Posts Tagged ‘USTA’

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 USTA NorCal Honors Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe

Beyond the Baseline

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Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe with USTA NorCal honoree Micheal London (R) and family.

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Event emcee and “The Voice of the 49’ers”, Ted Robinson

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San Francisco media legend Belva Davis chats with Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe onstage prior to the award presentation

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San Francisco media legend Belva Davis and Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe share a laugh onstage prior to the award presentation

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Golden State Warriors legend Alvin Attles, USTA NorCal President Michael Cooke, Beyond the Baseline Icon Award recipient Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, and D.A. Abrams, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer

Rarely has the word ‘legacy’ seemed so inadequate when used to describe the life of a legend like tennis great Arthur Ashe. But such was the case last week at the USTA Northern California’s “Beyond the Baseline: USTA Honors the Legacy of Arthur Ashe and Community Tennis” event in San Francisco.

The word legacy often implies a lingering and often benign effect from past actions. If last week was any indication, however, Arthur’s legacy is alive and well with an active impact on youths in communities across the country.

Most know of Arthur’s notable on-court achievements; like the fact that he was the first African-American US Open champion in the Open Era, or that he was also the first (and as of yet, only) African-American gentlemen’s champion at both Wimbledon and the Australian Open.

What many may not realize is that Arthur was also a visionary who believed in bringing change to the world through sports and education. Through programs like the NJTL, Arthur used tennis as a means to teach kids about sport and much more.

Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Arthur’s widow, put it best: “The purpose of the NJTL wasn’t in teaching kids how to play tennis. It was about getting them to come out and play sports. And then after you got them playing sports you could teach them about life, and life lessons. That was the important lesson of NJTL.”

Since Arthur’s death in 1993, Jeanne has expanded upon the work begun by her late husband with the Arthur Ashe Learning Center (AALC). As stated on their website, the AALC focuses on education, health and wellness, citizenship and self-reliance. By doing so, the AALC attempts to foster “empowerment and leadership in the individual and the community, elevating their sense of purpose and quality of life.” (Arthur Ashe Learning Center website)

For her tireless efforts in pursuit of Arthur’s vision, Jeanne was presented the “Beyond the Baseline Icon Award”.  Jeanne graciously made it a point to take pictures with all of the honorees as well as the many young people and fans in attendance. It’s clear to anyone who sees her in action that she finds great purpose in the AALC’s work, and does whatever she can to spread Arthur’s philosophy of sports, education, and empowerment.

When asked how it felt to see the positive effects of Arthur’s work on so many lives over the years, including myself, she stated, “It’s amazing. Simply amazing.” Truer words were never spoken on an evening where many of the local honorees spoke of their beginnings in the NJTL, with some going on to run programs. For a program that was started in 1969, the impact of Ashe many within the tennis community is far-reaching.

Likewise, Jeanne was quick to remind us that Arthur was just a man, not a deity, and that his message of personal empowerment through sports was one that could be spread by all of us. She also reminded us that even though Arthur was the first African-American man to achieve Slam success, the most important aspect of his wins was the fact that he was, first and foremost, an American.

“It wasn’t an Australian that won (the US Open), nor a Spaniard, or German, or Englishman. It was an American. Arthur was an American.”  Though his presence understandably inspired many African-Americans, Arthur’s legacy goes well beyond race. His aim was global, and his intent was to help as many as possible.

Thankfully for us all, Jeanne is here to make sure that we all continue to do our part in carrying that message forward.

In addition to Moutoussamy-Ashe’s Icon Award, USTA NorCal presented awards to ten Bay Area “Beyond the Baseline” Honorees. The local recipients included Michael Applegate, David Van Brunt, Cassandra Borjon, Henry and Connie Chang, Christine Costamagna, Don Johnson, Barbara Lewis, Michael London, and Susan Pretel.

All were honored for their efforts and commitment on behalf of tennis in their own communities. The evening was hosted by Ted Robinson, “The Voice of the 49ers”.

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.

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The courts dried quickly once the sun came out.

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Fun and games with new Regional Rally t-shirts

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

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Sports Basement provided snacks and water for the kids

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Free tennis-related items for the participants

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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 My 2013 USTA Chronicles: (Final) Match #7 versus Golden Gate Park D

San Francisco State University tennis courts

Date: 6/15/2013

Location: San Francisco State

Conditions: Outdoors, cold, misty

Doubles or Singles Played: Doubles

Match Result: 6-3 7-5 Loss

Season Record: 2-5

Match Notes: We played our last match of the season in what most of us felt was also some of the worst weather of the season. It was cold, gray, and misty: a typical San Francisco summer day. Fortunately there was little wind, so conditions were plausible for decent play.

I’d hoped to end the season on a winning high note, but it didn’t work out that way. There was much to learn from this match for the off-season, positive takeaways of good play as well as a handful of points that will replay in my mind, (begging for a different outcome that will never happen.)

Qui, one of our co-captains, was my partner for this match. We hadn’t played together this season, but I’ve known Qui long enough to know how solid he is. He’s a lefty with solid technique and timing on his strokes. He’s got an excellent lob and great hands at the net. He’s also one of the best competitors I’ve seen.

I knew we’d be fine, and we were for the most part. We played well, and fought hard when our back was up against it.  But we ultimately lost the match because we didn’t win the points that mattered.

For my part, I played well when nothing was on the line. (Not counting my one Sharapova service game of 3 double faults and an unforced error). When I needed to come up with the goods on crucial game/break points, I played tentative tennis that really cost us.

The moment I won’t forget occurred at 5 games all, 30-all in the second set on Qui’s serve. We’d battled back from 3-5 and were in position to take the lead. I had a chance to end the point on one of two back-to-back overheads. I hit the first and almost missed the outside of the sideline. They didn’t call it out, but the call could easily have gone against us.

The guy closest to the first shot scrambled and sent up a high defensive lob. With the close call on the first overhead still in my head, I got tentative. Instead of letting the lob bounce for an easier shot, I took it out of the air and hit an overly safe shot that the “good” guy hit for a strong groundie to win the point.

Now facing break point, I had a chance to put away a volley winner on a service return. Instead of staying calm to hit the shot with a clear head, I thought “Don’t blow this one too” – and I sent the ball into the net.  After the break, our opponents went on to serve out the next game for the win. We were sent packing from a match that should have gone to a match tiebreak because I’d missed two huge opportunities with tentative ball-striking.

It sucked, but I’m not alone in this regard. The challenge of every sport, not just tennis, is to rise to the occasion by staying calm and relaxed so that there’s no tightness in the execution of your technique.

As Rafa said after his victory over Fabio Fognini at this year’s French Open, “If I can calm down I will play better; otherwise I can go back to Majorca and go fishing.” I’m not out fishing, but you get the point.

Now it’s time to share the positives. The first is that I played within myself didn’t overplay my forehand and/or serve. That’s a good thing for someone like me who often feels the pressure to go for big shots that I don’t need when the situation gets tense.

Another positive was my ability to shake off a horrendous call. I got hooked badly on a second serve that should have been an ace. My opponent looked at his partner, and said “I think it was out. What do you think?” The partner had turned away from us, but I later found out from our captain that he said it looked in to him. I looked at my opponent again and he said “I think I saw it wide.”

Okay. If you’re gonna make a bad call, at least do it with a semblance of conviction! Also, rule of thumb is that if you can’t agree with your partner then you concede the point…which he didn’t. I got steamed, and was ripe for a service break, but steadied the ship, I held serve to prove the point that you can’t beat me even if you cheat.

On another note, there were two moments that caught the attention of my inner “Roving Umpire”

The first occurred as I went to hit a second serve to the “bad call” opponent. After I started my motion, he ran to grab a ball at the side of the court. After putting it into his pocket, he set up to receive serve as though nothing happened. I said “First serve, right?” He started to protest but his partner agreed. A deliberately interrupted motion in the middle of a second serve clearly warranted a first serve.

The second was something I didn’t call, but could have. This same guy would toss the second ball from his pocket toward the back fence after making first serve. It never adversely affected a point, so I never called him out for what it was: a hindrance. It would be the same if the ball accidentally fell out of his pocket. First time a warning, second time the loss of a point, etc. Ask Andy Murray!

Finally, I had one last “Bonehead” moment at the end of the first set after missing a shot. I swiped the ground in anger with my racquet, and struck my leg with the butt of the grip. I hit the top of the shin muscle so hard that it bruised the surrounding area, also hurting the muscle to the point of pain when walking (after I cooled down). I gotta stop hurting myself …

Thoughts on the 2013 Season

Even though my final record was 2-5, I consider this season a success. My primary concern for the season was avoiding injuries; and I succeeded. The changes I made in terms of supplements and pre-/post-match gym work made a discernible difference. I’d still hurt for a day or so after matches, but was never incapacitated. The only injuries I had were self-inflicted, and completely avoidable. I guess that’s my work for next season.

It was also a success in terms of my mental game. In past years, I’ve struggled mightily to sustain a good positive mental state throughout the match.  This season, I felt calmer overall, and more in control. I still need to do a better job of controlling my mental game on big points, but that’s something that even the pros find difficult to manage. So I’m in good company.

The most important aspect of this season, as always, was to have a good time. And I did. I was a part of a great group of guys who had fun and supported one another. For me, that’s the point of the USTA season. That and the post-season party. J

See you next year.

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

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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!

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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.

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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!

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