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Happy Birthday Mr. Tennis Encyclopedia

Bud with Gavin Rossdale selling his book

Bud Collins, the walking tennis encyclopedia and author of the definitive tennis book THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS ($35.95, New Chapter Press, www.tennistomes.com) will celebrate his 80th birthday on Wednesday, June 17 – the same day that defending Wimbledon champion Venus Williams will celebrate her 29th birthday. Other events from June 16 and June 17 from the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.tennishistorybook.com) are excerpted below.

June 16

1974 – Two eighteen-year-olds – Bjorn Borg and Chris Evert – win their first major singles titles with final-round victories at the French Open in Paris. Borg comes back from two-sets-to-love down to defeat Manuel Orantes of Spain 2-6, 6-7, 6-0, 6-1, 6-1 to become the youngest winner of the French Open at the time. Evert encounters much less resistance in defeating her doubles partner Olga Morozova of the Soviet Union 6-1, 6-2 to become the youngest winner in Paris since Christine Truman in 1959. Evert wins an $8,000 first prize, while Borg takes home a $24,000.

1985 – Three weeks preceding his break-through victory at Wimbledon as an unseeded 17-year-old, Boris Becker sends a warning shot to the tennis world and wins his first ATP singles title at the Queen’s Club championships in London, defeating Johan Kriek 6-2, 6-3 in the final. Says Becker following his first victory, “It has been a dream for me when I was 10 to win a Grand Prix final. This week has been fantastic. I played my best tennis and beat a lot of good players.” Says Kriek of Becker and his chances at Wimbledon, “If he plays like that every day at Wimbledon, Becker can win the tournament.”

1975 – U.S. Open Tournament Director Bill Talbert unveils 11 new clay courts at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, Queens, N.Y., that will be used in lieu of grass courts for the 1975 US Open. “It will take a complete player to win the Open this year,” says Talbert. Asked how he would react to any player criticism of not playing the U.S. Open on the traditional grass courts, Talbert states, “This is the U.S. Open, which I consider the world’s major tournament and I believe that every player should consider it a privilege to compete in it regardless of what kind of courts we have. They should be willing to put it on the line for this championship.”

2000 – Michael Chang, the 1989 French Open champion whose baseline game never translated well on grass tennis courts, beats 18-year-old Roger Federer, the future five-time Wimbledon champion, 7-5, 6-2 in the quarterfinals of the grass court event in Halle, Germany.

2006 – Roger Federer nearly loses his first grass court tournament in three years, saving four match points in beating Olivier Rochus 6-7 (2), 7-6 (9), 7-6 (5) in the quarterfinals of the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany. The win is Federer’s 39th straight on a grass court surface.

1991 – John McEnroe plays what ultimately is his final Davis Cup singles match, defeating Emilio Sanchez 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 as the United States closes out a 4-1 victory over Spain in the Davis Cup quarterfinal at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I.

1906 – The Doherty brothers – Reggie and Laurie – pair to defeat the American doubles team of Holcombe Ward and Raymond Little 3-6, 11-9, 9-7, 6-1 to clinch the Davis Cup title for Britain in the Davis Cup Challenge Round played at Wimbledon’s Worple Road courts. The win gives the Brits it fourth straight Davis Cup victory – and its second straight win over the United States in the Challenge Round. It also marks the end of the Davis Cup career of the popular Doherty brothers.

1985 – Pam Shriver needs only 43 minutes to defeat Betsy Nagelsen 6-1, 6-0 to win the singles final of the Edgbaston Cup in Birmingham, England. Nagelsen wins only 21 points in the entire match and says of Shriver, “She played much too well for me and there was little I could do about it.”

June 17

1980 – Venus Ebone Starr Williams, the sensational older Williams sister who, along with younger sister Serena, turn the tennis world on its head by taking their games from the urban streets of Compton, Calif., to Centre Court at Wimbledon, is born in Lynwood, Calif. Williams bursts on the scene as a 17-year-old wunderkind with beaded hair, reaching the final of the U.S. Open as an unseeded player ranked No. 66. Three years later, she is the champion of Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and singles and doubles gold medalist at the Sydney Olympics. In 2002, Williams becomes the first black player – man or woman – to be ranked No. 1 in the world. She and younger sister Serena play the first all sister major final since 1884 at the 2001 U.S. Open. During a stretch from the French Open in 2002 and the Australian Open in 2003, Venus reaches all four major singles finals, but loses all four finals to sister Serena.

1929 – Hall of Fame TV broadcaster, writer and tennis historian Arthur Worth “Bud” Collins is born in Lima, Ohio. Collins is best known for his work with the Boston Globe and with NBC Sports during its “Breakfast at Wimbledon” broadcasts from 1979 through 2007. An astute chronicler and tale teller of the history of the game, he is also known for his tennis encyclopedia – that most recent edition called The Bud Collins History of Tennis – not to mention his colorful wardrobe, featuring his trademark garish and bright-colored trousers.

1898 – In what became one of the most peculiar matches in the history of the U.S. Championships, Juliette Atkinson wins her third U.S. women’s singles title, coming back from a 3-5 final set deficit and saving five match points to defeat Marion Jones in the five-set women’s final 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 2-6, 7-5 at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. During one of Jones’s match points, she loses the point as the ball in play strikes a stray ball on her side of the court. The New York Times describes the match’s conclusion in the following way; “The final set was the best of all. Five times during this set Miss Jones was only one point from the match and the championship but Miss Atkinson tied her and beat her out each time. In the ninth game of the set, a brilliant rally took place, which was spoiled by the ball in play hitting a ball lying in Miss Jones’s court. At that time Miss Jones needed but one point to win, and her supporters groaned as the chance faded away. The score at the time stood five games to three in favor of Miss Jones, but Miss Atkinson won the next four games and the match by fast playing. Both contestants were heartily congratulated for their plucky work.”

1939 – Don McNeill of Oklahoma City, Okla., upsets fellow American Bobby Riggs winning a stretch of 13 straight games in a 7-5, 6-0, 6-3 victory in the men’s singles final at the French Championships at Roland Garros. Says McNeill, “I never played better in my life.” Says Riggs, “Don just beat me.” The French Championships suffer a six-year hiatus following the 1939 edition of the event due to World War II and are not played again until 1946.

1911 – Hazel Hotchkiss wins her third straight U.S. women’s singles title, defeating Florence Sutton 8-10, 6-1, 9-7 at the Philadelphia Cricket Club in Philadelphia, Pa. The New York Times describes the match as one “replete with sensational features which kept the large crowd of spectators constantly on edge.” Hotchkiss institutes a tactic of lobbing at 7-7 in the third set that helped throw off the upset bid of Sutton, witnessed by approximately 1,000 fans. Hotchkiss also wins the mixed doubles title on this day, pairing with Wallace Johnson to defeat Edna Wildey and Herbert Tilden 6-4, 6-4.

2007 – Maria Sharapova’s semifinal match at the DFS Classic in Birmingham, England with Marion Bartoli is temporarily delayed twice when two spectators need medical assistance. A woman and a child fall down a staircase in the stadium, knocking the woman unconscious and requiring her to be flown via helicopter to a local hospital. Later, in another part of the stadium, a man faints. Sharapova wins the match with Bartoli 7-5, 6-0 and later in the day, loses the championship match to Jelena Jankovic 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Lived up to the hype!

Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim previewed the Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer Wimbledon final by suggesting that it was the most anticipated championship final in the history of our sport.  High praise indeed, but when does the competition outdistance the hype in this day and age?  Practically never is when.

Sunday’s match was simply astonishing.  Two absolute giants of our great game did battle for nearly five hours on the world’s most important court.  As John McEnroe of NBC Sports likened it to his 1980 final against Bjorn Borg, he acknowledged that there were, truly, no losers in this match.  No less an authority than Bud Collins called it the “best Wimbledon final ever.”

When McEnroe interviewed Roger Federer as he walked off the court, it was incredibly poignant.  They now share a bond, as both lost epic “Greatest Match of All Time” encounters on Wimbledon’s centre court.  Federer started to lose his composure and McEnroe offered a hug.  It would have been appropriate for Mac to have consoled Federer by telling him that more people have patted him on the back for his efforts in losing the 1980 final then for his three wins at the Big W.

A few weeks ago, Bill Simmons, a writer for ESPN Magazine, took some snarky shots at the sport of tennis.  In fact, his article- which was, by the way, abruptly removed from ESPN.com- was based on the premise that if he was offered the promise of the greatest match ever in the Wimbledon final, then he would still not choose to watch it.  I admire Simmons, and as a die-hard Boston sports fan, I always appreciate his (warped) perspective.  After reading his article, I actually felt defensive for a little while.  I thought: What the hell is he talking about!?!?  Thankfully, I am confident that if Simmons tuned into “Breakfast at Wimbledon” for Rafa and Roger, then his perspective would be considerably different.

Simmons offered some idiotic “solutions” to what ails our sport.  I presume that these were written in jest, because they were pretty lazy ideas.  In giving “The Sports Guy” more benefit of doubt, he has purposely written reverse jinx pieces before (such as, the Celtics cannot win this year) that have proved to be good luck for his hometown teams.  Maybe that was his true intention.  If so, then we all owe him a big Thank You.

Venus Williams did not lose a set in singles or doubles during the 2008 Championships.

Serena did not look happy (big surprise!) after losing in the final.  Expect her to dominate at Flushing Meadows in a few weeks.

Congratulations to Canada’s Daniel Nestor for re-gaining the world’s #1 ranking in doubles and completing the career grand slam in doubles.  Not bad for a 35 year old!

Farewell to Jonas Bjorkman.  Saturday marked his final Wimbledon appearance in The Championships.  Of course, guys are already “queuing up” to play in the senior invitational doubles with him next year.

The Bryan Brothers faced off against one another in the mixed doubles final.  Reportedly, they evenly split all of their prize money and endorsements.  I am guessing that would have been a pretty relaxed final round encounter.  Bob and Sammy Stosur straight-setted Mike and Katarina Srebotnik over on Court One while Federer and Nadal were playing their fifth set on Centre Court.

A few final thoughts on The Championships…

Thank heavens that there will be a retractable roof on the Centre Court beginning next year.  The delayed start to the gentlemen’s singles final, and the two subsequent rain delays, would have been avoidable.  This adversely affects several million world-wide fans.  In the end, the sport loses when viewers tune out.  I wish that Wimbledon had made- and then acted on- this decision thirty years ago, but it is a sign of progress.

One example of where there has been NO PROGRESS is the middle Sunday of The Championships, the tournament’s traditional “day of rest.”  Like millions of tennis fanatics all over the world, an ideal Sunday for me is a good breakfast, hit some balls and maybe even play a few sets, and then watch tennis for the rest of the day.  The AELTC sacrifices tens of millions of pounds (double that figure in US dollars!) in sponsorship revenue and international TV licensing fees by refusing play on that prime weekend slot.  By 2008 standards, it is outrageous, arrogant, and archaic.  It is also hypocritical, because the men’s final has been played on a Sunday for a quarter century.  They were lucky that the weather was uncharacteristically pleasant during the first week of the tournament.  Relying on luck each year is foolish though.

The Russian women made another huge splash, with 6 of the final 16 players hailing from Russia.  There were 17 Russian ladies in main draw of the singles.  That is impressive.  It is not unprecedented, however, and- in fact- pales in comparison to some years where the Americans reigned supreme.  In 1984, 64(!!!!) of the 128 singles players were American men.  The Yanks had the champion, the runner-up, two semi-finalists, four quarterfinalists, and 11 who reached the round of 16.  As American Frank Sinatra used to sing… it was a very good year.

Does everybody still think that Roger Federer will annihilate Pete Sampras’ all-time records?  It says here that he might get to 14 majors, but this is not a mortal lock.  The sport has changed before his very eyes.  He will need some luck (a Nadal injury, or a Novak Djokovic disappearance in the autumn) to finish as the year-end #1.  The expectation that this would be Federer’s fifth straight year at the top is fading, and he would still be one year shy of what Pete Sampras accomplished.

In Pete Sampras’ new book A Champion’s Mind, he lists (in no particular order) himself, Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Roger Federer, and Ivan Lendl as the top-five players of the Open era.  After his Wimbledon victory, I would place Rafael Nadal among John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi and (probably) Mats Wilander in the next tier (with apologies to Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, John Newcombe, Gustavo Kuerten, and Jim Courier).

Speaking of Pistol Pete, it took him a little while to “solve” grass court tennis.  In fact, a surprising number (17) of different players registered wins over the once-and-still GOAT.  Our Editor in Chief, Manfred Wenas, has a little swag for the first reader to submit the complete list of players that owned a piece of Sampras’ scalp on grass.

World Team Tennis began its 33rd professional season in the US over the weekend.  Go to www.wtt.com for information about players, upcoming matches, standings, etc.  It is a great opportunity to watch past, present, and future Wimbledon champions.  It is also the only competition in tennis that prioritizes doubles and team-play over singles.

Venus and Serena Williams are shattering the myth that good doubles teams would beat great singles players who pair up together.  They won their 7th major doubles title together, and it would be safe to assume that they do not practice the nuances of doubles too frequently.

At the beginning of Rafael Nadal’s ascent up the rankings, I asked Wayne Bryan (whose sons Bob and Mike were ranked #1 in the world at the time) who would win a match between his boys and Federer-Nadal.  He hedged his bets, but thought that his boys would pull through.  He did suggest, however, that if Federer were to play with Lleyton Hewitt, who had more doubles success at that stage, then he thinks the result would be reversed.  So, I will pose these questions to our readers, who would win the follow mythical doubles matches?

1)      Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer vs. Bob and Mike Bryan

2)      Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi vs. Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde

3)      Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg vs. Ken Flach and Robert Seguso

4)      John McEnroe and Peter Fleming vs. John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl (yes, you read that correctly)

5)      Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors vs. Bob Lutz and Stan Smith

Tennis Week in Newport is always one of my favorite times of the year.  This year’s class of inductees is highlighted by Michael Chang, and supported by contributors Mark McCormack and Eugene Scott.  Visit www.TennisFame.com for a wealth of information about these new- and, in fact, all- hall of famers.

When Gene Scott died suddenly in 2006, it was an awful loss for our sport.  It also, naturally, affected hundreds (more like thousands, actually) of people personally.  I had developed a great fondness for Gene Scott and treasured the time I got to spend with him.  I believed that- for some unknown reason- he had taken a liking to me, and wished to help me along in my career.  During the outpouring of grief, his dear friends at Tennis Week created a Web site (www.EugeneLScott.com) where people were urged to offer their tributes to the great man.  Reading some of these tributes, a few years after his passing, left me feeling as sad as the day he died.  Back then I wrote:

Gene Scott was like the North Star. Speaking with him or reading his column… he’d always bring you to your senses. Nobody else had his vantage point, and he knew it. That never kept him from sharing though, and his generosity was unparalleled. His departure has already left a terrible void. Goddamn that he is gone. Lucky that he touched so many while he was around.

I wish that Gene Scott had been enshrined into the International Tennis Hall of Fame a decade ago.  His induction speech would have been brilliant.  Hall of Famer John McEnroe will offer his testimonial and introduce Gene’s wife, Polly, who will accept on his behalf this weekend.

Who else should be inducted into the Hall of Fame?  I offer a dozen candidates who I believe ought to be bronzed:

1)      Donald Dell.

2)      Monica Seles.

3)      Andre Agassi.

4)      Gustavo Kuerten.

5)      Jennifer Capriati.

6)      Martina Hingis.

7)      Nick Bollettieri.

8)      Dennis Van Der Meer.

9)      Michael Stich.

10)  Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

11)  Justine Henin.

12)  Todd Woodbridge & Mark Woodforde.

Of course I will be in America’s Resort City (Newport, Rhode Island) this week to watch the best little tournament in the world and then enjoying the induction ceremony of the latest inductees into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.  If you are a fan of this great sport, you MUST make a pilgrimage to Newport.

While at the Newport Casino, I will spend a lot of time rehashing points and moments and drama from the “greatest tennis match ever played” with old and new tennis friends.  Congratulations Rafa!  Congratulations Roger!

Note by the Editor-in-Chief: The little swag for the first reader to submit the complete list of players that owned a piece of Sampras’ scalp on grass only goes for those who use the comment system down below on TennisGrandstand.com. Other submissions will not count.

Ask Bill: Looking Back to Paris; Looking Ahead to Wimbledon

Some random thoughts from a fascinating Roland Garros and the first look forward to the grass…

Roger Federer’s performance in the Roland Garros final against Rafael Nadal was reminiscent of Muhammad Ali’s fight against Larry Holmes. A mismatch from the start, Ali pulled out his tricks but had no answers for the younger, stronger Holmes, and was battered mercilessly. Like Sunday’s final, this was simply a bad match-up, and- to use the age-old explanation- styles make fights. Nadal moves better, defends better, and can control points off the ground (on clay, anyway) better than Federer. Like seeing The Greatest get punched around the ring, it was still surprising to witness Federer looking so vulnerable.

Rafael Nadal did not hit a single ace in the semis or final. He hit only seven aces during the entire two weeks. This serving approach will change on the grass. He will need some free points at crucial moments.

Darren Cahill brought up an interesting point on ESPN about Nadal’s Wimbledon preparation. Instead of rushing across the channel to play the Artois Championships, he should rest for a few days and skip the Queens Club event. Recall that he was spent by the end of Wimbledon last summer, although admittedly he was forced to play five (rain-delayed) matches in the last seven days of The Championships. Had Nadal been fresher, then he would have likely taken the fifth set of last year’s final.

Of course the cynic can offer about one million reasons why Nadal will compete at Queens Club again this year. It is hard to pass up that kind of appearance fee loot no matter how wealthy he has become. To paraphrase Bob Dylan (from “It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry”), don’t say I never warned you if Nadal loses early this week.

It was great to see Bjorn Borg attending matches during the final weekend of Roland Garros. In an interesting on-court interview with his great rival John McEnroe, Borg agreed to play with Mighty Mac in the over-45 doubles next year.

Borg also told McEnroe that this was the first time he had returned to Roland Garros since winning the event in 1981 (beating Ivan Lendl in a five-set final). Evidently Borg forgot that he did television work for NBC Sports in 1983 (interviewing Yannick Noah and Mats Wilandner after their final) and presented the Coupe De Mosquetaires on-court to Gustavo Kuerten in 1997. Guga famously bowed to the great Borg, as though the Swede was royalty. Let’s just presume that Borg’s passing shots were better than his memory!

Ai Sugiyama is preparing to break the all-time record at the All England Club by competing in her 56th consecutive major tournament. She currently shares this record with Wayne Ferreira, who played 56 straight from 1991 to 2004. This is a remarkable strength of will and consistency.

In the For What It’s Worth category… After last year’s epic Wimbledon final, Roger Federer did an interview with a standout former player. Afterwards, this player, off-camera, of course, told his colleague that the Swiss would never win another Wimbledon title. He saw cracks in the armor last summer.

Fingers are crossed that Slazenger has produced livelier balls for this year’s grass court season. It has been disappointing to see men’s professional grass court tennis look like… hard court tennis. If that’s what people really want to see, then the grass should be paved for a more “fair” hard court surface. I would prefer that it retain the traditional allure for attacking players and reward players for net-rushing tactics.

In 1984, there were 64 American men in the singles main draw of Wimbledon. That will never be matched again. I do, however, expect to see several Yanks doing some damage at SW19.

Serena Williams would have been really annoyed with her result at Roland Garros. She will keep the Venus Rosewater Dish in the Williams family’s possession this year.

Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas and Peruvian Luis Horna completed a storybook run to the French men’s doubles title. In the quarterfinals they took out former champions and the top-ranked team in the world, Bob and Mike Bryan. This match received a lot of attention because afterwards the Bryans refused to shake hands with Cuevas, as they were offended by his show of exuberance in the third set tiebreak. As the South American pair raced to a 5-1 lead, Cuevas leaped the net to switch sides- instead of walking around the net post. While it might have been a bit much, hopping the net certainly appeared to be an act of spontaneity on Cuevas’ part. The Bryans have perfected the leaping chest bump, so their reaction seemed a bit harsh.

To offer some context, the Bryan brothers have saved men’s professional doubles. Without them, it might not even exist these days. They carry the weight and responsibility of, literally, preserving this form of the professional sport. Furthermore, they have each distinguished themselves as fierce competitors and gentlemen throughout their storied career. They get it. Therefore, the Bryans deserve some slack. I’ll bet that they wish they had not reacted so strongly during the heat of the moment. I’ll also bet that they are hoping for a rematch against Cuevas and Horna at the Big W.

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have much to gain these next months, and Federer much to defend. Pete Sampras finished as the world’s top-ranked player for a remarkable six straight years (1993-98), and Federer’s assault on that record is looking bleaker. Roger will need a “turn back the clock” effort for the remainder of 2008 to avoid relegation to No. 3 in the year-end rankings.

Less than half of the world’s top-ten players will compete in the Beijing Olympics. Keep reading the agate type in your sports sections for listings of injuries, because most of the top players will find them before hopping on a plane for Asia in August. This is as sure as the sun rising in the East.

I always write about making a pilgrimage to beautiful Newport, RI for the Hall of Fame Championships each July. For any fan living or traveling in Europe, please visit Eastbourne. This is a charming coastal town in the south of England, and a wonderful warm-up tournament for The Championships. The honor roll of former champions stands as a “who’s-who” list of Hall of Famers. The grass courts are typically as good as any in the world, and the players love the relaxed environment. In fact, the accessibility to the players is virtually unprecedented in this day and age.

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