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