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by Thaddeus McCarthy
When we talk about the greatest rivalry in tennis history (GROAT), men and women, experts are often unanimous in their verdict. Everyone points out that it is of course Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. Surely with 80 clashes and yet an only slim 43-37 favour for Martina, then this rivalry has the numbers to back it up. Considering that the next largest rivalry in the women’s game is only 43, and the longest in men’s is 39, then surely their needn’t be any more proof that the Evert/Navratilova is and was the greatest. Similarly we could say the same thing (but to a lesser extent) with Nadal’s 8 French Open titles, or with Federer’s 17 Grand Slams or with Margaret Court’s 24.
Although in the context of this article, and to better illustrate my point, I will first discuss whether the greatest rivalry is really Evert and Navratilova. The point I will be making in this article is that numbers are not always the most effective method in measuring greatness. I think this point is known by many, but must be remembered in the tennis context if we are to continue to have lively debate over such metrics as The Greatest of All Time. To start, I am going to go out on a limb here and say that the greatest rivalry in tennis did not read 43-37. I know, I know, you must be thinking, “but what else could it be?” Well maybe it could be the McEnroe/Borg rivalry, as even though they met 14 times, they were the duo that launched tennis into the stratosphere. They were the perfect example of two players who had totally contrasting temperaments. On one side there was McEnroe, the bratty, brash New Yorker, and symbol of serve and volley tennis. At the other end there was Borg, the cool, calm Swede who arrived on the scene with this style of topspin baseline tennis that we hadn’t seen, and haven’t until the arrival of Nadal. Concerning Nadal and his rivalry with Federer, the fact that the record reads 23-10 in Nadal’s favour does not discount it as being perhaps the greatest. Just as the fact that McEnroe and Borg only having 14 clashes does not discount them.
There was an academic paper done in 2012 that looked at players past and present, and measured greatness not just upon numbers but on the quality of opposition and their dominance of their respective eras. Jimmy Connors ranked on top of the list, helped no doubt by his unusually long career. Ivan Lendl was next, with Federer back in seventh place, and Nadal way back in the 20s. The paper illustrates perfectly that numbers are not the be all and end all. In saying that though, the findings of it surely arose some debate among us ardent fans out there. It surely would have to be questioned if Jimmy Connors ever dominated for an extended period of time. In 1974 he definitely was the top player; his 99-4 record is demonstrative of that. Although he remained year-end No. 1 for 4 consecutive years, he was beaten in many Slam finals during that period by Borg, McEnroe and others. To have Federer in seventh behind Lendl seems absurd, but not unarguable. Lendl was a player I have enormous respect for, the way he dominated his opposition and brought in power tennis is proof of his first-rate greatness. The point I am making with the findings of this paper is not to say whether they are true or not though, but to say that they show us that numbers are not always the truest measure of things.
Now, back to the rivalry debate, there is no doubt that the fact Nadal has such an absurdly lopsided rivalry against Federer means that he has dominated their clashes. Considering the fact also, that is closing in on his 17 Grand Slam tally means that he is pushing further into the GOAT argument, currently occupied by the Fed Express. When you add in metrics, as those used in the academic paper to measure the ‘true’ GOAT rankings, like quality of opposition, and the dominance of an era, then Nadal would come out on top again. The players Fed used to whip in his heyday; like Nalbandian, Hewitt and Davydenko, do not stack up as quality opposition, as would Federer himself, Djokovic, or Murray. Those last three are the players Nadal has had to beat to win his big titles. He has positive records against all of them, whereas Federer only has a positive record against Djokovic (a slim 17-16). If you solely look at the numbers in 2014 as a measure of GOAT status, then Nadal is very close to overtaking Federer.
But when you consider non-numerical metrics, like the way that a certain player has influenced the sport globally and is so widely admired by his peers outside of tennis; then Nadal’s achievements do not come close to Federer’s. Multiple times Federer has been ranked as the second most admired man in the world, behind only (the now late) Nelson Mandela. Can Nadal or any other tennis player lay claim to a feat as monumental as that? Probably not. But that sort of award does not do justice to what Federer has done. All around the world young people have picked up tennis rackets and strived in many fields (not only tennis) to emulate a similar level of grace and determination as he displays on the tennis court and in life outside it. Which is not to say I don’t admire Nadal, actually I idolise him equally as I do Federer. But as a shining beacon for the sport Federer is unmatchable, as no-one currently or in tennis history can compete with him.
‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ is a common saying, which means that different people will look beautiful to different individuals. Any all-time greatest ever measure in tennis, whether that be the GOAT or Greatest Rivalry, will always be up to the individual to decide. How the individual should decide, should not just be based on numbers alone, but on the influence their player or players have had within and outside the game worldwide. But, then again, that is up to the individual to decide. What this articles purpose is, is to show you that to make your decision on numbers alone is flawed. There are other things to consider when making your decision on who should be the GOAT, or GROAT.
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Elina Svitolina is one of the bright young stars in women’s tennis today and has secured her position as the WTA’s highest ranked teenager in the world.
Svitolina, 19, made her top 100 debut in February last year, and ranks No. 35 after the Family Circle Cup where she registered an upset of Sloane Stephens. Svitolina has also beaten Roberta Vinci at the Open GDF Suez in Paris and WTA’s 2013 newcomer of the year, Eugenie Bouchard at the Sony Open in Miami.
Svitolina emerged as one to watch when she won the 2010 Roland Garros girls’ event at just 15 years old, followed by the 2013 Baku Cup in July when she was 18, making her the first teenager to win a WTA tournament since February 2012. Most recently, she reached the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time at the 2014 Australian Open in January, having beaten Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Said Svitolina of her recent success: “I’m thrilled to be the WTA’s highest-ranked teenager in the world. I’m having so much fun playing tennis and getting the opportunity to compete against some amazing players. I’ve been working hard to improve and I’m really looking forward to playing in Madrid, Rome and of course Roland Garros, over the next couple of months. I’m very competitive so I hope I can keep improving and raise my ranking even further before the end of the year.”
Svitolina was announced as the latest ambassador for global sportswear brand ellesse at the beginning of this year and exclusively competes and trains in their tennis apparel.
Marco Ellerker, ellesse global brand president said: “ellesse has a rich heritage in tennis and as we look to the future, we are delighted to be supporting such an exceptional young talent in Elina. Her determination and positive attitude to life embodies everything ellesse stands for and of course she looks fantastic in the our new designs!”
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By Connor Flynn
Interesting news that broke recently from tennis and entertainment is that Will Ferrell has signed on to play Bobby Riggs in a new movie adaptation of the “Battle of the Sexes.” Besides his epic, society-changing match with Billie Jean King, Riggs is best known for famously betting on himself in win singles, doubles and mixed titles at Wimbledon in 1939. He was the most infamous gambler in tennis history, although, on the shadier side of betting, he was allegedly to have thrown his match with King to relieve debts to mobsters, as ESPN reported here: http://espn.go.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/9589625/the-match-maker
Betting in tennis is a taboo subject. You are not allowed to bet on site at events, although, there are tournaments sponsored by betting institutions and held at facilities where casino gambling is present and encouraged. Even financial institutions, which is, more or less you could argue, “betting,” sponsor many events. Do you want to bet on Rafael Nadal to win a match or tournament on clay while also buying stock like IBM, Facebook, Twitter, General Electric?
John Stossel from Fox Business Channel recently featured stocks and gambling on his popular show, summarized here: http://www.foxbusiness.com/on-air/stossel/blog/2014/04/03/want-bet-10pm-et-fnc, citing Patrick Basham of the Cato institute say that gambling is “healthy.” U.S. Congresswoman Mary Bono, the former wife of entertainer Sonny Bono, has called for a ban of online gaming, as documented here: http://www.faegrebdc.com/19190 Remember how taboo smoking marijuana used to be? It appears to be well on its way to becoming legal in the United States, already legal in states like Colorado.
But betting on tennis is no different than betting on the recent NCAA basketball tournament, where everyone from the President of the United States, to television hosts and personalities, to your local bartender and mailman were talking about brackets and about participating in pools. The Atlantic even asked if the event was a sporting event or a gambling event here: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/03/is-march-madness-a-sporting-event-or-a-gambling-event/284545/ In just a month, betting will be rampant once again across the mainstream during the running of the Kentucky Derby, the first race of horse racing’s “Triple Crown.”
There is nothing wrong with sports betting. The inherent controversies comes when competitors or people close to the competitors bet on matches when privy to exclusive information prior to the match (i.e. injuries, etc.) – or what is referred to on Wall Street as “Insider Trading” or other conflicts of interest, including the allegations regarding Riggs. Major League Baseball player Pete Rose was banished from baseball for being a team manager and bet on baseball, even if he said he was betting his team to win.
So, if you are not privy to insider information and not associated directly with tennis, why not take a wager in a tennis game just as millions of people indulge in the NCAA Basketball Tournament or the upcoming Kentucky Derby? Give it a try here: http://www.888sport.com/tennis/tennis-betting.htm
Fresh off helping Andy Murray get back to form after back surgery at the Australian Open, Ivan Lendl is getting his own game in shape. The 54-year-old winner of eight major singles titles is set to play five events on the PowerShares Series champions tennis circuit starting February 5 in Kansas City, Missouri. The following is the transcript of the telephone news conference Lendl conducted Wednesday to promote his appearances on the 12-city circuit for champion tennis players over the age of 30.
RANDY WALKER: Thank you all for joining us today for our PowerShares Series tennis conference call with Ivan Lendl. The PowerShares Series kicks off its 2014 season next Wednesday, February 5, in Kansas City, and will visit 12 cities in all through March. Good tickets and terrific meet and greet and play-with-the-pros on-court opportunities are still available, and you can get more information on that at www.PowerSharesSeries.com
We want to thank Ivan for joining us today. He’s fresh off his trip to Australia, where he was working with Andy Murray. Ivan’s playing career is highlighted by three US Open titles, three French Open titles, and two Australian Open titles. He reached 19 major singles finals in his career. Roger Federer is the only man to play in more major singles finals, and Rafael Nadal just tied him with his result in Australia. Ivan also won 94 singles titles in his ATP career, which is 17 more than Federer and 33 more than Nadal.
Ivan will be playing in PowerShares Series events in Kansas City on February 5, Oklahoma City on February 6, Indianapolis on February 14, Nashville, Tennessee, on March 12, and Charlotte, North Carolina, on March 13.
In Kansas City, Oklahoma City and Indianapolis, Ivan is scheduled to face his old rival John McEnroe in the semifinals, and with that I’ll ask Ivan to kick off the call here, talk a little bit about his rivalry with John. You guys have been jabbing at each other for 35 years now, and you’re going to be playing with him in Kansas City, Oklahoma City, and he’s going to be your Valentine’s Day date on February 14th in Indianapolis.
IVAN LENDL: Yeah, we have played quite a few times starting in juniors. I think the first time we played was in Brazil in 1977. So it’s quite a long time we have played, and played a lot of matches, so that should be fun.
Q. I wanted to ask a general question if I could just about your life. You come from Czechoslovakia, had your fabulous on court career and a really great success in business and now in coaching. Aside from your family, what’s the best part of being Ivan Lendl these days?
IVAN LENDL: Well, I haven’t really thought about it much. I think staying busy and having something to do, something I like to do is always good, whether it is being in tennis and working with Andy or playing some, or playing some golf tournaments in the summer. All of that is fun.
Q. And obviously we have this trend now with great legends, great veterans working with different players. Some have worked, some have clicked, certainly you and Andy, others not to be mentioned are less so. What do you think the key is in the coach and pupil relationship on the ATP Tour?
IVAN LENDL: I think the key, especially with the older guys who have played successfully, is that, number one, what can that player or that coach offer to a practical player, and also chemistry.
Q. And what’s been the key to your chemistry with Andy? Do you think in some ways you guys are quite similar?
IVAN LENDL: Well, we had the unfortunate part we shared that both of us lost a few majors before we won the first one, and we understood each other with that quite well. I could understand how he was feeling, how frustrating it is, and so on and so on. Also I think sense of humor, and enjoyment of sports.
Q. People view you as a pretty serious character, but talk to us about your sense of humor off court.
IVAN LENDL: I would hate to ruin my reputation.
Q. I had the pleasure of talking with your daughters last year for the Southeastern Conference golf tournament
IVAN LENDL: Which one did you talk to?
Q. Daniella well, the one was at Alabama, the one was at Florida.
IVAN LENDL: Okay.
Q. Talk to me a little bit about your play of tennis and your play of golf. I get the sense that one is business and one is a pleasure/love. Am I overstating it too much?
IVAN LENDL: Well, it depends how you look at it. I enjoy both, obviously. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it.
Q. I get the sense, though, that and obviously you are deeply into tennis, but golf looks to be a real deep relationship that you’ve got with that particular sport, something that you’ve really taken hold of and really held onto.
IVAN LENDL: Well, I enjoy competing, and once I stopped playing tennis, because of my back I didn’t play for quite a while, I had really nowhere to compete, and golf filled that part of my life very well, obviously on a much lower level than when I played tennis, but I still do enjoy playing the senior state opens and tournaments and so on.
Q. Do you see either of your daughters being able to make a run in golf like you made in tennis?
IVAN LENDL: Well, I think it’s really up to them how much they want to do that or whether they want to do it at all.
Q. Could you maybe discuss whether you feel like through the years McEnroe was you had a lot of great rivalries, whether that was your number one rival, and maybe just talk about how your relationship with him has maybe changed now that you’re playing him in a different type setting.
IVAN LENDL: Well, I don’t know if he was my number one rival. We have played, I believe, somewhere in the mid 30s, something like that, and I have played a lot of matches with Connors. I have played quite a few matches with Wilander, Edberg and Becker, as well. I think at one time, obviously, we were number one rivals, and then I think it started shifting sort of mid ’80s to other guys, and Connors was there at the same time as McEnroe, maybe a bit longer because after ’85 he took some time off, didn’t play as much as before. I would say I had a lot of rivalries with those guys.
Q. Has your relationship sort of changed with him now that you’re playing in a different setting?
IVAN LENDL: Well, it’s obviously much less competitive than it has been when we played in the US Open finals, but I think both of us still want to play well and have fun with it.
Q. And just talk about this tournament coming to Indianapolis, the first stop since the tour here, and I know that you
IVAN LENDL: Are you from Kansas City?
Q. No, from Indianapolis.
IVAN LENDL: Okay.
Q. And obviously I know you came here when it was clay and had a great match with Becker when it was still clay and then back when it was hard courts. Talk about your memories of playing there in Indianapolis.
IVAN LENDL: The first time I came in the summer to the United States, Indianapolis was one of the places, and I could not believe how hot and humid it was. It was quite a shock. I didn’t expect that. Obviously I didn’t know much about it, otherwise I would have expected that. It was extremely hot. It was extremely difficult to play in those conditions, and I was very proud when I was able to overcome it and win there.
RANDY WALKER: Ivan and John played 36 times in their career on the ATP Tour. Ivan led the series 21-15. Only Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal played more times in the open era history of the ATP Tour. Novak and Rafael have played 39 times to Ivan and John’s 36 times. The No. 3 rivalry of all time in men’s tennis in the open era was Ivan and Jimmy Connors. They played 35 times, and Ivan led the series there 22-13. And then in PowerShares Series history, John leads the series over Ivan 2-1.
Q. A lot of people say this is a little similar to the Champions Tour, or the PGA Senior Tour. What’s the fun in this? You’re not as competitive as the old days, but you obviously still want to win this match. What’s it like for a crowd to witness one of these?
IVAN LENDL: Well, I don’t know, I’ve never been in the crowd, but I can tell you what it feels like as the players. It’s always fun to see the guys. It’s fun to interact with people more. It’s a bit lighter side of the players, but yet, as you said, it’s still competitive that the guys want to play well.
Q. And along those lines, just the atmosphere. It’s a different setting, but it sounds like it’s something that’s really picking up steam and a lot of people are having fun with it and it’s gaining more and more momentum. How do you see this moving forward the next five years or so?
IVAN LENDL: Well, wherever we have played, it’s usually very well received, and I have played in Europe, I have played in Asia, I have played in Australia, I have played obviously in the United States and Canada. It’s very well received and people seem to enjoy it very much. As far as where it’s going to go in the next five years, I don’t know. I’m not involved in the business part of it.
RANDY WALKER: You’re also playing in events in Nashville and Charlotte, and those matches are going to be the exact semifinal rematches of the Super Saturday at the US Open September 8, 1984, when you beat Pat Cash in a fifth set tiebreaker and John McEnroe beat Jimmy Connors in a five-set semifinal. If you could talk a little bit about that day; you hit a pretty good forehand topspin lob down match point against Cash in the fifth set. Talk a little bit about that match and that day and rekindling your match with Pat in Nashville and Charlotte.
IVAN LENDL: Yeah, it was an extremely difficult day, obviously, when you play five sets and you have finals of the US Open coming up the next day. But I think it’s a special day in tennis. That Super Saturday was special for many, many years. They went away from it either last year or a couple years ago. But I always have nice memories of that, and I’m looking forward to recreating it as long as I don’t have to play five sets.
RANDY WALKER: It’s one set semifinals and one set finals on the PowerShares Series.
IVAN LENDL: We can start in the tiebreaker then.
Q. We are from New York, and we always see John, always practicing, and he takes tennis very seriously. He has fun, but he’s still competitive. How do you train for this PowerShares Series?
IVAN LENDL: Well, I do some conditioning. I try to do something every day for conditioning, whether it is biking or rollerblading or do some weights and so on. I play tennis about three times a week.
Q. Also something a little bit about Andy Murray because we spoke to Andy today, and he’s going to be here in New York in Madison Square Garden. He said that you had great things to say about New York. Do you remember when you played here at Madison Square Garden?
IVAN LENDL: I always enjoyed it. I enjoyed playing at Flushing Meadows, I enjoyed playing at Forest Hills, and I absolutely loved playing at Madison Square Garden. All three places at that time, I had a home in Greenwich, Connecticut, so I could stay home, which was always a big advantage, at least in my mind, that you stay home and have home cooking and stay in your own bed. I think the results showed how much I enjoyed it because when you feel comfortable somewhere, you usually play pretty well.
Q. And also, again, about Andy, coming back from back surgery, he had a pretty good run at the Australian Open. Were you guys somehow surprised how well he played? Unfortunately he lost to Roger, but what’s your assessment on that?
IVAN LENDL: I think it was sort of realistic what he achieved at the Australian Open. I think he was very close to doing better. I wish he had done better because that match was the beginning of the fourth set; anything could have happened after he served match point and Rocha was serving for the match, if Andy got ahead in the fourth I think he had an excellent chance of winning, but unfortunately he got behind.
Q. And with respect to you again, you have been a great champion, have so many fans around the world and such a pleasure that you’re going to join the PowerShares Series. How do you feel because it’s more relaxed in a way, but at the same time it’s competitive. I’m sure there’s still the love for the game out there for you, right?
IVAN LENDL: Yeah, I enjoy playing, and I enjoy going to places I have never been to, and I never played in Oklahoma City, so I’m looking forward to that one.
Q. My question regards your last couple of years traveling with Andy, participating in Grand Slams and other tournaments. In addition to you imparting your wisdom and expertise to a young player like Andy, what have you gleaned from him and his play and his training, his mental challenges, if you will? I know you’ve helped him with that regard and helped him of course win Wimbledon last year. But what have you learned from him and perhaps some of the other players like Rafa and Djokovic, Roger, et cetera? What have you picked up over the last couple years that you’ve been exposed to these top global players on a regular basis?
IVAN LENDL: Well, you learn how much the game has changed, how much more complete players they are than the players in the past. You see how everybody trains and how they prepare. But most of the time you just not that you learn, but you confirm your beliefs in how things are done and what’s the best way to go about preparation and competition.
Q. Sticking with the Australian Open for just a quick second, it was a great final between Rafa and Stan. Anything that you saw that either led you to believe or surprised you in that final, especially with Stan playing so strongly that first set?
IVAN LENDL: I didn’t see the final. I was in the air from Melbourne to Los Angeles, and I learned the result when I landed in Los Angeles, and I still didn’t have time to watch it.
Q. You and Connors, great rivalry, and I know after you retired from playing on the regular tour, both you and Jimmy, it seemed like you both picked up golf. From what I can tell you’re a little more fervent about it than he may be, but have you ever considered getting on the course and reconstructing a rivalry on the course, or maybe you’ve done that and we don’t know about it?
IVAN LENDL: No, I haven’t played with Jimmy. I wasn’t even aware that he plays much. It can always be done.
Q. The Wimbledon final was incredible, and obviously
IVAN LENDL: You’re talking about 2013?
Q. Yeah, and all the pressure on Andy, obviously, and the last game to close it out. Sitting up there in the friends’ box, when he closed it out, what went through your mind?
IVAN LENDL: I was very pleased for him. I knew how much pressure Andy went through in 2012 playing Roger, and I was also aware of how much pressure there was in 2013, how much he wanted to win, how hard he worked for it, and what obstacles he had to overcome, so I was extremely pleased for him.
Q. And also at Wimbledon, Jack Nicklaus was there, and he said that tennis was tougher mentally than golf. Could you talk and just compare the mental requirements, mental toughness of the two different sports?
IVAN LENDL: Well, I think they’re both mentally tough. I think in both sports you rely on yourself and you don’t have teammates to pick up your slack where if you mess up something or if it’s not your best day, that somebody else steps up. You really get all the credit, but you also get all the blame if you want to call it that way. I think the main difference between tennis and golf is that in golf if you have a bad half hour or 45 minutes, you’re out of the tournament. In tennis you can have a bad 45 minutes and be sitting a break down and you can still win in four sets. In that part, you would have to say that maybe tennis is a little bit easier mentally because you can have little lapses and get over it, but it’s definitely tougher physically.
Q. In terms of John back in the old days, he was pretty a lot of rough edges, came at you pretty strong. Did he piss you off? What was your take on John?
IVAN LENDL: Oh, I think I could handle it all right.
Q. But did you have anger towards him, or did you view it as it was pretty much just part of
IVAN LENDL: I think if you play with anger, you don’t play with a clear mind. I think you have to play with a clear mind.
Q. And finally, if I could just ask you to just talk about pretty much the incredible history of Czech tennis. So many outstanding players and now back to back Davis Cups, but some problems recently in terms of winning Slams. Could you talk about the heritage of Czech tennis and on court the beauty of the Czech game?
IVAN LENDL: Yeah, I think I have a quiz question for you then at the end if you want to talk about Czech
Q. Wait a second, all right.
IVAN LENDL: But it’s a great question. You will enjoy it. I think the history is there for a long time. You can go I’m not a historian, but you can go all the way to the Second World War and afterwards, and there is great history, men’s and women’s. And now in the team competitions, two Davis Cups in a row, before that two Fed Cups in a row, I believe, and Berdych is very close and Kvitova has won Wimbledon. It’s great, great history and present of Czech tennis. The question I have for you: Who is the only person to be a world ice hockey champion and a Wimbledon champion?
Q. That’s a good question. I know Ellsworth Vines won ping pong and tennis.
IVAN LENDL: I didn’t know he won ping pong.
Q. I know you were part owner of the Hartford team.
IVAN LENDL: Not true, but I was on the board, yes.
RANDY WALKER: I think I might know the answer to that. Drobny?
IVAN LENDL: Correct.
RANDY WALKER: What do I get?
IVAN LENDL: Another question. Who is the only person with an African passport to win a Grand Slam?
RANDY WALKER: Drobny. I am the publisher of the Bud Collins History of Tennis.
IVAN LENDL: That would be why.
Q. I was wondering how you get along with the players on this series, if you get a chance to hang out away from the court and if you play pranks on each other or if you have any interesting stories.
IVAN LENDL: We do. We do clinics together. We do meet and greets together. We travel together. We get along very well.
RANDY WALKER: We want to thank Ivan for joining us today, and we will see him starting on February 5 in Kansas City.
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Prior to competing on the 2014 PowerShares Series “legends” tennis circuit, Andy Roddick held court with the media to discuss a wide array of topics including his competitiveness, the Australian Open, Bernard Tomic, the National Football League, a potential future role with the U.S. Davis Cup team, and playing alongside legends of the game at events in Birmingham, Denver and Houston. Here’s the full conference call transcript of Roddick’s interview.
RANDY WALKER: Thank you all for joining today. We’re happy to welcome to the PowerShares Series tennis circuit in 2014 and to our call today Andy Roddick. Andy is going to be making his PowerShares Series debut on February 13th in Birmingham, Alabama, and will be competing in tournaments in Denver on February 19th and Houston on February 20th. The 2014 PowerShares Series starts its 12 city tour February 5th in Kansas City. For more information, including players, schedule and ticket information, you can go to www.PowerSharesSeries.com. Before we open it up to the questions for our participants, I’m going to ask Andy a question about playing in the PowerShares Series. Andy, since you were playing in the juniors, you’ve always been a very competitive guy,and Patrick McEnroe was talking on the Australian Open broadcast last night about how you were such a competitor and fought your guts out in every match you played. What is it going to be like on the PowerShares Series this year where you’re going to be able to fire up those competitive juices again?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I’d like to say that I’ll be able to be mature enough to kind of put it in perspective that it’s not what we do every day now, but I’d probably be lying to you. Even when I play these charity expos now, I kind of have to contain myself. I certainly have my share of, I guess, quasi embarrassing moments that come from being so competitive and a little too intense. I think when you get guys who are programmed from when they’re young to have a goal of trying to win something, I don’t think that goes away easily, and I’m sure when we get between the lines… listen, if there’s an option of winning and losing, you want to win. That’s just human nature.
Q. Talk about playing in Houston. You’ve had some great memories in Houston. You won your second ATP title there. You clinched the year end No. 1 there at the Tennis Masters Cup. Talk a little bit about what it’s going to be like playing in Houston.
ANDY RODDICK: Well, it’ll be great. I feel there’s so much in the early part of my career over at Westside, from the tournament to Masters Cup to we played a Davis Cup tie there, so I played there at the same club clay, hard and grass, which doesn’t happen very often. But just a lot of good memories, and it’s always a place that I certainly enjoy playing. It’s a short drive to my home in Austin, too, which is a great thing, and I’m looking forward to it.
Q. Andy, I know you’re coming to Denver, and I know you can speak on all sports; I’ve seen you on the show. Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady, two large sports personas going up against each other; does this remind you of any great rivalries in tennis or even other sports?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I think so. I think Manning and Brady kind of have all the makings of a great rivalry. They’re so similar in so many ways as far as their preparation and kind of their will to win, and like any great rivalry, I think it needs to happen over time so we can get a little nostalgic about it. But at the same time there are distinct differences. Peyton can be self deprecating on Saturday Night Live, and Brady is this unbelievably good looking guy married to Giselle that has all the cool stuff in press conferences. So there is enough difference to make it very interesting. It’s just fun. It also is getting to the point where you don’t know how many more times you’re going to see it, so you start reflecting and appreciating it each time.
Q. In your opinion what’s the greatest tennis rivalry of all time?
ANDY RODDICK: Oh, man, that’s hard. It’s tough going generation versus generation. Obviously in my kind of era, it all happened around Roger and Rafa. But again, it had the same sort of underlying they’re different enough personalities to make it interesting. Stylistically they matched up in an entertaining way, and they both went about it the right way and had a certain level of respect, which is probably different than the ones you saw in the ’80s with McEnroe and Connors where they just flat out didn’t like each other. There are different ways to have a great rivalry.
Q. And with Peyton versus Brady, is it one of those things like must see TV; you can’t miss it if you’re a sports fan?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I think so. I think the funny thing is these guys have been running the ball the last couple weeks, so it’s all about Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, but as the weather has been colder, I think I saw a stat today the Patriots ran the ball 62 percent of the time last week, which was their highest total since like 2008 against Buffalo, and Moreno was a factor, also. So we’re building up this whole game around these great quarterbacks because it looks like they’re running the ball in the cold weather, so we’ll see how much they actually air it out.
Q. What’s the best barbecue in Austin, Texas?
ANDY RODDICK: It has to be Franklin’s. Any time people are waiting two hours for lunch, it’s got to be pretty good.
Q. Andy, playing in Denver you’re going to be matched up in the semifinals against Philippoussis, and the other semifinal is going to be Jim Courier against James Blake. Talk about playing Philippoussis and also playing in altitude and what that does to a tennis ball up in Denver?
ANDY RODDICK: Well, that’s a bad combination for me, Philippoussis and altitude. This is actually the first I’m hearing about it. Mark and I have been friends for a while. The thing is his service motion is so technically sound that, from what I’ve heard, he really hasn’t lost much on his serve since he was playing, which I wish the same could be said for me. It’ll be tough, but I’m just excited to get out there and play. It’ll be fun. I like all those guys who are there. Jim and James are two of my closest friends. I’d love to be able to get through Mark and play one of those guys in the final.
Q. I know there’s a lot to talk about here. I wanted to ask a couple quick questions about the topic of the day in tennis, since I know you’ve been through this so many times. These guys are suffering in the heat. I know you always liked the heat to a large degree, even though you sweat a lot, and I was just curious how you feel about where the extreme should be, what you’re seeing or hearing. Is it too much? And also, would you talk a little bit about there’s a lot of discussion in sport now about the fact that we shouldn’t have a World Cup in big heat. What’s your feeling about all that?
ANDY RODDICK: Well, part of me finds it entertaining that every time we go down to Australia we act surprised that it’s hot outside. It’s funny, the guys who have the reputation for being prepared aren’t the guys keeling over. You’re never going to see Roger outwardly showing heat. You’re not going to see Rafa doing it. You’re not going to see Novak anymore; you’re not going to see him doing it. Frankly I hated it when they closed the roof. I felt like I was prepared. I felt like it was a different tennis tournament once they put it indoors. They do have a system in place where if they deem it’s too hot, and there’s a pretty distinct number system that they have used there in the past, and they do have the ability to call it. Do we need to make extreme things because guys are struggling in the heat? I don’t know. Personally I don’t think so. I think as athletes we push our bodies to do things that aren’t normal, and frankly that’s what we get paid for. I can’t feel it. Listen, when you play there, it’s brutal. It feels like you’re playing in a hairdryer, but that’s all part of it. Each Slam presents its own unique set of challenges and you kind of have to attack it accordingly.
Q. Is it desirable in your opinion that we keep putting these sporting events in situations like this where it could happen at this extreme level, or is that not a problem?
ANDY RODDICK: I can’t speak to the World Cup. I haven’t been there. I haven’t experienced it. It seemed like there were other viable options that maybe didn’t have that. But you’re not going to take the Slam out of Australia. It’s too good of a venue. They have built indoor courts, and like I said, they do have a system in place that they have used before. It’s not as if…I was reading something where the humidity levels weren’t as bad so they didn’t use it. There is thought put into it. It’s not like they’re just going rogue with throwing people out there. They’ve set the precedent for being smart about it, and they have done it in the past. I don’t think they should just close the roofs because people are writing about it.
Q. And the last thing from me, what’s the most key thing about preparing yourself for that? I know you’ve lived in hot weather parts of the States, but you used to go to Hawai’i to train before the Open. What’s the critical thing? Is it the adaptation? Is it good genetics?
ANDY RODDICK: Well, I don’t know that there’s one thing. I spent four weeks doing fitness in Austin, and then when I started really hitting balls, I put myself in heat for two weeks before I even went down to play the first event there. By the time we got to Australia, I had been in similar heat for three or four weeks. Frankly it’s stupid to train indoors in cold weather the whole time and then expect to go to Australia and not to have your your body is not going to adapt that quick. But it will adapt. And frankly I don’t know that Australia is as extreme as Florida in the summer or the hottest days in Cincinnati in the summer. I think you’re seeing guys play three out of five, and it’s become a more physical game, so you’re kind of seeing the toll of that.
Q. Someone was telling me that you back in the day played tennis against Drew Brees. Are you relieved we don’t have him on the tennis tour today?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah. It’s funny, every time he plays a playoff game on national television, this story comes up again. He played he actually beat me the first two times. I think he was 12 and I was 9, and he was kind of like an after school tennis player who was better than all the guys who actually practiced like me, and then I beat him and he started playing other sports. So who knows how far it could have gone. But I think it just kind of lends itself to discussion of what a good athlete he actually is.
Q. There were moments during your playing career that you didn’t like media. Now that you’ve got a radio show, do you view the folks on the other side with a little bit more empathy?
ANDY RODDICK: No, I don’t. The only time I had an issue with the media is when I felt like they weren’t prepared with their questioning or they were asking irresponsible questions. You know, listen, I’m not going to have someone who covers tennis once a year coming into the local market, coming into a press conference and using the wrong terminology for our sport. So no, I never had a problem with media when they were well thought out, asked smart questions, and seemed to actually care as opposed to just being there because their boss was taking attendance, frankly.
Q. Bernard Tomic was booed by fans when he retired after one set with Nadal. Have you ever been in a situation like that where you were booed by your own fans?
ANDY RODDICK: Listen, I’ve been booed because of the way I’ve acted. I don’t know that I’ve been booed because of a perceived lack of effort. Bernie is in a tough position now because he’s developed a little bit of a reputation of giving less than 100 percent effort now, so he might have had a groin injury the other night. Had it been someone like Lleyton, who has built his career and at least gained the trust from the fan base as far as putting in effort, I don’t think the boos would have been there. Bernie has a certain process ahead of him where he has to kind of earn the respect back as far as being a competitor. It was an unfortunate situation because by all accounts he is actually hurt, but I feel like the booing is maybe more of a snowball effect from some of the past performances.
Q. Talk a little bit about making your debut event in Birmingham. It’s going to be at the same arena where you played Davis Cup against Switzerland. Talk a little bit about that tie against Switzerland and what it’s going to be like to be back in Birmingham.
ANDY RODDICK: Well, I’m excited. We obviously had a great Davis Cup tie back there in I think it was 2009, and we enjoyed everything about it. It was one of those rare Davis Cup ties where everything went mostly according to script. We got out with a W. I played a good match the last day against Wawrinka. The court was fast; the crowd was into it. We were able to lean on him. You know, I enjoyed playing there. I’m sure it’ll bring back some good memories when I’m back.
Q. No doubt about it, you gave so much to the game. You thrilled, you entertained the sports fans for a decade. How much will this new arena, this venue, allow you to entertain even more as you’re playing?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I mean, I think it certainly provides that opportunity. There’s no way to replace playing in front of a crowd and kind of the feeling that gives you, and I have a lot of other interests right now which are very fulfilling, but nothing will ever replace being able to play live sports. Yeah, I didn’t expect it to. But this is a chance for me to do it, I guess, more in a little bit of a part time scale. I’m looking forward to it. You know, it’s always fun to play with guys that have been so accomplished in the sport, as well. I’m looking forward to it.
Q. Any good one liners you’re working on these days?
ANDY RODDICK: You know, if I previewed them they wouldn’t be as funny that day, would they?
Q. You gave your life to Davis Cup during your career. What would it mean to be part of Davis Cup again in some capacity down the road?
ANDY RODDICK: Oh, I don’t know. Frankly I see Jim being the captain for a very long time. I think he does a great job. All the guys love him. I was able to play for him for a couple of ties, so that’s Jim is a great friend of mine. Honestly that’s something I hadn’t really thought about much.
Q. I wasn’t trying to usurp his job for you, but if you were brought in as a coach, as a motivator, someone that could really relate to the players, what would that mean to you?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, again, I wasn’t insinuating that I was going to be captain, either. I was just saying I think Jim can do all those things. Basically any skill set that I would apply, he’s done it all and more. He’s done a great job with the crew. Honestly I don’t see what value I would add with Jim at the helm right now.
Q. Playing in Houston, how about you and your friend, your buddy, Bobby Bones? Do you have anything planned? I know you can’t talk about it, but are you excited to be working this with him in some capacity?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I mean, we’ve had a really good relationship. We’re great friends. He’s done such a good job now with country radio being pretty much the guy for country radio nationally. I’m proud of his career path. I certainly admire his work ethic. He gets after it, and he wants to do everything. It’s always fun to kind of watch his career progress.
Q. As a barometer, when you were in Miami playing Murray, you played well. I know he was coming back, but how strong of a barometer is that for you? You can still do it, I guess.
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I mean, listen, I wanted to… I’m retired. I can still play a little bit. I won two out of my last five events on tour. When I do practice with guys who are currently playing, I can hold my own. It was never a I’m fully confident the guys I played against my whole career, a lot of them are Youzhny is 14 in the world; Lopez is 20 in the world. There’s a lot of guys who I played for a long time. For me it wasn’t a matter of could I still be good on tour. The question was can I win a Grand Slam, and once I didn’t think I could, that was enough for me. I certainly feel like I’m capable of playing a high level tennis still.
Q. What is it like being a part of this series with all the great names that you’ve been around, and now you guys are involved again?
ANDY RODDICK: Yeah, I mean, listen, it’s certainly a big list of names and personalities. It’s almost as if every night it’s almost a history lesson of the last 30 years of tennis. It’s really cool. I was a tennis fan long before I was a player, and so it’s surreal for me to be involved with these guys. I don’t think I’ve ever fully gotten used to, let’s say, participating in the same night as a Pete Sampras or a Jim Courier. Those guys were my heroes growing up. But it’s always fun to get together with those guys again and be around them and to play against them. It’s always been a blast for me.
Q. For fans who will be buying tickets to watch your event, what would you tell them about what they can expect to see perhaps?
ANDY RODDICK: (Laughing) Anything, really. The thing about our group of guys, not a lot of us have been accused of being shy out there. I think we do understand we all want to win. But at the same time I certainly understand it’s a show, and I couldn’t always interact as much as I wanted to while I was playing on tour, but I’m going to have a good time during these matches. That’ll show through. I think we want fans to come out and really actively participate in the matches. You want it to be interactive. You want it to be fun. You want to give them a good event on top of the tennis.
RANDY WALKER: We want to thank everyone for joining us today. We want to thank especially Andy, and we’ll see you starting in Birmingham next month.
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By Thaddeus McCarthy
The NZ Festival of Tennis came to an end with John Isner prevailing in the Heineken Open final, 7-6, 7-6, over first time ATP finalist Yen-Hsun Lu. The first week of course finished with Ana Ivanovic overcoming Venus Williams. The Festival is my personal favourite of the NZ Summer of Sporting events. The weather certainly turned up for the 2 weeks, although I can remember one afternoon early on with the ASB Classic which wasn’t that great. Nevertheless the play was uninterrupted and the tournament enjoyed sell-out crowds. This posting will review the second week’s tournament and give a line-up and some predictions for the big one, the Aussie Open.
David Ferrer, the widely expected winner, bowed out in the semi-final to Yen-Hsun Yu. He said after that match that it was perhaps one of the worst performances of his career. You’ve got to think about comments in pressers like this that if they aren’t just a bit derogatory of the other player. Federer has been criticised in the past as coming off as a bit arrogant in his pressers. In Ferrer’s case at this time his error rate was very high, so this comment was probably justified. My golden boy from the last posting, Benoit Paire, bowed out in the second round. Arguably the match of the tournament was the Quarterfinal between Phillip Kohlschreiber and Isner, which had three tiebreaks and featured no breaks of serve. I have to say that Kohlschreiber was unlucky not to win that one, as his rallying was superior to Isner.
Going back to the Heineken final, once again Isner’s serve was on fire. At 2.06m tall he is known as having one of the best, if not the best serve on tour. Isner called the final match perhaps his best of the week (his serve was not broken once). First time finalist Yu played well, his one-handed backhand passing shot at the end of the second set (to save the second match point) was testament to that. He just played against a man in Isner who was really hitting his shots on the day. Isner did say after his semi-final, that without his serve he would not be ranked inside the top 500. His serve is just an example that to be ranked highly in this sport you do often need a big weapon. As mentioned in my last post, the winner of this fortnight’s Australian Open will be a player who has a weapon, one which will turn an over wise even match in their favour.
In my first ever posting on here, I predicted that we would see a Del Potro/Nadal final. I will not stick with this, as they have been slated to meet in the Quarter-finals. I will have to go instead with a Del Potro/Djokovic final. Juan Martin Del Potro has just downed Bernard Tomic in straight sets in the Sydney International final, and appears to be in top form. He will not doubt be one dangerous hombre in the Open. Djokovic has been handed perhaps the easiest draw of anyone in the competition. His first real test will come in the Quarterfinals, where he is expected to face-off against Stanislas Wawrinka, who took him too 12-10 in the fifth set (fourth-round) last year. He should come out of this Wawrinka match to take down Ferrer in the semi-final. The Del Potro/Nadal Quarter-final will be a match to watch at the start of the second week. That is assuming Nadal can get past a dangerous Bernard Tomic in the first round. Tomic is a player I have mentioned before as being someone with the potential to win a Grand Slam one day. I just don’t see it happening this year. Nadal I believe, will be too strong for him in the opening round.
On the women’s side I can just not go past Serena Williams this year. Her form with age just appears to be getting better and better and there seems to be no stopping her. She is not a particularly liked player by the tennis public, but you just cannot help but admire the power game she has brought to women’s’ tennis. The two players who I think could create some difficulty for Serena could be Victoria Azarenka or Maria Sharapova. Azarenka was dispatched in straight sets in Brisbane last week, and lost in three tight sets to Serena at US Open 2013. But she can cause the upset on the day. With Sharapova, although she has a terrible record against Serena, on her day an upset could happen. We just have to think back to the 2004 Wimbledon for an example of that. Azarenka and Sharapova are expected to meet in the semi-final, and I would hope that it is not a slug fest, which will leave the winner exhausted for meeting a fit and hungry Serena in the final.
All us sports fans have pet wishes which we hope will happen, but sort of know that they never will. Well, my pet wish for this Open is that Lleyton Hewitt will finally come through to win his home countries slam. Australia has not had a winner on the men’s side since Mark Edmondson won it in 1976; surprisingly with a world ranking of 212 (the lowest seed to ever win a Slam). Hewitt got close in 2005, when he reached the final, but other than that has not gone past the fourth round. The 05 Aussie had an incredible excitement about it, mainly thanks to Hewitt’s run on one side, and the Marat Safin machine on the other. It is in fact my all-time favourite slam, and featured one of my all-time favourite matches, the Safin/Federer semi-final. Hewitt’s win in last week’s Brisbane final against Federer definitely gave some hope that another dream run may again be possible. For the women, Samantha Stousur is my pet wish to be the winner. The women similiary to the men have not have had a winner since Chris O’ Neil in 1978. It would really generate some interest in the Open if we were having a couple of great local runs.
So there you have it. My predictions for the Aussie Open are for a men’s final of Djokovic/Del Potro, and a women’s final of Serena/ Azarenka. Although what I would like to happen is for a Hewitt/Del Potro final for the men and a Stosur/Williams final for the women. Having a surprising local run on one side, and a dangerous power player on the other would make this Open hugely memorable. Whatever happens though, this is a tournament I thoroughly look forward too every year, and it never disappoints in providing us with gripping moments. Watch this space.
When one thinks of the greatest rivalries in the history of tennis, John McEnroe vs. Jimmy Connors is near the top of the list.
While many remember their epic duels at the US Open and Wimbledon, one of their most combative confrontations may have come in an exhibition match!
As documented in the mobile app and book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY (www.TennisHistoryApp.com), this famous match took place on January 10, 1982, and unfolded as described below.
In a match in which Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe nearly come to blows, Connors edges John McEnroe, 6-7, 7-5, 6-7, 7-5, 6-4, in the final of the Michelob Light Challenge in Rosemont, Ill. – an eight-player exhibition event used as warm-up to the Masters tournament. The match is highlighted by several point penalties and verbal exchanges between the two rivals, including a fifth-set confrontation that nearly got physical. Writes Neil Amdur of the New York Times, “Connors stepped across the net and confronted McEnroe for what Connors considered abusive language and delay tactics; the two players were ”about a whisker apart,” in Connors’s words, before being restrained by officials.” One day later, in a pre-Masters press event in New York, Connors is asked what McEnroe said to him to irk him so much. Says Connors, “I hope I misunderstood what he said.” Continues Connors of his relationship with McEnroe, ”I think we both have the same attitudes. He’s aggressive, I’m aggressive. We both stick up for our rights. But I stick up for my rights in a different way. If I feel like I’m in the right, I’ll step up. I want some respect, not sloughing off. But there are certain limits.”
The McEnroe vs. Connors rivalry still continues as the two will compete against each other on the PowerShares Series tennis circuit on Wednesday, March 12 in Nashville, Tennessee at the Bridgestone Arena and on Thursday, March 13 in Charlotte, N.C. at the Time Warner Arena. For more info, go to www.PowerSharesTennis.com
Pete Sampras spoke of the life lessons of sports – saying “Nothing is given to you, you have to go out there and earn it” – this week in a radio interview with Grant Napear of KHTK Radio in Sacramento, Calif., where he will be competing in the PowerShares Series tennis circuit event February 26 at the Sleep Train Arena.
“In life, in a lot of ways, you see a lot of people get breaks when they don’t deserve them,” Sampras, the 14-time major singles champion, said to Napear. “I just feel that with sports, nothing is given to you, you have to go out there and earn it. There are a lot of good life lessons that you can learn from sports and it’s something I am trying to instill in my kids.”
Sampras is playing two events on the PowerShares Series in 2014, in Salt Lake City, Utah on February 25 at the Energy Solutions Arena and in Sacramento on February 26.
“I love sports,” Sampras said. “I love watching anything from the NFL to golf to college football. I think sports is the real deal. There are great stories. There are emotional stories. It’s very real. I love tennis because it is the ultimate one on one sport. It’s one will against another will. You put it all out there. If you don’t play well, you are going to lose. That’s the way I kind of like it.”
In his appearance on Napear’s show, Sampras discussed other topics outlined and excerpted below:
On Why American Tennis Has Lost Its Dominance In Global Tennis:
“I don’t know if it is really us, but I think the world has gotten a little bit better. Through television and the internet, it seems like there are just more people playing tennis. You look at the top players in the world, you got Rafa (Nadal) being from Mallorca and (Novak) Djokovic being from Serbia and Roger (Federer) from Switzerland. Twenty years ago, maybe tennis wasn’t popular in those countries, now they are and the best athletes from these countries are playing tennis and not just playing soccer. So it’s a combination of those things. The American players today are doing as well as they can and it’s just they are a level or two behind. I just think the world has gotten better. Maybe they start younger. Maybe college tennis in this country isn’t quite what the satellite tour might be in Europe. There are a lot of different reasons. At the end of the day, I think the world has gotten a little bit more into tennis and all these great athletes are playing tennis and they are not just playing soccer.”
On Novak Djokovic Rebounding From Tough Losses In 2013:
“For Djokovic, he’s going to be right there. It’s really the top three or four guys. We will see what Roger does, if he can come back from where he’s at, but I see Djokovic and Rafa being the best two players. I think they will compete for all the majors. I’m not saying they are going to get to every final, but I just think that those two guys, they are truly the best players. Djokovic did have some tough losses. He got to the Wimbledon final and ran into (Andy) Murray which was a great story for him. He lost a tough French and lost a tough US Open so Djokovic will bounce back. He’s a great player and I just think he and Rafa are just a level above everyone else. They have developed a pretty good rivalry”
On The 12-City 2014 PowerShares Series Tour and Playing in Sacramento:
“It’s a fun tour. Sacramento, we’ve never been there so I’m looking forward to playing. John (McEnroe) and Jim (Courier) and James (Blake), they are obviously great players and good friends. It’s fun night but at the same time, it’s competitive. We just hope people come out and support it and watch it like and feel like they enjoyed their night. I’m looking forward to it and excited that Sacramento got it this year. I’ve been there a few times, played there a couple times. It’s a good town.”
On Still Playing Tennis Competitively On The PowerShares Series:
“I still enjoy playing. I really do. I love hitting the ball and just getting a good workout in and going out and competing against some of these old friends of mine. It’s fun and I get to catch up with some friends, some old stories. And for whatever reason, these people still want to see us play, so I’m excited. It keeps me busy, keeps me involved in the sport and the sport has been good to me. I’m looking forward to hitting a few balls, getting in tennis shape and having some fun.”
To listen to the full interview, go here: http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2014/01/07/the-grant-napear-show-january-7-2014/
Tickets for all PowerShares Series events start at $25 and can be purchased at www.PowerSharesSeries.com. VIP packages for all events are also available at PowerSharesSeries.com, by email to VIP@insideoutse.com, or by phone at 253.315.4299.
The full 2014 Power Shares Series schedule with field of players are as follows:
Wednesday, February 5, Kansas City, Sprint Center – Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Michael Chang
Thursday, February 6, Oklahoma City, Chesapeake Energy Arena – Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Michael Chang
Thursday, February 13, Birmingham, Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex – John McEnroe, Andy Roddick, Jim Courier, Mark Philippoussis
Friday, February 14, Indianapolis, Bankers Life Fieldhouse – John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jim Courier, Mark Philippoussis
Wednesday, February 19, Denver, Pepsi Center – Andy Roddick, James Blake, Jim Courier, Mark Philippoussis
Thursday, February 20, Houston, Toyota Center – Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Andy Roddick, James Blake
Tuesday, February 25, Salt Lake City, Energy Solutions Arena – Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Jim Courier, James Blake
Wednesday, February 26, Sacramento, 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, Bridgestone Arena – John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Pat Cash
Thursday, March 13, Charlotte, Time Warner Arena – John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Pat Cash
Friday, March 21, Surprise, Ariz., Surprise Stadium – Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Todd Martin, Michael Chang
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By Thaddeus McCarthy
As I have just returned home from covering the ASB Classic, and the Heineken Open is already underway, I thought that now would be a good time to give you a summary of the Classic and an intro to the Open.
The ASB Classic was a fantastic six day event played at the ASB Tennis Centre, Auckland. It was (pleasantly) sunny, even though the forecast had predicted rain. The play did not disappoint, and from a personal perspective, as it was my first time covering a tournament, it was brilliant, and the experience certainly lived up to expectations. It was also the dream final, the one everyone had wanted from the start, Venus Williams vs. Ana Ivanovic. Now sometimes these sort of the matches can be disappointments; like many of the long awaited finals in our sport e.g. any number of the Federer/Nadal French Open finals. But this was different; it was tight and the tennis was electrifying. In the first set, Ivanovic cruised to win 6-2. Venus saved a match point at 5-4 in the second set, and went on to win it 7-5. In the final set though Ivanovic’s younger legs proved to be springier. She caught a break at the early stages of the set, and did not let go from there, eventually prevailing 6-4, and taking the title.
Both Venus and Ivanovic said in the post-match interviews, that this tournament was the perfect preparation for the Australian Open. I think after watching both players, I would expect at least one of them to go into the second week there. They are both on comeback trails right now, but I think that Ana is the more likely one to do so. She has the younger legs, still only being 26. And has a number of weapons on disposal, such as a blistering ground strokes and strong service game. Whereas with Venus you have to say that age is catching up with her. The other player that most impressed me from the tournament was American Jamie Hampton. I was at the press conference where she announced that she was pulling out of her semi-final with Venus, due to a hip injury. Something about her struck me. She seemed in a way similar to the Mighty Fed, in that she spoke almost in third person. She seemed very sure of herself, and I am certain that if she gets over her injury in time, by the Australian Open she will do well. In her quarterfinal against Lauren Davis, I was impressed by the all-round strength of her game.
The NZ Festival of Tennis continues this week, with the Heineken Open. David Ferrer is the defending champion here, and has come back (now as the World No. 3) to defend his title. The other headline acts will be Tommy Haas and John Isner. Gael Monfils, the flamboyant Frenchman unfortunately pulled out this week citing fatigue. Being the first month of the year this is pretty doubtful, but understandable that if he is not feeling totally right, he doesn’t want to ruin himself for the coming Slam. The tournament organisers were in talks with Andy Murray’s manager about potentially getting him in on a wild card, after his early exit from the Qatar Open. Unfortunately though, this was not to be the case. In reality it was too much of a rush for Murray to suddenly come down here to play a tournament after his Qatar loss. Tournament Director Karl Budge insisted after the Murray and Monfils announcements that the tournament does still have some exciting talent, such as young American Jack Sock, not to mention Marcos Baghdadis, Benoit Paire and Phillip Kohlschreiber. Ferrer’s path to the title, will no doubt still be a difficult one, even without a Murray in his way.
As the Classic proved for the ladies, the Heineken Open will serve as a good preparation for the Australian Open, as that Slam begins on the 15th. If I were to predict a player from this tournament who has the potential to win it though, it would not be David Ferrer. Although he has a very high likelihood of winning the Heineken again, I just don’t think that he has enough firepower to win a Slam. Yes, he did reach the French final last year (where he was dually shellacked in straight sets by Nadal), but Slam winners traditionally need to have a weapon arsenal at their disposal. It is very uncommon for journeyman (such as Ferrer) to win Slams. One-Slam-Wonder Journeyman who immediately come to mind include Andrei Gomez (1990 French) and Thomas Johanseen (2002 Aussie). Now in both these cases they were lucky; in Gomez’s case, Agassi was more worried about his hair piece falling out than winning the final. In Johanseen’s case, he had a very favourable draw that year, and played the volatile and unstable Marat Safin in the final.
My pick for the surprise run of the tournament is Benoit Paire. He is a tall man, with surprising balance, and of course has a booming serve. Although he has not yet gone beyond the third round of a Slam, the Australian as we all know is notorious for unexpected runs. Marcos Baghdadis, 2006 anyone? Or how about Fernando Gonzalez, 2007, or Tsonga, 2008. All of those players had weapon arsenals; the Gonzalez forehand was, is still is legendary. Whatever the case though, surprise run or not, for all of the players involved in this lead-up tournament, the Heineken will be great preparation for the Aussie Open.
You will hear from me again at the completion of the tournament. So for now, keep well.
by Terence Leong
Shenzhen, China - What happens when two top doubles players meet up against each other in singles? It happened in the second round of Shenzhen Open in China when Vania King, ranked No. 85 in singles and the 2010 Wimbledon and US Open doubles champion, faced Sara Errani, ranked No. 7 in singles and No. 1 in doubles, in a New Year’s Day confrontation.
King prevailed in a grueling 2 hour 41 minute match 2-6, 7-6(7), 6-3 which started in the afternoon sun of southern China and ended in a chilly evening under the lights. King provided the first upset of a Top 10 player in 2014 on the first day of the New Year.
I caught up with her the morning after the match and got her insights into the flow of the match, some of its key moments and the various momentum swings she weathered to put the match away with a nice margin in the third set.
King disclosed that even seasoned Grand Slam champions can be anxious when it is time to step on the court. “I felt like I went into the match quite nervous, partly because I was playing on center court for the first time in a while,” she said. “I hadn’t played a tournament in a couple of months so it was getting back and getting used to the mental aspect of being on a big court and playing a top player.”
In spite of the nervousness, King came out swinging in the first game and immediately pressured Errani’s serve having a breakpoint which wasn’t converted. Unfortunately, King was broken in her first two service games while Errani, though pressured, held. The fact that she wasn’t holding serve and Errani was, got the first set to 4-0 for Errani, but one felt King was still in it bringing Errani to deuce in games one and three on Errani’s serve.
The action was more competitive than the score indicated, but with the set slipping away in a best of three-set match, and yet to get on the board, what would King do to respond? “She (Errani) also started quite well, like solid. She didn’t miss much. My tactic that I was trying, wasn’t really working, possibly because I was nervous. I wasn’t executing as well as I wanted to in the beginning. So around the end of the first/beginning of the second set, I started to think. I tried to be more aggressive because I was trying to do some more tactics in the beginning, like play a little bit high to her backhand, try and open the court, but for various reasons it wasn’t working as well as I hoped. So I simplified it for myself, and focused each point on being aggressive and not worrying if I was going to miss or not and slowly I started to be more consistent.”
We’ve all heard this numerous times from pros commentating on televised matches over the years and here was a tour champion reiterating that simple wisdom. When things aren’t going right, return to the fundamentals. Focus on each point not the score. Stay aggressive and play each shot one at a time fearlessly. Simple but not easy. With the adjustment, King started to change the results on the court. The first game King won in the match was a break of Errani’s serve for 4-1, and she held the next game as well for 4-2. She pressured Errani’s next service game with more unconverted breakpoints but the diminutive “Sarretta” from Italy held for 5-2. King double faulted to be broken and give the set to Errani 6-2.
The second set, started out with Errani holding. Also while Errani’s drop shots seemed to have worked against King early in the first set, King was now ready to track those down and was drop shotting Errani as well. King staying aggressive and more loose, broke Errani twice and raced out to a 4-1 lead, but Errani clawed back and took the lead 4-5 and King called for her coach again. Both players called for their coaches several times throughout the match. King met with her coach, Alejandro Dulko, during each set, she admitted with a sparkling self-deprecating laugh that the conference with him during the first set “didn’t really help” and “it doesn’t always help” her make meaningful adjustments to what’s happening on court. This time Dulko advised her to attack Errani’s forehand more since Errani’s backhand was proving solid thus far. After that King says, “I shifted my tactic a little bit and for the rest of the match I tried to attack her forehand a little more because she was giving me time there.”
At one point Errani, who is part of the loud grunting school, seemed minorly irritated by the crowd’s reaction to her expressive gasps when she saw a drop shot off of King’s racquet. The Chinese audience, perhaps the first live tour level tennis tournament for many in attendance, responded with some bemused laughter at the emotive surprise audible from Errani, but in a pure reaction to the sound, not meant to be disrespectful of Errani. In fact, when the appreciative crowd did venture a cheer, there was a lone voice in timid English urging “Come on Miss King” politely a few times endearingly between points.
The second set went to a tie break and King fell behind and held off two match points. I asked her what she was thinking after getting a nice lead, losing that momentum, and then being down match point not once but twice. Again, a return to solid proven basics was her response, “I wasn’t thinking about the score,” she said. “You shouldn’t play differently for the score. You should play the way that you want to play.”
So the classic playing one point at a time?
“It works,” Vania confirmed.
Especially with the match at risk, allowing King to rally to win the tiebreak 9-7. The crowd roared (that is sooo cliché, but how else do you describe it?) it’s approval for a third set of action.
The third set unfolded quickly and had some unique twists. Vania broke first and got to 3-1, but it isn’t a break until you hold and Errani broke back the next game for 3-2. Each held to get to 4-3 King up. At this point, the trainer was called and King had to take a medical timeout.
“In the beginning of the third, I felt a little bit of pain in my leg and was hoping it would go away,” she said. “I waited a few games to see if it would but it didn’t and I had to take the time out.”
The right upper thigh injury forced King to “try to finish off the points quicker. Try to be even more aggressive so she couldn’t move me wide.”
In spite of the injury, King came out and executed well in the colder night air, now over two and a half hours into the match. She broke Errani and would serve for the match. Errani was growing visibly and audibly more frustrated, and after losing a point to bring the game to 30-all, she screamed in anger and slammed her racquet into the court, probably cracking the frame.
Then from the deuce court which was furthest from her chair, Errani slowly worked her way over to her chair to get a replacement racquet and noticeably slowly walked back to get on court to receive. The chair umpire called a time violation against her as she sauntered back into position.
King stayed calm and coolly turned her back towards the suddenly slow motion Errani and seemed unfazed by the entire episode. Bouncing the ball and getting ready for her next serve. I admired how calm and focused King stayed and I think the crowd appreciated it as well, perhaps with some added empathy since we all knew she was now injured and playing a long match in the chillier and chiller evening.
Play resumed. On the second match point for King, Errani’s shot was called long, but Errani challenged the call. So the players lingered near the net, stuck in a different kind of no-man’s land for tennis, instead of the usual immediate clasp of hands cross net as is tennis’s hallmark of sportsmanship. The call was confirmed and Vania King had defeated Sara Errani with her mastery of simple tennis wisdom. Calm your nerves by going back to basics. Play one point at a time. Ignore the score and go for your shots. Stay aggressive. Don’t be afraid of making errors.
This may have only been a second round match at the Shenzhen Open, but was certainly the most exciting tennis of the tournament and an example of how a focused mind, constantly recalibrating and relying on her training prevails in the mental and physical battle against another champion.