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Testing the Bounce 06/15/2010 - 5:04 PM

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by Pete Bodo

This afternoon, I attended a luncheon given by at the New York headquarters of the international Paul/Weiss law firm, where John P. McEnroe was a partner for over 25 years and today is "of counsel" (I think that means he's retired). The firm hosted a reading and book signing session by Patrick McEnroe, from his newly published book, Hardcourt Confidential: Tales from Twenty Years in the Pro Tennis Trenches. As many of you know, I was Patrick's co-author.

Over the coming days, I'll be cherry-picking portions of the book because of their relevance to Wimbledon - about which Pat has quite a bit to say. Yesterday, Pat taped a segment for the Charlie Rose show, and next Tuesday he's going to be on the Imus show; they're just part of his extensive promotional tour. Many people don't know it, but Patrick worked as a sportscaster for Imus years ago, when he was fresh off the tour. He ended up quitting - on air. He just took off the headphones and up and walked out. I understand Imus, who's not exactly known for his sensitivity, is miffed that in his book, Pat called Imus's wife a "pain in the *ss." So we could have some fireworks in store. Pat will be doing that show from Wimbledon, as he leaves for London on Friday.

Here's a snippet from Pat's chapter on Wimbledon:

Cover.HardcourtConfidential On the first day of Wimbledon, I always make it a point to get out hours ahead of our broadcast time, just to stroll around, breathe in the atmosphere, and check the lay of the land. 

I get there before the nets are up. The lime-green courts look pristine, especially against those green-black backstops and dark, empty seats. No matter how often I’ve done it, I always feel a little bit like I did on my first trip to Yankee stadium – and never moreso than when I walk through that dark little tunnel leading out to Centre Court, toward that gorgeous turf, tennis’s most significant quarter-acre, bathed in the growing sunlight.

Those first mornings I go up to the roof of the broadcast center where I do a lot of my work. The BC is a huge brick building on the perimeter of the club, overlooking Court 18 and other field courts stretching away toward the No. 1 Court stadium. I watch the grounds crew as they fiddle with the  various courtside fixtures, the netposts, umpire's chair, and fences and chalk lines.

But mainly, I’m waiting for the guys with the big stick. The one I call the Wimbledon pole.

When they arrive, the men set up the eight or ten foot-tall pole with a tennis ball balanced on top. One of them operates a little triggering mechanism, and the ball drops to the turf. Then they measure the height of the bounce. It’s pretty comical – just another Rube Goldberg feature of Wimbledon. Before the main scoreboard went electronic (and that wasn’t so long ago), they actually had a person running around like a mouse on a narrow passageway inside the scoreboard itself, manually (and frantically, over the first few days) flipping wooden numbers to update the scores for the spectators looking up from the walkway below. 

During my playing career, I had a little ritual; I liked to bounce the ball three times before my first serve, and two times before my second. At Wimbledon, I wouldn’t bounce it as much as have to throw it at the ground, just to make it rebound high enough off the spongy surface to reach my hand. In fact, on at least one occasion I decided not to bounce the ball anymore at all. It was a frustrating waste of energy.

These days, though, when the bounce-testers drop the ball off the big stick, it bounces about waist high, even with no force behind it. This change may have saved Wimbledon, which just about fifteen years ago stood in danger of becoming an anachronism – an arcane tennis ritual having no real relation to the contemporary game. Advances in racket technology and a generation of gifted, hard-serving attacking players led by Pete Sampras threatened to turn grass-court tennis into something like farce – a serving contest, with rallies as rare as bluebird skies over chronically drizzly London. 

Who can forget matches like the Wimbledon semifinal Stefan Edberg lost to Michael Stich in 1991? There was only one break of serve in the entire match, and it was Stich who was broken; yet he went on to win the match, 4-6,7-6,7-6,7-6. . . 

Some thought that the game on grass was passé, but apparently all those guys in the green-and-purple AEC ties never got the memo. Two of the other four majors (the Australian and US Opens) had moved to new venues in response to the increased demand for relevance (as well as seats) in the Open era. Significantly, both had abandoned the private club, and turned away from grass in favor of slower, more common and versatile hard courts. The British wouldn’t dream of leaving Wimbledon, the AEC wouldn’t think of abandoning grass, and on top of all that the players still were obliged to wear predominantly. Serves them right.

But time and again, the AEC has shown an amazing ability to respond to the challenges of the rapidly moving Open era without throwing out the baby of tradition with the bathwater. And what steps the AEC took to tweak their tournament were always examined from all points-of-view, mulled over, analyzed, and thought-out with patience that could easily be mistaken for reluctance. Decision making at Wimbledon, whether it concerned the composition of the courts, the new Millenium building, or the retractable roof, breathed new meaning into the words, due diligence. The one word you’d never, ever associate with the Lords of Wimbledon is “panic.” 

So, just as the “grass is dead” movement reached a fevered pitch, the tournament was already considering - and making - the changes that would radically transform Wimbledon’s lawns, and the way tennis is played on them. The club is pretty coy about this, having admitted publicly only to ripping out the mixed strains of grass in favor of 100 per cent perennial rye grass (a hardier, more durable grass) starting in 2001. But Wimbledon veterans, including most players, think the balls are slower as well. And many say that the courts are firmer and harder than ever before. 

Hence, the waist-high bounce off the Wimbledon pole.  

Over the coming days, we'll be looking ahead to Wimbledon. On Friday, I'll have some thoughts on the men's draw, and Bobby Chintapalli will be picking highlight WTA matches on the women's side.

I see that Kim Clijsters laid a one-and-one pasting on her talented countrywoman, Yanina Wickmayer, today at Eastbourne. I'd say that Justine Henin's oft-affirmed ambition to add at least one Wimbledon title to her collection is a pretty daunting task when you consider that in the past 9 years, one or the other of the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, has taken the title a whopping seven times. Henin has her work cut out for her. And so does Clijsters.


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Posted by CPM 06/17/2010 at 04:01 PM

Colette -- Hehe. I guess you & me know our dog breeds, eh? :)

Posted by Kwaku 06/17/2010 at 04:02 PM

CPM, gotcha. And good name pspace.

Posted by AB 06/17/2010 at 04:04 PM

Annie: You've just written MAndy's Wimby epitaph, talking about his great commercial.

It's a TVland rule that, if you're featured in a commercial that gets frequent airtime, you will bomb out early, thus being forced to see yourself multiple times daily through the end of a tournament you're no longer a part of.

(see, Roddick, A. vs Pong)

Posted by Colette 06/17/2010 at 04:08 PM

A 37-year-old just scored a penalty goal for Mexico, putting them up 2-zip with c. 10 mins. to go.

Posted by robbyfan 06/17/2010 at 04:08 PM

AB-don't agree about that rule necessarily. See Netjets, Federer.

The hardest one to watch was the one with RAndy and the trophy falling on his head. was that American Express? and losing his mojo.

Posted by CPM 06/17/2010 at 04:08 PM

AB,

I would've thought RAndy's infamous and ill-conceived "mojo" commercial would've been the prime example of what you're talking about.

Posted by CPM 06/17/2010 at 04:10 PM

Meanwhile, Mexico's dishing out some revenge for the whole Napoleon III-backed Emperor Maximilian thing.


No? Hmmm.


Les Bleus? More like ... Les Blows! Amirite?!

Posted by Colette 06/17/2010 at 04:11 PM

Karen's "Dustin" is a beautiful Puli

Posted by sans nom (Vamos Argentina and Allez to all the African teams) 06/17/2010 at 04:13 PM

France is cooked,down 2 goals to nil. This is my most successful WC pool! I am winning this thing with the Albicelestes!

Posted by AB 06/17/2010 at 04:19 PM

Jenni: I think Ferrer's lost some juice going into Wimby. Don't know why. It's not really about losing so much as *how* you're losing. I don't think he's losing well. If that makes sense.

robbyfan, CPM: yah, I forgot about that embarrassment. Ill-conceived is too mild.

Posted by Ruth 06/17/2010 at 04:19 PM

Karen: I thought I'd heard that Dustin has made it into the main draw, the first Caribbean athlete to do so at Wimbledon in 42 years (or something like that). He's ranked #105 and, with all the withdrawals of higher ranked players, he should be automatically among the usual 104 first placed in the main draw. I'll check my ranking info at the ATP site.

As for Cool Runnings, you're just being typical snobby Jamaican, that's all! LOL but I know what you mean. My sons,nieces, and nephews -- all honorary second generation West Indians -- certainly liked the movie a lot more that we old fogeys (their parents, uncles, and aunts) did.

Posted by Jenni 06/17/2010 at 04:25 PM

AB, it does make sense. Personally, I'm not thrilled about his opting to skip the grass warmups. I guess we'll see.

Posted by Samantha Elin(Caro to the haters, Don't you wish your pusher was hott like me) 06/17/2010 at 04:31 PM

Thanks, didn't know they had to be in the top ten. Still, whyn't choose Frannie who went out in the first round here and doesn't play well on the grass. Everyone underestimate this beautiful and talented Scandinavian girl and what is so great is that she always proves the doubters wrong. I'm going to wait for the draw before giving my picks.

Posted by Samantha Elin(Caro to the haters, Don't you wish your pusher was hott like me) 06/17/2010 at 04:39 PM

Also, what about Aggie, oh, I know she is also a better player than Caro. Rolleyes!

Posted by Jenni 06/17/2010 at 04:40 PM

Francesca made the QFs last year so an argument can be made that yes, she does play decently on grass.

Posted by AB 06/17/2010 at 04:40 PM

...And Sleepers can't be former GS Champs (I'm gonna spreadsheet this)

AB's picks:
Early exit = Top 10 Seeds
Men: Ferrer
Women: Pennetta

Sleeper = outside of the 20
Men: Querrey
Women: Dulgheru (she's my breakout player of 2010)

Dark Horse = outside of top 50
Men: Fish
Women: Zakopalova (only because I like to say her name out loud)

Master Ace's Picks:

Early Exit - Davydenko and Schiavone with Pennetta 2nd.
Sleeper - Querrey and Petkovic with Martinez Sanchez 2nd.
Dark Horse - Malisse and Flipkens with Baltacha and Rybarikova close
CPM's:

Winners: Roddick, Williams
Early Exits: Roddick, the other Williams

robbyfan's:

Men's Winner-Roddick
Finalist-Rafa
Early out-Nole
Sleeper-Mardy Fish
And remember if Mardy wins I promise to eat the Top 10 player's socks

heather's:

Winner: Andy R. (finally!!)
Finalist: Rafa or Roger :)
Early Exit: Soderling

pat's:

early exit:

ATP: Ferrer (game not suit to grass)
WTA: Peer & Pennetta (as much as Peer is playing well this year, grass is not surface; thinks that flavia will defend her 3rd round place last year)

sleepers:

ATP: R. Schuttler (thinks he reached SFs in 2008, played good in the grass season this year) & Querrey (well, winning on all surfaces this year is something, potent weapon on the grass: serve)
WTA: Zie Jheng & Na Li (support for asians, big hitters, flat hitters, agile, na li had a good first serve; former SFs & QFs, can topple any seed on any given day)

dark horse:

ATP: i dont know??? maybe Lleyton... (wants to see him do well again)
WTA: Petkovic


PSpace's:

Winner: Not Rog, Rafa or Randy (c'mon that counts as a pick). Serena.

Early exit: Rafa (3rd round) and Roger (4th round). And, Justine

*branch breaks and Pspace falls*

Kwaku's (if it kwakus like a duck....):

Winner: Rafa.
Finalist: Roger.
Early exit: Murray.
Sleeper: Baghdatis.
Dark horse: Fish.
Strange duck: Golubev.

WTA (with such depth of field, it's a toss of a coin, but let me try):
Winner: Serena.
Finalist: Williams.
Ealy exit: Wozniacki.
Sleeper: María José.
Dark horse: Date Krumm.
Strange duck: Bartoli.


Posted by Ruth 06/17/2010 at 04:42 PM

Colette: I read your comment about the box with the pennies for the Unicef trophy 10 minutes ago, and I'm still laughing!

And, yes, I was the one who mentioned Boodles yesterday, and I discovered later why I couldn't find any identifying info about the source of the name on the exo site -- Boodles is a British gin. So, I guess they take the sponsorship money, but they don't want to talk about it too much because it's "demon likker"! :)

I just told my son about the Jamaican tennis player who has 36-inch locks (Don't call them dread locks!) like him -- and is almost as handsome (tee hee); and now I have to go find a picture of Dustin.

Posted by Master Ace 06/17/2010 at 04:43 PM

Ruth,
Yes, Dustin is in the main draw at Wimbledon.

Posted by AB 06/17/2010 at 04:46 PM

Ruth: those locks look too distracting. I remember my mother yelling at Serena and Venus to take the beads out of their hair - then one match, the beads fell out and sister got penalized.

I don't know how Andre manageed to play (and win) worrying about his hairpiece flying off.

I've actually been called on a "hair touch" at the net playing comptetive volleyball. Had to stick my ponytail inside my shirt.

Too distracting.

Posted by lollipop (the lost puppy of the ATP) 06/17/2010 at 04:47 PM

Vamos Mexico! Also nice to see Chris Fowler on ESPN coverage, reminds me of tennis. :)

Posted by CL (Just CL/pure as boodles gin) 06/17/2010 at 04:49 PM

I LOVE boodles gin...well, face it, I love all gin. :-) Pass the vermouth please. And the olives.

Posted by gliciouss 06/17/2010 at 04:54 PM

if dent and wozniak both got married and had kids....their kids would have the most widest smiles....had to say it

Posted by lollipop (the lost puppy of the ATP) 06/17/2010 at 04:56 PM

just saw this: http://tinyurl.com/2dco4ja

Dear Nole's serve, please come back. I miss you so much. please, i promise i'll never take you for granted ever again.

Posted by Samantha Elin(Caro to the haters, Don't you wish your pusher was hott like me) 06/17/2010 at 05:02 PM

Justine is doing great, just wish she was facing stronger opponent, so I could get a better feel for where her game is at. Maria looked great until she has to face a player close to the top ten and then went out easily. Kim looked good until she got a top opponent.

Posted by CL (Just CL/pure as boodles gin) 06/17/2010 at 05:06 PM

"Ooodles of Boodles gin" hic!!

Posted by Master Ace 06/17/2010 at 05:06 PM

Friday Order of Play:

ATP: 's-Hertogenbosch at 5 AM - Malisse vs Stakhovsky to be followed by Becker vs Tipsarevic
WTA: Eastbourne at 6:30 AM - Stosur vs Makarova to be followed by Bartoli vs Azarenka
WTA: 's-Hertogenbosch at 9 AM - Henin vs Dulgheru to be followed by Flipkens vs Petkovic
ATP: Eastbourne at 9 AM - Llodra vs Dolgopolov to be followed by Istomin vs Garcia-Lopez

Posted by Master Ace 06/17/2010 at 05:07 PM

By the way, my WTA contenders and floaters have been published in the next thread.

Posted by Ruth 06/17/2010 at 05:14 PM

AB: I remember that falling beads incident. It was the first and last time that I ever saw Venus get really angry and upset with an umpire -- and the umpire was absolutely right about the warning/penalty for the distraction. I didn't like her reaction, but she was very young then, and I forgave her. :) Just thinking.. I would never have predicted in those days that she'd still be playing at age 30!

Thanks for confirming the main draw information, MA. If these ATP reports of Wimby withdrawals continue, the #120 ranked player may end up getting into the main draw automatically! :-)

Posted by Colette 06/17/2010 at 05:17 PM

Ruth, I knew somebody would be old enough (he he, like me) to remember Trick or Treating for Unicef (or remember when pennies made a difference)!

I knew Boodles was a gin, but it's still a funny name!

Posted by Colette 06/17/2010 at 05:20 PM

gliciouss, thanks for the Dent-al observation

Posted by Samantha Elin(Caro to the haters, Don't you wish your pusher was hott like me) 06/17/2010 at 05:25 PM

Thanks Patrick.

Posted by Alexis 06/17/2010 at 05:39 PM

Thanks lollipop for the twitter news on Delpo. He is my second favorite player and I can't wait for him to come back! I so wish he would be back for the USO, but it's better for him to do this the right way and come back when he is completely healed and ready.

Posted by robbyfan 06/17/2010 at 06:02 PM

May I add another dark horse and put Robby Ginepri up for discussion? He had a good run a few years back.......

Posted by Master Ace 06/17/2010 at 06:39 PM

Pete has another post up on PMac's book.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 06/17/2010 at 09:02 PM

I know everyone has left this thread but there were so many great conversations going and I just got here! So for anyone who may wander in I'm going to put in my 2 cents :) which is probably all it's worth at this point. anyhoo...

Ruth, us white folk here in the states call them "dreads." No? Is this a real no-no? I happen to think they're really cool (and the WS didn't have REAL locks obviously).

okay, I'm really getting into this player and their canine-kind equivalent thing.

Rafa has always reminded me of a black lab puppy. I think he's more of a black lab because his hair is so dark.

Fed's doggie doppelganger has to be smart, graceful, strong and well, basically perfect. Afghan hounds have all these qualities but one. My hubby had one before we were married and he told me that they are on the very bottom of the list intelligence-wise. Basically he told me they were the dumbest dogs on earth. I haven't verified this but if he's accurate then how can Fed be an Afghan? So, I'm bored and find this fun so I'm pulling out my dog breed book to see what else is out there.

And as for my predictions for wimby dark horses, early exits and sleepers, I'm going to wait until the draws come out because with all these sad withdrawals I'm not sure who is actually going to be playing! And I really hope I didn't jinx Mandy. I think he's going to be at least a semifinalist this year.

And I have a wonderful story book dream of seeing Frannie, high from her French triumph, going all the way and pulling a channel slam of her own. Call me crazy but that's what I'd like to see.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 06/17/2010 at 11:37 PM

Well, so much for my great idea of having the tennis folk come here to talk. Not feeling too great about being railroaded off a post by basketball fans. But I would prefer this to some other sites that have Draconian rules about posting.

Posted by chairs for the disabled 07/12/2011 at 01:53 AM

brilliant good to here that Kim is back..

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