Little Halep Packs a Big Wallop


According to player stats, Simona Halep is 1.68 m tall and weighs a mere 60 kg. For metric-system-challenged Americans (most of us), that translates to 5′ 6″ and 132 lbs. While that’s not tiny, compared to most female tennis professionals she is most definitely on the smallish side.Sim Halep

But even at a diminutive size, Halep has a very big game. Just ask the women who succumbed to her skills at the Dubai Championships.

In “order of slaughter,” there was Tsvetana Pironkova, Ekaterina Makarova, Caroline Wozniacki and finally, Karolina Pliskova. They’re all taller and heftier than Halep. But if you were to ask them, I’d bet they would swear she’s bigger than she appears.

Well she is, as far as heart goes. What she lacks in size she compensates for with fierce determination, grit and an obvious aversion to losing.

She’s a relentless battler, never goes away, never surrenders.

Throughout the tournament, Halep appeared at times headed for elimination. But somehow, on each occasion, she managed to extricate herself from dire straits. And keep in mind, she was the number one seed. There’s always added pressure when you are expected to prevail.

Just examine results of last year’s Australian open and the number of top players that fell victim to their own nerves once they were in solid position to win and were expected by most, including themselves, to do so.

https://martinstake128.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/the-fear-factor/

So far, Halep has proven impervious to nervous “fails.” When her back is to the wall, man, that little lady fights. She’s a very tough out.

The 6′ 1″ cleaning-hitting, ball battering Karolina Pliskova found out just how tough it is to put Halep away. She had multiple ops in the second set in which there were repeated service breaks, to gain the upper hand but was turned back each time.

There could not have been a more tense second set tiebreak. It went back and forth until the very last point. And while Halep failed to serve out the match twice (credit to Pliskova who came up with punishing winners), she didn’t allow that to deter her.

She simply continued to fight.

Ultimately, that tiebreak came down to which player had the most heart.

Pliskova has nothing to be ashamed of. She played a great match, actually a winning one.

But big things often come in small packages. That’s what Pliskova met in the Dubai final-a big player in a small frame.

Simona Halep.

Gumby Flummoxes Murray


Novak “Djoker” Djokovic is the the number one player in the world at this time. Winning the first slam of 2015, the Australian Open, further solidified his hold on that ranking.Novak 2015

He was seeded number one and played to that seeding, so I guess his victory is not surprising. He simply fulfilled what was expected of him…right?

Right, no argument there.

I’m not surprised that he won but I am astonished at how relatively easily he did it.

There was simply no resistance until the semis against defending champ, Stan Wawrinka. And though they went five sets as they did in the two previous editions of this event, the fifth set was simply an act of “going through the motions.” Djokovic won 6-0.

Murray’s route was fairly straightforward as well. I thought Australian phenom (I use that term loosely), Kyrgios might present some difficulty, but hell, he should send Murray a check for the lesson he received. Murray thumped him in straights.

He then rather routinely dismantled, what appeared to me to be an improved Berdych who was creaming everyone he played prior to his semi with Andy.

And then came the final. Djokovic vs Murray.

Both guys entered the stadium on top of their respective games. There were no injury reports circulating, no known emotional issues with which either was dealing. Djoker is a happily contented new daddy. Murray reached the final with female coach Amelie Mauresmo in a comprehensively mellow way, silencing many who questioned his choice of coaches after having broken through the slam barrier under the tutelage of the great Ivan Lendl.

In short, the stage was set for a great match.

The first set, by all standards, was phenomenal tennis. Djokovic squeaked by in a tiebreak. Murray returned the favor in the second, also by tiebreak.

But their was something odd about the second set which caused me to utter, “uh oh, here it comes.”

A fan or just a person, I don’t know which, charged onto the court to demonstrate in favor of what I can only assume was some political agenda. Play was halted until the intruder was removed by security.

But that wasn’t what gave me “cause for pause.”

During that period, both players were sitting getting a much-needed breather. The play had been stratospheric in quality and physically demanding.

Now, in that second set, Djokovic appeared to be injured, sick, exhausted, wobbly, weak I dunno, something. Then, a member of his team summoned a ball kid over to the players box and handed him two bottles of liquid to deliver to Novak.

Listen, I don’t know what the stuff was but I want some of that potion.

Gimme some of that magic juice!

I certainly don’t think it was anything illegal. That would have been way, way too brazen to have been done before an international audience on such an important day. But after having some sips of the stuff, all of a sudden Djokovic was a new man. It was as though he hadn’t played those many grueling points.

I just don’t get it, but then I’ve expressed my opinion before about whether Djoker is really 100% human flesh and blood. He’s just too rubbery, too flexible, too loose, too I dunno…freakish?! I mean, the guy’s body can contort in ways that defy explanation. What’s more, the thing withstands all the acrobatic contortions and doesn’t break.

https://martinstake128.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/theres-no-joking-djokers-smoking/

I’d like to see some x-rays of his joints, some analysis of his muscle fibers, you know, whether there is a preponderance of fast or slow twitch fibers, or maybe, just maybe, additionally, some “other worldly” fibers.

I’m telling ya, the guy ain’t right. And by the way, have you ever noticed how when he is about to return serve, he opens his eyes really wide, bug-eyed for an instant. I think when he does that, he’s able to access from a remote region of his brain, some additional pixels that add super clarity to the incoming ball. I mean come on, look how well he returns serve. He’s the best returner in the game.

How the hell does he see 130+ mph balls so well?

It’s those added pixels man!

I’m telling ya, it ain’t natural!

He’s got an unfair advantage over the rest of the guys, what with the the “gumbyism,” magic elixir, extra pixels, the “f**k it mode” where he just swings away with reckless abandon and the balls result in flat-footed winners against the fastest players on the planet.

He used it all on poor Andy Murray and by the third set, you could see Murray beginning to surrender to the inevitable.

He was had.

Gumby got him.

Sweet Nineteen For America’s Drama Queen


It seemed an eternity tennis had to waitSW's 19th

from 2014 US Open to finally this date.

But we fans worldwide waited, eagerly on hold

for this 2015 Australian Open to start and unfold.

From the women’s draw there was considerable speculation

if Serena’s bid for the win would end again in frustration.

In 2013, shakily, she lost to Sloane

who now is seemingly all but gone.

In the preceding year she was nervously stunned.

By an inspired Ivanovic, she was simply outgunned.

Well, today, battling both a cold and fear,

Serena Williams captured the first slam of the year.

Six times now she’s won the title “down under”

with smoking strokes and serves of thunder.

In the semis against Madison, it was “truth or dare,”

that match a compellingly tense affair.

Serena’s hands were full against the powerful Keys

who pummels every ball that she sees.

Absorbing her power was a daunting task,

a question of herself Serena continued to ask.

But in the end she found both the will and a way

to stick around for another championship day.

In the final against her favorite foe, like a wild banshee she played

while Maria sprinted, shrieked, frowned and prayed.

But all that she did could not prevent loss

to the still undisputed on-court boss.

Maria played hard and gave it her best

but as usual against The Queen, she failed the test.

Honestly, from the outset, all knew it was over

for many’s sweet but outclassed Sugarpova.

One thing about Maria that one cannot ignore,

she never gives up and comes back for more.

So, kudos to world numbers one and two,

all props are deserved by the both of you.

And as the dust now settles, America’s Queen

has reached a new high of sweet nineteen.

Hallelujah! “The Eraser” Gives America Another Grand Slam


Serena Williams, alias “The Eraser,” again proved why she is the best female tennis player of this generation and arguably the best ever by winning the Australian Open for the sixth time. And thankfully for us, she is American.

Yes, no gloating intended (just pride), this great champion was produced in, resides in, and represents the good old USA.

Congratulations Serena.

Celebrate our champion America. She carries the tennis torch for all of us.

America is still a powerful country and Serena’s intelligently powerful style of play aptly embodies that actuality. As the younger generation would put it, “She represents!”

And she continues to do it at the age of 33.

With the exception of doubles specialists, the Bryan twins, America has only the Williams sisters to thank for keeping us afloat in the slams arena.

The US could and should do a better job of embracing these women for all that they have accomplished while representing us.

They are strong, intelligent, beautiful women who have acquitted themselves admirably within a sporting arena that has often been chilly if not downright hostile to their presence.

In spite of those sometimes less than favorable emotional conditions under which to play, the Williams sisters brushed it all aside and forged onward buoyed by a strong supportive family unit.

Their rise to prominence was from an unlikely life setting, by what was considered unconventional methods.

Their success epitomizes American perseverance at it’s best.

I often hear motivational admonitions to support American efforts, or see bumper stickers with suggestive “Buy American” slogans.

I agree.

And I further submit that we should also support and buy into our own American champions.

Serena Williams: 2015 Australian Open Champion, now six-time singles titlist down under, 19-time singles slam champion, fierce competitor, philanthropist, Olympian, one of, if not the greatest female tennis player ever.

She’s truly a champion by multiple measuring criteria.

And she’s ours.

She’s American.

Hail Hudlin! An Overdue Prop for a man who taught “Strive for the Top.”


August 7, 2014 was a day I’ll long remember. That day unfolded in Fort Lauderdale, Fl at the ATA (American Tennis Association) championships.

It was a celebratory day, a day set aside to recognize, thank, and enshrine seven illustrious inductees into the Black Tennis Hall of Fame.

One of those seven was a true “tennis pioneer,” in my book, an iconic American hero.

His name is Richard A. Hudlin.

Hallelujah! Finally, this incredibly accomplished, quietly effective foot soldier has received a “proper” welcoming into the ranks of historical predecessors who made it possible for many, many others to follow, strive, and persevere in tennis.

In the mid 1920’s, Richard Hudlin attended the University of Chicago, which during that time was considered one of the premier institutions of higher education in the nation. It was one of the “Big Ten” colleges.

And, if attending such a preeminent school were not enough, Hudlin was also a member of UOC tennis team from 1926 to 1928. He was the only black on those teams.

Although great strides have been made, race remains one of the most divisive issues in American society. Having said that, imagine what it was like 86 years ago, when in 1928, Hudlin was selected as captain of the UOC tennis team thereby making him the first black captain of a Big-Ten college tennis team.

Who’d have been willing to do what he did? The answer is few.

But somebody had to do it, be the first that is. Clearly, Mr. Hudlin was up to the task.

17 years later, in St. Louis, Missouri, he would again achieve an unprecedented feat by filing a lawsuit against the City of St. Louis and municipal tennis association to gain access for his players of color to tournaments conducted in public parks. The suit was adjudicated in his favor.

The “walls of exclusion” were replaced by opened gates for inclusion. Again, a difficult undertaking needed doing and, once again, Hudlin stepped forward and persevered.

I was asked by Mr. Bob Davis, he too a 2014 inductee, if I’d be willing to attend the induction gala to introduce Mr. Hudlin and accept the posthumous hall of fame memento and induction certification in the event none of his immediate family was present. Of course my answer was a resounding “yes.” After all, it was I who nominated him.

I prepared an abbreviated speech highlighting several of Mr. Hudlin’s stellar achievements from a life-resume of remarkable work. Unfortunately, due to some organizational glitches (too many speakers in too little time or not having speakers limit their remarks so as to consume only a preordained number of minutes etc), time constraints prevented me from delivering my sub-five minute speech. While certainly unintentional, it was a disservice to the memory of a truly great man.

So, for the sake of venting a bit of personal frustration and to honor Mr. Hudlin’s induction, I’ve included the link below with the comments I’d prepared.

Despite my slight disappointment, I’d do it all again, because at the end of the day, Mr. Hudlin has been afforded the “props” he’s so richly deserved for such a long, long time.

Mr. Richard A. Hudlin is now a cherished member of an exalted group of blacks who made it possible for all of us and all of tennis to thrive, flourish and burgeon into the spectacular sport that it’s become.

He’s a recognized, sanctioned member of the Black Tennis Hall of Fame.

Hudlin remarks 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Simonacendency”–The Rise of Halep


Though Simona Halep, Romania’s number one female player, lost to four-time slam winner, Maria Sharapova in the finals of the 2014 French Open today, a potentially brilliant star has risen.

Simona Halep is that shining light and, make no mistake about it, she has arrived.Halep 2

Halep reached the French final to face Sharapova without dropping a set. It was a most impressive run, and after splitting sets, had it not been for one service break in the third (4-6), she would have won her first slam.

Halep’s ascendency is not a fluke. Since 2009, she has consistently progressed in small but noticeable increments.

In 2010 Halep underwent elective breast-reduction surgery. Apparently, at a smallish 5′ 6,” she was rather amply endowed and felt the weight of her bust interfered with abilities essential to producing high-level tennis. She also complained of frequent back pain possibly caused by her breasts.

Her decision to undergo what many might view as a radical procedure, in my eyes, only underscores her commitment to the game. That was a tough and extremely mature decision for a then 17-year-old to make.

Voila! It worked!

Halep’s ranking increased dramatically, over 400 points, in a relatively short time following the surgery.

During this remarkable span, she spent a great deal of time gaining invaluable experience playing qualifying rounds of WTA tour events. Her ranking was at 166 when, as a qualifier, at the Andalucia tournament in Marbella, Spain, she fought her way to the quarters eventually losing to the the number two seed Flavia Pennetta. Pennetta was ranked 16th at the time.

Halep’s steady progression continued. From quallies, she reached the finals of a WTA event for the first time but lost to Iveta Benesova. In the quarters of that event, she defeated former top-ten player Patty Schnyder, a daunting task. Schnyder was always a very crafty player capable of beating anyone on a good day.

Emboldened, Halep qualified for the 2010 French Open but lost first round to Sam Stosur, the 7th seed. She then lost first round at the US Open to Jelena Jankovic, a match she probably should have won when serving for it at 5-4 in the third.

Though she failed to capitalize on that upset opportunity, she did not fail to learn from the experience.

In 2011, Halep lost in the first round of the Estoril Open to Anabel Garrigues in two tiebreaks. Garrigues went on to win the tournament.

Halep then lost to the great Serena Williams in the second round of Wimbledon. It took Williams three sets to secure the victory.

Later that year, at the US Open, playing on an injured ankle, Halep defeated 6th seed, Li Na in the first round. It was her first win over a top-ten player.

The evidence was mounting. Clearly, Halep was on the move.

2012 continued productively and Halep began 2013 at number 47 in the world and the number two ranked Romanian player.

And then it happened. All the hard work began coalescing and Halep broke through. After losing in the semis of the BNL d’Italia to eventual champion, Serena Williams, Halep won two WTA titles in a row. She won her third title of the year at the Budapest Grand Prix.

Halep won six titles during this run with wins over Petra Kvitova, Yvonne Meusburger, Ana Ivanaovic and others along the way. Only Serena Williams won more tournaments in 2013.

I have difficulty categorizing Halep’s play. She’s not strictly a base-liner nor is she a serve/volley player though she can execute when necessary. She’s neither a counter puncher nor an aggressive in-your-face on every shot type.

What Halep shows me is a remarkable ability to adjust to any play scenario that arises. She is very quick off the spot and can get from point A to point B in the blink of an eye, almost freakishly fast at times. She’s strong and agile, can both absorb pace and generate it. She’s got variety and drive.

She’s a little girl with a very big game. She’s able to stay “in the moment” without imploding from nerves. That alone is unusual for a 22-year-old. That calm demeanor looks good on her and should continue to serve her well in tough matches at the elite level.

Simona Halep is currently ranked number three in the world. Surprising to some but not to those who’ve been paying attention.

Myself, I’m thoroughly impressed but not the least bit surprised. You could see it coming, the steady rise in ranking. She’s paid her dues, ground it out, been persistent and dedicated.

She’s done it “the old fashioned way.”

She earned it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014 French Open Rafarized Again


Rafael Nadal, the outright “King of Red Clay”

has won the French for the ninth time today.

Ten times entered, nine times victorious,

could a feat so profound be any more glorious?

Again it boiled down to the planet’s two best

set once again for a grueling test.

When Rafa meets Nole, it’s always the same,

undoubtedly tennis but to them not just a game.

Rafa’s first-set loss set an ominous tone

for all knew in his mind the war was now on.

And Nole, despite having one set in hand

appeared to me a troubled man.

His beleaguered look didn’t match the score,

and where in hell was the Djokovic roar?

It was the old “demon of doubt” whispering in his ear

playing havoc with his head now riddled with fear.

The second set could have gone either way

but Rafa responded best with fearless play.

After taking that set, Rafa roared and flexed

while Nole dropped his head sunken and vexed.

It was as clear to me as I’d seen before,

Rafa now poised to slam shut the door.

With demoralizing efficiency, he went about the deed

sending Nole away with the same gnawing need.

“The French,” he must wonder, “Will I ever win?”

“Will I ever even get the chance again?”

There’s no way to tell how the future will go,

but as long as Rafa plays, the answer is NO!

So, bravo Nadal, it’s astonishing what you’ve done

to maintain the title of “World Number One.”Rafa's 9th