Borg

U.S. Open – Tie-Break City

By James A. Crabtree

With the U.S. Open fast approaching now seems as good a time as any to look back on the greatest tie-breakers ever.

There is no better place to start than with the only slam to play a tie-break in the deciding fifth set. From one angle it’s a shame the Americans get to miss out on a possibly endless epic that might stretch on for days, like the 1080 points John Isner and Nicholas Mahut endured during the 2010 Wimbledon marathon.

On the other angle it’s great to watch a match where you can have match point, then only seconds later be match point down. Exciting, unpredictable and how very New York.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fLkVJSBplE

One such thrilling tiebreaker took place during the 1996 U.S. Open quarter final between Pete Sampras and Alex Corretja. Sampras won the match after firing a second serve ace down match point. He also showed more Hypochondriasis than Andy Murray before, like Murray, playing like an animal when it really mattered. Sampras went on to win the tournament beating Goran Ivanisevic in the semis and Michael Chang in the final.

The 1996 U.S. Open also initially caused controversy for the higher seeding of American players Michael Chang and Andre Agassi above their world ranking. Thomas Muster, Boris Becker and Yevgeny Kafelnikov were seeded below their ranking with Kafelnikov withdrawing himself in protest.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gw21Z-37JW0

Arguably the greatest match ever, surely Nadal’s most memorable victory, the 2008 Wimbledon final had a bit of everything. Federer, the defending champion was starting to show signs he was human and Nadal was hungry for a slam that wasn’t played on clay. The longest final in Wimbledon history included a couple of tie-breaks, the second that included match points for Nadal. Incredibly Nadal didn’t capitalise in that set, but did manage to win 9-7 in the nail biting fifth set.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjnvvzmX6MY

Another match Nadal won but came up short in the tie-break is the 2009 Australian Open semi, where he was blasted by a player simply on fire. Fernando Verdasco brought himself to the attention of the world with an attacking game that was all but faultless in a tie-break he won 7-1 to level the match. It was hard to think that Nadal could comeback from this kind of thrashing. What was harder still was the level of play Verdasco had to replicate to beat Nadal in the fifth. Against the odds Nadal was fresh enough to win the final, another five set match, against old foe Roger Federer.

Arguably the other greatest match ever and first major tiebreak to capture the attention of the world was during the 1980 Wimbledon final featuring John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. More was on the line than just victory and defeat; this was baseline versus net, lefty versus right but most clearly fire and ice.

Borg had already squandered two championship points at 5–4 in the fourth.  McEnroe saved five further match points during tiebreaker and won 18–16. Bjorn went on to win the fifth set 8-6 for his fifth and his final Wimbledon crown.

The final match to make the list is a Futures event this past January in Florida. Monaco’s world number 636 Benjamin Balleret beat unranked compatriot Guillaume Couillard 36-34 in the first set of their third round qualifying match. Balleret, a former world number 206, took the second set 6-1 and now holds the record for the longest tie-break in history.

 

 

 

 

MURRAY RUNNING OUTTA LOVE

Rather than pick one topic to rant at/praise today, I have decided to produce a post of some random aspects of tennis I have noticed recently.

However, what cannot be ignored was Andy Murray’s revelation this week that he has “fallen out of love with tennis.” Following on from his horrific 4-6, 4-6 defeat to American Mardy Fish he looked like a lost individual, a man gripped in a mid-life crisis.

Following on from that soul-destroying tennis lesson from Federer in the Aussie Open final in January, Murray really hasn’t had things all his own way. And as noted by fellow columnist Melina Harris he may be beginning to believe his own hype.

But to come out and declare this? It screams of spoiled brat syndrome. But read on:

“I need to start enjoying my tennis again. This has been going on for a few weeks now,” he said. “I’ve been very happy off the court but just not on it, and that’s where I need to be happy because that’s my career, this is what I do. It’s only me who can figure it out.

“People think sportsmen are different to other people but we’re not – we all go through bad patches. I’ve got to get back to how I felt in Australia at the start of the season.”

Still feel the same way readers? You can understand him. The tennis tour is now so complex and all-encompassing that there is no escape without a prolonged break that can heavily disadvantage your ranking. So players may feel the need to continue regardless of their health and happiness in fear of losing ground on their rivals.

It’s a very sorry state for a young man who was being declared as the best in the world after taking the Miami title this time last year.

Great Britain will be hoping Murray pulls through and doesn’t drop out of the sport a la Borg, or a certain Mister Tim Henman may need to get out the old tennis shoes again.

*Is it me, or is tennis becoming more and more ‘showbiz’ by the day? I think during the recent matches in Miami we have had more players’ box shots of model girlfriends and celebrity chums than ever before. Gwen Stefani got more TV time in Federer’s box at the US Open last year than any participating player. And it is always a curse during Wimbledon fortnight when we have to watch Cliff Richard’s perma-tanned, beaming, puppet-like face every day for two weeks.

*That hugely cringe worthy confrontation between Sampras and Agassi at the HitForHaiti event recently – does anybody else agree Federer should look at a career taking over from Jerry Springer when he hangs his racquet up?

*I, for one, am disappointed to see Sam Querrey failing to live up to his fantastic year in 2009. The boy is a true gentleman and could well be a great ambassador for the sport for many years to come. The saying has always been that “nice guys finish last” but in Querrey’s case I really hope this is not true. Another sporting cliché: “form is temporary, class is forever.” I think that’s a better one to keep in mind.

*One for British readers: am I the only one who likes to use the red interactive button to view matches so I don’t have to listen to the Sky commentators? Their constant attempts to make each other’s careers look laughable are very tiring. If you don’t have anything interesting to say during breaks in play please keep your traps shut.

*What a joy it has been watching Marin Cilic in Miami. Despite losing to Fernando Verdasco in straight sets the man’s game continues to improve following his marathon-esque court time Down Under. He now looks more and more like his coach, and the further he progresses the more we get to see and hear from fan-favourite Goran Ivanisevic about his protégé. Goran is never one to disappoint.

*I, for one, will be screaming Mikhail Youzhny on in his upcoming Miami quarter-final with the pantomime villain Robin Soderling. There are many players I love in the modern game, and none I love to hate more than Robin.

*With Murray, Federer and Djokovic falling by the wayside early on Miami gives Rafa Nadal a real chance to put a troubled year behind him. A win here could give him the confidence he so desperately needs and imagine a rejuvenated Rafa going in to the clay-court season. It’s not going to be easy but a few lucky breaks he hasn’t received recently and this could be a real turning point.

*Finally, I should really stop making predictions! Those who read last week’s blog will have noted how wrong I was yet again with my quarterfinal picks. However my late prediction that this tournament would be a goodun has come true, so I can take small consolation in that!

Federer’s Most Devasting French Open Loss?

What was Roger Federer’s most devastating loss at the French Open? Some would say the 2008 final, when he was dominated by Rafael Nadal 6-1, 6-3, 6-0. Another candidate would be his 2003 first-round loss to Luis Horna. Rene Stauffer, the author of the definitive book on Federer called THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.rogerfedererbook.com) details this loss and its circumstances in this book excerpt.

Federer’s success continued into the start of the clay court season as he won the title in Munich and also reached the final of the Italian Open, losing unexpectedly to Felix Mantilla of Spain. The result, however, still propelled him into the conversation as being a favorite to win the French Open.

“I feel much better this year than the year before when I first was in the top 10,” he explained in one of the many interviews before the French Open. “It was a new situation for me back then. I’ve gotten used to it in the meantime.”

He admitted to feeling the pressure from the public. “The entire world keeps reminding me that I am supposed to win a Grand Slam tournament and be No. 1 in the world. That’s not fair because it’s not that easy,” he said. He then stated defiantly that “whoever wants to beat me will have to work hard for it. I don’t want to lose in the first round at Roland Garros again.”

On a summery Monday afternoon in Paris, Federer’s first match at the 2003 French Open took place on Court Philippe Chatrier, the center court named after the Frenchman who was a past president of the International Tennis Federation. His opponent was an unknown Peruvian Luis Horna, whom Federer beat earlier in the year in Key Biscayne. Horna, ranked No. 88 in the world, had yet to win a match at a Grand Slam tournament. Federer took an early 5-3 lead in the first set, but began to show his insecurity and nerves when, during a routine rush to the net, he slipped and fell to the ground, only to mutter to himself and show negative emotions. Despite his lead, he seemed discouraged and, quite unusually, often glanced desperately at Peter Lundgren. Federer lost his service break advantage and despite holding a set point in the tie-break, he surrendered the first set by an 8-6 tie-break. The match immediately turned into a drama for Federer. He seemed frustrated, apathetic and didn’t show any belief that he could win. He appeared mentally absent, missing even the easiest shots. He tallied 82 unforced errors in the 7-6 (6), 6-2, 7-6 (3) first-round loss.

The tournament was shockingly finished before it even really began. Federer, the fallen favorite, appeared in the overcrowded interview room with his head bowed low. “I don’t know how long I’ll need to get over this defeat,” he said. “A day, a week, a year-or my entire career.”

Federer became the ridicule of the tournament. France’s sports newspaper L’Equipe ran a headline the next day translated as, “Shipwrecked In Quiet Waters” and published a cartoon in which a steam ship named “Roland Garros” steams away, leaving Federer behind in quiet waters. Florida’s Palm Beach Post described him as the “Phil Mickelson of Tennis,” comparing Federer to the American golfer who failed to win any of the major tournaments de­spite his great talent and many opportunities. “Federer has all the strokes but no Grand Slam trophy. He carries the dog tags of the best tennis player who has never won a major competition.”

The loss undeniably confirmed Federer’s reputation as a Grand Slam loser. He showed that he was a player who could not pull out a match even though he was not playing his best tennis-a characteristic that most champion tennis players exhibited, most notably in the present by Lleyton Hewitt, who could win a match on guts and determination alone. Since his victory over Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001, Federer was 0-4 in matches at the French Open and Wimbledon-the last three matches without even winning a set. His last five Grand Slam tournaments ended in defeat at the hands of much lower-ranked players

What could one say in his defense? Federer was now five years into his ATP career and approached his 22nd birthday. He won six ATP singles titles, excelled in Davis Cup play and time and again insisted he was capable of achieving greatness. He was considered one of the bigger stars in tennis and climbed to No. 5 in the world rankings. But outside of the title in Hamburg, all of the tournaments he won were smaller events and even the German Open was not a Grand Slam tournament. Federer failed routinely in the arenas where it was decided if a player was a champion or not. The once precocious maverick simply could not bring his tremendous potential to bear at the Grand Slams. When looking at the successes of his idols, rivals or earlier great players, he couldn’t help but feel envy. At his age, Becker, Borg, Courier, Edberg and Sampras as well as Hewitt, Safin and many others had already long since won their first Grand Slam titles. Federer, however, had not even reached the semifinals at a Grand Slam tournament. The experts were unani­mous in their opinions that Federer was mature enough athletically to break through a win his first title. But athletic brilliance alone was not sufficient enough and Federer was still searching for the key to real success.

An analysis would seem to indicate that a mental block was preventing him from winning. He felt under pressure to such a degree at the Grand Slam tournaments that he couldn’t concentrate on the moment, especially in the early rounds. This was a basic rule for success. The pressure came from all sides-but mostly from himself. He hadn’t yet learned that these tournaments couldn’t be won in the first week but they certainly could be lost. With some luck, he could have already won a Grand Slam title-in 2001, for example, after upsetting Sampras. Everything would have looked different.

After his loss to Horna, Federer seemed to be the loneliest man in tennis. He was a man alone braving the stormy tempest. How could he have known that this defeat was to be his last such one-sided Grand Slam defeat in a very, very long time? How could he have known that this painful experience was necessary in order to become the hardened, keen-sighted but yet modest champion who would have the tennis world at his feet?

Federer described what really happened when he faced Horna in Paris months later. “I was simply not prepared mentally,” he said. “I put myself under too much pressure. After losing the first set, I couldn’t get back into the match. I had the feeling that it was impossible, that I was no longer in control of the situation. After the first set, I said to myself, ‘Even if I survive this round, I still have to play six more rounds to win this tournament.’ That almost drove me insane. I put myself under such pressure that I couldn’t play anymore.”

After the match, he said that he was overwhelmed with questions about the how and why. “But at that moment, I didn’t really feel like talking about it. I was too disappointed. I wanted to do nothing else but take eight days vacation and then start my preparations for the grass tournament in Halle. I didn’t want to think about Roland Garros-I wanted to forget it. I didn’t want to analyze what happened because I knew that I had simply failed mentally. I didn’t accept it by any means

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

Roger Federer is Great for Tennis – and Sports

Written by Alessandro Nicolo

Here’s the thing: tennis is one of those sports I play more than I watch. It’s just one of those things. There’s not enough time in a day for me to watch every sport. On the other hand if someone would pay me – trust me – I’m watching anything.

You’re reading the words of a guy who has watched curling on more than one occasion.

Tennis is a great game. The athletic demands are complimented by the technical aspects of mastering the sport. A few years ago my close friend, a former tennis player and instructor, told me that by the time he’s done Roger Federer may very well be the greatest tennis player who ever lived. I took those words seriously since my friend was not into hyperbole. More sober and sane than he they don’t come. “There no weaknesses in his game,” he said.

Well, Roger Federer won his 10th men’s singles grand slam title, winning in straight sets over a feisty Fernando Gonzalez at the Australian Open. That’s good for fifth all-time, which ties Federer with Bill Tilden. He’s two titles behind Ray Emerson and only one behind Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver.

More importantly, at 26 he is just four grand slam titles away the all-time leader Pete Sampras.

Wow.

Tennis has a problem on its hands. Through most of the sport’s history tennis was blessed with classic rivalries. Who can forget those battles in the 1970s and 1980s between Borg, McEnroe, Connors and Lendl? Sampras and Agassi had a thing going too. But who will dance with Roger?

Andy Roddick has the attitude and will to challenge him, but if his serve is off he struggles. Rafael Nadal has flair and is blessed with a more complete game but outside of clay he’s a mere mortal.

In modern tennis there is no one that comes remotely close to Roger Federer. His dominance is pure net – excuse the bad pun. What captivates me is how smooth and beautiful his game really is. He’s perfect in all aspects of the game without looking like a robot.

Let me take this a step further. Forget statistics. I’m dropping the gloves here. Forget Tiger Woods. Forget Babe Ruth, Pele, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky. Forget Michael Schumacher and Mohammed Ali – to name a few.

Yeah, I may be getting excited here but I’m going with a sports junkie’s instinct here. People will always debate Montana or Unitas? Chamberlin or Jordan? Lemieux, Orr, Howe or Gretzky? Even Pele has legitimate challengers in Diego Maradona and Alfredo di Stefano. Some even swear that we wasn’t the greatest Brazilian player ever. For this they look to Garrincha.

For his part, Ali is sometimes not referred as the greatest heavyweight of all time. It’s notoriously hard to judge auto racing or cycling – though Eddie Merckx can easily plead his case as the greatest cyclist ever. Come to think of it, he Woods come as the closest challengers that I can think of. But even experts admit Tiger has some weaknesses to his game. I’ve yet ot hear that about Federer.

I know I’m mixing some team sports in there but you get the picture. Yes, tennis has had its fair share of dominant players. The consensus however has Rod Laver as the greatest and most complete player ever. Sampras has the numbers to back him up.

I recognize all that. Still…

There is a very real chance that when Federer retires he may close out his career as the most dominant professional athlete ever.

Just for that I’ll be watching. There may not be any parity in tennis (sometimes dynasties are just plain good) but Federer’s class and elegance may just enough for sports fans to forgive and forget.

Alessandro Nicolo – the hack with a knack – is a freelance writer and sedentary bon vivant living in Montreal.