Sunday, July 27, 2014

Citi Open in DC - a new fan's perspective

by: Jeamine Yoo (guest blogger and WTA consultant / DC tennis fan)

The Citi Opens

Shuttleloads of excited tennis fans were deposited outside William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center grounds Saturday morning, myself included. Today was the first day of the Citi Open and my first foray into viewing professional tennis and anticipation was high.

History of DC's Pro Tennis Tournament

The Citi Open is one of 12 ATP (Association of Tennis Players) World and WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) Tour tournaments leading up to the US Open in New York. Players win points according to their results in each of the tournaments, with more points given to ATP World Masters 1000 and WTA Premier events. The Citi Open is a part of the ATP World Tour 500 series and on the third tier of the tournament, after the US Open and ATP World Masters 1000. It has gone through several changes since its inception in 1969 when it was called the Washington Star International - then more recently the Legg Mason Classic. The main update being men’s and women’s events merging to a joint tournament in 2012. 

Experiencing Summer Tennis at Rock Creek Park

The games today and tomorrow were and will be the qualifying rounds where 20 men compete for 6 spots in the main draw; and 16 women compete for 4 spots, including one woman that’s garnered my admiration, young up-and-comer, Taylor Townsend.

The qualifying games were quick—the best of three sets clinched the win. Men’s games were earlier in the day, followed by ladies’ matches, and the evening closed with doubles play.

The setup of the games was pleasantly accessible to viewers. The periphery courts—Grandstands 1 & 2, Courts 1 & 2, and the player practice courts—allowed spectators to come intimately close to the games and players, allowing tennis enthusiasts unrivaled views of the players’ choice of strokes and strategy.
As a recreational tennis player, I appreciated the close views and enjoyed the opportunity to wander from game to game in order to soak up the entire event holistically.

In addition to the accessible games, the community and family-oriented feel of the park was due in part to the distribution of 3,000 complimentary tickets, as well as the tennis clinics held for children and the multitude of colorful vendors handing out their wares and product information. The Citi Open is great at attracting varying levels of tennis fans by hosting special events throughout the tournament, whether it’s a Grand Marnier sponsored Happy Hour or a women’s tennis clinic, there are many activities to participate in between matches.

Friendly Venue for even casual sport fans

For all out there who haven’t attended or have been hesitant to go, try something new! Tickets are still on sale and can be purchased here. The matches are guaranteed to be exciting; pro players can be found strolling throughout the park and are friendly and engaging to fans.

A few tips for first-time visitors:

  • Parking on the field ($10) is limited, so metro into Van Ness and take the shuttle—it’s seamless, convenient, and runs about every 15 minutes.
  • Once inside, find the info booth and acquire a map of the venue
  • Acquaint yourself with the day's Schedule of Play so you can plan your outing according to your player preferences.
  • Do float around and soak it all in!
  • Remember to bring and liberally apply sunscreen as most courts have no shade.

Stay tuned for highlights and predictions, but first, go buy your tickets!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why you need to visit DC's Citi Open (Sept 26 - Aug 3)

Washington DC's Citi Open - 2014 US Open Series

by: Nik Subramanian (guest blogger and ATP consultant/expert)

It’s hard to believe we are halfway through the summer already and just 6 weeks away from the US Open in NYC. The good news is that the last week of July in Washington, D.C. means great professional tennis action at the Citi Open in Rock Creek Park.

The players’ list is packed with young and upcoming talent like Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov, Vasek Pospisil, Genie Bouchard, and others. So let’s dive right into the players you'll want to watch this year.

The Citi Open promises a lot of great matches with the top ATP players competing for the prize. If you haven't done so, grab your tickets, we'll see you there.

TIP: Use Promo Code: USTA25 and get 25% OFF (valid for most sessions)

The Next Generation of Stars: 3 ATP Young Guns to Watch

The three guys who most agree represent the next generation of top 5 tennis players, are all in the Citi Open this year. Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic, and Grigor Dimitrov have each had breakthroughs in 2014.

Kei Nishikori (Japan)
Kei Nishikori reached a career high ranking of 9 at the end of last year. Despite some injury worries, I expect he'll finish the year in the top 10 if he stays healthy. Kei is speedy, has amazing ground strokes, a great return, and is fun to watch. He's as no-nonsense on the court as they come and Coach Michael Chang has been trying to pass on his killer instinct and set higher goals for Kei this year. If he ends up playing on one of the side courts, be sure to watch Kei’s nimble footwork together with his amazing balance and core strength. It’s not as easy as he makes it look!

Milos Raonic (Canada)
Despite an ankle injury early in the year, Milos reached a career high ranking of number 6 in the world and is currently ranked 7. He's put up solid results in the Slams and Masters 1000's - his first Grand Slam QF at Roland Garros (l. to Djokovic), a first Grand Slam semi at Wimbledon, (l. to Federer), QFs in Indian Wells, Rome, and SFs in Monte Carlo. The consensus in the locker room is that Milos has the best serve on tour right now. While I doubt we'll see Milos attempt his 155mph serve, watch him with a seat behind the player's baseline to admire the variety of his serves (slice, kicker, flat) with pretty much the same ball toss. The weakest part of his game right now is his return, so look for that shot to improve as he works out the kinks with Coach Ivan Ljubicic.

Grigor Dimitrov (Bulgaria)
If you hear a bunch of screaming, hysteric teenage girls around the practice courts, you've probably stumbled onto one of Grigor Dimitrov's practice sessions. Grigor was already somewhat of a celebrity in 2013, but after teaming up with super coach, Roger Rasheed, last year, Grigor is fitter, stronger, and extremely motivated to get to the top of men's tennis. Grigor's always had talent to burn, but he's found a way to channel it and I expect he's going to have a great 2014. He's just broken into the top 10 this month, following an SF showing at Wimbledon (l. to Djokovic in 4 close sets), QFs at the Australian (l. to Nadal in 4 close sets) and has a won a title on all three surfaces in 2014. I'd be shocked if Grigor does not make it to the year-end finals this year and be part of or finish near the top 5. Watch Dimitrov from any seat in the stadium, look out for his precise first serve and his use of speed offensively to win points. You’ll find Grigor is an all-around crowd charmer and will throw in a trick shot and a tweener every now and then.

Early Predictions and Dark Horses

Sunday, June 22, 2014

How to "Fail Better" in Tennis: Self-Evolution required for long term Success

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail Better.”

Tattooed on Stanislas Wawrinka's forearm is this quote by poet Samuel Beckett.

The quote is especially meaningful because it describes the nature of struggle in life as in tennis. The trials and tribulations we all must endure to reach our goals. Because there is always an adversary, always an opponent (sometimes ourselves), the quote seems appropriately universal.

Stan said: "you need to take the positive of the loss and you need to go back to work.”

If we seek to win a tennis match and we fail, that lose is not a permanent outcome. To most players, defeat is the end result - it is not. Because there are inevitably more matches, more trials, more struggles against the same opponent or conditions in the future the key is to maximize the knowledge gained from that one result.

They say the definition of Insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". Another way to put it: change a losing game plan, and stay the course with a winning one.

A great book I've recently discovered with a similar name "How to Fail..." by the creator of Dilbert is a funny and great read!

In sports, some players will have superstitions. If certain streaks continue, they will do silly things to help it along. Conversely, if they lose badly, they want to change anything/everything to get rid of the "curse".

Superstition aside; the fundamental principle is this: don't accept failure sitting down.

If there is any vested interest to win, then you have to change. If you show me someone who doesn't ever win and refuses to ever change or work harder, you have a fool.

If you keep trying and keep changing AND keep losing, then perhaps you need to find a different sport...but at least you know you made intelligent attempts - infinitely better.

Tennis offers you chances to evolve and grown within a match and outside a match. If you begin to feel the tide of a match going against you, what *must* start to happen:

Self Evolution: basic steps toward improvement

1) Awareness - figure out when your current trend is going south
2) Identification - Pick up the key indicators and important facts from what has happened - *why* things have changed.
3) Adjustment - What is Plan B? Do you have a plan B? If not, make one up - do not repeat the same patterns if it clearly does not work.
4) Modification - Are you able to implement this new game plan?
5) Assessment (and repeat) - If so, you have to take careful mental notes of how the change is effecting the game. If the opponent can re-adjust as well to your best attempts at plan B, be sure to know this is different than being incapable of executing properly - big difference.

Next article:
Most common mistakes people make going for Plan B.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Lessons from Rafa - overcoming injury in my own tennis season

Like my tennis hero - the superhuman grinder, Rafael Nadal - I too faced a debilitating injury last year in 2013. Out of the sport for about 2 1/2 to 3 months with moderate Tennis Elbow. I reluctantly skipped one of the major USTA NTRP Championships of the summer, one that I had fiercely competed for years prior.

But during that time, I honed in my game, let my tennis elbow recover. I performed strengthening drills with my red TheraBand FlexBar every day.

The toughest moments were getting out to the park and seeing a beautiful sunny day, but unable to hit.

That immobilization of the mind feels many times more painful and constricting than the physical pain of the injury. Every competitor wants to get back ASAP. But I knew I had to take it a step at a time.

Recovery and Healing

I trained extra hard on my conditioning and stamina using the "Prepping Like a Pro" training program I had practiced with Yann and Dan during the previous winter.

Focusing on what you can change, and crushing it - that is what champions do. Disabilities are only limiting / crippling if you allow them to be, but mostly if it is allowed to affect you mentally.

The Desire to Compete

One day I even went to the practice wall, with a tennis elbow wrapped tightly. All the walls were taken and all the courts were full, and still I waited to see if I could try to muscle a few good strokes with a soft foam practice ball for youth. I tried both the red and the green. Fortunately, I did feel too much discomfort - however, as soon as I tried the regulation tennis ball, I could immediately feel my forehand twinge and had to stop.

Those 2-3 months could not have come at a worse time in the middle of the summer months when tennis is in full swing. I aggregated the injury in only the 2nd tournament of the season (Shilou Open). When I went out to participate in a Charity Event for wounded warriors a month later, I was not even half the player I was - losing in the first round for both singles and doubles. It was devastating.

The Will to Win, compels us. The Wisdom to Know how, enables us.

Speed bumps - Living the rest of your life

During those long tennis-less weeks I socialized more with friends and tried new activities that let my right arm rest. I echo'd what Pete Sampras experienced. For Pete during the summer of '99, he had to pull out of the US Open, but he recalled that "it was the best injury of my life because that’s where I met my wife" met some really supportive and encouraging women that helped me feel better and my mind off the game for a while. It was a very fun summer for me and probably one I will always remember fondly.

But after skipping the USTA NTRP Championship at College Park, and actually was relieved about not pushing my elbow any further. Content to be in the atmosphere, I just cheered friends on and visited the College Park Aviation Museum instead. I knew I would have 5-6 weeks to properly heal and then train to get back into form.

Returning to Action - the dividends of being well-prepared

By the end of September, I was able to regain my peek form and finally secured the DC Open title (NTRP 4.0) which I had been attempting to win for the last 4 years. It was a privilege to play on the same court as the Citi Open (ATP 500) event I had covered just about a month prior for

My final tournament was out at Leesburg, VA in a beautiful facility called Ida Park. The tournament director was very professional and I have always had great memories from the very civilized competitors that I've faced there. It is one of the farthest treks for a Mid-Atlantic USTA tournament in the DC area, but in my opinion well worth it. The perfect court surface and slightly higher elevation out west also suits my game well.

By the end of that event, even though I lost in the Finals, it was a very good showing in the 2nd half of the season for me. I played solidly against a very strong adversary who was once on the same USTA team as me, during a very blustery late afternoon breeze, and we both had really long rallies.

Be the Best you *know* you can be

With that strong finish, I was able to secure the #1 ranking again for the Mid-Atlantic Men's Singles NTRP 4.0 section. The year also allowed me to "medal" in all of the notable DC area NTRP tournaments. Finishing with the finals or championship in all these locations is a very satisfying feeling. I still can remember each of the trophies and not only the final victory, but all the emotions and the electric atmosphere of USTA tennis.

I would highly encourage avid tennis players (especially singles players), to give USTA tournaments a try because it replicates the true spirit and intensity of professional tennis the best out of any of the formats available. It truly is an Open field of competition and you must learn to be completely self-sufficient in these single elimination rounds.

For next season, I hope to compete at the NTRP 4.5 level and will continue to document my experiences. And I hope for all the readers out there that read this and all my articles, I have been one positive step building toward your own goals in tennis.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Rafa's 2013 - a tale of Recovery from Tragedy, Human Perseverance and Reclaiming World #1

After a long 7 months layoff from tennis because injury, trained and trained, day in and day out. He missed out on the US Open and the Australian Open. Instead of rushing to jump back immediately, he fought perhaps the greatest battle of his life.

Uncertainty during difficult times

In his book, Rafa, he confesses about how his greatest fear - inertia. If he had to stop playing tennis even for a few days, what would happen? It has been ingrained as deep as breathing into nearly every day of his life since a child. Being able to put it on hold for over half a year and believe he could return, means his faith is truly strong.

Admittedly there was doubt for even the most passionate Nadal fans. The big question to the entire tennis world was if - not just when - he would ever return to the game.

Staying Focused on Rehab

Following doctors orders, he put away his tennis racket and did not play any tennis for 7 months! Always in the gym, stretching, strengthening, doing all the workouts he could without injuring himself in rehab. Updating his facebook page weekly with pictures in the pool or relaxing with his family - nowhere near a tennis court. He was spurred on by the inspiring encouragement from fans; Rafa pressed on and stay loyal to his team's advice.

The test of patience

Watching his rivals climb over him and his rankings - I'm sure it must have been painful to be completely absent in nearly 3 Grand Slams.

Patiently, he relinquished the US Open Hard court season, the Indoor European season, the year ending ATP World Tour finals. Even then after the new year, he tested the waters carefully yet listened to his body and his coaches - skipping the Australian Open.

The thousands of ranking points slipped away; millions of dollars in prize money forfeited; optimism followed by caution to wait just a little longer, then a few weeks more... the tennis world wondered if this was the end.

Only he would be able to show the world if he could rise again...

Then one title after another, starting with a ATP 250 final, and from there his confidence grew and his body became stronger...

  • Brazil Open
  • Mexico Open
  • Indian Wells BNP
  • Barcelona
  • Madrid
  • Rome
  • Roland Garros
  • Montreal
  • Cincinatti
  • US Open

Ultimately, 2013 World #1, ATP Comeback Player of the Year, and 10 titles dominating almost every major hard court and clay court tournament on the tennis tour.

Year of Greatness: Reborn

Rafa not only came back in 2013, it turned out to be his best year of his career. The world witnessed a legend who crystallized the competitive tennis fuel in his soul so completely. In his essence so dedicated to the sport (every atom of his being, as he put it) that nothing could stop him.

The half-time intermission was over, he was ready. Not just 60% or 80% or 90% but his mind/body was hungry for it - like a predator that had not feasted. Absolutely determined. driven. unstoppable.

How many professional athletes in Any sport can go in into rehab for 7 months, come on the field in mid-season and still regain the pinnacle of champions by year's end.

Great Champions find a way. Vamos Rafa. See you in 2014!
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