Jim Courier Takes the Reins – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Taking the Reins

A week after Australia named the appointment of Patrick Rafter as its new Davis Cup captain, the United States followed suit. On Wednesday it was announced that Jim Courier would be replacing Patrick McEnroe at the helm of the U.S. team. Courier will have some big shoes to fill, as McEnroe did much to turn around the fortunes of the U.S. Davis Cup squad, which included a title win in 2007. But Courier, a four-time Grand Slam winner, brings plenty of experience to the table, including serving as a member of the 1995 victorious U.S. Davis Cup squad. And, as an added bonus, reports seem to indicate that there’s a slight chance Mr. Courier’s new appointment could entice a healthy Andy Roddick to devote time to Davis Cup duty once again.

Muster Wobbles

Thomas Muster made his comeback debut at the main ATP World Tour level in his native Austria this week, and unfortunately, it didn’t have a fairytale ending. The 43-year-old succumbed to his native countryman Andreas Haider-Maurer in straight sets in the opening round, though it should be noted that the second set ended in a tiebreak. Perhaps Muster is still polishing off some of the rust, but it is a little difficult to see him putting in another two good years as he stated he hopes to do. Still, judging by the crowd’s reaction to his efforts, there’s little doubt that his comeback is still bringing plenty of smiles to fans’ faces.

Comeback Bug

In addition to Muster, the ATP World Tour may see the return of yet another veteran in Australian Mark Philippoussis. After securing two wins on the Champions Series seniors’ tour, the veteran Australian has stated that he has found his hunger once again and is contemplating a return to the main tour level. While there are many fans who would love to see Scud see his plan through, it’s certainly questionable on Philippoussis’ part. It’s not as though this is the first time he’s considered such a comeback, and while those who compete on the Champions Tour are champions in their own right, they are retired from the main tour for a reason. The difference in the caliber of play is wide, and Philippoussis is kidding himself if he thinks success on one tour means it will translate to success on the ATP World Tour. Sadly, one has to wonder if Philippoussis’ considerations for a return don’t stem from the fact that he squandered his talent during his prime by choosing to live the good life instead putting in the time necessary to remain more injury-free and to realize his full potential. But then again, if Muster thinks he can do it in his 40s, there’s at least a glimmer of hope for the Aussie to do it in his 30s.

Consolation Prize

Few would argue that 2010 has been the year of Rafael Nadal. With the No. 1 ranking sewn up, three of the four majors to his name, and achieving the career Grand Slam, it has been his banner year. But Roger Federer, despite the subpar results by his high standards, has still managed to achieve yet another milestone, as he tied Sampras’ record of 64 singles titles with is win in Stockholm last week. At this stage in the game, Connors’ 109 still seems untouchable and McEnroe’s 77 a doable but lofty goal, but look for Federer to add to his total and use this mini-milestone as a springboard to better things in 2011.

Gossip Fill

In case you missed your daily dose of gossip, it’s worth noting a story that broke late last week followed by one earlier this week. The first concerns the engagement of Maria Sharapova to LA Laker Sasha Vujacic. More than once Sharapova has commented that she couldn’t see herself playing till she was 30, and if her results don’t drastically improve in 2011, don’t be entirely surprised if she hangs up the racquet and decides to permanently soak up the California sun. Then there’s Lleyton Hewitt, who became a father for the third time as he and wife Bec welcomed a baby girl last weekend. The whole charging for texts to find out the baby girl’s name is a little odd (and someone please let me know if that goes to some kind of charity), but congratulations are in order for the Hewitt’s. Don’t look for a third child to have a negative impact on Hewitt’s game either. It’s his body he’ll need to worry about.

Hewitt Saves Two Match Points To Beat Soderling; Garcia-Lopez, Melzer Among Other Winners

Former world No. 1 and two-time grand slam singles champion Lleyton Hewitt of Australia erased two match points to edge past No. 12 seed Robin Soderling of Sweden, 3-6, 7-6(8), 6-4, in two hours and nine minutes on Tuesday afternoon to advance to the second round at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters 1000 in Cincinnati.

Soderling, a finalist at this year’s French Open, got off to a quick start in the opening set winning 16 of 19 first serve points and breaking Hewitt’s serve in the fourth game to take control. The Swede also smashed six aces compared to just one by the 28-year-old Australian.

Deep into the second set tiebreak, Hewitt found himself down 5-6 before smashing an ace to even things. Then down 7-8, Soderling smashed a forehand long to level the tiebreak at 8-8. Hewitt never looked back, winning the next two points and taking the match to a deciding set.

“Second set tiebreak could have gone either way,” said Hewitt, a Sydney resident who has reached the Cincinnati final in 2002 and 2004.

The momentum stayed with Hewitt, as he broke serve to open the final set and never looked back. Winning 76 percent of first serve points and 70 percent of second serve points en route to victory.

“I played a good game the first game of the third set to break serve, and served well for the rest of that set,” said Hewitt, who improves to 3-0 lifetime against Soderling.

Hewitt will next face German Benjamin Becker on Wednesday night. The match will mark the first meeting between the pair.

In other matches, Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez held off countryman Fernando Verdasco, seeded 11th, in two tiebreak sets, winning 7-6(4), 7-6(4), in one hour and 45 minutes. The loss marked Verdasco’s fourth first round loss in Cincinnati.

Both players served exceptionally well and in the 125-130 M.P.H. range from start to finish. Verdasco smashed 11 aces and just two double faults compared to five aces and three double faults by Garcia-Lopez. Both players won 82 percent of first serve points and were able to earn one service break.

With the loss Verdasco, a finalist at Brisbane and semifinalist at the Australian Open, fell to 34-16 on the season. Garcia-Lopez , meanwhile improved to 22-18 on the season, a year that has included reaching a career-best ranking of No. 42 in June. Garcia-Lopez, who is currently ranked No. 53, is slated to face Russian qualifier Mikhail Youzhny for a place in the third round. The Spaniard leads the Russian 3-0 in series meetings, winning most recently on clay in Kitzbuhel, Austria.

In a battle of talented left-handers, Austrian Jurgen Melzer edged past Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, 5-7, 7-6(4), 7-6(7), in two hours and 47 minutes. A combined 26 aces were hit in the contest—16 by Lopez and 10 by Melzer—but it was the consistency in the later stages of the third set tiebreak by Melzer that earned him a spot in the second round.

Melzer, who improved to 3-1 against Lopez, won 70 of 91 first serve points and 57 percent of second serve points. Lopez, who is currently ranked No. 37, just one spot behind Melzer at No. 36, won 56 of 67 first serve points and 57 percent of second serve points throughout the match.

Melzer, who reached a career-high ranking of No. 26 in May, next faces lucky loser Julien Benneteau of France on Wednesday afternoon. Benneteau leads the head-to-head against Melzer, 3-1, with all his victories coming on hard courts.

Other winners on Tuesday in Cincinnati
First Round
Tomas Berdych def. No. 10 Fernando Gonzalez, 6-4 ret. injury
Igor Kunitsyn def. James Blake, 7-6(5), 6-7(5), 6-4
Mikhail Youzhny def. Victor Hanescu, 7-5, 6-2
Andreas Seppi def. Jan Hernych, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1
Chris Guccione def. Philip Kohlschreiber, 7-5, 2-6, 6-3
Philip Petzschner def. Simone Bolelli, 7-6(6), 6-3
John Isner def. Tommy Haas, 7-6(5), 5-7, 7-6(3)

Second Round
No. 9 Gilles Simon def. Igor Andreev, 7-6(5), 6-7(6), 6-1
David Ferrer def. No. 14 Marin Cilic, 7-6(4), 6-2

Epic matches and major upsets at Roland Garros

Epic matches and major upsets highlight the May 31 landscape at Roland Garros through the years. The following excerpt from the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY summarizes the excitement.

1983 – Twenty-five-year French journeyman Christophe Roger-Vasselin, ranked No. 130 in the world, registers one of the biggest upsets in the history of the French Open, upsetting No. 1 seed Jimmy Connors 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros. Roger-Vasselin’s countryman No. 6-seeded Yannick Noah, accounts for the second big upset on the day, defeating No. 3 seed Ivan Lendl by a 7-6, 6-2, 5-7, 6-0 margin.

1994 – Jim Courier defeats Pete Sampras 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the French Open, ending Sampras’ hopes of winning a fourth consecutive major tournament title. Sampras, falls short in his attempt to join Don Budge and Rod Laver – both of whom won Grand Slams – as the only men to win four straight major titles. Sampras, the 1993 Wimbledon and U.S.  Open champion and the 1994 Australian Open champion, sees his major tournament winning streak end at 26 matches. Says Sampras, “”I’m kind of down and disappointed. To win four in a row would have been something that would have been written about for years.” Says Courier after his first win over Sampras in 18 months, “I was in a lot more rallies and I was able to be the dictator rather than being the person dictated to…It has been a long time since I have won a big match in a big tournament like this against a top player.”

1989 – Thirty-six-year-old Jimmy Connors plays one of the longest four-set matches in the history of the sport, falling to fellow American Jay Berger 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 7-5 in 4 hours, 26 minutes in the second round of the French Open. Berger is not surprised that the French crowd is so firmly rooting for the five-time US Open champion. “Hey, if I was in the stands, I would have cheered Jimmy Connors, too,” he says. Says Connors after the match, “For me to go out and grind out a match like that. It’s fun. To play a kid like that, 14 years younger – I could have played a fifth set. My mouthpiece wasn’t knocked out.”

1974 – Reigning Australian Open champions Jimmy Connors and Evonne Goolagong lose in French appeals court in an attempt to gain entry into the French Open. Both stars are denied entry into the tournament due to their involvement with World Team Tennis. French judge Jean Regnault denies the appeal stating that there was no “emergency” and that both players earned substantial incomes from tennis – with or without playing the French Championships. The decision costs Connors a serious opportunity to become only the third man to win the Grand Slam as he decisively wins Wimbledon and the U.S. Open later in the year. Says Connors of Parisien court experience, “I’m in the wrong court. I should be on clay.”

1998 – Alex Corretja completes a 6-1, 5-7, 6-7, 7-5, 9-7 third round victory over Hernan Gumy of Argentina at the French Open in a match that lasts 5 hours, 31 minutes, the longest match in major tournament history at the time. The match was five minutes longer than Stefan Edberg’s semifinal victory against Michael Chang at the 1992 US Open, but it is eclipsed in 2004 when Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement play a two-day 6 hour, 33 minute match in the first round of the French Open.

1996 – Pete Sampras outlasts fellow American Todd Martin 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 in 3 hours, 21 minutes in the third round of the French Open. Sampras serves 19 aces to Martin’s 29, believed to be the highest number in one match at the French Open.

2000 – Dominique Van Roost of Belgium celebrates her 27th birthday with a 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3 win over No. 2 seed Lindsay Davenport in the first round of the French Open.

2001 – Pete Sampras is foiled again at the French Open, falling in the second round at the world’s premier clay court championship to Spain’s Galo Blanco 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-2. “If I go through my career not winning the French, sure, it’s disappointing,” Sampras says. “But it’s not going to take away from my place in the game, what I’ve been able to do over the years. I mean, there’s still time. There’s no reason to think this is it. I mean, I’ve got plenty of years left.”  Sampras plays at Roland Garros for only one more year in 2002, losing in the first round to Andrea Gaudenzi. He plays his final match in winning in the 2002 U.S. Open and retires having only reached one French Open semifinal in 1996.

2003 – In a 4 hour, 38-minute epic, defending champion Albert Costa of Spain defeats Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in the third round of the French Open for his third five-set victory in a row at Roland Garros. Lapentti leads two-sets-to-love and 4-1 in the third set before Costa begins his comeback charge. ”I’m feeling so proud of myself because I’m not playing my best tennis, but I’m still fighting all the time,” Costa says. No. 1 seed Lleyton Hewitt is dismissed in the third round by Spaniard Tommy Robredo by a 4-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 margin. “”This was the match of my life,” Robredo says after his victory “To be two sets down and 0-3 down in the fifth and to have this crowd chanting my name in Paris against a guy like Hewitt, it’s close to perfection.”

1995 – Pete Sampras is sunk in the first round of the French Open, losing a darkness-suspended match Austria’s Gilbert Schaller 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-4 in 4 hours, 2 minutes. The match resumes with Sampras leading 3-1 in the third set, but his serve is immediate broken in the first game of the resumption, setting the tone for the rest of the afternoon. “I think this loss is probably going to sit with me for quite a while,” says Sampras to reporters after the match. “I could talk about turning points, but we would be here all day.”

1980 – John McEnroe was hit with a $1,250 fine for his ungraceful exit in his third round French Open loss to Peter McNamara of Australia, in which he made an insulting remark to the umpire and an obscene gesture to the crowd.