Archive for the ‘Tennis’ Category

Is Oudin’s Run the Best Ever for a Teenager?

Sports psychology insight – New York Times – Nicholas McCarvel – September 9, 2009 – Women’s tennis has always been littered with talented teenagers. Martina Hingis reached her first grand slam quarterfinal at 15 years of age. Venus Williams did so at age 17. Steffi Graf was 16.

So when comparing Melanie Oudin’s meteoric run at this week’sUnited States Open to the past, it doesn’t seem so meteoric; Oudin is a mature 17 herself.

But for Hingis, Williams, Graf and a host of other women, their appearance in such late-round matches early in their careers were expected of them. They had been predicted to make it big from a young age; they had been primed for the big time.

Oudin, on the other hand has had to fight for every point, game, set and match on her way from world No. 373 in 2007, to a current rank of No. 70.

Moreover, she has taken the hardest path to a Grand Slam quarterfinal by any little-known teenager in recent years.

In the past decade, only three players under 18 have advanced to a Grand Slam quarterfinal while possessing a ranking outside of the top 50 in the world: Oudin, Sesil Karatantcheva and Lina Krasnoroutskaya.

Karatantcheva’s run came at the 2005 French Open, where as a 15-year-old she stunned Venus Williams in the third round. Her path, otherwise, was rather padded: she beat one other seeded player and faced two players ranked outside the top 90. The average rank of her four opponents was 57.

Krasnoroutskaya also made her run at the French Open, but as a 17-year-old in 2001. She beat no. 9 Nathalie Tauziat in the opening round, but then did not face another seed until Justine Henin handily beat her in the quarterfinals. The average rank of her opponents was 67.

In contrast, Oudin has faced magnificent resistance at Flushing Meadows. Her first-round opponent, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, was ranked No. 36, and was only the third player not to be seeded coming into the Open. The average rank of Oudin’s first four opponents? 21.

The biggest obstacle for any young player to overcome is her older opponent’s power. On clay – where both Karatantcheva and Krasnoroutskaya accomplished their quarterfinal feats – the speed of the ball is slowed significantly, and power is neutralized.

At the United States Open, however, the courts are DecoTurf hard courts that play extremely fast, making Oudin’s ball-retrieving, power absorbing and counter-punching that much more impressive against the powerful groundstrokes of Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova.

Is Oudin’s run to the second week the best ever by a low-ranked youngster? It’s hard to say. But she can certainly put herself in an elite group with a win over Caroline Wozniacki on Wednesday night.

No American teenager has been to a Grand Slam semifinal since Serena Williams did so here a decade ago. Good company to keep for the No. 70 player in the world.

Melanie certainly has the eye of this sports psychologist

Wimbledon 2009: Can Middle England learn to love Andy Murray?

Sports psychology commentary – Sunday Telepgraph – June 21, 2009 – William langley – Andy Murray is the brightest Wimbledon hopeful Britain has produced for decades. Even if he triumphs, winning over the public will be trickier.

Ever since he emerged, slab-chopped and scowling, beneath a jungle of greasy curls, Andy Murray, the nation’s brightest tennis star, has been frightening opponents – but also a substantial segment of the British public and the advertisers who ought to be making him rich.

Around Glasgow-born Andy hung an air of alienation and charmlessness, which suggested that he could never take over from Tim Henman as the once-a-year darling of Middle Britain. Even Tim stopped being nice when the subject of 22-year-old Andy came up. “He’s a miserable git,” sniffed the former British number one. (He later insisted he was joking and that the two are friends.)

The refashioning of Andy’s image was never going to be easy, but last week offered an intriguing glimpse of how the project is being handled. Groomed, buffed and with his zits airbrushed out, the player was introduced as the new ”face” of Fred Perry sportswear.

The venerable company’s marketing director, Richard Martin, claimed that Andy had “worked closely with the design team” to create a classic new range of tennis kit launched in homage to Fred – Britain’s last Wimbledon men’s champion – who was born 100 years ago last month.

Although the extent of Andy’s design contribution remained uncertain, marketing experts were broadly impressed. “Fred Perry is one of the few English brands to support Murray,” says Geoff Woad of Brand Republic, “but it is a good fit for the company.”

The tailored shorts and smart, Gatsby-esque cable knits were a big improvement on Andy’s earlier grungy look, but the deal raised the question of whether, by invoking a direct comparison with Fred, the all-English hero of the 1930s, it was placing unrealisable expectations on a man of a strikingly different nature.

The raffish, cosmopolitan Perry, who dated Marlene Dietrich before marrying American movie star Helen Vinson, was a Renaissance man – knowledgeable, refined and at ease in almost any company.

Murray, as someone who knows – and admires – him, put it last week, “is not a deeply cultured individual. He doesn’t read books, doesn’t have any other interests. He just plays tennis, and that’s all that matters to him.”

So what? Britain has been yearning for a home-grown Wimbledon men’s champion since Perry’s last win in 1936 against a sinister German, Baron Gottfried von Cramm. Far from worrying about how often he smiles and which brand of kit he wears, some experts fear the campaign to soften his image may actually damage his game.

“I like Andy just the way he is,” says Dr John Murray, a former US tennis professional, now .one of the world’s foremost sports psychologists.

“He’s quiet, he’s low-key, but he’s basically a nice guy. He has good people around him. The public doesn’t always see him this way, and it’s maybe understandable that he wants to have a different image, but what you don’t try to change is the character.

“You work within the character. Ultimately, you’ve got to be yourself, and to realise that the greatest endorsement of being yourself is winning.”

Murray’s ascent to the big time, four years ago, appeared to catch tennis unawares. Here was a boy with none of the obvious polish or reassuring wholesomeness of previous British standard-bearers such as Roger Taylor, John Lloyd or Henman.

These were chaps the establishment felt comfortable with; who, even if they didn’t win much, at least held the line against the brattishness and narcissism eating at the game’s heart.

The Scotsman had the talent, but he appeared to be wreathed in Caledonian gloom, and when – jokingly, he now claims – he made disparaging remarks about the English, much of his potential fan base switched off.

Murray appeared bewildered by the hostility. He’d had a sheltered, but not comfortable upbringing – a child of divorced parents, whose primary schooling had been disrupted by the 1996 Dunblane massacre. He’d noticed the nice guys losing, and formed his own conclusions.

“How often have you seen me smash my racket on court?” he asked. “I know I say things I probably shouldn’t say, but I’m not stumbling out of nightclubs or throwing up in front of the paparazzi.”

Last year he hired Stuart Higgins, a former Fleet Street editor, whose public relations company offers “crisis management support” for public figures.

One of the player’s close associates says: “It was a case of Andy, himself, realising that he couldn’t carry on as this kind of Harry Enfield’s Kevin character and that there was a real value to looking right and having the crowd on his side.

“He’s listened to people, understood his problem, and become more confident and mature. He’s still prickly with the media, because he’s been stung, but I’ve seen him away from the court, working with kids, out with his family, and he’s really OK.”

The stakes are high. According to the American magazine Sports Illustrated, Roger Federer, the world’s most successful player, earned an estimated $35 million last year – more than two-thirds from commercial deals with companies such as Rolex, Gillette and Nike.

Even Maria Sharapova, who hasn’t won a major title since Wimbledon in 2004, pocketed $21 million. Federer has charm and Sharapova glamour – high among the qualities advertisers cherish. The Scotsman, to put it bluntly, has struggled to display either.

Not that he’s scratching around for the price of a pack of oatcakes. Last week Murray bought a £5 million, mock-Regency house in Surrey with a swimming pool, where he is expected to live with his 21-year-old girlfriend, Kim Sears. Even so, for a world number three, his off-court earnings are believed to be relatively modest, with the bombed-out Royal Bank of Scotland and Highland Spring as his main sponsors.

“Everyone who uses sport stars for commercial endorsements is looking for the Beckham factor,” says an industry source. “That’s the gold standard, but it’s very tough to fulfil, and not something you can easily define other than as a special kind of appeal that reaches across age, class, gender, language, frontiers, everything.”

An early blunder was declaring, during the 2006 World Cup, that he supported “anyone but England”, prompting some English tennis fans to declare that they would support “anyone but Murray”. During last year’s Wimbledon, after dispatching Richard Gasquet in five sets amid much fist-pumping, Andy flaunted and caressed his muscles in what some felt was an unseemly show of vanity.

The “auld enemy” syndrome of Anglo-Scottish rivalry continues to pursue him, and many advertisers remain sceptical of his selling power south of the border. Henman, in pluckily upholding the great British tradition of heroic failure, hit a much surer chord with the shire and suburban types who follow Wimbledon, and was commercially more bankable.

Happily, it may not be too late for the country to learn to love him. “I think he’s a very good boy, really,” says novelist Jilly Cooper. “I love to watch him play, and I don’t understand why everyone is so nasty about him. I am sure that if he wins Wimbledon, we will forget all about him being a bit prickly, or whether he doesn’t like the English, and take him to heart.”

“Andy’s not naturally articulate, although he’s a lot better than he used to be,” believes Telegraph sportswriter Andrew Baker. “You have to realise that he just doesn’t need the crowd in the way that Henman did. He doesn’t play off a crowd, doesn’t milk it in the same way. Andy’s a lot less concerned about how people see him, and his image isn’t so important to him. Having said that, he’s got intelligent people around him who do understand what a valuable commercial property he is.”

At Wimbledon this week, we will get an idea if Andy Murray, all kitted out for the part, is now really ready to play it.

Hope you enjoyed the comments from sports psychology.

That was Best Match in Tennis History

Special to JohnFMurray.com – John F. Murray, Ph.D. – The match is not even over, and Dr. John F. Murray, a Palm Beach sports psychologist has already declared that Roddick/Federer in the Wimbledon Final of 2009 is the best match in tennis history. “It is not even close,” said Murray. This was a battle for the ages, and both players went beyond human in this epic struggle to see who would crack first.

Murray posted frequent tweets on the website at Twitter.com and at one point declared that if the match went another 30 minutes it would be the best ever. Well it did … and the declaration came well before 1 PM New York time … this was the best.

“This will be a match we will watch forever, said Murray, and the pressure play will be studied carefully and help help raise the mental performance of competitors in all sports.”

There is not doubt that this match was a case of the player who had performed best in the area of sports psychology!

Video on Mental Benefits of Stretching

Sports Psychology Tip #3 – John F. Murray, Ph.D. – Stretching before any athletic competition is very smart. The physical benefits are obvious, but what you might not realize is that this helps remarkably to relax the athlete and get them ready mentally too.

While on a coaching trip with my client Vince Spadea who was playing a tournament in Chicago in July, 2009, I spoke with him about how stretching helps him with his performance.

Enjoy this video at:

The Power of Goal Setting with Spadea

Sports Psychology Tip #2 – John F. Murray, Ph.D. – Setting goals is incredibly important in any achievement situation. I use goal setting with all my clients, but the goals and strategies differ markedly depending on the athlete, the sport and the circumstance. Still you need to be away of some principles. I refer you to an article on goal setting that I wrote as a two page centerfold for Tennis Magazine in 2007.

Below is a video of my client, Vince Spadea, talking about how goals have helped him in his career:

Dr. John and Vince Spadea on Social Facilitation

Sports Psychology Tip #1 – John F. Murray, Ph.D. – If you are a serious athlete it is extremely important to get the crowd behind you. The benefit from an audience is called the “audience effect” or “social facilitation.” It works best with advanced performers in many fields. The opposite effect, social obstruction, can reduce performance with a large crowd when the skills are not well refined. See the article on social obstruction with mention of social facilitation here

In the video below, Dr. John F. Murray and his client Vince Spadea, whom he was coaching in Chicago in 2009, talk about how Vince has benefited from a supportive crowd in Key Biscayne and Delray Beach in his career. He is from South Florida, so he talks about how well he has done in these tournaments and attributes it to sports psychology and social facilitation.

Sports Psychology Workshop Videos and Spadea

Wimbledon, England – Special to JohnFMurray.com – It was a long time since Vince Spadea had won at Wimbledon, not to mention that he had not won anywhere in a while. “It was good to see the scrappy veteran prove that when the going gets tough, the rapper gets going in a decisive 3 set victory over Paul Capdeville 6-0, 6-4, 7-5,” said sports psychologist Dr. John F. Murray. “It was especially rewarding for me that his success came right on the heels of the 2009 Smart Tennis Sports Psychology Workshops held two days prior, and not too far from the All England Lawn Tennis Club.” Videos of this workshop in several parts are now available on YouTube.

“The British tennis fan and serious amateur competitive tennis player love Vince Spadea,” said Murray. “They tell me that they enjoy his personality and outspoken nature the way they loved John McEnroe, even if their reviews of his musical abilities are mixed.” “He’s eccentric, and the British people are too conservative, so he helps keep us balanced,” said one tennis player who recently attended Murray’s sports psychology workshop.

Murray has been working with and supporting Spadea since his record losing streak and subsequent comeback, and officially coached Spadea to a win over his next Wimbledon opponent, Igor Andreev, at the 2007 Australian Open. “I’ve not traveled with him this year as a fill-in coach. I stick to sports psychology most of the time from my office and usually meet with him when he is in town. Australia was a fun trip in ’07 and I got several coaching wins with him on the Aussie Open tour, but it’s almost unheard of for a sports psychologist to assume the coaching role, even if temporarily, but I had been a tennis coach in the past. What works best for most players, and is really lacking, is solid training in sports psychology”.”

Weapons of Sports Psychology

Sports Psychology: Using the Weapons of Sport Psychology in Tennis – TennisServer.com – July 1, 1995 – This was the first regular sports psychology column to appear on the internet, and first article in a 6 year series which led then Simon & Schuster subsidiary John Wiley & Sons to offer John F. Murray a contract for his now best-selling book “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game” while he was still a clinical and sports psychology intern.

Let’s talk optimal performance. Whether you play or coach tennis professionally, or just slug it out on the weekends, there is a wealth of exciting news available for you from the world of sport psychology. Are you keeping up-to-date on the fascinating developments in this field? If not, you are depriving yourself of key tools that would raise your tennis expertise to the next level.

Sport psychology was defined by Singer in 1978 as “the science of psychology applied to sport.” Sport psychologists provide two major types of services: (1) performance enhancement strategies, and (2) counseling for a variety of issues affecting the athlete. Although not all tennis players have access to a qualified sport psychologist, much can be learned from the available research.

Psychology as a scientific discipline began in 1879, making it one of the youngest of all sciences. Sport psychology is younger still, with only 30 years of extensive research. In fact, it wasn’t until 1985 that the Division of Exercise and Sport Psychology was recognized as a subspecialty of the American Psychological Association. Although still in its infancy, this field already has much to offer. Many research findings have still not been communicated to the player and coach in an easily available format. Much knowledge is just waiting to be tapped! It is my opinion that the complete tennis player and coach of the 21st century will require all the benefits sport psychology has to offer to stay on top.

In this introductory article, I have briefly outlined several areas involved and services provided by the sport psychologist. Look for future articles to explore specific techniques to optimize your performance on the tennis court.

Let’s look at a few domains where sport psychology plays an active role:

(1) Touring professionals and coaches
(2) National team programs
(3) Sport organizations
(4) Youth development programs
(5) Student players and coaches
(6) Families of athletes
(7) Players coping with injuries
(8) Recreational programs

Here are some typical services provided by the sport psychologist:

(1) Imagery training
(2) Arousal management/attentional focus
(3) Substance abuse management
(4) Eating disorders/weight management
(5) Relaxation training
(6) Motivational strategies
(7) Competitive pressure management
(8) Programs to cope with retirement from sport

In closing, sport psychology has much to offer tennis players and coaches at all levels. If you are looking for a competitive edge, or trying to help your players achieve at their maximum level, turn to the science of sport psychology! Until next month… when we explore another topic in sports psychology.

Wanted: Insane Tennis Parents

Slate Magazine – Huan Hus – June 2, 2009 – The only way to end America’s Grand Slam drought – With Andy Roddick’s loss at the French Open on Monday, American men have now failed to take the title in 22 straight Grand Slam tournaments, extending the longest dry spell in U.S. tennis history. This stretch of futility, coupled with a dearth of young talent on the women’s side, prompted the United States Tennis Association to overhaul its player development system last year, introducing a host of initiatives such as regional residential training centers, a new roster of national coaches to scout and train prospects, and an increased budget (upward of $100 million over the next 10 years). The plan is comprehensive and ambitious, intended to produce the next Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, and Venus Williams. Unfortunately for the USTA, national organizations with comprehensive mission statements don’t produce tennis champions. Crazy tennis parents do.

Consider the Williams sisters. As the story goes, their father, Richard, upon learning of the lucre that women’s tennis offered, decided to make his next two kids into tennis pros. That his wife, Oracene, didn’t want any more children was a minor obstacle—he simply hid her birth-control pills. He taught himself the game, coaching his protégés on rotten courts where their sessions were sometimes interrupted by gunfire before shipping them to a Florida tennis academy for refinement. While his girls racked up Grand Slams (17 singles titles and counting), he made headlines with his histrionic antics at tournaments, erratic ramblings, and general weirdness—he insisted on meeting his daughters’ first hitting coach at a public carwash because he believed the FBI had bugged his car and house.

Obsessive, overbearing, and downright insane parents are not a new phenomenon in tennis, nor are they uniquely American. Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen was the product of a taskmaster father who withheld jam for her bread if she practiced badly. Under Daddy Lenglen’s tutelage, and occasionally fortified with the cognac-soaked sugar pieces he provided during matches, Lenglen won 31 Grand Slam titles between 1914 and 1926. In 2000, Jelena Dokic’s father and coach, Damir, who has admitted to hitting Jelena (“for her sake”), achieved three legs of an ignominious Grand Slam, getting ejected from the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open. Since Jelena cut ties with him, he’s threatened to kidnap her and drop a nuclear bomb on Australia, where his daughter now lives. Maria Sharapova’s father, Yuri Sharapov, is currently so reviled for his cheating (blatant coaching during matches) and belligerence (making a throat-slitting gesture from the stands) that Anastasia Myskina refused to play in the Federation Cup if her countrywoman was named to the Russian team.

In 2001, June Thomas wondered at how women’s tennis has grown ever younger and more popular—but Mike Steinberger argued that there just aren’t enough great female tennis players out there. Anne Applebaum asked where all of Russia’s gorgeous tennis stars come from. Huan Hsu bemoaned the destruction of his promising tennis career at the hands of Chinese-American stereotype Michael Chang.

Why are so many tennis parents unhinged, and why are they so successful at incubating talent? While sociopathy—the utter lack of a conscience—undermines a society, it happens to be really useful on court. Florida-based sports psychologist John F. Murray likens the stress of the game to combat, and the late David Foster Wallace once wrote that tennis “is to artillery and airstrikes what football is to infantry and attrition.” It’s no coincidence that three notorious tennis fathers—Stefano Capriati, Mike Agassi, and Roland Jaeger—were trained as boxers. Great players reduce their opponents to targets that must be eliminated. This was the impulse Gloria Connors (the rare insane tennis mom) was encouraging when she taught her son Jimmy to try to knock the ball down her throat “because … if I had the chance, I would knock it down his”; when Mike Agassi positioned Andre at midcourt and blasted him with close-range shots; when Jim Pierce screamed, “Kill the bitch!” during one of his daughter Mary’s matches.

Arthur Ashe once remarked that if he didn’t play tennis, he’d probably have to see a psychiatrist. After all, you have to be somewhat crazy to submit to the itinerant lifestyle and brutal competitiveness of professional tennis, where only about 10 percent of the ranked players break even. “If you want to win the French Open, which is like desert warfare, you better darn well have a Jim Pierce beating you into the ground … so long as it’s not abusive,” says Murray, the sports psychologist. (For the record, Pierce was abusive. Mary claims he would slap her when she lost matches.) Murray also notes that the pathology of tennis parents often belies a certain genius, such as Charles Lenglen’s decision to eschew the demure playing style of women in his time in favor of training Suzanne against men, and Gloria Connors’ insistence on teaching Jimmy a two-fisted backhand in an era of one-handers.

For a long time, the USTA seemed to recognize that its role in developing American champions was to stand aside and leave the training to parents and Svengali coaches like Nick Bollettieri and Rick Macci. (In 1987, Bollettieri’s finishing school had an astonishing 32 players in the main draw of Wimbledon.) But in 1986, with Connors and John McEnroe aging and no obvious American successors on the scene, a panicked USTA launched its player-development program. (Disclosure: I worked for the USTA for a few years during and after college.) The methods—an infusion of money to support new regional training centers and national coaches—will sound familiar to anyone who followed last year’s renovation. Since that first attempt at resuscitation, the development program has been defined not by its production of Grand Slam champions (zero) but by the continual formulation of new plans: The department was revamped in 1995, 2001, 2003, and 2008.

While the bloated, bureaucratic USTA sputtered, tennis parents continued to spawn champions. Leading the way was Mike Agassi, a self-described “crazy Iranian from Las Vegas who browbeat his kids into mastering tennis.” Mike indoctrinated his son Andre by hanging a tennis ball over his crib and taping a pingpong paddle to his hand. Stefano Capriati boasted that his daughter Jennifer was doing sit-ups as a baby and had a racket in her hand as soon as she could walk. Though Jim Pierce had no tennis background, he pulled daughter Mary out of school to train her full-time, working her up to eight hours a day, sometimes until midnight. He also punched a spectator at the 1993 French Open and was so unruly that he led the women’s tour to add a provision for the banning of abusive players, coaches, and relatives. (In an act of solidarity, Richard Williams later called him “one of the best parents I have ever known.”)

The approaches of these tennis tyrants may have been objectionable and the psychological damage they inflicted on their children immense. Nevertheless, these parents had a plan, and they stuck to it. They spent time and money and energy and didn’t have to clear their decisions with a committee, answer to a board of directors (or even their spouses), or worry about overtraining or being fair to other players. And the expectations they put on their children, however misguided or unrealistic, originated from a resolute belief in their ability to become champions. Richard Williams’ biggest achievement is not teaching his daughters how to hit forehands and backhands but inculcating them with, in the words of 1990 Wimbledon finalist Zina Garrison, the “strength, confidence, and arrogance you need to become the top player in the world.”

It’s no surprise that the USTA would try to cultivate star players—the organization doesn’t have much to gain from acknowledging that it has nothing to do with producing Grand Slam winners. The reality, though, is that rational coaches and trainers with sensible development plans can never compete with the designs of an obsessed parent. The success of self-taught tennis players turned coaches such as Williams, Capriati, and Bollettieri—the famed coach didn’t pick up a racket until college—reveals that it doesn’t take long-tenured gurus and well-structured organizations to teach the game. Tennis consists of only a handful of basic strokes and strategies. As such, parents who wouldn’t dare try to teach, say, golf can read a book, watch a few videos, and give capable instruction. What separates the best players from their peers isn’t superior teaching. It’s maniacal devotion.

It’s no accident that three of ESPN’s 10 worst sports relatives (Dokic, Pierce, and Peter Graf) are tennis parents. The ugly truth is that for the United States to produce another Andre Agassi or Venus Williams, some crazed dad is going to have to add his name to that list. In its quest to develop a new generation of champions, the USTA would do well to remember the words of Robert Lansdorp, the former coach of Sampras and Lindsay Davenport. “The basic principle is the same,” he said. “Every person who has made it in this game, Americans or foreign, it has been the parents who were behind it.”

Tennis

Dr. John F. Murray has worked with over 100 pro tennis players on the ATP and WTA Tours, two division I college teams, for a full year each, and hundreds of junior and adult competitive tennis players. He has presented at major conferences, written for Tennis magazine and Tennis Week, and coached tennis worldwide in the 1980s. He is also the author of the best-selling tennis psychology book, “Smart Tennis: How to Play and Win the Mental Game,” cover endorsed by Wimbledon Champion and world #1 at the time, Lindsay Davenport. Dr. Murray still plays competitively for fun.

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