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PostHeaderIcon Three Helpful Tips from the USTA Frontlines

Monitoring the courts at Valley Vista

Monitoring the courts at Valley Vista (courtesy USTA Norcal)

It’s been a busy January in terms of my USTA and ITA “Official” duties. Between Junior events, Adult League Mixed events, and the Cal Winter Invitational, every weekend has been booked with time spent watching some great matches. While doing so, I’ve noticed a few things that might be helpful to others as they prepare for the 2014 Adult league and tournament season. Here are three tips to help your upcoming USTA season be more productive and sporting.

Come prepared for a five-minute warm-up!

One of an official’s duties is to time the player warm-up prior to matches in officiated league events and tournament play. While doing so, I’m often struck by how unprepared many players are for the quick pace of their five-minute warm-up. Five minutes seems like a good amount of time until you think about all of the tasks you might want to accomplish in your warm-up.

Here’s a short list of what most people include in their warm-up:

  1. Short court balls to start
  2. Easy baseline shots to start
  3. Stronger baseline rallies
  4. Volleys at the net
  5. Overheads
  6. Practice serves

When you attempt to do all of these things with one or more other people on the court also trying to do them, the results can be less than satisfying.

Remember that the five-minute warm-up is NOT your match warm-up. If you come to the court without having warmed up in some other way prior to the match, it’s not your opponent’s job to do that for you; nor is it the official’s job to give you extra time.

If possible, grab a side court to hit with a friend or doubles partner. If no courts are available, you can still do shadow swings and footwork drills to prepare yourself for the match. When you go to court for your match, know exactly what you want to accomplish so that you can stay focused and not lose time. And prioritize! You may not get to do everything you want to do, but you can at least make sure that your basic needs are met to start play.

Call out the correct score before every point

A lot of time is spent in matches correcting scoring errors. Whenever officials hear talking, then see players conversing at the net, it’s almost always a scoring discrepancy. This can easily be alleviated by calling out the score before each point in a manner that’s loud enough for your opponent to hear. If he disagrees, you can fix it before the point instead of creating more confusion “after the fact”.

Also, it’s extremely helpful for all if you use the correct terms for calling out the score. If the score is 15-40 and you say 5-4, or you say 3-5 for 30-15, you’re probably going to run into some issues. Remember, keep it loud, and avoid shorthand scoring.

Be honest with your opponent on line calls

This isn’t just about making correct line calls, it’s also about being honest with your opponent when asked about the call if it was out. Often, an opponent may balk at a close call of “out”, or ask as an FYI how far out the ball landed.

If asked, be honest about the distance. If the ball landed one inch outside of the line, don’t say, “It was WAY out”. You’re not being honest, and you’re also not contributing to an environment of “good sportsmanship”. Say it was close, or a couple of inches, or something along those lines. Your opponent will appreciate the honesty, and will less likely think that you are cheating on calls.

PostHeaderIcon A Little Drizzle A Lot of Fun at NJTL Regional Rally

NJTL Regional Rally at Golden Gate Park

NJTL Regional Rally at Golden Gate Park

Arthur Ashe Kid’s Day is a high-profile example of the USTA’s efforts to encourage kids of all ages/levels to play and enjoy the game of tennis. But if the trip to NYC is out of your reach, your local USTA chapter also runs events designed to help kids learn and love the game.


The courts dried quickly once the sun came out.


Fun and games with new Regional Rally t-shirts


USTA NorCal exec. dir. Steve Leube leads the lunch charge


Sports Basement provided snacks and water for the kids


Free tennis-related items for the participants


Carl Mendoza of Youth Tennis Advantage running the kids through drills

I had the pleasure of attending an NJTL Regional Rally at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Though the courts were wet from overnight rain, you would never have known it by the smiles on the kids’ faces. (Thankfully, sunny skies dried the courts within hours for a beautiful afternoon of tennis!)

The NJTL (National Junior Tennis and Learning) network was co-founded by Ashe in 1969 “as a way to gain and hold the attention of young people in the inner cities and other poor environments so that we can teach them about matters more important than tennis.” [From arthurashekidsday.com]

Back in those days, the NJTL provided free tennis racquets to the participants. But though it’s more costly to provide free racquets these days, the NJTL still provides opportunities for kids to play the game who might not otherwise have the means to do so. It’s one of the most important aspects of the USTA’s youth outreach efforts.

On this day, roughly 300 kids showed up to participate in games designed to help improve their footwork and hone their racquet skills. Courts were divided by age and skill levels, allowing everyone a chance to participate at the appropriate level for them to hit and have fun with others.

It was an impressive achievement by USTA NorCal staff, led by executive director Steve Leube. They were aided in their efforts by a dedicated group of volunteers from the participating NJTL groups.

Steve has coordinated the Regional Rally for several years, and was completely undaunted by the elements. After water was squeegeed off the courts, he had the volunteer instructors put the kids safely through their paces in short court games until the backcourt areas dried out sufficiently for play.

“Undaunted” is a perfect word to describe Steve, who clearly loves the game as well as working with the kids. When asked about the wet courts at the start of the day, he remarked: “I had a feeling we’d be pretty wet, judging by the fog over the city and the wet roads even before I crossed the (Bay) bridge. But it’s not like we haven’t had that happen before in San Francisco. It’ll be fine.”

Though he had to keep a watchful eye on the proceedings, Steve and I chatted for quite a while about the USTA’s commitment to youth tennis. Steve is less concerned about churning out pros than he is in helping kids become productive adults.

As with many sports, tennis helps kids become more active and, hopefully, live healthier lifestyles in the long run. More important to Steve, it can also be a valuable source of life lessons, teaching kids about problem-solving, fair play, and being a gracious winner or loser.

“The chance of any kid coming out of our program and turning pro is very small. Though it’s great when we hear about one of our juniors doing well, I’m most happy when someone comes up to me to say that participating in our program made a difference in their life.”

Financial challenges abound, however. “Back in the day, the national office could afford to do the free racquet program. Nowadays it costs too much. We can sometimes partner with companies for discounted racquets, but then there’s the cost of shoes. That can be an obstacle too.”

Sports Basement, a sporting-goods retailer, was a Regional Rally partner; providing snacks for the competitors. Participants also received lunch from Subway. This may not seem like much, but every donation has a huge impact on kids who wouldn’t normally have access to this type of activity.

My start with the NJTL of Cleveland gave me not only my first racquet, but a love of the game that’s going strong almost forty years later. So the work that Steve and his staff are doing is significant. And with that work, one can only hope that these kids are inspired to do great things, regardless of whether or not it’s on a tennis court.

(For more on the USTA’s NJTL Regional Rally at Golden Gate Park, visit http://www.norcal.usta.com/Juniors/2013_njtl_regional_rally_at_golden_gate_park/. For more information on the NJTL in NorCal and to find an NJTL chapter in your area, visit http://www.norcal.usta.com/juniors/njtl/ .)

PostHeaderIcon Playing to the Rules versus Playing for Fun


What happens when the server in doubles hits the receiver’s partner at the net with a serve?

Of course, the correct answer is that the point goes to the server (Friend at Court 2013: page 17, #24 case 7). It’s rare, because usually the net person avoids the hit. In fact, I’ve never seen this situation until today when I inadvertently hit the receiver’s partner at the net who was crowding the “T” in an effort to intimidate me from aiming down the middle on the ad-court. (It was a lower leg hit, so there was no injury.)

As I hit him, he jokingly said, “I guess your point, huh?” My partner said yeah and started walking to the other side. After previously giving us the point, albeit jokingly, he started in on my partner about how this was supposed to be a “fun” set, and that we should just “take two” – meaning take a first serve on the point.

My partner was insistent on taking the point, correctly stating that what happened was correct via the rules of tennis, and that we don’t just follow the rules we want to follow when it’s convenient or advantageous.

Meanwhile, the receiver chimed in on the ridiculousness of my partner’s actions in taking the point since I’d clearly served to the wrong service box, and that you couldn’t win a point in that manner. (My inner official tried to gently say that these were the rules but his own logic wouldn’t let him hear it.)

So what started as one of those fluke moments in doubles quickly escalated into chaos. The receiver was miffed at my partner for wanting to take the point. His partner, the one who’d been hit, argued that we shouldn’t nitpick like this in a social set of tennis, my partner was (as it turned out) very upset for feeling attacked on a correct call to take the point for the hit, and I just wanted to keep playing for fun and “take two”.

My partner sat down after an exchange of words with the receiver and said he didn’t want to play anymore. The receiver, miffed that my partner would call something so ludicrous, put his racquet in his bag and left. Me and the guy I’d hit were left on court with “WTH just happened?” expressions on our faces. And a couple of other “next up” guys who’d been watching the whole episode were left feeling extremely uncomfortable.

To make matters worse, a woman who lives in an apartment building across from the courts came down to ask us to keep it down, because we’d woken her up. Mind you, these courts are located adjacent to an all-weather soccer field, a playground with a summer session for kids, and construction that includes jackhammers. Even with all of that going on, WE were the tipping point for her.

The whole episode, including a misunderstanding of the rules and questions on whether to apply them to a social set of tennis, was unfortunate. And in my opinion, the outcome of one person sitting down and the other leaving was needless. Particularly when playing social dubs like we were playing.

Granted, the ITF rules and “The Code” are there for a reason, but there’s one question that got missed in today’s incident.  That question is: are the rules more important than the fun? If they are, then you need to apply them all consistently. That includes calling foot faults, not catching balls that are flying out, and other similar rules that are mostly overlooked in social tennis settings.

I was reminded of the old adage: “Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?”  When it comes to tennis, I’ll take the happy.

PostHeaderIcon My 2013 USTA Chronicles: Match #6 versus Golden Gate Park A


Date: 6/8/2013

Location: Golden Gate Park

Conditions: Outdoors, windy

Doubles or Singles Played: Doubles

Match Result: 7-5 6-2 Loss

Season Record: 2-4

Match Notes: WIND! That was the word of the day, and the deciding factor in the match. The winds at Golden Gate Park were swirling in all directions across the back courts. If you moved well to handle the wind, you did okay.  If you didn’t move well, you didn’t do okay. It was as simple as that.

My partner for today’s match was Casey, a teammate I’ve known for years (and I do mean years!) He hits a great ball that is fairly flat and stays low. He suggested taking the ad court, so I took deuce.

Our opponents were a mixed-level pairing. One was extremely strong with great strokes on both sides, heavy topspin, excellent volleys, and a decently-paced serve that rarely missed. (Had an excellent body serve too!) The other hit two hands on both sides and was a little inconsistent. But he could also send balls back awkwardly by virtue of sticking his racquet out and making minimal contact. I got caught flatfooted a couple of times by those frustrating shots.

Breaks of serve will kill you in dubs, and we lost by a break in the first set, and two in the second set. What’s worse is that we were up 4-1 in the first before going down 7-5. For my part, and was disappointed in my lack of footwork in the wind. I didn’t keep my feet moving, and often found myself out of position and reaching for shots. That’s not a recipe for clean tennis under these conditions.

It’s always good to focus on the positives afterward too, so here is a bright spot from today’s loss. Sometimes when I face an opponent that I know is very good, I try too hard to hit great serves/shots and end up giving away free points. I kept that in check today and didn’t overplay my serves or shots. I only wish I could have handled the wind as well I did with my internal expectations.

Still, it was a good match. And it’s always good to hang with my team. If I can’t win, I can at least have fun. 🙂

Bonehead move of the day? Holding a tough service game with a well-placed chipped lob, then hitting my hand with my racquet in excitement — thereby injuring the pinky on my left hand. *facepalm*
Still, it’s not as bad as what Mikhail Youzhny did to himself…

PostHeaderIcon A Weekend in Napa with Silverado Juniors

Silverado Resort and Spa Tennis Courts

Silverado Resort and Spa Tennis Courts

This past weekend was great, and not just because I avoided the Bay to Breakers masses running by my front door. I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy officiating for juniors, and this past weekend at the 2nd Annual Silverado Resort and Spa Junior Open was no exception. I had a great time!


With my “stern” look.

There’s something inspiring about junior tournaments that you don’t get with adult events.  Yes they can sometimes be more work, but when you officiate for juniors you have an opportunity to educate them about the game. Hopefully, this will ensure that they’ll understand and enjoy it more as they get older.

As a tennis player, I’m also inspired by watching 12 and 14 year-olds with awesome technique hit the ball cleaner than most guys on my USTA team, myself included. Watching them hit deep shots with great topspin and control, you realize that size doesn’t matter, muscle doesn’t matter, but good technique DOES matter.

On top of their technique, it’s also great to see their competitive fire. One particular match featured 12 year-olds competing hard in a match featuring 10+ shots per rally, with many of them hitting the baseline and sidelines (with no calls for a line monitor either). Both players had strong serves, excellent returns, great groundstrokes, and tenacious defense. Interspersed with the excellent play were acknowledgements of “good shot” from both. I dare anyone to watch a match like that one and not “feel the love” for the game.


Reward for a great day!

Far and away, one of the best things about officiating for juniors is the personal thanks you receive from the competitors and their parents. My personal horror aside at being called “Sir”, I’m touched every time a competitor shakes my hand and thanks me for helping them with whatever aspect of the match in which I assisted. Even parents are thankful, regardless of the win/loss, because they realize that your presence means that the match is fair and more fun for all.

The Silverado facility was great, and the staff was top-notch. Jacob Hansen ran a great tournament, and every parent I talked to had nothing but great things to say about the event. I might be a representative for the USTA, but a great staff makes my life a whole lot easier and way more enjoyable.

Last thing, I’m beginning to have a strong sense of what’s important to me as an official. It’s my duty/desire to help ensure a fair tournament for all because of my own love for the game of tennis. And I hope that’s evident, and contagious!

PostHeaderIcon My 2013 USTA Chronicles: Match #5 versus Golden Gateway A


Date: 5/11/2013

Location: San Francisco State University

Conditions: Outdoors, overcast, cool, humid

Doubles or Singles Played: Doubles

Match Result: 6-1 6-2 Loss

Season Record: 2-3

Match Notes: Lost a tough one today in doubles 1 and 2. The fact that we were out there a long time for that score doesn’t make me feel any better about the loss.  I didn’t play badly, but I certainly didn’t play well enough to combat the seasoned doubles play of my opponents.

My partner for today’s match was Tom, a teammate I haven’t partnered with this season. He was solid, and we got along well (he’s a very nice guy), but a new partnership is almost always at a disadvantage against teams that have played together previously: like our opponents. (I hope we get a chance to play again before the season is over.)

Also, I hadn’t played since last week’s match, and I could definitely have benefitted from a midweek hit.  That wasn’t possible after getting a mild case of food poisoning. I pretty much just had to chill most of the week.  But since tennis is a game of familiarity and feel, I wasn’t as on top of my game today as I could have been, and it showed.  Especially on my serve.

My groundstrokes were decent: forehand more so than backhand. The main issue today was my serve. There were no “Sharapova” moments like last week, but it was still a mediocre service day. I couldn’t get it out wide when I needed, and didn’t put nearly enough first serves into play. I held 2 of 4 times at the service line, and that’s not nearly good enough at the 4.0 level to get the job done.

Earlier this season, one of my teammates and I talked about the need to play at least 2-3 times a week in order to be ready to compete at this level.  I did that heading into last week’s match and came out with a win. I wasn’t able to this week and came away with a loss.

Midweek practice might not necessarily have produced a win, but it sure would have made my overall game a lot tidier today.

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