45 Magnum

by: Peter Bodo | March 17, 2012

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45Love_Coverby Pete Bodo

I'm happy to announce the e-publication of yet another tennis book, Ray Krueger's 45-Love: My Yearlong Quest to Fulfill a Lifelong Dream in the Sport of Tennis, now available for those of you who have a Kindle, iPad or similar e-reader, through Diversion Books (or via Amazon.com or any number of other distributors).

Ray 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.

45-Love tells the story of Ray's quest to distinguish himself in the USTA's 45-and-over age division (while holding onto a job and wife, not necessarily in that order), so it ought to be of interest to those of you who play the game with some degree of dedication. But more than that, it's also about the transformational effect tennis can have on a life.

Ray's journey in tennis begins when he's a grossly overweight 17-year old who fears leaving his own home, where he lives with his emotionally damaged mother, for fear of encountering the alcoholic father from whom he is estranged. At first, tennis seems to be a vehicle that enables this obsessive, wannabe sports writer to expel his rage in the most primitive manner - by bashing something, in this case an optic-yellow something. 

But over time, Ray's engagement with tennis becomes a kind of organizing and determining force in his life. As he matures and becomes immersed in the competitive recreational game, the book becomes a narrative of his trials, misadventures and triumphs as he applies himself to his mission of conquering the 45s. 

In keeping with the custom here at TennisWorld, I asked the author to answer a five-question Q-and-A to give you readers a better sense of the author's personality, as well as what he learned in the cauldron of competitive tennis: 

RayphotoQ  - Does crossing the line from recreational to competitive tennis transform you and what  you expect of yourself, and the game. And is the effect narcotic?

A - Yes, expectations do change the more seriously you take the game. The more time, travel etc. you put into it the more pressure you feel. It can be stifling at times, especially in the early rounds of tournaments. That is why as the years have gone by I have tried to change my goals from attaining a certain ranking to giving maximum effort to attain the highest ranking possible for me.

And yes there is a narcotic effect, not so much from getting results in tournaments but from the process of preparing for tournaments. That is when the pressure is off and you can see the smallest bit of improvement, both in technique and fitness. I am finishing up a week and a half at the Saddlebrook camp right now and just battling with juniors in drills and working out five hours a day is a feeling that cannot be described.

Q:  For those why may consider entering formal competition: Did your viiew of the game or how you approach it change significantly when you no longer played "just for fun?"

That is a hard question for me because I can't say I ever played the game "just for fun." I was always trying to prove something, either to myself or others. When I started out I was 275 pounds and losing weight was a great motivation. There was also the great feeling of hitting something that really didn't hit back, which worked out a lot of anger issues I had from growing up in an alcoholic household. Then it became a quest for a ranking to earn some self worth. 

Don't get me wrong, it was great fun, but more that anything the sport gave me my first "normal" social outlet and allowed me to learn the essentials to become successful in my profession, journalism, which is what I truly do for fun. I am very lucky to enjoy my job so much. And also have something like tennis in my life, which has given me more than I can describe.

3 - Your record in age-division tennis truly defines you as a true "weekend warrior." What advice would you give someone contemplating a commitment of the type you made to really testing himself in the competitive crucible.

Get into great shape. First, it will remove whatever doubts you have when you get into a tough match. Also, there is not much you can do technically if you are playing someone who was once top 100 in the world on the tour, but one thing you always can control is what kind of shape you are in. And if you are in top shape that also will help you avoid injuries and recover from them quicker. And if you do have a recurring injury have a good teaching pro look at your strokes. With me I had issues with my back and in the first ten minutes on the court he asked me if I had back trouble. And then he helped fix what was causing the problem. And most of all, have an understanding spouse!

4 - Are you also a fan of the pro game and, if so which players do you most admire and why (former and/or active pros)?

I follow the pro game very closely. I was one of the founding editor/writers of the New York Times tennis blog and in those first couple of years spent 14 hour days at the U.S. Open, and loved every second of it.Jimmy Connors' run to the semis of the U.S. Open in 1991 was very inspirational to me. What a lot of people experienced with Jeremy Lin I felt in Connors that year.

I also liked Michael Chang as my own style of play most mirrored him as I started playing in more tournaments. But one day at the Open I watched Thomas Muster practice. I was in the front row of the Grandstand Court the week before the tournament started and Muster was doing a scissor drill with Andrea Gaudenzi. One hit every shot down the line and the other would hit shots crosscourt so they would have to move from side to side on every shot. Then they would reverse it. If one missed a ball the coach would feed another so they did not break the pattern.

They did this for an hour and half without breaking stride. And this was after Muster had his knee surgery and supposedly could not play on hard courts. As a sportswriter I have had a chance to see a lot of top athletes train, but nothing compared to what I saw with Muster that day. I have always admired him more than anybody.

In terms of players today the one I admire most is Nadal. To turn a game that is so suited to clay into a game that can be dominant on all surfaces has always amazed me.

5 -  Byrd Leavell, a literary agent with whom you often play, describes you as an "animal" who will play 10, 11 sets running (and clean his clock every time). Is that true, and does this mean we ought to call for mandatory testing for performance-enhancing drugs for all editors who play age-group tennis?

That is pretty funny. I am 47 now and I can say I don't feel any worse that I did 15 years ago, but that is probably because I had such aches and pains back then. The more I play the better I feel, as long the conditions are warm and I have not taken time off from working out because of work or other commitments. Byrd is a good guy for me to practice against because he hits the ball hard and is a good athlete. He just needs to hit a lot of balls to get to the next level. I am working to make sure he does. 

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