Mats Wilander

Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl: Different players with a similar history

By Lisa-Marie Burrows

Andy Murray is still one of the main topics of discussion on TV and in the newspapers (particularly the British ones!) after his epic battle against defending US Open champion, Novak Djokovic on Monday night, after a grueling five set match that lasted almost 5 hours that boasted exquisite rallies in each of the 5 sets played.

Ivan Lendl, the coach of Murray since January 2012, has admitted that Andy Murray and his ‘Slamless’ situation very much remind him of himself when he was younger and competing on Tour, but the comparisons do not end only there…

Mentality
Andy Murray has become more known for his tough mentality as he has for his great physicality. Yes, there have been moments on the tennis court where he has admitted that his mind let him down (e.g. most famously during the Wimbledon final this year against Roger Federer where he could have been up 2 sets to 0) but as his tennis has developed, so has his mental toughness and ability to win attitude.

This is also comparable to the attitude displayed on court by Ivan Lendl. He too played in an era alongside tennis greats such as John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg and experienced some crushing defeats at the hands of them, but just as Murray has done, he never gave up and always believed that he could win. Like Lendl, Andy Murray has learnt from his painful losses.

Pressure in their prime
Throughout his career, the Olympic champion has frequently single-handedly shouldered the weight and expectation from the British public to do well, win tournaments, knock out the top 3 three players in the world and win a Grand Slam. Not much to ask of a young player in their early twenties? Now at 25-years-old, Murray seems to be able to deal with that pressure and has finally answered the call and hopes of many after his victory at the US Open.

Ivan Lendl as a coach and player has been a good influence on Murray as he can relate to the pressure and strain which Andy Murray has been under. He too had experienced it at a very young age and having lost to Connors, Borg and Wilander, he admitted that he did not know how to play against the big players in his prime and it was something that he learnt to do.

Fitness vs fatigue
Andy Murray did not have an easy start early on his career, having been criticized heavily for his personality, his mentality, for having a low first serve percentage, he was also targeted about his fitness. He experienced cramping during long matches in his early twenties and he knew that in order to compete at the top level, against the top players of the world, he had to become physically stronger as well as mentally stronger and this was also the case for Ivan Lendl. Like his coach had to when he was younger, Murray has spent hours at the gym and during training he has become increasingly stronger and has trained hard to keep his endurance levels up to sustain his energy levels during long matches – which have paid off extremely in recent years. Murray continues with his same demanding regime on the practice courts and in the gym today.

Fifth time lucky
Ivan Lendl could relate to Andy Murray and his sorrow after yet another Grand Slam final defeat at the hands of Roger Federer at Wimbledon this year, as he too experienced crushing losses and lost four Grand Slam finals before winning in his fifth appearance, à la Andy Murray. After his quartet of heartbreaking defeats, Lendl went on to win another eight Grand Slams and if history really does repeat itself, who knows if and when Andy Murray will lift another major title – or eight?

The stats
It took 5 sets for Ivan Lendl to win his first Grand Slam in Roland Garros against John McEnroe and he rallied back from a two set deficit to secure his victory, whereas for Andy Murray at the US Open, he also needed 5 sets to lift his first major but he needed to rally back after losing the third and fourth sets before sealing the championship title in the penultimate set.
The strangest thing of it all is that during their encounter, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic equalized the record for the longest final of all time played at the US Open after their 4-hour and 54 minute battle and they equaled the record of – yes you guessed it – Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander in 1988 which saw Lendl win after 4-hours and 54 minutes too.

Andy Murray has now laid his demons to rest, as his coach had after finally winning that elusive Grand Slam that he was so desperately chasing and yearning for. I just hope that now the talented Scot has got time to enjoy this momentous occasion he relishes it immensely before another dreaded question starts to beckon…. ‘Andy, do you think you can win more majors?’

Analyzing Time of Match Between Djokovic-Nadal

by Matthew Laird

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic contested their third consecutive Grand Slam final at the recently concluded 2012 Australian Open. It was by a wide margin their most competitive and exciting meeting at this stage. There was a great deal of high drama, multiple swings in momentum, and no shortage of stellar shot-making from both players. It was an epic match and will surely be remembered among the most exciting Grand Slam finals of all time. The match also had its place in history assured because it shattered the previous record for the longest Grand Slam final of all time, breaking the previous record set by Mats Wilander and Ivan Lendl at the 1988 US Open by nearly an hour.*

It should come as no surprise that the length of the Nadal-Djokovic final, which was seven minutes short of six hours, was not due entirely to the quality of play. Both Nadal and Djokovic are known for their pace of play, which is – not to put too fine a point on it – quite slow. There has been a great deal of discussion recently about the amount of time taken between points, and Nadal and Djokovic are usually at the center of these complaints.

For anyone who may not be aware, there is a rule in both the ITF and the ATP rulebooks that states “play shall be continuous” and that limits the amount of time a server should be allowed between the end of one point and the beginning of the next to either 20 or 25 seconds, depending on which set of rules is being followed during the match (Grand Slam matches take place under ITF auspices). Both Nadal and Djokovic routinely go over this time constraint.

It is difficult for a casual tennis observer to try to figure out whether or not these delays are truly egregious, because the amount of statistical data that we have easy access to is severely limited. We cannot see precisely how much time is expended by each player in between points, how long points take on average, or any number of other stats that would be useful in trying to parse the seriousness of these concerns.

I’ve come up with a simple, blunt method of estimating the amount of time taken between points, using only data that’s available on either the ATP or Australian Open websites. To find the average length of a point, just take the match length and divide it by the total number of points. Granted, this includes the amount of time that the ball was actually in play in addition to the time taken in between points, so it is not as sophisticated a measurement as I would prefer, but it is the best method that I could come up with, given the information available.

Given that there were 369 points played over 5 hours and 54 minutes, the average length of each point in the Nadal-Djokovic final was 57.4 seconds – nearly a minute per point played. This is the longest amount of time per point for any Grand Slam final since the ATP started keeping track of these statistics. To fully understand whether or not that is an unusual stat, more historical data is necessary.

Prior to 2009, the seven slowest finals had all taken place at the French Open, which is as it should be, considering the court conditions at Roland Garros lead to more long, drawn-out rallies than at the other majors. The slowest-played finals up to that point were Nadal-Federer in 2006 and Kuerten-Corretja in 2001, which both took about 47 seconds per point. The fastest-played finals have been at Wimbledon (again, no surprise there), where Sampras-Becker in 1995 took 29 seconds for each point, Agassi-Ivanisevic in 1992 took 27, and Sampras-Ivanisevic in 1998 took 25.5 seconds.

The trend over the last twenty years has generally been towards slower matches. This is partly because the serve-and-volley game has become significantly less common, so that almost all points are decided by baseline rallies, which necessarily take up more time. But I don’t think that fully explains the extent to which the pace of play has dropped.

While the most recent Grand Slam final was the slowest-played on record, it is important to note that the top six slowest are also the six most recent. The 2011 Djokovic-Nadal US Open took 56 seconds per point, their 2010 US Open meeting took 52.4, the 2011 Australian Open between Djokovic and Murray took 51.8, the 2011 Djokovic-Nadal final at Wimbledon took 50.2, and the 2011 French Open between Nadal and Federer took 48 seconds for each point.

Before the 2010 US Open, no Grand Slam final had been ever played at a pace of 50 seconds per point or slower. Since then, all of them except one have. That one involved Roger Federer, who is a very quick player and was able to bring the average down, even though he was playing on the red clay of Roland Garros. The other five finals all involved Djokovic, Nadal, and Andy Murray, all of whom take their time between points.

In all of these finals, there were many long, grinding rallies. All three of the players I just mentioned are fantastic defenders, but I have trouble believing that the rallies in all of these recent finals were so historically lengthy, on average, that they should be solely responsible for the unprecedented slow pace of the last half-dozen Grand Slam finals. It has to come down to the amount of time that these players are taking in between points.

I do not recall a single instance in the final of the umpire giving either Nadal or Djokovic a warning about taking too much time. Honestly, I can’t remember that happening in any of the six most recent finals. This is not a situation like what is happening with grunting in the women’s game, where people are saying that there ought to be a rule to deal with this behavior. There is a rule, it’s just being ignored.

There are some commentators (like Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim) who find the pace of play on the men’s side to be as frustrating as the grunting or shrieking on the women’s side. I think there’s an argument to be made that the time limit as it currently stands is no longer appropriate. The game has gotten significantly more athletically-demanding in the last ten or fifteen years, so perhaps players do need more recovery time between points. However, I do think that the ATP and the ITF should either change the rule or enforce it, because simply ignoring it because the game’s top players flout it so consistently is not an appropriate response.

Andy Murray Could Open the Floodgates With a Slam Win in 2012

Though his 2011 campaign didn’t end exactly as he hoped, the year was still a successful one for world number four Andy Murray: five titles won (including two Masters Series 1000 victories); advancing to the semifinals or better at all four Grand Slams; and a period spent back in third place in the rankings.

Now there’s only one way Murray can follow up on those achievements, and that’s win a Grand Slam singles title in 2012. He’ll have his first opportunity to do so before he knows it.

And once the first one is out of the way, more can surely be expected.

And if he were looking for inspiration in that regard, he could do worse than look at the career arc of Hall-of-Famer Ivan Lendl. In the early-1980s, Lendl was known as a “choker” because for all of his success at the regular weekly tour stops, when it came Slam-time, more often than not, he fell short. Lendl actually lost his first four Major finals before prevailing at the French Open in 1984. From that point on, he never looked back, winning eight Majors total from ’84 to 1990.

But back to his early defeats in those Slam finals: They came at the hands of three of the game’s greatest players ever: Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors and Mats Wilander. Murray has finished runner-up three times among the Majors: twice at the Australian Open and once at the U.S. Open. Last year’s loss at the Aussie was dealt to him by Novak Djokovic over the course of his dream season, and his other two defeats in Slam finals were meted out by Roger Federer.

In this day and age, there’s no shame in losing to those two, particularly in the later stages of a big tournament.

Of course, skill plays a tremendous part in making a breakthrough at tennis’ premier events, but luck can’t be discounted. Looking at Lendl once again can be cited: He was down two sets to none against John McEnroe before the American lost his concentration and let Lendl back into the match.

How the draw shakes out can be a big factor in determining victory: If Robin Soderling doesn’t beat Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of the 2009 French Open, does Federer complete his career Slam then?

In other words, a lot of outside factors go into making tennis history. Once it all comes together for Murray, it should become a little easier to add more titles to the ledger, and that “best player to never win a Major” tag will be a thing of memory.

Navratilova Edges Evert to win Australian Title – On this day in Tennis History

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….

December 7

1985

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.

1987

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.”

1980

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.

Cahill Turns Down Murray, Lendl To Return And Bryan Bros. Make History

*The Aussie former coach of Andre Agassi and Lleyton Hewitt, Darren Cahill, has ruled himself out of the running to become Andy Murray’s latest coach. The Scot had hoped to land the former US Open semifinalist following his recent split with Miles Maclagen but Cahill has intimated he would rather concentrate on his work with Adidas and ESPN. Todd Martin, Sven Groeneveld, Larry Stefanki and Tony Roche are other names linked with the position. “I think the world of Andy and I think he’s a major winner in the waiting,” said the Las Vegas-based Cahill. “But if I was going to go back to full-time coaching, I’d probably would have hung in there with Roger, seeing whether Roger offered me the job.”

*Ivan Lendl has confirmed that he intends to join the ATP Champions Tour having rarely picked up a racquet since his retirement in 1994. Paris is the chosen destination for his return, the site of his famous French Open victory of 1984 where he came from two sets down to beat American John McEnroe in the final. This gives McEnroe a shot at revenge. “Oh boy, l’m looking forward to it,” he said. “We had some great matches together but it’s been a long time and he hasn’t played for more than 15 years so I think we need to discuss a few things, both on and off the court. I know he’s been working most of the last year to get back into the type of shape he needs to be in, because it doesn’t get any easier as you get older. But we’ll be giving it our all, that’s for sure.” Yannick Noah will also make his return to the tour after a seven-year absence and Mats Wilander will also be present. The other two contestants of the October event are yet to be announced.

*They’ve done it, the Bryan brothers have finally become the most successful doubles team of all time following last week’s Farmers Classic in Los Angeles. Title number 62 came courtesy of a 6-7 (6), 6-2, 10-7 triumph over Eric Butorac and Jean-Julien Rojer. It was their 100th final together and was their sixth title in LA. “It’s sweet, feels awesome, hanging out with family and friends after the match,” said Mike. “It’s a cool feeling.” “Sixty two brings a smile to our face,” added Bob. “It’s been an emotional ride, talking about it every day for the past couple of months. To finally do it is incredible. There were definitely nerves out there and those guys were playing great. It was a very hard fought match. Our legs felt like jelly, arms spaghetti… It was a flood of emotion. I never thought we’d be this consistent, this healthy our whole career. We’ve never given up on each other.”

*Following on from that record-breaking win many of the world’s top doubles players have been paying homage to the feats of America’s doubles specialists. Arch rivals over recent years have been the Canadian Daniel Nestor and his long-time Serbian partner Nenad Zimonjic. Nestor was beaming with praise at the achievement: “They are the face of doubles. They’ve pretty much been the No. 1 team for 10 years. When people think of doubles they think of the Bryans. They are fun to watch. I don’t think any team in history has been as consistent as they have been. They rarely have bad losses and they’ve won a lot. 62 titles is an amazing achievement and they’ve got a lot of time to go. They could reach 80 or 90 titles easily.” To see what Zimonjic, Mark Knowles and James Blake, among others, also had to say visit the ATP website.

*The first signings for the 2011 Hopman Cup have been anounced. John Isner and Serena Williams have signed up to play for the United States. Justine Henin and Steve Darcis will play for Belgium while Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic will partner up for Serbia. Lleyton Hewitt has agreed to return for Australia and Gael Monfils will play for France alongside Kristina Mladenovic. Tournament director Paul McNamee said: “It’s a spectacular line-up. There is potential for some really great match-ups for both the men and the women, not to mention the mixed.” We are now just waiting on the name of Hewitt’s female partner.

*Tennis’ long-running ‘anti-grunt’ campaign has received fresh backing from French star Marion Bartoli who was shrieked off court by Victoria Azarenka on Vika’s route to lifting the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford last week. “It’s difficult to play against those kinds of players,” Bartoli said. “I think it’s fine to grunt sometimes when you make an effort, but sometimes it’s just so loud. It’s hard to focus on the other side of the net. But it’s not something I can get bothered by, because otherwise I would lose my concentration so much. I just need to forget about it, but it’s hard.” There were other grumbles too from the elder Bartoli. To see these and Azarenka’s defence, visit TennisReporter.net.

*Another grumbling tennis queen this week is teenage American sensation Melanie Oudin. The 18-year-old has, at times, struggled to hit the form which saw her dazzle the courts of New York in that incredible giant killing run of 2009. Pressure seems to be mounting, and she seems to increasingly lose her temper on-court. “It’s kind of annoying sometimes when people are like ‘Pull it together Melanie,’ and they yell at me kind of,” she said after her 6-1 6-3 defeat to Victoria Azarenka in the second round at Stanford last week. “Really, like you get down here and play. I know they mean it in a good way, like to say ‘C’mon’ Melanie,’ but you don’t have to say ‘Pull it together,’ like ‘Get your energy up’ That’s what some lady was telling me.” The full interview can also be seen at TennisReporter.net.

*Following the conflicting reports about Juan Martin Del Potro’s proposed injury return in last week’s column the reigning US Open champ has posted pics of his long-awaited return to the practice courts on his Twitter page. Serena Williams posted an interesting one this week. She claimed that she was charged $100 to watch the likes of Andy Murray at the Farmers Classic in LA despite the publicity work she had done for the event plus the fact that she is one of the greatest women’s players of all time. “Oh my God, the Farmers Classic tournament in LA is charging me $100 a ticket after I did publicity for them. (Laughs out loud) I’ll send them a bill for my publicity. Anyway, don’t go if you’re in LA. I would have paid $1,000 if I had not done publicity for them.”

*Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova’s win in Istanbul last week has seen her climb to a career high No. 24 in this week’s Sony Ericsson WTA rankings. In the doubles, Liezel Huber has regained the number 1 doubles ranking slot from the Williams sisters following her win in Stanford with returning mum Lindsay Davenport.

*Reuters have been reporting that Victoria Azarenka has pulled out of San Diego having won at Stanford.

*Spanish newspaper El Mundo has held its annual poll of the country’s favourite celebrity with Rafa Nadal coming out on top. He defeated Spanish footballer and World Cup winning hero Iker Casillas who came second.

Tennis Needs a Change

Tennis is a brutal game on the body. Whether you’re a recreational player or a professional player, today’s game is not what it used to be. In recent memory, it seems that not a week goes by before we hear of players sustaining new injuries or having to re-address past injuries. Gael Monfils has suffered innumerable ankle and knee problems. David Nalbandian, Lleyton Hewitt and Tommy Haas all underwent hip surgeries this year alone. Rafael Nadal has experienced not only severe abdominal tears, but knee injuries that kept him from defending his title in Wimbledon last year.

In contrast, take the Champions Tour. While traveling the world and earning fame beyond their grand slammin’ years, retired tennis pros take combat in friendly matches and exhibitions for viewer pleasure. The likes of John McEnroe, Goran Ivanisevic, Mats Wilander and Jim Courier have been staples of this tour and are not likely to go anywhere soon. In fact, while watching some of these players on court, it’s daunting to see that their mentality, physical strength and tennis abilities have only been slighted to a minimal degree. They are not ‘young’ anymore, but they are all still in great shape and playing tennis well into their fifties! Most of the players on the Champions Tour sustained relatively few injuries during their time on ATP Tour, with the exceptions of Jimmy Connors (hips) and Andre Agassi (back). What gives?

John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg at the Champions Cup in Boston on May 1, 2010

How did they stay away from the injury bug while Marcos Baghdatis, Juan Martin del Potro and even Roger Federer can’t? Each player achieved elite status and was pitted against the toughest opponents of their era, so why the injury overload in today’s generation?

I think a better question to ask is: What has changed since then in the game of tennis?

The answer? Plenty. From the advancement in technology affecting racquets and strings, to the increased physicality of the sport, to the never-ending calendar of tournaments and commitments. Often times players laugh when asked about what they did in their ‘off-season.’ An off-season in most sports is several months. For top ATP pros, they’re lucky if they get a couple weeks at the end of the year before hustling back onto a tennis court. Others are plagued by injuries that cut their season short.  Tennis racquet material has also gone from laminated wood to aluminum to heavier carbon fibre composites. Strings have been given a makeover and have allowed players to tighten or loosen their strings to unthinkable tensions putting strain on their wrists, elbow, arms, and shoulders.

More interestingly, the height of the tennis player has increased. During the 80s and 90s, the average height of a top player was hovering around 6′. During the Sampras-Federer era, it was about 6’1”. Now, with John Isner, Sam Querrey, Marin Cilic, Juan Martin del Potro and Tomas Berdych leading the next round of elite players, the average has risen to 6’2.5.” We are seeing the optimal height of a tennis player look more like the expected height for a volleyball or basketball team. And with height comes stronger and more angular serves with some guys consistently serving in the 120- to 130-mph range.

American ATP standout, John Isner, measures in at 6′ 9” towering over Rafael Nadal at Indian Wells this year.

This raises questions about how much more physical can tennis get and what other technological advancements could possibly occur to make this game even more harsh on the human body. It’s tough to imagine a player that can retrieve more balls than Nadal, hit faster serves than Roddick or move as quickly as Andy Murray, but the evolution of tennis continues and we’re bound to see players surpass these already-amazing feats.

David Nalbandian, Lleyton Hewitt and Tommy Haas were mentioned at the beginning of this post. What do these three players have in common? They are all long-time veterans of the game and all three required hip surgeries earlier this year. They could be a good indication of where today’s guys will end up in five or ten years: broken down and battered.

I’m afraid one day I’ll wake up in 20 years, excited to go watch a retired pro play at a local venue, only to be disappointed that he can barely move on court because of all the beatings his body took during the pro tour. I wouldn’t be surprised to not see any of today’s top pros going into the Champions Tour or doing exhibition events like they once did.

Something needs to change in the game of tennis to preserve these players’ bodies, but what is it? Is it the scoring setup, the length of the season, technology or a combination of several things? Many players advocate for a shorter season with less necessary event commitments, others think that Davis Cup should be every four years instead of every year, yet others think that nothing needs to change and that the best win because they can balance and organize everything. What’s your take?

IS “B” FOR “BORG” OR FOR “BOSTON” OR PERHAPS FOR “BRUINS”?

Bjorn Borg played his first match in the United States in 10 years Thursday night at the $150,000 Staples Champions Cup, part of the global Champions Series tennis circuit. He beat fellow Swede Mikael Pernfors 6-2, 2-6, 10-8 (Champions Tie-breaker).

It is interesting to see Bjorn playing tennis with a Dunlop tennis racquet – as opposed to the old Donnay racquets from all of those matches all of us remember so well (or have seen on YouTube if you are of a younger generation). You can’t help but notice the huge “B” on Bjorn’s shirt that he played in on Thursday. Does it stand for “Boston?” Since as a Swede, he grew up playing hockey and patterned his two-handed backhand after a slap shot, perhaps the B stands for “Bruins” as in the Boston Bruins, the NHL squad from Boston? Well, “B” stands for Bjorn or Borg and it is part of his Bjorn Borg line of clothing that is immensely popular in Europe. The Bjorn Borg line of underwear is available in the United States and is tremendously comfortable if you haven’t worn them.

Let’s hope John McEnroe can beat Mats Wilander Friday night so Borg and McEnroe can duke it out in the semifinals of the Boston event – for old times sake.

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RODDICK AND FRIENDS ENTERTAIN ATLANTIC CITY

By David Goodman

There was plenty of good humor at the Caesars Tennis Classic in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall Saturday night. Emcee Justin Gimelstob remarked that at least Ivan Lendl, who lost 6-3 to Mats Wilander, wasn’t wearing the tight shorts he sported in the 1980s and 1990s, and Andy Roddick taught courtside fans how to play a tennis drinking game during his 6-4 win over Pete Sampras. But the best line of all may have been the courtside announcer’s remark that the 7,300 fans in attendance represented the largest tennis audience in the history of Atlantic City.

Perhaps that was funny because there were likely no more than 5,000 fannies in the seats, or because Atlantic City has never hosted an actual ATP or WTA Tour event. (The city has hosted a Fed Cup match, a couple exhibitions and the Atlantic City vs. Pennsylvania Athletic Club match in 1931.) It wasn’t brought up in any of the press conferences, but I’d bet last night’s after party at Dusk Nightclub in Caesars was the loudest and most crowded tennis after party in Atlantic City’s history.

All kidding aside, tennis fans – no matter how many were actually there – had plenty to smile about. They saw Wilander and Lendl renew their rivalry from the late 1980s, Sampras bang serves, Marat Safin hit winners, and Roddick hit and giggle his way to victories over both Sampras and Safin. They also watched as event “host” Venus Williams – with a little help from the more experienced Gimelstob – bantered about with her male counterparts between sets.

It was undoubtedly a feel good event, and great for tennis lovers to see six former world No. 1s having such fun. And Caesars deserves credit for getting in on the action by decking out their hotel and casino with tennis posters, giant tennis balls and nets hanging from the ceilings, and tasty tennis cupcakes (free!).

Who knows if the promoter made money or Caesars got enough bang for their buck. Let’s hope so. This type of evening can be a real win-win. Pay the players, entertain the fans, fill up the hotels, attract paying sponsors and make tennis the story of the day. And don’t forget the after party.

UP IN THE AIR WITH JIM COURIER

Being a tennis player means a lot of traveling.  You get to see many interesting places and collect Airmiles. Maybe some tennis players are just like Ryan Bingham from Up in the air and try to collect 10 million miles. Who knows?

The life of a tennis player however is not always glamorous. Jim Courier depicts that in his blog entry.

Here is a quick excerpt:

Flights out of Rio depart late in the evening back to both Europe and the US so all of the foreign players, save Mikael Pernfors who had flown back Saturday night and Wayne Ferreira who was staying an extra day in Rio, were booked to depart on Sunday evening following the 3rd place and Championship matches on Sunday. Cedric Pioline, Marat Safin, Mark Philippoussis, Mats Wilander and myself along with Champions Series head honcho Jon Venison and Mats’ wife, Sonya all met up in our airline’s VIP lounge (business class, one of the perks of Champions Series life) to await the boarding of our planes. Marat and Cedric were headed back to Paris at 11:30pm and the rest of us were going to NYC at 11pm, or so we thought. Note: we’re all flying on the same Brazilian airline.

For the full entry click here: http://www.championsseriestennis.com/player_blog.php?id=6

SAFIN ARRIVES IN RIO

Marat Safin will make his debut on the Champions Series tennis circuit Friday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Safin, who retired from the ATP World Tour last fall, opens against Wayne Ferreira in the eight-player event.

Safin, who turned 30 in February, is the favorite to win the event, titled the Banco Cruzeiro do Sul Rio Champions Cup. Also competing in the eight-player, single-knock out event are Jim Courier, Mats Wilander, Mark Philippoussis, Cedric Pioline, Mikael Pernfors and Fernando Meligeni. The event will feature $150,000 in total prize money, with the singles champion earning $60,000. Tickets can be purchased by calling 5521-3005-4023 or by visiting www.ChampionsSeriesTennis.com.

The full schedule of play is as follows;

Friday 12th March: Starting at 6 pm
Quarterfinal #1 – Fernando Meligeni vs. Mikael Pernfors
Quarterfinal #2 – Mark Philippoussis vs. Cedric Pioline
Quarterfinal #3 – Marat Safin vs. Wayne Ferreira
Quarterfinal #4 – Jim Courier vs. Mats Wilander

Saturday 13th March: Starting at 6 pm
Men’s Doubles Match
Semifinal #1 – Winner of Safin/Ferreira vs. Meligini/Pernfors
Semifinal #2 – Winner of Philippoussis/Pioline vs. Courier/Wilander

Sunday 14th March: Starting at 11 am
3rd Place Match
Championship Final

Safin became the first Russian to win the U.S. Open in 2000 when he shocked Pete Sampras 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in the men’s singles final. Safin rode the momentum of winning his first major singles title to earn the No. 1 ranking later that year and rank in the top spot for a total of nine weeks during his career. He reached the final of the Australian Open in 2002 and again in 2004, losing to Thomas Johansson and Roger Federer, respectively, but broke through to win his second major title in Australia in 2005, defeating Lleyton Hewitt in the final. Safin, who also reached the semifinals of the French Open in 2002 and at Wimbledon in 2008, won 15 career singles titles and guided Russia to Davis Cup titles in 2002 and 2006. Safin turned 30 years old on January 27 and concluded his ATP World Tour career last fall.

The Rio Champions Cup is part of the global Champions Series tennis circuit for champion tennis players age 30 and over. To be eligible to compete, players must have reached at least a major singles final, been ranked in the top five in the world or played singles on a championship Davis Cup team.

Each event features $150,000 in prize money – with the tournament champion earning $60,000 – and ranking points that determine the year-end No. 1. Each tournament champion earns 800 ranking points.

Here are other photos from the event’s Facebook page of Courier and Wilander also arriving.

The full 2010 Champions Series schedule of tournaments will be announced in the near future. The first tournament in the United States – the Staples Champions Cup – will be held April 29-May 2 in Boston, Mass., and will feature Bjorn Borg playing in his first tournament in the U.S. in 10 years.

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