Thursday, April 22, 2010

DEVIL OR ANGEL? MOTHER NATURE SERVES IT UP FOR TENNIS PLAYERS


Rain, Sun, WindHeat, Humidity,Cold

There is nothing like a 70-80 degree sunny day, no humidity, and no wind. Sounds like a perfect day for tennis (or any sport), doesn’t it? They get a lot of those wonderful days in California and the Caribbean. But here in the Northeast we are in a constant battle with Mother Nature. Just like my opponents, she wins too often. Here are my pet peeves related to weather conditions, along with some possible remedies:

Rain: Forget it. Nothing can dampen tennis like rain. If you haven’t yet started your match, you might as well cancel it or go home. Sometimes it happens that it’s raining where you are, but it’s sunny where your opponent lives. This happened to me on Wednesday, in the reverse. Chantal called me at 1:15 to tell me it was raining where she was, about 8-10 miles from me. It wasn’t raining in my neck of the woods, however. The court is midway between us. We could not know whether it was raining there. I like to postpone the match in those cases. Why take a chance? Rain travels. And if it rains while you are on the court, get off it. I won’t play on a hard court if it rains, even just a sprinkle. It’s dangerous—you are vulnerable to slips, falls, and injury. Even the pros are reluctant to play in the rain. Clay is not much better. Although the surface absorbs some moisture, the lines do get slippery. Recently, at the Monte Carlo Masters, I saw (on Tennis Channel) Rafael Nadal talk to the umpire about delaying his match because the lines on the clay court were wet and slippery. Nevertheless, the match was almost over so they played on. Nadal won.

Sun: I have a love-hate relationship with the sun. At least it’s not raining so that you actually get to play. But, you guessed it, there’s a BUT in here somewhere. It’s known as sun glare. Ever toss a ball up for a serve and been blinded by the sun to the degree that you can’t even see it? Of course you have. The only compensation I can think of is that your opponent will face the same blinding sun when you change sides. Most people wear a visor, although I find that annoying because it interferes with my vision. Here’s an adaptation told to me by a pro. If you are right handed, turn your left shoulder slightly toward the net; then toss the ball. This improves your positioning just enough so that you will not be looking directly into the sun.That should help to reduce being blinded by its glare. It works for me. (Thank you, Jeff.)

 
Temperature:  Heat is a relative of the sun. And it’s all relative for players, too. I like it between 68 and 80. Lower than 68 and it’s a bit cool for me. Higher than 80 and it can be too hot. It’s too hot for you if you begin to have chills and feel nauseated. In that circumstance, get off the court immediately, drink water and cool down fast. When it’s really hot I take a spray bottle of water to the court and sprits myself during changeovers. I also sometimes wear one of those spongy neckbands that you soak in water and then freeze. It really helps, but like visors, it can be annoying and distracting. And when I know it’s really going to be tough to play in the heat, I wash my hair and wet my headband. That helps until they dry—which takes about 20 minutes!

Cold: I know some people who will play in any kind of cold weather. Not I. As I said, I don’t like to play even when it’s below 68. I never know what to wear. This week alone, my three 9 a.m. matches were cancelled because it was only in the 40s when we woke up. It was a mutual decision to forget it. What a relief. I was dreading playing and I spent at least an hour the night before thinking about what I would wear in that kind of weather. I do have some cool weather clothes, but I have to wear pants with pockets to hold the balls, and those that I have are not warm enough because they are very lightweight. and not warm enough. Solution? Play indoors.

• To make matters worse, throw in some humidity. In hot weather or cold, it can make you miserable. Pair it with cold and you have a raw, damp day. I get so stiff I can hardly move. Pair it with heat and I’m huffing and puffing and sticky with sweat. It’s all bad no matter how you look at it. I dare you to tell me I’m wrong!

• Now for the worst of them all. OMG it’s the wind! They don’t call the wind Mariah in tennis. They call it other unmentionable names. If you think serving into the sun makes things difficult, try serving when it’s windy. It’s really hard to make solid contact when the ball is blown out of position. It’s not any better with groundstrokes. Just take your racket back for a cross court forehand and try to figure out where the ball went since you last looked at it, and just try to guess where it will be as you reach for it. Talk about screwing with your timing. What timing, you say? Regardless, the wind won’t help it get any better. And it gets even worse. Carried by the wind, lobs go long. A crosswind moves the ball out of reach. Tennis in the wind? I’ll play but I won’t like it. Hitting shots in the wind feels like I’m hitting a baseball, assuming I even make contact with it. Andre Agassi used to say that he wasn’t bothered by the wind. (But we can’t always believe what he says, can we? Remember, he admitted in his book Open that a lot of his life in tennis had been a lie.) Well, I don’t want to end this section on such a downbeat. I would cancel a match for rain or cold, but I’ll struggle through a match in the wind. I bet that Mariah can’t play tennis in the wind either.

At this point, with all my whining about uncooperative weather conditions, it's a wonder I get to play at all!

Have I missed anything? Mother Nature sometimes can be a real mother (the kind you’re not supposed to mention in a respectable blog.) On the other hand, she can be just as gracious as she is malicious. She’s our mother and she belongs to us. And, like it or not, we belong to her. At this point, with all my whining about weather conditions, it's a wonder I ever play at all.







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