Coco Vandeweghe on her pre-match rituals, her U.S. Open debut, and wanting to party with Novak Djokovic
WASHINGTON, D.C. — American Coco Vandeweghe, who shot up 50 spots in the the WTA Tour rankings after reaching the Stanford final three weeks ago, is in action this week at the Citi Open. After receiving the tournament’s last wildcard and her highest career seeding, Vandeweghe finds herself in the quarterfinals with fellow American Vania King as her next opponent.
I had a chance to chat with the rising star and she cheerfully reminisced about her greatest on-court moment, admitted she would want to party with Novak Djokovic, and disclosed some funny pre-match rituals she has.
What is your most memorable moment in your career?
Playing on opening night in Arthur Ashe stadium against Jelena Jankovic when she was no. 1 in the world, and I was 16 years old.
What would you do if you weren’t a tennis player?
I would be in college – playing basketball, probably.
If you could play against any player in history, who would it be and why?
I’d want to play against a couple: Chris Evert, Lindsay Davenport, and Martina Navratilova because they’re all great players. I’ve looked up to Lindsay for a long time and she’s been a great friend, and so has Chris Evert.
If you were hosting a party, what three tennis players would you invite and why?
I would invite my coach who is an ex-tennis play, Jan-Michael Gambill, Irina Falconi who is a great friend of mine on the WTA Tour, and Novak Djokovic because he’s seems like a lot of fun. [Laughs]
What are two things you couldn’t live without?
Music and probably my family.
What do you to get ready in the day before a match?
I enjoy my sleep. [Smiles] And then I have my own little rituals and different tedious things that I do, like tying my left shoe before my right shoe.
If you could invite any three people, living or dead, to dinner, who would they be?
I would invite my grandmother who died two years ago – pretty much just family members, my grandfather, my mom, my family.
No famous people?
No, probably not. [Laughs]
If you were given a camera crew and unlimited access to the WTA Tour, what would you want to show the public about pro tennis?
Just how fun the women’s tour is. We have great personalities, but we do dumb stuff sometimes. Even myself – dumb little fights like with the airline attendant, and me trying to sneak my tennis bag onto the airplane without trying to check it because it’s a pain in the butt! There’s a lot of fun stuff on Tour, and I would want to capture that.
By Maud Watson
Victoria Azarenka managed to find a way to come back from the brink of defeat in her fourth round match against Dominika Cibulkova (thanks in large part to a choke job by the Slovak), but she couldn’t pull off the feat twice. The Belarusian crumbled under the relentless pressure of the penetrating groundstrokes coming off the racquet of Marion Bartoli to suffer her first defeat of 2012. There’s no shame in the loss. Bartoli has collected several big wins and is ranked number seven, but it was evident by the way Azarenka handled herself at the end that this was one of the toughest losses of her career. Still, I like Azarenka’s chances of making a quick mental recovery and continuing to be the player to beat throughout the course of the season. She’s matured and improved her game too much not to, and in the long run, the fact that the pressure of extending the unbeaten streak is over should only help her cause heading into the French.
Finding a Balance
So it was a just quarterfinal match at a premiere event, and she did fall to Sharapova in the semis. But the win Wozniacki posted over Serena Williams earlier this week in Miami was just what the doctor ordered to get her back on track and infuse her and her fans with the belief that she may have what it takes to win a major. And contrary to Serena’s assessment of herself, she didn’t play poorly. She posted typical Serena numbers with 36 unforced errors that were nearly completely offset by her 34 winners. And while Wozniacki’s consistency played a large part in allowing her to weather the barrage of Williams, it was refreshing to see her adding a little more “oomph” to her groundies and serve. If she has in fact reconciled herself to the fact that she needs to beef up her game and take a few more risks, she could be well on her way to moving back towards the top and capturing that elusive major singles title.
Less than 24 hours after he had completed a huge breakthrough win by claiming just his third victory over Roger Federer, Andy Roddick found himself out of Miami in straight sets – including a second set bagel – to Juan Monaco. No offense to Monaco, who continues to enjoy a good run this week, but this was a bad loss for Roddick. It’s understandable that he’d be mentally and physically drained after the Federer match, especially since his injuries have hampered his ability to stay in shape. But what made the loss to Monaco so maddening was the way he lost it. Against Federer, it appeared Roddick had turned back the clock and finally returned to the brand of tennis that took him to the top. He was going after his shots, aggressively attacking the ball and taking it to Federer. Against Monaco, he reverted to playing it safer and hanging out well behind the baseline, even though his lack of fitness should have encouraged him to be even more aggressive in an attempt to shorten the points. For his sake and his fans’ sake, he needs to employ the tactics he did against Federer. Otherwise, that win against the Swiss will turn into a fluke instead of the turning it could be for the twilight of his career.
Where’s Petko when you need her? Following in the (two left) footsteps of Monica Seles, Martina Navratilova became the first competitor to be booted off of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars this past Tuesday night. Navratilova found herself at the bottom of the pack for two straight weeks, so it wasn’t unexpected. But in many ways, it was still sad to see her go. Clearly out of her comfort zone and at times struggling to remember the routine, you could see glimpses where she was enjoying herself and the challenge of trying something she’d never done before. It is a shame her journey had to come to such an early end, but no doubt she has been an inspiration to others to get out and try something they never thought they could.
Hobbling to the Finish
At this point, it would virtually be a more shocking news story if Kim Clijsters were healthy. It seems every week we’re hearing about a new injury for the Belgian No. 1, and this week was no exception. Clearly hampered in her loss to Wickmayer, it was later revealed that she has a tear in her hip muscle and will be out four weeks. Following the loss, rumors abounded that she was considering early retirement, and though she herself has put a stop to the rumors, I’m still not wholly convinced. With each injury setback, the desire to work at regaining her top form has to dwindle, and the fear factor she once had in the locker room is going to be all but non-existent come Roland Garros. Kim’s a great competitor and an even better person, but it will be a bigger surprise if she manages to nab just one of the three prizes that enticed her to return to the game than if she calls it a career before season’s end.
by Maud Watson
Pushing the Limits
In the movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Severus Snape once said, “Well, it may have escaped your notice, but life isn’t fair.” Of course, Professor Snape was saying that to the Boy Who Lived, but it pretty much sums up what Dubai tournament officials told No. 1 Arab player Malek Jaziri (ranked No. 104) and the press, as they attempted to justify giving a disputed wildcard to Marko Djokovic (younger brother of Novak and ranked 869) instead. The uproar caused by the decision is only partially justifiable, and it’s most likely strictly due to the fact it involved the younger brother of the current No. 1. The Djokovic family did nothing wrong, having submitted the wildcard request at least a month ago. And as for Novak’s part in getting his brother the wildcard, he’s not the first star player to use his leverage. Many top tier players use their elite status to rake in huge appearance fees, and some, such as Hewitt and Clijsters, have also used leverage to garner wildcards for younger siblings. It’s also not uncommon for tournaments to weigh other factors over actual merit when doling out wildcards. How many French, American, and Australian players have benefited from the reciprocal major wildcard agreement between their home governing bodies that competitors from non-Slam nations can only dream of? And don’t get me started on the number of undeserving British players that have been handed a free pass to play on the most hallowed grounds in the sport. The real fault lies in how poorly tournament officials handled the situation. They previously told Jaziri he wouldn’t have to play the qualifying event only to pull the rug out from under him in the 11th hour by giving the wildcard to the younger Djokovic. Had it been handled more professionally, Jaziri may not have been as disgruntled. And yes, the extremely low ranking of Marko Djokovic does suggest officials were pushing the limits. Then again, had it been awarded to a local Arab player of the same ranking, would this even be a topic of discussion? I think not.
New Day, New Clay
Come April, France will look to do what Switzerland could not – defeat the United States Davis Cup team on clay. This time it will be an outdoor clay court set in picturesque Monte Carlo. But while the venue will serve as a beautiful locale, it’s still a surprising decision. French No. 1 Tsonga has already stated clay is not his best surface. A quicker hard court would help shorten the long rallies in which Monfils frequently finds himself entangled, not to mention better suit Llodra’s attacking style. The long short of it is that, barring injuries, these are going to be two evenly matched teams no matter what the surface, and the French need to avoid falling into a false sense of security. Playing the U.S. on the red dirt doesn’t mean what it did a decade or so ago.
Own Worst Enemy
Be it counting backwards from 10, taking a few deep breaths, or taking a page out of Frank Costanza’s book and yelling “Serenity now!” (risking insanity later), Tomas Berdych needs to find some way of letting the little things go. On a breakpoint for Berdych to extend the second set into a tiebreak, a Murray serve was initially called out, only to have Hawkeye reverse the call. Mohamed Lahyani then awarded the point to Murray rather than replaying it, infuriating Berdych in the process. It’s understandable that Berdych would rue letting the break point go, especially since he’d already saved multiple match points. But while he got his racquet on the serve, Lahyani was correct in his ruling. The initial out call in no way affected Berdych’s play on it, and yet, the Czech was still ranting about it in his press conference. But this isn’t the first time Berdych has failed to understand the rules and etiquette of the game, and sadly it probably won’t be the last. He needs to learn to stop sweating the small stuff. It doesn’t help his game any, and it certainly won’t win him any fans. With a game as big as his – a game that is capable of earning him a major – it would just be a waste to see it not come to full fruition simply because he can’t get out of his own way.
She won’t get a ton of press, because she doesn’t have multiple majors to her name, nor is she known outside tennis circles. All of that aside, the undisputed feel-good story of the week is Alisa Kleybanova’s planned return to WTA competition. The young Russian announced last July that she had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and would be undergoing treatment in Italy. She now says she’s finished her cancer treatment, the doctors are pleased with her health, and she’s anxious to return to action. Stories like this really drive home the point that tennis is just a game, and hopefully she’ll be an inspiration to others. One thing is for certain – win or lose when she returns to the court in Miami later this month, it will go down as a victory.
The worlds of sports and entertainment are never lacking for surprises, and this week was no exception. Who can honestly say that they saw the announcement that Martina Navratilova would be joining the Season 14 cast of Dancing with the Stars coming? There are players I’d love to see take to the dance floor, and others that I can see wanting to join the cast. Somehow the 18-time Grand Slam singles champion didn’t fit either mold. It’s hard to imagine her in a frilly ball gown. But she may just be full of surprises. She’s fit, and she also possesses the work ethic and commitment necessary for success. But it will be interesting to see how easily she takes direction from one of the show’s regular pros, Tony Dovolani, as well as criticism from the judges. Hopefully she proves adept at both. It’s just a fun TV show, but after the Seles debacle a few seasons ago, tennis could do with posting a respectable finish.
Tennis World Split over Strike Claims:
The main talking point in the tennis world this week has been the proposed player strike which world No.4 Andy Murray believes ATP professionals will not be scared to enforce should their concerns about the over-packed tennis calendar again be ignored. World Murray says that in conversations he has had with his fellow pros there seems to be a positive reaction to the proposals. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that but I’m sure the players will consider it,” said the 24-year-old Scot. “If we come up with a list of things we want changed – and everyone is in agreement but they don’t happen – then we need to have some say in what goes on in our sport. At the moment we don’t.” His calls for the shortening of the ATP calendar have also been reciprocated over recent times by the other top stars; Roger Federer, Raphael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. And a former great champion, 18-time Grand Slam singles winner Martina Navratilova, believes that Murray is right to stick up for himself and his fellow pros. “I don’t know why Andy Murray should be criticised for taking charge of his life,” said the 54-year-old. “If that’s the only way they can get to that point, then that’s what they have to do if they can unify themselves enough and that’s the last resort.” She continued: “Of course
all tennis players want to play. That’s what you train for. But I was complaining about the calendar being too long 25 years ago, saying we need to shorten it. We have shortened it on the women’s side. Women play about a month less than the guys. But now, especially with the Davis Cup and the top players being involved in the Davis Cup, for a Nadal or a Djokovic or a Federer, then that schedule is just untenable. We are talking about longevity.” But not everyone is in agreement with the British number one. German 1991 Wimbledon champion Michael Stich believes that players should stop worrying about such issues and get on with things as the sport provides them with a privileged career and income they should be happy with. “I don’t think it is a big issue. They are not playing more than we did 10 or 15 years ago and they have shorter seasons than we used to,” he said. “When people like Stefan Edberg played in singles and doubles at Grand Slams, they [just] did their job. Andy Murray doesn’t even play four rounds of Davis Cup each year.” India’s Somdev Devvarman has also waded in to the debate, telling India Today that players are underpaid: “What happened in the US Open [retirements] just stirred things up,” he said. “Also, we get only 12 percent of the revenue while it is we who generate the revenue. The players should have a good say in such matters. [A] lot of players like Rafa, [Andy] Roddick, Murray have spoken about it. Tennis is one major sport which has no players’ union but with the recent happening the game is about to see a change.”
Zahlavova Strycova and Pervak win Maiden Titles:
The Czech Republic’s Barbora Zahlavova Strycova and Ksenia Pervak of Russia were celebrating their maiden WTA titles last week after taking the crowns at Quebec and Tashkent respectively. “After the first set I changed my strategy. I could see she [Marina Erakovic] was very tired after the first set so I started putting more balls in the court and making her run,” Zahlavova Strycova said. “In the first set she was playing very good, but I could see she started to make more mistakes. It felt like she was breaking down. Once it got to the third set I was just in the zone. It felt like everything I hit was going in. I saw the ball so big. I just knew I was going to win the match.” Pervak was also understandably delighted with her showing. “I would like to give my best wishes to Eva [Birnerova, beaten finalist], who is also a very good friend of mine,” she commented. “She has had a wonderful week here and was a great competitor in the finals today. Both of us were nervous, but being the top seed was a little more pressure on me. This win is very special for me as it’s my first win on the WTA circuit. It was a pleasure to play here and get big support from the crowd. I’ll take a lot of positives from here. I know how to fight off pressure better.”
Wawrinka Splits with Lundgren:
Swiss star Stanislas Wawrinka has announced that his 13-month partnership with coach Peter Lundgren has ended. Roger Federer and Marat Safin can count Lundgren as a former mentor but the Swiss number two has decided to finish with the coach who helped him to the quarter finals of both the 2010 US Open and the 2011 Aussie Open. “I’ve had a great relationship with Peter over the past year and I want to thank him for his positive contribution to my career. We have had a lot of success and fun working together.”
Hewitt Named Sydney Ambassador:
Two-time Grand Slam winner Lleyton Hewitt has been named an ambassador for the Medibank International Sydney tournament beginning from next January. The 30-year-old will help to drum up support for the event and plans are already underway for a kids’ tennis clinic in November alongside an international charity event. “I’m really pleased to confirm my participation in next year’s Sydney International,” Hewitt said. “It is a really special tournament for me and I have great memories from my four titles there. The support I have received at Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre over the years has been fantastic and I can’t wait to kick start my 2012 season in front of a packed Ken Rosewall Arena crowd.”
Muster to Retire (Again):
44-year-old Austrian Thomas Muster has announced that he will once more retire from professional tennis after the Erste Bank Open in his native country next month. “You should not drag it along forever,” Muster said Wednesday. “I wanted to relive competitive tennis again and I’ve really enjoyed it.”
US Champs set for Kuala Lumpur:
New US Open doubles champions Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschner have announced that their first return to the courts since that New York triumph will be at the Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur which begins this weekend. “We have often discussed the strength of the singles field for the Malaysian Open, Kuala Lumpur, but tennis fans will see that the doubles game is equally impressive and having the US Open Champions in our line-up, gives the tournament even more status,” Tournament Director Nick Freyer of organisers IMG said.
Moya to Coach Young Spaniards:
Former world No.1 Carlos Moya has announced that he is set to take over the SD Tennis Academy in Madrid with friend Roberto Carretero with the aim of making it the country’s best tennis school. The 1998 French Open winner retired from the tour at the end of 2010 and has announced this as his new project. “I am starting a wonderful project,” said Moya. “I am really hoping to be able to share my knowledge with the new talents looking to make a career in tennis, but also with the ones looking to play tennis for fun. I really look forward to trying to develop one of the best tennis schools in this magnificent complex of Santo Domingo Club Social.”
Fish Earns Chips in Rankings Watch:
American Mardy Fish has climbed back above Gael Monfils of France to No.7 in the world in this week’s South African Airways ATP World Rankings on the back of the US Open. Argentine Juan Martin del Potro climbs four to No.13 as the only other movement in the Top 20. Portugal’s Rui Machado jumps 19 to No.61 and David Nalbandian is up 11 to No.53, while Eric Prodon of France leaps 15 slots to enter the Top 100 at No.93. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova celebrates her win at Quebec City by jumping 26 spots to enter the Top 50 at No.49 in the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings. Tashkent winner Ksenia Pervak does the same by jumping from No.52 to No.37. Silvia Soler-Espinoza, who Pervak defeated in Tashkent, goes from No.110 to a career-high No.90.
Rafa Charges on in GOAT Race:
After the US Open’s conclusion for 2011 Rafael Nadal has opened up his lead over 16-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer in the 2011 Tennis People Greatest Of All Time race. With points doubled for Grand Slam events Federer earns 100 points for falling to Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals while Nadal earns 200 for losing the final. This makes the scores:
Roger: 1100 Rafa: 1910
Petra Kvitova shocked former Wimbledon Champion Maria Sharapova with an outstanding display of powerful tennis to lift her maiden Grand Slam at the All England Club on Saturday.
Equally surprising was the dominant display shown by Novak Djokovic who cemented his new world number one ranking by handing out a four-set defeat to Rafael Nadal, the Spaniard’s first at SW19 since the 2007 final on Sunday.
Kvitova’s shot-making ability proved too much for Sharapova as she became the first Czech woman to triumph here since Jana Novotna in 1998, while she also became the first left-hander since another Czech great, Martina Navratilova, won the title back in 1990.
The match saw eight breaks of serve as both players displayed aggression in their play, but it was the 21-year-old Kvitova, in her maiden Grand Slam final, who held on to more of her service games to see out the 6-3, 6-4 victory.
The 24-year-old Sharapova also contributed six double faults, taking her total to a tournament-high 38, and although she fluffed one less unforced error than Kvitova, her nine fewer winners didn’t help her cause either.
Kvitova’s main weapons, other than her shot selection, included her ferocious service return that left Sharapova rooted to the spot on many an occasion as the ball whizzed past her. As her body language sagged, Kvitova’s shoulders continued to rise until her first ace of the match secured the win and saw the coveted Venus Rosewater Dish in her hands.
On Sunday, the recently dominant Nadal took on 2011’s dominant force Djokovic in what promised to be a tantalising encounter.
While we weren’t treated to a five-set classic, the tennis showcased by Djokovic was mesmerising and Nadal had very little in even his vast array of weapons to halt the Serbian.
The 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 scoreline did not flatter the 24-year-old who registered his fifth win over the Spaniard this year, all in finals, and a momentous 50th win in 51 matches in 2011.
The Serb only let up the pace for a short while in the third set but it was enough for Nadal to take it comfortably.
Djokovic’s shot selection returned, though, as he found corners with some excellent cross-court efforts including one on the slide when it seemed Nadal had pulled off an exquisite drop shot to leave the contender stranded at the back of the court.
Nadal received a few fortuitous net-cords as he searched for a way back in to match but this isn’t the mentally fragile Djokovic of two years ago who may have let such things get to him.
A poor game for Nadal at 3-4 in the fourth set gave Djokovic a sight of his third Grand Slam title and he didn’t let it slip, securing victory when Nadal sent a forehand long and the two-time Aussie Open winner sank to the floor in delight.
Petra Kvitova will meet Maria Sharapova in the 2011 Wimbledon final after they beat Victoria Azarenka and Sabine Lisicki respectively.
Kvitova shone in her 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 victory over the fourth seeded Belarusian who lost her first ever Grand Slam semi-final having had a her run ended in the quarters on several occasions previously.
The Czech eighth seed will now play her first Grand Slam final as she becomes only the fourth Czech woman to grace the Championship match here after Martina Navratilova, Hana Mandlikova and Jana Novotna.
Kvitova started blisteringly as her powerful play and high winner count helped her wrap up the first set in just 27 minutes.
Yet her one main weakness remains her inconsistency and at the start of the second set her level dropped to allow the inevitably loud Azarenka back in to the match.
21-year-old ‘Vika’ won the first six points of the second set to firmly take control and she pummelled away at Kvitova, also 21, with a succession of backhands before she finally conceded the set.
But Kvitova then switched herself back on and held service to love in the opening game of the third set that sent out a message of intent to her opponent. She then broke Azarenka as the semi-final debutant began to buckle under another succession of big hits and when she moved 3-0 ahead in the decider all looked lost for the world No.5.
After making it to match point Kvitova again began to wobble but a kindly double fault from Azarenka saw her over the line under the delighted gaze of Navratilova herself. It was a welcome relief for the girl who lost at this stage to Serena Williams last year.
“I can’t say anything, I’m so happy,” Kvitova told BBC Sport after the match. “I started very well, and it was all about the serves in both sets, so I’m very happy with mine in the third. I’m not thinking about the final too much yet.”
Sharapova and Lisicki stepped out on to Centre Court next as the crowd geared up to see the 2004 Champion take on another Grand Slam semi-final debutant.
The 6-4, 6-3 scoreline may have looked remarkably comfortable but the start of the match was far from so for the 24-year-old Russian.
A dreadful, error-strewn beginning left the fifth seed 0-3 in the first set, but she would have been delighted to see 21-year-old Lisicki, the surprise package of SW19 this year, crumble as Sharapova took nine out of the next ten games to leave the German reeling.
Once Sharapova had finally held her serve she settled and began to attack the service of Lisicki, which has been such a potent weapon for the world No.62 over the past week and a half.
Whilst Sharapova was pretty erratic by her own usual standards, she made 18 unforced errors during the match, a double-break at the beginning of the second left Lisicki with little hope of ever turning this one around.
“It’s amazing to be back in the final, it’s been a while,” she said of the seven-year gap since her last final appearance here. “I’m really happy, even through I didn’t play my best tennis today. She played really well in the first few games and I did quite the opposite – but I remained really focused.
“I haven’t gone past the fourth round here for a few years, but I still feel I have more to do. Kvitova is a great player on grass and is playing really good tennis – it’ll be a tough match, but I’m looking forward to it.”
By Thomas Swick
For a day at the Sony Ericsson without much action, Wednesday had a fair amount of action.
Mid-morning the scent of cinnamon-roasted nuts floated through the air and Kim Clijsters stood in the outdoor players’ lounge.
“Kim! Kim!” cried a rubbernecker pressed against the fence. He had shown astonishing restraint in waiting until she had finished her conversation.
Clijsters turned and gave him a stern thumbs up, saying, in effect: I appreciate your support. Please respect my privacy.
Nancy Saylor stood at the fence much more respectfully (though maybe she was just tired). She had gotten the train in Deerfield Beach at 8:20, then the Metrorail, finally a bus to Key Biscayne – arriving at Crandon Park at half past ten.
Roger Federer was practicing on Court 9 before an excited crowd of a couple hundred people. After about 15 minutes he took a seat in a chair. We had moved from watching a man at work to watching a man take a break from work. “Federer’s sitting down,” I told a couple who wandered over curious about the object of our attention.
A small storm erupted to our left as a large legion followed in the footsteps of Rafael Nadal, its numbers increased by a few Federer deserters.
Finding a shady spot, I was joined by a middle-aged woman in a sunhat.
“It’s nice to be in the shade,” I said.
She looked at me with a mildly alarmed expression, shaking her head and wagging her index finger.
“Ah, no habla Espanol,” I said. “Dondé vive?”
“Guatemala,” she said.
About quarter past twelve two Miami Dade County policemen arrived.
“Are you a tennis fan?” I asked one of the officers. He had a Spanish name.
“Once a year I am,” he said with a smile. I was thinking of telling him he had a plum assignment and then I thought of my own.
A little after 12:30 they made their move to the court and, when Federer had finished a quick autograph session (“He’s always patient,” someone said), they escorted him back to the locker room. In their wake an Asian family walked in delight, admiring their Roger Federer poster now adorned with a surprisingly legible Roger Federer signature.
By the time I got to Court 10, Nadal too was sitting down, shirtless, showing off his policeman’s tan.
Up in the media center Bud Collins – in green shirt and green-and-yellow trousers – told me there was a press conference with Roger Federer. I had never been to a post-practice press conference before, so I headed downstairs.
About 30 journalists were gathered, and six television cameras. A tray of cupcakes sat on a side table, but no one touched them – or offered one to Federer.
The first question was: What do you love about tennis?
“I have nobody to blame if I win or lose,” Federer said, making a rare unforced error in English. Though he recovered quickly and said: “It’s one on one.” Later, when asked if he would encourage his daughters to play tennis, he showed great touch with verbs: “I don’t know if I would encourage them, but I would support them.” He spoke thoughtfully about the recent disaster in Japan (a Japanese journalist had asked him if he had any words for the Japanese people).
Demonstrating that he can still throw his verbs around, Bud Collins asked him if he was “puzzled, annoyed, or amused” when people say that the Federer era is over.
“Depends who’s saying it,” Federer replied, before adding that he never thought that he’d “dominate for 15 years.”
And when someone asked about Martina Navratilova’s remark that he will never get back to his former level, he spoke warmly of the former champion after suggesting, to laughter throughout the room, that perhaps she missed his title in London because she was off “climbing Kilimanjaro.”
Back out on the grounds, I noticed that stone crabs had finally been added to the foods on sale. And I found a Federer fan whom I had met two years ago. She was standing with a younger woman in a white RF cap. They had met, they told me, through the fan message board on rogerfederer.com. Christina was originally from Greece; Yulia from Russia. Federer: Forging International Friendship.
“Roger Federer is the best,” Yulia said, when I mentioned that she has lots of compatriots on the courts. “I don’t care if he is Russian or not. He has such a great personality, and his tennis is so beautiful.”
Christina said that she’s been coming to the Sony Ericsson every year since 2006 (the last year Federer won it). I asked how long she was staying.
“As long as Roger is here,” she said. “If he loses I go on the web and book a flight out of here.”
Sam Querrey and Andy Murray were practicing on Court 9. “Still playing tennis?” an elderly gentleman asked another, who was sitting in a chair. “Your body holding up?”
“It’s been a tough winter,” the other man said. “I broke my wrist in six places.”
Not far away, Alexander Dolgopolov and Nicolas Almagro hit.
“You know who that is?” a teenager asked his friend.
“Yea,” the friend scowled. “He has a really weird serve.”
The Sania Mirza-Arantxa Parra Santonja match was moved from Court 3 to Court 10. I overheard two men talking about a female player they had seen practicing in what looked like her underwear.
Not far away, Bob Richmond stood. He was from Chicago, and enjoying the Sony Ericsson much more than the U.S. Open.
“This is so much more intimate,” he said. “There’s a lot more interaction with the players. And all the players who are at the Open are here. We’ve seen all the players,” he said, adding with amazement, “and you’re ten feet away from them. I feel like a stalker.” He paused. “In a good way.”
Then he turned his gaze to Mirza.
With tennis being in its off-season – wait, tennis has an off-season? – we thought we would give you daily content courtesy of Randy Walker’s book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY, so you can have your daily tennis fix. ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com), makes for an ideal companion for the tennis fan and player. It fits perfectly under your tree or in a stocking for the Holidays. The following are events that happened ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY….
Martina Navratilova defeats Chris Evert Lloyd 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 to win the Australian Open in Melbourne for her 17th victory over Evert Lloyd in the last 19 matches and her third career Australian singles title. “That was tough on the nerves,” says the 29-year-old Navratilova after the match. “It seems Chris and I always play great matches. Even though I lost the second set, I felt in control. I knew this was it. I knew it was for the No. 1 ranking. I was going to go after it, and I did.” Navratilova previously wins inAustralia in 1981 and 1983. Says Evert, the defending champion, “After the second set, there was a lot of pressure on both of us, and she handled it better.” In men’s singles, Mats Wilander advances into the final, finishing up a 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 rain-delayed victory over unseeded Slobodan Zivojinovic of Yugoslavia. The other men’s singles semifinal between Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg is suspended due to rain after only 10 minutes of play, Edberg leading 2-1.
Ivan Lendl defeats Mats Wilander 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 to win the year-end Nabisco Masters Championship for a fifth time. Says Lendl, ”Today may have been the best I hit the ball and moved. I think I still can get better, though. I can work on new shots and my physical strength and conditioning.” Wilander implements a more aggressive strategy against Lendl, coming to net more often and using his one-handed chip backhand in an attempt to close the gap between he and Lendl. Earlier in the week, Wilander says that his goal is to become the No. 1 player in the world. Says Wilander, “I tried to come in on his backhand, but that didn’t work. After a while, you don’t know what to do. A couple of times I was thinking, ‘he’s just too good for me.’” Says Lendl of his goals and how he can he can improve his game, “”There are millions of ways I could improve. There are new shots, new ways to hit the shots, ways to become more flexible, stronger…There are still so many things I want to do. Everyone in tennis would like to win a Grand Slam…I paid my dues on and off the court and now I’m enjoying the fruits of it.”
December 7 becomes a day of infamy for Pam Shriver as the American blows seven match points in losing to Wendy Turnbull of Australia 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (6) in the final of the New South Wales Open in Sydney. Turnbull trails 6-2 in the final-set tie-break against the 18-year-old Shriver.
It’s one thing to root for your favorite players on a dimensionless TV, coaching them through the screen. It’s a completely different matter to interact with them directly and observe their personalities in a relaxed, yet competitive, setting. And that’s exactly what happened Monday night at American University’s Bender Arena where current and retired professional players took part in bringing awareness for a great cause while entertaining patrons with power-hitting tennis and charming on-court exchanges. On hand were several greats, including Elton John himself and the always entertaining Billie Jean King.
As I made my way into the arena, the atmosphere was calm, yet the anticipation of the night’s event was palpable. Patrons walked in joyful and carefree, as if entering a new world disconnected from a cold and dreary outside. For the next five hours, all that mattered was tennis and raising awareness of HIV and AIDS through the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the Washington AIDS Partnership.
After winding stairs, small corridors, and sweaty campus athletes running by, I found myself in a room full of photographers and reporters. I felt lucky to find a spot in the third row and settled in for two press conferences. First up was Team Billie Jean King which included Rennae Stubbs, Mark Philippoussis, Martina Navratilova, Eric Butorac, and Billie Jean King. Philippoussis replaced an injured James Blake, and Butorac (given only 24 hours notice) replaced Mark Knowles who qualified for the year end doubles championship in London.
As soon as the players sat down, the noise level increased exponentially and it was only then that I realize how many photographers were present. The clicking and snapping shook me to the point where I half-believed a motor vehicle was being started right inside the room. It took more than a few minutes to adjust but the players didn’t seem to notice a difference. I guess that’s what happens when you travel the world and get grilled by media everywhere you go.
It was my first time seeing several of these players in person, including Billie Jean King whose presence filled the room. Her take-charge attitude took me by surprise but she didn’t get this far in the tennis business without her candor and resilience. Philippoussis was also incredibly microphone-shy but I completely forgot about that when he opened his mouth to speak. His Australian accent was inviting and his devilish smile put me in a trance. Navratilova was also a class act and raised awareness of one of the evenings’ causes while giving us some hard statistics: “93% of the time when a gay kid is bullied, teachers do not correct the action.” But if “any other name [had been used], they would have corrected it.” Although no source was stated, she went on to say that “a gay teenager is six times more likely to be bullied over their sexual orientation than a straight kid. It’s astonishing.” It’s truly heart-breaking to see the recent deaths of youth and it begins within our educational system she added.
Team Elton John, consisting of Anna Kournikova, Andre Agassi, Stefanie Graf, and Jan-Michael Gambill, elaborated on this phenomenon. Elton John pleaded saying that he was “worried about the current climate in America.” As much as he loves America and what we stand for, he sees the difference between us and other nations. As Americans, “we’re not talking to each other, whether it’s spite, sexuality, etc. It’s time to change and talk to each other.” He likened the situation on a global scale with his example of the Burmese woman who is in talks with the military to bring peace to her country. It’s only through communication that we can begin to solve our differences.
The mood then changed to a more light-hearted topic and Agassi’s foundation was also touched on. Graf looked calm and exquisite, while Kournikova remained relatively quiet. What Kournikova didn’t say was made up for with the amount of makeup on her face and enormous square-cut yellow-gold plated engagement ring (isn’t she supposed to be married by now?). Regardless, she was beautiful and became more engaging when her fans were present during the next stop in the evening: The very loud auction, headed by none other than Baltimore, MD-native Pam Shriver.
As I had never attended a live auction before, I didn’t know what to expect. But as soon as it began, it was clear who was in charge. The players were assigned to help Pam auction off the items, but she single-handedly commanded the room with her charm and humor, talking football, modern art, and even tennis. The rallies were intense and the attendees were smitten into bidding hundreds of thousands of dollars. Kournikova privately commented to Billie that Pam was “brilliant” in the way she took charge. Pammy, if commentating doesn’t work out, you’ve always got a career in auctioneering.
The auction went as follows:
- Two signed Sir Elton John Piano Benches and a photo with Elton John went for $10,500 each.
- 2011 BJK’s Wimbledon Package included two tickets to the Men’s and Women’s Finals in her box, private tour of the grounds with Billie Jean King and 4 nights’ accommodation, and went for $32,000.
- 2011 US Open Package included two suite tickets in BJK’s suite for two sessions during Labor Day weekend, air transportation, and 2 nights’ accommodation, and went for $17,000.
- Andre Agassi Grand Slam Limited Edition watch from Longines, 18-carat rose gold case set, with 56 VVS quality diamonds, and a gold ’8′ representing his grand slams. Billie herself got a bid in for $10,000 and Elton John outbid her for $12,000. Agassi then came to the microphone and surprised everybody with his offer: “I’ll hand [the watch] to you personally, I’ll sign it if you want, … and you can kiss my wife!” The crowd roared with laughter and cheers, with Pam exclaiming to Stefanie to “pucker up” when it sold for $16,000.
- 2011 French Open Package included tickets for the first two days, 4 nights’ accommodation, a meet and greet with Tennis Channel on-air personalities and a visit to the Roland Garros set among other things. Navratilova then took the mic and said, “We’ll see you in the booth. We might even get you to answer a couple questions during the match. I’ll be there!” She sold the package for $25,000.
- 2011 Super Bowl Package included four tickets, two hotel rooms for a three night stay. Stubbs even bid on the item but it was taken home by an attendee for $11,000.
- Tennis lesson and hitting session with Andre Agassi and Stefanie Graf for two people for 60 minutes was the most expensive event of the night. As the rallying became heated, Agassi even bid “$25,000 NOT to do it.” Elton John bid twice among others as well. In the end, it went for $50,000.
- An original limited-edition Herb Ritts Photograph of Madonna went for $18,000 to Billie Jean King.
- Agassi’s Grand Slam Experience included two tickets to his “Grand Slam for Children” event in Las Vegas, two nights’ accommodation. There were two packages sold for $12,000 each.
- 2011 International Tennis Hall of Fame Tournament and Induction Ceremony included two tickets to the induction ceremony as well as two tickets to the semifinals to the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships next July, and one night accommodation. Agassi will headline the ballot for induction. There were two packages and the winning bid was for $11,000 each.
In total, $267,000 was raised during the auction, with half of the proceeds staying in the Washington, DC area to benefit the Washington AIDS Partnership. The total money raised for the evening was around $500,000 and this took the World Team Tennis Smash Hits event over the $10 million mark during its eighteen year history. The remaining proceeds will go to the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
After the auction, it was time for what everyone had been waiting for, the on-court matches. It began with a celebrity mixed doubles showdown, and then went into the World Team Tennis match format, consisting of men’s doubles, women’s doubles, men’s singles, and mixed doubles.
As the player introductions were being made, I noticed that although it was Team Elton John pitted against Team Billie Jean King, it might as well have been Team Nike versus Team Adidas. Elton John sported Rafael Nadal’s white/lime green Nike Court Ballistecs while the majority of his team sported other Nike shoes. Meanwhile, Billie Jean King was clad in white/dark blue Adidas Barricades, with the rest of her team also in Adidas. During the press conference Billie had mentioned that there was no method to the way teams were chosen this year, but I believe I figured out their secret.
The celebrity showdown consisted of Elton John with Martina Navratilova taking on married couple Andre Agassi and Stefanie Graf. As Elton John walked onto the court, I began to wonder if he could actually play tennis. He started this pro-am event when he was 45 years old and today he stood at a sturdy 63. My doubts completely vanished when he hit several unorthodox forehand winners and “out-lobbed” Agassi on two occasions.
It was more than once that Navratilova and Graf got into heated cross-court volley rallies while the crowd cheered and applauded. But what took me most by surprise was the level of hitting from Graf. As I had seen both Navratilova and Agassi live at the US Open the year they both retired (2006), they looked just as strong and animated in their play tonight. However, I had never before watched Graf play live. Her attitude and poise on court was unmatched. She graciously applauded unreturnable shots but hit booming cross-court forehands when she had the opportunity as well. She was not only quick on her feet, but had a gentle smile permanently glued on her face. And why not? It was a good evening to have fun for fans, for a cause, and she was playing with her hubby as well who was cheering her with “come on, baby!” and “you got this!”
The first match in WTT format was men’s doubles consisting of Agassi and Gambill taking on Philippoussis and Butorac. From Philippoussis’ first serve, it was clear that I chose the wrong seat to sit at. With media sitting directly behind the baseline, Philippoussis blasting powerful serves right at us, and no barrier between the two, I was quickly reminded how easy it can be to get hit if you’re looking down for a split second. The crowd applauded his aces and Agassi even stood baffled a few times. When Team Billie Jean King went up 4-1 due to Philippoussis’ serve it seemed like it would be over quickly, but Agassi and Gambill stepped up their games and put pressure on Team Elton John with better returning. In the end, Team Elton John came out victorious with a 5-4 win.
The women’s doubles that followed was considerably livelier with players taking body shots left and right! Of course, none were intentional as Graf and Kournikova teamed up against Navratilova and Stubbs.
At one point, Graf perfectly aimed a forehand for Stubbs’ right shoulder which playfully knocked her down before Graf ran over smiling and helping her up. The next time it was Kournikova’s shot that accidentally hit Navratilova. Stubbs retaliated by chasing Kournikova around the court and bringing the crowd to their feet. What amazed me was that as small of stature as Kournikova is, she has a piercing forehand and splendid accuracy on her volleys. Navratilova and Stubbs walked away victorious giving Team Billie Jean King the win 5-3.
In possibly the most anticipated serving clinic of the night, Philippoussis took on Agassi with both players served blinding balls that the crowd responded by “Oooing” and “Ahhhing.”
When points were actually played, it wasn’t hard to see how Agassi had won his 8 grand slams or how Philippoussis attained world number 8 in his prime. The only difference I could notice between retired players such as Agassi and Philippoussis and current pros such as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic was the level of consistency. The power of these retirees was still as compelling as ever and their precision to paint the lines was evident. It was only their somewhat decreased level of consistency that separated them from their younger and stronger counterparts. Although Philippoussis walked away with the win, 5-3, the match wasn’t without giggles from both the players and the ball kids as Philippoussis once held up play to direct the ball kids to where they were “supposed” to be standing.
In the night’s final match, Agassi once again teamed up with his wife Graf and took on Philippoussis and Navratilova. By this time, the players were even more comfortable on court and it showed by their increased interaction with fans.
Several times Agassi apologized to Graf after fumbling a point “Sorry babe, here we go!”, but it was Navratilova’s stamina that amazed me most of all. She was the oldest on court at 54 but moved like someone nearly half her age slicing backhand winners down the line. At 2-2, Graf sustained a minor injury to her upper left calf and Kournikova stepped in to finish. The baseline duel between the men continued until Kournikova stepped in to put away a perfect short volley confusing both of her opponents, Philippoussis and Navratilova. On the next point, Philippoussis took it easy on Kournikova as they hit cross-court baseline shots to each other. After 8 rallies someone in the crowd yelled “boring!” This was enough to make Philippoussis lose his focus and smile while his next shot went straight into the net. The match went to a tiebreaker but Philippoussis and Navratilova were just too much for Agassi and Kournikova, who won 5-4. This brought the final cumulative score to 19-15 for Team Billie Jean King and the 18 year record of this event was evened out at 9-9.
As the evening was brought to a close and the players began walking off court while signing autographs, I realized that I had never attended an event like this before. As a tennis fan, I appreciated the competitive yet animated edge of the evening’s festivities. As a supporter of bringing goodness and awareness into this world, I was proud to be a part of history. But I think it’s the players most of all who make this positive energy possible. They search for ways to educate and interact with their fans and the causes that are important. May we each take time in our own small ways to bring prosperity and awareness to others, and stand in the footsteps of our favorite tennis players who set the supreme example of charity.
To view a video of the evening, go to USA Today’s Tennis page
Video courtesy of USA Today Sports
Until next time, cheers!
ESPN’s “30 for 30” film series presents Unmatched, the story of women’s pro tennis champions Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. Arguably the greatest sports rivals of all time, Chris and Martina were as much close friends as they were fierce competitors. Unmatched documents the first time the two women have sat together to discuss their long history of both jealousy and admiration, which began in 1973.
Unmatched premieres next Tuesday, September 14th at 8:00PM
Only a few hundred spectators saw the pert 18-year-old Evert beat the scrappy 16-year-old Czech in 1973. “I remember that she was fat,” Evert recalled. “She was very emotional on the court, whining if she didn’t feel she was playing well. But I remember thinking, if she loses weight, we’re all in trouble.” Said Navratilova, “My goal was for her to remember my name.” 80 matches later – amid the extraordinary growth of women’s tennis – Evert not only remembered, but became a tried and true friend and confidante, remarkable considering the two appeared to be polar opposites in upbringing, life styles and personal relationships.
Through a series of personal conversations, filmmakers Nancy Stern and Lisa Lax, along with producer Hannah Storm, tell the story of one of the greatest one-on-one sports rivalries and capture these two extraordinary athletes’ views on tennis and an ever-changing world. Unmatched was created by an all-female production crew (Directors, Producers, Director of Photography, Editor, Associate Producers).