Around 11:30 PM at Madison Square Garden a tan Rory McIlroy, the newly crowned #1 golfer in the world, stood quietly and practically unnoticed in the back of a crowded press room. All eyes were on his girlfriend, Caroline Wozniacki, as she talked about dragging McIlroy onto the tennis court earlier that evening to play a point against Maria Sharapova. “He was not too pleased with me but at least he can say he played tennis at Madison Square Garden. Not a lot of people can say that.,” she laughed. Later in the same press conference Roger Federer and Andy Roddick were asked what they thought of the breakout New York Knicks player Jeremy Lin. Federer, who has been overseas the past month, was well aware of “Linsanity”, and said he hoped to watch (Lin) play at the Garden one day. Roddick had actually used Lin’s locker before the exhibition that night and said he might have to “send (Lin) a thank-you note” after his victory.
Tennis, meet pop culture. Pop culture, meet tennis.
Amidst all of the scheduling, length-of-season, and injury dramas in the WTA and ATP these days, exhibition matches are often frowned upon. But last night’s 5th Annual BNP Paribas Showdown’s Tennis Night in America showed exactly why they’re an integral part of the game. Andy Roddick put it best when he said, “I’m not sure how 18,000 (spectators) in the most famous venue in the world watching our sport can be a bad thing. I think it’s a great thing. There are a lot of people (in the media center) who don’t cover tennis on a regular basis and it will be out there tomorrow. I think it’s a huge positive for our sport.”
The evening started at 7:30 when world #2 Sharapova and world #4 Wozniacki stood (under spotlights) on opposing ends of the court on top of blue light-boxes as sparklers flew behind them and Katy Perry’s “Firework” blasted from the stadium speakers. This was not going to be your average night of tennis. However, during the first set Wozniacki and Sharapova battled like the match was taking place a few miles east and a few months later at Flushing Meadows. They were laser-focused, engaging in sharp rallies, and playing very aggressive tennis (yes, even Wozniacki). There was barely even the hint of a smile.
Things changed in the second set. In the break between sets Sharapova, Wozniacki, and the chair umpire talked and giggled (yes, even Sharapova). Later, after the girls exchanged leads, Wozniacki decided to kick things up a notch. During a changeover she took a young girl from the audience and began dancing with her. Never one to be outdone, Sharapova then took an older man from the audience and danced with him. When the music stopped and it was time for tennis again the boisterous New York crowd made it known they weren’t ready for the fun to stop. Wozniacki- an expert at milking a moment of fun- knew exactly what to do. She went into the crowd and fetched McIlroy. At first it seemed like the couple were just going to dance, but then she put the tennis racket in his hand and created a blockbuster moment- he actually played a point against Maria Sharapova.
After losing the point to McIlroy (“He won more points (against me) than Caroline did!” Maria joked), Sharapova would go on to serve out the match and fairly easily defeat Wozniacki 6-3 6-4.
Then, around 9:00PM, it was time for the men (professional tennis players, not golfers) to take over. Andy Roddick and Roger Federer are clearly no strangers to each other, New York, or the big stage. The two have played twenty-three times- seven times in the semis or later of a Grand Slam- with Federer holding the infamous 21-2 lead in their head-to-head. But this time was different. It’s Roddick’s home country and Roddick was born to comically entertain a large crowd. In the first set alone Roddick got Ben Stiller’s autograph, tossed a racket after a failed tweener, reacted mockingly to a foot-fault call from the crowd, and did a spot-on impersonation of Rafael Nadal.
Impersonations and jokes aside, Roddick played some crafty, powerful tennis, and most importantly looked healthier and moved better than he has in months. Federer, fresh of a victory and a plane-ride from Dubai, also played some brilliant points but the American was just a tad looser and sharper than his adversary this night. With the near-capacity crowd hanging onto every point Roddick upset the Swiss Legend 7-5 7-6 (7).
After the match it was all jokes and respect between the two. Roddick quipped that he “must be in Federer’s head,” and said that the 16-time Grand Slam Champion “clearly isn’t very good under pressure”. Federer seemed pleased that Roddick is playing well again, saying “it is good to see (Roddick) play so well and hopefully he can make another run at the top-10.”
There’s no telling what the tour-level significance of these matches will be. Is Wozniacki going to actually employ the more aggressive techniques she displayed tonight at Indian Wells? Will Sharapova stay loose and serve-quip free from now on? Can Roddick build on this momentum and make another run at the Top 10? Will Federer ever survive the humiliation? Only time will tell. But last night 18,079 people in person and countless others on sketchy streams around the world got to say they saw Andy Roddick beat Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova laugh and dance, and the best golfer in the world play tennis. Tennis has had many memorable Monday nights, but none quite like this one.
It was like looking through a time-warp Monday night in New York. Madison Square Garden opened its hallowed gates for an evening of classic tennis between some of the greatest players to ever pick-up a racquet.
The BNP Paribas Showdown tried to re-ignite legendary rivalries between Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe as well as Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. With 37 Grand Slams between the four players there is no doubting their past accomplishments. Yet while on paper the idea seemed intriguing, in real life it did not quite translate as planned. The evening did however prove that tennis still has a place at MSG and that the people of New York would love to watch the sport live more than once a year.
Lendl and McEnroe kicked things off at 7pm as the arena was still filling up. Unfortunately the match was nothing close to any of their gripping encounters from the 1980s that included 20 ATP World Tour finals. After years of hitting golf, rather than tennis balls, Lendl clearly lacked the necessary match practice to keep up with McEnroe and found himself in a 0-4 hole pretty quickly.
The lack of competitiveness had a distinct hand in keeping the crowd subdued as they collectively wondered if we’d see anything that relatively resembled what one might expect from two men who hold 15 Grand Slam titles between them. It’s one thing to watch a dull match when there is at least something on the line, but in an exhibition it becomes just plain painful pretty quickly.
Just when it appeared that Lendl might be picking his game up slightly, McEnroe retired leading 6-3 with an ankle injury he had sustained while warming up two hours prior to the event. The fact that an injured Johnny Mac was able to still dominate his opponent spoke volumes to the disparity that existed between the two on this night.
Almost as disappointing as the lack of competition between these two old rivals was the complete absence of any of McEnroe’s typical bad-boy antics. No cursing the umpire or an unsuspecting spectator. No thrown racquet or disputed line-calls. McEnroe’s silence was even more surprising than that of the crowd but I guess it’s hard to blow a gasket when you’re leading so comfortably.
The main tilt between Agassi and Sampras got underway around 9pm and just from watching the warm-up you could tell that this would be a much more skillful match. Aside from the fact that these two American legends are roughly twelve years younger than their opening act, they have both been playing competitive exhibition matches of late.
Agassi played twice against retired head-case Marat Safin in Taiwan in January, while Sampras played two weeks ago against current pro Gael Monfils in San Jose. The two were clearly trying to arrive in New York prepared yet not for what some media had anticipated as a grudge match after last year’s embarrassment in the “Hit for Haiti” fundraiser.
For those of you who missed that one, here’s a reminder of the bad blood that surfaced between these two usually classy guys. Things start playfully at the 1:32 mark of the clip when Sampras shows off his sense of humor by imitating Agassi’s pigeon-toed walk. I have to admit that at the time I thought it was refreshing to see Pete show us his lighter side. Unfortunately Agassi responded by taking things to another level by making reference to Pete being a bad tipper. This statement was all the more hurtful since it was written in Agassi’s autobiography which had already caused tension between the two. Sampras proceeded to aim a serve directly at Agassi and the mood for the rest of the evening was one of tense confusion as the crowd struggled to figure out if the two were seriously airing out their differences or not.
This time around fortunately the two stuck to playing tennis and did their best to rekindle memories from their glory days. For Sampras, he aptly proved he still has his greatest weapon of all – his serve. Agassi admitted after the match that while other parts of Pistol Pete’s game might not be as vicious as they once were, the one device that always frustrated him still packed a punch. Agassi too showed us glimpses into the past with some torrid forehand returns that from time to time left Sampras flat-footed.
Mostly though, this was a night where Sampras was the sharper of the two. He moved well for a 39 year-old and often found his way to the net where he still could put away the majority of his volleys. His footwork seemed solid and he displayed a real desire to compete. Agassi did too, but more often than he would have liked saw his shots fall short of their intended targets. Sampras would prevail 6-3, 7-5.
While it was not the three set nail-bitter that fans were hoping for, it still brought us back to the greatest American tennis rivalry of the past twenty years. One more time Agassi and Sampras managed to divide a crowd’s allegiances almost evenly down the middle. Chants of “Come on Andre!” and “Let’s Go Pete” were being traded back and forth in the stands just as frequently as the two players traded their groundstrokes down on the court.
For the players, it was clear that their bodies would no longer perform the same reflexes and reactions that they once did so routinely. That’s bound to happen when you’ve been away from the game for eight years like Sampras and five for Agassi and only find the time for a few exhibitions a year. The most difficult thing for some fans to watch in friendly matches like this one isn’t that the players are no longer what they used to be, but rather that there is really nothing on the line for two great former champions to play for.
Despite the lament for something more meaningful to validate this tennis showdown, Agassi was able to find one word to explain why we were all here today: nostalgia. During changeovers the jumbo-tron played clips of their greatest Grand Slam matches against each other. Not only did these highlights enthral the crowd as they reflected on the past but Agassi and Sampras as well. My favorite image of the night was of the two sitting in their chairs with Sampras leading 5-4 in the second set and both simultaneously straining their necks to watch a montage of their 2001 U.S. Open quarterfinal match on the jumbo-tron. Even within a match that was not yet finished, nostalgia for what they once had together made them pause and reflect. The fact that they shared that moment with 17,000 tennis fans tonight in New York is meaning enough for me.
By Maud Watson
The Back Saga Continues – Once again, Dinara Safina’s back has forced her to withdraw from a tournament. This time, it is the prestigious BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells. Safina has stated that her back is still causing her too much pain to even consider competing next week in California, and is now setting her sights on the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami. Safina is missing a golden opportunity to compete at Indian Wells, given that the field is already weakened by the absence of the Williams sisters, and it is dicey she’ll be able to compete in Miami. If Safina is forced to continually miss these large events, she may find herself hanging her racquet up much sooner than expected, which would be a loss for women’s tennis.
The Show Will Go On – Despite the devastating earthquake that hit Chile this past weekend, the Davis Cup tie between host nation Chile and Israel will still be contested this coming weekend, just a day later than planned as players and officials were understandably delayed in making the trip to the South American country. Israel is a nation that has obviously seen more than its share of turmoil over the past decades, but I must admit that I have my fingers crossed that the Chilean team is able to bring a bit a joy to their home country as sport can so often do for troubled nations.
Headed to the Hall – This past Monday, it was announced that the Woodies (Todd Woodbridge, Mark Woodforde), Gigi Fernandez and Natasha Zvereva, Owen Davidson, Brad Parks, and Derek Hardwick will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame later this summer. It’s nice to see some of the greatest doubles teams in history get some recognition, as well as Brad Parks, who will be the first wheelchair tennis player enshrined at Newport. Fernandez, Davidson, and Parks were on hand at Madison Square Garden Monday evening for the Billie Jean King Cup, where they were officially recognized and congratulated for their impending enshrinement. And in case you missed it, Venus Williams also defeated Kim Clijsters in three tight sets to take the exhibition title.
More Hip Woes – The latest player to fall victim to hip surgery is Germany’s Tommy Haas. Germany’s Bild reported that Haas could be out for as many as six months as he recovers from recent surgery to his right hip. At least Haas should be able to retain a protected ranking for when he does return, but one has to feel for him given that he enjoyed a resurgence in his career the latter half of 2009. Perhaps that resurgence will be what ultimately pushes him to bounce back from this latest setback.
Victory at Last – After being touted as one of the game’s next great talents before falling into an early slump, Ernests Gulbis finally won his maiden title this past week at Delray Beach. Gulbis took out big man Dr. Ivo Karlovic 6-2, 6-3 to become the first Latvian to notch up a tournament win on the ATP World Tour. The question will be if this victory is merely a flash in the pan or the sign of bigger and better things to come for the player with so much talent but who has thus far proved to be nothing more than a massive underachiever.
The tennis world mourns the death of Jack Kramer, who passed away at age 88 Saturday night in California. Bud Collins, the Hall of Fame journalist and television personality, summarizes the incredible tennis career of one of the game’s all-time greats in his book THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS, excerpted below.
The impact of John Albert “Jake” Kramer on tennis has been fourfold: as great player, exceptional promoter, thoughtful innovator and astute television commentator.
Kramer, born Aug. 1, 1921, in Las Vegas, Nev., grew up in the Los Angeles area. He achieved international notice in 1939 as a teenager when he was selected to play doubles, alongside Joe Hunt, for the U.S. in the Davis Cup finale against Australia. At 18, Kramer was the youngest to play in the Cup title round, although John Alexander of Australia lowered the record to 17 by playing in 1968.
Kramer and Hunt were the golden boys out of Southern California, their careers intertwined. Joe beat Jake, at Forest Hills in 1939, where they were both losing semifinalists the following year. Both were to go to sea during World War II, Jake in the Coast Guard, Joe in the Navy, and to receive leaves to play again in the U.S. Championships of 1943, where they collided in the final. Hunt won, barely, sprawling on the court with cramps as Kramer’s last shot flew long. Kramer, who’d had a bout with food poisoning, laughed later, “If I could’ve kept that ball in play I might have been a champ on a default.” Hunt was killed 17 months afterwards in a military plane crash.
Because of the war, Jake had to wait three years to return to Forest Hills. He then rose to prominence as a splendid champion, so dominant that he was voted fifth on a list of all-time greats selected by a panel of expert tennis journalists in 1969. The powerful right-hander was the leading practitioner of the “big game,” rushing to the net constantly behind his serve, and frequently attacking on return of serve. His serve took opponents off the court, setting them up for the volley, as did his crushing forehand.
A blistered racket hand probably decided his gruelling fourth-round defeat by cunning lefty Jaroslav Drobny, and prevented Jake from winning the first post-war Wimbledon. But he came back awesomely in 1947, the first to win in shorts, making short work of everybody. Whipping doubles partner Tom Brown in 48 minutes, 6-1, 6-.3, 6-2, he lost merely 37 games in seven matches, the most lopsided run to the championship.
Brown had been his 1946 U.S. final-round victim, 9-7, 6-3, 6-0, another one-sided excursion for Jake, a crew-cut blond whose goal was to reclaim the Davis Cup that he and Hunt failed to clinch in 1939. In December, he and good buddy Ted Schroeder—the U.S. doubles champs of 1940—were members of a highly-talented team that captain Walter Pate took to Australia for the challenge round. Every man—those two plus Brown, Frank Parker, Gardnar Mulloy, Bill Talbert—thought he should play. Pate picked Ted and Jake to do it all, controversial until the pals paralyzed the favored Aussies on opening day. Schroeder overcame John Bromwich, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 0-6, 6-3 and Kramer nailed Dinny Pails, 8-6, 6-2, 9-7. Together, they grabbed the Cup by flattening the team that had beaten Hunt and Kramer in ‘39: Bromwich and Adrian Quist, 6-2, 7-5, 6-4.
The following summer, Jake and Ted repelled the Australian challenge for the Cup at Forest Hills. Then Kramer closed out his amateur career memorably by overhauling Parker in the U.S. final. He lost the first two sets, and was in danger of losing out on a lucrative professional contract as well as his championship. Counterpunching, he won, 4-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-0, 6-3, and set off in pursuit of Bobby Riggs, the reigning pro champ. Kramer, who had lost only two matches in 1946, dropped but one (to Talbert) in 1947, winning eight of nine tournaments on 48-1, closing his amateur life with a 41-match rush, and 18 singles titles.
Kramer knocked Riggs off the summit by winning their odyssey of one-nighters throughout the U.S., which was the test of professional supremacy of that day. Their opener was a phenomenon: New York was buried by a blizzard that brought the city to a stop, yet 15,114 customers made it on foot to the old Madison Square Garden on Dec. 27, 1947, to watch Riggs win. But Bobby couldn’t keep it up. Kramer won the tour, 69-20, and stayed in action while Riggs took over as the promoter and signed Pancho Gonzalez to challenge Kramer. Nobody was up to Kramer then. He bruised the rookie Gonzalez 96-27 on the longest of the tours. Kramer made $85,000 against Riggs as his percentage, and $72,000 against Gonzalez.
In 1952, Kramer assumed the position of promoter himself, the boss of pro tennis, a role he would hold for over a decade, well past his playing days. Kramer’s last tour as a principal was against the first man he recruited, Frank Sedgman, the Aussie who was tops among amateurs. Kramer won, 54-41. An arthritic back led to his retirement as a player, but he kept the tour going, resurrecting one of his victims, Gonzalez, who became the strongman.
One of the shrewdest operators in tennis, Kramer was looked to for advice when the Open era began in 1968. He devised the Grand Prix for the men’s game, a series of tournaments leading to a Masters Championship for the top eight finishers, and a bonus pool to be shared by more than a score of the leading players. The Grand Prix, incorporating the most attractive tournaments around the world, functioned from 1970 until 1990, when the ATP Tour took over the structure. In 1972, he was instrumental in forming the ATP (Association of Tennis Pros), the male players’ union, and was its first executive director. His role as leader of the ATP’s principled boycott of Wimbledon in 1973 made him unpopular in Britain for a time. Nevertheless, it was a landmark act, assuring the players the right to control their own destiny after being in thrall to national associations until then. Later, he served on the Men’s International Professional Tennis Council, the worldwide governing board.
For more than 20 years, Kramer served as a perceptive analyst on tennis telecasts in many countries, notably for the British Broadcasting Corporation at Wimbledon and for all the American networks at Forest Hills, and at other events, second to none. He ranked in the U.S. Top 10 five times between 1940 and 1947, No. 1 in the U.S. and the world in 1946 and 1947. Kramer won the U.S. Pro title in 1948 over the defender, Riggs, 14-12, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, and the world pro title in 1949 over Riggs, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3.
Kramer, winner of 13 U.S. singles and doubles titles, was named to the Hall of Fame in 1968. His son, Bob Kramer, continues the family’s tennis interests as director of the Los Angeles ATP tourney.
MAJOR TITLES (10)—Wimbledon singles 1947: U.S. singles, 1946, 1947; Wimbledon doubles, 1946, 1947: U.S. doubles, 1940, 1941, 1943, 1947; U.S. mixed, 1941.
OTHER U.S.TITLES (6)—Indoor singles, 1947; Pro singles. 1948; Pro doubles, 1948, 1955, with Pancho Segura; Indoor doubles, 1947, with Bob Falkenburg; Clay Court doubles, 1941, with Ted Schroeder. DAVIS CUP—1939, 1946-47, 6-0 singles, 1-2 doubles.
SINGLES RECORD IN THE MAJORS—Wimbledon (10-1), U.S. (24-5)
NEW YORK – Welcome to Arthur Ashe Stadium, the world’s largest tennis facility, Juan Martin del Potro.
Ranked sixth in the world, the Argentine had to wait until the quarterfinals to make it to the 23,700-seat facility this year without having to buy a ticket. Del Potro made sure he will return to the big stage in the semifinals after beating Marin Cilic 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-1 Thursday.
“It’s like a dream,” del Potro said of the victory. “My dream is win this tournament. I’m so close to do it, but now I am focusing (on) the semis.”
Del Potro will play the winner of the late quarterfinal between Rafael Nadal and Fernando Gonzalez, which was twice delayed by rain, the first time this fortnight that weather has caused an interruption in play. The match was eventually suspended until Friday, although rain, heavy at times, was forecast for the New York City area throughout Friday.
The other semifinal was set Wednesday when top-seeded Roger Federer, seeking his sixth straight US Open title, and fourth-seeded Novak Djokovic both won their quarterfinals.
Thursday’s first quarterfinal was an old-fashioned heavyweight battle, a throwback to the New York City days of championship heavyweight bouts in either Madison Square Garden or Yankee Stadium. But this time the combatants stood 78 feet (23.77 m) apart, blasting tennis balls at each other.
Del Potro stood at one end of the court nestled at the bottom of Arthur Ashe Stadium, his Croatian opponent at the other.
Del Potro vs. Cilic. Two 6-foot-6 (1.98 m), 20-year-old right-handers who excel at the long-range gunnery that moves an opponent from side to side until an opening, ever so small, is created for a winning shot or one or the other commits an error.
Cilic pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the tournament in the fourth round when he knocked off second-seeded Andy Murray. Del Potro ousted 24th-seeded Juan Carlos Ferrero in his fourth-round match.
Until Thursday, Cilic and del Potro had only met once before, del Potro winning in four sets at the Australian Open in January. Del Potro made it two straight, but it wasn’t nearly as easy as the score might indicate.
Cilic, seeded 16th and playing in his first Grand Slam tournament quarterfinal, was nearly perfect to begin the match. His powerful ground strokes found the far reaches of the court and every corner as he dominated play. He slammed 13 winners, six coming on forehands, controlling play.
“At the beginning of the match I was playing really good and moving him a lot around. I found after the first set that it got a lot cooler and the court was a little bit hard to play on. The ball wasn’t going through the court as much as it was in the beginning.”
Cilic’s sharp play in the opening set quickly disappeared along with the good weather that had graced this year’s US Open. He finished the match with 53 unforced errors against 29 winners, while del Potro balanced 24 unforced errors with 27 winners.
“Was a good comeback, you know, the crowd cheering for me at 1-3 in the second,” del Potro said. “I start to play better after that moment. … Of course I need to improve for the semis a lot, but I’m happy with my match and with the result.”
The match was played with temperatures in the mid-60s and winds gusting up to 30 mph.
“The weather was bad,” del Potro said, “but it was bad for both players. I just need to be in focus in the beginning of the match until the last point and play my game.”
The first title of the tournament was determined Thursday when Carly Gullickson and Todd Parrott, playing together for the first time, upset defending champions Cara Black and Leander Paes 6-2 6-4 to win the mixed doubles.
Serena and Venus Williams began the day by advancing to the women’s doubles final with a 7-6 (4) 3-6 6-2 win over Russians Alisa Kleybanova and Ekaterina Makarova.
Serena is scheduled to return to the court Friday for her women’s singles semifinal where she will take on another defending champion, Belgium’s Kim Clijsters. The second women’s semi pits ninth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark against unseeded Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium.
Serena Williams, who captured the crown last year, is going for her fourth US Open title. Clijsters won in 2005, the last time she played America’s premier event because of injuries, retirement, marriage and the birth of a daughter.
Caroline Wozniacki beat Elena Vesnina 6-2 6-4 to win the women’s singles at the Pilot Pen in New Haven, Connecticut, USA
Fernando Verdasco beat Sam Querrey 6-4 7-6 (6) to win the Pilot Pen men’s singles in New Haven
Tatjana Malek won the EmblemHealth Bronx Open, beating Kristina Barrois 6-1 6-4 in The Bronx, New York, USA
“Now it’s my time. It’s my turn to win some tournaments. I just feel I’ve had a great year. I’m so happy that it’s my name coming up a lot of times now.” – Caroline Wozniacki, after successfully defending her Pilot Pen Tennis women’s singles championship.
“I never got a chance to go back there to defend my title in 2006 because I was injured with my left wrist and then pregnant in 2007. So while this does feel like a new beginning, I am looking forward to walking through those gates again for the first time in four years.” – Kim Clijsters, who won the US Open in her last appearance at the year’s final Grand Slam tournament.
“I am number three in the world, and the number three in the world should have a chance to win, no?” – Rafael Nadal, on his chances to win the US Open.
“I have to take it as a positive that I will have more time to get ready for the Open. It’s been a really busy summer for me so I’ll just take advantage of these (early losses) and keep training and preparing for the Open.” – Venus Williams, talking about early exits from her last two tournaments.
“I’m recharged. I know I can play and move well and compete with the top players as good as I was, if not better. The US Open is my main goal.” – Jelena Jankovic.
“With every tournament I feel physically I’m getting better and getting a good sense of the court, but it’s still a work in progress. I’d like to forget I was gone for a long time but you have to put things in perspective.” – Maria Sharapova, noting her chances of winning the US Open this year are slim.
“This year I equaled my best result in Australia (last 16), did two rounds better than I ever did at the French (quarterfinals) and got further than I have done at Wimbledon (semifinals). So now the slam is the last thing I need to do. I believe that I can do it.” – Andy Murray, saying he’s one of the favorites to win the US Open.
“Andy’s not under the radar anymore and that’s probably a good thing. Now that the expectations are there I think he’s ready to handle it. He is definitely one of the six guys capable of winning.” – Brad Gilbert, speaking about Andy Roddick.
“One of the important things he has over everyone, and he has it more than any other player I’ve seen since (Jimmy) Connors, is his love for the sport. Real love. He loves to be out there, to be around tennis, everything about it.” – John McEnroe, talking about Roger Federer.
“I’ve never had a normal life, so I don’t know what a normal life means.” – Fabrice Santoro, who, playing in his 20th season on tour, will retire after the US Open.
“I just look to be prepared for the Open. This is my first important thing for me is to just get there and be prepared for a fight.” – Flavia Pennetta.
“I think I’ve learned, especially in the last year, that it’s a lot simpler than I realized, playing professional tennis. There are no secrets. You got to do what you do well and you have to bring that to the table every day.” – Rajeev Ram, who won his first ATP Tour title earlier this summer…
“I don’t think I am going to do anything special because it is my last Grand Slam. I am not planning it. But you never know what can happen. I know I am not going to win, there is no chance. So we will just see.” – Marat Safin, the 2000 US Open champion who will retire at the end of this year.
“For the next year or so I’m not going to put any pressure on myself. I just want to stay healthy and enjoy my tennis.” – Katarina Srebotnik, whose US Open appearance is her first tournament in 10 months because of injuries.
“She was just playing with me like a pussy cat, one corner to other corner. In the second set I started to be more aggressive and I started serving a lot better.” – Elena Vesnina, after her three-set semifinal win over Amelie Mauresmo in New Haven.
“I elected to go with disaster control and the high powder-puff. Everyone asks did you bounce it. I just threw it over the catcher.” – Andy Roddick, talking about throwing out the first pitch at a New York Yankees baseball game.
“I contemplated things like whether I would be able to accept myself for not being on the level that I was in my teens, twenties, and when I was 25; whether I would be able to accept losing, moreover be able to accept a losing streak. I did spend a lot of time contemplating about this. Yet, after I made my decision to be back on court again and challenge myself, I haven’t really thought about it.” – Kimiko Date Krumm, who returned to the WTA Tour after a 12-year retirement.
“It makes for something special. You sit in the players’ lounge and you wait. It doesn’t rain so often here so I don’t think they should change anything.” – Dinara Safina, saying she thinks something might be lost if a roof is installed over Arthur Ashe Stadium and there were no rain delays to sit though.
“I’ve peeked at the draw and seen where some of the qualifying spots are. I’d love to play a Federer or Nadal or a Roddick. We’ll see. I just want to play in there.” – Michael Yani, who at age 28 qualified for his first US Open, pointing at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Twice Andre Agassi closed out the US Open by winning the men’s singles. This year, he is the headliner on opening day, being honored for “giving back.” In 1994, the year he won his first US Open title, Agassi established the Andre Agassi Foundation, which is dedicated to transforming public education in Las Vegas, Nevada. As part of the Opening Night celebration, the USTA is recognizing the 40th anniversary of the National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL), which was founded in 1969 by Arthur Ashe, Charlie Pasarell and Sheridan Snyder as a network of community tennis organizations seeking to develop the character of young people through tennis and education. Besides Agassi, others honored on opening night include Mia Hamm, David Robinson and Doug Flutie.
Andre Agassi’s autobiography, “Open,” will be published in November. The eight-time Grand Slam singles champion writes about his start in tennis, his relationship with his father and his failed marriage to actress Brooke Shields.
SAM THE MAN
There could be a USD one million dollar payday in Sam Querrey’s future. By winning the US Open Series, the American has a chance to earn a bonus of between USD $15,000 and $1 million, according to how he finishes in the US Open. Querrey reached the final of the Pilot Pen in New Haven, Connecticut, before falling to Spain’s Fernando Verdasco 6-4 7-6 (8).
The US Open wants players and their entourages to be careful about what they post on the social networking site Twitter. Signs at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center warn that Twitter messages could violate the sport’s anti-corruption rules. The signs say tweeting is not allowed on court during matches and warns about using Twitter away from the court, saying information about players, weather, court conditions, status, outcome or any other aspect of an event could be determined as the passing of “inside information.” The warnings say they apply to players, coaches, agents, family members and tournament staff.
Because of tropical storm Denney, the semifinals of the Pilot Pen tournament in New Haven, Connecticut, were moved indoors. After waiting in vain most of Friday for the steady rain to cease, the women’s semis were switched from a 13,000-seat stadium to an indoor college court where only 300 fans were able to be squeezed into the building and leaned over a balcony that overlooked the court or stood on adjacent courts. There, Caroline Wozniacki beat Flavia Pennetta and Elena Vesnina downed Amelie Mauresmo. The men’s semis followed suit Saturday morning, with Sam Querrey stopping Jose Acasuso and Fernando Verdasco defeating Igor Andreev. Both finals were played outdoors late Saturday as the storm finally subsided and the hard courts were dried.
SITTING IT OUT
Dominika Cibulkova won’t be able to match her French Open performance at this year’s final Grand Slam tournament. The semifinalist at Roland Garros pulled out of the US Open because of a rib injury. Her withdrawal allowed Alberta Brianti of Italy to move into the main draw, while Agnes Szavay becomes the number 32 seeded player.
SORE BUT THERE
Several players are nursing injuries as they begin their US Open run. Marion Bartoli retired from her match at the Pilot Pen in New Haven, Connecticut, because of a left thigh strain. A hand injury forced Agnieszka Radwanska to retire before the third set of her match in New Haven. And Nikolay Davydenko needed a doctor to look at his right wrist midway through his quarterfinal final loss to Sam Querrey in the Pilot Pen men’s singles. Davydenko said his wrist became sore from the force of Querrey’s serves hitting his racquet. Sabine Lisicki, who has been sidelined with a shoulder injury, will play in the US Open.
India’s Sania Mirza received acupuncture treatment on her right wrist before heading to New York and the US Open. The 22-year-old underwent wrist surgery in April 2008, but the problem flared up again at the Beijing Olympics, forcing her to miss the last year’s US Open. She had reached the semifinals of a challenger event in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, when she again felt pain in her right wrist. So she flew home to Hyderabad, India, to get treatment. “I’m much better now, but not absolutely pain-free,” she said.
Katarina Srebotnik is making her comeback at the US Open. She was ranked as high as number 20 in the world in singles and number four in doubles, and had posted victories over Serena Williams at Roland Garros and Svetlana Kuznetsova at the US Open a year ago. But pain in her Achilles tendon and a shoulder injury forced her off the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour for 10 months. It’s called the luck of the draw, and for Srebotnik it’s bad luck. Her first-round opponent will be 13th-seeded Nadia Petrova.
Ivo Minar of the Czech Republic has denied deliberating taking a banned substance. The 25-year-old tested positive for a derivative of the banned stimulant pseudo ephedrine following a Davis Cup quarterfinal match against Argentina in July. “I have never consciously taken a banned substance,” said Minar, who is ranked 66th in the world. “This is why I rejected the accusation of doping in my reaction sent to the ITF.” Minar cited an injury when he withdrew from this year’s US Open.
SERENA, THE AUTHOR
Serena Williams says she is telling all in her autobiography, “Queen of the Court,” which is going on sale during the US Open. Serena says it was important for her to give an honest account of her life because she has not been as open as she should have been since the shooting death of her sister, Yetunde Price. She said that while she told the press injuries kept her from playing, she was also beset by depression because of a delayed reaction to Tunde’s death. Serena says three things got her out of her depression: seeing a therapist, going to Africa where she began a school, and winning the 2007 Australian Open over Maria Sharapova. “It opened up a lot of doors I left closed to the public and to myself,” Serena said of writing the book.
SENSITIVITY COURSE ALUMNI
Brydan Klein promises to be on his best behavior after completing a racial sensitivity course. The former Australian Open junior champion was banned for six months and fined USD $10,000 by the ATP after making a racial slur against a black South African player during a tournament in England in June. The 19-year-old Klein has a history of clashes with officials, having been suspended from the Australian Institute of Sport for repeated on-court misbehavior. Ranked 223rd in the world, Klein said he has apologized to fellow player Raven Klaasen for the slur. He also said he cannot afford to slip up again. “I’m definitely on my last warning,” he said. “This has been a step back for me and it hasn’t been a nice experience.”
John McEnroe has always been a big man in New York City, but this is ridiculous. A 100-foot high by 35-foot wide (30.48m by 15.24m) banner of McEnroe hangs on the side of Madison Square Garden promoting prostate cancer screening guidelines. McEnroe’s father was diagnosed with the illness in 2006 but is now doing well. Now 50 years old, the younger McEnroe says he knows many men his age are reluctant to get screened for cancer for the same reason they don’t like to ask for directions: they may view it as a sign of weakness.
Billie Jean King and actor Alec Baldwin will be the spokespeople for the expanded environmental initiatives at the National Tennis Center named in her honor. The two will join the United States Tennis Association (USTA) in encouraging US Open fans and others to help preserve the environment. Expanded 2009 initiatives will include a site-wide recycling effort placing more than 500 recycling receptacles across the 42 acres of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. There also will be on sale an exclusive organic t-shirt designed by two-time US Open champion Venus Williams.
Venus Williams has been named to the first Power List of O, the Oprah Magazine. Selecting “20 remarkable visionaries who are flexing their muscles in business and finance, politics and justice, science and the arts,” the magazine picked Venus Williams as “The Power of Female Strength.” Noting her Grand Slam and Olympics medals as well as her voice in the lobbying effort to win equal prize money for female players, the magazine said: “Both on and off the court, Venus Williams embodies a perfect marriage of power and grace. In the singular artistry of her play, we see that beauty and brawn aren’t mutually exclusive.”
The US Open logo – a flaming tennis ball – accounts for about 42 percent of all sales at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center during the year’s final Grand Slam tournament. Sarah Cummins, the USTA’s managing director for merchandising, told Bloomberg News that clothing, hats and other gear bearing the US Open logo brought in almost USD $14 million during the two-week tournament last year.
When James Blake debuts his new Fila line of clothes at the US Open, he will be thinking about his father. The logo on Blake’s new clothing is “TR,” and the line is called Thomas Reynolds, the first and middle names of his late father, who died in 2004. Fila will help capture the lessons instilled in James by his father through print ads and through hang tags on the line. While Blake will be wearing the clothes on a tennis court, there are plans for the Thomas Reynolds brand to be on golf, fitness and leisurewear as well. “I wanted to be part of something that wouldn’t necessarily have to always be tied to me and be more about the spirit that father embodied,” Blake said.
Following her third hip surgery, Jamea Jackson is retiring from the women’s tour and will become assistant tennis coach at Oklahoma State University. The 22-year-old from Lafayette, Louisiana, USA, will also be a student at OSU. Jackson was a member of the United States Fed Cup team.
STANDING FOR OFFICE
John Alexander’s new game is politics. The former tennis player and commentator has joined the Liberal Party and is running for a seat in the Australian parliament. Alexander is an advocate for preventive health and believes the decline of public tennis courts and other facilities in Australia has contributed to childhood obesity and health problems. He said he joined the Liberal Party at the invitation of a friend, who told him he would be more effective in securing change by trying to be part of a government. Ranked as high as eighth in the world, Alexander was the youngest player to represent Australia in Davis Cup. He played Davis Cup from 1968 to 1980 and has been captain of Australia’s Fed Cup team.
The US National Championships, known since 1968 as the US Open Tennis Championships, is the second oldest of the four Grand Slam tournaments and is the only one to have been played each year since its inception in 1881. This is the 129th version of America’s premier tennis event and has been played on three different surfaces: grass, clay and hard court. The tournament has been held on hard court at Flushing Meadows since moving from Forest Hills in 1978. The only major sporting event in the United States older than the US Open is the Kentucky Derby, which began in 1875.
New Haven (men): Julian Knowle and Jurgen Melzer beat Bruno Soares and Kevin Ullyett 6-4 7-6 (3)
New Haven (women): Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez beat Iveta Benesova and Lucie Hradecka 6-2 7-5
The Bronx: Anna-Lena Groenfeld and Vania King beat Julie Coin and Marie-Eve Pelletier 6-0, 6-3
SITES TO SURF
US Open: www.usopen.org
Kim Clijsters: www.kimclijsters.be/
Roger Federer: www.rogerfederer.com/en/index.cfm
Rafael Nadal: www.rafaelnadal.com/nada/en/home
Serena Williams: www.serenawilliams.com/
Venus Williams: www.venuswilliams.com/
Andy Roddick: www.andyroddick.com
Andre Agassi Foundation: www.agassiopen.com/
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
(All money in USD)
ATP and WTA
US Open (first week), New York, New York, USA, hard
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
ATP and WTA
US Open (second week), New York, New York, USA, hard
$120,000 Genoa Open Challenger, Genoa, Italy, clay
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (August 18, 2009) — Ever dream of serving for the big prize, in front of thousands of fans? You can live your dream through a tennis-industry-wide sweepstakes called “Racket UP, America!”
If you’re the lucky winner, you’ll receive a trip to New York City to attend the “BNP Paribas Showdown for the Billie Jean King Cup” in Madison Square Garden on March 1, which will feature the top women tennis players in the world. In the middle of it all, you’ll step up to the line and hit a serve to a target that could make you a millionaire.
In the unique promotion, anyone who buys a new tennis racket—of any brand, and at any tennis retailer or pro shop—through Sept. 30, 2009, could win the chance to serve for $1 million. Consumers simply register their racket purchase at playtennis.com/million. Other prizes include a trip for two to the 2010 US Open Men’s Singles and Women’s Doubles finals and 20 $500 tennis merchandise prize packs. (Free entry available, see playtennis.com/million for official rules and details.)
The BNP Paribas Showdown on March 1, which is part of “Tennis Night in America,” will bring together four of the world’s best women pros who are 2009 Grand Slam winners or No. 1 players, vying for $1.2 million in prize money and the Billie Jean King Cup. Serena Williams is the defending champion, and so far, she and Svetlana Kuznetsova have qualified for the Madison Square Garden event. Williams won the 2009 Australian Open and Wimbledon tournaments; Kuznetsova won this year’s French Open. (For more on the BNP Paribas Showdown, visit www.stargamesinc.com/bnpparibasshowdown.html.)
The Showdown’s format will be two one-set semifinals followed by a best-of-three-set final. The “Racket UP, America!” sweepstakes winner will hit the potential million-dollar serve between the second semifinal and the final, in front of the MSG crowd and a television audience. The winner also will meet tennis legends Billie Jean King and Ivan Lendl, along with other tennis champions.
“We are thrilled to be able to have the ‘Racket UP, America!’ sweepstakes winner go for a million dollars at the BNP Paribas Showdown,” says Jerry Solomon, president of StarGames, which is partnering with Madison Square Garden to produce the event. “This is what Tennis Night in America is all about—a real celebration of tennis. We’re happy to help bring attention to such a worthwhile industry-wide promotion.”
“‘Racket Up, America!” is a collaborative effort by the tennis industry designed to generate excitement and interest in the sport while helping to stimulate retail sales. “Tennis is a fun, social, healthy, lifelong sport,” says Jon Muir, president of the Tennis Industry Association, which is spearheading the promotion. “We’ve been thrilled that over the last eight years, tennis participation has grown 43 percent, far outpacing all other traditional sports, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.”
You can follow “Racket Up, America!” on Twitter and Facebook. More information, including official rules and details, is at playtennis.com/million.
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).
Men’s singles: Roger Federer beat Andy Roddick 5-7 7-6 (6) 7-6 (5) 3-6 16-14
Women’s singles: Serena Williams beat Venus Williams 7-6 (3) 6-2
Men’s doubles: Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic beat Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan 7-6 (7) 6-7 (3) 7-6 (3) 6-3
Women’s doubles: Venus and Serena Williams beat Samantha Stosur and Rennae Stubbs 7-6 (4) 6-4
Mixed doubles: Mark Knowles and Anna-Lena Groenefeld beat Leander Paes and Cara Black 7-5 6-3
Boys’ singles: Andrev Kuznetsov beat Jordan Cox 4-6 6-2 6-2
Girls’ singles: Noppawan Lertcheenakarn beat Kristina Mladenovic 3-6 6-3 6-1
Boys’ doubles: Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Kevin Krawietz beat Julien Obry and Adrian Puget 6-7(3), 6-2, 12-10.
Girls’ doubles: Noppawan Lertcheewakarn and Sally Peers beat Kristina Mladenovic and Silvia Njiric 6-1 6-1
Wheelchair women’s doubles: Korie Homan and Esther Vergeer beat Daniela Di Toro and Lucy Shuker 6-1 6-3
Wheelchair men’s doubles: Stephane Houdet and Michael Jeremiasz beat Robin Ammerlaan and Shingo Kunieda 1-6 6-4 7-3 (match tiebreak)
Oscar Hernandez beat Tiemurax Gabashvili to win the Nord/LP Open in Braunschweig, Germany
Potito Starace beat Maximo Gonzalez 7-6 (4) 6-3 to win the Trofeo Regione Piemonte in Turin, Italy
Polona Hercog beat Varvara Lepchonko 6-1 6-2 to win the Cuneo ITF Tournament in Cuneo, Italy
“It’s not really one of those goals you set as a little boy, but, man, it’s been quite a career. And quite a month.” – Roger Federer, who won his sixth Wimbledon title, and 15th Grand Slam tournament crown, just four weeks after capturing his first French Open title.
“He’s a legend. Now he’s an icon.” – Pete Sampras, talking about Roger Federer after the Swiss star broke Sampras’ Grand Slam tournament victory record of 14 titles.
“Sorry, Pete, I tried to hold him off.” – Losing finalist Andy Roddick, apologizing to compatriot Pete Sampras.
“I’d rather definitely be number two and hold three Grand Slams in the past year than be number one and not have any. I don’t know what to do to be number one. I don’t even care anymore.” – Serena Williams, who won Wimbledon to go along with her 2009 Australian Open and 2008 US Open titles, yet is ranked number two in the world.
“Do I feel invincible? I’d like to say yes, but I really do work at it.” – Venus Williams, after winning her semifinal but before losing the title match to her sister Serena.
“I think I will beat him in a marathon easy.” – Robin Soderling, on meeting Roger Federer in another sport after losing to the Swiss star for the 11th straight time.
“Oh, it is only because he is better than everybody else. That’s it.” – Ivo Karlovic, when asked about Roger Federer’s secret for success.
“I don’t play to break records but it’s great to have them.” – Roger Federer.
“It’s a wonderful achievement. She’s played so well so many times. You know, a lot of the times actually at my expense.” – Venus Williams, on her sister Serena winning an 11th Grand Slam tournament title by beating Venus in the final.
“There’s no easy [way] to losing, especially when it’s so close to the crown. Either way, it’s not easy. ” – Venus Williams.
“One of the first things I noticed was our name on the board, on the big plaque. Now we get it twice. It’s obviously going to be special to come back next year and see that.” – Daniel Nestor, after teaming with Nenad Zimonjic to win their second straight Wimbledon men’s doubles title.
“It’s a game of inches and when you’re playing two guys who are serving close to 130 (mph), and you’re not getting a lot of sniffs on your return, it’s a dice roll. They were the better team today and I have to give them a lot of credit.” – Bob Bryan, on losing the men’s doubles final.
“I was Santa Claus on the court, serving so many double-faults.” – Dinara Safina, after overcoming 15 double-faults to beat Sabine Lisicki in the quarterfinals.
“I wasn’t sure if it’s Serena or Andy Roddick on the other side of the net, 125 mph all the time.” Elena Dementieva, on Serena Williams’ big serves in their semifinal match.
“Venus played as if she had some place to go and she was in a major league hurry to get a great dinner.” – Father Richard Williams, on Venus’ 51-minutes semifinal victory over Dinara Safina.
“I think she gave me a pretty good lesson today.” – Dinara Safina, after losing to Venus Williams in 51 minutes.
“I’m still scared of Serena Williams. I find her very intimidating.” – Laura Robson, a 15-year-old from Britain, talking about the ladies’ locker room at Wimbledon.
“Roof! Roof! Roof!” –Centre Court crowd chanting as the new retractable roof was closed for the first time when a light sprinkle interrupted play.
He had to work overtime to do it, but Roger Federer became the first man in history to win 15 Grand Slam tournament singles titles. His record-breaking 15th was the longest men’s Grand Slam final in history at 77 games as Federer outlasted Andy Roddick 5-7 7-6 (6) 7-6 (5) 3-6 16-14. The previous record was 71 games in the 1927 Australian Championships, while the previous Wimbledon mark was 62 games last year when Rafael Nadal beat Federer. The Federer-Roddick battle also was the longest fifth set in a men’s Grand Slam tournament final, breaking the old mark of 11-9 set in 1927 at Roland Garros. Federer served 50 aces, the most he has served in a match and only one behind Ivo Karlovic’s Wimbledon record of 51 aces. Federer’s previous best was 39 aces when he beat Janko Tipsarevic at the Australian Open in 2008.
SISTERS DOING IT
Sisters Serena and Venus Williams tried to take home all of the hardware from Wimbledon. Serena beat Venus in the women’s final, snapping the older sister’s two-year reign at Wimbledon. The two then teamed up to win the women’s doubles for the second time.
Ana Ivanovic will rest for at least a week after she suffered a slight tear in her left thigh during her fourth-round match at Wimbledon. The 2008 French Open champion left the court in tears after the first game of the second set against Venus Williams, who won the first set 6-1. Ivanovic is not scheduled to play again until August 3.
SHUT MY TOP
It took a brief shower, but Wimbledon showed off its new roof. With the crowd shouting “Roof! Roof! Roof!,” the retractable roof over Centre Court was closed for the first time on the second Monday of the tournament. The light sprinkle had halted play during he second set of a match between top-ranked Dinara Safina and 2006 Wimbledon champion Amelie Mauresmo. By the time the roof was closed and the match resumed, the rain had stopped. But officials decided to keep the roof shut for the final match of the evening, Andy Murray beating Stanislas Wawrinka in a five-set match that ended at 10:39 p.m., more than an hour later than the previous record. Wimbledon joins the Australian Open as the only two Grand Slam tournaments with roofs. The Australian Open has roofs over its two main courts and plans to cover a third. The French Open plans on having a roof over its center court by 2011, while the US Open is looking into the possibility of covering a court.
Twenty-eight staff members at Wimbledon were asked to stay at home because they were suspected of having swine flu. Two players – Michal Mertinak and Filip Polasek – also showed symptoms of the world-wide ailment. Mertinak withdrew from the second round of the mixed doubles because he was not feeling well. The two players were sharing a hotel room in London. All England Club spokesman Henry O’Grady said that despite the precautions, no one at Wimbledon is known to have swine flu.
India’s Prakash Amritraj and Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi hope their recent play will allow them to form a full-time doubles partnership. In only their third tournament together, Amritraj and Qureshi reached the third round before falling to the fourth-seeded team of Mark Knowles and Mahesh Bhupathi 6-4 5-7 7-6 (3) 6-0. “I’m glad we had these two weeks as a team,” Amritraj said. “I think we should take this partnership forward and we’re definitely a team to be reckoned with.”
Women’s tennis is returning to New York’s Madison Square Garden, if only for one night. Four top players will compete March 1 in the second Billie Jean King Cup featuring no-ad scoring, a one-set semifinal and best-of-three final. Serena Williams won the inaugural event earlier this year, besting her sister Venus in the final. The 2008 field also included Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic. This year’s four Grand Slam tournament winners will be invited to participate in next year’s tournament. Serena has won the Australian Open and Wimbledon, while Svetlana Kuznetsova captured the French Open.
Rafael Nadal won’t be there when Spain’s Davis Cup takes on Germany in a World Group quarterfinal. Nadal, who has been struggling with tendinitis in his knees, was left off the Spanish team, just as he was for last year’s final, which Spain won by defeating Argentina. Spanish captain Albert Costa has named Fernando Verdasco, Tommy Robredo, David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez for the tie that will be played on clay in Marbella, Spain, later this week.
Wimbledon quarterfinalist Ivo Karlovic and Marin Cilic will lead Croatia’s Davis C up team against the United States. Croatia, which won the Davis Cup in 2005, will stage the tie on an indoor clay court in Porec, Croatia. Led by Wimbledon finalist Andy Roddick, the American team includes James Black and brothers Bob and Mike Bryan, marking the 12th time in the last 13 Davis Cup contests that the same quartet of players will be together. Croatia has beaten the United States twice in Davis Cup competition.
Andre Agassi will play World Team Tennis this summer for the Philadelphia Freedoms. He will play at home on July 10 against the Boston Lobsters and at Newport Beach, California, on July 17. While Agassi played World Team Tennis before – for the Sacramento Capitals from 2002-04 – there will be two veterans stars making their WTT debuts. Michael Chang will play for the Capitals, while Kim Clijsters will suit up for two matches with the St. Louis Aces. Clijsters plans to return to the WTA Tour after a two-year retirement. Other stars playing this season include Serena Williams (Washington, DC), Venus Williams (Philadelphia), Maria Sharapova (Newport Beach), Martina Navratilova (Boston) and John McEnroe (New York). WTT is getting a boost this summer from its new partnership with the United States Tennis Association and a new team in New York City. The USTA has become a 25 percent owner of the league in an effort to expand the USTA Junior Team Tennis program.
The Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Award will be awarded by the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum (ITHFM) to Tennis Channel for its ongoing contributions to tennis. The award will be given at the 28th annual “Legends Ball” on Friday, September 11, in New York City. The special night will also honor a host of tennis luminaries, including Rod Laver, who will receive a special Life Trustee Award, and the Hall of Fame Induction Class of 2009: Donald Dell, Andres Gimeno, the late Dr. Robert Johnson and Monica Seles. The Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Award was created in honor of an individual whose passion and generosity for the game of tennis inspired others to contribute to the advancement of the sport. Cullman served as president and chairman of the ITHFM from 1982-88. Previous winners of the award include BNP Paribas, Rolex and Sony Ericsson. Tennis Channel will be covering its first US Open this year. The network also covers Wimbledon, the French Open and Australia Open in high definition, as well as the US Open Series, Davis Cup, ATP Masters series, fEd Cup and top-tier Sony Ericsson WTA Tour championship competitions.
SITTING IT OUT
Anna Kournikova won’t be playing World Team Tennis this season. The Russian star has been sidelined with a wrist injury. A WTT spokesperson said Kournikova made her decision after experiencing pain from tenosvnovitis while practicing for what would have been her seventh season with the league. The St. Louis Aces player has not responded to therapy or a series of cortisone shots. But while she’s unable to play, Kournikova plans to travel with her team to matches in Philadelphia, Washington DC, Springfield and St. Louis.
Braunschweig: Johan Brunstrom and Jean-Julien Rojer beat Brian Dabul and Nicolas Massau 7-6 (2) 6-4
Turin: Daniele Bracciali and Potito Starace beat Santiago Giraldo and Pere Riba 6-3 6-4
Cuneo: Akgul Amanmuradova and Darya Kustova beat Petra Cetkovska and Mathilde Johansson 5-7 6-1 10-7 (match tiebreak)
SITES TO SURF
Davis Cup: www.daviscup.com
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
(All money in USD)
$500,000 Campbell’s Hall of Fame Championships, Newport, Rhode Island, USA, grass
$100,000 Open Diputacion Ciudad de Pozoblanco, Pozoblanco, Cordoba, Spain, clay
$220,000 GDF Suez Grand Prix, Budapest, Hungary, clay
$220,000 Collector Swedish Open Women, Bastad, Sweden, clay
$100,000 Open GDF Suez de Biarritz, Biarritz, France, clay
World Group Quarterfinals
Czech Republic vs. Argentina at Ostrava, Czech Republic
Croatia vs. United States at Porec, Croatia
Israel vs. Russia at Tel Aviv, Israel
Spain vs. Germany at Puerto Banus, Marbella, Spain
Americas Zone Group 1 Playoff
Peru vs. Canada at Lima, Peru
Americas Zone Group 2 Second Round
Venezuela vs. Mexico at Maracaibo, Venezuela
Dominican Republic vs. Paraguay at San Francisco de Marcons, Provincia Duarte, Dominican Republic
Asia/Oceania Zone Group 1 Playoff
Thailand vs. Kazakhstan at Nonthaburi, Thailand
Korea vs. China at Chun-cheon City, Korea
Asia/Oceania Zone Group 2 Second Round
Philippines vs. Pakistan at Manila, Philippines
New Zealand vs. Indonesia at Hamilton, New Zealand
Europe/Africa Zone Group 1 Playoffs
Belarus vs. FYR Macedonia at Minsk, Belarus
Europe/Africa Zone Group 2 Second Round
Slovenia vs. Lithuania at Otocec, Slovenia
Latvia vs. Bulgaria at Plovdiv, Latvia
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
$600,000 Catella Swedish Open, Bastad, Sweden, clay
$600,000 Mercedes Cup, Stuttgart, Germany, clay
$125,000 Bogota, Columbia, clay
$220,000 Internazionali Femminili di Tennis di Palermo, Palermo, Italy, clay
$220,000 ECM Prague Open, Prague, Czech Republic, clay