by Thaddeus McCarthy
As we are are now at the end of the ATP tennis season, I thought it would be good to assess how the beginning of the ATP season is looking heading into next year.
We start off as always Down Under, with the Heineken Open in New Zealand, and the Sydney International, before the first grand slam of the year. As this is the start of the year, it usually takes the big names some time to build up speed. So we may see some new names as winners of the year’s first couple of tournaments. Some we could see include; Jercy Janowicz, Milos Raonic and Stanislas Wawrinka. All of whom have been performing steadily better this year. One name I sadly don’t think we will see though is Bernard Tomic. Touted a few years back as the next Lleyton Hewitt, after a run to the Wimbeldon Quarters, he has failed to live up to expectations. He does definitely have a lot of talent though, and has a decent serve. Maybe in 2015 I think he will return to good form, but in 2014 I don’t think he will be quite there yet. David Ferrer will feature in Auckland, and should perform strongly there. He has won the tournament in the past, and he could win again.
The Australian Open has been Novak Djokovic’s domain during the past few years. And judging by his form finishing this season, I would not count him out. Some interesting possible records could emerge from a few of the regulars. Roger Federer of course will going for his eighteenth grand slam. Although his 2013 year has been poor, he does still have the potential for winning another. A lot of experts have said that he will have the best chance of doing so at Wimbledon. But I don’t agree with that assessment. If you look at his record at the Australian Open, he has not failed to reach the semi-finals since 2003. I expect that we will see a strong showing from the great man. Novak Djokovic is going for his fifth title, which would be a stand-alone record. And Nadal meanwhile, is going for a two-time career Grand Slam and would join Rod Laver in that category.
Why I think that Federer will play well at the Australian is for a couple of reasons. Firstly of course, is his record there, having won the tournament four times. Mostly though, I think that the off-season break will be hugely beneficial for him. He has been plagued by injuries this year, and you do have to wonder if he has not yet gotten fully over them. The off-season should do him a world of good. Novak Djokovic’s record at the Australian is stellar, and he would be regarded as possibly the greatest Aussie Open (male) champion in the open era, if he was to win there again. His form at the end of this season is unbelievable. You do have to question though whether he can keep winning. I suspect that next season we may see his streak broken. Nadal will benefit from playing on Rebound Ace, as it is a slower surface than indoor hard (where he has never done well). If he was reach the latter stages of the tournament, especially the final, I think he will win. Nadal has legendary mental toughness, and on the biggest stages there is perhaps none better. Andy Murray also, should not be counted out. He has made three finals, and would love to grab a win. He is an all-court player, and the days when many thought he couldn’t win on the big stage are long gone.
The Australian though, is notorious for throwing us surprises. Everyone will remember the Tsonga run back in 2008. And before that there was Gonzalez in 2007, Baghdadis in 2006, and way back in 2001, Thomas Johansson went one step further by winning it. The potential surprise run I’m going with next year (although it wouldn’t be really) is Juan Martin Del Potro. Since he won the US a few years ago, he has been plagued by injuries. But this season he has hit form again. He plays best on hard courts as well, with his strong ground strokes and booming serve. A mentally tough Nadal against an in-form Del Potro in the final would be quite a match.
Anyway, I would just like to say that I hope you all enjoyed my first blog. I hope that I will have created some debate.
Unusual scoring, loud grunts and ultra-fast serves make tennis a game that’s full of quirks. Read on and learn from Wimbledon Debenture Holders, the top supplier of Wimbledon tickets 2014 (www.wimbledondebentureholders.com), about ten unusual tennis facts.
1. Why are tennis balls green?
Amazingly, tennis balls aren’t actually green. They’re a specific color known as hi-vis yellow. All major tennis tournaments use this color due to its excellent visibility, especially for spectators viewing at home.
2. When was tennis invented?
While there’s some debate as to when the first game of tennis was played, most of the tennis world agrees that the game originated in 12th century France, where it was played using the palm of a player’s hand.
3. How long is a tennis game?
Since tennis games continue based on score, rather than time, they can go on for as long as they need to. The longest tennis game in history was played at Wimbledon 2010, and lasted for 11 hours, five minutes, John Isner defeating Nicolas Mahut.
4. How much of a tennis game is active play?
In a two-hour tennis game, the ball spends less than 30 minutes in play. Most of a tennis game is made up of preparation and rest breaks – the ball is actually in play for less than 20 per cent of the game.
5. Why do tennis players grunt?
Tennis players grunt for two reasons: to let out air after an exhausting and difficult motion, and to distract and ‘psyche out’ their opponents.
6. Why does ‘deuce’ mean a tie?
‘Deuce’ doesn’t technically mean a tie, although many casual tennis players assume so. It actually means ‘two’ – the number of points that a player will need to score in order to win the game.
7. How rich are tennis players?
Tennis appears to be a profitable occupation, at least for the world’s best players. In today’s tennis world, the wealthiest players are Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova, who both have a nine-figure net worth.
8. Who has the fastest serve?
Samuel Groth, an Australian tennis player known for his impressive striking power, is the current service record holder. During the 2012 Busan Open Challenger Tennis Tournament, he served the ball at an incredible 163.4 miles per hour.
9. Why do tennis players check the ball?
Small scuffs on the surface of a tennis ball can affect its play, causing it to fly off in a certain direction or lose its bounce on the surface of the court. Because of this, most players want to avoid using a beaten-up ball during their games.
10. Why does ‘love’ mean zero?
Ever wonder why ‘love’ is used in scoring? Some people believe that it’s because of the French term for zero, which sounds similar to the word for ‘egg.’ Because of the space of the numeral zero, it’s picked up the ‘love’ terminology over the years.
By Randy Walker
What else can you say about Serena Williams?
This woman never seemingly ceases to amaze, continuing to stake her claim as the greatest tennis player of all time with a fourth year-end WTA Championship title. Her win in Istanbul was her 57th career singles title and concluded 2013 winning $12.4 million in prize money (she’s won $53.9 million in prize money in her career.)
Serena’s competitiveness and refusal to lose is the signature attribute of her championship mettle – a topic that her first coach Rick Macci discusses in the forthcoming book “Macci Magic: Extracting Greatness from Yourself and Others” (per order here: http://www.amazon.com/Macci-Magic-Extracting-Greatness-Yourself/dp/1937559254/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1382983133&sr=1-1&keywords=macci+magic)
But, what is so ironic about Serena is how relatively uncompetitive she was in her first professional match.
Unlike her sister Venus, who at age 14 beat world No. 57 Shaun Stafford in her pro match and led world No. 1 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario 6-3, 3-1 in her second pro match, Serena’s pro debut was not nearly as celebrated, successful or competitive, as documented below in the October 29 chapter of my book and mobile app ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY (www.TennisHistoryApp.com).
October 29, 1995 – Fourteen-year-old future world No. 1 Serena Williams makes an auspicious, humbling professional debut, losing in the first round of qualifying of the Bell Challenge in Quebec City, Canada to 18-year-old, Anne Miller 6-1, 6-1. The match is played at Club Advantage, a private tennis club in Quebec with little fanfare. Writes Robin Finn of the New York Times, ”Instead of a stadium showcase, she competed on a regulation practice court at a tennis club in suburban Vanier, side by side with another qualifying match. There were no spotlights, no introductions, not even any fans. Her court was set a level below a smoky lounge that held a bar, a big-screen television, an ice cream cart and 50 or so onlookers with varying stages of interest in her fate.” Says Williams, “I felt bad out there because I lost. I didn’t play like I meant to play. I played kind of like an amateur.” Says Miller, “I guess I played a celebrity…She has as much power as anybody around, but maybe she needs to play some junior events the way Anna Kournikova has to learn how to become match-tough. There really is no substitute for the real thing. I felt like a complete veteran compared to her.”
Miller would go on to a career that was so obscure that only a shell of a bio appears on her on the WTA’s website, but she did achieve a top 50 ranking.
Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and James Blake held court and talked tennis Thursday in a conference call with the media to promote the 2014 PowerShares Series tennis circuit. The following is the transcript of the call where a number of subjects where presented with some fascinating responses.
RANDY WALKER: Thanks, everybody, for joining us today on our PowerShares Series conference call. We’re excited to have Andre Agassi, James Blake and Jim Courier on the call today.
Last week we announced the full schedule for the 2014 PowerShares Series tennis circuit featuring legendary tennis players over the age of 30. The series kicks off February 5th in Kansas City and runs through March 21st in Surprise, Arizona. All event dates, venues, player fields and ticket information is available at www.PowerSharesSeries.com.
General public ticket sales kicked off on Tuesday of this week, and we can report some brisk early sales.
Before we open it up to questions, I’m going to start off with a question for each of our participants. We’ll start with Andre.
Andre, you’re scheduled to play in Houston and Portland this year. You, James and Jim are in those fields. Can you talk a little bit about those venues and potentially playing against Jim and James. You and Jim have been battling it out since the Bollettieri days. You and James had that epic US Open quarterfinal from a few years ago where you won 7 6 in the fifth. Talk a little bit about that.
ANDRE AGASSI: Absolutely. First of all, this has been a great platform for me to stay engaged with the game of tennis. It’s been a very high priority in my life, tennis has given me a platform to do so many things. I’ve struggled to find ways to stay involved that don’t take too much time away from my family and the balance of life.
What Jim has created with this PowerShares Series, he’s created an opportunity for guys like me and James and others to be able to get out on the road for a night and prepare for this, have an excuse to stay in shape, have an excuse to stay involved in the game, and go to these places and enjoy that level of engagement.
I can’t say I’m looking terribly forward to James with this because he still moves like the wind. Nevertheless, the memories will come flooding back for me. I love the feeling of engaging with people that have been a huge part of my life. James and Jim have certainly been two of them. Going to places where tennis really should be and isn’t.
RANDY WALKER: James, you played your last ATP career match at the US Open this year. Who are you most looking forward to playing and what are your expectations on the PowerShares Series this year?
JAMES BLAKE: Well, after Andre’s comment, I don’t know if I should be offended or complimented (laughter). I totally understand.
It’s funny because I was just thinking about it the other day. My whole life on tour seemed to go by so fast. I was the young guy on tour. Before I knew it, I was the grizzled veteran. Now I’m off tour and I get to be the young guy again on this PowerShares Series again. That’s exciting for me to be the young guy in any situation.
It should be a lot of fun. I’m excited to start a new chapter in my life that doesn’t have tennis be the first, second and third priority, as I’m sure the other guys understand. When you are on tour, it’s a bit selfish. We have other things involved in our lives. I know Andre has his family and foundation. Jim has so many business ventures and a family as well.
It’s going to be a little less stressful than that match I played with Andre at the Open, but maybe I’ll sleep a little better tonight if I can get a little revenge on the PowerShares Series.
ANDRE AGASSI: Let the record show that it was a compliment.
RANDY WALKER: Now we’ll turn it over to Jim. Jim is playing in the kickoff event in Kansas City on February 5th, returning to where he and Andre had an important Davis Cup win in 1991, 22 years ago, over Germany.
Jim, talk about the PowerShares Series this year, 10 new cities, including a lot of cities that don’t have ATP or WTA events.
JIM COURIER: Sure. It’s going to be great to be going back to a city like Kansas City that I haven’t played in since ’91, since Andre saved my bacon when I lost the fourth singles match. Who did you come out and beat? Was it Steeb?
ANDRE AGASSI: Steeb, yeah. You took care of him the first day, I had to take care of him the last day.
JIM COURIER: It’s going to be fun to go back to Kansas City and be out on tour with James and Andy Roddick, who are two newcomers this year. A little bit like Andre said, be careful what you wish for. It’s great to have these guys out with us, but it’s going to make it that much tougher to win.
But I love the challenge. Obviously it’s great to have those guys out joining me and Andre and some of the other great champions that are a part of the circuit.
There’s going to be a lot to look forward to as we get going in February and March. I think January is going to be a pretty hectic time trying to get ready for these guys, too, trying to build up the body to take on these young bucks.
It’s going to be a good circuit. A lot of great cities that I’m looking forward to playing in for the first time. I haven’t played in Salt Lake, Sacramento, among many others. It’s going to be definitely a good challenge and some new travel for me, which will be great.
RANDY WALKER: Now we’ll turn it over to the media for questions.
Q. A quick Rafa/Federer question. Rafa is at 13 majors now. If he wins the Australian and/or the French, he’s at 14, 15, tying or passing Pete. Do you think it’s inevitable that he’s going to pass Roger? If so, does that make him the greatest? With regard to Roger, do you think he can win another major?
ANDRE AGASSI: As far as titles go, I don’t think that’s inevitable. I do think he’s capable of it. I would make argument he doesn’t need to pass Roger in quantity to have him be arguably one of the best of all times.
I also think getting to 14 slams and tying Pete doesn’t suggest that Pete is in his category. I think Pete dominated his generation and won 14 slams but was never a factor during the clay court season.
You have to put in a bit of variety as part of that analysis, see what Rafa has done on every surface that he’s won at least a couple times, and in some cases eight times, then see what Federer has done winning multiple times, not winning the French many times because of Rafa. I think these two guys are in a class of their own.
I do think without Rafa winning one more major, you could make the argument that he’s the best of all time. He does have a winning record over Fed, although a lot of those wins come on clay. He has beaten Federer on other occasions on other surfaces as well.
You can also make the argument this guy doesn’t have a losing record against anybody in the top 30 in the world, and once Davydenko is gone, you can probably move that number to the top 80 in the world.
If I’m sitting at a dinner table, and I’m Rafa, and made a statement about the best of all time, I would choke on my food a little bit.
It’s an amazing time in men’s tennis to be looking at two guys in the same generation that have a legitimate claim to that title. That’s also forgetting about the fact that Djokovic is one win away from entering not necessarily this all time conversation, but certainly accomplishing a win at every slam. So now you got three guys potentially in one generation who have done something that only five guys have done over five decades.
I think it’s a golden age in our sport for sure. I think we’re better off for it. I hope everybody appreciates what it is we’re watching.
JIM COURIER: I think Andre covered it pretty well. Obviously, the biggest question mark for Rafa at the moment is his ongoing health. Those of us that care about the sport want to see him stay healthy and challenge the numbers.
It’s a fun dinner conversation. I’m not sure you can convincingly say that one guy is the greatest right now. I certainly wouldn’t want to omit somebody like Rod Laver who did so much and missed so many opportunities because he turned professional.
It’s a fun party discussion, for sure. I just hope that in 10 years’ time we’re able to look back and see what Rafa and Novak and the current guys did in the rearview, put it in proper perspective.
Lastly, with Federer, I would not be surprised whatsoever if he were to win another major. I think anybody that counts him out right now does it at their own peril.
Q. Andre, you and Steffi are arguably the couple who have been the most involved in charity matters. You’ve spoken at great length about your education work. Could you take a moment and talk about what you’ve seen through Steffi’s work with Children for Tomorrow.
ANDRE AGASSI: What she’s chosen to take on is nothing short of Herculean and quite honestly heroic in my mind because I do believe that it takes a unique strength to deal with the trials and tribulations of the wounds that exist in children that you can’t tangible ize. That’s the reality of her work.
For me, it’s about providing a high standard of education for kids that society has failed or society has written off. For her it’s about somehow solving something that you have to first prove really exists.
It’s remarkable the stuff that she’s made, remarkable what she’s done. She’s built kindergartens and counseling centers all across the world, from Kosovo, to Eritrea, to Hamburg, Germany, and other places.
I see how it affects her. I see how committed she is. There’s not one time that she does anything tennis related that she doesn’t give literally 100% of it to her foundation.
She makes me feel like the devil with her generosity. I look at her and I think, Why are you putting yourself through this? She puts herself through it and then comes home and writes the check to her foundation.
She doesn’t need fanfare with it. She doesn’t advertise it. Most of the time she’s not that thrilled to talk about it publicly because it brings her to tears in a hurry. She just chooses to live it.
I’m amazed at what she does. I get to watch her live her values every day. I try to do the same. I pale in comparison. She beats me at everything. At the end of the day, I still get to learn so much how she chooses to live. Her foundation is right up there with the highest of what there is to respect about her.
Q. You three guys have dedicated your lives to the game. Aside from changing the schedule, if you could change just one thing, what would that be?
ANDRE AGASSI: I would change our narrator calling you Mr. Simons instead of Simmons.
JAMES BLAKE: You hit the nail on the head with the first one, the schedule. If I had to go to a second one, I actually think I would like to go sort of back to the way it was when Andre and Jim were playing in terms of the surfaces.
I feel like the surfaces have become a little homogenized. It’s a surface that lends itself, in my opinion, to the domination you’re seeing with Roger, at times with Novak and Rafa. Like Andre said about Pete, he didn’t really factor in in the clay because I think the clay was so different from the grass back then. The grass was strictly a serve and volley game until Andre showed his returns were better than anybody else’s volleys. It was a time when you had to change your game a little bit to be effective on each surface. I think that added a little bit more variety to the styles of play, to the tournaments themselves.
I would like to see that change a little bit. It may change the rivalries, the Roger/Rafa dynamic for years where they were clear cut the two best players in the world. You could talk about who is better on what surface, a fast court, a slower court like we used to have in Hamburg, Germany. I think that would help the game, in my mind, to have variety.
ANDRE AGASSI: I don’t know what I would change. It’s been a while. I think James is probably your best look at clarity on the subject. He’s the most recently removed from the game, sort of has lived the realities of it in a very intimate and specific way.
When I look from the outside, I remember playing Wimbledon towards the end, and there’s no question, I agree with James, it is not the same kind of court that it once was. I can also speak to the fact additionally guys are stronger and moving faster and so forth. But the spin that’s in the game today, even if the court was faster, the spin generated off those racquets doesn’t serve anybody to move forward in the court, at least not without being 100% sure.
I love watching it. I didn’t have to live it. I wasn’t terrorized by it, except for once last year that I had to go through it. James has come off some fresh runs of having to face what the game has become. I think as a result, he can probably speak to it more comprehensively.
I don’t know what I would change except to make a general statement. That is the Association of Tennis Professionals by definition is designed to look out for the interest of all players. I don’t think any bureaucracy can move the game forward effectively if you’re trying to go all directions at once. You turn into a swamp. The game needs to be a river. It needs to be moving in one direction, which means a price needs to be paid by someone somewhere for the betterment of the game. This isn’t politics. This is about what a sport needs to do.
Generally speaking, I would love to see somebody have a position that at least allows them the responsibility and accountability of making decisions on behalf of the game. That’s what I would like to see.
Q. Andre, why did you decide to play the Portland tour stop? Did the cancer treatment center sponsorship or Nike have anything to do with that? Secondly, McEnroe is your foe that night. How much game does John have left?
ANDRE AGASSI: Well, I wanted to play in Portland first of all, yeah, because of what cancer research does. I’ll always support that. That factors into it to some degree. Personally I’ve grown really attached to Portland. It’s a way for me to make most use of a very delicately balanced life.
Again, the tour has been designed to facilitate this opportunity for us and for tennis fans in a way that allows it to be successful, enjoyable, and achievable.
My relationship with Nike has a lot to do with that, no question. But, again, everybody really looks for multiple overlaps, your time away, business or foundational, you have to make the most of that time when you’re away from the family.
John is remarkable. I think all of us on the phone would sign up to be in his shape, and certainly his talent. Given his age, I’d sign up for it right now, to be doing what he’s doing.
I know just being the age that I am, every year brings additional challenges. It’s not going to be as easy for him every year moving forward, just like it won’t be for us. What he’s done up to now is pretty darn impressive. He can neutralize a lot of power. He can make someone very uncomfortable, especially in conditions. For example, in Salt Lake, if he plays James, James will be surprised he can make the match play awkward.
He has a passion for the game that’s almost unparalleled. He brings that intensity to the court, sometimes against my wishes. I wish he could enjoy it more. But maybe that is his way of enjoying it. But he still has more tennis in him, for sure.
RANDY WALKER: James, any comment on going to Portland? You had a big win there in 2007.
JAMES BLAKE: Yes, 2007 we won the Davis Cup. One of my fondest memories to be a part of that team, guys I had a ton of respect for, still do, still am friends with. That was extremely special to me.
The support we got in the Portland community was really second to none, as well, the excitement we felt in that stadium.
The biggest part for me in Portland was the fact that it was really a team effort. Andy got it started. I got the second win. Then the Bryans clinched it on Saturday. We all contributed to winning in the finals. That’s to me the perfect ending to the journey we started in 2001 with Patrick.
I’m really looking forward to going back there. I had a great time there. Can’t wait to have some more memories there.
Q. Andre, I want to know what you think about whether you can compare players of back to back eras? If so, how would you compare the era you played in with Sampras and Courier and Rios, Kuerten, compared to the era that Federer played in which was probably Hewitt, Safin, Roddick?
ANDRE AGASSI: I think some generations back to back are more realistic to compare. It’s when the game takes a leap forward that you are no longer talking about the same equation.
What Roddick brought to the table was obviously the dominance of his ability to hold serve and to make life really uncomfortable all day long because you felt like every time you were playing on your own serve, you felt like you’re serving to stay in the set.
Others had that. Pete had that, gave you that feeling. Hewitt, his movement and his defensive skills, were like many that I’ve played before. Lightning fast, redirect the ball. He did four or five things that I found in a lot of players throughout my career.
But when you start talking about guys like Djokovic, Rafa, Fed, possibly Murray, you’re talking about guys who have literally changed the rules of engagement. Whenever you’re talking about that, you cannot, in my opinion, compare generations.
Somebody who played in an era where there wasn’t that kind of spin, there wasn’t that kind of I don’t know how you want to put it but where the rules of engagement change that dramatically, impossible to do.
There’s no way a serve volleyer, a Rafter, can come forward on every point and get to your ball early. Covering the line at the net is fine, but you can’t reach the ball because it’s 15 feet over your head, coming down with margin, it’s like a drive forehand topspin lob winner. Certain things are just above and beyond. And I would say in this generation, that’s changed the game.
Q. Jim, as a person who has put this tour together, you have a couple guys in his early 30s, a guy in his mid 50s, somebody in their early 60s. How do we view these matches, more as competition or exhibitions?
JIM COURIER: I think if you look at each of the individual tournament draws, as far as the generations that are playing, you’ll see some logic to them. We’re not going to certainly put Andy Roddick against his former coach, Jimmy Connors, because that certainly isn’t going to be that competitive. Not that Jimmy isn’t a great player and champion, but obviously the age is significant when you put James or Andy, who are fairly fresh off the tour, into that environment.
You’ll see a very competitive night of tennis no matter where you are on our tour. We’ll have some cross generational matches for sure. But Johnny Mack, as Andre pointed out, is going to make things difficult for anybody he plays, no matter what generation, because of how he’s able to play.
I think we have a terrific lineup all across the board when I look at all 12 of these events. I see nothing but great matches and great competition.
Q. Andre and James, you both played Nadal in 2005. He was a teenager. What was your first impression of him then? When you look at his evolution, the revisions he’s made to his game, what have been most important to his evolution?
JAMES BLAKE: 2005 was the first time I got to play him. I actually had the benefit of getting a great scouting report from Andre who played him a couple weeks earlier in Canada.
My impression of him then was he was a clay courter playing on hard courts. He was playing with a lot of topspin, hitting the ball heavy, but not attacking the ball, not moving forward at all. He sort of counted on his defense and his movement to win a lot of matches. He did it exceptionally well, obviously. He had already won the French Open at that point. He was the best clay courter in the world at that point. He hadn’t translated that into his best hard court game yet at that point, I don’t think.
Andre gave me a great scouting report that I needed to attack him, make him feel uncomfortable. I was able to do that that way. Since then, he’s become much more aggressive. He worked on his serve. When I played him in ’05, he served over 90% to my backhand. He was looking to hit that clay court serve where he hits it to the player’s weakest side instead of using it as a weapon.
We saw this year at the US Open how easily he held serve. His serve is much more of a weapon than it was.
I also remember specifically, I had never even hit with him before I played him, the first couple balls in warmup, he hit the ball so heavy, I actually thought I was in trouble from the start. Once the match started, he was hitting the ball shorter and playing with a lot of margin and not being as aggressive. That to me gave me the opportunity to play my game.
As I’ve seen him now and practiced with him much more recently, that guy is gone. He’s so much more effective with being aggressive, with taking his game and imposing it on me, like I said, being more effective with his serve. He’s still one of the best movers, moves so well side to side.
He actually has improved his volleys. He used to be pretty, in my mind, uncomfortable at the net. Now he looks comfortable. He’s not going to be Patrick Rafter at any time. He gets up there, looks comfortable, feels okay up there, can finish points at the net.
I think he’s improved everything he needs to to be aggressive and still keep the game that got him to be the best clay courter in the world, too.
ANDRE AGASSI: That was a hell of a breakdown of his game. The only thing I could add to it is my impression of him the first time I played him, I didn’t have the luxury of James’ speed. The one thing I knew I had to do, I just didn’t have it. James had the option.
I used to play lefty clay courters and pound the backhand cross court. They would try to fight it off deep. I would step inside the baseline and just control the point. I did it in the Canadian Open final the first point we played. Everything went according to my game plan. The next time I came from backhand cross court to his forehand, he went so high and so short, in order for me to do anything, I had to commit so far in the court, I was exposed on the next shot. I hit that shot. He came in, made an adjustment, hit it at my feet, laughed at me when I tried to make the volley. The next thing I knew, there’s no chance against this guy unless you have the ability to move exceptionally well, get up in the court, get back, or like James does so well, which is get around that short ball no matter where it’s bouncing and jump on the forehand knowing he has all that real estate he can cover if he doesn’t hit the forehand exactly the way he wants.
Nadal went from a guy that maybe I had a chance against that year, right surface, right circumstance, to a guy I see from my couch that I’m pleased to be watching from my couch.
Q. If you look at the guys under 24, Raonic, Nishikori, Dimitrov, Janowicz, who do you think has the hugest upside?
ANDRE AGASSI: James has played them.
JAMES BLAKE: I played all those guys. I didn’t play Dimitrov. I practiced with him plenty, though.
I would say Dimitrov has a ton of talent. Raonic, that serve, that’s the most uncomfortable to play. Out of those four guys, I’d least like to play Raonic because of that serve. It takes you out of your rhythm, which I know it sounds weird for me to say, because I do that with my forehand, try to get them out of their rhythm. He definitely makes it so you don’t feel comfortable. It could be a set and 3 all in the second set, you don’t feel you’re into the match because he’s won so many free points off his serve, he’s missed a lot of balls on the return game, and he hasn’t given you anything to really feel like you’re into the match. That to me makes it uncomfortable.
Janowicz is a little bit the same. He really hits the ball hard and flat. He can make a lot of balls in a row, which can give you some rhythm. I had success against him. I feel like he kind of sticks to patterns a little bit. I just happened to be playing well that day.
Nishikori I think is continuing to improve. It’s a tougher battle for him because he’s not a big guy. That’s another thing that’s changed about the tour, is guys have gotten so much bigger. I think it’s tough for him to compete against really big guys, even though he hits the ball better than a lot of them, moves better than a lot of them. It’s tougher for him to stay healthy and compete with the big boys.
Dimitrov, practiced with him a lot. I think he has a huge upside. If he stays healthy, he has a live arm, huge serve, even though he’s not one of the huge guys, 6’6″, 6’7″. He moves well. Looks like he’s comfortable hitting any shot. Just a matter for him of putting it all together.
If I had to say one guy that the game actually excites me, it’s did Dimitrov. Raonic is the most uncomfortable to play, but I don’t get quite excited watching a guy serve 25 aces and win a match 6 6.
ANDRE AGASSI: It’s funny you say that because when I watched Federer play Pete for the first time at Wimbledon, I said, There’s no way he’s going to beat Pete. You can’t play like Pete and beat Pete. He was too similar to Pete to beat him. Obviously as I was wrong with Pete. He’s gone down as one of the greats ever.
I look at Dimitrov, and I think, You can’t play like Federer and be better than him. I’ve seen it before. He excites me, as well.
JAMES BLAKE: Exactly.
RANDY WALKER: Andre, you’re playing on Thursday, February 20th in Houston. Can you talk about your past experiences in Houston. You played at the clay courts many years, also the year end championships.
ANDRE AGASSI: I really enjoy Houston for a lot of reasons, mostly because of the relationships I had there. The McIngvales were not just big supporters of my foundation, they were a huge asset to the sport of tennis. I think it’s one of the great crimes that we haven’t nurtured them more profoundly in our sport because they were really making a difference with our game.
There’s so many tennis enthusiasts in Houston. The standard of club players there, it’s very high. The education in the sport is very high. You felt it from a fans’ perspective with them watching you.
Clay was never something I looked forward to playing on at that stage in my life. Going there and playing on clay wasn’t ideal for me. But when I played the World Championships there on the hard courts, it was one of the great experiences in the World Championships that I’d ever been through.
Three set matches to make it to the semis, having two match points on Federer in the third set breaker, beating Ferrer in three, beating Nalbandian in three, coming back and beating Schuettler in three on Saturday, only to have to face Federer again in the final.
It was a great week of tennis. It will bring back a lot of memories for a lot of reasons heading back there.
Q. Could you share with me who your tennis heroes were when you were kids.
JIM COURIER: My tennis hero was really Bjorn Borg, the guy that first sort of got me excited about the sport. I wasn’t allowed to cheer for McEnroe or Connors because of their behavior in my house. I probably would have cheered for them, but my parents instructed me firmly that Bjorn needed to be my idol and my hero. That was my guy.
ANDRE AGASSI: I always rooted very hard for Bjorn as well. He was easy to like, easy to root for. I tried to imitate a little bit of everybody’s game. I did that with Bjorn. I did that with John. I did that with Jimmy. But Bjorn, when it was head to head, it was easy for me to root for him.
I didn’t like Mack and Connors because of certain behavioral things. As I got older, I learned to like Mack.
JAMES BLAKE: I actually had a few. I kind of picked out different reasons for them. Arthur Ashe I learned about as I got older. He wasn’t in the generation I was growing up watching. Everything I learned about him made me respect him so much more and idolize him for his education, values, his humanitarian efforts inside and outside of the game.
I would say the two guys I grew up watching and finding certain things I enjoyed were actually ones on this call, Jim Courier for the work ethic. When I was a kid, everybody talked about his work ethic. You could see when he stepped on the court he felt like he out worked his opponent. That was something I looked up to and tried to emulate.
The other was Mats Wilander, a guy who in my opinion showed a ton of restraint. I know obviously to get to the level you’re at, the competitive fires are always going, and I was a bit of a brat as a kid. I watched Mats competing in the highest of highs of the competition, keeping his cool in every situation. To me that was the most impressive thing I could see because I had no idea how to do that at 14 years old. I’m still trying to learn how he was that cool under pressure at all times.
I got little things from each person and tried to emulate all of them. Failed miserably at all of them, but did my best.
Q. Jim, the day before the ’91 French Open final, you said of Andre, We don’t spend any time together and in the past we didn’t even speak to each other. Could you and Andre tell us what your rivalry and your relationship was like in the early ’90s. Did you want to beat each other more than anyone else?
ANDRE AGASSI: Our relationship was strictly platonic.
JIM COURIER: Andre and I grew up playing together and against each other at Bollettieri’s. From my perspective, I was fighting for attention down at Bollettieri’s. I took exception to Nick prioritizing Andre, as he should have done. In my adult years now looking back on it, I totally understand it. Obviously I get it at a new dimension now than when I was in the heat of battle back then.
I used what I thought was a slight from Nick Bollettieri to fuel my fire in whatever circumstances I needed to be in. Andre and I, he was the guy in our generation that got up to the top first, and Michael Chang, Pete Sampras and myself were all trying to keep up. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in competition with him for major titles in my 20s.
At that time in my perspective I drifted further away from all of those Americans that I was competing against almost out of necessity to be able to hold down the emotions of the moment. We’re all trying to take each other’s lunch money at that point in time. The thing we care about most is what we were fighting for.
It’s hard to separate what you know to be true, which is these are good guys you’ve known since you were a kid playing tennis. There was nothing caustic necessarily about it. It’s more a function of what you’re trying to achieve.
Now that we’ve obviously gone on and become full fledged adults, are not in as serious of competition, I think we’ve been able to put it in proper perspective. I certainly have. I’m closer to Andre than I am to anyone else in my generation. We probably spend more time together as a result of that on and off the court.
There were certainly times when I looked across the net and I wanted to beat him as badly as I wanted to do anything in my life. I’m guessing, and he’s about to tell me, that was the way he felt, too. Andre, too, was also always the better player as we were growing up.
Andre, you’re surprised that I was even on the other side of the net in the big moments.
ANDRE AGASSI: I remember we grew up competing against each other, 11, 12 years old, Jim was always a good draw in about the second round. It wasn’t until three years later that I realized, because he played a bunch of different sports, and tennis is just a quarter of his season. When he put his full attention to tennis, his rate of improvement spoke to his talent and athleticism.
I simply was a guy that wasn’t easy to like if you were around me in the teenage years, nor did I feel Jim liked me, and I didn’t like anybody that didn’t like me, I didn’t like them. I feel my own sensibilities were skewed during those years.
When you step onto the world stage, you’re playing against somebody for titles and dreams, it doesn’t serve you to expose yourself to a friendship, let somebody understand what makes you tick, what’s really going on inside. I certainly had a lot of weaknesses that I felt the need to hide, even from myself.
But going through all that, I think we found ourselves with a deep respect of both our work ethics and our abilities and the way we handled our own survival. Today I think we respect one another for not just those things but also for a real deep sense of loyalty, not just to one another, but also to the people in our lives.
It’s been a full circle relationship, one I think that speaks most comprehensively, at least in the hub of my life, to how far somebody can travel in any given journey.
RANDY WALKER: Jim, we had some folks on the phone from Alabama. If you could talk about the field that’s going to be there. Andy will be making his debut there, played a big Davis Cup match against Switzerland. John McEnroe and Mark Philippoussis are in that field.
JIM COURIER: I attended the Davis Cup match that James played as well with Andy and with the Bryan brothers against the Swiss a few years back. It was an absolutely packed crowd, completely enthusiastic. I’ve never had a chance to play in Birmingham. For me, this is going to be very exciting to get to go down there and be on the court instead of in the stands which I was for the entire weekend when I proudly watched our American team take the Swiss out.
Welcoming Andy onto the tour, a place that he obviously is going to carry fond memories into the battle there, I think it’s going to be a great way for him to get started. That’s going to be a pretty fiery night. Mark Philippoussis and Andy Roddick would most likely play there, and I will play John McEnroe. You can look for some fiery matches on all levels there.
Q. A question about the ATP World Tour Finals. Who do you think will be the final three to qualify? Regarding the event itself, do you think it should go back to a rotating locations like it did with the Masters Cup or do you think London is a great spot for it?
ANDRE AGASSI: I have no idea who is in contention for the spots. I can’t help you there.
Do I think it should rotate? It seems to me from a distance, maybe James could tell you the turnout is remarkable. I think the top eight deserve that kind of platform. I love what I’ve seen there. I think this event would be big in any part of the world, but they’ve certainly earned the right to at least keep it in the short term.
It reminds me of the days it was at the Garden, a remarkable venue that always turned out a full stadium. It felt like you were in a prime time fight. That’s the way it appears to me in London.
I haven’t seen anything close to Madison Square Garden since we left there.
JAMES BLAKE: I agree with Andre about it. They’ve earned the right to keep it in the short term. I didn’t get to play in London, but I’ve seen the crowds. I’ve heard from the guys that it’s an amazing venue. As long as the guys are happy and the fans are happy, they’ve definitely earned the right to keep it in the short term.
As far as the five through eight, six through eight, the last three guys, I don’t know exactly who has qualified already, but I’m guessing Berdych, Wawrinka will probably qualify. As I said earlier, Raonic was always uncomfortable for me to play. I think he’s got a good chance to qualify. I’m not sure the other guys in contention, probably Tsonga, Gasquet.
JIM COURIER: Federer.
JAMES BLAKE: Federer hasn’t qualified yet?
JIM COURIER: No.
JAMES BLAKE: Then I’ll take him. Just about any time, I’ll take him.
JIM COURIER: The top three guys right now that look like they’re going to qualify are Federer, Wawrinka and Gasquet. They’re the next three guys in. But I think Tsonga playing at home also in Paris next week, I think he has a really good chance to qualify. It’s going to take a lot for Raonic to get in. But one good week is worth 1000 points. A lot can change. Certainly indoors looks pretty good for somebody like that. Even Tommy Haas, if he were to sprint out in Paris, he could make it. It will be an interesting week next week for sure.
RANDY WALKER: Everybody, thank you for participating in our call today. I want to thank Andre, James and Jim for their time and great answers today. Appreciate all the media for calling in. We appreciate the attention to the PowerShares Series. We invite you to go to www.PowerSharesSeries.com for all the event, venue, player fields and ticket information.
InsideOut Sports & Entertainment today announced the dates, venues and fields for the 2014 PowerShares Series tennis circuit, highlighted by the debuts of Andy Roddick and James Blake, who will join the 12-city tour and play alongside tennis legends such as Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.
The PowerShares Series will kick off on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 in Kansas City and will conclude March 21 in Surprise, Arizona. Players competing on the 2014 circuit are Roddick, Blake, Sampras, Agassi, McEnroe, Connors, Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, Jim Courier, Michael Chang, Todd Martin and Mark Philippoussis. Each event will feature two one-set semifinal matches, followed by a one-set championship match.
An exclusive USTA member pre-sale offering a 15% discount for USTA members begins today. Tickets and unique VIP fan experience packages will go on sale to the general public next Tuesday, October 22. Tickets start at $25 and all ticket and VIP information is available at www.PowerSharesSeries.com.
“We are eagerly anticipating the 2014 PowerShares Series season with an exciting blend of all-time greats from different generations competing in 12 cities across the country,” said Jon Venison, Partner at InsideOut Sports & Entertainment. “We are excited to welcome Andy Roddick and James Blake as they join our eighth year of Champions Series tennis and look forward to seeing them, along with the other legendary players, compete and entertain crowds around the United States this season.”
“I am looking forward to playing on the PowerShares circuit,” said Roddick. “Having a chance to stay connected with tennis and compete on a limited basis through events like these fits perfectly with my life these days.”
“It’s going to be exciting to start a new chapter of my tennis life playing on the PowerShares Series circuit,” said Blake. “Having just retired from the ATP tour, you’d think I have an advantage over some of the guys, but players like Andy, Andre and Pete are so talented and competitive that is going to be a great challenge for me to win some titles. I look forward to the challenge.”
The full 2014 PowerShares Series schedule with field of players are as follows:
Wednesday, February 5, Kansas City, Missouri, Sprint Centre – Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Michael Chang
Thursday, February 6, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Chesapeake Energy Arena – Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Michael Chang
Thursday, February 13, Birmingham, Alabama, BJCC – John McEnroe, Andy Roddick, Jim Courier, Mark Philippoussis
Friday, February 14, Indianapolis, Indiana, Bankers Life Fieldhouse – John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Jim Courier, Mark Philippoussis
Wednesday, February 19, Denver, Colorado, Pepsi Center – Andy Roddick, James Blake, Jim Courier, Mark Philippoussis
Thursday, February 20, Houston, Texas, Toyota Center – Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Andy Roddick, James Blake
Tuesday, February 25, Salt Lake City, Utah, Energy Solutions Arena – Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake
Wednesday, February 26, Sacramento, California, Sleep Train Arena – Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake
Thursday, February 27, Portland, Oregon, Moda Center – Andre Agassi, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake
Wednesday, March 12, Nashville, Tennessee, Bridgestone Arena – John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander
Thursday, March 13, Charlotte, North Carolina, Time Warner Arena – John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander
Friday, March 21, Surprise, Arizona, Surprise Stadium – Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Todd Martin, Michael Chang
By Dan O’Connell
In 1986, Wimbledon established the Grand Slam Development Fund, when they donated 100,000 pounds to the International Tennis Federation. In 2012, Grand Slam nations provided the Grand Slam Development Fund $400,000 each, or $1.6 million. Since 1986, Grand Slam nations have donated $40 million, with a main purpose to allow the ITF to employ ten full-time development officers to assist over 180 nations in a variety of programs. It was my honour to serve as the Fiji based ITF Pacific Oceania Development Officer from 1991-2011. The Grand Slam Development Fund is an outstanding success story that might be expanded; especially in the much needed area of increasing the number of players who make a living playing professional tennis.
The Grand Slam nations are the envy of all tennis nations, as they earn an enormous annual profit. The United States, England, France and Australia are the lucky hosts of the Grand Slams and they do an exceptional job of hosting their prestigious event. According to the New York Times, in 2010, the United States Tennis Association revenue was $243 million with an estimated 80-85% coming from the US Open. It has been reported the US Open produces the largest economic impact than any annual international sporting event in the world. It is estimated the four Grand Slam nations share a total of $300 million in profits. 99% of the profits are used to improve their domestic programs.
Is too much of the Grand Slam profits going to these four nations? The $1.6 million Grand Slam donation to the ITF Grand Slam Development Fund is less than 1% of the profit. Is this fair to world tennis? If we are a society built around moral capitalism, could each Grand Slam nation donate $5 million of their profit to the Grand Slam Development Fund? With this extra support the Grand Slam Development Fund might place $20 million into prize money, to support a new lower level professional circuit. Or, a different option might be for the ITF to double the number of their Future Events and ITF Women Circuit Events, increase prize money from $10,000 – $15,000 to $30,000 and allow first round winners to earn some prize money. With $20 million of additional prize money for worldwide tennis, 400 more professional players might average $50,000 a year in income.
Questioning the wealth of the Grand Slam nations will grow stronger. Recently, professional players complained about the distribution of the Grand Slam funds. Player pressure quickly resulted in the Grand Slam nations understanding they needed to share more of their pot of gold. US Open prize money will increase to $50 million in 2017, while in 2008 the US Open prize money was $20 million. The current US Open TV rights collect $40 million a year, but in 2015, the new ESPN TV deal provides the US Open over $70 million. The new TV deal will cover the differenced for the player prize money increase. Attendance might continue to rise as will the cost of tickets to attend the US Open.
If 100 PGA golf professionals earn $1 million, should tennis have more than 25 players earning $1 million? If NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL professional athletes share the same ratio of player revenue to total revenue, in the 43% to 50% range, why do the Grand Slams provide tennis professionals 20% of prize money? Public opinion understands tennis players deserve a larger slice of the financial pie. Some question “how much” best players earn, but everyone agrees; a way must be found to allow more players to earn a larger piece of the financial pie.
Could the next financial struggle within worldwide tennis see mature nations pressure the Grand Slam nations to share their profits, with new worthy programs administered by the ITF Grand Slam Development Fund? If the ITF Board of Directors cannot find a way to spread the wealth of Grand Slams, could nations begin to question traditional ways of the past?
Many nations have infrastructure required to host a Grand Slam event. Should the Grand Slam venues rotate, allowing different nations to host? Of course the Grand Slam nations should not rotate; however, now grown into huge international successful events, can the Grand Slam nations share more of their wealth to help world tennis in a meaningful manner?
The problem is the Grand Slam nations will not want to share their profits, as it will reduce their domestic program. What is best for the future of the game? Should we spread the wealth to allow many other mature nations to create new professional events? Instead of four nations spending $300 million on their domestic programs, can the Grand Slam nations help the world and spend only $280 million? A $20 million donation will grow the number of players playing professional tennis.
Since I was a Peace Corps tennis coach in the 1970s, my passion is tennis in the developing world. I want to believe better days are ahead, but that will only happen if the Grand Slam nations share more of their profits. The question tennis nations need to ask is: why does the ITF Board of Directors allow the Grand Slam nations to continue to provide less than 1% of their profits for worldwide tennis development, when you consider larger profits these nations have earned in recent years?
If we are to redistribute tennis wealth, the first concern is to support professional players. Instead of only 200 professional players earning a respectful income, can we find a way for 400 players to earn a meaningful income? $20 million will go a long way to reach this goal. The second concern is to provide the developing world more money to grow the game. Tennis in the developing world would benefit so much if our leaders, the Grand Slam nations, provided $1 million each, instead of only $400,000. If worldwide funds can filter down to the developing world for tennis as they do for soccer, tennis will continue to be a meaningful game for all nations in our world.
Times have changed and the estimated profits of $300 million gained by the Grand Slams are far greater today than 20 years ago. They share a huge profit, year after year, after year. Is the $1.6 million provided by the Grand Slams to the Grand Slam Development Fund a fair amount? For the good of the worldwide game, should the ITF consider introducing a 5% – 10% Grand Slam hosting fee, to be used to develop world tennis? Let’s have fair play in sports – worldwide!
These are my personal views based on an international tennis career that began with the United States Peace Corps and led to three decades based in Africa and Oceania, working a bit with the former United States Sports America Program and an outstanding career with the International Tennis Federation.
By Mark McCormick
Canada, a country that is so passionate for hockey, has had their eyes on tennis lately. Tennis? Canada is one of the coldest countries in the world, but that hasn’t stopped the rapid rise of tennis star Milos Raonic from training. The 2013 season has been a groundbreaking year for the young Canadian, cracking into the world’s top 10 for the first time in Canadian tennis history, reaching his first Masters 1000 Series final, and leading his country to the Davis Cup semifinals.
In an interview with AskMen, Raonic talks about his rise in Canadian tennis. “The pressure is really what you make of it, and I like to make more for myself than anyone else will, so I always push myself. The responsibility I have is a great thing, from helping tennis grow in Canada, but also in the future, being able to do stuff through my foundation, helping kids. And helping everyone I can, and really trying to make a difference.”
The 22-year-old is one of the youngest in the top 100, and has shown no signs of stumbling in the rankings. The 6’5” Canadian has a booming serve, and a big forehand. The powerful shots that Raonic possesses show a glimpse of what could possibly be the future of tennis.
Earlier in the summer this year, Raonic hired former top player Ivan Ljubicic as his full time head coach. Ljubicic’s work with Raonic has shown positive results. The months of August and September were important for Raonic. In the big matches he played, however, he didn’t make that big step. When Raonic reached his first Masters 1000 Series finals in Montreal in August, he had Canada on his back. The final for Raonic was a bit of a disappointment for Canadian fans, when Raonic fell 6-2 6-2 to Rafael Nadal. Granted, he was playing against one of the greatest players of all time, but this was a big chance to make a statement. Sadly, his nerves got the best of him.
A couple weeks later, he made the fourth round at Flushing Meadows. He reached the fourth round there last year, and had a legitimate chance to get into his first Grand Slam quarterfinal ever. He was playing against world No. 9 Richard Gasquet. Gasquet hadn’t been in a quarterfinal of a Grand Slam since 2007. Raonic dictated for most of the match, until fatigue came in late in the fourth set. Raonic was leading two sets to one, with several break points to go up a break early in the fifth set, but failed to capitalize again.
Nine days after his exit at the U.S. Open, Raonic led the Canadian tennis team into its first Davis Cup semifinal in over a century. Canada held a 2-1 lead going into the final day of the semi’s, but fell 3-2, with Raonic losing to Djokovic in the fourth rubber.
A wild stretch of firsts for Raonic ended in disappointments, but his run isn’t going to end yet this year.
En Bangkok, en route to the title, Raonic dismantled Feliciano Lopez in straight sets 6-4 6-3. His statistics were off the charts. Raonic had 19 aces serving at 86% for the whole match, and gave up eight points on his serve the whole match!
Raonic’s best surface is indoor hard courts. The post U.S. Open Asia swing is mostly played on hard courts and indoor hard courts. The Paris Masters is a big event for Raonic to make a deep run in. This tournament is played indoors, and is the one Masters 1000 tournament that lacks the most top players. His confidence is high still despite tough losses, and has a legitimate shot at making the ATP World Tour Year End Finals, which is also played indoors.
What does 2014 hold for Raonic? Big things. His unforced errors have cut down immensely, especially on his backhand. His inside out forehand is huge on the return game. His main focus in the off season has to be working on his return game. If Raonic can get more balls into play on the return, he has a better chance of getting into rallies, and trying to put himself into position to run around a forehand and put the ball away.
Raonic opens up his 2014 season at the Brisbane International, where he will be one of the top seeds going into the event. He lost in the second round last year in Brisbane, so he will have a chance at gaining points to boost his ranking. He’ll get a week after Brisbane to recuperate and head into the Australian Open most likely as a top 16 seed. This time, he’ll have a more favorable draw at the Grand Slam he plays best at. If he gets matched up in any of the top 8’s quarters except Nadal, Murray and Djokovic, he will have a serious shot at making his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
From the Asia swing to mid-February, Raonic can make his statement known on the hard courts. His chances of cracking into the top 8 are very likely. He has already proven to tennis fans how much of a threat he is from his results this summer. It may be a slight surprise to see his name ranked among the names of Federer, Djokovic, Murray and Nadal, but come February, it may happen. Don’t be surprised if you see the name Milos Raonic on sports headlines in mid-January, because his hard work and talent is going to be known to all sports fans very soon.
Gun Shots, Protesters, Bomb Scares and Religious Fanatics – The Most Unusual Delays In Tennis History
By Randy Walker
There is nothing worse than when you are locked into playing – or watching – a great tennis match and there is a delay in play. Rain and sometimes darkness are the most commons delays in play but in the history of tennis, there have been some rather unusual ways where play was delayed.
Here are six of the most unusual delays as documented in my book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY, which is also a mobile app (www.TennisHistoryApp.com) listed in no particular order. Which one do you think is the strangest? Please share any other worthy episodes in the comment section below or via TennisGrandstand@gmail.com.
March 18, 1984 – A bomb scare forces the Rotterdam men’s singles final between Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors to be called off. Lendl sweeps through the first set, 6-0, and breaks service in the first game of the second set when the police, reacting to an anonymous telephone call, order the evacuation of the Ahoy Sports Hall. The caller, claiming to represent an anti-capitalism movement, tells the police that a bomb had been placed close to center court. A search does not yield any suspicious articles, and spectators are then allowed to return to their seats. However, the crowd is then informed that Lendl and Connors would not be resuming their match. Wim Buitendijk, the organizer of the Grand Prix tournament, fails to persuade Lendl to stay and finish the match. He says Connors may have been persuaded to resume the game but ”Lendl was not prepared to take any risks.”
March 30, 1980 – Bjorn Borg dominates Manuel Orantes 6-2, 6-0, 6-1 in the final of the Nice Open in France in a match delayed by 25 minutes when a group of local physical education students storm the court and stage a “sit-in” to protest their department being closed by the French education ministry.
April 16, 1977 – Anti-apartheid protestors spill oil on court to protest the United States competing against South Africa and disrupt the doubles match between Stan Smith and Bob Lutz and Frew McMillan and Byron Bertram in Newport Beach, Calif. U.S. Captain Tony Trabert hits one of the two protestors with a racquet before police apprehend the culprits. After a 45-minute delay to clean the oil, Smith and Lutz defeat McMillan and Bertram 7-5, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to give the United States an insurmountable 3-0 lead over the South Africans.
April 27, 2006 – The only thing bothering Rafael Nadal during his 6-4, 6-2 second round match with Spanish qualifier Ivan Navaro-Pastor at the Barcelona Open is a female intruder, who bursts onto the court and handcuffs herself to the net post. Nadal is leading 6-4, 4-0 when the woman enters the court and a brief delay ensues while the protester is cut loose and taken away by security guards.
September 4, 1977 – James Reilly, a 33-year-old resident of New York City, is shot in the left thigh as a spectator at the John McEnroe – Eddie Dibbs third-round night match at the U.S. Open at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills. The shooting, from a .38 caliber gun, occurs at the start of the match near Portal 8 in the north section of the stadium and delays play for about six minutes as Reilly is taken from the stands to the first aid station and then to nearby St. John’s Hospital. Most of the 6, 943 fans in attendance are not aware that a shooting had occurred. Police conclude it was likely a shot that came from outside the stadium. McEnroe wins the best-of-three set match 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.
October 20, 1985 – A religious fanatic walks on the court, serves drinks to Ivan Lendl and Henri Leconte and preaches a sermon in the middle of the final round match of the Australian Indoor Championships in Sydney. In the ninth game of the third set, the man, wearing a caterer’s uniform, walks onto the court with a tray with two glasses of orange juice and religious pamphlets that he presents to both Lendl and Leconte. Reports the Associated Press of the incident, “To the astonishment of the players, officials and crowd, he put the tray down in the center of the court and proclaimed loudly, ‘I would like to bring these gentlemen two drinks.’ He then began babbling about the evil of credit cards and the devil before being escorted away by embarrassed officials. The tournament was sponsored by a credit finance company.” Says Lendl of the incident, “I was really, really mad at that. Not for the security reason, but because they were too gentle with him. They should have been rougher with him.” Lendl wins the match from Leconte by a 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 margin.
LOUISVILLE — “2nd Serve” – a romantic comedy set in the world of local, club tennis, starring Josh Hopkins of “Cougar Town,” Cameron Monaghan of TV’s “Shameless” and “Click” and Alexie Gilmore of “World’s Greatest Dad” and “Grey’s Anatomy” – is now available for purchase on DVD and for digital download.
“2nd Serve” is available for purchase on Amazon.com here: http://www.amazon.com/2nd-Serve-Hopkins/dp/B00CQRNLAQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1378146972&sr=8-1&keywords=2nd+Serve as well as at Blockbuster here: http://www.blockbuster.com/browse/catalog/movieDetails/589479, at Best Buy here: http://www.bestbuy.com/site/2nd-Serve—DVD/21539039.p?id=2714745&skuId=21539039, at Kmart here: http://entertainment.kmart.com/2nd-serve/818768010632, and Family Video here: http://www.familyvideo.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=419844/.
Written by USPTA tennis pro James Markert of Louisville, Kentucky and produced by Gill Holland, also of Louisville, and Jay Thames of 77 Films, “2nd Serve” is a “snobs vs. slobs” film that is part “Caddyshack” part “Dodgeball” part “Wimbledon” and all heart. The movie follows tennis pro Owen Match (Hopkins) who gets fired from his cushy country club gig at the affluent Fountain Club and is forced to take a job at the gritty public courts of the Derby City Rec Center. Along with his new co-workers, a ragtag group of tennis goofs, their boss, the strong-willed single mother club manager Sherry (Gilmore) and her son Jake (Monaghan), a goth teenager with a tennis crush, Owen might just have one last shot at redemption, for him and everyone else.
As Owen begins to win over his colleagues, mend his broken relationships, and help Jake improve his serve, he develops a romantic connection with Sherry — despite her insistence that she doesn’t date tennis pros. Just when things start to look up, Owen’s former boss and tennis nemesis Charles (Dash Mihok) challenge the Derby Club to a showdown at the annual Combo Cup tennis tournament. As he leads his team of oddballs, Owen learns the most valuable lesson of all – whether you are on the court or off – everyone deserves a “second serve.”
“There really aren’t many movies that have tennis as a main theme and that alone makes ’2nd Serve’ so unique,” said Holland. “’2nd Serve’ has a feel of a being tennis version of ‘Caddyshack,’ and you can’t help but smile and laugh throughout the movie.”
“’2nd Serve’ is a movie with a huge heart and, it’s a crowd pleaser,” said Thames. “It’s a must-see for anyone who has played tennis, whether at a private club or a public facility or taught tennis in any regard, or simply anyone who loves an endearing feel-good movie.”
“2nd Serve” also stars Kevin Sussman (Big Bang Theory, Burn After Reading, Hitch), Guillermo Diaz (Weeds, The Terminal, Half Baked), Sam McMurray (Raising Arizona, Christmas Vacation, LA Story) and Mihok (Silver Linings Playbook, The Day After Tomorrow, I Am Legend).
The movie premiered at the Woodstock Film Festival in New York and the AMFM Film Festival in Palm Springs. It was filmed in Louisville, primarily at the Louisville Boat Club and the Jewish Community Center.
Fans can follow “2nd Serve” on Facebook and follow the movie on Twitter at @2ndServeMovie
“What can tennis do to improve lives in Africa” was the subject of the “Credit Suisse Tennis Debate” held in New York City in advance of the 2013 U.S. Open as panelist Stacey Allaster, the CEO of the WTA, joined Janine Handel, the CEO of the Roger Federer Foundation, as well as former pro and ATP Board Member Justin Gimelstob and Lorne Abony, the Chairman and CEO of Mood Media, to discuss not only player efforts in Africa, but player philanthropy.
After moderator Bill Macatee of CBS Sports and Tennis Channel introduced all of the panelists, media and attendees were shown a video highlighting Roger Federer’s most recent visit to the African nation of Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world,
“This is a very big project for us because we are going to be supporting the Malawi project for 10 years thanks to the great support of Credit Suisse,” says Federer in the opening of the video. ”We are going to be helping child care centers, probably 80 of them, probably 50,000 kids between the ages 4 to 6 will benefit for that support. We’ll help build better structures, educating the teachers more, getting kids to go to school….”
Macatee commented on the video and Federer’s involvement stating, “You can see that this goes beyond a photo opportunity. You can see that on his face, how strongly he feels about what he is doing. This is kind of the fabric of who he is. If you are ever in a position where you can give back, you should do that. Roger started the Foundation, not late in his career, he started it at the age of 22 when most of us are trying to figure things out. Most athletes are getting used to the rarified air. Roger had the vision to see that he could make a difference.”
Federer decided to start his foundation based on a conversation with his mother, Lynette, who is South African. The foundation was founded 10 years ago in 2003 with an initial contribution of 15,000 Swiss Francs. Since 2009, the Foundation receives $1 million a year alone from Credit Suisse alone in a commitment to extends to at least 2019.
“The conversation with his mother is an ongoing inspiring moment,” said Handel of Federer’s initial conversation with his mother that inspired him to start the foundation. “There wasn’t a certain day in his life when he woke up and said, ‘Oh, I need to give back.’ It was a consequence of education, and of a childhood when he was confronted with poverty, and that there are children in need in Africa. He went with his family to South Africa where he saw poverty. He was touched as a child. Without that family background, you don’t create that will to give back. He’s very involved, not just with his time but also with his heart. It’s so credible what he’s doing, because it’s not an image thing. It’s something that is part of his personality and part of his character.”
Allaster spoke of the commitment of both Venus and Serena Williams and their efforts to improve the lives of people in Africa, particularly women.
“I’m very proud of the work that Venus and Serena are doing in Africa,” she said. “I spoke to Serena the other day, and she’s already built two schools, and like Roger she has been inspired by those experiences of seeing the impact on the children. Right now, she’s working on her third school, which is great. Venus and Serena went to Africa on their ‘Breaking the Mold’ tour. That was about showing and educating women that they can break the mold.”
Allaster pointed out that the specific work of Venus Williams, the first-ever black male or female to rank No. 1 in the world, who has worked under the radar to help with water-filtration systems for Africa that do more than just provide for clean water.
“Venus is such a smart young woman,” said Allaster. “By grade three, these young girls have to drop out of school as they have to help their mothers to get clean water. So Venus thought, ‘Well, if we help with the clean water, then the young girls can stay in school.’ In addition, she’s creating scholarship programs. She will be able to help those kids who want more education.”
In 1998, the year that he won both the Australian and French Open mixed doubles titles with Venus Williams, Gimelstob on starting his own foundation – the Justin Gimelstob Children’s Foundation – and as an ATP World Tour board member, commentator and mentor to younger players, encourages young players with their philanthropy.
“At the ATP World Tour, we support players’ initiatives, as then it’s organic,” said Gimelstob. “It’s best if that passion comes from an organic place, whether that’s Roger with his Foundation, or Novak Djokovic or Rafa Nadal, or others. We supplement them and give them grants so they can continue their momentum, and to help them with what is important to them. And we try to get to players early, to educate them about the roles they can play, and the positive influence they can have. It’s important to get them at a young age, as it’s great to have a big platform and you have the biggest platform while you’re still playing.”
On the general topic of philanthropy, Allaster said that, like Federer, the motivation has to come from the heart, as well as from creating the proper education and from leadership. She told of the WTA’s annual “Power Hour” sessions they conduct with Billie Jean King with teenagers.
“Billie Jean speaks to those juniors transitioning from junior tennis to WTA pro tennis, and really has a very simple message for them: ‘It’s not what you get, it’s what you give,’” said Allaster. “And so right as players are coming on to the WTA Tour, we talk to them about the importance of giving back. We talk about financial planning and legacy, and how they might want to plan about giving back to their communities. So we put that right into context. Not everyone can have a foundation like Roger or Maria, and that’s okay. If you have a foundation, that’s a lifelong commitment. There are many charities that players can get involved with and make a significant difference.’
Other quotes from the Tennis Debate are follows:
Allaster on the role models on the WTA Tour: “We have Serena, Maria, Vika, who are strong, young, confident businesswomen who are successful in life. They are great role models for young women and also for young boys.”
Gimelstob on his philanthropy talk with Larry Ellison: “I had a conversation with Larry Ellison about philanthropy, and I asked him whether he felt social responsibility. And he looked at me and said: ‘Actually, I don’t feel compelled at all. I don’t feel responsible and I don’t feel guilty. If I did, it wouldn’t be organic and it wouldn’t be coming from a place of purity.’ If you put things in place with where your passions lie, that allows you to continue to have momentum.’”
Lorne Abony on how everyone connected to tennis can make a contribution: “You can make a difference in tennis whether you have a huge foundation like Roger’s, or whether you’re someone who wants to give 40 or 60 or 80 hours a month.”
Janine Handel on how having a foundation is a long journey: “It’s important to know that it’s a long journey. With Roger, it started small. But from the beginning it was important that it started on the right course, and that he was passionate about it. Just giving back because that’s part of your sports career, that will not be sustainable. The first step is to find something that you’re emotionally linked to, that you have a passion about. But if you do something, you have to do it right, and that can be complex. It’s not just about raising money and spending money, it’s about having an impact with what you’re doing. At the Roger Federer Foundation, we’re learning every day, and we’re failing every day. We learn from our mistakes, and try to get better. Journalists want to know how much money we raised and how much money we spent, but actually that’s not the point. What’s more important is that we have an impact. How many children are now having better performances in the schools and kindergartens we’re supporting? How many children now have a better future? It’s not about how much money you spend. I can spend 10 million dollars without any problem and have no real impact. Young players need help and they need support, otherwise you might jump into bad initiatives and then you might have a reputational risk.”
Lorne Abony on why charity work should not be mandatory for tennis players: “I personally don’t think that charitable giving should be mandatory. I think that’s tantamount to a tax. It has to come from the heart. If shouldn’t be mandated.”
Stacey Allaster on whether players should give time to charity: “That is happening. We have an Aces programme, and every week at tournaments athletes have to give so much of their time, with sponsors visits, with the media, and with charity. These things are happening under the radar. Hospital visits, for example. Our athletes are giving back, each and every day.”
Janine Handel on the importance of Credit Suisse to the Roger Federer Foundation: “It’s a win-win situation. It’s very special. It’s a firm commitment, every year for 10 years, they make a commitment of one million dollars a year. We took that long-term commitment of money to start an initiative in Malawi. If you become a sponsor of an individual sportsman, and not of a team, you’re not just sponsoring the sportsman, you’re financing the personality. In the case of Roger, it’s accepted everywhere that he has more to give than just sports. So I think it’s normal for a sponsor to also support the private part, the charitable part of a player. But I also think there is an obligation on the part of the sports manager, when negotiating with potential sponsors, to bring in the idea of a combination of sponsoring the athlete and the charitable side.”
Justin Gimelstob on his pride at what the ATP and WTA have done: “I’m incredibly proud of what the ATP and the WTA have done, mobilising so quickly after international disasters, because our sport is so international. Look at Novak Djokovic, who, just a day after a heart-breaking defeat at this summer’s Wimbledon final was on the red carpet raising money for his foundation. By starting late with his foundation, Andre Agassi has raised the consciousness of current players to start early.”
Janine Handel on Federer’s visits to Africa: “He’s famous in that village in that moment, as normally that village doesn’t have visitors. They could never imagine that you could earn money by having a racket in your hands, and making some moves. No, the kids don’t know Roger but that’s exactly why he feels at home. He felt that he wanted to bring his kids to see those kids, as he felt so real there. And alive. It’s about the emotions. The emotions first, and the quality second.”
Stacey Allaster on efforts to grow the sport in Africa: “We’re working to find a date in the calendar to possibly have a tournament in Africa. That’s not easy. It comes down to resources. But we should do more.
Justin Gimelstob on whether tennis players have an obligation to give back: “I believe that tennis players have an obligation to give back to those who haven’t had opportunities.”
Janine Handel on whether tennis players have an obligation to give back: “Every human being has an obligation to give back, whether to their family, to their children, to their neighbours or to their community. And if you have a worldwide platform, you have a worldwide opportunity.”
Lorne Abony on whether tennis players have an obligation to give back: “Everyone has an obligation to give back and it’s proportionate to what society has given to you. If you’re a global tennis star, society has given you more than others, so I think your moral obligation is greater.”
Stacey Allaster on whether tennis players have an obligation to give back: “We all have a responsibility, and it should be an opportunity for us.”