PostHeaderIcon Year-End Review: The Best of 2014 And Course Change For 2015

year-end-hdr2-2014As a tennis writer, 2014 was an amazingly wonderful year! However, as a tennis writer AND tennis official, 2014 was amazingly conflicted… yet still wonderful! How could that be? I’ll explain both shortly, but let’s start first with my work as “tennis media”.

year-end-combo-2014It started with renewed energy for a continued climb up the ranks of tennis media after a great 2013. I wrote a ton of pieces on the Australian Open (including this prescient piece about a line umpire getting pushed by a player); ending with my traditional “Final Thoughts“, as well as a reflection on “The Death of a Rivalry That Never Really Was“.

I also prepped for a busy March of live tennis coverage at Indian Wells and Miami with a trip to the Champions Shootout in Sacramento. I watched Blake, Courier, Sampras, and McEnroe battle for the night’s bragging rights, and had a wonderful chat with eventual winner Blake.

March was undeniably the high point of my media year, with press credentials for both the BNP Paribas Open and the Sony Open. It’s an incredibly tough double for players, but is almost equally as tough for members of the tennis press.

Many writers prefer to cover one event, and not the other. Since I never look a gift horse (or credential as the case may be) in the mouth, I covered both for Tennis Panorama News – and was rewarded handsomely with a ton of opportunities, content, pictures, and interviews. This happily included attendance at Charlie Pasarell’s Indian Wells ring ceremony/dinner, and presser questions after both men’s singles finals with back-to-back champion, Novak Djokovic.

However, it must be noted that my attention was not entirely on writing during the spring season, because I was also spending a ton of non-travel time on court as a tennis official. As many of you know, I deeply love my work as an official, and love helping players play their best by providing a fair playing environment. Most of my work in the spring was as a “roving official”, but that was soon going to change.

April and May saw a huge increase in equipment reviews, specifically Racquet Reviews. In my opinion, there’s always been a need for good objective equipment reviews. Yes, many of the big online retailers have reviews, but can you really trust a review on a site that’s trying to sell you the product? No.

I’m always going to give it to you straight with a clear recommendation. In fact, one of the things that has made me happiest about my 2014 reviews has been the knowledge that several people have trusted me enough to buy recommended racquets. I hope I can build on that trust for 2015.

My major conflict for this seemingly wonderful media year came in my unexpected climb up the ranks as a line umpire. After a positive stint at our west coast line umpire school, I spent some amazing time on court as line umpire with some terrific players. The highlight, of course, was my time elongated stint at the WTA tournament in New Haven.

So where’s the conflict? I wrote about it first in my 2013 piece Being Mohamed…, and alluded to it further in 2014 with My Officiating-Media Fork in the Road and More Officiating, More Radio Silence: A Career Update. As an on-court official, I can have no dealings with the media.

Since I have to talk to myself occasionally, this effectively means no writing/reporting on tournaments I’ve worked and players who have seen or will see on court, including discussions on social media. You may have noticed that this has been the case for many months already, but I just wanted to reiterate this very critical point to all.

The bottom line? My career in media writing about the pro tours is done. I love tennis, and loved writing/reporting/covering the many aspects of pro tennis. But I love officiating (in this case, being a line umpire) even more, and feel privileged to be able to channel my love for tennis in a much more useful and hands-on manner; and I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that opportunity.

It’s a no-brainer.

No need to worry, though. I’m not going anywhere. I will continue to do equipment reviews, discussions of issues around “social tennis” (including Calling Foot Faults in Social Doubles), as well as other non-pro tour related pieces. But there will be no discussions of my work as a line umpire – though there might be an occasional smiling selfie of a gratitude-filled Kevin in an empty stadium.

So there you have it. 2014 was an incredible year. Even with its’ media-officiating conflict, it was still wonderful. For a guy who loves tennis, how could all of this NOT be wonderful? :-)

Take care, and all the best for 2015.

Acknowledgements and Thanks

Thank you Karen P. and Tennis Panorama for your support, and David Sweet for photo backup (and great conversations) as needed through the spring season. Major thanks go to Marla Reid and City Racquet Shop for demo racquets, “Ask Marla” advice, and her continued friendship and support.

Thanks and continued gratitude to all of my friends and supporters in the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Tennis Federation. The GLTF will always be my “home”. And an extra-special thanks to all my fellow USTA officials (too numerous to name) who’ve helped me along the way, and continue to do so as I make my course correction away from the ranks of tennis media. Hopefully you all know who you are, and know what you have meant to me and my officiating career.

Last, but certainly not least, I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without the unwavering support of my partner, Steve. Thanks for believing in me even when I had my own doubts about this crazy journey I decided to take.

PostHeaderIcon Racquet Review Wednesday with the Babolat Pure Strike and Pure Control Tour

babolat-overview-header

Two years ago, I participated in a video racquet review for the Babolat AeroPro Drive. We hit first with the (then) current version of the racquet, and then with the newer version that was to come out in 2013. I hated the first one, and hated the second one only slightly less. For me, it was a total Babolat fail.

Since then, I’ve had a strong bias against Babolat racquets as “stiff, unwieldy beasts offering minimal control”. Sure it’s worked well for Rafa, but I’m not Rafa. With that, I turned my racquet-review attention to racquets that could help more than just lefty spinners from Mallorca!

babolat-overview-articleFast forward to the final months of 2014 and the realization that, personal feelings notwithstanding, Babolat racquets have become increasingly popular with both adult and junior players, and I need to find out why. So for my final racquet review of the year, I wanted to see if there were newer models that could help me overcome my anti-Babolat bias.

As it turns out, there were two! I asked my friend Marla at City Racquet Shop which Babolat she’d recommend, and she gave me two: the Pure Strike 18×20 and the Pure Control Tour. Much to my surprise, I liked both, and LOVED the Pure Strike.

Though the AeroPro line might still be “unwieldy”, Babolat has clearly managed to come out with sticks that are good for everyone else not named “Nadal”. ;-)

Check out my reviews for both of these great racquets by clicking the links below:

Racquet Review: Many Reasons to Love the Babolat Pure Strike

Racquet Review: Babolat Pure Control Tour Offers Good Spin/Pace, But It’s a Beast!

(A big thanks to City Racquet Shop for the demos. If you’re in the Bay Area and interested in demoing and/or buying either of these racquets, stop by and Marla will hook you up!)

PostHeaderIcon Racquet Review: So Many Reasons to Love the Babolat Pure Strike

babolat-pure-strike-header

[Spoiler] The Babolat Pure Strike is my personal favorite of all the racquets I demoed in 2014. Why such high praise? I’ll start with groundstrokes, then work my way through all of the reasons why this racquet has successfully knocked the Wilson Pro Staff 100LS from atop the list for my next racquet.

Groundstrokes

babolat-pure-strike-articleSimply put, this racquet felt “right” from the very first groundstroke that I hit during warmups. In spite of its’ relatively light weight, shots felt solid, with minimal excess vibration. And pretty much every shot felt good (or at least decent) no matter where it hit the racquet face.

A buddy of mine made a similar observation after hitting with it, telling me that his shots sounded the same regardless of whether or not he hit the sweet spot. I’m not saying that you can’t still shank shots with the Pure Strike. But what it does show, in both instances, is a positive perception on how shots feel coming off the racquet. And in my book, “positive perception” will almost always translate to shot confidence.

With respect to my ground game, forehand shots felt the best. The racquet easily took to the natural spin on my forehand stroke, and gave me decent depth (and pace) with an easy, full swing. The ball sometimes flew long to the backstop, but settled back down as long as I stopped forcing the shot.

Two-handed backhands felt decent, and any deficits on that wing were more a function of my technique than the racquet. Because of the racquet’s light weight, it was a little difficult to keep the ball low AND get good depth on one-handed slice shots without a deliberate, full swing. Anything less sent the ball to the bottom of the net or flying high for an easy doubles put-away. (Note to self: no more “lazy” slice shots.)

Serve

The Pure Strike worked well with my serve.  I had great control on flat and spin serves, as well as easy pace. And the “solid feel” described above on ground strokes was also present on serve. Well-struck serves felt great, and off-center serves felt okay. This is a far-cry from the awful feeling, pain-inducing vibration included, that so often accompanies a shanked serve. I definitely give it high marks on this front.

Volleys

I don’t have the strongest volley game. And, regrettably, this racquet didn’t do much to help with that. With the racquet’s reduced weight, it was hard to get depth or stick my volleys. My volleys weren’t awful; they just required more work on my part to achieve good depth, pace, and placement.babolat-pure-strike-article2

Overall

I was actually surprised at how much I liked this racquet. At a time when I’m feeling good about my game but also struggling with some pain in my surgically-repaired shoulder, this racquet seemed to provide everything I need!

It provides great support for my ground game, works well with my killer serve, doesn’t hurt my volleys or backhand, and is a weight that doesn’t bother my shoulder. It works just as well with topspin as it does with flatter shots. And though I initially wasn’t a big fan of the red color, but have gradually grown to like it.

I realize that I said many of these same things about the Wilson Pro Staff 100LS, but there is a big difference between the two. The Pure Strike’s 18×20 string pattern provides for much better ball control than the Pro Staff’s 16×15 pattern. And for club players like myself, more (and better) control is ALWAYS a good thing.

This is, hands down, the best racquet I’ve demoed all year. If you’re looking for a new stick, give this one a serious look.

Note: If you’re interested in this racquet, take it out for a hit and judge for yourself. Racquet specs and marketing-speak are no substitute for knowing the strengths/weaknesses of your game, and how a racquet might help or hurt your goals.

(Racquet provided by City Racquet Shop of San Francisco.)

Racquet Specifications

Head Size: 98 sq. in. / 632.26 sq. cm.
Length: 27in / 68.58cm
Strung Weight: 11.4oz / 323.18g
Balance: 12.9in / 32.77cm / 5 pts HL
Swingweight: 324
Stiffness: 66
Composition: Graphite
Power Level: Low
Stroke Style: Full
Swing Speed: Fast
String Pattern: 18 Mains / 20 Crosses
String Tension: 52-62 pounds

PostHeaderIcon Racquet Review: Babolat Pure Control Tour Offers Good Spin/Pace, But It’s a Beast!

babolat-pure-control-header1

I demoed the Babolat Pure Control Tour after an earlier hit with the Pure Strike. Though my impressions of it weren’t quite as positive as the Pure Strike, I still mostly liked it. It’s a good racquet, but is also a bit of a beast. Let me explain why while diving into my impressions of this racquet, and how it worked with my game AND my body.

Groundstrokes

babolat-pure-control-articleThough its’ strung weight is only 1/10th of an ounce greater than my current stick, the Pure Control Tour feels heavy. But with this heft comes greater pop on your shots. However, that pace is unfortunately offset by its’ 16×20 open string pattern.

Still, my forehand felt solid, with good pace and decent spin/control. But as with racquets like the HEAD Extreme, it’s easy to send the ball flying – though definitely not to the same degree. Admittedly, hitting with the low-power Pure Strike beforehand might have something to do with this. The same swing used successfully with the Pure Strike is much less successful with this racquet. Timing matters.

My two-handed backhand felt good, though it was too easy to over-hit. Conversely, my single-handed slice felt GREAT! I was able to get plenty of depth and bite on that shot much more easily than with the Pure Strike. This was a huge plus during the set of doubles I played during my demo period.

Serve

Well-struck serves using the Pure Control Tour were virtually unreturnable because of the spin and extra pop that this racquet provides. Unfortunately, I struggled with control and made a few more double faults than I would prefer.

The larger issue with this racquet, however, was the negative impact of the weight and vibration. My shoulder began to hurt after a few service games, and off-center serves caused vibration that further irritated my shoulder and elbow.

Volleys

babolat-pure-control-header2Another plus: volleys felt great. The Pure Control Tour gave me a ton of control and depth without popping the ball up, and leaving me vulnerable to my opponent’s passing shot attack. In this instance, the racquet’s heft was extremely helpful.

Overall

Don’t get me wrong. I liked the Pure Control Tour, and would probably have liked it even more if my shoulder hadn’t been bothering me as much. Apart from the shoulder pain, however, there are other considerations that make this racquet problematic for me and my game.

The Pure Control Tour is a great racquet to help take your game to the next level. At the age of 51 with two surgeries under my belt, I’m not looking to get to the next level. Though I’m always working to improve my skills, I need a racquet that supports the maintenance of my current level while also preventing injury. This is not that racquet.

If I were younger OR hadn’t had shoulder surgery, I would have given this racquet more time to impress. As it was, I had to cut short my demo due to increasing shoulder pain.

The Pure Control Tour is a great racquet if you are looking to take your game to the next level. If not, then you may want to consider some other options.

Note: If you’re interested in this racquet, take it out for a hit and judge for yourself. Racquet specs and marketing-speak are no substitute for knowing the strengths/weaknesses of your game, and how a racquet might help or hurt your goals.

(Racquet provided by City Racquet Shop of San Francisco.)

Racquet Specifications

Head Size: 98 sq. in. / 632.26 sq. cm.
Length: 27in / 68.58cm
Strung Weight: 11.8oz / 334.52g
Balance: 12.63in / 32.08cm / 7 pts HL
Swingweight: 317
Stiffness: 63
Composition: Graphite & Flex Carbon
Power Level: Low
Stroke Style: Full
Swing Speed: Fast
String Pattern: 16 Mains / 20 Crosses
String Tension: 52-62 pounds

PostHeaderIcon Cat Town: My Trip to America’s First Cat Cafe

cattown-header3

cattown-catplay-mecattown-ann-staffcattown-littleguycattown-ann-kevincattown-cat-window

cattown-tshirt-me

Whether you’re a cat lover, cat enthusiast, mildly amused at felines, or just looking for a place to chill and see what the hubbub is about, the Oakland-based Cat Town Café & Adoption Center is the place for you!

Billed on its’ website as a collaboration between Cat Town founder/president Ann Dunn and co-founder Adam Myatt, the “Cat Man of West Oakland“, the Cat Town Café & Adoption Center provides a communal space for at-risk cats AND there hopefully soon-to-be adoptive humans to meet and play in a relaxed, cat-centric environment.

It’s an ingenious method for cat adoptions that utilizes the idea of “community” on a couple of different levels, and to great effect.

Typically, rescue animals in shelters are housed individually in cages or small rooms. While this works for a one-on-one interaction with an animal, it may not be the best way to see how the animal fares in a setting more akin to a family’s home.

By contrast, the Cat Town “Cat Zone”, with its’ colorful cat buildings and graffiti-esque murals, provides a wide open space where potential guardians can interact with the cats while also seeing how they interact with others.

There’s also something to be said for the interactions between the numerous Cat Zone visitors. Though many of them are already (or soon-to-be) cat lovers, some folks come just to hang out on their lunch break. I met quite a few during my visit, and swapped several amusing stories about our respective feline friends.

Given that type of environs, it’s easy to see how someone coming in to adopt a cat, perhaps with a few questions and a bit of trepidation, might be more inclined to do so after having a similarly positive interaction with the helpful volunteers, staff, and other Cat Zone visitors.

They become invested: not just with the cats, but with the greater Cat Town community.

This isn’t just a happy coincidence. It’s part of the Cat Town “hook”. Given the grim statistics for sheltered cats, even in a city such as Oakland with lower euthanasia rates than most, Ann’s goal is simple. “We want to place as many cats into good homes as possible.”

To that end, they screen incoming cats in order to find the best Cat Zone candidates.  After all, it doesn’t help anyone if a shy (or aggressive) cat is put into an environment that doesn’t show them in their best light. Volunteers are also screened, but Ann is clear on not making good people jump through multiple hoops to help the Cat Town cause.

I could go on and on about all of the various aspects of Cat Town, but it’s probably best if you can go check it out for yourselves. You can book Cat Zone reservations online with ease, or take your chance on finding an open walk-in slot (off hours are best). There’s a requested donation of $10 per hour block of time and, trust me, it’s well worth it. Especially if you come away finding “the one”.

If you’re not able to get into the Cat Zone while you’re there (or just want to do a quick drive by), you can grab a bite to eat from the awesome selection at the café, and nosh while watching the cats through a viewing window.

And don’t forget to grab a t-shirt on the way out… :-)

(Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve known Ann since moving to San Francisco 24 years ago. She’s always been a passionate advocate for animal rights, and has worked tirelessly to make Cat Town a reality. I love it when I can use my blog to help feature my great friends, and their great work!)

 

Cat Town Café & Adoption Center
2869 Broadway
Oakland, CA 94611
(Located in Oakland, on Broadway just south of Auto Row)

Email: cafe@cattownoakland.org

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CatTownCafeOAK

 

PostHeaderIcon More Officiating, More Radio Silence: A Career Update

officiating-sept-1In the past month, I’ve spent 17 days on court in some capacity as an official. This includes stints in Napa, Sacramento, and Tiburon; and ITA work in San Francisco and Berkeley. It’s been both exhilarating and exhausting… and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

As I continue to establish my officiating credentials, it’s clearer than ever that my previous work in media, in particular the coverage of pro events, needs to be put on the back burner for an indefinite period of time.

It’s one thing to write about my overall love for tournament officiating, particularly juniors, and sharing tips/observations that might help all players – young and old –improve their games. That’s an acceptable and uplifting way in which I can use my officiating work to the greater, and further spread my love for the game with others.

It’s quite another to write about college matches (or players) after having chaired those matches, or commenting on any particular win (or loss) of a pro match or player for which I worked on court as a line umpire. The level of contact is too intimate, and is completely inappropriate for any amount of writing reflection. That also includes any mentions or discussions on social media.

It’d be easy to assume that the information garnered from this vantage point is no different from that of a courtside journalist. However, that would be a wildly errant assumption. Someone sitting courtside might very well be privy to the same level of intimacy, but, barring bouts of courtside misbehavior, their actions will likely have no bearing on the match outcome.

An official’s action can and will, by the nature of their on-court role, affect the match outcome. That is a crucial difference between the two, and rightly precludes any post-match discussions by match personnel in a public forum. It’s inappropriate, to say the least, and potentially unethical.

At stake is the basic tenet of “integrity”: for the match, as well as for myself. Trust me, I’m not going to do anything to hurt either.

On a practical level, that means that I will continue to refrain from writing about any tournament that I’m work, any match that I’m work, or any player with whom I’ve ever been on court. This will hold true for all ITA, ITF, USTA, professional, and even some local events.

Going forward, you can probably expect more (and larger) chunks of radio silence from me, because I’m hoping to do even more pro and high-level events in 2015. You will, however, continue to see articles on tennis tips/techniques, equipment reviews, and larger discussions of the Slams, player development ideas, and other tennis-related stories. But that’s all for now.

I’d like to extend a huge Thank You to all who’ve supported me along this journey, and all those who will continue to support me even if with the current restraints. The nature of my site posts may change, but not my love for all aspects of the game. I hope you stick around to see how that will continue in the new season.

Follow SFTennisFreak on Twitter
Blog Search