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Goodbye And Hello: Sadness Followed By Opportunity

Theologically, as a Christian, I firmly believe we are all special.

As a tennis commentator, though, I assure you that I’m not very special at all. This is where today’s story begins. It is a story that contains several important personal and professional disclosures as I move into a new phase of my life and career.

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PART ONE: CHILDHOOD

I didn’t play tennis competitively. The closest I’ve ever come to understanding a sport at its most cellular level is basketball, because I was a cameraman and sometime-statistician for my high school basketball team. (I received a tuition reduction in exchange for performing those kinds of tasks.)

However, there’s one thing I’ve done a lot in my life, more than just about anything else: I’ve watched sports. I consciously remember falling in love with American football in November of 1981 (on my older brother’s First Communion day) at the age of 5, and in 1982, I drank up everything I could about sports on the television screen and from the daily papers in Phoenix, Arizona, where I was born.

Yogi Berra, one of the great unintentional humorists not just in the history of sports, but in the history of human beings, has given the world many memorable quotes. One such gem is, “You can observe a lot by watching.” That’s pretty much my life in and around sports.

I’ve watched athletic competitions with great interest for 32 and a half years. Editors and publishers have given me opportunities to write about American football and basketball, because those are the team sports played at the university level here in the United States. I can write about those sports because I’ve watched them closely enough to know what’s going on and then convey my impressions to a reading audience.

When I began to fall in love with sports in 1982, Wimbledon and the United States Open did not escape notice. My first tennis memory is of John McEnroe becoming agitated late in his five-set loss to Jimmy Connors in the 1982 Wimbledon final. I recall Connors relishing the glory of triumph in his blue athletic jacket. That Sunday began a long love affair not necessarily with tennis, but with Wimbledon.

On Labor Day weekends, I would go to my grandparents’ house, where my grandfather would always have sports on when we came for Sunday or holiday lunches and a swim in the backyard pool. Labor Day in the States means the U.S. Open on CBS (though ESPN will take over the tournament next year). I grew up listening to the beloved Pat Summerall (one of the greatest announcers America has ever produced) and former major champion Tony Trabert. Virginia Wade joined the CBS commentary booth in the early 1980s, but when the decade ended, a young woman named Mary Carillo had entered the CBS broadcast set. She’s still there today.

Evert-Navratilova with splashes of Mandlikova and then the emergence of a young Steffi Graf. The McEnroe-Connors-Lendl wars, followed by the Year Of Mats Wilander (1988). Yes, the 1980s jolted me with the electricity that major tennis tournaments can create. I’ve followed Wimbledon and the U.S. Open ever since, and Roland Garros to a lesser extent. The Australian Open didn’t really stand on the same plane as the other three majors until the late 1980s (it didn’t have a 128-player field until then). Its emergence as a tournament worthy of the “major” label is comparatively new.

Speaking of new things, many elements of tennis coverage in the United States have just begun to become a regular part of the broadcast landscape. The Tennis Channel is only seven years old. Accordingly, American tennis viewers are only beginning to be brought in touch with tennis on an every-week basis over the course of the full season. A good 20 years ago, such saturation coverage could not have been found.

In the U.S., tennis does not enjoy the widespread popularity it received in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but there is a market for tennis content, and my relationship to tennis is a part of that story – not a special one or a big one, but one story that’s probably representative of many Americans.

It’s not a complicated journey. I followed the majors and was “a sports fan who loved tennis,” as opposed to “a tennis fan who also loved other sports to a lesser degree.” Roger Federer, though – with help from Rafael Nadal – took tennis to a whole new level a decade ago. Tennis became so compelling to me that I began to follow the sport on a more consistent basis, far beyond the majors. The convergence of added television coverage and increased personal interest has exposed me to more of tennis and the workings of the sport, both as an on-court drama and an off-court business.

No, I don’t fancy myself as an expert – I’m not even close to one – but can I make sense of what’s going on? Yes. Moreover, is there enough of a marketplace that I can find a home within it?

One company thinks the answer is yes.

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PART TWO: TENNIS TWITTER AND A WORLD OF GRATITUDE

From 2006 through 2009 (maybe a little bit into 2010 – I’m frankly not sure), I was a regular commenter at Peter Bodo’s Tennis World blog, hosted by Tennis Magazine (now Tennis.com). It was at Tennis World that I learned about the vastness of the global tennis community. From my interactions, I learned how to not only talk about the sport, but listen to others’ views of it. My knowledge of what was happening on the court was supplemented by a growing awareness of how fans – of certain players and styles, and from certain nations – processed the sport.

When I joined Twitter in the spring of 2009, I didn’t know what the future would bring. I was beginning to tire of the incendiary nature of many commenters’ entries at Tennis World, but it was still my go-to place to talk tennis. I compiled a list of tennis tweeps to follow, but I had not yet experienced a major tournament with Twitter as the main web-based conversation place.

The 2009 Wimbledon tournament was my introduction to Tennis Twitter during a major, and I instantly found a lot of Tennis World friends in the realm of social media. Many of us had managed to carry our conversations from Tennis.com to Twitter, and we realized that while Twitter wars were not always unavoidable, we could still choose almost all of the people and conversations that appeared on our timelines. I was hooked, and many Tennis.com refugees felt the same way.

Moreover, Pete Bodo and his colleague, Steve Tignor, joined Twitter as well. Furthermore, other tennis writers were accessible on Twitter, so we – the fans of #TennisTwitter – realized that we could go to a single web source for “one-stop shopping” in terms of content and analysis.

Ten years ago, I might have gotten up in the middle of the night to watch an Australian Open match on ESPN, but that would have been the limit of my interaction with the match. Today, Tennis Twitter brings me to the web when I watch tennis matches at any time of day or year. In late January, I was watching a men’s semifinal (I forget which one; I know a Swiss guy was playing in it ;-), when this gentleman asked me if I had ever written about tennis before (for pay).

I said no… but that I’d love to be given the chance.

That chance was indeed granted.

Let’s absorb what happened: A CEO of a blog-based publishing company offered me the chance to cover tennis because I was a constant presence on Tennis Twitter. I know I’m speaking to the Picket Fence community here, but I’m even more broadly speaking to Tennis Twitter as a whole. YOU, Tennis Twitter, have helped me find a voice. YOU, Tennis Twitter, are responsible for what I’m about to announce:

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PART THREE: CROSSING THE LINE AND A FAREWELL TO THE FENCE

I am not yet a full-service tennis blogger/commentator, but for 2014, I will be paid to cover Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open at Bloguin. I will therefore cross the line separating the avid tennis fan from the paid worker. I’ll have to stand on the other side of this divide. This doesn’t mean I will be personally separated from Tennis Twitter, but it does mean that I now have a professional and ethical obligation to be accurate and fair in handling facts and information. (There’s always a personal obligation to be thus, but now that obligation is more binding and pervasive.)

The tenor or content of my tweets and writings won’t change dramatically, but they will change slightly at certain times. I won’t be writing for Federer fans or other specific segments of the tennis community. I’ll be writing for a general audience. That’s a responsibility which can’t be taken lightly.

I’m really excited about this opportunity, but these moves carry a price, and the cost of this transition is that I can’t write for the Picket Fence anymore.

The Fence has been a wonderful home for me. Julie Zhou – the hostess with the mostest – has been extraordinarily generous in offering me this space during the major tournaments and whenever a moment of inspiration emerged at other points during the tennis season. Doots, P.J., and L.J. have given a lot to me, all while they’ve entertained and delighted the larger community of Fed fans with their work over an extended period of time. I can’t thank these three Hall of Fame Federtweeps enough for giving me an added/fourth seat on The Fence.

This blog has enabled me to put tennis thoughts on paper, and I don’t think I’d feel as ready for this adventure at Bloguin if I hadn’t been able to provide Federer fan therapy after one of Roger’s semifinal or quarterfinal losses at a major (especially to Rafa).

It’s up to Doots to decide what to do with Le Fence in the future. She’s been busy becoming a kick-ass lawyer who will bring about substantial social change in the world. That’s kind of important, oui?

What my departure means is unclear, but I would venture to say only this: Perhaps there’s a Federtweep out there who would be interested in pitching in at the Fence (and submitting him/herself to a vetting process). If conversations develop about the Fence’s future, that alone would be a good thing, no matter what the ultimate decision or course might be. At any rate, though, this is something for others to decide, not yours truly.

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PART FOUR: A COMMERCIAL AND AN INVITATION

As I said at the beginning of this piece, I am not a special tennis commentator. I’m not more knowledgeable than most. I’m not a former player, anyone who can offer a unique level of insight into tennis.

What is unique about me? Not myself as a person, that’s for sure. My story, though, is an uncommon one. How the heck did I get here?

I got here because I tweeted a ton about tennis. I imagine a few other human beings have been offered writing opportunities due to their tweets, but this is not an everyday occurrence within (paid) sportswriting. What emerges is that after five years of tweeting about tennis, I now get to sustain my interactions with Tennis Twitter, but in a different capacity.

Here’s what this means: Having shared so many lamentations and complaints with many of you about the way in which tennis is covered, I now get to be a part of “the media.” Sure, I’m at a lower end of the food chain, and I wouldn’t call myself a full-fledged journalist. (“Commentator” is the better word. I’m not doing reporting here.) However, I’m definitely in the arena.

I now get to attempt to represent you, Tennis Twitter and Picket Fence readers. I get to represent your views. I get to practice the art of media commentary as one who must be accountable to a larger audience. In short, I get to practice what I – and YOU – have been preaching. I think that’s pretty neat.

If you’re reading this, you have very likely joined me for at least some part of the past five years. You probably know what I think, but you’ve mostly gained that insight through tweets. Now, I get to unpack a lot of my thoughts in columns and expanded pieces. You might disagree with some of the larger conclusions I arrive at, but there’s nothing wrong with a disagreement.

My tennis writing position enables me to field questions, comments and criticisms from you, and to produce a work product that you will like. If you are frustrated with the way the media covers tennis, guess what? I might now be able to do something about it! Therefore, let me close with a short commercial about Bloguin, followed by an invitation to all of you:

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Bloguin (it’s pronounced “BLOG-YOU-IN”) covers several American professional sports, plus college sports. Non-American tweeps probably won’t find most of those sports very interesting, but if you do, give Bloguin a look. What should definitely be worth your time at Bloguin in addition to my coverage of the remaining majors this year – this is true whether you care for American team sports or not – is partner site Awful Announcing, which looks at media issues and the ways in which sports are covered in the United States.

Want to understand the relationships that link money, production decisions, and event packaging? Awful Announcing will be your place to learn. Moreover, I’m definitely going to use my position as a tennis writer to address some tennis media issues at Awful Announcing.

When you visit Bloguin, you don’t have to click on ads. You just need to visit and share my articles. You don’t need to thank the people who hired me by sending them a note. You can thank them by visiting Bloguin and clicking my pieces. That’s how this enterprise works.

If this tennis experiment for the three remaining majors works out in 2014, Bloguin might enable me to cover more of the tennis season in 2015 and beyond. Facebook likes and Twitter shares will all go a long way toward ensuring that my tennis blogging career extends beyond 2014, so that I can continue to cover the sport – hopefully for a long time and for a partial living.

That’s the commercial. Here’s my invitation to all of you:

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Contact me. Hold me accountable. If you like what I do at Roland Garros and appreciate my contributions to Awful Announcing on tennis media coverage, feel free to let these guys know. If you don’t like what I do, let me give you my e-mail address: mzemek@hotmail.com.

Stuff my inbox – I’m serious, please do when an article misses the mark or fails to meet your standards. Tell me what I’m doing poorly. Offer suggestions.

I’ll be open to what you have to say, and if I get a high volume of responses saying that the format of “Story X” doesn’t work as well as the format used in “Story Y,” I’ll be sure to use the format in “Story Y” as I move forward.
I’m saying goodbye to the Picket Fence, but I’m not saying goodbye to Tennis Twitter. Hopefully, as I say hello to the world of tennis media, your loyalty as readers and your continuous combination of advice and criticism will enable me to give you the tennis coverage you want… and richly deserve.

Thanks to all of you! I will see you at Awful Announcing and Bloguin, offering some tennis media pieces and tournament previews for Roland Garros.

This conversational relationship isn’t ending. It’s merely moving to places and forums on the other side of…

The Picket Fence.

Picspam: The Cheerleaderers.

Andy Murray may have had the entire population of Great Britain behind him on Sunday, but ROGER FEDERER HAD HIS OWN CHEERLEADERERS, OKAY?!

You flawless family, please adopt me. I promise to sit in the Naughty Corner quietly. Read More…

Picket Fence Announcement

I like to think of Picket Fence as more than a tennis blog, but rather a forum for chatter and silliness and the occasional giggle. Over the years, I’ve tried to make this site more personal than ‘newsworthy’, which is why I would be remiss if I didn’t update you on some personal developments in my life.

As most of you already know, I am about to set off on a trip around the world to study, travel, watch a bit of tennis and enjoy my last semester of a marathon tertiary education. Yes, tough life, but somebody’s gotta live it. 😉

The flip side of this is that unfortunately, travelling isn’t conducive to following tennis. At least not in a way that requires constant upkeep of this blog while I’m trying to sample all that the world has to offer. So I have decided to go on blogging hiatus for the next 6 months. As for what happens to this site after that, I will have to reassess once I get back. As much as this site has been a huge part of my life, it has also eaten away chunks of my time, and seems increasingly at odds with my career choices. It’s a sad, but realistic assessment of my situation right now. If only there was such a thing as “tennis law” …

In the meanwhile, All I need is a picket fence will go into caretaker mode. I have entrusted my slice of cyberspace to the hands of some familiar interweb pals of mine, who will be guest blogging here in my absence. I’m sure they’ll be introducing themselves soon.

As for myself, don’t worry. I’ll still be around: commenting, twittering, and sending you some updates from tennis tournaments I plan to visit on my trip – namely the US Open and the World Tour Finals. Will I be meeting any of you there?

So long, bitches. Time to gobble up this world.

xx doots

PS. Find me on Twitter or Tumblr, which will serve as a micro travelblog for the next few months.

Jingle bells. Roger smells. Dootsie’s here to say:

Merry whatever to you all!

I’m taking a short blogging hiatus to celebrate whatever, make a quick trip to Sydney, gather with family and friends and leave all woes in 2009.

To the pornos amongst you, don’t worry, a Federporn Friday post is scheduled to automatically apparate tomorrow. How magical!  

Before I wrap things up for 09, I wanted to let you all know that it’s been a fantastic year blogging, chatting, arguing, tweeting, and frazzling with you all. I hope you enjoy your breaks. Stay safe, but don’t forget to party hard, play fast, read more, and love always.

See you all in the New Year. 

Now … let Cady, Gretchen, Karen and Regina lead us into a pop culture stupor.

 

 

To an even better 2010!

xx doots

One.

Cupcakes anyone?

My baby blog just turned one! Partay! 

 

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Having realised I’ve left a few things unexplained, here are the answers to some questions you were all too lazy to ask. 😀

 

1. Why is this blog called “All I need is a picket fence”?

A) Secret fence fetish

B) Psychoanalytic insight into humanity’s need for security and closure.

C) Secret ploy to make sure that this blog tops every alphabetically-arranged blogroll and links directory

D) Awesome tennis reference you’re just too dumb to get

E) Throwaway line someone said when Doots was registering the blog.

 

Sorry to disappoint, the answer is E.

A friend said it to me while I was registering on wordpress and it just stuck because it was so quirky and entirely irrelevant to everything.

 

2. This blog was almost going to be…

grassisforcows.wordpress.com

 

3. The name ‘Dootsiez’ is…

An old nickname that’s fallen out of use, although writing this blog has actually revived it in real life. 

 

4. I got into men’s tennis because of…

Rafa’s ass. 

I got into women’s tennis because of the Williams sisters. Had a crush on Pat Rafter too, back in the day. But who didn’t?

 

5. I used to hate Federer.

I thought he was boring. I thought he lacked emotions(!!). I thought he had bad hair (!!!). I thought he had too much hair (!!!!). I thought he was an overrated tennis player. I ‘hmmphed’ at his forehands. I mocked his backhands. I claimed his dominance wouldn’t last for more than 3 years. I was convinced he would never marry Mirka…

In short, I was just a whole pile of blasphemous wrong.

Roger proved me silly on every account, and I had my first “religious experience” during the 2007 Australian Open semifinal. From then on, it was a point of no return. I was converted. I saw the error of my ways and headed for the light.

Yada yada.

These days, I’ll happily admit that the Fed is the best thing since pickled vegetables.

Damn right he is.

 

So here’s to a year of stomach ulcers, bald patches, and acid reflux induced by this crazy sport of tennis. A year of frazzling, and fretting, and freaking out. A year of tennis porn and historical celebrations. 

Best of all, it’s been a year of goofing off with you readers and fellow bloggers. 

Cheers to all that. Hurrah!

 

 

For homies: okay okay! I’ll admit it – you guys are awesome.

(Totally personal and non-tennis related. Scroll past if you like!)

 

Just a short note to my dear friends to say thank you:

1. For making my birthday eve so retardedly wonderful

2. For imbuing it with so many layers of tennis inspired references! You guys know me too well.  

3. For getting me a strawberries and cream cake called WIMBLEDON, from a SWISS patisserie, to have in a restaurant at FED Square, even though the last part is slightly lame and purely coincidental. The cake tasted like Roger Federer. You know it totally did. 😉

4. For getting me a present in a LITTLE BLUE BOX that made me spontaneously implode from happiness.

5. For choosing a necklace with a TENNIS RACQUETS PENDANT to put inside that little blue box!

6. For making corny Mabo and legislative interpretation references on my birthday card, you total law nerds.

7. For being you and writing the card upside down.

8. For the kick-ass singing and dorky dancing. 

9. And last but not least, for being the silent (and not so silent) readers and supporters of this blog.

 

 

Pressies

 

Gnawwwww,

xx doots

Totally Unrelated.

Just saw this, and lordy, this has to be one of the quirkiest tragicomic animations I’ve ever seen. Friend and I walked out in tears afterwards. In a good way … 

 

Arrived in the mail

Switzerland + typography + red + moleskine = too good to be true. 

But it is! I almost died from happiness when I first saw this, and immediately decided to purchase one to add to my already bloated credit card debt. Not the most economically sound decision I’ve ever made, but I’ve never come across as an economically sound person either.

Behold the special edition moleskine released to celebrate 50 years of the fanta-bulous font Helvetica.  It’s uber-pretty. Uber-special. And uber-expensive for a note book.

But what shall I write in it? What could possibly be worthy of such retro-coolness?

 

 

 

 

The GOAT on the GOAT

Anyone reckon Roger just got out “Roger Federer as religious experience” and substituted his own name for Tiger’s and tennis for golf? 

 

Tiger Woods
By Roger Federer

We are fortunate to live in the Tiger Woods era. Tiger, 33, is a model for how athletes should conduct themselves. He respects the legends who came before him, like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. He knows the history of his sport. He handles himself with class, and he’s articulate. There’s no silly talk in public from Tiger. When he speaks, people listen. 

That is an important part of why he’s an idol for so many young athletes and why adults get giddy when they see him. They’re not just awed by his great wins; they admire him as a person.

You rarely see an athlete who single-handedly changes an entire sport. When Tiger couldn’t play last year because of an injury, golf ratings suffered. He has changed the way golfers train and prepare themselves and has brought huge numbers of new fans to the sport, including me. I never followed golf when I was younger. Now I do.

When I was starting my foundation, I looked to Tiger for lessons on how philanthropy should be done. His focus on kids helped inspire my decision to also focus on children’s causes. His philanthropic efforts are really unbelievable, and I plan to follow his example.

Tiger has become a close friend, and people would be surprised that under that serious game face is a big kid who loves to play jokes and have a good time. I think having balance is key to maintaining his incredible level of intensity. Hopefully we’ll get to follow Tiger in great form for at least 15 more years. We should all enjoy it. We may never see a golfer like this again. 

Credit: Time. 

(Early) Weekend Musings

A friend of mine once told me jokingly that if she doesn’t see my blog updated for 3 or 4 days, she starts to worry about my personal safety and well-being. And when you think about it, there is some bizarre, twisted logic to this: I haven’t updated my blog since Monday this week, and in the meanwhile, I’ve been getting my ass pwned by tonsillitis and a stubborn cold. But unlike normal commonsensical creatures who crawl into bed when they’re sick to rest, eat soup, and get their annual dose of Hugh Grant movies in between, I’ve decided to take on this virus by not eating, not sleeping and going on a diet of butter-menthols and lattes for the last 5 days. All this just so that I can meet a few deadlines. Sleep? I don’t need sleep? I’m Wonder Woman. Food? Eating in the biggest waste of time in the world!

 

And just like that, I’ve finally arrived at what I’ve been calling “the light at the end of the tunnel” all week. Deadlines met, work discharged … dootsiez moaning and groaning like an old miserable dying dog foaming at the mouth. Sexy. 

 

Okay, so I’ve seen the error of my ways. Time to pamper myself with a mud-mask, some much needed sleep, then an ANZAC Day full of Hugh Grant movies (I may or may not have a fetish), Lady Gaga, some noodles soup and English brekkie tea (not together, silly).  

 

Meanwhile, things that gave me the warm-fuzzies me this week, despite all the moaning and groaning:

 

* comme des enfants by coeur de pirate

* new issue of Frankie: hoorah!

* Two friends of mine deciding to throw themselves into the deep-end and go volunteering in Kenya with a youth-based NGO I help run here in Australia. 

* Yummy-Mummy Mirka, in Oscar de la Renta

(no I’m not reposting here, google if you’ve been living in a cave) 

* Uber-cool tennis trivia by the Hallofame

 

Fact of the day: 1969 Hall of Famer Karl Behr and 1957 Hall of Famer Richard Norris William both survived the sinking of the Titanic

 

* missing the Aus Open and floving Alicia Molik

 

 

* and lastly, pretty stickies =)

 

Credit: lovebot @ tumblr

 

Thought it’s been forever since I’ve blogged on something non-tennis, what have I missed this week in the tennis world? The Clay Monster still winning? I figure someone will let me know if he stops his rampage.

 

Time to collapse and succumb with sleep, hunger and general human-ness. I need me energy to follow Rome, no?