Jelena Dokic reconciles with father, Tokyo loses big names in early rounds, Maria Sharapova injured – The Friday Five
By Maud Watson
On the Mend
After eight years of being estranged from one another, Jelena Dokic has reunited with her father, Damir. Damir’s exploits are well publicized and have routinely landed him near the top of very “Worst Tennis Parent” list. That is why like some others, I’m curious as to how this rekindled partnership will play out over the course of the coming months. On one hand, it’s always great to see reconciliation, especially between family members. Jelena herself has stated this is what she wants and believes her father has changed (though he will still be ineligible to receive credentials for WTA events). But given all that’s happened the last eight years, it’s hard not to feel that this partnership isn’t a little “awkward” as Darren Cahill tweeted. Hopefully the return of Damir will bring many positives to Jelena’s life, but only time will tell if this tiger has changed his stripes.
In one of the more prominent WTA events of the fall, the Pan Pacific Open saw a couple of troubling big name losses early in the event. The first was that of reigning US Open Champion Sam Stosur. The Aussie lost to Kirilenko, which is not necessarily a bad loss, but it was an upset nonetheless. After the way she fought her way to the US Open title, many were optimistic she’d fully put it together between the ears. Hopefully this loss will prove to be the exception rather than the norm, as it would be a shame to see her follow the post-Grand Slam title success of Li Na and Petra Kvitova. The other high profile loss was that of Caroline Wozniacki, who fell to Kaia Kanepi. The loss proved once again that when not at the top of her game (and sometimes even then), the Dane is vulnerable to big hitters. But the loss may have also in part stemmed from the possible burnout that comes with the mental pressure of knowing she has to consistently win to defend that number one ranking and keep her critics at bay. At this point, it may not be such a bad idea for Wozniacki to step away for a bit, risk losing that ranking, maybe hit the golf course with the boyfriend, and come back refreshed.
She’s faced far more serious injuries over the course of her career, but the ankle injury that forced Maria Sharapova to retire from her quarterfinal match against Petra Kvitova at the Pan Pacific Open may prove costly in more ways than one. Obviously there was the withdrawal from the tournament itself. Having put together her most successful season post-shoulder surgery and being one of the heavy favorites to win Tokyo, the former No. 1 will rue the missed opportunity to add to her list of titles and build her confidence going into 2012. But what may be more unsettling for Sharapova is the manner in which she sustained the injury – she came down awkwardly on her left ankle while finishing her service motion. For a player who has never overcome the serving yips since her shoulder trouble, this could prove yet another unwanted distracted that may only increase those yips.
Once a top ten player able to use her court craft and guile to frustrate even the biggest of hitters, Russian Anna Chakvetadze has since seen her game in a freefall the last few seasons. The combination of her family’s terrifying robbery ordeal along with injuries and illness have hindered Chakvetadze’s efforts to produce anywhere near her top level of tennis. Perhaps that’s part of the reason why she’s now looking into politics. Chakvetadze has been named one of the three candidates put forth by the pro-business Right Cause Party. Her candidacy has already garnered some mudslinging, with one opponent suggesting her candidacy is nothing but a bad joke. It’s also drawn questions from Sharapova as to how much Chakvetadze can focus on her tennis if she’s involved with politics. In either case, the Right Cause Party enjoys little public support, so it is unlikely Chakvetadze will win a parliamentary seat. But seeing a player with the smarts to attempt such a lofty goal to do what she believes is best for her country is admirable, and in the end, it may just prove the brief hiatus she needs to come back with a fresh mind to try and rebuild her game.
It seems that recently USTA coaches are being sought after by what they hope will be the next great crop of American stars. Melanie Oudin, who has been living a nightmare on tour since her breakout 2009 season, has split with her longtime coach Brian DeVilliers to pair up with Tom Gullikson. Though freely admitting her slump has been entirely her own fault, she’s hoping Gullkson’s fresh perspective will put her back on the path to success. On the men’s side, after a brief split, American teen Jack Sock has rehired Mike Wolf to take over the coaching reigns, but the biggest victory by the USTA has to be that of Donald Young seeking its assistance. After a much publicized tiff between the two, Young and his family have wisely agreed to let the USTA take the lead in his coaching and development. Young will be under the guidance of his former coach Mike Sell, who was also the former coach of Monica Seles. American tennis fans will be eager to see if these changes pay dividends in the near future.
*The Aussie former coach of Andre Agassi and Lleyton Hewitt, Darren Cahill, has ruled himself out of the running to become Andy Murray’s latest coach. The Scot had hoped to land the former US Open semifinalist following his recent split with Miles Maclagen but Cahill has intimated he would rather concentrate on his work with Adidas and ESPN. Todd Martin, Sven Groeneveld, Larry Stefanki and Tony Roche are other names linked with the position. “I think the world of Andy and I think he’s a major winner in the waiting,” said the Las Vegas-based Cahill. “But if I was going to go back to full-time coaching, I’d probably would have hung in there with Roger, seeing whether Roger offered me the job.”
*Ivan Lendl has confirmed that he intends to join the ATP Champions Tour having rarely picked up a racquet since his retirement in 1994. Paris is the chosen destination for his return, the site of his famous French Open victory of 1984 where he came from two sets down to beat American John McEnroe in the final. This gives McEnroe a shot at revenge. “Oh boy, l’m looking forward to it,” he said. “We had some great matches together but it’s been a long time and he hasn’t played for more than 15 years so I think we need to discuss a few things, both on and off the court. I know he’s been working most of the last year to get back into the type of shape he needs to be in, because it doesn’t get any easier as you get older. But we’ll be giving it our all, that’s for sure.” Yannick Noah will also make his return to the tour after a seven-year absence and Mats Wilander will also be present. The other two contestants of the October event are yet to be announced.
*They’ve done it, the Bryan brothers have finally become the most successful doubles team of all time following last week’s Farmers Classic in Los Angeles. Title number 62 came courtesy of a 6-7 (6), 6-2, 10-7 triumph over Eric Butorac and Jean-Julien Rojer. It was their 100th final together and was their sixth title in LA. “It’s sweet, feels awesome, hanging out with family and friends after the match,” said Mike. “It’s a cool feeling.” “Sixty two brings a smile to our face,” added Bob. “It’s been an emotional ride, talking about it every day for the past couple of months. To finally do it is incredible. There were definitely nerves out there and those guys were playing great. It was a very hard fought match. Our legs felt like jelly, arms spaghetti… It was a flood of emotion. I never thought we’d be this consistent, this healthy our whole career. We’ve never given up on each other.”
*Following on from that record-breaking win many of the world’s top doubles players have been paying homage to the feats of America’s doubles specialists. Arch rivals over recent years have been the Canadian Daniel Nestor and his long-time Serbian partner Nenad Zimonjic. Nestor was beaming with praise at the achievement: “They are the face of doubles. They’ve pretty much been the No. 1 team for 10 years. When people think of doubles they think of the Bryans. They are fun to watch. I don’t think any team in history has been as consistent as they have been. They rarely have bad losses and they’ve won a lot. 62 titles is an amazing achievement and they’ve got a lot of time to go. They could reach 80 or 90 titles easily.” To see what Zimonjic, Mark Knowles and James Blake, among others, also had to say visit the ATP website.
*The first signings for the 2011 Hopman Cup have been anounced. John Isner and Serena Williams have signed up to play for the United States. Justine Henin and Steve Darcis will play for Belgium while Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic will partner up for Serbia. Lleyton Hewitt has agreed to return for Australia and Gael Monfils will play for France alongside Kristina Mladenovic. Tournament director Paul McNamee said: “It’s a spectacular line-up. There is potential for some really great match-ups for both the men and the women, not to mention the mixed.” We are now just waiting on the name of Hewitt’s female partner.
*Tennis’ long-running ‘anti-grunt’ campaign has received fresh backing from French star Marion Bartoli who was shrieked off court by Victoria Azarenka on Vika’s route to lifting the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford last week. “It’s difficult to play against those kinds of players,” Bartoli said. “I think it’s fine to grunt sometimes when you make an effort, but sometimes it’s just so loud. It’s hard to focus on the other side of the net. But it’s not something I can get bothered by, because otherwise I would lose my concentration so much. I just need to forget about it, but it’s hard.” There were other grumbles too from the elder Bartoli. To see these and Azarenka’s defence, visit TennisReporter.net.
*Another grumbling tennis queen this week is teenage American sensation Melanie Oudin. The 18-year-old has, at times, struggled to hit the form which saw her dazzle the courts of New York in that incredible giant killing run of 2009. Pressure seems to be mounting, and she seems to increasingly lose her temper on-court. “It’s kind of annoying sometimes when people are like ‘Pull it together Melanie,’ and they yell at me kind of,” she said after her 6-1 6-3 defeat to Victoria Azarenka in the second round at Stanford last week. “Really, like you get down here and play. I know they mean it in a good way, like to say ‘C’mon’ Melanie,’ but you don’t have to say ‘Pull it together,’ like ‘Get your energy up’ That’s what some lady was telling me.” The full interview can also be seen at TennisReporter.net.
*Following the conflicting reports about Juan Martin Del Potro’s proposed injury return in last week’s column the reigning US Open champ has posted pics of his long-awaited return to the practice courts on his Twitter page. Serena Williams posted an interesting one this week. She claimed that she was charged $100 to watch the likes of Andy Murray at the Farmers Classic in LA despite the publicity work she had done for the event plus the fact that she is one of the greatest women’s players of all time. “Oh my God, the Farmers Classic tournament in LA is charging me $100 a ticket after I did publicity for them. (Laughs out loud) I’ll send them a bill for my publicity. Anyway, don’t go if you’re in LA. I would have paid $1,000 if I had not done publicity for them.”
*Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova’s win in Istanbul last week has seen her climb to a career high No. 24 in this week’s Sony Ericsson WTA rankings. In the doubles, Liezel Huber has regained the number 1 doubles ranking slot from the Williams sisters following her win in Stanford with returning mum Lindsay Davenport.
*Reuters have been reporting that Victoria Azarenka has pulled out of San Diego having won at Stanford.
*Spanish newspaper El Mundo has held its annual poll of the country’s favourite celebrity with Rafa Nadal coming out on top. He defeated Spanish footballer and World Cup winning hero Iker Casillas who came second.
By Maud Watson
Coach Onboard – One of the two big news stories that broke earlier in the week was that Swiss No. 1 Roger Federer has announced that he’ll be working with American coach Paul Annacone. Paul Annacone is one of the most respected coaches in the sport, and his work speaks for itself. He’s had the experience of dealing with a legend of the game in Pete Sampras, as well as helping a guy discover his best form late in a career as shown in his work with Tim Henman. With the possible exception of someone like a Darren Cahill, it’s hard to imagine a better fit for Federer at this stage in his career. The move also represents just one more signal that Federer is still hungry and is committed to getting back to the top, and he’s not afraid to admit that he may not be able to do it solo. Annacone still has some lingering commitments to the LTA before the two can consider going fulltime, but this has all the makings of another positive turnaround in Federer’s career.
Coach Overboard – On the opposite end of the coaching carousel is the news concerning Andy Murray and Miles Maclagan. Murray announced that after just less than three years, he is parting ways with Maclagan. Murray explained the reasons behind the split, with most of them stemming from MacLagan and Murray having differing opinions about where he is and how to get to where he wants to be. I’m inclined to see this as a very positive move for Murray, and it’s no disrespect to Maclagan. He’s done a great job with Murray, taking him to two Grand Slam finals and the No. 2 singles ranking. But there’s no doubt that Murray’s career has at best stalled, and at worst, has been in a steady decline since the Aussie Open final, excluding his unexpected run to the semis of Wimbledon. Murray is in no rush to replace Maclagan and will be staying with his part-time coach, former professional Alex Corretja, through the US Open before reevaluating the situation. Sometimes a ball of negative energy, Andy Murray can undoubtedly be a handful to coach, but there’s bound to be a nice selection of coaching candidates willing to harness that emotion and take a talented player like Murray to the next level. Stay tuned…
Fish Flying High – Confident coming off his win in Newport, Fish continued to accumulate the victories with his second straight tournament win in the inaugural ATP event in Atlanta. Battling the competition and searing summer temperatures, Fish hung on to take a third set tiebreak over fellow American John Isner in the final. It’s great to see Mardy’s hard work to get in better shape and bounce back from injury is paying dividends in a relatively short window of time. It’s also good to see him playing it smart, opting to withdraw from singles competition in Los Angeles in order to rest and give his tweaked ankle an opportunity to recuperate (and it’s probably not such a bad thing his attempt to win the doubles was abruptly cut short by the Bryan Brothers). If Fish continues to grow in confidence, he could be a dangerous floater this summer, and with his ranking jumping yet another 14 places after his performance in Atlanta, he may even earn a seed for the final major of 2010.
The Road Back? – Less publicized over the weekend was former World No. 5 Anna Chakvetadze’s win over Johanna Larsson to win the Slovenia Open. Chakvetadze seems to have predominantly (and understandably) gone in a downward spiral ever since the traumatic robbery experience she and her family endured at their family home in Moscow in late 2007. With her ranking now outside the top 100, Chakvetadze has been a mere shadow of the Top 5 player she once was, but this win in Slovenia may just give the Russian the confidence she needs to get her ranking and her game going in the right direction once again.
Not Hanging it Up…Yet – Earlier in the year, James Blake looked all but ready to retire. He wasn’t enjoying himself on the court, the wheels had come off his game, and he was playing with pain and a lingering injury. Now, after playing without pain and earning a relatively routine win over Leonardo Mayer in his opening match L.A. , Blake is feeling much more positive about his game. His current approach couldn’t be better, setting small goals and just enjoying being out on the court. Blake has always been one of the better sportsmen in the game, and he’s had some great results in his career. Will he get back into the Top 20? Top 50? That’s hard to say, but it’s great to see that Blake may at least be able to go out on a positive note and on his terms when the time comes.
Check World Tennis Magazine’s Interview with James Blake:
This week, the ATP World Tour visits Vienna, Austria for the Vienna Trophy championships. While Roger Federer is not in the field this week, the event has been very important to him. Vienna was the site of Roger Federer’s first ever ATP World Tour semifinal back in 1999 when as an 18-year-old, he defeated Vince Spadea, Jiri Novak and Karol Kucera before losing to Greg Rusedski. In 2002, Federer won a very emotional final against Novak 6-4, 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 to win his first tournament since the death of his childhood coach Peter Carter. In 2003, his last visit to the event, Federer won the title over Carlos Moya for his 10th career ATP World Tour final. Fittingly, Federer dedicated the 2002 tournament victory to Carter. “I dedicate this title to him,” he said with glistening eyes at the award ceremony, wrote Rene Stauffer in the book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com). Stauffer re-counts the death of Carter and the emotional toll it took on Federer in this exclusive book excerpt below.
South Africa was always a special place for Roger Federer. He held a South African passport since birth and became endeared to his mother’s native country. He routinely traveled there with his family when he was little. “South Africa is a haven for him away from the world of tennis to find fresh inspiration,” his mother explained once. “It has a certain openness to it. You grow up with a lot of space in South Africa, which is something different compared to the narrowness of a mountain landscape. South Africans are more open, less complicated. Roger had taken on these characteristics.”
Meanwhile, Federer acquired a valuable piece of property along the picturesque Garden Route on the western coast of South Africa at the luxurious Pezula Resort. After the exhausting 2000 season, Federer vacationed in South Africa, where he went on safari with his godfather, Arthur Dubach, a work colleague of Federer’s father during his work days in South Africa. They even experienced a rare site for tourists—a group of leopards killing and eating a gazelle.
In the early afternoon on August 2, 2002, the announcement came over the Swiss news agency Sportinformation—“Davis Cup Captain Carter Killed In Car Crash.” According to the story, the accident occurred in South Africa where he was vacationing with his wife Silvia. There was no further information. The bad news was then updated with the report that a second man died in the accident.
What really transpired during this belated honeymoon between Peter and his wife was not immediately known. Carter was driving in a Land Rover in the vicinity of the Krueger National Park on August 1, Switzerland’s national holiday. The accident occurred in the Phalaborwa area, about 450 km north of Johannesburg. The vehicle where Carter was a passenger and which friends and his wife were apparently following, was reported to have gone out of control due to a defective tire. The car then crashed into a river bed and rolled over.
The news reports were contradictory. At first, it was announced that Carter died in the evening and later that both passengers were killed instantly. According to initial reports, it was Carter who was driving at the wheel. Later, it was reported that a friend of Carter’s was driving the car and later that a native South African was behind the wheel. The Limpopo police spokesperson in South Africa then issued the statement: “Carter and the driver, a South African, were killed instantly when the roof of their vehicle was crushed in.”
Silvia Carter explained what really happened. “My husband was in the car with a very good friend of ours. We were driving ahead of them and they were following behind us. The vehicle did not have a defective tire. Our friend had to swerve to avoid a minibus that was heading directly at them. Such risky passing maneuvers are unfortunately a daily occurrence in South Africa. In order to avoid a frontal collision, he pulled off onto the ‘accident lane.’ The fateful thing was that a bridge was coming and they had to pull back onto the tarred lane. The speed as well as the difference in surfaces—the natural surface and the tarred surface—that the wheels had to deal with spun the Land Rover. It broke through the bridge railing and landed about three meters below on its roof.”
Federer received the shocking news courtside at the Tennis Masters Series event in Toronto. He was never so upset in his life. Carter was a good friend and the most important coach in his career.
Although Federer lost already in the first round in Toronto, but was still playing in the doubles tournament partnering with Wayne Ferreira, ironically, a South African. The mood was grim for the third-round doubles match, which Federer and Ferreira lost to Joshua Eagle and Sandon Stolle. Federer played the match wearing a black armband in honor of Carter. His eyes were red. He nonetheless announced after the doubles loss that he was prepared to give an interview. “We spent a lot of time together, since I was a boy,” Federer said of his relationship with Carter. “I saw him everyday when I was a boy. It’s terrible…He died so young and unexpectedly.” Federer said that the two always had a connection and they were born under the same Zodiac sign—he was born on August 8, the coach one day later. “Peter was very calm but he was also funny with a typical Australian sense of humor. I can never thank him enough for everything that he gave to me. Thanks to him I have my entire technique and coolness.”
Carter watched Federer play for the first time when Roger was a kid in the 1990’s and exuberantly told his parents in the Barossa Valley in Australia that he had discovered a gigantic talent who could go a long way. He worked with him for all but two years until 2000 and led him to his storied success in the world junior ranks as well as to a top 50 world ranking. After Federer chose Lundgren as his private coach, Carter remained a coach with the Swiss Tennis Federation and took up responsibilities in promoting new talent in men’s tennis. He married Silvia von Arx from Basel in May of 2001.
Carter was the players’ favored choice as Davis Cup team captain for a long time. However, when his wife suffered from lymph node cancer, Carter put his coaching duties on hold until Silvia’s recovery was certain. Since Carter was not a Swiss citizen with a Swiss passport, he was not permitted, as Davis Cup captain, to sit with the players on the court or assume the role as the “official” Davis Cup captain. However, the International Tennis Federation, agreed to recognize him as a Swiss citizen and as the official Davis Cup captain as soon as he acquired a resident permit, which he was scheduled to receive in September of 2003. Carter led the team only once, in February of 2002 in Moscow.
Federer left Toronto for Cincinnati where, like in Paris, Wimbledon and Toronto, he lost in the first round. He couldn’t concentrate. He no longer had confidence in his game and tennis was no longer fun. His thoughts were with Peter Carter. “When something like this happens,” he said, “you see how really unimportant tennis is.” He pulled the emergency brake. He withdrew from the doubles event in Cincinnati and pulled out of the next week’s event in Washington, D.C., and flew home to Switzerland.
The funeral took place on August 14, 2002 on a warm summer’s day in the Leonhard Church in Basel. About 200 people were in attendance to bid farewell, among them many familiar faces in the tennis world. Carter’s friend from his youth, Darren Cahill, who was now coaching Andre Agassi, was also present. The simple ceremony, accompanied by music, was conducted by the same clergyman who married the Carters a year before. Silvia Carter gave a brief, touching speech, as did a friend who came from Australia, Davis Cup physiotherapist Caius Schmid and Christine Ungricht, the President of Swiss Tennis. “He was such a great person,” she said. “Why him? Why does it always happen to the best?”
Federer’s parents were also inconsolable. Carter formed a link to their son over the years. He informed them about everything concerning Roger when they were traveling together. “It was the first death Roger had to deal with and it was a deep shock for him,” his mother said. “But it has also made him stronger.”
Federer left the church with a sense of grief that he never before experienced in his life. “Any defeat in tennis is nothing compared to such a moment,” he explained weeks afterwards. “I usually try and avoid sad events like this. It was the first time that I’d been to a funeral. I can’t say that it did me good but I was close to him in thought once again and I could say goodbye in a dignified setting. I feel somewhat better now, especially in matters concerning tennis.”
Croatia stands just one win away from a third incredible win over the United States in Davis Cup play. Croatia, in fact, is the only nation the United States has never beaten in Davis Cup play and it will remain as such unless James Blake and Mardy Fish can sweep Marin Cilic and Ivo Karlovic in Sunday’s reverse singles. On Saturday, Bob and Mike Bryan defeated Roko Karanusic and Lovro Zovko 6-3, 6-1, 6-3, cutting the Croatian lead from 2-0 to 2-1.
After losing to Croatia 3-2 in the opening round of the 2003 competition, the United States was again upset by Croatia in the first round in 2005, despite the United States having Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and the Bryan twins on the squad. That 2005 upset – a match that was ultimately the Davis Cup swan song for Agassi – is documented below.
The day after returning back in New York after the 2004 Davis Cup Final in Sevilla, Spain, where the U.S. lost 3-2 to the Carlos Moya/Rafael Nadal led Spanish team, U.S. Davis Cup Captain Patrick McEnroe called into the nationally-syndicated morning radio and MSNBC cable show “Imus in the Morning,” where host Don Imus and his sports reporter Sid Rosenberg had been ridiculing McEnroe for the final round loss to Spain – or as Imus described “a team of leaf blowers and cab drivers.” McEnroe was introduced onto the program as the “tennis terrorist” in that he had embarrassed the United States to the largest degree.
After taking the playful ribbing, McEnroe told “the I-man” and gang that he wanted to have a serious reflection on the Davis Cup Final, stating that he felt proud in the way that he and his team represented the United States in Spain and that the conduct and sportsmanship displayed by his team “had restored a little respect for our country in a part of the world where the U.S. is not looked upon in the most positive way” in reference to Spain’s recent objection to the foreign policy of the United States, most notably the war in Iraq.
“Next year,” Pmac then boasted. “We’re going to bring back the Cup I-man.”
Imus, quick with the retort, then stated, “When the authorities find you, they’re going to ask that you give it back.”
The United States had drawn a first round home tie against Croatia and the USTA selected The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles, as the site of the contest. Los Angeles is a town that like stars and while the U.S. Davis Cup team did have a star in Andy Roddick, the one star that it was missing was one Andre Agassi.
McEnroe had always kept Agassi in the loop as far as Davis Cup goes since taking over as captain and, after asking him to play in the Final against Spain, sensed that Agassi was considering a return to Davis Cup in 2005. McEnroe began to push the buttons again at the Australian Open, where Agassi first addressed his possible comeback after his second round romp over Rainer Schuettler.
“I’m going to have this discussion with Patrick, just because he’s made the effort to want to have conversations with me about it, so I’ll be respectful of that,” said the 34-year-old Agassi. “But it’s just two-fold. I have a lot of regret not playing because it’s one of the best memories of my career, playing Davis Cup, not to mention playing with another generation of guys that have such a good fellowship and team camaraderie together. To experience that would be a great feeling. But the other side of the coin is really what my decision has come down to in the past, which is what can I really do. I’ve never been a big fan of being halfway playing at your convenience. It’s always been something I haven’t respected a whole lot in the past when it’s come to that for others. The decision I had to make is not an easy one and it hasn’t been easy, but it’s something I’ll discuss with him.”
A few days after Agassi’s quarterfinal loss to Roger Federer, McEnroe phoned Agassi at his home in Las Vegas and offered to sit down with him in person en route back to New York after the Australian Open. Agassi told McEnroe he was still hung up on the year-long commitment that he expected he would have to give to Davis Cup. On Monday January 31, McEnroe arrived in Los Angeles from Melbourne and stopped off in Carson for a media luncheon to promote the USA vs. Croatia tie. McEnroe then revealed to the gathered guests and media that he was en route to Las Vegas that evening to meet with Agassi.
”I think (Agassi) finds that right now, it’s hard for him to commit to every match because of his family and his responsibilities and because he is going to be 35 and it’s a little taxing on him,” McEnroe told the assembled press. “My job is to alleviate his fear that we don’t necessarily have to have him play ever match… I don’t need to hear from Andre ‘I’m going to play every match.’ My feeling is, let’s see how it goes. Let’s get you to play in the first round and let’s see what happens and take it from there.”
McEnroe tagged his chances at “less than 50-50” before boarding the AmericaWest Airlines flight to Las Vegas. “I don’t have any expectation other than I hope he says yes,” said McEnroe. “I have to field the best team I can and I have to exhaust all possibilities. If that means getting on a plane and sitting down with him face to face, than that’s a small price to play for trying to get him to join up.”
McEnroe met Agassi and his coach Darren Cahill for a two-and-a-half hour dinner at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. The three reminisced about Davis Cup stories of old, talked of the passion of the current group of Davis Cuppers and addressed the concerns and issues that Agassi had with committing to Davis Cup. McEnroe later said he told Agassi, “Don’t cut off your options by saying it’s all or nothing, because to me it’s not. We’ve never had a year where we’ve had the same four guys every match. It’s too unrealistic for that to happen, with injuries, with different surfaces, with schedules, you name it.” McEnroe said he, the team and the tennis industry in general would not hold it against him if he could not commit for every match in 2005.
Two days later, after consulting with others in his inner circle – most notably his wife Steffi Graf – Agassi phoned McEnroe to tell him to count on him to be in Carson. Agassi then called all the members of the team – Roddick, the Bryan twins and Taylor Dent (who would travel to Carson as the “fifth” player on the four-man team and would have been the No. 2 singles player had Agassi not decided to play) – to get their approval on his returning to the team. On Monday, February 7, McEnroe made the Agassi news public in a conference call with the media.
“We’re going to take it one match at a time,” said McEnroe in explaining Agassi’s commitment to the team. “It’s not just this match. It’s not every match. I think it’s a case-by-case basis situation. He’s not coming back simply to play because it happens to be the week before Indian Wells. At the same time, I didn’t ask him to say, “Are you going to play every match?’ I understand where he is in his career, personally, professionally with all the different things on his plate. We will take it one step at a time…To me, it doesn’t make any sense to say to him, ‘Listen, you’ve got to play every match.” Things happen, things come up, whether it’s injuries, whether it’s having a tough major, whether it’s not having a tough major and maybe wanting some extra matches. I think you have to take all those things into account and understand that Andre is going to make the decision based on a variety of factors.”
Two days later, Agassi first addressed his return to Davis Cup following his first round win over xx in San Jose, Calif.
“What had a big influence on me was the camaraderie I saw last year,” said Agassi. “They’ve built a great team and are a part of something I never got to experience. I played Davis Cup with guys who were fighting to be the best in the world and everyone had a sense of their own goals…This group of guys really seems to look out for each other. I respect and admire it a lot.”
Agassi again addressed his absence from Davis Cup for five years, citing the demanding schedule and the difficultly in committing to potentially four ties during a calendar year, especially at age 34 with a wife and two children.
“I had gotten to a point that I didn’t have enough to give anymore when it came to the full goal of winning the Cup,” said Agassi. “I did it for 12 years and wasn’t convinced I could do it anymore and accomplish the things I needed to stay out here for the last few years. I never respected those guys who played at their convenience and didn’t play all times. Patrick was the first captain to show a strong sense of understanding and support in knowing it’s not realistic for me to play every tie.”
Roddick was estactic at the news and struggled to stay composed when Agassi reached him by phone while Roddick was in his car in driving several of his buddies around his hometown of Austin. Said Roddick, “I told him I was excited he was on board and then hung up the phone and started screaming.”
While the Agassi hype was substantial, insiders were paying close attention to the progress of the Croatian team. Ivan Ljubicic, who had almost single handedly defeated the United States in Zagreb two years prior in the first round, was fast becoming the hottest player on the circuit. Entering Davis Cup week, he posted three straight final round appearances in Marseille, Rotterdam and Dubai – the latter two losing to world No. 1 Roger Federer in three tight sets. Ancic had reached the semifinals of Marseille (losing to Ljubicic) and Rotterdam (losing to Federer) and had reached his second career ATP singles final in Scottsdale, Ariz., the week before Davis Cup. With Ljubicic and Ancic boasting a bronze medal in men’s doubles from the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the Bryan twins would also face a stern test. Cautioned Ancic, “In Davis Cup, there are many surprises.” Croatian Captain Niki Pilic, who also captained Germany to Davis Cup victories over the United States in 1985, 1987 and 1989, echoed the sentiment of his young charge. “In Davis Cup,” he said, “there are no rules.”
To add to the intrigue of the first round tie, Roddick suffered a scare during his quarterfinal win over Robby Ginepri at the ATP event in Memphis, spraining his ankle just two weeks before the start of the tie. Roddick chose to default his semifinal match with Kenneth Carlsen of Denmark rather than risk further injury that would jeopardize his form for the tie with Croatia.
“The repercussions of this injury won’t just affect me, but they’d affect my teammates it would affect me playing for my country as well,” said Roddick. “That’s a lot of responsibility that I have to take into consideration.”
Gavin Rossdale of the rock band “Bush” and the husband of rock star Gwen Stefani pulled the ceremonial chip at the Davis Cup draw ceremony at The Home Depot Center that placed Andre Agassi against Ivan Ljubicic in the opening rubber of the best-of-five match series. Roddick would follow against Ancic, while the Bryan twins would face Ancic and Ljubicic in Saturday’s doubles contest. Whether it was nerves, discomfort with the cool, blustery conditions or Ljubicic’s game, Agassi showed distress and tentativeness as his return to Davis Cup began at 1 pm Los Angeles time on Friday, March 4. There was no swagger in the legend’s step or game as Ljubicic swept the first set 6-3. Agassi got out of his funk in the second set, taking a 5-2 lead, but faltered when serving for the second at 5-3 and was skunked 7-0 in the second set tie-break to go down two-sets-to-love. The eventual 6-3, 7-6 (0), 6-3 loss marked only the third time that Agassi has been dismissed in straight sets in 36 Davis Cup singles matches.
His anger and displeasure was apparent on his face as he briskly left the court for the U.S. team locker room where his Head tennis racquet was tendered to multiple fragments scattered throughout the locker room within minutes.
“Today was one of those days,” said a dazed Agassi in the post-match press conference. “I just never got settled and never got comfortable. It was just frustrating. You’re trying hard to figure things out and sometimes you wonder if you’re just trying too hard…I was useless to be quite honest, as far as being clear on what was going on out there.“
Said McEnroe, “Everybody gets nervous playing Davis Cup – even Andre Agassi.”
Down 0-1, the match virtually sat on the shoulders of Roddick against Ancic, who quickly bounced upon the tentative Roddick taking the first set 6-4 as panic began to set in among the American hopefuls. The second set marked the start of “the street fight” as Roddick’s trainer Doug Spreen would later describe the Roddick swagger and attitude, that translated the match into a 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 victory for the American – tying the first day’s play at 1-1.
‘I’m not going to lie, I was really tight during the first set today,” admitted Roddick. “I’m happy because I was able to dig down…I think this was a big steppingstone for me.”
The Bryans entered the pivotal doubles match on Saturday having not lost a set in Davis Cup play in their previous five matches. However, the twins from Camarillo, Calif., knew that Ljubicic and Ancic were by far the best team they had faced in Davis Cup play.
Jumping like a pair of Mexican jumping beans, the Bryans were quick out of the blocks to take the first set 6-3 in just 27 minutes, but Ljubicic and Ancic would stay tight in the second set, forcing a tie-break. The Bryans would hold three set points, including one of Mike Bryan’s serve at 7-6, but were unable to deliver what would be a near lethal two-sets-to-love blow. They surrendered the second set tie-break – and their first ever set in Davis cup play – 10 points to eight and gave new life to Ancic and Ljubicic. As the Croatians gained in confidence, the Bryans appeared drained and dismayed. As the sun dripped below the Pacific Ocean just xx miles away, conditions became cooler and slower, helping Ljubicic and Ancic close out the final two sets for the vital 3-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4, 6-4 win and the 2-1 lead for Croatia heading into the climatic third day.
Former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers basketball coach Phil Jackson entered the U.S. team locker room to try and cheer up the Bryan twins. “You guys think you are going to win every match you play?” a jovial Jackson told the Bryans as one must of wondered whether Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O’Neal received the same speech after losing an NBA game. Jackson’s words could not take the sting out of the loss for the Bryans, who for the first time tasted Davis Cup defeat in front of their father and numerous friends and family from Southern California
“We’ve had a lot of disappointing losses, but this ranks pretty high,” said Mike Bryan. “It hurts.”
McEnroe’s posture still exuded confidence. After all, the United States was still favored to win the final two singles matches – Roddick against Ljubicic in the fourth rubber and Agassi against Ancic in the fifth rubber. Roddick held a 5-1 career record with Ljubicic, having won the last five meetings, while Agassi’s experience and aura would make him the clear favorite against the 20-year-old Ancic, who had lost to Agassi in their only previous meeting.
“If there are two guys you want to roll out down 2-1, we’ve got the two guys we want,” said McEnroe. “I’m extremely confident that they’re both going to play well. Andre’s been in this position before and Andy’s been in a position where he’s had to win a match. These are the two guys we want to bring out. This is our best team. It’s our one-two punch. We’re playing at home. They’re going to have to play with a little more pressure on them now. Up until now, I think they’ve been able to sort of swing away and been the underdogs and go for their shots. If they can do that, if Ljubicic can do that against Agassi, the Bryans and Roddick, than that’s too good. But we’ll see if he can.”
Roddick and Ljubicic would battle in the fourth rubber of the tie – Ljubicic, like in 2003, trying to shut the door on the Americans – while Roddick trying to stave off elimination, a position he had been in on two other occasions without success – against France in 2002 and Spain in 2004.
After splitting the first two sets, the epic – and pivotal – third-set tie-break ensued with neither Roddick or Ljubicic willing to give the other the two-sets-to-one lead. Roddick jumped to a 4-1 lead and held three set points throughout the 24 point tie-break – tying the longest tie-break in U.S. Davis Cup history. However, Roddick’s inside-out cross court forehand at 11-12 landed wide giving Ljubicic the fourth set. The two players would again go toe-to-toe in a tie-break in the fourth set, with Ljubicic fighting off four set points before double faulting at 7-8 on the fifth-set point to give Roddick the set and square the match at two-sets apiece. The momentum appeared to be with Roddick, but he was not able to capitalize. Ljubicic ran off with the first eight points of the fifth set, breaking Roddick at love in the first game of the fifth set and cashing in on an insurance break in the fifth game of the final set. Three game later, Ljubicic closed out the crushing 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (11), 6-7 (7), 6-2 victory in three hours and 57 minutes.
Roddick and McEnroe slumped on their courtside seating while Ljubicic, Ancic, Pilic and the rest of the Croatian delegation danced and sang on the court with handfuls of Croatian fans in the audience waving flags and rejoicing in the historic first round upset. It marked the first time in 105 years of Davis Cup that the United States was eliminated in the first round on home soil.
Ljubicic would become one of only two players to win three live rubbers against a U.S. Davis Cup team on two occasions – joining Mexico’s Raul Ramirez who turned the trick against the United States in the 1975 and 1976 Davis Cup campaigns.
In all, Ljubicic labored for a total of eight hours and 44 minutes over 12 sets over the weekend. His career record against the United States in Davis Cup play now stood at 6-0 – with only Laurie Doherty of Great Britain holding a better record against the U.S. with a 10-0 record in matches against the U.S. in 1902, 1903, 1905 and 1906.
“I have no words, really,” said Ljubicic. “To beat Andre, the Bryans and Roddick in three days….it is amazing.”
Roddick was crushed, irritable, devastatingly angry and disappointed. He slumped in front of the microphone in the interview room and was asked to share how he was feeling.
“Probably not in words you would understand,” he slurred. “It’s tough to describe. Really, really bad….There’s no worse feeling than losing a match in Davis Cup in our sport, especially when your teammates are counting on you.”
“It hurts a lot,” said McEnroe, who spoke with the press after coaching Bob Bryan to a three-set win over Roko Karanusic in the dead-fifth rubber that made the final verdict a 3-2 win for Croatia. “After getting to the final last year, starting off at home with our best team, it’s disappointing.”
BNP Paribas Open
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova beat second-seeded Jelena Jankovic 6-4 6-4
Petra Cetkovska beat third-seeded Elena Dementieva 7-6 (2) 2-6 6-1
Urszula Radwanska beat sixth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-2 4-6 6-3
John Isner beat ninth-seeded Gael Monfils 6-7 (5) 6-1 6-4
Shahar Peer beat tenth-seeded Marion Bartoli 1-6 6-4 7-5
John McEnroe beat Jim Courier 6-2 6-3 to win the Rio Champions Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
“Today one person came up to me asking me if I’m the sister for Marat. I’m like, ‘yeah.’ (And they said) ‘are you playing tennis?’ And I look at them like, well, ‘OK, yes, I’m also a tennis player.’ I’m still, I think, known more as his sister.” – Dinara Safina, who is ranked number two in the world.
“Everything is wrong. I need a lot of work. I wish I had a magic wand and could just fix my game and just play awesome tennis again. I would like it to be that way, but sometimes it’s not.” – Jelena Jankovic, after losing to Anastasia Pavyluchenkova.
“I’m excited. As long as you win you’re happy. But I tried not to be very overexcited because I still have to continue in this tournament.” – Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, after beating Jelena Jankovic.
“I’m completely excited. I’ve been thinking about something like this happening for the last two or three years. So for me, this is not a massive shock. But when it does happen (that) your girlfriend (or) wife is pregnant, it definitely changes your mindset.” – Roger Federer, revealing his girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec is pregnant with their first child.
“They talk about the age, but nowadays in the US 50 is the new 40. … I saw the other guys who are younger and how they were with their backs, calves, knees hurt, and here I am, happy that I am standing. I know that if I were doing what I was doing today when I was playing the pro tour, being serious about my physical conditioning, I could have won many more titles in my career.” – John McEnroe, after winning a senior tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“We asked them to be moved here to the Philippines because of the safety of our players and because of recent events in Pakistan, especially the cricket team of Sri Lanka getting attacked.” – Randy Villanueva, Philippine Law Tennis Association vice president, saying its Davis Cup tie against Pakistan should be moved.
“My chances are really small. What Rod Laver did was amazing. But at the same time it was a little bit easier in that moment than right now because in that moment I think they only had two different surfaces (grass and clay). Now we have three, and Australia and the US Open are not exactly the same.” – Rafael Nadal, playing down his chances of winning all four Grand Slam tournaments this year.
“I’m just going to focus on myself at this tournament, but that (number two) is the reward for the success that I’ve had this year. I’ve played in three tournaments and been in two finals. There is only one person in front of me and this is something big.” – Dinara Safina, who can become number one in the world by reaching the final of the BNP Paribas in Indian Wells, California.
“I probably didn’t find the answer to this question. I found the answer to the other question, which was do I want to stop, which was no. It was already quite a challenge when it happened in the summer of 2007, where I really asked myself whether I want to keep going or not. I didn’t find the answer quickly. It took me a few months to really feel that for some reason, I don’t have enough.” – Amelie Mauresmo, when asked why she keeps pushing herself at this stage of her career.
“I’m just playing tennis for myself and I always have put my health as a priority to everything. Tennis is probably my life at this moment, but it’s not the only thing in my life.” – Novak Djokovic, denying that he is a quitter because he withdrew from his Australian Open match because of heat exhaustion.
“As you get older, you start to understand that you’re not going to feel perfect every week and you try and find a way to get through the first couple of matches.” – Andy Murray.
“I learned a lot about my game and I learned it’s not all about rising. It’s also about learning how to fall and learning how to lose without being truly defeated, and that’s something that I want to take as a positive from last year and try to build up.” – Ana Ivanovic.
“Yes, it’s a dream job, and in tennis we have a very small window both as players and as coaches to make a mark. You make a lot of selfish decisions. But every time I pack the bags and walk out the door, it gets harder and harder.” – Darren Cahill, noting the need to travel almost constantly has kept him from coaching Roger Federer.
“On the court I’m a fighter. I will do anything to win. Outside, I’m actually very, very nice.” – Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who is ranked number 11 in the world.
“I just wanted to test (the shoulder) out. I started training a couple of months ago. I just wanted to … test it out in a match situation and get a little different scenery than the practice court and play in front of the crowd, so that was exciting. The main goal for here was just to get out there and be in that atmosphere again.” – Maria Sharapova, after playing and losing her doubles match.
SAFINA TO THE TOP
If Dinara Safina reaches the final of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, she will supplant Serena Williams in the number one spot in the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour rankings. The 22-year-old Safina lost to Williams in the Australian Open final in January. Neither Serena nor her sister Venus Williams are competing at Indian Wells, continuing their boycott of the tournament. They last played Indian Wells in 2001, where they were booed after Venus pulled out of her semifinal match against Serena at the last moment, saying she was injured. Serena Williams has won the last two Grand Slam tournament titles, the US and Australian Opens.
SWITCH IN ACTION
The Philippines might not have to go to Pakistan for its next Davis Cup competition. An International Tennis Federation (ITF) spokesman said the tie could me moved from Lahore, Pakistan, because of security concerns. Gunmen recently attacked the Sri Lanka cricket team bus in Lahore, killing seven Pakistanis and wounding six players. Three of the Filipino players, including Cecil Mamitt, are dual US-Philippine citizens who may be targeted because of their American passports, according to Randy Villanueva, vice president of the Philippine Lawn Tennis Association. Pakistan’s first-round Asia/Oceania Group Two tie against Oman was moved from Lahore to Muscat, Oman, because of security concerns. Pakistan won the tie 4-1, advancing to July’s tie against the Philippines.
SHARAPOVA BACK – SOMEWHAT
Maria Sharapova returned to competitive tennis for the first time in seven months, but her stay was very brief. The Russian was forced off the WTA Tour last August with a torn rotator cuff. She underwent surgery on her right shoulder two months later. She teamed with Elena Vesnina to play doubles at the BNP Paribas Open, but the pair lost their first-round match to Ekaterina Makarova and Tatiana Poutchek 6-2 4-6 10-7 (match tiebreak). Sharapova said she entered the doubles because she wanted to test her shoulder in a match situation and in front of a crowd.
A hip-bone injury has sidelined Carlos Moya. The 32-year-old won the French Open in 1998 and was ranked number one in the world the next year. But he is suffering from a lesion to a tendon and ischium on his hip-bone. “It’s still too early to know when I’ll be able to return to competition,” Moya said. “It’s certain that I want to return, but only when I’m firing at 100 percent physically and mentally.”
The return of four stars – Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf, Kim Clijsters and Tim Henman – will be a sellout. All the tickets for their exhibition matches on Wimbledon’s new Centre Court in May were sold out in just five minutes. There will be men’s and women’s singles matches and a mixed doubles match as officials test the new roof and ventilation system in front of a capacity crowd.
ST. LOUIS BOUND
Wimbledon won’t be the only stop for Kim Clijsters. The Belgian will play two matches for the St. Louis Aces in the World Team Tennis League. She will make her WTT debut July 21 in St. Louis and will play in Philadelphia on July 22. Once ranked number one in the world, Clijsters retired from the WTA Tour in May 2007 and gave birth to a daughter last year. Others who will compete in the WTT this July include Andre Agassi, sisters Venus and Serena Williams, John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova.
STOPPED BY INJURY
A left heel injury caused Nikolay Davydenko to withdraw from the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California. Seeded fifth, the Russian had a first-round bye. His spot was taken by lucky loser Olivier Patience of France, who promptly lost to Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany 6-7 (5) 6-3 6-3
When she’s not on the tennis court, Vera Zvonareva is focusing on something else. The Russian has been studying at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and hopes someday to be working with the United Nations. She enrolled in the school in 2007 when a wrist injury forced her off the tour for half the season. Zvonareva already has a university degree in physical education and is studying international economic relations and international affairs. “I got to know and meet a few ambassadors around the world and a few influential people and a few people who work for the UN,” Zvonareva said. “It’s great to be involved in something like this and also to give me a lot of different knowledge outside the court. I’m really enjoying it.”
The European Court of Justice sided with a tennis player who was kicked off his flight when airport security said he posed a terrorist threat because he was carrying his racquets. The judges ruled that the unpublished European Union register of hand luggage restrictions could not be enforced because passengers had no way of knowing exactly what was prohibited. The EU list shows that racquets are not specifically banned from the cabin, but the list contains a catch-all prohibition on “any blunt instrument capable of causing injury.” Gottfried Heinrich of Austria was on his way to a tournament when he was thrown off a flight at the Vienna airport in 2005 after having already cleared general security screening. One legal adviser called it the “fundamental absurdity” of European anti-terror regulations that outlawed a range of possible weapons from the aircraft cabin, but refused to make the list public for security reasons.
When the Outback Champions Series shows up in Surprise, Arizona, in October for the Cancer Treatment Centers of America Tennis Championships, Andre Agassi will be in the field of eight. Agassi is the first player announced for the 2009 tournament for players age 30 and over. John McEnroe won the inaugural event in 2008 in Surprise, defeating Todd Martin in the final.
Roger Federer and his girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec are expecting their first child. The baby is due in the summer. “This is a dream come true for us,” Federer wrote on his Web site. “We love children and we are looking forward to being parents for the first time. Mirka is feeling great and everything is going well.”
SPOTLIGHT ON WHEELCHAIRS
The International Tennis Hall of Fame will begin inducting wheelchair athletes and administrators into the Newport, Rhode Island, shrine this year. Founded in 1976, wheelchair tennis is one of the fastest growing wheelchair sports in the world, helped by the fact it can be played on any regular tennis court with no modifications to racquets and balls. The rules are also the same, with one exception: wheelchair tennis players are allowed two bounces of the ball. The wheelchair category is in addition to the traditional Hall of Fame induction categories of Recent Players, Master Players and Contributors.
Retired player Wayne Black has urged the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to help develop young talent in his home country of Zimbabwe. Black, who had been coaching in London since retiring from the doubles circuit in 2005, said he now intends to help develop players in Zimbabwe. Since the retirement from Davis Cup by Black, his older brother Byron Black and tour doubles partner Kevin Ullyett, the Zimbabwe team has fallen from the World Group to the Euro/Africa Zone groups. His sister, Cara Black, is ranked number one in the world in doubles on the WTA Tour.
Tennis Week is ceasing publication as a magazine after 35 years. Begun by International Tennis Hall of Famer Eugene Scott, the magazine was acquired by IMG in 2006 after Scott’s death. While it no longer will publish the magazine, it will continue providing news online at www.tennisweek.com. Calling it a “strategic restructuring,” Tennis Week said the move will not include any layoff of its staff.
The reason the ATP will be rebating USD $3 million to tournaments as “financial relief” is because the men’s tour failed to line up a tour-wide sponsor to replace Mercedes-Benz. The sponsor money goes directly into the pockets of the tournaments. However, if the tour gets a new global sponsor, those tournaments that take the rebate money will not get any of the new sponsor dollars.
When Pauline Callaghan celebrated her 90th birthday in Sydney, Australia, a surprise guest showed up. Mrs. Callaghan’s five children arranged for a surprise phone call for their mother. While talking to Evonne Goolagong Cawley on her mobile phone, Mrs. Callaghan looked up to see the former world number one player and her husband Roger Cawley walking towards her. Goolagong has known the Callaghan family since she was in primary school. She began calling Mrs. Callaghan “mum” when a spectator asked if Goolagong was her daughter. Callaghan’s oldest son, Tony, 62, played Wimbledon five times and has coached a number of players, including Brad Drewett, Wally Masur, Jelena Dokic, Sandon Stolle and Samantha Stosur.
SITES TO SURF
Indian Wells: www.bnpparibasopen.org
Rio de Janeiro: http://championsseriestennis.com/rio2009/
Los Cabos: www.championsseriestennis.com/cabo2009/
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
(All money in USD)
$4,500,000 BNP Paribas Open, Indian Wells, California, USA, hard (second week)
$125,000 Bancolombia Open, Bogota, Colombia, clay
$125,000 BMW Tennis Championships, Sunrise, Florida, USA, hard
$125,000 Marrakech Challenger, Marrakech, Morocco, clay
$4,500,000 BNP Paribas Open, Indian Wells, California, USA, hard (second week)
The Del Mar Development Champions Cup, Los Cabos, Mexico
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
$4,500,000 Sony Ericsson Open, Miami, Florida, USA, hard
$4,500,000 Sony Ericsson Open, Miami, Florida, USA, hard
The following is the Prologue for the book “THE ROGER FEDERER STORY, QUEST FOR PERFECTION” ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.rogerfedererbook.com) written by Swiss tennis journalist Rene Stauffer, which documents Stauffer’s “Encounter with a 15-year-old” who would go on to become who many consider the greatest tennis player of all-time. THE ROGER FEDERER STORY, QUEST FOR PERFECTION makes for an ideal gift for the Holidays. To order the book, go to www.tennistomes.com.
It was September 11, 1996. I was on assignment for the Tages-Anzeiger and was supposed to write a story about the World Youth Cup, a sort of Davis Cup for juniors that was being played in Zurich, the location of our editorial office. I was skeptical. A story about a team tournament involving obscure 15 and 16-year-old tennis players-who would be interested in that? I viewed this assignment as a tiresome task, thanks to the Swiss Tennis Federation since they had charitably taken on the tournament for its 100-year anniversary. No, this certainly would not be an interesting assignment.
On this day, I met Roger Federer for the first time. He played on a far away court surrounded by wire mesh at a tennis and recreation facility called Guggach. Officials from the Swiss Tennis Federation told me that Federer was a pretty good player and that there was little to criticize except that he was sometimes very temperamental. He just turned 15 and was actually too young for this tournament, but his credentials were impressive-he had already won five Swiss national junior championship titles, was the best Swiss player in the 16-and-under age bracket and was already ranked No. 88 nationally.
On this day, he played against an Italian named Nohuel Fracassi, who since this encounter with Federer, I never heard from again. Fracassi was more than a year older, bigger and stronger than Federer and he had already won the first set when I arrived. The mood was reminiscent of an insignificant club tournament. There were three or four spectators, a referee and no ball boys. The players fetched the balls themselves. However, I was instantly fascinated by Federer’s elegant style. I had already seen some players come and go in my fifteen years as a tennis journalist but it appeared to me that an extraordinary talent was coming of age here in front of me. He effortlessly put spins on balls so that the Italian-even on this slow clay court-would often just watch the ball fly past him for winners. With hardly a sound, he stroked winning shots from his black racquet, moved fast and gracefully. His strokes were harmonious and technically brilliant.
His tactics were also quite unusual. There were no similarities to the safe and consistent “Swedish School” of baseline tennis that was very common back then and usually resulted in promised success on clay courts. Federer would have nothing of that. He looked to end points quickly at every opportunity. He appeared to have mastered every stroke, which was quite unusual for juniors in his age group. He dominated with his serve and his forehand, but his powerful one-handed backhand and the occasional volley also looked like something taken from a tennis textbook.
Roger Federer was a diamond in the rough, no doubt. I was astonished and wondered why nobody had yet seen him or written about him. Was it perhaps because the media had so often prematurely written in superlatives about talented young players only to discover later that they did not measure up to the task of international tennis? Not every Swiss tennis player could be a new Heinz Günthardt, Jakob Hlasek or a Marc Rosset, perhaps the three best Swiss men’s players ever. Perhaps because hardly anybody was scouting for new talent in Switzerland since our little country was already over-proportionately well-represented in professional tennis with Rosset, the 1992 Olympic champion, and the up-and-coming 15-year-old Martina Hingis, already a Wimbledon doubles champion and a semifinalist in singles at the US Open.
But perhaps the reason was also that Federer’s athletic maturity stood in stark contrast to his behavior. He was a hot-head. On this September afternoon, his temper exploded even from the smallest mistakes. On several occasions, he threw his racquet across the court in anger and disgust. He constantly berated himself. “Duubel!” or “Idiot!” he exclaimed when one of his balls narrowly missed the line. He sometimes even criticized himself aloud when he actually won points but was dissatisfied with his stroke.
He didn’t seem to notice what was going on around him. It was only him, the ball, the racquet-and his fuming temper-nothing else. Being so high-strung, he had to fight more with himself than with his opponent across the net this day. This dual struggle pushed him to the limit and I assumed he would lose despite his technical superiority. I was wrong. Federer won the match 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.
I found out later that Federer already won a hard-fought, three-set match the day before against a tenacious young Australian player by the name of Lleyton Hewitt, with Federer fighting off a match point to win by a 4-6, 7-6, 6-4 margin. This Federer-Hewitt match occurred in front of a crowd of 30 people who purchased tickets for the day-plus the four people who bought a tournament series ticket for all sessions. Nobody could have known that these two players would become two of the greatest players-both earning the No. 1 ranking and going on to compete on the greatest stages of the sport in packed
stadiums and in front of millions of television viewers around the world.
I wanted to know more about Federer and asked him for an interview. He surprised me once again as he sat across from me at a wooden table in the gym locker room. I feared that the young man would be reserved and taciturn in the presence of an unfamiliar reporter from a national newspaper and he would hardly be able to say anything useful or quotable. But this was not the case. Federer spoke flowingly and confidently with a mischievous smile. He explained that his idol was Pete Sampras and that he had been training for a year at the Swiss National Tennis Center at Ecublens on Lake Geneva. He
also said that he probably was among the 30 or 40 best in his age class in the world and that he wanted to become a top professional but still had to improve his game-and his attitude.
“I know that I can’t always complain and shout because that hurts me and makes me play worse,” he said. “I hardly forgive myself on any mistakes although they’re normal.” He looked in the distance and said almost to himself-“One should just be able to play a perfect game.”
Playing a perfect game-that’s what motivated him. He didn’t want to just defeat opponents and win trophies, even if he liked the idea of becoming rich and famous or both, as he admitted. For him, instinctively, the journey was the reward and the journey involved hitting and placing balls with his racquet as perfectly as possible. He seemed to be obsessed with this, which would explain why he could become frustrated even after winning points. He didn’t want to dominate his opponent in this rectangle with the net that fascinated him-he wanted to dominate the ball that he both hated and loved.
Federer had great expectations-too many at that time that he would have been able to achieve them. His emotions carried him away in this conflict between expectations and reality. He seemed to sense his great potential and that he was capable of doing great things-but he was not yet able to transform his talents into reality.
His unusual attitude towards perfection had a positive side effect in that he did not consider his opponents as rivals who wanted to rob the butter from his bread, as the sometimes reclusive Jimmy Connors used to say. His opponents were more companions on a common path. This attitude made him a popular and well-liked person in the locker room. He was social and someone you could joke around with. For Federer, tennis was not an individual sport with opponents who needed to be intimidated, but a common leisure activity with like-minded colleagues who, as part of a big team, were pursuing the same goal.
He became terribly annoyed at his own mistakes but he had the capacity to question things, to observe things from a distance and to put them in the correct perspective after his emotions had abated. He was also willing to admit weaknesses. “I don’t like to train and I also always play badly in training,” he casually observed during this interview. “I’m twice as good in the matches.”
This sentence surprised me as well. While many players choked under pressure, he apparently maintained a winning mentality. This strength that abounded in the most important matches and game situations really drove many opponents to distraction and enabled Federer to escape from apparently hopeless situations. It also helped Federer establish one of the most unbelievable records in sports history-24 consecutive victories in professional singles finals between July of 2003 and November of 2005-double the record held by John McEnroe and Björn Borg.
Federer’s triumphs at this World Youth Cup were in vain. The Swiss team, lacking a strong second singles player and an experienced doubles team, finished the tournament in defeat in 15th place. Roger Federer won but the Swiss lost-a scenario that was to repeat itself many times over years later at the actual Davis Cup. The hot-head nonetheless received a compliment from the coach of the Australian team at the World Youth Cup, Darren Cahill, the former US Open semifinalist, who was in charge of Lleyton Hewitt at the time. “He’s got everything he needs to succeed on tour later,” said Cahill.
I was able to return to the office with enough material for a nice story. It was to be my first about Roger Federer-but it would not be the last. The story’s title was “One Should Be Able To Play A Perfect Game.”
On Saturday, July 12, the International Tennis Hall of Fame will induct its Class of 2008 – Michael Chang, Mark McCormack and Gene Scott – in ceremonies at the home of the Hall of Fame, The Casino in Newport, Rhode Island. Hall of Fame journalist Bud Collins profiles all three inductees in his just-off-the-press book THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS ($35.95, New Chapter Press, click here for 39 percent discount). Today, we present to you the profile of Michael Chang.
Michael Chang was cramping so badly that he couldn’t risk sitting down on the changeovers. What did it matter that hot 1989 afternoon in Stade Roland Garros? Michael, a California teen-ager, was far behind No. 1 Ivan Lendl in the fourth round of the French Open, and his chances looked empty. Nevertheless, 17-years, 95 days-old, Michael was filled with hope and grit, and kept running and retrieving to pull himself back into the match from two sets back-and actually take it away from Lendl, the three-time champ, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3, in 4:39.
That was the start of an electrifying, unlikely dash to the title that had last been held by an American man, Tony Trabert, 34 years before, and made little Michael the youngest of all male possessors of a major singles. Despite his lack of clay court experience, Chang followed up on Lendl by out-dueling guys brought up on it: Ronald Agenor of Haiti, Andrei Chesnokov of the USSR and finally, dodging a gang of break points, defeating No. 3 Stefan Edberg, 6-1, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the final.
Those were the early steps to the 2008 posting in the Hall of Fame for 5-foot-9, 160 pound Michael. Perpetual motion personified, making few mistakes, he would be a finalist in three more majors (1995 French to Thomas Muster; 1996 Australian to Boris Becker, and 1996 U.S., to Pete Sampras), play a vital role in the American Davis Cup triumph of 1990 and bank 33 more titles, runnerup in 21 others.
During two chilly, damp afternoons in Vienna, with horn-blowing crowds of 18,000 cheering against him, Michael scored one of the greatest U.S. Davis Cup victories. Deadlocked 2-2 with Austria in the Cup semifinal, Chang found himself trapped, two sets behind Horst Skoff. He hung on to win a set before darkness intervened. Returning the following day, his serve, like his legs, revived, Michael won, 3-6, 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3. He and Don Budge (who turned the trick in 1937 against Gottfried von Cramm of Germany) are the only U. S. Cuppers to win a decisive fifth match from two sets down.
In the final, ending a U.S. Cup slump of eight years, Chang beat Darren Cahill, 6-2, 7-6 (7-4), 6-0, the first day, for a 2-0 lead over Australia, soon defeated. He was the youngest on an American Cup winner. His record in Davis Cup; played six ties; four years, 8-4 singles.
This diminutive dynamo, a speedy right-hander with both-handed backhand, was born Feb. 22, 1972, in Hoboken, N.J. of Chinese-American parentage, raised in Southern California. He was coached by older brother, Carl Chang, a University of California-Berkeley varsity player.
Edberg caught up with him in 1992, Chang losing a record-length U.S. Open match in 5:26 (a semifinal), the second longest major singles, 6-7 (3-7), 7-5, 7-6 (7-3), 5-7, 6-4. In a 17-year professional career, he made the world’s Top 10 seven years-No. 5 in 1989, 95; No. 6 in 1992, 94; No. 8 in 1993; No. 2 in 1996; No. 3 in 1997.
Prior to his 2003 retirement, he made the semis of the Australian two other times-1995 and 97; two other U.S. semifinals-1992 and 97 and the quarters of Wimbledon in 1994. He won 34 singles titles (662-312 matches) and $19,145, 632 in prize money.
Some random thoughts from a fascinating Roland Garros and the first look forward to the grass…
Roger Federer’s performance in the Roland Garros final against Rafael Nadal was reminiscent of Muhammad Ali’s fight against Larry Holmes. A mismatch from the start, Ali pulled out his tricks but had no answers for the younger, stronger Holmes, and was battered mercilessly. Like Sunday’s final, this was simply a bad match-up, and- to use the age-old explanation- styles make fights. Nadal moves better, defends better, and can control points off the ground (on clay, anyway) better than Federer. Like seeing The Greatest get punched around the ring, it was still surprising to witness Federer looking so vulnerable.
Rafael Nadal did not hit a single ace in the semis or final. He hit only seven aces during the entire two weeks. This serving approach will change on the grass. He will need some free points at crucial moments.
Darren Cahill brought up an interesting point on ESPN about Nadal’s Wimbledon preparation. Instead of rushing across the channel to play the Artois Championships, he should rest for a few days and skip the Queens Club event. Recall that he was spent by the end of Wimbledon last summer, although admittedly he was forced to play five (rain-delayed) matches in the last seven days of The Championships. Had Nadal been fresher, then he would have likely taken the fifth set of last year’s final.
Of course the cynic can offer about one million reasons why Nadal will compete at Queens Club again this year. It is hard to pass up that kind of appearance fee loot no matter how wealthy he has become. To paraphrase Bob Dylan (from “It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry”), don’t say I never warned you if Nadal loses early this week.
It was great to see Bjorn Borg attending matches during the final weekend of Roland Garros. In an interesting on-court interview with his great rival John McEnroe, Borg agreed to play with Mighty Mac in the over-45 doubles next year.
Borg also told McEnroe that this was the first time he had returned to Roland Garros since winning the event in 1981 (beating Ivan Lendl in a five-set final). Evidently Borg forgot that he did television work for NBC Sports in 1983 (interviewing Yannick Noah and Mats Wilandner after their final) and presented the Coupe De Mosquetaires on-court to Gustavo Kuerten in 1997. Guga famously bowed to the great Borg, as though the Swede was royalty. Let’s just presume that Borg’s passing shots were better than his memory!
Ai Sugiyama is preparing to break the all-time record at the All England Club by competing in her 56th consecutive major tournament. She currently shares this record with Wayne Ferreira, who played 56 straight from 1991 to 2004. This is a remarkable strength of will and consistency.
In the For What It’s Worth category… After last year’s epic Wimbledon final, Roger Federer did an interview with a standout former player. Afterwards, this player, off-camera, of course, told his colleague that the Swiss would never win another Wimbledon title. He saw cracks in the armor last summer.
Fingers are crossed that Slazenger has produced livelier balls for this year’s grass court season. It has been disappointing to see men’s professional grass court tennis look like… hard court tennis. If that’s what people really want to see, then the grass should be paved for a more “fair” hard court surface. I would prefer that it retain the traditional allure for attacking players and reward players for net-rushing tactics.
In 1984, there were 64 American men in the singles main draw of Wimbledon. That will never be matched again. I do, however, expect to see several Yanks doing some damage at SW19.
Serena Williams would have been really annoyed with her result at Roland Garros. She will keep the Venus Rosewater Dish in the Williams family’s possession this year.
Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas and Peruvian Luis Horna completed a storybook run to the French men’s doubles title. In the quarterfinals they took out former champions and the top-ranked team in the world, Bob and Mike Bryan. This match received a lot of attention because afterwards the Bryans refused to shake hands with Cuevas, as they were offended by his show of exuberance in the third set tiebreak. As the South American pair raced to a 5-1 lead, Cuevas leaped the net to switch sides- instead of walking around the net post. While it might have been a bit much, hopping the net certainly appeared to be an act of spontaneity on Cuevas’ part. The Bryans have perfected the leaping chest bump, so their reaction seemed a bit harsh.
To offer some context, the Bryan brothers have saved men’s professional doubles. Without them, it might not even exist these days. They carry the weight and responsibility of, literally, preserving this form of the professional sport. Furthermore, they have each distinguished themselves as fierce competitors and gentlemen throughout their storied career. They get it. Therefore, the Bryans deserve some slack. I’ll bet that they wish they had not reacted so strongly during the heat of the moment. I’ll also bet that they are hoping for a rematch against Cuevas and Horna at the Big W.
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have much to gain these next months, and Federer much to defend. Pete Sampras finished as the world’s top-ranked player for a remarkable six straight years (1993-98), and Federer’s assault on that record is looking bleaker. Roger will need a “turn back the clock” effort for the remainder of 2008 to avoid relegation to No. 3 in the year-end rankings.
Less than half of the world’s top-ten players will compete in the Beijing Olympics. Keep reading the agate type in your sports sections for listings of injuries, because most of the top players will find them before hopping on a plane for Asia in August. This is as sure as the sun rising in the East.
I always write about making a pilgrimage to beautiful Newport, RI for the Hall of Fame Championships each July. For any fan living or traveling in Europe, please visit Eastbourne. This is a charming coastal town in the south of England, and a wonderful warm-up tournament for The Championships. The honor roll of former champions stands as a “who’s-who” list of Hall of Famers. The grass courts are typically as good as any in the world, and the players love the relaxed environment. In fact, the accessibility to the players is virtually unprecedented in this day and age.