Current world #9 Janko Tipsarevic is a force to be reckoned with on the tennis court, having finally won his first two titles on the ATP Tour last year. The Serb helped his country win the Davis Cup last year and credits his teammates as his best friends. I had the chance to chat with him about his time in Miami, the start of his DJing career and his Davis Cup win.
Knowing you enjoy house music, have you had a chance to catch to catch any of the Ultra Music Festival going on in downtown Miami?
I didn’t have a chance to go out to Ultra.
Is it on the schedule?
I think today is the last day, right?
So, no. Luckily, it’s not on the schedule, so that means I’m performing well. I went out on Saturday to “Mansion” and it was overcrowded because it was the beginning of Winter Music Conference.
I am starting my DJ career. Last week, I was DJing with Bob Sinclair [at the player’s party] and picked up a few tricks. I was really happy about that.
What is your most memorable moment on court?
Winning the Davis Cup.
If you are hosting a party, what three tennis players do you invite and why?
I would probably invite the Serbian Davis Cup team because they are my closest friends, and I feel most relaxed when I am around them. We can talk literally about anything. Novak [Djokovic], Viktor [Troicki] would be my first picks.
What are two things you can’t live without?
Two things? People are not counted so I do not have to say my wife, right? (Jokes and laughs). I would say cell phone and internet.
If you could invite any three people to dinner, living or dead, who would they be and why?
Living or dead? Hmmm. (Long pause). I would invite probably Swedish House Mafia.
DJ a little with them, maybe join them?
Pfff. That would be good!
by Maud Watson
The Spanish Davis Cup team was back to its winning ways as it captured the coveted trophy for the fifth time since the year 2000. Despite an uninspiring display from their doubles duo, the singles performances by the Spanish Armada could not have been better. What a difference a surface makes as Rafael Nadal, who sealed the victory for Spain with his defeat of Juan Martin del Potro in the fourth match, looked a far cry from the fatigued and insecure player that lost in London. But as great as the performance from the Spanish No. 1 was, the biggest props should be going to his compatriot and Spanish No. 2, David Ferrer. Often overshadowed by the man from Mallorca, it was Ferrer who came back from 2-1 down against a fresh del Potro to give Spain what turned out to be a crucial 2-0 lead going into Saturday’s doubles rubber. It was also Ferrer who got Spain past arguably the biggest hurdle in their quest for the cup by single-handedly taking out the Americans on a hard court on their home soil to keep Spain in the hunt. All in all, a great effort by the squad and congrats to Spain for yet another historic win.
But as the dust settles on another joyous Davis Cup win for Spain, Spanish fans will have much to be apprehensive about concerning their Davis Cup chances for next year and possibly beyond. Nadal has already announced he won’t play for the team next season, and Ferrer appears to be hinting he won’t be either. Ferrer is not only citing a focus on the Olympics, but his age as well, which means his pullout could be a permanent one. Nadal is also said to be focusing on the Olympics, which means he may return to the team competition in 2013. How many of Spain’s veterans may be willing to answer the call in 2012 remains unknown. Couple that with the fact that some of Spain’s younger players may not be ready to step up to the plate, and a sixth title in the near future seems less certain than ever. But Spain continues to develop great players, and still has a depth of talent to choose from. Excluding France, it’s hard to name a nation in a better position to fill the void of missing its top stars.
Spare a Thought
Even the most hardcore Spanish fan would have to be heartless to not feel some sympathy for the player who seemed to take Argentina’s Davis Cup loss hardest, Juan Martin del Potro. He left it all on the court in a devastating five-set defeat to Ferrer on the opening day of the tie – a loss that was all the more gut-wrenching since it was practically a must-win point with Nadal waiting to play the third singles on Sunday. It was del Potro who also had that unenviable task of playing Nadal on Sunday to keep his country’s hopes alive, and what an effort he put forth. He came out guns blazing to absolutely stun Nadal in the first, and up an early break in the second, it seemed the unthinkable might actually happen. But then his game started to go off, Nadal settled into his own, and though he fought back from a break down multiple times in that fourth and deciding set, the Spanish Bull proved too tough. The Argentine’s tears were completely understandable, but hopefully after he’s had time to recover, his coach is going to be able to spin his two losses into a positive. He made great strides in his comeback this year, and perhaps had he been fresher, his offense a little sharper, he could have taken Nadal down in his own backyard. If he continues on this path, Nadal is right. Juan Martin del Potro could easily crack the Top 4 in 2012.
We may never know the identity of Caroline Wozniacki’s mystery coach who was assisting her at the end of this past season, but we do know she has officially hired Ricardo Sanchez to coach her along with her father in 2012. Wozniacki is happy to have Sanchez aboard, stating she feels comfortable with him and knows that he already knows her strengths and weaknesses. One of his most recent charges was Jelena Jankovic, which makes the pairing seem even more perfect. Wozniacki has a similar game to Jankovic, is less prone to injury, and most importantly, has a better attitude. The Dane is ultimately going to have to develop some bigger weapons and get mentally stronger if she’s to capture that elusive first major, but hiring Sanchez has more than likely moved her one step closer to that goal.
She was the Scottish national coach for nine years, as well as the coach of a handful of other British players, including her two sons Andy and Jamie. Now Judy Murray will take on her newest and most prominent coaching role as captain of the British Fed Cup Team. She’s replacing previous captain, Nigel Sears, who left the job to coach former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic. Ultimately, a team’s chances of success are determined by the amount of talent that is on the squad, but with her no-nonsense approach to the game, Judy Murray may just prove the shot in the arm that British women’s tennis needs. It’s one more change to look forward to in 2012 as we all wait to see what surprises next season will bring.
by Stephanie Neppl
Seville is set for what should be an epic Davis Cup final between two of the most likeable teams in tennis: Spain and Argentina. Take a look at pics of the teams interacting this week and you’ll see smiling faces between the players and endearing moments. It’s clear there’s mutual respect and friendship between many of the teams’ top players.
Spain is the favorite, without question. The team is the host and has won four titles in the past 10 years, with the slow clay certainly helping them. And yes, it boasts Rafael Nadal, arguably the best clay court player ever as well as #5 David Ferrer who’s had a career best year.
This Davis Cup final yields so many storylines and so many questions. Will the Argentineans be healthy enough to be competitive , particularly with Davis Cup veteran David Nalbandian still battling injuries? Will Nadal, mentally exhausted from a topsy-turvy year on tour, find the strength to lead his team to another title? Will Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez redeem themselves after losing badly in Spain’s narrow victory over the US in the semifinals? Will Juan Monaco, Argentina’s most in-form player of late, step up against his good friend Nadal in the opening match of the tie?
The emotional tugs for tennis fans may mostly surround Nalbandian. He’s never been part of a winning Davis Cup team, and most feel 2012 will be his last year on tour. Nalbandian has always been fiercely passionate about Davis Cup and most tennis fans would be pretty ecstatic should he finally win one.
And then, there’s the crowd. Having been to all four grand slams and the Beijing Olympics, I’ve seen my share of partisan crowds. Davis Cup ties are legendary for being noisy and full of very patriotic fans. Will the crowd be fair to both teams or are all bets off? At the Beijing Olympics, the partisan crowd lost all touch with good fan behaviour while its own were playing. Will the Seville crowd behave?
Thus far, the atmosphere in Seville has been fantastic. Somehow the tennis gods smiled down on me as my accommodation is directly across the road from the Spanish team’s hotel. I’ve already been within hand shaking distance from Nadal twice, and have seen the entire team. Last night, I saw Verdasco and David Ferrer quickly race into their hotel from their courtesy van while Nadal and Lopez lingered to bring their bags into the hotel. The number of fans outside the hotel has been rather small, and Nadal has been welcoming to his fans and has posed with a fair few (this professional tennis fan was not quick or assertive enough to ask for a photo either time).
Local shops have also gotten into the Davis Cup spirit with tennis signs and displays (a butchery near Team Spain’s hotel has even crafted a tennis court in its window using huge pieces of jamon as rackets). A Davis Cup museum has been set up in the city centre showing off programmes and signed memorabilia from past ties while a big screen plays highlights of classic matches.
Today, the draw was held at the beautiful Teatro Lope de Vega. Sadly, only media were allowed inside and a noisy rally by striking workers (apparently over a migrant worker issues) created a huge distraction from the joy of the Davis Cup draw. My group saw all the teams pull up in cars but that was as close to the draw as we could get since it was not open to the public.
Practices inside Estadio Olímpico de Sevilla have also been closed to the public, though the team’s practice times have been published online. So the excitement and anticipation builds and builds for the many fans who’ve been in town waiting for the tie to begin. The long wait is over at 1pm Friday to see the teams and the stadium. A ceremony will kick off at 1pm, followed by Nadal versus Monaco then Ferrer versus Del Potro.
May the best team win! Vamos!
Stephanie Neppl is in Seville, Spain covering the Davis Cup Finals as a guest contributor for Tennis Grandstand. She is the author of the website I Have a Tennis Addiction and you can follow her on twitter @StephInNZ for further updates.
While the U.S. Tennis Association prepares to choose and name a new U.S. Davis Cup captain to replace Patrick McEnroe, it is interesting to look back 11 years at the start of the U.S. captaincy of Patrick’s older brother John. Arguably the greatest American Davis Cupper in the history of the competition, John McEnroe was named by the USTA to replace Tom Gullikson as U.S. captain during the 1999 U.S. Open (incidentally, the press conference occurred on Gullikson’s 48th birthday).
Following his US Open press conference where he was officially introduced as the skipper of America’s tennis team, McEnroe’s next public appearance as U.S. captain came a month later when the draw for the 2000 competition was made on October 7, 1999.
The following is what took place, as documented in Randy Walker’s book “ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY” ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com) on the afternoon of October 7, 1999.
1999 – Less than one month after being named captain of th
e U.S. Davis Cup team and John McEnroe creates his first international incident as the United States is drawn to play an away match against the African nation of Zimbabwe in the first round the 2000 Davis Cup. Speaking to reporters at a U.S. Tennis Association organized event at the ESPN Zone in New York City, McEnroe says of the away match against Zimbabwe, “I am sure that word is seeping out that our worse case scenario has just taken place. We need like 27 shots or something to go down there.” After meeting with reporters, McEnroe takes questions from fans at the theme restaurant and is asked what surface he expects the match to be on. Responds McEnroe, “That is their choice. They are going to try to pick a surface that they feel they have the best chance of beating us on which will probably be cow dung …” The following day, “Page Six” the famous gossip column in the New York Post reports the Zimbabwean government’s outrage over McEnroe’s comments. “This is disparaging,” Immanuel Gumbo, attache at the Zimbabwe mission to the UN tells Page Six. “When we beat Australia last year we didn’t play on a cow dung court. We admire Mr. McEnroe for his gifts but you have to wonder what must go on inside his head.”
With the current situation that is ongoing in Zimbabwe, under the tyrannical rule of President Robert Mugabe, one can say that insulting the Mugabe government would not be considered such a sin.
McEnroe and the U.S. team were able to barely edge Zimbabwe 3-2 with Davis Cup rookie Chris Woodruff winning the fifth-and-decisive rubber from Wayne Black. After another 3-2 knee-knocker win in Los Angeles over the Czech Republic, the U.S. was shut-out by Spain 5-0 in the semifinals in Santander, Spain. McEnroe was not able to convince Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras to step up and play in the post-Wimbledon clay-court semifinal against Spain and resigned as the U.S. captain later in the year, paving the way for his younger brother Patrick to assume the helm and serve as U.S. captain for 10 years.
NEW YORK, N.Y. – Jimmy Connors, the five-time U.S. Open champion, has contributed the Foreword to the upcoming book “ACING DEPRESSION: A TENNIS CHAMPION’S TOUGHEST MATCH” written by his friend and former pro tennis colleague Cliff Richey.
Richey, who 40 years ago was the No. 1-ranked American tennis player and the hero of the 1970 championship-winning U.S. Davis Cup team, was the winner of the first-ever professional Grand Prix points title. In his book, due out in April, he discusses the most difficult opponent of his life, depression. Richey calls depression among adult males as “the silent tragedy in our culture today” and details his life-long battle with the disease that afflicts approximately 121 million people around the world. Co-written with his oldest daughter Hilaire Richey Kallendorf, ACING DEPRESSION ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.NewC
hapterMedia.com), profiles the life and tennis career of Richey, with his depression being a constant theme.
Writes Connors in the Foreword, “What made Cliff Richey what he was on the tennis court has certainly carried over into this book. His story has taken a subject, depression—which has affected him personally—and put it out there for everyone to see. Depression has been a subject that no one really talks about. Few people even admit to having such a condition. But Cliff is not afraid to be bold and reveal what he has gone through and what it takes to get a handle on this disease…Just as Cliff played tennis, he is studying how depression works; what its weaknesses are; and what strategies you can use against it. His hope is that people who read his story can learn—learn about the disease and learn that people who suffer can have a better quality of life. Things can get better. There is hope.”
Richey was known as the original “Bad Boy” of tennis, before there was John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase. His 26-year career was highlighted by a 1970 season where he led the United States to the Davis Cup title, finished as the first-ever Grand Prix world points champion and won one of the most exciting matches in American tennis history that clinched the year-end No. 1 American ranking. He won both of his singles matches in the 5-0 U.S. victory over West Germany in the 1970 Davis Cup final, while he beat out rivals Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Arthur Ashe and Stan Smith to win the first-ever Grand Prix world points title the precursor to the modern day ATP rankings. He won his second U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships in 1970, while also won titles in his career at the Canadian Open, the South African Open, the U.S. Indoors and the Western Open (modern day Cincinnati Masters 1000 event).
At the 1970 Pacific Coast Championships at the Berkeley Tennis Club in Berkeley, Calif., he earned the No. 1 U.S. ranking when he beat Smith in a fifth-set tie-breaker, where both players had simultaneous match point in a sudden-death nine-point tie-breaker at 4-4. He also reached the semifinals of both the 1970 French and U.S. Opens, losing a famous match to Zeljko Franulovic of Yugoslavia in the French semifinals, despite holding match points and leading by two-sets-to-one and 5-1 in the fourth set.
ACING DEPRESSION is due out in April and is published by New Chapter Press – also the publisher of The Roger Federer Story, Quest for Perfection by Rene Stauffer, The Bud Collins History of Tennis by Bud Collins, The Education of a Tennis Player by Rod Laver with Bud Collins, Boycott: Stolen Dreams of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games by Tom Caraccioli and Jerry Caraccioli, The Lennon Prophecy by Joe Niezgoda, Bone Appetit, Gourmet Cooking For Your Dog by Susan Anson, The Rules of Neighborhood Poker According to Hoyle by Stewart Wolpin, People’s Choice Cancun – Travel Survey Guidebook by Eric Rabinowitz and Weekend Warriors: The Men of Professional Lacrosse by Jack McDermott, among others. Founded in 1987, New Chapter Press is an independent publisher of books and part of the Independent Publishers Group. More information can be found at www.NewChapterMedia.com.
October 22 marks the eight-year anniversary of Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, the most celebrated couple in the history of tennis. Their anniversary, and other events in the history of tennis, are chronicled in the October 22 chapter excerpt for the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com) featured below…
2001 – Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, two the greatest champions tennis has ever produced, are married in a small, private ceremony in Las Vegas, Nevada. The two all-time greats date for more than two years since both won the singles titles at the 1999 French Open. “We are so blessed to be married and starting this chapter of our lives,” Agassi and Graf says in a joint statement after the ceremony. “The privacy and intimacy of our ceremony was beautiful and reflective of all we value.” Agassi and Graf are the only two players in the history of the sport to win all four major singles titles – and an Olympic gold medal – in their careers.
1985 – Arthur Ashe resigns as captain of the U.S. Davis Cup team after a tenure of five years. Ashe resigns “”in the best interests of me personally and of the team,” according to a statement released by Ashe’s agency, ProServ. The United States wins the Davis Cup during Ashe’s first two years as captain in 1981 and 1982, but the U.S. loses in the first round in 1983 and the second round in 1985. Ashe’s overall record as U.S. Davis Cup captain concludes at 13-3.
1982 – Vitas Gerulaitis defeats Gene Mayer 7-5, 6-2 in the semifinals of the Mazda Super Challenge in Melbourne, Australia and then blasts the officiating as the worst he has seen in his career. Says Gerulaitis, “From Egypt to Zambia, it has never been as bad as this. This is the worst place I have ever played.”
1995 – Wayne Ferreira of South Africa ends the three-year reign of Pete Sampras as champion of the Lyon Open in France, defeating Sampras 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-3 in the final. Says Ferreira, “I played one of the best matches I could play. I tired a little at the end but I wasn’t going to get tight.” Ferreira has surprising success with Sampras during his career, winning six of 13 matches against the seven-time Wimbledon champion.
1995 – Filip Dewulf became the first Belgian in two decades to win an ATP Tour singles title, defeating Austria’s Thomas Muster 7-5, 6-2, 1-6, 7-5 in the CA Trophy in Vienna, Austria. Dewulf is the first Belgian to win an ATP title since Bernard Mignot wins the title in Dusseldorf in 1974.
1995 – Mary Joe Fernandez celebrates her 24th birthday by defeating South Africa’s Amanda Coetzer 6-4, 7-5 to win the Brighton in England. The title is the fifth of seven career WTA Tour singles titles for Fernandez.
2006 – Maria Sharapova becomes the first Russian to win the Zurich Open, defeating Daniela Hantuchova 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 in the final. Both players takes advantage of the WTA Tour’s controversial experimental on-court coaching rule, allowing on-court coaching between sets. Sharapova speaks on-court to her coach Michael Joyce, while Hantuchova talked with her mother.
2006 – Roger Federer defeats Fernando Gonzalez of Chile 7-5, 6-1, 6-0 to win the Madrid Masters singles title. The title is his 10th of the 2006 season, giving Federer the distinction of becoming the first player in the Open era to win 10 or more titles in a season for three consecutive seasons. Federer finishes the season with 12 titles – to go with the 11 titles he wins in both 2004 and 2005.
1995 – Michael Chang defeats Italy’s Renzo Furlan 7-5, 6-3 and delights fans in Beijing by speaking to them in Chinese after winning the Salem Open for a third year in the row.
Fifteen years ago on Oct. 12, 1994, one of the most unusual on-court incidents in the history of tennis happened in Tokyo when American Jeff Tarango “dropped his drawers” on court during his second-round match against Michael Chang. That event, plus others, are outlined below in this excerpt from the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com).
1994 – American Jeff Tarango performs one of the most unusual on-court activities in professional tennis, dropping his shorts after having his serve broken in the first game of the third set in his loss to Michael Chang in the second round of the Seiko Championships in Tokyo. Following his serve being broken, Tarango, in the words of Britain’s Daily Record, “pulled his shorts down, raised his arms and waddled to his seat courtside with his shorts around his ankles and his underpants in full view.” Says Tarango, “I felt that I let the match slip away a little bit, and I wanted to make light of it. I had exposed my weakness to Michael.” Tarango, who would famously walk off the court in a third round match at Wimbledon in 1995, retires from his match with Chang with a left forearm injury, trailing 4-1 in the third set. Tarango is given a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct and is fined $3,000. Says Chang, who goes on to lose to Goran Ivanisevic in the final of the event, “I know the ATP has been trying to create a little bit more interest in the game but I don’t know if that is what they had in mind.”
2001 – One hundred and one years after three Harvard students make up the first U.S. Davis Cup team, former Harvard student James Blake makes his Davis Cup debut against India in the Davis Cup Qualifying Round at the Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C. Blake, playing in his first Davis Cup match, defeats India’s Leander Paes, playing in his 79th Davis Cup match, 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead. Blake also becomes the first Harvard student to play Davis Cup for the U.S. since Titanic survivor Richard Norris Williams in 1926 and becomes only the third African-American man to play Davis Cup for the U.S. – joining Mal Washington and Arthur Ashe. Earlier in the day, Andy Roddick defeats India’s Harsh Mankad 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead.
1998 – Lindsay Davenport ascends to the No. 1 ranking in women’s professional tennis for the first time in her career, taking the No. 1 WTA ranking from Martina Hingis, whom she beat in the U.S Open final the previous month. Davenport holds the No. 1 ranking for 98 weeks in her career.
2003 – Roger Federer wins his 10th career ATP singles title and successfully defends a title for the first time in his career when he defeats Carlos Moya of Spain 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 to win the CA Trophy in Vienna, Austria. Says Federer of successfully defending a title for the first time, “I’m over the moon about that.”
1980 – Ivan Lendl needs nearly five hours to defeat Guillermo Vilas 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 in the final of the Spanish Open championships in Barcelona.
NEW YORK – July 20, 2009 – InsideOut Sports & Entertainment announced today it has retained Amplify Sports and Entertainment for sponsorship sales representation of InsideOut’s signature property, the Outback Champions Series. InsideOut, co-founded by Hall of Fame tennis champion Jim Courier and former SFX and Clear Channel executive Jon Venison, is an independent producer of proprietary events and promotions. The Outback Champions Series is a collection of tennis events featuring many of the greatest players of the past 25 years, including Andre Agassi, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras and many others.
Amplify will help secure Outback Champions Series corporate partnerships. Founded in 2005, it features eight events on its 2009 schedule with each event featuring $150,000 in prize money. To be eligible to compete on the Outback Champions Series, players must have reached at least a major singles final, been ranked in the top five in the world or played singles on a championship Davis Cup team.
“Amplify has a stellar record in helping build partnerships between top brands and marquee properties,” said InsideOut Sports + Entertainment co-founder Jim Courier. ”We look forward to working with them to build upon the success of the Outback Champions Series.”.
“The Outback Champions Series offers advertisers unprecedented access to many of the biggest names in tennis and the ability to connect in a meaningful way with target customers,” said Michael A. Neuman, president of Amplify Sports and Entertainment. “We’re excited to work with InsideOut to secure new corporate partners for this great property.”
About Amplify Sports and Entertainment
Amplify Sports and Entertainment specializes in maximizing clients’ investments in sports, lifestyle and entertainment sponsorship. Through strategic insight, Amplify builds brands by customizing compelling, relevant and memorable marketing programs that drive sales by establishing a deeper, more emotional bond with target consumers. Proprietary tools, the Sponsorship Snapshot™ and the Sponsorship Amplifier™, offer the industry the most comprehensive resources for evaluating return on sponsorship marketing investments. Clients include: ABSOLUT® VODKA, Allergan, Inc., American Bass Anglers, Business Clubs of America (Philadelphia), BOTOX®, Champions Series, Cruzan® Rum, Everlast, Ford Models, Gardenburger, ING Direct, International Sports Properties, Level™ Vodka, Inc., Juvéderm™, Major League Soccer, National Grid, Nikon, Inc., Pepsi Bottling Group, SportsNet New York (SNY), Strike Ten Entertainment, Time Warner Center, USA Field Hockey, U. S. National Whitewater Center, United States Tennis Association, US Speedskating, Volkswagen of America and XanGo, LLC. For more information on Amplify Sports and Entertainment, LLC visit www.ampfirm.com.
About InsideOut Sports & Entertainment
InsideOut Sports + Entertainment is a New York City-based independent producer of proprietary events and promotions founded in 2004 by former world No. 1 and Hall of Fame tennis player Jim Courier and former SFX and Clear Channel executive Jon Venison. In 2005, InsideOut launched its signature property, the Outback Champions Series, a collection of tennis events featuring the greatest names in tennis over the age of 30. In addition, InsideOut produces many other successful events including “Legendary Night” exhibitions, charity events and tennis fantasy camps such as the annual “Ultimate Fantasy Camp”. Through 2008, InsideOut Sports + Entertainment events have raised over $4 million for charity. For more information, please log on to www.InsideOutSE.com or www.ChampionsSeriesTennis.com.
What happened the last time the U.S. Davis Cup team traveled to Croatia? Ironically, Andy Roddick was not in the U.S. line-up due to exhaustion and injury following a marathon match at a Grand Slam tournament – as is the case this week following his 16-14 fifth-set loss to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final on Sunday. Back in 2003, it was a wrist injury that placed Roddick off the U.S. team following his 21-19 in the fifth set win over Younes El Aynaoui in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and, like this week in Pec, Croatia, he was replaced in the singles line-up by Mardy Fish. The following is a summary of the last U.S. visit to Croatia back in February of 2003
The pending retirements in 2003 of Pete Sampras and Michael Chang, and the retirement of Jim Courier three years prior caused the U.S. Davis Cup focus to center more squarely on “Generation Next.” With a 33-year-old Andre Agassi still playing, but in retirement from Davis Cup play, and 33-year-old Todd Martin playing what turned out to be his final Davis Cup match at Roland Garros the previous fall, the changing of the guard was to be completed with an away match in the first round of the 2003 competition against Croatia in Zagreb.
However, Captain Patrick McEnroe’s hopes of his Andy Roddick-led youthful charge in 2003 suffered a lethal blow just 10 days before the start of the Croatia tie as Roddick’s exhausting Australian Open campaign had instigated a case of severe tendonitis in his right wrist, preventing his nomination to the team. Roddick’s 4-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4, 21-19 quarterfinal win over Younes El Aynaoui of Morrocco in four hours and 59 minutes contributed greatly to Roddick’s condition as did a diving attempt at a volley near the end of the match.
“I didn’t think anything about it then, and the wrist wasn’t really sore after the match,” Roddick told Bill Dwyre with the Los Angeles Times of landing on his right wrist after the diving volley attempt. “I packed up, went off, did my press, and then, when I went to leave, I picked up my big tennis bag and felt this huge pain in my wrist.”
Roddick considered defaulting the Aussie semifinal match to Rainer Schuettler of Germany, but since it was his first sojourn into a Grand Slam semifinal gave it a run. The later the match went, the more the pain affected his play in his 7-5, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 loss to Schuettler.
“At the end, it hurt so much to hit my two-handed backhand that I was, pretty much, just releasing my right hand and hitting a left-handed forehand.”
Roddick saw Dr. Norm Zemel of the Los Angeles-based Kerlan-Jobe group, who diagnosed three weeks of rest. “The doctor said it was the most severe case of tendonitis he had ever seen,” Roddick told Dwyre. “I really didn’t know what it was, how bad it was, until I saw the doctor yesterday.”
Without its No. 1 player, U.S. Captain Patrick McEnroe would have to rely on James Blake, Mardy Fish, Taylor Dent and Robby Ginepri to carry load in lieu of Roddick. All four players had been knocking at the door and waiting to burst through and make a mark on their own and follow in Roddick’s lead through to the upper echelon of world tennis. Croatia would be their opportunity to take the stage and shine.
“I’ve said from the time I became captain, it’s time for the younger guys to step up and they have and now it’s time for them to take over,” said McEnroe. “I’m excited about watching the young guns take the responsibility into their hands fully for our Davis Cup quest to bring the Davis Cup back to the U.S… It’s time for them to enjoy this challenge, to take the responsibility of being our team and get us through this match.”
Much of the responsibility would fall on Blake, who would be designated as the No. 1 player for the U.S. with an ATP ranking of No. 24. The 23-year-old – the oldest player in the green American team - had previously only played supporting roles in Davis Cup play, playing singles behind Roddick in two previous ties – against India in Winston-Salem in 2001 and against France at Roland Garros the previous fall – while also playing doubles only in two other ties.
“It’s a little weird since I definitely feel like I’m still the one learning,” confided Blake. “Just last year, I was the brand new kid and the rookie on the team and now I’m considered the veteran. I’m the oldest member of the team. It’s going to seem a little strange.”
Blake would also be thrown into the spotlight as the draw for the U.S. vs. Croatia tie would be held on February 6 – the 10 year anniversary of the death of Arthur Ashe. The USTA would honor the legacy of Ashe by sewing the embroidery of his name on the left sleeve of the official team uniform for each U.S. team member. Said USTA Chief Executive Arlen Kantarian “The Davis Cup represents one of Arthur’s greatest ideals, to bring people together around the world through sports. On this tenth anniversary of his death, we remember an outstanding player, captain and humanitarian – and inspiration not just for his team, but to our country and the world.”
“I think being African-American, I owe him a great debt of gratitude for being able to deal with the pressures and situations. What I go through now and what anyone goes though is much easier thanks to what he did. It took a great man and great athlete like him to do that and we are so fortunate today to have had him as that role model.”
Ashe’s legacy and reputation to assist in humanitarian causes had clearly rubbed off on Jim Courier, who continued in his role as coach under McEnroe in Zagreb. Courier had been made aware of the significant land-mine problems in Croatia that remained following its war for independence in the early 1990s from Jim Lawrence, the U.S. State Department’s Director of Mine Action Initiatives and Partnerships.
Courier had arranged for the team to visit a de-mining operation on the morning of Tuesday, February 4, but snow and high winds delayed the helicopter ride that would take the team to a coastal region near the city of Zadar, where a major de-mining operation would take place. In place of the team, the United States Tennis Association sent a group of its officials in their place. USTA Davis Cup Committee Chairmen Warren Kimball and Allen Kiel were so moved by the struggles for the Croatian people to rid their soil of such deadly land mines, that they encouraged and received the financial commitment from USTA President Alan Schwartz, to donate $25,000 to de-mining efforts in Croatia. The U.S. Embassy in Zagreb pledged a matching $25,000 grant. The money was used to clear a mine-field in the village of Mekusje, 30 miles west of Zagreb, where the mine field prevented townspeople from access the town’s local tennis court.
“This is our way of showing support to the people of Croatia, who have been such incredible hosts to our Davis Cup team and USTA contingent this week,” said Schwartz. “It is reassuring to know that the contribution by the USTA and the U.S. government will help the people of Mekusje enjoy the wonderful sport of tennis once again.”
Much of the buzz entering the first round series centered around the status of 2001 Wimbledon champion and Croatian sporting god Goran Ivanisevic. Since his celebrated win at the All England Club in 2001, Ivanisevic had been plagued with injuries and underwent surgery on his left shoulder in May of 2002. Despite not playing only three ATP singles matches in the last year due to the recovery from his surgery, Ivanisevic was determined to make his return against the Americans. He had played in the Heilbronn Challenger level event in Germany the week before Davis Cup, only to withdraw in the second round with tremendous pain in his shoulder.
“I couldn’t do anything, my arm hurt terribly,” Ivanisevic said. “I suffered for 10 months, underwent an operation to feel better and now this…I’ve never felt so miserable….I’ll let him give me 30 injections if that’d help. I’m in such a state that I’d go to Tibet on foot if I knew that would help,” he said. “I’m totally lost.”
Not surprisingly, he was not drawn to play singles against the Americans, but in doubles with Ljubicic. Fish, ranked No. 74 in the ATP rankings, was drawn to face No. 52-ranked Ljubicic to start the tie off, with Blake and Mario Ancic playing the second singles match.
Under a backdrop of a loud, flag-waving jam-packed crowd of 2,800 in the tiny Dom Hall Sportova, which resembled a high school gym than a major sporting arena, Fish and Ljubicic opened the proceedings. Ljubicic, with his future brother-in-law banging a drum to incite the small but overflowing and vocal crowd, took advantage of the fast conditions on the indoor carpet serving with equal abandon on both first and second serve. With Fish showing nerves in his first away Davis Cup action and his first ever Davis Cup singles match, he was tentative on his normally solid return of serve and was unable to hook onto Ljubicic’s blistering serves. Only after 97 minutes – at 1-2 in the third set – was Fish able to look at a break point – only to see it disappear behind a Ljubicic service winner. Of Ljubicic’s 70 service points, 30 were aces, 19 were service winners, while 16 were double faults. Final result, Ljubicic in straight sets by a 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 margin.
“I’ve never played anybody with a serve like that,” said Fish of Ljubicic. “I couldn’t read his serve and I just didn’t have an answer…I’ve never seen a first and second serve like that.”
Blake took the court with the swagger of the team leader and jumped on and dominated Ancic, easily winning the first two sets 6-1, 6-2 before maneuvering through a third set-tie-break to square the matches at 1-1 after the first day of play.
“Davis Cup is a lot of pressure and I think it’s a lot of fun out there,” said Blake. “It’s a great atmosphere out there having a biased crowd. There is going to be pressure in every match, with varying degrees. I went into it looking it as if it was another live Davis Cup rubber.”
While there was little doubt that Fish and Blake would pair in the doubles, there still remained a minor mystery on whether Ivanisevic would take the court the next day. Said Croatian captain Niki Pilic of Goran’s availability for the Saturday doubles, “I think he will make his decision. I have made my decision already. If he has a good arm, like today (in practice), I think he will play.”
An electric atmosphere greeted Ivanisevic as he strolled onto the court with Ljubicic on Saturday afternoon. The scene, according to Bud Collins of the Boston Globe was of pandemonium. “Horns toot, a drum rat-a-tat-tats, shrill whistles pierce the fetid air, and the checker board flags of Croatia flap everywhere.”
Ivanisevic was playing in only his second complete match since undergoing left shoulder surgery on May 15, 2002. Ivanisevic retired with shoulder pain in the second round of last week’s Heilbronn Challenger in Germany, his first event since April 6, 2002, when he and Ljubicic defeated Guillermo Canas and Lucas Arnold of Argentina in the Davis Cup quarterfinal in Buenos Aires.
The rust showed early for Ivanisevic who struggled with his serves and stumbled on volleys and returns, trying desperately to find his rhythm against the energized Blake and Fish. Leading two-sets-to-love, Blake and Fish appeared in complete control, until the third set tie-break. With the Croatians leading 4-2 in the tie-break, Fish served up a double fault to put the set on the Croatians racquet with Ljubicic serving at 5-2, but Blake and Fish won both points on Ljubicic’s serve, to cut the lead to 4-5. Blake then served to Ivanisevic, who floated a sitter return, that Fish netted on top of the net, giving Croatia two set points. A bungled volley by Blake then gave Croatia the third set tiebreak. “It was a screwy tiebreaker,” Blake said later.” Hard to believe – on a fast court, and strong servers. But I thought we were OK.” A loose service game by Fish in the first game of the fourth set, cemented the momentum change for the Croatians. At 4-4 in the fifth-set, the Croatians broke Blake at love for a 5-4 lead, with Ljubicic then serving out the incredible 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-4 victory for the vital 2-1 lead.
Wrote Collins of Ivanisevic as the match concluded, “He was beaming ecstatically after hugging Ljubicic at the conclusion of their enthralling 3-hour-4-minute rebound. They leaped, danced, and pitched their rackets into the joyful crowd. Ivanisevic grabbed a microphone to thank the crowd and lead them in a victory song. The essence of the lyrics: “We stomped the Americans!”
Said Ivanisevic, “I knew it was going to be tough because 11 months, I played (one) challenger, but not a match like this. This is Davis Cup. It was really the first time in my life (I was) lost, that you don’t know what you are doing on the court. Nervous, heavy, no ideas. Then (Ivan) was telling me, come on, don’t worry it’s going to come, we need one break, we need something to happen. By the end of the second set, I start to play better and felt it that we were going to be OK. Blake played very good and also Fish, but Blake was the guy who was really pushing. Third, fourth and fifth set, everything open…I had great pain in my elbow, biceps, everywhere, but I said, doesn’t matter what happen, you have to finish this match….
“I was taking painkillers and I said to Ivan, ‘We are going to break Blake in the fifth set’, because he is playing too good, he has to do something wrong, Yesterday, he didn’t do anything wrong and today almost three hours, he didn’t do anything wrong and nobody can do it. And then we had good returns in the last game and it was great….I needed this match. Wimbledon was different. I forgot how to play this kind of match. I was so happy I didn’t what to do, where to go, where to jump. I really need this match. I need to feel, because when you play Challenger and you win a match and nobody is jumping, but when you beat the USA in doubles from two sets to love down and after 11 months without this type of match, you have to be happy. … I knew I play good at the practice. I was very nervous today. Very stiff, very lost, but I knew it would break somewhere and I did it. I started to play well later….volley, return everything was great. Crowd was great…this is crowd this is what you say, when you have home advantage when we have crowd like this and crowd can lift you. Without this crowd, we couldn’t win today….I was so stiff, so tight, so much pressure. I started to feel my serve at the end of the second set. I served the best in the fifth set when I had the most pain. I wouldn’t stop for anything. Even with a broken shoulder I would play, but I think it’s going to fine. Now I can take off for the next five months.”
The match marked the first time since 1965 that an American doubles team has lost in Davis Cup after leading two sets to love. In 1965, Dennis Ralston and Clark Graebner lead Spain’s Luis Arilla and Manuel Santana two sets to love, only to lose 4-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 11-9 in Barcelona.
Said Blake, “They served great. They kept their heads high. They stayed positive. Goran, I think, got better as the match progressed. He served better than you can expect from someone coming off an eight-month layoff.”
Blake chose his post-match press conference to also vent at some of the Croatian fans in the crowd, who called out during points, in between first and second serves, during serves, during overheads. “I feel like I was a little disappointed with the lack of class of some of the fans, but some of them might not be tennis fans, so that is possibly to be expected,” said Blake. “It didn’t really have a place in a match that was supposed to about goodwill and friendship between countries. I feel like I was more disappointed with the referee’s decision not to do anything about it and not control the situation when that’s there job and that’s the rule. I don’t think that affected us that much besides one incident of calling out in the middle of a point, which obviously affected concentration during that point. We tried to put that behind us.”
Instead Blake chose to look ahead to the fourth rubber of the series between he and Ljubicic and hopefully a live fifth rubber between Fish and Ancic. “I still see a good chance for me,” said Blake, “and I’d love to give Mardy the chance to be the hero”
On Sunday, Blake withstood the Ljubicic barrage of aces and after losing the first set, stole the second set tie-break and took a 4-2 lead in the third and appeared in complete control of the match. But Ljubicic went on a run of four straight games to win the third set, benefiting from two loose service games from Blake in the eighth and tenth games of the fourth set. Ljubicic carried his momentum to win in four sets- 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3 - to clinch the tie for Croatia.
“I thought James was in control, ready to win the third set,” said McEnroe. “Maybe we both relaxed too much. Those were loose games that you can’t play against a guy serving and competing like Ljubicic. You cannot allow yourself to relax for a second. Maybe we both relaxed. Maybe I have look at myself and what I did there. Certainly, James played a loose game and you can’t afford to do that in a match like this, whether it is the Davis Cup pressure or how well Ivan was playing, because he was certainly playing well and doing things that took James out of his rhythm but that was his game plan…My job is to keep my player as a tune to what is happening without making him nervous. Maybe I could have done a better job at that.”
Ljubicic would end the match with 29 aces and 19 service winners in 97 service points. For the weekend, Ljubicic would amass 72 aces, would hold serve 50 of 51 times and only face nine break points during his three matches in joining a elite company of only eight other players to win three live matches against a U.S. Davis Cup team, joining Laurie Doherty of Great Britain (1903), Henri Cochet of France (1928), Frank Sedgman of Australia (1951), Neale Fraser of Australia (1959), Nicola Pietrangeli of Italy (1961), Raul Ramirez of Mexico (1975 and 1976) and Roger Federer of Switzerland (2001).
Blake described the matches as the most emotional match he’s ever played, but put a optimistic spin on the first round loss.
“We are going to get a Davis Cup in the next four or five years with Andy, myself, Mardy, Taylor, Robby,” said Blake. “I don’t really make guarantees, because I think it’s kind of silly, but I’m confident that we are going get a Davis Cup in the next couple of years. We’re already extremely strong. We all care about Davis Cup a lot, that’s why this hurts so bad. Together, we are so emotionally high and low after a weekend or an entire week together, I don’t see how other teams can be as excited about Davis Cup as we are, that’s why I feel confident in the fact that we are going to do this together and we are going to come through one of these times.”
McEnroe was obviously disappointed in the loss, which gave him the distinction of being the only U.S. Davis Cup Captain to lose two first round matches during his tenure, but again looked at the long term potential of the team.
“I think that down the road we are going to be a damn good team,” he said. “How far that road is…I certainly thought that we could do it this year and now we are out…
“These guys care a lot. One of the reasons that I’m not dispirited is because of these kids. They care and they are passionate about it. At the end of the day, that’s what it is all about. At the end of the day, that’s what it is all about. Obviously, it’s about winning and losing and I’m disappointed to lose again in the first round. It hurts. This one hurts more than any other one, because I felt like we could go all the way this year, but there is a thin line between doing that and losing in the first round.
“This is a tough atmosphere. These guys have to get burned. There’s no other way around it. Pete Sampras is the greatest player of all time and he went through it. It’s tough to go through it. These guys love it. Taylor Dent said to me in the middle of the match today, when he was playing out there. “You know what? We lost and all, but it’s been such a great week.” That makes me feel that it is worthwhile and that these guys really do care and that if they continue to improve that we will have success down the road.”