Dennis Ralston

At Least The US Open Final Won’t Be Delayed Another Seven Days

It’s official. The US Open will finish on a Monday – at the earliest. For the second year in a row, rain has played havoc to the final weekend of the US Open and has pushed the tournament into a third week. Last year’s men’s final between Roger Federer and Andy Murray, which started at 5 pm on the third Monday of the event, was the first Monday final since 1987, when Ivan Lendl defeated Mats Wilander to win his third straight U.S. title. However, as excerpted from my book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com), the two most delayed U.S. finals were as follows…

From September 17, 1960 – In the most delayed conclusion to a major tournament in the sport’s history, Neale Fraser of Australia and Darlene Hard of the United States win the singles titles at the U.S. Championships – one week after winning semifinal matches to advance into the championship match. The U.S. Championships at Forest Hills are delayed a full seven days as Hurricane Donna slams New York and soggies up the grass courts at the West Side Tennis Club. Fraser finally defends his 1959 title, defeating fellow Aussie Rod Laver 6-4, 6-4, 10-8, becoming the first repeat men’s winner at Forest Hills since fellow Aussie Frank Sedgman in 1951 and 1952. Hard finally breaks through and wins her first U.S. singles title, upsetting defending champion Maria Bueno of Brazil 6-3, 10-8, 6-4. Fraser and Hard both win semifinal matches on September 10 – Fraser beating Dennis Ralston and Hard beating Donna Floyd – before the rains come. The Fraser-Laver final is a rubber match for the two Aussies, who split their two previous meetings in major finals on the year – Laver winning the Australian title in January for his first major singles title and Fraser turning the tide on “The Rocket” at Wimbledon. Fraser also ends Laver’s 29-match winning streak securing on the Eastern grass court circuit following his loss to Fraser at Wimbledon. Hard finally breaks through and wins her first U.S. title after five previous attempts to win the title. Says Hard, “I never thought I would do it, “ says Hard. “That girl (Bueno) never gives up. She hits winners when she least expects it. It’s been a long time coming. It’s great.”

From September 23, 1938 – After a delay of six days due to a hurricane hitting the New York area, play is resumed at the U.S. Championships at the West Side Tennis Club at Forest Hills as Don Budge keeps his dream of being the first player to win a Grand Slam alive by beating 1931 Wimbledon champion Sidney Wood 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 in the men’s semifinals. Advancing to play Budge in the final is his unseeded doubles partner, Gene Mako, who defeats Australia’s John Bromwich 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 in the other men’s semifinal. In women’s singles semifinals, Alice Marble beats Sarah Palfrey Fabyan 5-7, 7-5, 7-5, saving two match points at 2-5, 15-40 in the second set, while Nancye Wynne defeats Dorothy Bundy 5-7, 6-4, 8-6.

40 Years Ago In Tennis – Bud Collins Summarizes The Epic Year

The second year of Open tennis was one of continued progress but lingering confusion on the political front—and towering on-court performances by Margaret Smith Court and most notably Rod Laver, who netted an unprecedented second Grand Slam.

There were 30 open tournaments around the world and prize money escalated to about $1.3 million. Laver was the leading money winner with $124,000, followed by Tony Roche ($75,045), Tom Okker ($65,451), Roy Emerson ($62,629) and John Newcombe ($52,610).

The Davis Cup and other international team competitions continued to be governed by reactionaries, however, and admitted only players under the jurisdiction of their national associations. This left “contract pros”—who were paid guarantees and obligated by contract to adhere to the schedule set by independent promoters—on the outs, while players who accepted prize money but remained under the aegis of their national associations were allowed to play. At the end of the year, a proposal to end this silly double standard and include the contract pros was rejected by the Davis Cup nations in a 21-19 vote.

The “registered player” concept, borne of compromise a year earlier, persisted until finally being abolished by a newly-elected and more forward-looking International Lawn Tennis Federation Committee of Management in July. Still, the public found it difficult to understand who was and who was not a pro. In the United States, those who took prize money but remained under the authority of the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association were officially called “players.”

Under the leadership of Captain Donald Dell, the members of the U.S. Davis Cup team preferred to call themselves “independent pros,” making it clear that they were competing for prize money. The USLTA leadership would have preferred to keep the U.S. tournament circuit amateur, paying expenses only, except for five open events given ILTF sanction (Philadelphia Indoor, Madison Square Garden, the U.S. Open, Pacific Southwest, Howard Hughes Invitational in Las Vegas). This would have kept down spiraling overhead costs, a threat to the exclusive clubs, which resisted sponsorship but did not want to lose their traditional events.

Dell and the Davis Cup team refused to play in tournaments that offered expenses and guarantees instead of prize money, however, and thus effectively forced a full prize-money circuit into being in the United States.

Dell led the way by organizing the $25,000 Washington Star International in his hometown. It was a prototype tournament in many ways, commercially sponsored and played in a public park for over-the-table prize money rather than under-thetable appearance fees. Other tournaments followed suit, and a new and successful U.S. Summer Circuit began to emerge. In all, 15 U.S. tournaments offered $440,000 in prize money, with the $137,000 U.S. Open again the world’s richest event. In 1968, there had been only two prize-money open tournaments in the U.S., the $100,000 U.S. Open and the $30,000 Pacific Southwest.

A few peculiar hybrid events—half-amateur, half professional—-remained. The most obviously unnecessary was the $25,000 National Singles and Doubles at Longwood Cricket Club, which welcomed amateurs and independent pros but excluded the contract pros. Stan Smith beat Bob Lutz 9-7, 6-3, 6-0, and Court prevailed over Virginia Wade 4-6, 6-3, 6-0, for the singles titles, but the grandly named tournament was essentially meaningless, except to those cashing checks, and vanished from the scene the next year in a natural sorting-out process.

A U.S. Amateur Championships also was played on clay in Rochester, the telecast of which was interrupted by a sexist act that wouldn’t even be contemplated today. Linda Tuero of Metairie, La., and Gwyneth Thomas of Cleveland, hyper-patient, unrepentant baseliners, were contesting the women’s final with endless rallies, one point lasting 10-1/2 minutes and 326 strokes.

It was too much for referee Ernie Oberlaender. After two hours, 20 minutes, and with no end in sight, he yanked them. He moved them to a court away from the cameras and installed the men’s finalists for a match shorter in time, longer in games, won by

Butch Seewagen of New York over Zan Guerry of Lookout Mountain, Tenn., 9-7, 6-8, 1-6, 6-2, 6-4.

“What else could I do,” the referee was apologetic. “Two fine players, but they got locked into patballing, and neither would give. The crowd and the TV people were getting restless.” Linda and Gwyneth actually seemed relieved.

“I’m glad they got us off TV,” said Tuero, eventually the victor, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2. “I wouldn’t have watched it 10 minutes myself.”

If the labels put on tournaments and players boggled the public mind, there was no doubt as to who the world’s No. 1 players were: Australians Laver and Court.

Laver repeated his 1962 Grand Slam by sweeping the Australian, French, Wimbledon and U.S. titles the first year all four were open. Laver also won the South African Open over Okker, 6-3, 10-8, 6-3, and finished the season with a 106-16 record and winning 18 of 32 tournaments. He didn’t lose a match from the start of Wimbledon in June until the second round of the Pacific Southwest Open in late September, when Ray Moore ended the winning streak at 31 matches, 7-5, 3-6, 6-2. During that stretch, Laver won seven tournaments, including his fourth Wimbledon (where he had not lost since the 1960 final), his second Forest Hills and his fifth U.S. Pro Championship. By the time he got to Los Angeles, Rod just wanted to get 45 minutes farther south to his adopted home of Corona Del Mar, Calif, where his wife, Mary, had just given birth to his son, Rick Rodney.

The most difficult match for Laver of the 26 that constituted the Slam came early, in the semifinals of the Australian. He beat Roche, 7-5, 22-20, 9-11, 1-6, 6-3, enduring more than four hours in the sweltering, 105-degree heat of a Brisbane afternoon. Both players got groggy in the brutal sun, even though they employed an old Aussie trick of putting wet cabbage leaves in their hats to help stay cool. It was so close that it could easily have gone either way, and a controversial line call helped Laver grasp the final set. Having survived, Laver beat Andres Gimeno in the final, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5. Rod had survived an Aussie gauntlet: Emerson in the fourth round, 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 9-7, Stolle in the quarters, 6-4, 18-16, 6-4, and Roche. Gimeno traveled a less hazardous route, defeating Butch Buchholz 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 and Ray Ruffels 6-2, 11-9, 6-2.

At the French Open, another Aussie, Dick Crealy, took the first two sets from Laver in a second-rounder, 3-6, 7-9, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4, but
the red-haired “Rocket” accelerated, stopping the increasingly dangerous Stan Smith in the fourth round, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4, Gimeno in the quarters, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 and Okker in the semis, 4-6, 6-0, 6-2, 6-4. Ultimately he played one of his best clay-court matches to
beat defender Ken Rosewall in the final, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, after “Muscles” had knocked off Roche, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2.

An unheralded Indian named Premjit Lall similarly captured the first two sets in the second round at Wimbledon, but Laver awoke to dispose of him, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-0, 6-0. Stan Smith then took Laver to five sets, 6-4, 6-2, 7-9, 3-6, 6-3, in the fourth round. In the
quarters, Cliff Drysdale wasn’t the impediment he’d been a year before at the U.S. Open, going down, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. To finish, Rod burst from ambushes to raise the heat and tone down Arthur Ashe in the semis, 2-6, 6-2, 9-7, 6-0, then Newcombe, who had eliminated Roche, 3-6, 6-1, 14-12, 6-4. Despite Newcombe’s thoughtful game plan of using lobs and changes of pace instead of the straightforward power for which he was known, Laver prevailed, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4.

Then, to complete the Slam, it was on to the U.S. Open. But first, the U.S. Pro at Longwood in Boston where Laver, winning for the fifth time, reprised over Newcombe, 7-5, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1. “How could he do that the week after Wimbledon?” marveled Ashe.

But that was Laver in ‘69, virtually invincible to any physical and mental obstacles.

The climax came at Forest Hills, where Philip Morris and its tennis-minded chairman of the board, Joe Cullman, had infused heavy promotional dollars into the U.S. Open. He brought flamboyant South African promoter Owen Williams in from Johannesburg to run a jazzed-up show and foster corporate patronage.

They drew record crowds until the weather turned surly. Rain inundated the already soft and uneven lawns, played havoc with the schedule and pushed the tournament days past its scheduled conclusion.

Despite the trying conditions and the imminent birth of his son on the West Coast, Laver remained intent. He was taken to five sets only by persistent Dennis Ralston, 6-4, 4-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 in the fourth round. After that, Laver disposed of ever-prickly Emerson, 4-6, 8-6, 13-11, 6-4 in the quarterfinals, and defender Ashe, 8-6, 6-3, 14-12 in the semifinals. Arthur had brushed aside Rosewall, 8-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the quarterfinals. Roche, in a wowser, denied his mate Newcombe a place in the final, defeating his doubles partner 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 8-6 in the semifinals.

Then they waited through two days of rain as either the Grand Slam or a grand slap hovered. Laver, an old hand at the old ways with the feet, donned spikes in the second set. He became a sure-soled bog runner in climbing over Roche, 7-9, 6-1, 6-3, 6-2, on a gloomy Tuesday before a gathering of only 3,708 fans who sat through rain delays of 90 and 30 minutes. The weather certainly dampened the occasion, but it was appropriate that Roche—clearly No. 2 in the world, and regarded as Laver’s heir apparent until a series of left arm injuries started to plague him the next year—provided the final hurdle. The ruggedly muscular Roche was the only player with a winning record over Laver (5-3) for the year.

Laver uncharacteristically leaped the net in the Fred Perry style of the 1930s—”I don’t know why I did that!—and shed a few tears as USLTA President Alastair Martin presented him the champion’s trophy and check for $16,000, saying, “You’re the greatest in the world … perhaps the greatest we’ve ever seen.”

“I never really think of myself in those terms, but I feel honored that people see fit to say such things about me,” said Laver shyly. “Tennis-wise, this year was much tougher than ‘62. At the time the best players—Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, Pancho Gonzalez— were not in the amateur ranks. I didn’t find out who were the best until I turned pro and had my brains beaten out for six months at the start of 1963.”

Now, in the open era, there was no question who was best.

Margaret Smith Court, who had returned to action following a brief retirement (the first of several in her long career), was almost as monopolistic as Laver. She lost only five matches the entire season, winning 19 of 24 tournaments and 98 of 103 matches. She won the Australian over Billie Jean King, 6-4, 6-1, after trailing Kerry Melville, 3-5 in the last set in the semifinal, running four games to 3-6, 6-2, 7-5. In the French, Court won the last four rounds by beating Rhodesia’s Pat Pretorius Walkden, 6-4, 6-0; Melville, 9-7, 6-1; defending champ Nancy Richey, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 and finally Ann Haydon Jones, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3—all splendid claycourt players.

Court’s dream of a Grand Slam ended at Wimbledon, however, where Jones beat her in the semifinals, 10-12, 6-3, 6-2. To the unbridled joy of her British countrymen, the left-handed, 30-year-old Ann Haydon Jones (Mrs. Philip ‘Pip’ Jones) won her first Wimbledon title after 14 years of trying, squashing King’s bid for a fourth consecutive crown, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. Billie Jean was shaken by the noisy partisanship of the customarily proper British gallery and what she thought were some dubious line calls, but the British hailed the popular Jones as a conquering heroine.

Injury kept the top-seeded Jones out of the U.S. Open, won by second-seeded Court on a loss of no sets. In fact, she lost more than two games in a set only twice in six matches, in beating fellow Aussie Karen Krantzcke in the quarterfinals, 6-0, 9-7, and fifth-seeded defender Wade in the semifinals, 7-5, 6-0. Richey, seeded sixth—eschewing her usual baseline game for net-rushing tactics quite foreign to her—helped Margaret out. She eliminated third-seeded King in the quarters, 6-4, 8-6, but found herself passed repeatedly in the final by some of Court’s finest groundstroking, 6-2, 6-2.

But if Laver and Court clearly reigned supreme, there were other notable heroes, heroines and achievements in 1969. Phenomenally
Pancho Gonzalez, at 41, mowed down in succession four Hall of Famers-to-be—Newcombe, 6-1, 6-2, Rosewall, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3, Smith, 8-6, 7-9, 6-4, and Ashe, 6-0, 6-2, 6-4—to win the $50,000 Howard Hughes Open at Las Vegas, and the $12,500 first prize, second only to the U.S. Open. Gonzalez also won the Pacific Southwest Open over Cliff Richey, 6-0, 7-5, and had a 2-0 record over Smith, who was ranked No. 1 in the U.S. for the first time. Gonzalez was the top U.S. money-winner with $46,288, and might have returned to the No. 1 spot he occupied in 1948 and 1949 if the USLTA had included contract pros in its rankings.

Gonzalez’ most dramatic performance, however, came at Wimbledon, where he beat Charlie Pasarell in the opening round in the longest match in the history of the oldest and most prestigious of championships. It consumed five hours, 12 minutes and 112 games over two days. Gonzalez lost a marathon first set and virtually threw the second, complaining bitterly that it was too dark to continue play. He was whistled and hooted by the normally genteel Centre Court crowd, but won back all his detractors the next day with a gallant display. Pasarell played well, but Gonzalez was magnificent. In the fifth set, he staved off seven match points, twice serving out of 0-40 holes, and won, 22-24, 1-6, 16-14, 6-3, 11-9. Gonzalez lasted until the fourth round, when his protégé, Ashe, beat him, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Stan Smith won eight tournaments, including the U.S. Indoor over Egyptian lefty Ismail El Shafei, 6-3, 6-8, 6-4, 6-4, to replace Ashe atop the U.S. rankings. Ashe, bothered by a nagging elbow injury and numerous non-tennis distractions following his big year in 1968, won only two tournaments but had an 83-24 match record and more wins than any other American.

The United States defeated long-shot Romania, 5-0, in the Davis Cup Challenge Round on a fast asphalt court at Cleveland, painted and polished to make it even slicker, to the home team’s benefit. Ashe defeated Ilie Nastase in the opening singles, 6-2, 15-13, 7-5, and Smith escaped the hulking and wily Ion Tiriac, 6-8, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, in the pivotal doubles, Smith and Lutz closed out the Romanians, 8-6, 6-1, 11-9. President Richard M. Nixon, a bowler and golfer who secretly despised tennis, hosted both final-round teams at a White House reception. This was a nice gesture, but the Chief Executive caused a few awkward stares when, as a memento of the occasion, he presented each player with a golf ball. Perhaps these were left over, some speculated, from the golf-happy Eisenhower administration. “I’m a Republican, but I’ll never vote for him again,” grumbled Richey. “Why he do this?” said a puzzled Tiriac. “No golf courses in Romania.”

Tiny Romania, with the lion-hearted Tiriac and the immensely talented Nastase its only players of international standard, was proud to have gotten past Egypt, Spain, the Soviet Union, India and Great Britain. Australia failed to reach the final for the first time since 1937—beaten in its first series by Mexico, 3-2, the first opening- round loss ever for Captain Harry Hopman, and for the Aussies since falling to Italy in 1928. Rafael Osuna, Mexico’s popular tennis hero, defeated Bill Bowrey in the decisive fifth match, 6-2, 3-6, 8-6, 6-3, and was hailed triumphantly by his countrymen. This was the engaging Osuna’s last hurrah, however. He died tragically shortly thereafter, at age 30, when a private plane carrying him on a business trip crashed into the mountains outside of Monterrey.

In another significant development, the Davis Cup nations voted South Africa and Rhodesia out of the competition for 1970 and 1971 because demonstrations against their racial policies, and the refusal of some nations to play them made their presence in the draw disruptive.

Nancy Richey was upset in the semifinals of the U.S. Clay Court Championships by Gail Sherriff Chanfreau, 6-3, 6-4, ending her tournament record female winning streak at 33 straight matches over seven years. She was trying to become only the second player to win seven consecutive U.S. titles, matching the feat of Richard Sears in the first seven U.S. Men’s Championships (1881—87). Chanfreau won that title over Linda Tuero, 6-2, 6-2.

Yugoslav Zeljko Franulovic won the other over Ashe, 8-6, 6-3, 6-4. Clark Graebner, uniting with Bill Bowrey in a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 victory
over Aussies Crealy and Allan Stone, had his fifth U.S. Clay doubles title, passing Bill Talbert’s record set in 1946.

Richey, who retained the No. 1 U.S. women’s ranking teamed with Julie Heldman and Jane “Peaches” Bartkowicz to regain the Federation Cup at Athens and the Wightman Cup at Cleveland. Richey was undefeated in singles (4-0) and Heldman lost only to Court as the U.S. defeated Bulgaria, Italy, Netherlands (each 3-0) and Australia, 2-1, for the world team championship. Heldman, a clever player who nicknamed herself “Junkball Julie,” set the tone of the 5-2 Wightman Cup victory by upsetting Wade in the opening match, 3-6, 6-1, 8-6, and also beat Winnie Shaw, 6-3, 6-4. Richey topped Shaw, 8-6, 6-2, and Bartkowicz stopped Christine Truman Janes, 8-6, 6-0.

Ranked No. 2 nationally with eight titles in 20 tournaments and a 67-13 match record, 24-year-old Heldman also became the first American woman to win the Italian Championships since Althea Gibson in 1956, beating three outstanding clay courters— Lesley Turner Bowrey (wife of Bill), 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, Jones, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, and Kerry Melville, 7-5, 6-3.

One of the most remarkable and crowd-pleasing victories of the year was that of Darlene Hard and Francoise Durr in the U.S. Open doubles. They were a “pickup” team; Hard, by then a 33-year-old teaching pro, had entered as a lark. Out of tournament condition, she was an embarrassment in losing the first eight games of the final, but seemed suddenly to remember the skills and instincts that had made her the world’s premier doubles player, winner of five previous U.S. women’s titles. As the crowd loudly cheered their revival, Hard and Durr stunned heavily favored Court and Wade, 0-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Forest Hills had begun with a match of record duration. F. D. Robbins defeated Dick Dell, younger brother of Donald, 22-20, 9-7, 6-8, 8-10, 6-4, the longest in number of singles games—100— in the history of the U.S. Championships. When the tournament ran three days over, the men’s doubles finished in a disgraceful shambles, Rosewall and Fred Stolle beating Ralston and Pasarell,

2-6, 7-5, 13-11, 6-3, before a few hundred spectators on a soggy Wednesday. Pasarell-Ralston got defaults from Wimbledon champs Newcombe and Roche in the quarters and Australian Open winners Laver and Emerson in the semis, who were off to other pursuits. Newcombe-Roche were urged to leave waterlogged New York by their employers, WCT, in order to meet other commitments, a decision that rankled the ILTF in its increasingly uneasy dealings with the new pro promoters. After all, it was unseemly for the No. 1 team to walk out on a major. They had repeated at Wimbledon, over Tom Okker-Marty Riessen, 7-5, 11-9, 6-3, and won three other tournaments, including the French (over Emerson and Laver, 4-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4).

Davis Cup in Croatia revisited – Roddick out, Fish in

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.”

U.S. Presidents and Connections To Tennis

As the Presidential campaign winds down in the United States, it is interesting to speculate whether Senator Barack Obama or Senator John McCain will be a “friend of tennis” in the Oval Office. Tennis players with high incomes may be partial to John McCain for tax purposes, while Barack Obama seems to be more engaged in the sport. Obama played tennis while growing up in Hawaii and follows the sport, as witnessed by a friend of mine who works in political circles who, back 2007, spoke with Obama, who gushed over watching the US Open on television the previous night – in particular James Blake’s five-set win over Fabrice Santoro (Blake’s first career five-set victory). As a working member of the tennis industry, author of the new book On This Day In Tennis History ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.tennistomes.com) and as the great, great, great nephew of James K. Polk, the 11th President of the United States, I have a great interest in tennis and in U.S. Presidential history.

Who was the most tennis friendly President? Teddy Roosevelt might warrant consideration as he was the man responsible for creating the White House tennis court in 1902. Tennis was part of his exercise regimen and had a group of Washingtonians who comprised of what was called his “tennis cabinet” – a group of players with whom he would talk policy between serves and forehands. Roosevelt may have been inspired in his tennis pursuits by two of the greatest American players of the time – Bill Larned and Robert Wrenn – who were members of his famed “Rough Riders” that fought under his command in the Spanish-American War in Cuba in 1898. Roosevelt in his book, The Rough Riders, bragged of the enlistment of Wrenn and Larned along with “an eclectic group of eastern dudes and western deadshots.” Roosevelt prided in the fact that on two occasions as U.S. tennis champion, Wrenn had “saved this championship from going to an Englishman” referencing Wrenn’s final-round victories over Brits Manliffe Goodbody in 1894 and Wilberforce Eaves in 1897. Larned won a record seven U.S. singles titles – 1901, 1902, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911.

Warren Harding, the 29th President, played tennis early in his life and became re-engaged in the game when the United States recaptured the Davis Cup in 1920. He hosted the winning U.S. team and the Cup to the White House on May 6, 1921 – the first time the famous trophy visited the home of the President. U.S. team members Bill Tilden, Bill Johnston, Dick Williams and Watson Washburn competed in exhibition matches against each other on the White House court, with Harding enjoying the action with his family and staff. President Harding, in fact, appointed Davis Cup founder Dwight Davis as his Assistant Secretary of War in 1923. Davis was subsequently elevated to Secretary of War (the modern day Secretary of State) in the next administration of President Calvin Coolidge starting in 1923.

Coolidge, the 30th President, was the first U.S. President to host and preside over the making of the Davis Cup draw – no doubt at the urging of Davis himself – and hosted the festivities on March 17, 1927. The draw was held on the front lawn of the White House and Coolidge picked out of the Cup the card with Czechoslovakia on it – drawn against Greece in the first round of the European Zone. Wrote the New York Times of the event, “Surrounded by diplomats from the twenty-five nations entered into the tournament, he drew the card bearing the name of Czechoslovakia from the bowl of the trophy. Joseph C. Grew, Under Secretary of State, then picked Greece, which was paired with the nation of the President’s choice. The various diplomats then formed in line and each withdrew the name of one nation from the cup.”

Herbert Hoover, the 31st President, was also a fan of the game. When running against Democrat Al Smith in 1928, Hoover received a great tennis endorsement from all-time great Helen Wills, who made her public announcement of her support of Hoover for President the day before her win at the U.S. Championships at Forest Hills. In her press announcement in support of Hoover, Wills stated, “All youth can admire Herbert Hoover because of his sincerity, intelligence and great industry. His achievements in the past have been marked with success because of his ability for organization and his wonderful powers of perservance.” During his administration (1929 to 1933), four U.S. Davis Cup matches were played at the nearby Chevy Chase Country Club in Chevy Chase, Maryland – 1929 vs. Japan, 1930 vs. Mexico, 1931 vs. Argentina and 1932 vs. Canada – with Hoover dispatching his wife to represent him at the matches.

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Franklin Roosevelt’s connections to tennis came from his cousins Grace and Ellen, who were both U.S. champions – Ellen winning the singles title in 1890 and the pairing with Grace to win the doubles – becoming the first sisters to win a major title. It is interesting to note what President Roosevelt did NOT do in one famous episode in tennis history. On July 20, 1937, the United States Davis Cup team competed against Nazi Germany in the decisive day of the Davis Cup Inter-zone Final at Wimbledon in what many call the most dramatic and politically important Davis Cup match of all time. American Don Budge and Germany’s Gottfried von Cramm played the decisive fifth match where, famously, von Cramm received a pre-match phone call from German dictator Adolf Hitler, who told von Cramm that winning the match was of great political importance to the Fatherland. Budge, who won the match when he came back from two-sets-to-love to win 6-8, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 8-6, said later of Hitler’s phone call, “I thought why didn’t Franklin Roosevelt call me? Didn’t he give a damn?”

Harry Truman, the 33rd President, was the second Commander in Chief to host the Davis Cup draw as he presided over the ceremonies on February 3, 1947. Said Truman shortly before reaching into the Davis Cup trophy to pull of the names of nations in the second post-World War II staging of the competition, “I hope the time will come when we can settle our international differences in courts, just as we settle our tennis differences on a court.”

President Dwight Eisenhower was more of a fan of golf and delegated “tennis duty” to his vice president Richard Nixon, who gave out the winner’s trophy at the U.S. Championships at Forest Hills and Davis Cup Challenge Rounds. In 1957, he famously presented Althea Gibson, the first black to win the U.S. singles title, with her winner’s trophy at Forest Hills. Two years earlier, Nixon also presented the Australian Davis Cup team with the Davis Cup trophy after the Aussies completed a 5-0 shutout of the United States at Forest Hills. Nixon was told by Australian Davis Cup Harry Hopman that day that he might someday be “the youngest president in American history.” Nixon next touched the Davis Cup in 1969 when, as the 37th President, he welcomed the victorious 1968 U.S. Davis Cup team that defeats Hopman’s Australian team in the 1968 Davis Cup final in Adelaide, Australia. That ceremony, that also featured the challenging Romanian Davis Cup team, featured some awkward moments as Bud Collins documented in his book The Bud Collins History of Tennis. Wrote Collins; “President Richard M. Nixon, a bowler and golfer who secretly despised tennis, hosted both final-round teams at a White House reception. This was a nice gesture, but the Chief Executive caused a few awkward stares when, as a memento of the occasion, he presented each player with a golf ball. Perhaps these were left over, some speculated, from the golf-happy Eisenhower administration. “I’m a Republican, but I’ll never vote for him again,” grumbled Cliff Richey. “Why he do this?” said a puzzled Ion Tiriac. “No golf courses in Romania.”

Lyndon Johnson, Nixon’s precedessor, was not a tennis enthusiast but did host the winning 1963 U.S. Davis Cup team at the White House. On January 15, 1964, Johnson hosted the victorious U.S. team at the White House and spent 45 minutes with team members Dennis Ralston, Chuck McKinley and Marty Riessen as well as U.S. captain Bob Kelleher and U.S. Lawn Tennis Association President Ed Turville. As Johnson introduced the team to his press secretary Pierre Salinger he said, “There’s my tennis player. If I can teach Salinger to ride a horse, maybe he can teach me to play tennis.”

Gerald Ford, the 38th President, was known as an avid player and used the White House tennis court more than any President since Teddy Roosevelt. After watching 14-year-old Tracy Austin beat Virgina Ruzici in the fourth round of the 1977 U.S. Open on television, President Jimmy Carter placed a call to the pig-tailed wunderkind to offer his best wishes and congratulations.

Ronald Reagan, the 40th President, played tennis in his youth and was known as perhaps the biggest sports fan among U.S. chief executives. He hosted many athletes and sports teams – including tennis stars such as John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Arthur Ashe, Pam Shriver and others. On September 15, 1981, Reagan and his wife Nancy hosted a U.S. Tennis Association contingent to the White House that included U.S. Open champions McEnroe and Austin and the U.S. Davis Cup and Wightman Cup teams. Said Reagan of the 1981 U.S. Open finals, “Nancy and I watched the TV Saturday and Sunday and the matches were so breathtaking I nearly turned blue.” Stan Smith and Marty Riessen hit tennis balls for the assembled group on the White House tennis court – highlighted by Smith hitting a ball that broke through the flimsy, deteriorating net. “I don’t oversee the operation as closely as my predecessor” said Reagan of the White House tennis operations. Nineteen-year-old Shriver proudly told Reagan during the 90-minute visit, “This was my first election and I voted for you, sir.” Ashe then chimed in to Reagan, “Well I didn’t vote for you. But I’m all for you, and I hope your policies work, Mr. President.”

Reagan left the tennis-playing to his Vice President and successor George Bush, who not only had a strong penchant for playing the game but came from a strong tennis bloodline. Bush’s great uncles Joseph Wear and Arthur Wear were bronze medalists in tennis at the 1904 Olympic Games in St. Louis – Joseph pairing with Allen West and Arthur pairing with Clarence Gamble. Joseph Wear also went on to serve as U.S. Davis Cup captain in 1928 and 1935 – having the opportunity to work with both Bill Tilden and Don Budge. Bush, whose mother Dorothy was also a standout ranking junior player, also entertained many tennis players during his term and remains an active player, competing often at Chris Evert’s annual charity event and frequented the U.S. Clay Court Championships, the Tennis Masters Cup and Davis Cup as a fan when held at the Westside Tennis Club in his hometown of Houston, Texas

Bush attended the U.S. Open when he was Vice President under Reagan, but Bill Clinton was the first sitting President to attend the U.S. Open when he took in the men’s semifinals on September 9, 2000, watching Marat Safin beat Todd Martin and Pete Sampras beat Lleyton Hewitt. He also called Venus Williams after she won the U.S. Open women’s singles title that year and told her “You worked really hard” prompting the witty Williams to ask Clinton for a tax cut on her hard-earned U.S. Open prize money.

After leaving office, Clinton again created tennis headlines when he attended the French Open in 2001 and was, in fact, jokingly blamed for Andre Agassi’s quarterfinal loss to Sebastien Grosjean. Clinton sat to watch the match after Agassi won the first set 6-1, but Agassi proceeded to lose 12 of the next 14 games to go down two sets to one. The five-months-out-of-office Clinton then briefly left the court, as Agassi went up a service break in the fourth set 2-1, but when Clinton returned to watch the match, Agassi lost his service break and proceeded to win only one more game in the match, losing 1-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3. “I was bad for him,” Clinton said afterward, referring to Agassi. “I was bad luck. I left, and he won three games. I hated to come back.”

Like his father, George W. Bush, the 43rd President, was a tennis player, but later in life did not play the game as much as he resorted to jogging and cycling for exercise. As governor of Texas in 1999, Bush penned a note of congratulations and good luck to U.S. player Alex O’Brien when named to the U.S. Davis Cup team to face Britain in the Centennial year of the competition, writing “All athletes should consider it an honor to represent their country. Sadly, a number of America’s top tennis players do not share this view. I commend you and your teammates for stepping forward when asked by Captain Tom Gullikson and the USTA. Your patriotism, team spirit and work ethic are inspirations for athletes of all ages.”
His most infamous connection to tennis came just five days before the 2000 Presidential election when it was revealed publicly for the first time that he was arrested for drunken driving in Maine on Sept. 4 1976 with Aussie tennis legend John Newcombe in the car with the future president. “I was drinking beers, yeah, with John Newcombe,” Bush said in a briefing with the press. “I’m not proud of that. I made some mistakes. I occasionally drank too much, and I did that night. I learned my lesson. I told the guy (the arresting officer) I had been drinking, what do I need to do? He said, ‘here’s the fine.’ I paid the fine.” Newcombe didn’t comment on the incident for another two weeks until after the election. “When it came out I just did the first thing that came into my mind – I went underground mate. I didn’t put my head up,” Newcombe told the Australian Associated Press of when news of the arrest first surfaced. Newcombe described Bush as a “good bloke” who would make a “pretty good president” and said the drunk-driving incident was a minor one in terms of how far Bush was over the limit. “That’s something I’ve laughed about with George for the last 24 years,” Newcombe said. “That’s something that just happened that night. We were just a couple of young blokes going out and having a good time. We didn’t do anything wrong, basically. We probably shouldn’t have been driving at that stage but it wasn’t that anyone was badly inebriated.”