’s a really great way to hook up with people of like ability. Most people who sign up are active. They don’t just sign up and forget about it. The thing that stands out most is the quality of people involved. Everyone is great about showing up on time, and calling if they have to cancel or reschedule, and everyone calls the lines fairly.”

One of Tom’s memorable matches was the final of the advanced division two seasons ago, when he lost to rival Jonas Stasivicious in three sets. We both played well, and in the end, he won by a break. Neither of us had a mental letdown, and we maintained a high level of play for the entire match. I would have liked to win, but somehow, as long as I play my best, and compete for the whole match, I can live with the results either way.”

Jonas is just one of Tom’s rivals; add Ken Chen and Paul Ferguson into the mix. “I have a tough time with all three of them, and can win or lose on any given day. That makes it exciting.” Jonas came into the league about a year ago. “He slaughtered me with his big strong forehand. We have played a lot of really close matches. I look forward to playing with him. It’s never a blowout, but a real cat and mouse match. I’m 48 he’s 24 or 25. I’m the resident old guy in the league.”
Tom would definitely recommend Tennis Los Angeles to other players. “There is a place in the league for any skill level or level of participation. I can play once a week or 4-5 times a week. It’s very flexible; it’s whatever you desire.”

For Tom, stepping up to an elite division was a “great step.” However, with a number of new strong players in Tennis Los Angeles this season, he his work cut out for him. On the other hand, if his past success is any indication, he is a challenging opponent and has a good chance to compete well in this 2010 season.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Profile: Mark Stern- A Tennis Northeast ‘Addict’

If Mark Stern hadn’t found Tennis Northeast (Metro Boston Tennis League), he wouldn’t be the self-described “tennis nut” he is today.

He is not only a devoted Tennis Northeast (TNE) enthusiast, he is apparently the most ardent enthusiast in the entire Tennis League Network

Why? Because this 3.25 player now holds the record for most matches played in the spring season—an impressive total of 38.

 But what about the 183 matches he’s played in the 24 & 1/2 months that he has been a league member? That’s a lot an awful lot of tennis that has grown from a simple league flyer he saw posted at a tennis court. So, when people talk about the growth of tennis and TLN, it seems that Mark Stern owns a big chunk of it.

Any league rivalries? “I play almost every other week with Lenny Shea. For a while I was getting the better of him, but he has my number now.”

Tennis isn’t Mark’s only activity. It’s bigger than that. He is an exercise addict. He runs everyday with his dog; and as a soccer referee, he runs up and down the field with the kids, teens and adults. He has no interest, however, in becoming a tennis lines person. “It’s too sedentary." 

For Mark, beginning such an intense exercise regimen was a somewhat do or die kind of decision. A two-pack-a-day smoker for 26 years, from age 13 to 39, Mark says, “I finally decided something had to give.” So he quit smoking and started running. He jumped into it with zeal. He has run a dozen marathons, ten of them Boston marathons, and participates in an older men’s running team. In 15 years, his team has won the New England Championships more than half the time, and once placed second in a national competition.

With all that running, where did tennis come in? Mark explains:

“When my son was in the 8th grade, he decided to learn tennis and join the school team.“ Mark took lessons with him. And “that,” he says, “was my big mistake!” His son quit “because his father got too interested.” Now his son plays and writes music, and Mark is the only family member playing tennis.

By now you might be getting the picture that Mark is not only a tennis addict, but an all around exercise addict.”My wife and kids think I’m a nut, over the top on exercise.” Are they right? You be the judge.

You must be curious. How does this civil rights lawyer have all that time to devote to Tennis Northeast? That’s because he works less than full time—“sometimes 40 hours a week, sometimes 15. I’m a very good lawyer, but a mediocre business man.”

 There are two startling facts that would seem to belie his success in tennis. He’ll be 65 in September. And he has rheumatoid arthritis. Neither of these interferes with his physical activity.

 Does he think age is a factor in tennis?

“I get beaten by just as many guys in their 60s as by guys who are 25.” So age doesn’t appear to matter. Neither does his RA since he has no symptoms, which has stupefied his doctors. They saw it in his blood work and on an MRI, but Mark doesn’t feel it at all.

Mark didn’t pick up tennis until nearly five years ago at the age of 60. Why did he join the league?

“I was wanting to play more often than I could find partners. I absolutely love it and I’m completely addicted to it. If you need one more match, you can always call me.” Thus, Mark is always in the playoffs, and “always the lowest ranked player. I usually have 10-12 wins, but I never have won in the tournament.”

Here is something that makes him a truly unique competitor: “I prefer to play with better players and lose 2/3 of my matches, rather than win 2/3 of my matches. That’s one way to “get better and improve as a player.” To assist with that he’s now taking lessons.  

Mark is interested not only in his personal tennis progress, but also to the development of inner-city players. He "has made a personal campaign of collecting racquets players are no longer using to donate to an inner-city tennis program. If you want to donate directly, or through him, email him at"

(Photographer:  Grace Cheech

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Profile: Juan Llerena--From Table Tennis to the Real Deal

A couple of years ago, a writer for wrote about his ardent wish to play just one game--not even an entire set--with Andy Roddick, just to see what it would be like and how he would do against a tennis phenom. (A single point would be challenge enough for most of us.) Believe it or not, Roddick accepted this challenge.

But there was a catch. Roddick had to play with one hand behind his back, and the racket of choice for Roddick was not his Babolat Pure Drive, but one of those heavy cast iron skillets. As we all know, Roddick is a wonderful player, and the best American on the Men’s Tour, with a current rank of #7. The writer got his wish. But it can’t be a surprise to anyone that Roddick won the game against someone who is probably much better at writing about tennis than playing it. (The real question here is why Roddick even bothered to do it. Clearly he’s an extremely good sport.)

Well, for the past few years, Tennis Austin has had its own phenom in Juan-derful-Juan Llerena (anyone familiar with Motown’s 1964 Marvin Gaye hit “You’re a Wonderful One”?) – a 4.0 player who plays with a challenge equal to if not greater than a heavy skillet for a racket, and one hand behind the back. At age 2 Juan was in an electrical accident that resulted in the amputation of his right arm.

Today, Juan is a left handed 4.0 player. A 4.0 player? Yes, you read it right—a 4.0 player. Juan, who plays a few times a week, describes himself as an all around player, but explains, “My weakness is my backhand.” Now, many of us have a weak backhand. Perhaps he compensates with a spectacular forehand – using a racket, not a skillet.

And, just in case you have been Juan-dering: ”No I don't wear a prosthetic,” Juan explains.. “I haven't had one since I was about 12. They weigh too much (think skillet), and I already adjusted my everyday life to have any use for it.”

Juan found Tennis Austin online in 2008 and has been a smash ever since. He is one of its strongest competitors, having won the 3.5 division in the 2009 fall league, and, more recently, the 4.0 division in the spring league.”

So much for a weak backhand. “My tennis serve is strong--100 mph. I place the ball on the racket, flat, pop it up and swing. It took forever to figure it out. Opponents are in wonder when I beat them.” Really? Well, just ask his nemesis, Macon Schoonmaker. So Macon, we’re asking. Whadya think?

Just how did this 4.0 tennis Juan-der get into tennis? He and his sister played table tennis together. When he was 10, out of the blue she gave him a tennis racket. “I took to it naturally, like it was second nature.” But, Tennis Austin, look out! There could be another Llerena phenom coming up though the ranks. Max Llerena, Juan’s 21-month-old son, can already bounce a tennis ball on a racket. (Here is Juan with his Juan-derful wife Courtney.)

So for Juan Llerena, it’s been a unique journey from table tennis to a tennis court. Overall, He is a big fan of Tennis Austin. What he likes most is that, because the league is structured according to ability and rating, “I am able to find people at my level who like to play seriously.” He adds, “Everything has been working really well.”

He likes Tennis Austin well enough that he recommended it to a good friend. “He does play in my division and I also played him in Spring finals.” Now remember-- Juan was the recent winner of that. So, Juan, how’s that friendship going? Tennis Austin is a part of the Tennis League Network.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Profile: David Pond – A Strong Player Who Took Just a Single Lesson!

So far, our profile players have come from Tennis Boston, Tennis Philly and Tennis DC. But it’s now time –and only fair—to leave the Eastern Seaboard and head across the country to the Pond in Orange County, CA, known as David Pond--our current TLN profile. David has been a member of Tennis Orange County since 2008. With a skill level of 3.75, he is yet one more strong TLN competitor, with a superb league record of 69-41 In 2009, he was the champion of the spring season men’s competitive group, and before that he was the 2008 summer champ.

Reaching these high points took some dedication, since, although he played in high school, David had stopped playing after college for 15 years. What was his motivation to return to tennis?

“I was doing mostly mountain biking and wanted to add cardio and I had always loved tennis.”

Once again, the Internet has played a significant role in sustaining another one of our sport’s souls (not soles!) David learned about Tennis Orange County when “I typed in a search for tennis Orange County.” And he is grateful that he did.

“The Tennis OC thing has really gotten me going,” says David. “It’s an important part of my life.” Now he is such a fan of the league that he volunteers to post signs “to get the word out.” Like other TLN players, he likes about Tennis Orange County because of its flexibility, among other things.
”You can play as much or as little as you want. If you don’t like who you are playing, it’s easy to find someone else. You can play someone better or more competitive, or just hit around. Or even agree to ‘Let’s just break a sweat’ matches.”

What would he say are his most memorable matches? They fall into different types.

Some matches were quite long, 2-3 hours. “Some guys I never beat and should have.” And in true Marat Safin style “One guy cursed out of control and slammed his racket.” Another opponent was answering his cell phone while playing. And only once, in a hotly competitive match, did he have an argument about line calls. But for David, it’s all good.

“Mostly I’ve had some great, competitive matches; and 95 percent of the people have been so worth playing.”

Some other things to know about David: His favorite player is Andre Agassi. His favorite shot is a slice backhand. He follows pro tennis and has been to Indian Wells and the U.S. Open.

Although he had a couple of injuries during the past year—a pinched nerve and some back pain-- with ice, rest and a three-week break, David still manages to play 2-3 times a week! His home court is in Santa Ana, and it’s clear that he is eager to play.

“I can play after 3p.m. during the work week and am flexible on the weekends. Just let me know.”

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Fall, Winter, Spring …What’s Next?

What’s next is Tennis League Network’s summer season. It happens every year and you can get in on it now. Whether it’s the Partners Program or League play, you are bound to find new or familiar players at your skill level.

If you have been playing during the Spring session, have you been playing as much as you’d like? The point is to get out there and play. Isn’t that what you signed up for? So what if you didn’t make the playoffs. You still had fun, didn’t you? 

Perhaps you haven’t been able to play that often. Work, kids’ soccer games, family obligations, weddings, and other responsibilities just got in the way. But it’s not too late to move forward—now--and take advantage of the good weather by joining your local league for the summer season, which starts in just a few weeks on June 15.

People tell me all the time how much they have enjoyed their Tennis League Network community of players. They’ve found players at their level, their matches are fun, and they’ve made some new friends along the way.

Have I convinced you yet? Clear your calendar and sign up now. By the middle of August, when the summer season ends, you’ll look back and realize that it’s one of the better decisions you’ve made.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Profile: Crystal Ellis of Tennis DC

Tennis Went by the Wayside for a While,
But Crystal’s Court is Back in Session

Frequently people decide to return to tennis after many years of not playing. Perhaps they were on their high school or college teams. Then life intervened, or they were injured, and tennis sort of went by the wayside. Then they decide to return to the game and try to figure out a reentry scheme.

Crystal Ellis falls into that category. Thank goodness for Google. That’s how Crystal found Tennis DC. And she’s very glad she found it. She’s been a member of Tennis DC since 2006, and, like Dedan Tolbert of Tennis Philly (also one of our profile subjects), is another strong player with a skill level of 3.5.
Crystal played in high school and then took off for 10 years. She works in pharmaceutical sales and came back to our sport looking for some exercise. Well, exercise is what she’s getting. She now plays about twice a week.
“I love the different people that I have met and played with,” says Crystal. “And I’ve made really great friendships. I also like the league’s flexibility.”We like to find out our players’ most memorable matches, but could anything top this?

Crystal’s most memorable match came last season at a Highland Park court in Pentagon City Mall, just outside of Washington. She had played her opponent many times, but not this one. I guarantee, you will never guess who it was. Not Jelena Jankovic, not Serena Williams, not Dinara Safina, or any other tennis star. The replacement opponent was a raccoon. Yes, you read that correctly. A raccoon!

“He came from nowhere and walked onto the court, Crystal recalls.”We were tied in the match. As soon as I saw it I lost it. Caroline thought he was cute. 

I started screaming. He made me move and totally threw off my day. Caroline (not the raccoon?) is one of my biggest rivals, and I have yet to beat her. So of course she won.” Try to beat that for memorable.
Crystal’s other memorable experience is her match last year at the Tennis League Network Championship in Key Biscayne, FL., where, she says modestly, she did pretty well. “I came in second!”

For Crystal, TennisDC is tennis all the way.

  “I didn’t think Tennis DC would become such a major part of my life. It’s so funny,” she says, “I also belong to USTA. But I really care more about my league legacy record. These matches mean more to me.” She spreads that joy to other players.
“Almost every season someone has joined that I’ve recommended, and she’s winning.”

Friday, May 21, 2010

Best Bets for the French Open—Who Do You Think Will Win?

Make Your Picks on Tennis Channel’s Racket Bracket...

As I do, you probably debate, disagree and even make "gentlemen’s bets" with friends about who will win The French Open. You can do that on a grander scale by competing with not just your friends, but with thousands of tennis fans who choose their picks — first-round, and every round thereafter, through to finals and the champion — on Racket Bracket: 

In fact, the Tennis Channel (TC) racket bracket email arrived in my email inbox just as I began to write this article! How’s that for serendipity?

I have participated in Racket Bracket for several years. Now, I am always up for tennis competition, even if it is virtual. As an incentive, TC usually offers some sort of prize. For this year’s French Open it’s a 5-day trip to Paris for the 2011 French Open, including airfare, hotel, two tickets to the first two days of the tournament, and a Longines watch. Not bad, huh?

The draws were revealed on Friday morning, May 21, which gives you only a few days to meet the entry deadline of 5 a.m. Monday, which is the first day of main draw competition. But, the contest has its own peculiar set of challenges. With so many players in the first round matches, including the 32 seeded players, filling out these entries can be time consuming, especially if you are serious about picking the right winner. But it gets easier as you move from one round to the next, since just half of the players in the previous round are left. But your entry can also difficult to fill out or to submit, which is the challenge with Racket Bracket. Here’s where you can find the men’s and women’s seeds and who they play in their first round matches:

On the face of it, it seems straightforward. You can enter the general pool or create a private pool, or both. I was able to register in advance since the site was open for business at 11 a.m. Friday. And, while the entry deadline isn’t until 5 a.m. Monday, you may be too busy on the weekend to bother with it. So, because it’s so time consuming--it took me more than an hour for the Australian Open-- there isn’t that much time to meet the deadline. Rather than make your picks by sections of the draw, as they are typically displayed on most tennis website, racket bracket displays all the matches by round on one page.
Does the first round even matter? It’s clogged mostly with no-name qualifiers that few people have ever heard of, except, of course, their families, coaches, tournament officials, other tennis professionals and pundits, or possibly fans who have lost their minds and actually researched their records and rankings. On the other hand, on the Tennis Channel site all players are listed, but qualifiers are not easy to find. That’s because all players are categorized alphabetically by last name, which requires that you methodically go through every letter to find any player. So, while you agonize over whether Roger Federer (last year's champion )or Rafael Nadal, or Serena Williams or Justine Henin will win the whole shebang, it’s the people you never heard of that are the toughest to pick.

But don’t be fooled. You can’t count out qualifiers. And you can count on some of the to produce some upsets, which happens often. So don’t give qualifiers short shrift. It’s a crap shoot, for sure, when you don’t know who they are, their backgrounds or their records by the time they have won their way into the opening rounds of the main draw. So I advise that you just guess. (By the way, it’s hard to research qualifiers who have won the French Open in the past. Perhaps there aren’t any in the Open Era.).

My advice is to look at the first round like it’s a multiple choice test. Make a pick, because that way it isn’t a certain wrong answer. Maybe you like the player’s name, or country, or position in the bracket. You may actually guess right some of the time. In Racket Bracket, however, you HAVE to choose, or else you can’t move on to the next round to select a pick. That would leave a match with only one player! Besides, the site won’t let you submit your entry unless it is completely filled out.

Believe me when I say that you absolutely cannot submit your entry unless every choice is filled in. This happened to me several times until I finally figured out that there were blanks in my entry. If the site will not let you submit your entry, you have to make a correction, and it’s likely there was an omission. Then, as I did, you have to review each round of the entire draw to find it, a painstaking and annoying effort that must be done if you want to play. On the other hand, one of the nicer features of Racket Bracket is that every few days you receive an email with your standings. You can also check the site at any time to see where you stand compared to other participating fans. And that’s the point of the contest.

You score one point for each correct pick. When you go back to your entry to see which picks were correct and which were not, the site will display your correct picks in green, and wrong picks in red. I give myself a pat on the back when I have picked well enough to have made it into the top 10% of the general pool.

These are the scoring details:

  • First Round correct picks receive 1 point(s)
  • Second Round correct picks receive 2 point(s)
  • Third Round correct picks receive 3 point(s)
  • Fourth Round correct picks receive 5 point(s) 
  • Quarterfinals correct picks receive 10 point(s)
  • Semifinals correct picks receive 20 point(s)
  • Finals correct picks receive 30 point(s)

Remember. You have until 5 a.m. on Monday to make your picks on Tennis Channel’s Racket Bracket.

When you get to the final choices — who will be in the final? — then, of course, you have the option to pick the champion. My picks? Nadal for the men. And for the women? I have no idea. But I don’t think it will be Justine Henin. She just hasn’t been playing well enough. Murray.

Even if you think you can’t do well because you don’t follow pro tennis, make your picks. You should do it. It’s fun. Here it is again.:

And here's the French Open website:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Profile: Dedan Tolbert of Tennis Philly

Dedan’s Other Place: The Tennis Court

Dedan Tolbert is such a busy guy, it’s a wonder he finds time to play tennis. He’s an author, advice columnist and host of “The Dedan Tolbert Show," his daily radio talk show about love, romance and life partners, which airs weeknights at 9:00 p.m. EST nationwide.

So, when Dedan Tolbert talks about partners, he’s not only referring to tennis partners. He also means romantic partnerships, which are a central topic of his radio show. Dedan prides himself on helping women avoid many of the uncomfortable circumstances they often find themselves in by giving advice that encourages self reflection and examination.

Dedan plays in the Tennis Philly league, where he has been a member of the competitive division since May 2007. With a 3.25 skill level and an overall league record of 78-54, it’s clear that he is a formidable opponent. He is also a true Tennis Philly fan. “It’s great,” he says, “because it allows you to play competitive tennis on the same skill level, as well as being extremely convenient.”

While many players have found their area leagues through an Internet search, Dedan found his way to Tennis Philly when he saw a flyer posted at the Allens Lane courts in Philadelphia’s Mount Airy neighborhood. And just how often does he play? Last summer his daily play won him the “Player of the Year” award because he played so many matches. “I plan on doing that again this season” he says.

However, with so much going on professionally, including “Ask Dedan” freelance articles and video blogs, this is truly a great feat. How does he do it? Dedan explains that he plays on his days off (and when might those be?) and in the morning before meetings.

Dedan started young. He began to play at age 5 (a year younger than Andre Agassi), when he was in camp, and continued to play through elementary school, high school and college. After that there was a hiatus. He then returned to tennis in 2005, just two years before he joined Tennis Philly.

One of his memorable matches took place two seasons ago in the fall season, which extends into October. “The weather was horrible,” Dedan says, so it was a two-part match. Like the 2008 baseball World Series (which the Phillies won) part one was played in snow and sleet, “so we played it over 2 days.”

“I really enjoy the league, Dedan says. “I introduced one guy to it a year ago. I spread the word and tell as many people as possible so that the league can continue to grow.”

(You can listen to “The Dedan Tolbert Show” weeknights at 9:00pm EST by calling 646-200-0366 or logging onto

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Vertically Challenged Player

Here's the Long and the Short of it…
Not everyone is John Isner (right), the 6’9” player who for the past few years has been the darling American player on the ATP tour. Or Ivo Karlovic (left), who is an astounding 6'10"! On the other hand, not everyone in the Tennis League Network is at the height of their game, or really really tall. And for sure there are many of you out there who have to deal with the issue of height on the tennis court.  (Amy? Jean? Are you listening?)But there are two schools of thought regarding player height on the tennis court. At first glance it seems that taller is better, mainly because of the serve. Taller players can usually get a strong, fast serve over with what seems minimal effort. Frequently, as seen with Venus Williams, taller players have an extensive reach and grab those angled shots. Also, when a taller player faces a shorter opponent they typically use the top spin lob. This shot pushes the tiny player deep into the court and more times than not over Shorty’s head. It would seem that the taller player has the court advantage.

The search for playing techniques and advantages to assist shorter female players, 5’4” and under, is tireless. (The focus here will be on female players since typically they are shorter players;but read on to see photos of the "big babes" on the women's tour.)

Research shows that height is helpful but not everything. (Scroll down for a list of the tallest and shortest players among the top 50 players on the WTA tour. Most of the women in the top 50 seem to fall in the range of 5'8" - 5'11".) Speed, agility, endurance, hand-eye coordination, and simply ability all play a huge part in the sport. Simply stated, a taller player is not usually as good at moving quickly on the court. Tip to Shorty: keep them moving. Push your lanky opponent into the back corner and then be diligent with your volley or hit an unexpected drop shot. Ideally, get the ball back and get them out of position.

Changing direction is more difficult with height, so keep your shots varied and not down the middle. Another thing that works on most tall players is to keep the ball low because it's more difficult for them to get to it. Certainly, when they are volleying, keep that ball low by their feet, it makes it very difficult for them to return. Try your best to prevent the giant from getting a high ball to smash back at you.

Characteristically, a shorter player can rely on speed and agility. Keep this in mind. You can beat them with your SPEED!

Additionally, you must add mental agility (don’t be intimidated by the giant), accuracy and a solid return of serve. Ideally, when you get that tall person’s terrific serve keep the return low making it harder for the tall person to get to since they typically have to lean so far down to hit it. Also, remember add the low volley and slice shots to your arsenal. In a nut shell I discovered that height isn't everything, well maybe in the modeling field. However, ability, agility, heart and mentality are what add inches to your game and ultimately neutralize a height handicap.

Players lacking in height, but not HEART:
Belgian female player Justine Henin (left) who is also lacking in height—she is 5’6”––but not in heart. She enjoyed being world #1 in singles with a record of 492-106, 41 career singles titles and has won all Grand Slams 2 more than once except for Wimbledon where she was only a finalist. As you know, she’s out of retirement and still one of the smallest players on the women’s tour, with the exception of …
Melanie Oudin (left) (born September 23, 1991) is an American tennis player and former World Junior No. 2. Her career high rank is World No. 41, which she achieved on February 22, 2010. Career prize money: $450,335 .

Do smaller players have to work harder? Maybe. But what is better than working hard at something you love and challenging yourself, testing your abilities, reaching your pinnacle?

I keep this in mind as I walk on the court and assess my opponent, “It’s my game, and I bring on the court me, my racquet and my arsenal, leaving any notions of height restrictions or handicaps outside on the curb.” So be a warrior no matter the opponent and keep playing with HEART!!!

There are many women of basketball height on the women’s tour. But height is a challenge, not just for us recreational players, but for several of the pros, too. Among the top 50 female players, here’s the long and short of it:

Maria Sharapova (Russia) 6-2

Ana Ivanovic (Serbia) 6-1

Venus Williams (USA) 6-1

Dinara Safina –(Russia) 6.0

Yanina Wickmayer-(Belgium) 6.0


Jie Zheng (China) 5-4-1/2

Patty Schnyder (Switzerland) 5-6

Justine Henin (Belgium) 5-5

Melanie Oudin (USA) 5-6

Tamarine Tanasugarn (Thailand) 5-5

Alexandra Dulgheru (Romania) 5-5

Maria Kirilenko (Russia ) 5-6

Dominika Cibulkova (Slovakia) 5-2

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tennis League Network Hits the Airwaves.

We’ve Hit a Winner on Tennis Channel

What do David May, John Geary, and Maria Vargas have in common? It’s this: all three participate in the Tennis Los Angeles League. But now they are also tennis “stars” in one of the regular Court Report features aired on Tennis Channel. The video is narrated by Cari Champion, one of Tennis Channel’s regular hosts for Court Report.
If you didn’t see it or you don’t get Tennis Channel, you can view it online on the tennis Channel Web Site. Here’s the link.
This video runs just under a minute. This is tremendous publicity for Tennis League Network and a big upside for you as a player. The more people who see it and become interested in a local league means a greater potential for bringing more players into your leagues, and thus more people for you to play with. Here’s a brief review. The online video caption is:

The Tennis League Network is a great way to find a local league.

Cari Champion (left): Are you interested in playing tennis but having a hard time finding a local league that fits your schedule? Well the Tennis League Network is a 7 year old web site devoted to connecting players. It’s grown to include 34 cities and almost 24,000 players nationwide.
Now shift to David May, an advanced player…

“If you’re not a member of a club, like I’m not,” says May, “it’s just really good that you’ve got a community of people that are the exact same level.”

As two women rally, Maria Vargas takes the screen and says:

”Everyone I meet says they really want to play tennis, but no one is ever ready to hit the courts, so I know that I can go online and someone is always ready to make a tennis date.”

John Geary, in the League for a third season:

“I love it that you get to play people that are on the same level. You get a variety of people. Each season I meet new people. And you pick and choose the schedule you want.”
So, cross court, down the line, volley or serve, Tennis League Network is the winner on Tennis Channel.