September 25, 2016

Approach Shots – 45 Love: My Yearlong Quest to Fulfill a Lifelong Dream in the Sport of Tennis

 

Ray Krueger is the deputy managing editor of the New York Times News Service and the author of the book 45 Love: My Yearlong Quest to Fulfill a Lifelong Dream in the Sport of Tennis (Diversion Books – March 1, 2012).

 

The work tells his story, that of a 275-pound teenager who falls in love with the game of tennis and works his way to becoming a top 20 tennis player in the USTA 45-and-over age division despite physical and emotional obstacles.

 

Even if you don’t play tennis, readers will relate to the passion that Krueger has for the game and competing. Krueger brings the reader along  with him on his quest for a national ranking with his engaging stories and his personal struggles. It’s one of those rare books that once you start reading you can’t put it down until you finish.

 

Krueger generously took time out to answer questions about 45-Love.

 

Karen Pestaina: What led you to write this book?
Ray Krueger: A lot of things. My professional life was in turmoil and I knew I was going to take a run at getting the best possible national ranking in the 45-and-over division. Having years of tournaments under my belt, and a lot of stories to tell from those experiences, I decided to write about them. But then as I went back into my childhood and teenage years I realized how tennis had been such powerful force in my life.

 

Q: What was the writing process like? What the most difficult part of it to write?
RK: The most difficult parts to write were the parts where I left out people’s real names. I didn’t want the book to have the feel of getting even with people who I had problems with on the court. When they signed up for a tournament they didn’t sign up to have their misbehavior broadcast for the world to see. Yet I still wanted the stories to be true representations of what really happened. So against some of my journalistic instincts I gave them nicknames, nicknames I have remembered them by through the years.


In terms of the writing process itself, I had lots of downtime as I was at tournaments and in between matches I would be back in my hotel room writing on my laptop. I would even scribble ideas sitting in my car, or even write emails to myself on my phone with ideas or matches I wanted to make sure to mention.

Q: What led you to play tennis in the first place?
RK: The idea of hitting something that didn’t hit back was very appealing. And as a loner I liked the idea of not being dependent on a team and all the social dynamics that seemed to bring.

 

Q: What did you think about the USTA ranking system when it was changed?
RK: I hated it. I think the computer looking at who you beat and who you lose to is the best system. But the USTA wanted to encourage players to play more tournaments so I understand why they did it. I am sort of obsessed with the negative effects of points-per-round so I volunteered to design the points system used in the Eastern Section. I put in a “Best of ….” system to encourage play without turning the rankings into an attendance test.


But no matter what you do the system will never be perfect. I remember a guy I once lost to 6-0, 6-0 at National clay courts was ranked one spot below me because that was the only tournament he played in that year.

 

Q: Since you are a stats person, what do think about the ATP and WTA current ranking systems?
RK: That is a very complicated question.

 

Like I said, I think the computer parsing out the rankings by who players beat and lose to is the best system. But that would make it impossible for fans to see what players need to do to rise and fall. And then you might have a case where a player wins a Grand Slam and doesn’t crack the top 50 because they haven’t beat the top players. Right now the big complaint seems to be that you can be number 1 without winning a Grand Slam (Caroline Wozniacki) but I think other systems would have the same problem. Or different problems. If you devise a point system that so heavily favors the Slams you could have somebody like a Melanie Oudin being in the Top 20 for a year after her run at the U.S. Open.

 

Q: What advice would you give those in their quest for a national ranking?
RK: Have an understanding spouse! But also plan out your tournament schedule a year in advance so you can try to get your work and family life in synch with your tournament schedule (if that is ever possible). The most important thing is to get into the best shape as possible. It is one thing to travel across the country and lose to someone who is clearly better than you. It is another thing to lose because you are not in the best shape you can be.

 

Q: With anyone allowed to enter the US Open National Playoffs to gain a spot in the US Open Qualifying, do you see yourself participating?
RK: I might. I gave up playing USTA Open tournaments a long time ago but this year I might make a comeback.

 

Q: Have you really stopped eating Haagen-Daas?
RK: Yes. It is low-fat sugar-free frozen yogurt for me. But I won’t tell you how much of it I eat.

 

Ray Krueger is the deputy managing editor of the New York Times News Service, the wire service of the New York Times, and has written about tennis and mixed martial arts both for the paper and its website. He is also one of the founding writer/editors of the Times’ tennis blog, Straight Sets. Previously, he wrote for the New York Daily News, the Jersey Journal and Reuters and has also worked for CBS Radio and Sportsticker. He continues to train for his next tennis tournament as he researches his next book project and lives with his wife, a former junior player herself, and two kittens in Manhattan. He hopes to improve on his best national ranking by the time he gets to the 90-and-over age group.

45 Love: My Yearlong Quest to Fulfill a Lifelong Dream in the Sport of Tennis [Kindle Edition] is available on Amazon.com http://amzn.to/ADfW87

 

Bonus – An excerpt from the book:

It started with a phone call from a friend and regular practice partner.
“Ray, you are not going to believe what happened to me. It is the craziest thing I
have seen at a tournament.”
To protect the guilty, I will call him Ken Rosewall.
He told the story of playing in an unsanctioned local tournament. He was winning
the match easily and in the second set his opponent said he was quick serving him.
Rosewall said it was supposed to be server’s pace and if there was a problem they should get the referee.

The referee agreed with Rosewall.
But at a changeover, his opponent grabbed the balls, ran to the service line and
served while Rosewall was still on his chair. He then said it was the same thing Rosewall was doing to him. The referee defaulted him.
He went berserk. He would not stop going after the tournament director and my
friend. Cops were called. Days later, Rosewall said he heard Berserker went to the
tournament director’s house and a restraining order was filed.
A month later I was playing in the semifinal of a local tournament against a guy I
had never heard of.
I didn’t have any problems with his calls, but he was playing very slow. He did
something I had never seen on a court before. He would serve with one ball and if he
missed his first serve he would walk back to the fence to pick up another ball for his
second serve. He would towel off at the back fence where he kept the other ball, and then hit his second serve.
Well, we are supposed to play at server’s pace…
I looked over to the tournament director. He wasn’t there. He had to leave and his
girlfriend was handling the desk.
I decided to stay calm. My opponent didn’t have any weapons, and just ran down
everything. That is my style and I was confident I could outlast him. He seemed to be the brooding sort, not talking before the match, not looking me in the eye.
But as I started winning he finally blew. Screaming, yelling, hitting the balls into the
fence. After every point. Some of the worst behavior I had ever seen. I kept calm. He was self-destructing. But it was uncomfortable and scary. He was directing his anger at me.
“You have nothing,” he was screaming at me. And now he was looking at me straight in the eye.
It was rage trash-talking. He wasn’t saying how he was going to beat me, but saying
how much I sucked. I had never seen that before. He was losing and the more he was
losing the more abusive he became. I just took it, but I was boiling.
The match had gone over an hour before I won the first set. I was more exhausted
from holding myself back from responding to the abuse than I was the match.
Then at a changeover he walked past me, glared at me and with full force kicked my
tennis bag. My anger boiled over.
“You can do all you want out here, but you can’t kick my bag,” I screamed. He didn’t
say a word, just looking at me his eyes getting wider and his chest poking out like he was preparing for a fight. The silence bothered me so I said, “I have glasses in my bag.”
“I didn’t break anything,” he screamed. I kept walking to the other side of the court. “That doesn’t make a difference,” I screamed back.
I looked over at the tournament director’s girlfriend. She was angry as well, although
I thought it was for her boyfriend leaving her to be in the middle of this situation. Hearing the commotion in the first set, a bunch of people had gathered to watch. The match was in an urban park and the locals who may have never cared about tennis wanted to see what the ruckus was about.
They seemed to both welcome my going back at him and be afraid about what might
happen next. I was in a car crash and I wasn’t driving.
The crowd watching, and my outburst, only seemed to make my opponent’s behavior
worse. I started to wonder if he might have a weapon in his bag. But I was so enraged
myself that I didn’t care. I wasn’t married at the time and at that point was willing to die on that court.
I won the next game.
Then my opponent took all three balls and launched them, one at a time, over the
fence as far as he could. He sat down in the center of the court at the serving T, as if it
was a 1960s sit in.
I walked over to the fence where the tournament director’s girlfriend was sitting on
the other side.
“What do I do now?” I asked.
She did not respond, just got up and walked in the direction of where he balls might
have landed. She eventually came back with balls, even though I wasn’t sure they were the ones we were using. I didn’t care. About 15 minutes had gone by and I was beyond furious. If he couldn’t get defaulted for that there was no way she was going to do
anything. I imagined her thinking that she didn’t want the rage being directed to me to be directed at her.
My opponent was still sitting in the same spot at the service line.
I took the balls and went back to serve. To my surprise, he got up and went back to
return.
The pattern continued. Long points with me winning most of them and outbursts
after every point where he told me how much I had nothing. I would cross over on the other side of the court so I was never closer than 20 feet away from him. I was afraid he was going to take a swing at me if I got within five feet. Finally I closed it out.
Now came the hard part. I would have to come to the net to shake his hand. I know if
I didn’t go to shake his hand that may send him over the edge even more. But I was
scared if I put my hand out he would sucker punch me.
So I thought I might say something to defuse the situation.
So I timed my steps. I got within 10 steps when I decided, well, he did fight hard,
and maybe if I compliment him on that I can get out of this situation without any more problems.
“I said, “You sure fought hard out there,” as I put out my hand. He shook it as he
yelled. “I should have been seeded in this tournament and not faced you in the
semifinals.” Huh?
“I am 16th in the East,” he continued. I had a flashback to my working life and said,
just to be factually correct: “You couldn’t be 16th in the East. My friend Ken Rosewall
was 16th in the East. ‘
It was a Lucille Ball, “slowly I turn moment” moment.
His eyes became flares. “KEN ROSEWALL IS YOUR FRIEND? THAT IS THE
GUY WHO GOT ME ARRESTED!!!”
I realized at that point, it was Berserker.
I quickly grabbed my bag with a dent in the side of it. But Berserker was in hot
pursuit. “I should have kicked his ass when I had the opportunity!” I was in a full sprint at this point. “And if you weren’t running away I would kick yours too.”
I was on the other side of the fence at this point.
I asked the tournament director what time the final would be. She tells me and says,
“Thank you for your patience.”
Luckily, Berserker was still on the other side of the fence, but he was leaning right
against it screaming about how he was going to get me. I heard him scream something about what he would do to me in a rematch.
I had heard enough, and from the safety of the other side of the fence I screamed
back, “You wouldn’t have a chance.” I hustled to my car.
The last thing I heard from him was how I have to learn to be a better winner.

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