larosa’s sweet spot + nick in smash

James LaRosa‘s Sweet Spot, born on September 10, 2008.

The prolific Tennis Channel scribe’s Cinderella story gets another chapter with the establishment of James’ weekly TC column (on Wednesdays). The first post: a look at recent butterfly-effect matches on the tour.

Also, Nick McCarvel has a great article in the fall 2008 issue of SMASH about how to travel (and pack) smart for tournament travel. Check it out.

rafter: hewitt will be a force, but won't be no. 1

Australian Patrick Rafter, looking good at the Sydney premiere of The Bourne Ultimatum with wife Lara Feltham, has told the wires that Lleyton Hewitt‘s goal to reach the no. 1 ranking is far-fetched, but that the new partnership with coach Tony Roche could see him nesting in the Top Five.

Rafter reasons that Hewitt’s flat strokes don’t match well with the current trend of high, heavy balls (spurned by new racquet technology). Rafter’s solution is incorporating more net play.

[photos via Kenneth in the (212)]

further reading: what separates Federer from the rest?

Roger Federer entered this week’s French Open with a 2300-point lead over world #2 Rafael Nadal. By now we all know the reasons behind this lead. We’ve seen him play. Winners from all over the court, on the defensive, from in between the legs, or around the net post. Backhand overheads. Clutch shots coming out of nowhere.

Science and our curiousity have tried to chip away at how great athletes like Roger come to be. Back in March, Daniel Coyle, via a NYT article attempted to explain the phenomena — not just that of amazing players, but of amazing players from the same geographical area: South Korean women golfers, Dominican baseball players, and seemingly endless supply of Russian tennis players (the latter an enigma that vexes U.S. Fed Cup team captain Zina Garrison everyday, I’m sure). Is it coincidence, or is there a scientific explanation?

Coyle travelled with Elena Dementieva back to her childhood training academy, Spartak (in Moscow), to get some more insight. The academy was the perfect research specimen: it spawned Dementieva, along with Anna Kournikova, Marat Safin, and Anastasia Myskina, all from the same group of kids. On one hand he attributes their talent to biology — “super-athletes” have more myelin in their nervous system — and on the other he cites intense parenting, training, and time investment. Nothing conclusive, but a well-written article.

And this week’s Wired brings up the idea of field sense, a skill “which mixes anticipation, timing, and an acute sense of spatial relations”, and a skill which the writer deems untrainable. But not if Australian Instute of Sport scientist Damian Farrow has anything to say about it. In tennis, he’s developing ways for players to anticipate a serve as early as possible (perhaps even before the ball toss), thus giving the receiver extra milliseconds to react.

The article also mentions unstructured play as a way of developing good field sense (a skill perfected by Martina Hingis during her childhood — her coach/mother Melanie Molitor would feed her balls to hit from all over the court, leaving Hingis to scramble and anticipate where each ball would land).

flashback: looking for a career in pro tennis?

While scrolling through some old bookmarks, I ran into an edition of Jon Wertheim‘s Mailbag, with some sage advice on pursuing a career in pro tennis.

1. Your passion for the sport is admirable, but that alone won’t get you hired. Figure out your skills and how they will translate to a job in tennis. (Of course, a 135-mph serve is a good start.)

2. Think outside the (service) box. A horrible cliché, I realize, but one that rings true in this case. Sure, you can aspire to the obvious tennis-related jobs — tournament director, player agent, USTA president — but the odds are steep. Why not try and break into the profession by, say, selling ads for Tennis Magazine or doing p.r. for the firm retained by Dunlop rackets. Something (cliché alert) off the beaten path but one that will still gain you entrée into the sport.

3. Go to a pro event. Even the smaller events are full of agents, coaches, tour administrators, clothing/shoe/racket reps and media types. It’s a good way to make contacts and snag some business cards.

4. For the misguided few who want to be tennis writers, my sage advice is to write. Write for your college newspaper, your church bulletin, your neighborhood-block-watch newsletter, even your own Web site. It doesn’t matter how prestigious the periodical, but you need to be published somewhere. Editors will be able to recognize talent when they see it.

I know some of you readers are itching to write about tennis. So make sure to act on #4 as soon as you can. And if you’re fortunate enough to have a tournament in your area, make arrangements to go. Take a day off, go to an early day session (to get the most matches in with the least number of spectators), and don’t be afraid to chat people up! Don’t forget to bring business cards.