Friday, June 27, 2014

Ashok Kanumalla - Tennis Los Angeles Player Reaches Milestone

Ashok Kanumalla recently played his 200th match with the Tennis League Network, and he has no plan to quit anytime soon. What an impressive feat for the cricket fan from India! Not only has Ashok played two hundred matches, he has also made a lot of new friends along the way. The latter is actually what Ashok considers more important. Nothing beats simply having fun out on the court on a lazy afternoon. 

To celebrate the milestone, the league has now bestowed on Ashok the coveted title Peerless Veteran. Even sweeter, Ashok is now entitled to a 5% discount on all future program purchases on (See, these are the kind of goodies that awaits you, Readers!) If he ever makes it to 400 matches played Ashok will receive a 10% discount on all program purchases.

What makes Ashok’s achievement even more extraordinary is the fact that he barely ever played tennis before joining the league. He started virtually from zero. When Ashok first joined, he never imagined he would be playing for this long! Ashok gives a lot of credit to the league for making it possible. Without the network, it would have been difficult to find partners who are compatible in terms of playing level, motivation, and schedule. 

Ashok’s most memorable match is a fairly recent one. In Fall 2013, he lost 6-7, 7-6, 6-7 to rival Micole G. Alfaro. It was absolutely the longest match he ever played. Despite the outcome, Ashok felt an immense satisfaction to have survived an epic 3.5-hour battle. (No kidding, what a test of endurance!) This was only the 5th time ever this result was achieved in over 120,000 league matches.

There’s another match that Ashok recalls fondly: Recently, he beat Nick Posthuma 6-4, 6-4. Nick is a 4.25 player in the Elite League, whereas Ashok is a 3.5 level player in the Competitive League. Rarely does the underdog take on the favorite, so it was an enormous thrill for Ashok to experience being David to a Goliath. Most importantly, this match has given him a huge boost of confidence to tackle his next two hundred matches!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Manoj Raghuraman – Repeat Champion Still Looking to Improve

      After a fifteen-year hiatus, Manoj made a comeback on the tennis court in early 2013 by joining Orange County Tennis League or better known as  Manoj wasted no time at all: He established his rating at around the 3.75 to 4.0 level, and he quickly won the 2013 Spring Season Division C championship. Maybe tennis is imprinted in Manoj’s muscle memory after all; he started playing at the early age of 7 thanks to his grandfather’s coaching.

      After emerging as an OC champion, Manoj was promoted to Division B. As excited as he was to be so successful so soon, Manoj was nowhere near complacent. He tried to keep his game sharp by continuing to play two or three matches per week. And guess what, he won the 2014 Spring Season Division B championship too! Watch out OC players, there’s nothing stopping this man.

      Manoj attributes his winning ways to being as patient and perceptive as possible when playing against his opponents. He constantly tries to spot their weakness and then relentlessly hold it against them. (Sounds like he’s been taking pointers from Brad Gilbert.)

      Among his rivals, there are two players in particular who stand out in his mind: Brian Millard and Dan Parsons. What the two have in common is that they’ve both given Manoj a lot of hard time, season after season. And yet, their styles couldn’t be more different: Like Novak vs. Rafa, Manoj’s matches against Brian tend to get very physical. Brian forces Manoj to answer to his big forehand, consistent backhand, and exceptional court coverage. Not only that, Brian is always tirelessly improving his game, giving Manoj no choice but to keep up. Dan, on the other hand, is all about pushing Manoj’s patience to the limit. He has an unconventional serve and doesn’t hit the ball too hard, but he keeps every ball in play. Against Dan, Manoj feels that he is mostly playing against himself—it is all about keeping steady and not giving up free points through unforced errors.

      Manoj loves tennis for many reasons: First of all, it involves a racquet. You see, he enjoys all sports that involve striking a ball with some kind of equipment, including table tennis, badminton, racquetball, and even cricket! Other than that, Manoj feels that tennis has been a great complement to his career. Things can get hectic at his job in the medical device industry, and playing tennis has been a great stress-buster. Manoj also appreciates that tennis keeps him active and physically fit. It has certainly played a role in keeping him sharp at work. 

      Manoj finds the OC league well-organized, which is conducive to finding compatible partners and scheduling regular games. The league has definitely provided an excellent outlet for Manoj’s competitive drive. At the end of the day though, despite all the competition, Manoj reflects that the most important thing is to simply have a good time on the court. Getting to know other players in the league has been great fun, and to then have the opportunity to push each other to get better at a shared passion is simply priceless!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Jeremy Lange – Ten Year Break Can’t Hold Back This Champion

        Jeremy Lange has been in the league since 2007. At the time, he just moved to LA from NYC and hadn’t picked up a racquet in ten years. He learned the game from his mother back when he was in middle school, played for the JV team in his high school years, but his passion for the sport always remained. Moving to Southern California gave him no excuse not to play anymore!

      One day, while browsing Craigslist to hunt for tennis partners, he came across a posting about the Los Angeles Tennis League. That was all it took to break the spell. He’s played in both the Westside and Downtown / Valleys divisions since then.

        Jeremy has impressively amassed 296 matches, which averages out to about once per week over seven years. He claims that these days it is possible to spot him on the tennis court at any given time, day or night. It is no surprise that over the years, Jeremy’s NTRP rating has steadily improved: from 3.0 to 3.25 to 3.5 and now 4.0. (Something tells us that 4.5 is in the cards.) In his first season with the league, his record was 10-12—which is not too shabby—but such a losing record has now become a distant memory.

        Jeremy loves that the league is full of active players. He’s completely soaked in the league’s competitive spirit and has a long list of league nemeses to prove it. Jody McVeigh, Robert Brombach, Ronnie Jen, Bob Nazy, and Alex Blatt are among his favorite opponents. The latter two are particularly intriguing—they’ve both made their games unsolvable to Jeremy way too many times! As an interesting aside, Jeremy has also played against Dr. Mancini from Melrose Place, actor Thomas Calabro. No word yet on whether Dr. Mancini has made it to Jeremy’s A-list of rivals.

        The 2011 Summer Season was especially memorable for Jeremy. (Spoiler alert: He won the championship.) His record in the regular season that year was 13-2, with the two lone losses handed to him by one player: Raman Sposato. They both made it to the playoffs as #1 and #2 seeds. True to expectations, they met each other in the finals. After a hard-fought three-setter that went deep into the night, Jeremy beat Raman 6-1,3-6, 6-4. Talk about sweet revenge!  Less than 10 days later, he married to his wife Stephanie in her home town of Baltimore, Maryland!

        In all these years that Jeremy has been with the league, he’s also won a number of prizes and referral rewards. These incentives are another aspect of the league that Jeremy enjoys. He even finished in the top 5 of the Player of The Year race one year. 

        Outside tennis, Jeremy is a music fan. He plays the harmonica and is a fan of Led Zeppelin and Beastie Boys. He also enjoys traveling and has lived in many parts of the country (including Texas, speaking of which, he's a huge Houston Rockets fan!). 

        Nowadays, Jeremy cherishes his new role as a father to a six-month-old son, whom he hopes will one day play his way to the US Open finals.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Alejandro Noyola – Marathon Finals For Miami Veteran

Alejandro has been in the Tennis Miami League since four years ago. At the time, most of Alejandro’s friends didn’t play tennis competitively or even regularly, so he turned to Google to find a recreational league or tournament in the area, in which he hoped to meet eager, active players. He came across the league’s website, and he’s been playing two or three times a week ever since. Alejandro assesses his own level to be at least 3.5, maybe 4.0 on a good day. 

Born and raised in Miami, the 32-year-old MBA grad has accumulated an assortment of professional accomplishments, including a four-year stint in the Navy. Unsurprisingly, Alejandro is a busy man these days—he works for a major telecommunications company as both a Marketing Director and a Business Development Manager. He is also a single father to an 11-year-old daughter, who so far hasn’t shown signs to be a tennis fan. Instead, she competes in gymnastics, and as his proud father can attest, is very good at it. Alejandro is also a beloved master to a beagle and a golden retriever. As both a tennis player and a dog lover, Alejandro lacks no option for being active!

Alejandro’s involvement with tennis began at age 12. He picked up a tennis racquet for the first time while attending a summer camp. Nevertheless, he ended up dedicating most of his time growing up to playing team sports such as soccer, basketball, and football, and it wasn’t until he was 27 that he began playing tennis regularly.

Two aspects of tennis that Alejandro likes the most are the mental challenge and the competition. Other than that, he also enjoys the social side of tennis, and he particularly appreciates how easy it is to play the game as often as he likes.

Alejandro’s most memorable match is a very long and peculiar one: It took almost 9 sets to complete! In the Summer 2011 Season, Alejandro made it to the championship finals. His opponent was Dario Dejanovic, a long-time league rival. In their meeting in the finals, it began to rain hard in the third set. So, they both agreed to start again from scratch another time. The second time they played, guess what, it rained again in the third set! So, yet again, they decided to redo the match from scratch. Well, as they say, third time’s a charm; it magically did not rain in their third try. Not only that, Alejandro won it 0-6, 6-4, 6-1. (Impressive comeback, Alejandro.) 

Reflecting on the win, while no doubt happy about it, Alejandro humbly points out that in those three days of competitive back-to-back battles, things could have gone either way. Such is the wisdom of a Miami champion!      

Monday, June 9, 2014

Ryan Pietsch - Minneapolis Player Sets Signs on Improvement

Three years ago, Ryan took his father’s suggestion to join Minneapolis / St. Paul Tennis League. He’s been a dedicated member since, playing in every season from spring to fall. As long as the Minnesota weather cooperates, he tries to play three to four times a week, at least two of which are official league matches.

Ryan started playing tennis after high school. Before that, he was always participating in organized team sports, but this was harder to do in college and especially after college. Tennis turned out to be the perfect physical outlet for him. Find one willing partner and a tennis court, and you’re all set! (Pun intended.)

The league has a flexible format, and this is indeed something that Ryan appreciates. It allows him to plan matches around his busy career in finance, and it’s been fairly easy to get someone on the court on a few hours’ notice.

Ryan is currently a 3.5 player, and he’s set a goal to improve his level by 0.5 per year. He’s hesitant to say if this is entirely realistic, but setting such a stretch goal has definitely accelerated his improvement. It also helps that Ryan has two rivalries with players (Shawn Hesley and Benjamin Canine) who joined the league at around the same time. The three of them keep trying to outplay each other, and the side effect is that they improve together. 

Something Ryan notes about the league is that it attracts players with vastly different styles. There are those who grew up playing tennis and are blessed with beautiful forms. Then there are those who never had any formal instruction—some of them have such unorthodox styles (you’ll never see them on the ATP Tour) and yet can effectively win matches. (Readers: You know who you are!)

When asked about memorable moments, Ryan fondly recalls the 2012 summer season. He won the 3.0 Skilled championship that season. The match that stands out in his mind, though, is not the final one but the first round of the playoffs vs. Jordan Moen. This match quite possibly was the catalyst to him winning the championship: Ryan lost the opening set handily 6-2. He felt dejected, drained, and disappointed. Despite a valiant effort, he had nothing to show for it. And yet, in between the first and second sets, Ryan was somehow able to regroup and find himself new inspiration. He kept himself focused on giving every point his best effort, and little by little he could feel the momentum begin to swing in his favor. We know the ending: He won the next two sets (6-0, 7-5) and closed out the season a newly-crowned Minneapolis champion.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Louis Burnoski - The journey to 100 wins

It is a lovely autumn evening in northeast Ohio and a beautiful day for tennis. The fall season is about half over and my record in the upper of two Tennis Cleveland divisions is 5-4. Among the 21 players in the more advanced league, I am about the 6th or 7th best player. I have qualified for the playoffs so wins and losses are not as important at this point. My goals for the rest of the season are to get 20 matches played and keep improving. Tonight I have my second match of the year against Sukumar Gogoi.  He is the 3.5 Marat Safin. He can crush it, especially on his forehand, but he tends to spray the ball around a lot. In our one previous match he broke me in the first game by ripping return winners, but that was the only game he won. I know he is a dangerous player, but I expect a relatively easy win. The first set goes according to plan as I take it 6-2.

I found out about the Tennis League Network in the spring of 2012. My wife had bought us each six week tennis lessons on Groupon that began in February. One of us became quite enamored of the sport. While searching for a place to continue my new infatuation, I found the Tennis Cleveland website. I signed up for the introductory partner program, liked it, then played in all the 2012 leagues – spring, summer and fall. I played a lot of baseball growing up, so the hand-eye coordination required for tennis was already there. And tennis proved to be a great outlet for my natural competitiveness. Logistically tennis also has a great advantage over baseball; you only need to find one other player for a match. I advanced pretty quickly from my lowly beginnings. I figured out that my natural athleticism worked well with a strategy of not missing while chasing down every ball. In the summer of 2012, this brilliant game plan, combined with the occasional net rush, allowed me to peel off ten consecutive league wins and a promotion to the A league.

There is a bit of a change in momentum at the beginning of the second set. Whether it was Gogoi bearing down after losing the first, me relaxing and losing focus a bit, or him finding the range on his high velocity ground strokes, I quickly find myself down 3-0. I right the ship by running off three straight games of my own. I think I may be able to blitz him off the court now, but no. He responds in kind by winning three games in a row himself to take the second set 6-3. I have a real match on my hands now. I am serving first in the third set and we split holds the first three games before I get a crucial break to go up 3-1. Am I home free? Au contraire. Not only do I not consolidate the break, but Gogoi wins four straight games! I find myself having to hold serve down 3-5 in the third set against a guy I easily outclassed less than a month ago. I liked it better when I was the one on the steep part of the development curve.

I quickly came back to earth after my promotion to the more advanced league. Ten straight B league victories were followed by 6 straight A league losses. Upon finally notching my maiden big league victory, a 3-hour, 3-set come-from behind triumph, my wife exclaimed, “I thought you were never going to win again.” I did finish the summer season with 22 league matches played against 22 different opponents (and a free season for my efforts). After going 2-6 against the big boys in the summer of 2012, I defeated several of my former nemeses in the fall of 2012, going 12-7 in a full season in the majors. I would like to think I am better player now than I was then, but my development hit an inflection point around the end of 2012/beginning of 2013.

Other than playing a rapidly improving opponent, how did I find myself down 3-5 in the third set against a guy I recently dominated? Well anytime I left a ball even a bit short to his forehand it was getting crushed. And anytime I came to the net without a great approach shot I was getting passed. I kept telling myself, “Keep every shot deep,” and, “Only hit approaches to his backhand corner.” We have been playing almost two and a half hours and Gogoi is pretty gassed, going to the towel after almost every point and to his water bottle during the middle of games. So I know I have a chance if I can just right the ship. I manage to win that crucial 3-5 game and he is forced to serve it out. We switch sides and this is the moment of the match. Gogoi definitely is tightening up, not going for his shots when they are there and pulling the trigger too soon when he is out of position. I break him rather easily and he is starting to lose it mentally. I hold serve without trouble and now he has to hold serve to force a winner-take-all tiebreaker. He calms himself a bit on the changeover and then does just that. I am now serving first in the match determining third set tiebreaker. My opponent is tiring, but he gives everything he has over these next few minutes knowing it will all be over soon one way or the other. I go with my natural plan A in the tiebreaker, keep everything in play, and he obliges with missing just enough to put me ahead 4-2 when we switch sides. He wins his second service point to stay within striking distance at 4-3. I win my first service point but give the minibreak back on the second point.  He is now serving at 4-5.  Whether it is weariness or nerves, he does not get much on either first serve allowing me to control the points and eventually force misses. I take the tiebreaker 7-4 and the match 6-2, 3-6, 7-6. Gogoi is despondent. I offer a few words of solace but I need to get some rest. I have another match tomorrow.

In March of 2013, we found out my wife was pregnant with our first kid, to be born in November.  Now that was perfect timing as far as tennis is concerned (although it did make attendance at the year-end Miami tournament an impossibility). I can finish up the fall season, have the kid, and by the time spring 2014 rolls around we should have a pretty good comfort level so I can resume playing again. I know that once the baby is here I will be limited to playing tennis but twice a week. Therefore my goal for 2013 was to play as much as possible (three times a week) because I may never have the chance to play this much tennis again. I did not necessarily want to play on consecutive days, but sometimes that was what the weather and schedules dictated. Thus I find myself playing my great rival, Brian Patrick, the following day.

As a 6 foot tall speed demon I try to leverage my top weapon (court coverage). On the contrary, Brian is a 6’5’’ power server who does not provide a lot of windows for passing shots and lobs when he advances to the net. Our games usually come down to how many of his serves I can get back in play and how well I can keep him off the net. When we get in ground-stroke rallies, we are playing on my terms. This will be our ninth and final match in 2013. Matches numbers 2 through 7 all followed a similar pattern.  Brian would win the first set (when he is serving biggest) and I would win the second set (as the balls start to play slower). In four out of the six matches I won the third set as well, so I felt like I was slightly ahead of him. But match #8 was different. Brian beat me fairly easily, 6-1, 6-3, and it was not just the score line that was different; it was the way he beat me. He was outhitting me from the baseline and basically just blasted me off the court. I need to play better to have a chance tonight.

I win the toss and elect to serve first. I begin the match well. I cannot get an early break but I am holding easily, getting good pace and depth on my groundstrokes. Things proceed on serve until I break him when he is serving at 3-4. Here is my chance to end a seven match long first set losing streak.  But I immediately give the break back. We continue on serve until the first set tiebreaker. We switch sides at 3-3. I win the ensuing point, then take one of two service points. He is serving at 4-5. I win that critical first point. He fights off the first set point. I have one more opportunity to take the crucial opening set, this time on my racket. I go for my best first serve, wide to his backhand. He returns it center court and I whip a forehand cross court.  After going from one sideline to the other, his off balance running forehand sails long.  Things are looking up.

When we found out we were going to have a daughter I was disappointed for about one second until I realized the best sport for a girl is tennis! I made big plans to be the next Richard Williams, only the greatest tennis coach in history. (No other person has ever taught the game to two #1 players.) I fantasized about building a tennis ball mobile. I imagined evenings and weekends spent drilling my very own prodigy, teaching her the finer points of the topspin forehand and when in doubt hit crosscourt. Our daughter was born on November 22, 2013 and fatherhood has proven to be a great joy thus far. It certainly helps to have a baby who seems to like you so much. Being around an infant is also a great arena to fully unleash my innate silliness/playfulness without fear of embarrassment.

We trade breaks to start the second set and then Brian wins two games in a row. I storm back to win four straight games. I am on the precipice of a straight set victory as he serves to stay in the match at 3-5. At 30-all I approach the net and slam an overhead for match point. At 30-40 he hits a good serve and I can only muster a midcourt return. His subsequent approach shot is a bit cautious and I hit a dipping topspin pass. On the full stretch he executes an exquisite drop volley. On the following deuce point I move him around until he misses but again he saves match point, this time with a hard serve wide I cannot keep in play. He wins the next point, but I force another deuce. I think he is about to crack. Proving his mettle, Brian wins the next two points to force me to serve out the match at 5-4. Unfortunately, whether it is tension or fatigue, my serve is getting weaker. He is hitting deep returns or chip and charging and I do not see another match point. Spurred on by his game saving performance, Brian breaks me for 5-5, holds serve with ease and then earns a break point with me serving to stay in the set at 5-6. On a deep approach to my backhand corner I hit a weak lob that gets smashed into the fence. Brian does a little jump and fist pump. This thing is going the distance.

My tennis goal for 2014 is to consolidate my pretty decent standard of play and ascent from novice to 3.75ish level. If I can limit any regression, maybe in a few years, when I have more time to play, I can be really good. When my wife heard a commentator claim that 36 year old Tommy Haas was playing the best tennis of his life, she said this means I still have several years of improvement forthcoming. And since I did not start playing until my late twenties I would be a young 36.

The third set begins with Brian serving first and we split the first four games, all breaks of serve. The receiver’s dominance finally ends when Brian holds to take a 3-2 lead. I realize on the subsequent changeover that this is an extremely important game. I have gotten broken four straight times. My first serve is not getting me ahead in any points and my second serve is just inviting him to attack the net. Evaluating my options, I come up with a radical, nothing-to-lose, change in strategy. Why not serve and volley a few points? And not just on the first serve, which is usually keeping him back and giving a neutral start to the point, but on the second serve too? The tactic surprises him and leads to several missed returns and one put away volley as I hold serve at 15 to even the set at 3 apiece. My new found energy gives me a bit of a boost as I break him and then hold serve again to take a 5-3 lead. He is serving to stay in the match at 3-5, the same situation as in the second set. Brian wins that game to force me to serve at out at 5-4. Can I hold serve to win a set? He is catching on to my serve and volley tactics by placing returns well and I net a volley or two to lose the game. Now it is 5 all. I break him again for another chance to serve out the match at 6-5. But it is not to be. This thing is header for a tiebreaker.

In addition to the physical aspect of tennis, it also provides plenty of challenge on the mental side. With one player facing another mano-a-mano and only marginal differences in player skill, strategy can play a big part in a match. The comparison to the great board game of chess is apt. But unlike chess, every tennis match has a winner or loser, but if any match of mine ever felt like a stalemate, it was this one.

After a set in which each of us held serve only two out of six times, the third set tiebreaker is on serve until I win the 2-2 point. I know the next point is critical but I miss my first serve. I reckon it is time to go for another second serve, serve and volley point and the tactic forces an errant return. I have the 4-2 edge when we change ends. This advantage holds up when I get my serve back at 5-4. If I can just win two service points in a row victory is mine. But no, I drop the first point to even the tiebreaker. I win the 5 all point as Brian nets a backhand. I now have my third match point, the other two coming an hour (and a set) ago. Brian gamely wins the first point with a big serve to even the match at 6-6. On the next point, receiving on the deuce court, I am able to hit a deep return forcing a short response. I angle a ball away from Brian and he cannot get a clean hit on it. I now finally have a match point on my own racket. Serving at 7-6 I go for the body serve right at the tallest player I have ever played. He hits a short response and I go forehand down the line to his backhand and rush the net. He gets to it in the nick of time and tries to pass me with a flat two-hander cross court. I lunge but it is out of my reach. But it also lands just wide. Brian collapses to the ground while I instinctively retrieve the ball. 7-6, 5-7, 7-6.

So after notching my one hundredth Tennis Cleveland victory in the spring of 2014, among which include a doubles championship with the unusual score of 1-6, 6-0, 6-1, these two matches, winning 7-6 in the third on consecutive days, stand out as my crowning achievement: a testament to the level of fitness and devotion and mental fortitude I was able to bring to this great sport and something I may never be able to do again.

-Written by Louis Burnoski, player: 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Andi Dervishi - Exercise and Competition the Key to Success

Despite having only been playing in the Tennis Los Angeles league for less than a year, Andi Dervishi has already played 48 times with the program compiling a 27 wins and 21 losses record. He’s happy as long as he is exercising but loves the competitive aspect of the matches as well.

All tennis players have had those memorable matches that they love to replay in the mind over and over again, whether they be good or bad results. Andi recalls a recent playoff match that started at noon during a heat wave while the temperature was climbing near 100 degrees. The players were being baked inside and out. In fact, it was so hot both players found their memories fading. At one point Andi asked the other player how many children he had. He replied saying he had two; a minute later he told Andi he actually had three children.

The league offers Andi a great way to motivate himself with active, committed player’s scheduling games week in week out. Not only does he get to exercise but he also gets to meet people and improve his game. If you love tennis it is, to quote Andi “a no brainer!” His love of tennis started when he was 8 or 9 when he played with his dad and cousins. However, it was not until Andi was in High School that he started to play regularly, up to six days a week. However, despite loving the game after high school he almost stopped playing entirely and only last year did he get back in after finding Tennis Los Angeles.

When Andi is not playing tennis he can be found in the studio as a writer and director of commercials, music videos, and feature films. In addition to his day job, Andi has taken up teaching a film workshop at a project-based, charter high school in El Segundo.

Fortunately for Andi his partner fully understands his need to play tennis as she is athletic and health minded as well, in fact she practices acupuncture at her own studio in the city, Seed of Life Acupuncture.