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HENIN AND SERENA, THE TWO PRINCIPLE GODDESSES OF TENNIS

By Christopher Rourke

This Final match, the first Grand Slam final of the 2010s brings the two greatest female players of the 2000s into battle for the fourteenth time. Their first match took place at 2001 US Open, where Serena defeated Henin in the fourth round, 7-5 6-0.  The nineteen year-old Henin, had been a semi-finalist at Roland Garros that year and was the finalist at Wimbledon, losing to the defending champion, Venus Williams.  Many would argue that these two players are not merely the two best players of their generation – but the greatest female players *ever*.  Both of these players have the singular ability to hit winners from any part of the court – still exceptional on the women’s Tour – and the capacity to utterly dominate their opponents.  As such, they remain the most aggressive players at the top of the women’s game.  This was demonstrated emphatically by Serena in her quarter-final against Victoria Azarenka. Finding herself 4-6 0-4 down, and seemingly out, of the match Serena cut down her groundstroke errors, and began hitting the ball much harder, hitting return winner after winner, producing yet another serving clinic, hitting 17 aces and many other unreturnable serves to close out the match – dragging out a titanic performance, seemingly from nowhere.  Serena struck 57 winners to Azarenka’s grand total of 22.  She made the match totally about herself, her own  performance.  As Azarenka said: “She [Serena]  started playing unbelievable from 4-0. I’m really impressed with her… . She has very powerful shots. You don’t see many girls serving 200 in the third set”.  In very similar fashion, after struggling through her second, third and fourth round matches against players ranked in the top 5 and top 30, and producing a solid 7-6 (7-3) 7-5 win against the former world no.3 Nadia Petrova, Henin demonstrated her full all-court mastery in her semi-final match against China’s Jie Zheng. In a match that lasted only 50  minutes, Henin struck 23 winners to Zheng’s grand total of 3 and won 10 out of 13 of her net approaches.

As such, this final represents the fourteenth meeting between the two principle goddesses of tennis, a clash that can be allegorised to a battle between the warriors Artemis and Athena.  Here, the splendid Rod Laver arena is the grand stage equivalent of mount Olympus, Rod Laver arena being the Centre Court of the the first Grand Slam tournament of the year.  Remarkably, this will be Henin and Serena’s first clash in a Grand Slam tournament final, because the players have repeatedly found themselves in the same half of a Grand Slam tournament draw – in all six on their Grand Slam meetings.

Here, I will review how these extraordinarily gifted players match-up, stroke for stroke, in primary features of the game.

SERVE
Serena Williams

Serena Williams has the best first serve and the one of the best second serves in the women’s game.  Though not struck quite as hard as her record-breaking older sister’s, Serena can hit all parts of the service box, and hit ‘flat’, slice and kick serves with ease.  Serena consistently leads the ‘ace’ and ‘points won on 1st serve’ categories, at every Grand Slam tournament. At this tournament, Serena has struck a total of 53 aces, to
Henin’s 23.  Venus Williams, a quarter-finalist, finished with a total of 21.  On numerous occasions, Lindsay Davenport described Serena’s serve as the ‘best serve in women’s game’ and the best serve that she had faced in the entire length of her career.  Of Serena’s serve, her fourth-round opponent,  Samantha Stosur said: “I think the three breakpoints I got, she hit two aces and were a completely unreturnable and they were all over 190… Couple times I actually guessed where she was going and she still got me…. (.)more so than even the power, the variety. When she’s on, she’s able to hit it within ten centimetres of whatever line she wants. When she’s got that trajectory and is so close to the lines, it’s not easy to return.  She doesn’t hit every serve over 190. She goes 160, 170, and you think it’s not that fast. But when they’re on or very close to the line, they’re still very hard to get”.  Serena’s serve exhibits a perfect confluence of
technical excellence and simplicity of production.

Henin has a good, and very powerful serve – she has been serving up to 190 kmh at this year’s tournament.  However, she has not been serving as well as she did back in 2003 and 2006 – 2007.  Henin’s serve has always earned her some free points, and allows her to begin most rallies from an offensive position. However, both Henin’s first and second serve can break down, and critically during key points in matches. This occurred in the Brisbane final, when Henin held two match points, serving at 5-4 in the third set against Kim Clijsters.  This brittleness occurs partly because Henin has continuously reworked and reformed her service motion during the length of her career, as far back as the autumn of 2001.  Thus, as Sam Smith has pointed out, Henin’s service motion is never “fully part of her”.  Any frailty on Henin’s service will be brutally exposed by Serena, the most fearsome, and destructive, returner in the women’s game.

RETURN of SERVE
Serena / Henin

Both players have very destructive returns and frequently hit outright winners on both second *and* first serves – which has the effect of immediately demoralising their opponents.  Serena’s return-of-serve [look out for her forehand crosscourt return-of-serve from the ‘deuce’ court] can be a little more powerful than Henin’s but Henin gets slightly more of her service returns back into court.  In her 2006 – 2007 prime, Henin was winning as much as 55 – 60%+ points on the return-of-serve, more than any player on the women’s Tour.  Both players are roughly equal in this feature of the game.

FOREHAND
Henin

Serena possesses a very powerful forehand – and has recorded, from the data that i have collected, the fastest groundstroke in the ‘Hawk-Eye’ era; a forehand meassured at 154 kmh [= 96 mph] in her quarter-final match against Ana Ivanovic in Dubai on the 19th February 2008.  However, Serena’s forehand can break down, primarily because as she needs a lot of set-up time to prepare for the full-length of stroke. To explain, on the take-back, Serena often takes the racquet face as far back as [behind] her head and completes the swing with the racquet face lying down the length of her back, over her left shoulder.  The whole stroke is comparatively long and requires both good timing and excellent footwork to be fully effective. See: http://www.metacafe.com/watch/2114649/safina_vs_s_williams_forehand_r45_view_slow_motion/ – this is only moderate swing-length for Serena’s forehand.

Serena likes to perform the stroke with full extension, and when she doesn’t have the time for this, the stroke can lose a lot its potency and effectiveness.  There are some players on the Tour, notably Elena Demenetiva [specifically from 2007 onward], that exploit the mechanics of the stroke by taking the ball very early off their much shorter swings, hitting shots directly down the length of the court, straight at Serena. This takes away Serena’s set-up time on the ball, and forces Serena to improvise by using an almost ’emergency’-type swing, tamely brushing up against the ball, yielding a midcourt ball that can easily be attacked by the opponent.  However, when Serena’s footwork and balance are fully co-ordinated with the stroke production on forehand, it can be utterly devastating.

Henin’s forehand is equally as powerful as Serena’s, and certainly at average rallying speeds – but is produced from a far shorter and more compact swing, so is more functional, and efficient, especially when placed under direct pressure in a rallying situation.  At coaching conferences, Henin’s forehand has been isolated in seminars as the best in the women’s game.  My last coach, a performance coach based in the UK, explains that, almost unique among women players, Henin’s stroke production on the forehand closely resemble that of an ATP player. Henin’s forehand is both technically and (uniquely, in the women’s game) biomechanically excellent.

BACKHAND
Serena

Henin’s backhand received enormous attention from the tennis establishment when she broke into the top of the game in 2001 because it is a single-handed stroke that combines both high levels of power and variety.  However, much like Serena’s forehand, Henin requires a good deal of set-up time to unleash her single-handed topspin backhand – and many players exploit this by taking the ball early and hitting the ball very hard into the corner of the ‘ad.’ court.  This forces Henin to employ her slice backhand, as a defensive response to keep herself in the rally.  Early on in their head-to-head series, Serena directly attacked Henin’s backhand, knowing that she could rob Henin of time on the ball, and force defensive replies.  Many other players employ this strategy now, though some players find it hard to adjust to Henin’s slice -which can cut right into the court. Historically, though, Serena has been able to pounce upon defensive shots coming off
Henin’s backhand, and take control of the rally.

Serena’s backhand remains one of the more powerful backhands in the game, is technically sound and rarely breaks down.  Also, Serena is able to create acute angles off her crosscourt backhand, even when placed under pressure.

VOLLEY
Henin

Both Henin and Serena can volley well, especially at critical points in a match.  However, Henin is a superlative volleyer, with exceptional feel – and she has wide repertoire of volleying shots.  Henin has the ability to hit volleys from behind the service line – and still create winning shots from a very difficult position on the court.  Henin is probably the best volleyer in the women’s singles game, and certainly at the elite level.  Henin volleyed with increasing frequency towards the end of her first career, circa 2006 – 2007, and seems to be picking up from where she left off in this feature of her game.

Serena’s speciality is the forehand drive-volley, which she can play to spectacular effect. Her drive-volley is the best, the most destructive, in the game – a shot that she helped to popularise at the top of the sport. However, Henin has an almost equally good drive-volley, and has employed it frequently during this year’s tournament.

FOOTWORK
Henin

Henin has sublime footwork around the ball, perhaps the best in the women’s game. She rarely overruns the ball and is especially economical in her movement.  In marked contrast, and especially for a player of her ability, Serena has relatively poor footwork.  It can take Serena a full set of matchplay before Serena has properly conformed her footwork to the stroke production on her groundstrokes – as clearly evinced in her quarter-final match against Victoria Azarenka, where appeared off-balnace for almost a set and a half of matchplay.

BALANCE
Henin

Again, Henin is exceptional in this feature of the game – and normally retains superior balance than Serena on the fundamental strokes.

COURT COVERAGE
Henin

Though athletically restricted because of her height and natuural wing-span [Henin stands  1.67 m), Henin is one of the best technical movers in the sport and covers the court remarkably well.  Serena used to be an especially athletic player, able to retrieve many balls hit past the sidelines and return them with ease.  However, though she still covers the court well, Serena is no longer one of the very best athletes on the women’s Tour – players such as Elena Dementieva, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Jelena Jankovic have all overtaken Serena in terms of court coverage and athletic output.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
Serena and Henin are roughly equals, when examined across all features of the game, which serves to make this rivalry especially compelling.

Two external factors may effect the outcome of this match, however – Serena has clearly been injured from early on in the tournament, and her multiple leg and ankle injuries seem to have become more serious in her last two matches, inhibiting her movement, specifically in the ‘ad.’ court. Serena has made no attempt to retrieve what are, for her, easily makeable balls, hit within metres of her reach.  This is potentially concerning as Henin has the perfect game to exploit weaknesses in movement and court coverage, hitting to short angles off wings, to both sides of the court.  In particular, the short angles produced off Henin’s crosscourt backhand could be very damaging – and telling – for Serena.

On the other hand, Henin has struggled both mentally and especially physically to complete some of her matches in Melbourne, appearing physically exhausted in the closing stages of her third and fourth round matches.  Henin has spoken, quite honestly, of how her body has yet to fully adjust to the demands of playing physically and emotionally draining matches, having been absent from tournament play for a full twenty months.  Henin’s very quick semi-final win will help her enormously in this regard going into Saturday’s final.  However, the and the greater question may well prove to be Henin’s level of mental resilience in a Grand Slam Final – Henin’s first since September 2007.

Tennis World Mourns Jack Kramer Loss

The tennis world mourns the death of Jack Kramer, who passed away at age 88 Saturday night in California. Bud Collins, the Hall of Fame journalist and television personality, summarizes the incredible tennis career of one of the game’s all-time greats in his book THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS, excerpted below.

Jack Kramer

The impact of John Albert “Jake” Kramer on tennis has been fourfold: as great player, exceptional promoter, thoughtful inno­vator and astute television commentator.

Kramer, born Aug. 1, 1921, in Las Vegas, Nev., grew up in the Los Angeles area. He achieved international notice in 1939 as a teenager when he was selected to play doubles, alongside Joe Hunt, for the U.S. in the Davis Cup finale against Australia. At 18, Kramer was the youngest to play in the Cup title round, although John Alexander of Australia lowered the record to 17 by play­ing in 1968.

Kramer and Hunt were the golden boys out of Southern Cali­fornia, their careers intertwined. Joe beat Jake, at Forest Hills in 1939, where they were both losing semifinalists the following year. Both were to go to sea during World War II, Jake in the Coast Guard, Joe in the Navy, and to receive leaves to play again in the U.S. Championships of 1943, where they collided in the final. Hunt won, barely, sprawling on the court with cramps as Kram­er’s last shot flew long. Kramer, who’d had a bout with food poi­soning, laughed later, “If I could’ve kept that ball in play I might have been a champ on a default.” Hunt was killed 17 months afterwards in a military plane crash.

Because of the war, Jake had to wait three years to return to Forest Hills. He then rose to prominence as a splendid cham­pion, so dominant that he was voted fifth on a list of all-time greats selected by a panel of expert tennis journalists in 1969. The powerful right-hander was the leading practitioner of the “big game,” rushing to the net constantly behind his serve, and frequently attacking on return of serve. His serve took oppo­nents off the court, setting them up for the volley, as did his crushing forehand.

A blistered racket hand probably decided his gruelling fourth-round defeat by cunning lefty Jaroslav Drobny, and pre­vented Jake from winning the first post-war Wimbledon. But he came back awesomely in 1947, the first to win in shorts, making short work of everybody. Whipping doubles partner Tom Brown in 48 minutes, 6-1, 6-.3, 6-2, he lost merely 37 games in seven matches, the most lopsided run to the championship.

Brown had been his 1946 U.S. final-round victim, 9-7, 6-3, 6-0, another one-sided excursion for Jake, a crew-cut blond whose goal was to reclaim the Davis Cup that he and Hunt failed to clinch in 1939. In December, he and good buddy Ted Schroeder—the U.S. doubles champs of 1940—were members of a highly-talented team that captain Walter Pate took to Austra­lia for the challenge round. Every man—those two plus Brown, Frank Parker, Gardnar Mulloy, Bill Talbert—thought he should play. Pate picked Ted and Jake to do it all, controversial until the pals paralyzed the favored Aussies on opening day. Schroeder overcame John Bromwich, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 0-6, 6-3 and Kramer nailed Dinny Pails, 8-6, 6-2, 9-7. Together, they grabbed the Cup by flatten­ing the team that had beaten Hunt and Kramer in ‘39: Bromwich and Adrian Quist, 6-2, 7-5, 6-4.

The following summer, Jake and Ted repelled the Australian challenge for the Cup at Forest Hills. Then Kramer closed out his amateur career memorably by overhauling Parker in the U.S. final. He lost the first two sets, and was in danger of losing out on a lucrative professional contract as well as his champion­ship. Counterpunching, he won, 4-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-0, 6-3, and set off in pursuit of Bobby Riggs, the reigning pro champ. Kramer, who had lost only two matches in 1946, dropped but one (to Talbert) in 1947, winning eight of nine tournaments on 48-1, closing his amateur life with a 41-match rush, and 18 singles titles.

Kramer knocked Riggs off the summit by winning their odys­sey of one-nighters throughout the U.S., which was the test of professional supremacy of that day. Their opener was a phenom­enon: New York was buried by a blizzard that brought the city to a stop, yet 15,114 customers made it on foot to the old Madison Square Garden on Dec. 27, 1947, to watch Riggs win. But Bobby couldn’t keep it up. Kramer won the tour, 69-20, and stayed in action while Riggs took over as the promoter and signed Pan­cho Gonzalez to challenge Kramer. Nobody was up to Kramer then. He bruised the rookie Gonzalez 96-27 on the longest of the tours. Kramer made $85,000 against Riggs as his percentage, and $72,000 against Gonzalez.

In 1952, Kramer assumed the position of promoter himself, the boss of pro tennis, a role he would hold for over a decade, well past his playing days. Kramer’s last tour as a principal was against the first man he recruited, Frank Sedgman, the Aussie who was tops among amateurs. Kramer won, 54-41. An arthritic back led to his retirement as a player, but he kept the tour going, resurrecting one of his victims, Gonzalez, who became the strongman.

One of the shrewdest operators in tennis, Kramer was looked to for advice when the Open era began in 1968. He devised the Grand Prix for the men’s game, a series of tournaments lead­ing to a Masters Championship for the top eight finishers, and a bonus pool to be shared by more than a score of the leading players. The Grand Prix, incorporating the most attractive tourna­ments around the world, functioned from 1970 until 1990, when the ATP Tour took over the structure. In 1972, he was instrumental in forming the ATP (Association of Tennis Pros), the male play­ers’ union, and was its first executive director. His role as leader of the ATP’s principled boycott of Wimbledon in 1973 made him unpopular in Britain for a time. Nevertheless, it was a landmark act, assuring the players the right to control their own destiny after being in thrall to national associations until then. Later, he served on the Men’s International Professional Tennis Council, the worldwide governing board.

For more than 20 years, Kramer served as a perceptive ana­lyst on tennis telecasts in many countries, notably for the British Broadcasting Corporation at Wimbledon and for all the Ameri­can networks at Forest Hills, and at other events, second to none. He ranked in the U.S. Top 10 five times between 1940 and 1947, No. 1 in the U.S. and the world in 1946 and 1947. Kramer won the U.S. Pro title in 1948 over the defender, Riggs, 14-12, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, and the world pro title in 1949 over Riggs, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3.

Kramer, winner of 13 U.S. singles and doubles titles, was named to the Hall of Fame in 1968. His son, Bob Kramer, con­tinues the family’s tennis interests as director of the Los Angeles ATP tourney.

MAJOR TITLES (10)—Wimbledon singles 1947: U.S. singles, 1946, 1947; Wimbledon doubles, 1946, 1947: U.S. doubles, 1940, 1941, 1943, 1947; U.S. mixed, 1941.

OTHER U.S.TITLES (6)—Indoor singles, 1947; Pro singles. 1948; Pro doubles, 1948, 1955, with Pancho Segura; Indoor doubles, 1947, with Bob Falkenburg; Clay Court doubles, 1941, with Ted Schroeder. DAVIS CUP—1939, 1946-47, 6-0 singles, 1-2 doubles.

SIN­GLES RECORD IN THE MAJORS—Wimbledon (10-1), U.S. (24-5)

40 Years Ago Tuesday – Rod Laver Wins Historic Second Grand Slam

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Tuesday, September 8, 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of Rod Laver winning his historic second Grand Slam by defeating Tony Roche 7-9, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 in the final of the 1969 U.S. Open. The final was played on a rain-soaked grass tennis court at the West Side Tennis Club at Forest Hills in Queens, New York.

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of this significant moment in tennis history, New Chapter Press has re-published Laver’s memoir THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER that details the 1969 tennis season as well as the life and times of the Australian tennis legend. Written with Hall of Fame journalist and historian Bud Collins, THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER is now available in a limited capacity via tennis retailer TennisWarehouse (www.TennisWarehouse.com or [email protected]), directly from New Chapter Press (www.NewChapterMedia.com or [email protected]) or at the U.S. Tennis Association Bookstore during the 2009 U.S. Open through September 13. The book will be available via traditional book retailers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia by early 2010. Special limited edition hard-cover editions of the book are available for $29.95, while paperback copies are for sale for $19.95.

Originally published in 1971, THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER was updated by Laver and Collins in 2009 with new content including his recovery from a near-fatal stroke in 1998. The memoir features descriptions of Laver’s most suspenseful matches and memorable portraits of his biggest rivals Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, Tony Roche and Pancho Gonzalez. Writes Laver in the updated version of the book of the prospects of the next member of the Grand Slam club, “I wonder when another Grand Slammer will appear and join me. I look forward to it, and will welcome whoever it is just as Don Budge welcomed me in 1962. I was glad to see Steffi Graf as the latest in 1988. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal seem to have the best chance, along with Serena Williams. I wish them success.”

Of the 1969 U.S. Open final against Roche, Laver writes the following;

“The court was greasy, but somehow slow, which favored me because Tony’s slice didn’t take. Movement was tough, and this was a break for me because Tony decided not to put on spikes. He figured his strained thigh muscles would be jarred by the quick stops you make in spikes, possibly bringing on a cramp.

“That first set was one of the strangest I’ve ever played. I should have won it and deserved to lose it. I got what I deserved and Tony took it 9-7, just took it right away from me after I’d been serving for the set at 5-3. He did it with beautiful backhands. I was sloshing and slipping around, and a couple of times I had asked referee Mike Gibson for permission to put on my spiked shoes. I’d wanted to begin the match in them, but he’d refused. After that game, Mike said all right. It meant all the difference to me.

“Tony immediately won his serve in four points, but I felt surer on my feet and I knew I’d get going. Especially when I stopped him two points short of the set to keep even at 6-6. But I wasn’t so sure when I lost that first set anyway. I’d had a lot of luck during the year, and I wondered if it had run out at last. Although I’d worn spikes here and there throughout my career, the occasions were so rare during my professional days that they took some getting used to. You consciously changed your movements at first. Picked up your feet. No sliding. It was a new sensation until you were re-accustomed to them.

“The slight uncertainty of moving in spikes was gone for good in the first game of the second set when I came through with a big serve at the crucial point of the match. With the first set his, and the pressure on me, Tony got me down 30-40 on my serve. One more point and he’d be up a set and a break, a pretty good edge in that mush.

“We both knew this was a huge point. He took his time getting ready to return, and I did the same lining up—not overly so, maybe not even noticeable to the crowd, but we had to be right for this one. I was righter. I threw myself into the serve, and sliced it wide to his forehand. It didn’t come back. He barely touched it, and I could tell it pained him to miss the opportunity. You don’t get too many break-point chances on grass—and he didn’t have another.

“It wouldn’t be apparent for a while, but the match turned upside down right there. I won the game and began hitting harder and harder as I got surer of my footing. Then I won the next and the next—five straight. From that break-point chance in the first game, Tony managed to win only five of the last 23 games. He came all apart as I wrapped him up, 7-9, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. Not even a rain delay of a half-hour at the beginning of the third set could rust my concentration or help him pull his together.

“Unlike 1962, I had control of myself all through the final match of the Grand Slam. I was never dazed as I had been against Emmo seven years before during a brief case of nerves down the stretch.

“Serving match game, I opened with an ace. I knew what I was about, and wasn’t going to let Tony breathe. It was 40-0 when I did try to end with a grand-slamming flourish on a forehand volley. I blew it. A minor disappointment not to be able to score with a put-away as I had on the championship point at Wimbledon.

“It fell to Tony to lose it with a forehand that he hit long. Both of us were glad it was over. Afraid to use spikes, he’d been victimized in sneakers, unable to counteract my better shots, including a number of very good lobs. It was one of my best days with the lob, always a useful shot, but even more damaging that day when running was tough.

“Not enough ordinary players realize the value of the lob, and I guess I didn’t until I became a seasoned pro. It’s much more than a desperation measure. As an amateur, even if the odds were against my making a shot, I’d usually let fly anyway. When I became a pro, I couldn’t risk throwing away points like that because the opposition was equal or better.

”This meant I had to be realistic. If my chances of making a shot from a difficult position were doubtful, I found you seldom get hurt with a lob.

“But there were no more lobs to be hit. Not one more stroke on a chase that began God knows how many strokes ago in Brisbane when I hit the first serve to a fellow I wouldn’t know if he walked into the room, Massimo di Domenico. The others I knew pretty well . . . Andres . . . Arthur . . Emmo . . . Tony . . . Newc . . . Dennis . . . Kenny . . . Okker . . . Smith.

“There were 1,005 games in 26 Grand Slam matches, and now it was all over.”

Laver captured 11 major singles titles during his career, including Wimbledon in 1961, 1962, 1968 and 1969. After joining Don Budge as the only man to win a Grand Slam by sweeping all four majors in 1962, Laver turned professional where he, along with fellow pros Hoad, Rosewall and Gonzalez, were banned from playing the “amateur-only” major tournaments. When the “Open Era” of tennis began in 1968, Laver netted another five major singles titles, including his Grand Slam sweep of all four in 1969. Laver won nearly 200 singles titles during his career and was inducted into the International Tennis of Fame in 1981.

“I am delighted that THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER is back in circulation and available for a new generation of tennis fans,” said Laver. “Winning the Grand Slam for a second time in 1969 seems just like yesterday and this book brings back a lot of memories of the great matches and exciting times. I hope people enjoy reading my story.”

Collins, himself a 1994 inductee in the International Tennis Hall of Fame, first met Laver in 1956 at the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston during the U.S. National Doubles Championships. Thirteen years later, the two collaborated on the book that was only to be published if Laver won the Grand Slam. Collins is best known for his colorful television commentary – and his colorful wardrobe – as well as his columns in the Boston Globe. Collins currently works as a commentator with ESPN2 and Tennis Channel.

“Rod Laver is one of the greatest treasures we have in tennis and THE EDUCATION OF A TENNIS PLAYER is one of our sports most important literary works,” said Collins. “Rod was always so humble and gracious, but he could play tennis like a hurricane. He was as a great a champion as we have ever had in tennis and one of the all-time nicest guys.”

New Chapter Press is also the publisher of THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS by Bud Collins, THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION by Rene Stauffer and BOYCOTT: STOLEN DREAMS OF THE 1980 MOSCOW OLYMPIC GAMES by Tom Caraccioli and Jerry Caraccioli among others. More information on New Chapter Press can be found at www.NewChapterMedia.com.

Newport Beach Breakers Clinch Advanta World TeamTennis Pro League Playoff Berth With 21-20 Supertiebreaker Win Over Rival Sacramento At Breakers Stadium At Newport Beach Country Club

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif., July 19, 2009 – The toughest games to win in tennis are typically the ones that close out a match or, in Sunday’s instance with respect to the Newport Beach Breakers, the games that clinch an Advanta World TeamTennis Pro League playoff berth. For Breakers coach Trevor Kronemann, there is no better money player and closer in World TeamTennis history than Ramon Delgado.

Thus, the Breakers’ WTT playoff-clinching celebration ensued in dramatic fashion as reigning WTT Male MVP Delgado rallied his team with a final-set victory in regulation and one-game overtime and Supertiebreaker wins that capped a 21-20 victory over the rival Sacramento Capitals at Breakers Stadium at Newport Beach Country Club.

The Breakers (8-4) clinched the Western Conference’s final playoff spot with the four-match season sweep of Sacramento. The Breakers last made the playoffs in 2006, the last of three consecutive years in which the team reached the WTT Finals. The Breakers last won the King Trophy (WTT championship) in 2004.

“Once again, Ramon is just unbelievable in this format,” Kronemann said. “Amazing. Absolutely amazing. At some point, you’re a skeptic and you wonder how many times he can come back. Now I’m a believer. I’ve been around World TeamTennis for 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like it. He’s the greatest World TeamTennis player that’s ever played. He skipped the Davis Cup to play WTT this year. We recognize that and we want to do it for him, too.”

The Breakers will play at the Springfield Lasers (11-0), WTT’s only perfect team, in the WTT playoffs’ Western Conference final on July 24. The teams met in Springfield on July 6 as the Lasers pulled off the second-largest comeback in WTT history, rallying from a 20-12 deficit heading into the final set and emerging victorious, 22-21 in a Supertiebreaker. Springfield then topped the Breakers two days later at Breakers Stadium, 22-17 in overtime.

“We were up eight games. I don’t think we do anything different,” Kronemann said. “If they run the table and go 14-0, all the pressure is on them. We want to redeem ourselves. It’s going to come down to who wants it more.”

Down 16-14, the match was left on the racket of Delgado, the only holdover from the Breakers’ 2004 WTT title team who had already beaten Michael Chang, Sam Querrey and Andre Agassi over the past week. Facing Sacramento’s Sam Warburg, Delgado fended off two break points and won three consecutive points, capped by an ace, to win the first game of the set. Warburg fought off three set points-against to force a tiebreaker, which Delgado controlled and won, 5-1.

Delgado’s win forced overtime on Warburg’s serve, which was broken by Delgado at deuce (also Sacramento’s match point with no-ad scoring) with a running forehand down the line past the charging Warburg. Tied 20-20, the Breakers played their third Supertiebreaker of the season. Delgado again proved too good for Warburg and clinched the Breakers’ playoff berth with a 7-3 Supertiebreaker triumph.

“I am really stressed out there. Really nervous. Really anxious. At least it looks like I am in control out there,” Delgado said. “I think (the win over) Querrey was a real turning point for me. Querrey gave me the confidence, and when I am playing like this, I feel like I can compete with anybody in World TeamTennis. My priority is to beat Springfield and then go to (Washington) D.C. (for the WTT finals).”

Trailing 15-9 after Sacramento (5-7) won the first three sets of the match by 5-3 scores, the Breakers’ comeback attempt began with Julie Ditty and Marie-Eve Pelletier in women’s doubles. The tandem stormed through Sacramento’s Coco Vandeweghe and Angela Haynes to win 5-1 – the set highlighted by Ditty returning three consecutive reflex volleys, the last of which broke Sacramento to increase their set lead to 4-1.

“We knew we had to perform well tonight,” said Ditty, the first-year Breakers player. “We took it to them. You have to have positive energy out here.”

Knowing it had to win to keep its playoff hopes alive against a Breakers team that won 11 of the 15 sets through the teams’ first three meetings this season, Sacramento was all business from the start as Capitals coach Wayne Bryan (father of Mike and Bob Bryan, the world’s No. 1 men’s doubles team) led the cheers.

Wimbledon mixed doubles champion Mark Knowles and Irvine’s Angela Haynes broke the service of the Breakers’ Kaes Van’t Hof and Ditty at 3-3 – the Breakers double-faulted on game-point at deuce – and captured a close first set in mixed doubles, 5-3.

Then, 17-year-old Vandeweghe, the niece of ex-UCLA and NBA standout Kiki Vandeweghe, avenged an earlier women’s singles loss this season to Pelletier and put together her best set of tennis of the team’s four season matchups in a 5-3 singles win. Again, the set was tied 3-3 before Vandeweghe broke Pelletier and closed out the set with a big first serve.

The Breakers dropped the match’s middle set, 5-3 in men’s doubles, a set typically owned by Delgado and Van’t Hof and typically dropped by Sacramento. Before Sunday, Sacramento sported the worst men’s doubles win percentage in WTT while the Breakers’ dynamic duo had won nine of their last 10 sets and was WTT’s top doubles team (53-of-89 games won, 60%).

Results:

Mixed Doubles – Mark Knowles/Angela Haynes (S) def. Kaes Van’t Hof/Julie Ditty (NB), 5-3

Women’s Singles – Coco Vandeweghe (S) def. Marie-Eve Pelletier (NB), 5-3

Men’s Doubles – Sam Warburg/Knowles (S) def. Ramon Delgado/Van’t Hof (NB), 5-3

Women’s Doubles – Ditty/Pelletier (NB) def. Haynes/Vandeweghe (S), 5-1
Men’s Singles – Delgado (NB) def. Warburg (S), 5-4 (5-1 tiebreak)

Overtime – Delgado (NB) def. Warburg (S), 1-0

Supertiebreaker – Delgado (NB) def. Warburg (S), 7-3

Final: Newport Beach Breakers 21, Sacramento Capitals 20 (STB)

Limited tickets are available for the Newport Beach Breakers Series Finale Presented by HOM Real Estate Group – Tuesday, July 21 against John McEnroe and the WTT Eastern Conference champion New York Sportimes (9-3) and Wednesday, July 22, in which Maria Sharapova will play for the Breakers against the Kansas City Explorers. Tickets are $60 for general admission or $45 for the top three rows, and can be purchased by calling 714/352-6301 or visiting www.newporteachbreakers.com.

The Breakers encourage the community to drop off old, unused cell phones at Breakers Stadium on July 21 and July 22 to support soldiers needing cell phones overseas through the Wounded Warrior Project, which raises awareness, program funds and aid for the needs of severely injured service men and women. All used cell phones will be collected at the Wounded Warrior Project expo booth on-site. Each cell phone donated will grant one entry to win a trip to the 2009 Smash Hits on Dec. 8 in Baton Rouge, LA. The Smash Hits is Elton John and Billie Jean King’s annual event that raises money for the fight against HIV and AIDS.

The Breakers are in their third year of operation under the auspices of Hoag Hospital Foundation, which has been granted the rights to manage the Breakers through 2009 by WTT with profits from the team’s season operations benefiting Hoag Hospital. Breakers Stadium (capacity 2,000) is located at Newport Beach Country Club along Pacific Coast Highway, with views overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Breakers supporters can congregate online and expand the team’s fan base through the team’s official fan pages on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/pages/Newport-Beach-CA/Newport-Beach-Breakers/73887254402?ref=ts), MySpace (www.myspace.com/newportbeachbreakers) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/nbbreakers). Register to become a fan or follower of the Breakers at each fan page and use them to meet and chat with new friends and tennis fans and stay up to date on all team and player information related to the Breakers.

About Newport Beach Breakers
The Newport Beach Breakers are one of 10 nationwide teams that make up the World TeamTennis (WTT) Pro League and are co-owned by WTT founder Billie Jean King. In July 2009, the Breakers will play seven home matches at Breakers Stadium at Newport Beach Country Club, and will be managed by Newport Beach-based Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian through the 2009 WTT season. Profits from the team’s operations for the season will go towards Hoag Hospital Foundation, the Breakers’ primary beneficiary. Hoag Hospital’s expert involvement with professional sports also extends to its organization of the PGA Champions Tour’s Toshiba Classic held annually in March. For tickets, sponsorship and more information, visit www.NewportBeachBreakers.com or call 714/352-6301.

Nadal and Federer: Proof Tennis Has Arrived

I am sitting here passing time while waiting.  As usual, I grab a  magazine in the room’s stack of reading for bored individuals, this one a Vogue, and to my surprise, tennis has intercepted mainstream media.

Rafael Nadal is featured in slick glamour, hair pulled back.  Roger Federer’s wedding is covered on a full glossy page, part of the social
scene usually devoted to Hollywood.  Huh?  Tennis in a women’s fashion magazine?

When American Vogue is putting two of tennis’ top players in a single issue, that’s proof tennis is losing the “popular to everywhere but the
USA” reputation.  It has genuinely arrived.  Nadal has the potential to become the male Maria in endorsement appeal – his playboy charm wrapped in down to earth goodness and talent on court (ignoring a little French Open slip) make him a super estrella for sure.

Thoughts on this, anyone?  When did you realize tennis “made it” in a country obsessed with football and baseball?

Krystle Clear: Book review, somewhat….casual

I’m the new Oprah with a book review for you guys.  I’ve been reading up on Roger Federer and stopped at a portion in the definitive book on him – The Roger Federer Story, Quest for Perfection ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.rogerfedererbook.com) – where he is quoted about frustrations.  He is quoted about saying he expected too much, too soon as a junior, and he’s the kind of guy to spend all night on the computer rather than a trendy bar.

That’s going on about tennis.  The core of it is what you can learn about real life.  The amazing Mr. F is a champion because he focused and tried, despite his frustrations.  He quit letting small things bother him to see what happens in the long run, spending his energies on tennis.

What does that tell us, the non-tennis playing world?  It makes me remember by days in high school/college being frustrated over “x” small teen girl problem.  In the long run, I barely remember, but it seems important at the moment.  When you worry about little things, you lose
your focus on what it is you really want to accomplish.  You get so wound up in minor drama that you succeed in allowing other people – bosses, jealous people, whatever your case – earn satisfaction by seeing you fail.  And don’t get me started on his second point about partying.
I love socializing for networking purposes, though notice I get more done when that is left to an occasional hobby.

He made his life tennis, and whatever it is you want to do, you have to make your life that goal.  That’s the part I need more work on, like most of us for sure.  And never be afraid to take a risk.  His life is really the story of a guy saying, “I don’t have a shot anyway, I don’t have much to lose, so I’ll go for it.”  The worst someone can say is no, and you go on to the next thing.

I get ticked off on occasion about not always getting what I want, and it’s usually for the best.  I sit and think about it.  Was it something I really wanted to do in the end?  No, for example, I may not have enjoyed writing for that publication in that specific role, or maybe something good happened to me after I was late somewhere, because it led me to meeting someone or doing something else.

This is an interesting read for anyone who likes tennis history or wants a good biography.  My personal favorite genre is biographies, because I always say we relate to people so different than we are in more ways than we ever expect, Mr. F being a perfect example.  Enjoy the book!

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Kei Nishikori visits EA SPORTS to play Grand Slam Tennis

This week EA SPORTS was pleased to welcome Japanese tennis phenom Kei Nishikori to its Tiburon studio in Orlando, Florida.  Nishikori visited EA SPORTS to try out its new tennis game Grand Slam Tennis.  He first took a few practice swings on a Roland Garros practice court and once he got a feel for the motions, Nishikori jumped right into a match.  His first choice?  Centre Court at Wimbledon versus Pete Sampras.

“He was one of my heroes and I just wanted to play against him,” said Nishikori, who currently resides in Bradenton, Florida.

He said it was “a weird feeling” to see himself in the video game.  But added, “I like it.  I was thinking about it the past couple months that I’m in the game.  It was one of my dreams so I’m pretty happy.”

While this was his first time playing the Wii, Nishikori is no stranger to video games, having played Playstation 3 numerous times.

“This is the first time I’ve ever played the Wii and the first time I’ve played this game but it felt so real.  It was fun because you swing with your arm, it was good exercise to play the game.”

Grand Slam Tennis was designed and developed by EA Canada to be the deepest tennis gaming experience and Nishikori said it felt like a realistic experience on the court.  He would hold the Wii remote with two hands when hitting his backhand.

“I didn’t think anything of it; I just played tennis because it feels like real tennis,” said Nishikori.  “I didn’t know you can hit spins, slice, drop shots and all the shots so it felt real.  And the guy looks just like me.”

As one of the cover athletes for the Japanese version of the game, Nishikori joins an illustrious group of superstars who have graced the cover of an EA SPORTS Game.  On the Japanese cover, he’s flanked by Rafael Nadal and John McEnroe, an honour that wasn’t lost on him.

“Honestly I felt a little bad because I’m in the middle between Nadal and McEnroe and those two guys are legends and unbelievable players.  But I’m still happy to be on the cover.”

After playing Sampras, Nishikori selected Nadal, perhaps a rematch from their 3-setter at Queen’s Club last summer, a match he remembers well.

“I was so nervous to play against Nadal because he was number two at that time.  I practiced with him about 4 years ago and I felt like there was no way I could beat him and a couple years later I played him.  I was so happy to play against him and I played awesome.  I lost in three sets but I remember that was a good match.  Maybe I can get revenge in this game and hopefully I can win next time.”

After enjoying the game, recording some promo spots, doing a photo shoot and a radio interview for EA SPORTS, it was back to business for the Japanese star.

“I have to practice this afternoon but hopefully later I can go to the beach and go shopping.”

That’s something he’s able to do a bit more easily in the U.S. because in Japan, Nishikori is like a rock star, having to be accompanied by security at all times.

“I cannot walk in the streets or even outside during a tennis tournament.  I don’t feel it here in the U.S. but when I got back to Japan it’s crazy.”

Nishikori finished 2008 ranked #63 in the world after starting the year #289.  Last year he received the “Newcomer of the Year” award, which was voted on by all the players on the ATP Tour.

Other Kei Nishikori quotes:

On seeing himself in the game for the first time:

“It was a little embarrassing but it was fun.  Weird feeling because I’m in the game and I never thought I was going to be in a video game so it was fun.”

On the prospect of playing on the most famous tennis courts in the world:

“I’ve never played on Centre Court before so it’s good to play and imagine.  It looks just like the real Centre Court.”

On whether the game offered a realistic introduction to tennis:

“It’s fun to play and everybody can play even if you don’t know tennis so it’s good to start with this game.”

On how it feels to be in the game with some of the greatest tennis legends:

“I’m not a top player yet but I’m happy to be with these guys, the top players and maybe soon I can play them on the real court.”

On the legends in the game that he follows:

“My dad loves Bjorn Borg so I think he’s going to love playing this game.”

“I want to play against Roger Federer because I haven’t played him yet and he’s the greatest player.”

“For sure it’s fun to play against the legends and with me in the game, my family loves it.”

On who he tries to emulate on the real tennis court:

“I’m not like him but I try to play like Roger Federer because he can play on any surface and it’s just fun to watch him play.”

Photo Credit: Carlos Navarro/EA SPORTS

The need for speed

head-speedlessons-nole09bThe folks at HEAD are wasting no time milking the newest member of their stable, Novak Djokovic, for some Q-rating padding. They have chosen Nole as the main vehicle for a new racquet technology named Speed. (Nevermind that they’ve already had Andy Murray and Marat Safin, right?)

The deets of the stick were hush-hush until Djokovic played with them at the Australian Open (pics), and HEAD moves onto the next step of their campaign with “Speed Lessons by Novak Djokovic”.

You can think of the site, found at speedlessons.com, as a cross between Teen Girl Squad and Palin as President — a mix of animated shorts and other mini-gags (including mouseovers voiced by Djokovic himself).

head-speedlessons-nole09b

Look out for a total of six flash-based “tennis lessons”, released about once a week. Much like the hammy Serbian, these shorts should be taken with a grain of salt. Watch ‘em and you’ll know what we mean.

Mousing over the landing page induces a few cute sound bites (e.g., “With a two-handed backhand, you won’t have a free hand for a remote control.”). The folks we talked to at HEAD said that Nole had a good time recording the voiceovers for the site.

And finally, users can take a three-question quiz, after which they can enter to win one of ten Speed racquets autographed by Djokovic.

The global campaign, conceived by an Austrian agency, will culminate with the racquet’s retail launch in late April or May.

HEAD wanted something “new, fresh, and online based because that’s what everybody is,” said a company rep. They’ve included links for Facebook, del.icio.us, Technorati, and Google to help spread the word.

Visit: Speed Lessons.

Scoreline: Djokovic, who retired in the heat against Andy Roddick during the Aussie Open quarterfinals, bounces back after a two-week break to reach the quarters (vs. Mischa Zverev) in this week’s Open 13 in Marseille. Nole hasn’t been looking his best, but has yet to drop a set in two rounds.

Short Balls: sketches, socks, and stripes

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RePRINTed: Our buddy Jordan snapped this photo of Philip Burke drawings in the February issue of PRINT. The images of Ana Ivanovic and Novak Djokovic originally appeared in The New York Observer‘s coverage of the 2007 U.S. Open. God bless iPhones.

All in the family: Just FYI — Kellie Kuehne, the golfer sister of Venus Williams‘s golfer boyfriend Hank, plays the green wearing EleVen clothing. Whodathunk the clothing would be so versatile?

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Amelie inspires socks: Dear Miss Mauresmo, I know you’re a little down these days — contemplating retirement, even) — in your latest slump you should know that (a) you lost a very streaky-but-good player in Tamarine Tanasugarn at this week’s Qatar Total Open, and that you’ve (b) inspired Claire to knit some socks. That’s right: socks. In your honor. Based on the dress you wore when you won the Australian in 2006. xoxo – TSF

The higher they go… The sullied career of Martina Hingis gets dealt another blow (hee) in the wake of her testing positive for cocaine at last year’s Wimbledon. According to Tennis Week, adidas dropped its endorsement contract with the former No. 1 because of a zero-tolerance policy on substance abuse.

A closer look at the courts of Delray Beach

The organizers of the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships love to push the marketing envelope. Sometimes, us fans end up with fashion anthrax; other times, we end up with a love letter, S.W.A.K.

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We swooned after seeing photos of the tourney’s show court backdrop; the blue waves were the brainchild of ITC director John Butler. He partnered with Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Hall, who underwrote the fee of trio of artists involved with the project: Doug Hoekzema of Pompano Beach and Angel Mir and Brandon Opalka of Miami.

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The waves were digitally designed and printed on vinyl. They then beefed up the mural with airbrushing and painting by hand.

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On the court, extending out from the end zone walls from six to ten feet, the artists painted waves directly on the surface. (Take that, Zurich!) The court took three days to prep another three days to paint.

More: See more close-ups of the mural after the cut…