Nick Bollettieri

From Grassroots to Boardrooms: Ray Benton is a Statesman for the Game


by Steve Fogleman, Special for Tennis Grandstand

When I arrived at the Tennis Center at College Park to speak with its CEO, Ray Benton, he was finishing up a lesson with former U.S. Congresswoman Jane Harman. He’d agreed to speak with me after the practice and he was still stretching when our conversation began. I admit that at first I was bemused by the notion of a crossroads of politics and tennis. You don’t see that every day. But for tennis statesman Ray Benton, it was business as usual. He’s as comfortable on court with children as he is in the halls of power in Washington. Legendary House Speaker Tip O’Neill used to repeatedly insist that all “politics is local”. Witnessing the VIP lessons he’s giving and the expansive, state-of-the-art tennis training facility he’s managing (largely funded by the former Chairman of the US Export-Import Bank), you realize that Benton is the embodiment of O’Neill’s mantra. Benton’s career arc has taken him from local to national to international and now, to some degree, back to local tennis. With that breadth of experience, he brings with him the uncanny ability to cultivate a major-league presence even in the deepest of grassroots tennis.

His office substantially resembles the International Tennis Hall of Fame in miniature. The walls of his paper-piled workspace are adorned with posters and photos from tennis events from the last forty years. With all of his energy, it is difficult to believe he is 71. He still competes in senior tournaments “when my body’s working”, he said.

Benton is an Iowa native who moved to Washington in 1971. He started playing the game at 15 and “really took to it right away”. Later, he spent two years with the Iowa Hawkeye team in Big Ten play. While attending college, law school and a year of business school, he worked in the summer as the tennis pro at Dubuque Country Club in Dubuque, Iowa. He was brought in to start a tennis program at a “golf wacko club where tennis was a nuisance”. It had “two broken-down courts and 35 tennis playing club members”. He was up for the challenge, and within a few years, Benton had installed six lighted courts, attracted 500 players and even trained 20 state-ranked juniors there. “That’s when I figured out maybe I should be in the business”.

Even after he was drafted and sent to Fort McClellan in Anniston, Alabama in 1966, he managed to stay active in the game, serving as head pro at the Gadsden and Anniston Country Clubs and varsity coach for Jacksonville State University in Alabama. He then spent a couple of years in Colorado running that state’s Youth Tennis Foundation and putting on professional events before Washington called. Then, Benton’s call to DC came to Denver. Through Dubuque.

“As I was finishing business school, a guy I knew from Dubuque had hit it big, Bob Lange. He invented the plastic ski boot. I went into business with him to develop the first plastic tennis racquet. We had a prototype and I suggested that we have a tournament in Denver. And in order to get any American players there, I had to talk to the Davis Cup captain named Donald Dell. We worked together and a year later, I moved here.”

Dell was looking for partners in a law firm that would eventually morph into sports management company ProServ years later. During his early days in Washington, he also served as the first National Executive Director of the National Junior Tennis League.

From DC, the firm represented big names in tennis like Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and Tracy Austin. They also managed top athletes throughout the world of sport, including Michael Jordan, Boomer Esiason, Dave Winfield and Payne Stewart. Yet the firm’s focus stuck with tennis for an important reason.

Mark McCormick started IMG and based it around golf and Donald started ProServ around tennis. After all, he was the Davis Cup captain and Stan Smith and Arthur Ashe were on his team.

As a law firm, we couldn’t solicit clients. We could write a letter to a company saying ‘I’m writing on behalf of Arthur Ashe to see if you might have interest’. We couldn’t put out a promotional brochure for Arthur, so we started the company Proserv. It was an affiliated marketing company to the law firm. When our firm split in ’83, Donald and I kept the name ProServ and made it the major identity.

During the nineties, Benton founded the Worldwide Senior Tennis Circuit. He secured more than $35 million in corporate sponsorships at a time when interest in tennis had started to wane. He also saw the events as more than a tournament, but an “entertainment event” with theme nights, contests and celebrity matches.

After spending most of the last decade doing marketing consulting for clients like the ATP, the PGA, the Vic Braden Tennis Academy and national mentoring advocacy group MENTOR, he was hired as the CEO of the Tennis Center at College Park. Once again, politics and tennis intersected, as banker and Clinton Administration appointee Kenneth Brody needed someone to market the tennis facility he had built in College Park. And he went straight to Benton to market it.

So, now that this writer knows he’s talking to the right person for the question, is DC a tennis town?

It is, but it needs to regain the stature it once had, and not only Washington, but many other area of the country. Tennis is totally a bottom-up sport. The great majority of energy comes from the grassroots. And that’s what advances tournament play, pro play, collegiate play. Frankly, I think we got lazy in this sport. We had so much momentum, so much success and great stars and I think the leaders of tennis, everyone became deluded that tennis was driven by Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. And the fact of the matter is in the days of Connors, Borg and McEnroe, participation in tennis in the United States decreased. We didn’t develop the next generation of Nick Bollettieris, of Vic Bradens or Dennis Van Der Meer or Peter Burwash. Who are the biggest names of teaching pros these days? Still those guys. If I asked you that same question 35 years ago, you’d have the same answer.

Benton’s approach to bringing the game back is simple. “A kid should be introduced to tennis the same way they should be introduced to basketball, which is they should have fun, be on a team, and compete the first day. And then they get hooked on the fun. And when they improve, then you offer them instruction. How many kids would play basketball if they were required to take three weeks of dribbling lessons and two weeks of shooting lessons before they were allowed to play the game? You’d have a lot fewer basketball players, wouldn’t you?”

He’s already building JTCC for the future. “You need leadership from the bottom. We’re going into schools now. We have a program called “Game On”. We’re trying to spread this game as far and wide as we can. We’re working with Prince George’s County Parks. We’ll have five sites in the summer. I see a lot more highly-ranked kids. I see a lot more inner city stuff. Five years from now, I see a much larger percentage of our kids coming from the inner city. I see considerable expansion here. We can expand. We’ve got room.”

As far as accolades the Tennis Center and the Junior Tennis Champions Center have received recently, he’s not wasting any time basking in the glory. “Attention is fine, but substance is what counts. We were very under marketed when I got here. There’s no question about that. One of the main reasons to get your name out is to attract the best athletes and do fundraising, because we’re a non-profit. We depend on it.”

Benton is audibly proud of the hundreds of kids who have been a part of the program. When he talks about the JTCC talent, it’s as if he is the proud grandfather of all of them. You almost expect him to have a photograph of every one of them in his wallet. “Denis Kudla is #184 in the world right now. There are only one or two players younger than him who are ranked higher. Mitchell Frank is excelling at Virginia. Trice (Capra) is at Duke. Skylar Morton graduated from here in three years and is playing very well, #3 or 4 at UCLA. She should be a senior in high school.”

Then there’s the next class of Junior Champions. After we spoke about Riverdale’s FrancisTiafoe and Reisterstown’s Yancy Dennis, he was more than ready to talk up the local girls climbing the ladder. ”We have a girl named Elizabeth Scotty, who’s 10 and 16th in the country in under 12s. We are really strong in the 14 girls, including three girls from Baltimore, NadiaGizdova (Columbia, MD), Raveena Kingsley (Parkton, MD) and Jada Robinson (Reisterstown, MD). And next week, we’ll have a girl that is as good as any of them. Usue Arcornada. She’s coming with (longtime JTCC Coach) Frank Salazar. She’s originally from Argentina, but grew up in Puerto Rico. And she is a tiger.”

 

Steve Fogleman is a Baltimore, MD-based attorney when not covering tennis. He manages the website Tennis Maryland and can be followed on twitter @TennisMaryland for further updates.

Novak Djokovic Wins Big; Questionable Rafael Nadal Skit — The Friday Five

by Maud Watson

Trend Continues

In a field that contained among others the fastest man in the world, an international soccer star, and a 7’0” German NBA power forward, it was Novak Djokovic who took home the top honor as he was named the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year.   The award represented hard-earned recognition for the outstanding season he had in 2011, and it also marked the sixth time in eight years that the prestigious award went to a male tennis player.  Djokovic’s win has brought more favorable press to the sport, and with the men’s game in particular looking stronger than ever, this can only be great for the future of tennis.  Well done to the current No. 1, and with his title in Australia, it may not be too premature to suggest he’s building a case to repeat for the award in 2013.

Poor Judgment

Between an epic Aussie Open final, growing buzz about the Olympics, and that ever popular topic of “grunting” in women’s tennis, Yannick Noah’s unfounded accusatory remarks regarding alleged Spanish doping were all but forgotten.  At least they were, until French television channel Canal+ aired an episode of Les Guignols (The Puppets) featuring a life-size puppet Nadal relieving himself into his gas tank, which allowed him to break speed limits before finally being stopped by cops.  A message then appeared on screen that all but blatantly stated Spanish athletes only succeed in sports because they cheat.  The skit is clearly coming out now, because Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador has been handed a two-year ban and stripped of his 2010 Tour de France title for doping.  Les Guignols is also a satirical program, so ordinarily such an episode might have been begrudgingly laughed off by Spaniards.  But in the wake of Noah’s comments, the Spanish Tennis Federation, whose logo also appeared in the skit, is taking legal action.  Subsequent similar-themed skits have also prompted the government of Spain to look into taking legal action.  Ironically, the ones who might be the worse for wear in all of this are the French sporting organizations and athletes, such as the French Tennis Federation and French players, who hopefully won’t be left where they were after Noah’s remarks – holding the bag and offering apologies.

A Total Farce

Not surprisingly, we’re starting to see some of the game’s top stars sign up for Davis and Fed Cup duty, and it’s not because they’re feeling a strong patriotic calling.  It’s 2012, and it’s an Olympic year.  It really is a joke watching players suddenly become available, which is why the ITF should either look at abolishing the requirements altogether, or maybe the Olympics should return to just being for amateurs.  After all, it’s not as though these tennis players don’t already compete at the highest levels of international competition week in and week out, with their successes indirectly benefiting their home countries.  A change to the current system would also help alleviate potential politics from being played.  Sure, there isn’t much grumbling when Federer or Murray answer their country’s call, as they’re from nations that most likely won’t be in a position to field a full Olympic roster.  But then there are countries like the United States where talk of including both Williams Sisters on the Olympic team has already sparked talk of a potentially ugly situation if what some consider a more deserving candidate gets left off the roster.  The Olympic qualification system is flawed no matter how you slice it, and the ITF should revisit it along with the Davis and Fed Cup formats.

Bypassed Again

No official announcement has been made, but news that well-known tennis coach Nick Bollettieri won’t be among the Hall of Fame Class of 2012 has spread fast.  Personally, I’m not a fan of the Hall of Fame’s classification system.  It’s possible to recognize contributors without putting them on the same plane as players, and the Masters Category should only be used for those whose careers coincided with the “Americans only” induction rule that wasn’t abolished until 1975 (if a player’s career achievements aren’t good enough to get them inducted within 20 years of retirement, why are they suddenly sufficient 21+ years later?).  But all that aside, under the Hall of Fame’s current system, it seems ludicrous to not have Bollettieri as part of the mix.  Then again, there have been plenty of other questionable inductions in the past (Chang getting the nod the same year Bruguera and Stich did not comes to mind), so Bollettieri shouldn’t be too broken up about it.  People know what he’s contributed, even if the Hall of Fame voters fail to recognize it.

Tragic Story

Former Spanish tennis player Arantxa Sanchez Vicario may have just one-upped Andre Agassi when it comes to shocking book revelations.  News broke that the former No. 1 is estranged from her family, that she is basically broke, and is accusing her parents of mismanaging her funds.  It paints a very different picture from the loving family we saw when she was inducted into the Hall of Fame almost five years ago.  There are two sides to every story, and it appears that these revelations may only get uglier.  Hopefully they will be able to reconcile their differences, not only because it would be a shame to see anything serve as a deterrent to Arantxa and her brothers continuing to serve the sport, but most importantly because given the state of her father’s health, it’s what that family needs most.

Mondays With Bob Greene: I can’t believe this happened

STARS

(US Open)

Men’s singles:

Women’s singles: Kim Clijsters beat Caroline Wozniacki 7-5 6-3

Men’s doubles: Leander Paes and Lukas Dlouhy beat Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles 3-6 6-3 6-2

Women’s doubles: Serena Williams and Venus Williams beat Cara Black and Liezel Huber 6-2 6-2

Mixed doubles: Carly Gullickson and Travis Parrott beat Cara Black and Leander Paes 6-2 6-4

Boys’ singles: Bernard Tomic beat Chase Buchanan 6-1 6-3

Girls’ singles: Heather Watson beat Yana Buchina 6-4 6-1

Boys’ doubles: Cheng Peng Hsieh and Marton Fucsovics beat Julien Obry and Adrien Puget 7-6 (5) 5-7 10-1 (match tiebreak)

Girls’ doubles: Valeria Solovieva and Maryna Zanevska beat Elena Bogdan and Noppawan Lertcheewakarn 1-6 6-3 10-7 (match tiebreak)

Men’s wheelchair singles: Shingo Kunieda beat Maikel Scheffers 6-0 6-0

Men’s wheelchair doubles: Stephane Houdet and Stefan Olsson beat Maikel Scheffers and Ronald Vink 6-4 4-6 6-4

Women’s wheelchair singles: Esther Vergeer beat Korie Homan 6-0 6-0

Women’s wheelchair doubles: Esther Vergeer and Korie Homan beat Daniela DiToro and Florence Gravellier 6-2 6-2

OTHER:

Alberto Martin beat Carlos Berlocq 6-3 6-3 to win the AON Open Challenger in Genoa, Italy

SAYING

“When I would have a dream, it was to win the US Open, and the other one is to be like Roger. One is done.” – Juan Martin del Potro, after beating Roger Federer and winning the US Open men’s singles.

“Five was great, four was great, too. Six would have been a dream, too. Can’t have them all. I’ve had an amazing summer and a great run. I’m not too disappointed just because I thought I played another wonderful tournament.” – Roger Federer, after losing the US Open men’s singles final to Juan Martin del Potro.

“I can’t believe this happened. Because it still seems so surreal that in my third tournament back I won my second Grand Slam. Because it wasn’t in the plan. I just wanted to come here and get a feel for it all over again, play a Grand Slam so to start the next year I didn’t have to go through all the new experiences over.” – Kim Clijsters, who won her second straight US Open women’s title four years after her first title.

“I think that I’ll learn that it pays to always play your best and always be your best and always act your best no matter what. And I think that I’m young and I feel like in life everyone has to have experience that they take and that they learn from, and I think that’s great that I have an opportunity to still b e physically fit to go several more years and learn from the past.” – Serena Williams, after losing her semifinal to Kim Clijsters after receiving a point penalty on match point.

“I cannot really tell that I was playing bad. She was playing good.” – Kateryna Bondarenko, after losing to Yanina Wickmayer.

“Today, I could’ve been better in pretty much every part of my game, whether it was mental, forehand, backhand, return.” – Andy Murray, after losing his fourth-round match to Marin Cilic.

“I lost it myself because I made so many unforced errors. So many unforced errors, you can’t win against anybody. No chance.” – Svetlana Kuznetsova, after committing 69 unforced errors in her three-set loss to Caroline Wozniacki.

“I was thinking, every point, do the same, try to put the ball in the court. When you fight that way to the final point, you have many chances, and that’s what happened today.” – Juan Martin del Potro, after his quarterfinal win.

“I think the biggest weapon can be mental toughness. It doesn’t have to be a stroke or a shot or anything like that. If you’re mentally tough out there, then you can beat anyone.” – Melanie Oudin, after beating Maria Sharapova to advance to the fourth round.

STARTING NEW ERA

By winning the US Open, Juan Martin del Potro became only the third player to beat both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the same tournament. He also became the first player this year to defeat the world’s top three players, having also beat Andy Murray in Madrid, Spain. Del Potro is the first South American to be in the US Open final since fellow Argentine Guillermo Vilas won in 1977, and the first South African to be in a Grand Slam final since Fernando Gonzalez of Chile lost to Federer in the 2007 Australian Open.

SO SWEET, SO WRONG

After he ran onto the court to kiss Rafael Nadal, a New York City man, Noam U. Aorta, was arrested and charged with trespassing. Aorta jumped out of the stands after Nadal beat Gael Monfils in a fourth-round match. “For me it wasn’t a problem. The guy was really nice,” Nadal said. “He said, ‘I love you,’ and he kissed me.” District Attorney Richard Brown called it “particularly disturbing” since Aorta made physical contact with Nadal, noting that Monica Seles was stabbed in 1993 by a spectator who jumped out of the stands in Hamburg, Germany.

SAFINA STILL ON TOP

Serena Williams lost the chance to move back into the number one spot on the women’s tennis tour. The American could have replaced Dinara Safina on the top of the rankings if she had successfully defended her US Open title. Instead, she lost to eventual champion Kim Clijsters in the semifinals and, consequently, will remain in the number two spot.

The US Open was the third tournament back for US Open champion Kim Clijsters since she ended her two-year retirement. And you need to play three tournaments to get a Sony Ericsson WTA Tour ranking. In this week’s rankings, Clijsters is number 19 in the world.

SEASON-ENDING QUALIFIERS

The world’s top doubles team, Cara Black and Liezel Huber, are the first to qualify for the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships, which will be held October 27-November 1 in Doha, Qatar. It will be the third trip the final Championships for Black and Huber, having clinched the title in the last two years. The top four doubles teams will compete for the title. Two players have already qualified for the eight-player singles competition, Dinara Safina and Serena Williams.

STANDING FOR ELECTION

Doubles players will get a chance to shine in the 2010 International Tennis Hall of Fame ITHF) balloting. The ITHF announced the names of the 12 nominees for possible induction into the Newport, Rhode Island, shrine next year, including Beatrizs “Gigi” Fernandez, Natasha Zvereva, Todd Woodbridge, Mark Woodforde and Anders Jarryd. On the ballot in the Master Player category are Owen Davidson, Peter Fleming and Bob Lutz, while the Contributor category has four nominees: wheelchair tennis pioneer Brad Parks, coach Nick Bollettieri, Lawn Tennis Association chairman Derek Hardwick and Japan’s Eichi Kawatei. Voting for the 2010 ballot will take place over the next several months with an announcement of the induction class scheduled for January. The Class of 2010 induction ceremony will be held July 10 at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport.

SUGIYAMA RETIRING

Ai Sugiyama is ready to say sayonara. The Japanese veteran says she will probably retire at the end of this year, concluding her 17-year career. She once was ranked as high as number eight in the world. “I am normally the type that can picture what the near future holds, but to be honest at this moment in time, I can’t see myself competing next season,” Sugiyama told Kyodo news. She won six WTA Tour singles titles and doubles championships at the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. She lost in the Australian Open final this year.

SPECIAL MOMS

When Kim Clijsters won the US Open, she became the first mother to win a Grand Slam tournament singles title since Australian Evonne Goolagong Cawley captured Wimbledon in 1980. But Clijsters wasn’t the only mother competing at America’s premier tennis event. Sybille Bammer of Austria lost in the first round to Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, while Rossana de los Rios of Paraguay fell to 14th-seeded Marion Bartoli in her first-round match. After the birth of her baby, Bammer climbed as high as number 19 in the world and won at Prague, Czech Republic, earlier this year. De los Rios has won six ITF singles titles since giving birth to her daughter in 1997.

SAD WEEK

Sloane Stephens was looking forward to the US Open junior girls tournament, where she was seeded fourth. But just before junior play got underway, Stephens’ father, former NFL running back John Stephens, died in a car accident. The 16-year-old from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, took a day off to fly to her father’s funeral in Louisiana, then returned to win her second-round match. But she lost her next outing to Jana Cepelova of Slovakia 4-6 6-1 6-0. “I was trying to focus and do things I should have done, but mentally I wasn’t there,” she said. The youngster had reconnected with her father three years ago and she had met him only a handful of times, but the two had developed a relationship over the telephone.

SISTER ACT

Venus and Serena Williams won their 10th Grand Slam tournament women’s doubles title, beating the top-seeded team of Cara Black and Liezel Huber. The sisters have never lost in a Grand Slam tournament once they’ve reached the final. “Hopefully that’s a record that won’t end yet,” Serena said. It is their first US Open doubles crown since 1999, and the sisters are now halfway to the record set by Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver.

SUITE NEWS

As far as fans were concerned, Melanie Oudin didn’t outstay her welcome at the US Open. That’s not true about her New York City hotel room. The 17-year-old from Marietta, Georgia, was one of the biggest surprises of this year’s final Grand Slam event, reaching the quarterfinals before being eliminated. But she outstayed her hotel reservation at the Marriott in Manhattan, according to SportsBusiness Journal. Her management company quickly got her a room at the Intercontinental Hotel. Oudin, who was not seeded, was not expected to play in the second week of the US Open. So the room she shared with her mother was apparently reserved for someone else. “Obviously we will not be sending any of our players back to that hotel (the Marriott),” Oudin’s agent, BEST Tennis president John Tobias, told the Journal.

STILL RELEVANT

He won the first US Open in 1968 and the main stadium at America’s premier tennis tournament is named for him. But it wasn’t until this year that Arthur Ashe was inducted into the US Open Court of Champions, which honors the greatest singles champions in the history of the 128 years of the US Championships/US Open. Ashe joined prior inductees Don Budge, Maureen Connolly, Jimmy Connors, Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Althea Gibson, Steffi Graf, Billie Jean King, Jack Kramer, Rod Laver, Ivan Lendl, Molla Bjurstedt Mallory, John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Pete Sampras, Bill Tilden and Helen Wills. An international panel of journalists selects the inductees annually. Former President Bill Clinton participated in Ashe’s induction ceremonies.

SET FOR DOHA

US Open runner-up Caroline Wozniacki and Elena Dementieva are the latest to qualify for the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships, which will be held October 27-November 1 in Doha, Qatar. The world’s top eight singles players and top four doubles teams will compete for the Sony Ericsson Championships title and a share of the record Championships prize money of USD $4.45 million.

STAYING IN TOUCH

Fans attending the US Open sent a record number of emails and text, picture and video messages from in and around Arthur Ashe Stadium the first week of the tournament. “US Open fans are letting their fingers do the talking this year as increasing numbers of Verizon Wireless customers use Smartphones and PDAs to stay in touch with their homes and offices,” said Michele White, executive director-network for company’s New York Metro Region. “The number of data connections established by Verizon Wireless customers in and around the tennis center during the busiest hours of the event last week was 80 percent higher than last year while voice traffic was down.”

STRONG SPORT

Despite the gloomy global economy, the women’s tennis circuit is doing just fine, thank you. Stacey Allaster, CEO of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, said they have lost just one title sponsor in 2009 and have added two new tournaments in 2010. “The bottom line is we want to be a credible product, consistently delivering to fans and sponsors, and in 2009 our athletes have done that,” Allaster said. Of the tour’s 51 title sponsors, only one has dropped out, and that is “an incredible success story for women’s tennis,” she said. Tournaments have been added in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia, while the Los Angeles event has moved to San Diego.

SHAMEFUL ACTIONS

Three teenagers have been convicted in Malmo, Sweden, for rioting outside a Davis Cup tie between Israel and Sweden in March. The three Swedish males, aged 17 to 19, were sentenced to community service for juveniles. Two of them were also ordered to pay USD $19,020 for sabotaging a police vehicle. The three were among 10 people arrested after protesting Israel’s offensive in Gaza. The court had previously sentenced two others to 9 and 15 months in prison. No spectators were allowed to watch the matches after Malmo officials said they could not guarantee security. The International Tennis Association (ITF) fined the Swedish tennis federation USD $5,000 for that decision and banned Malmo from staging Davis Cup matches for five years.

SAY IT AIN’T SO

A media report that he and his wife are living in fear amid crime and poverty in the Bahamas has brought an angry response from Lleyton Hewitt. The 2001 US Open champion told a newspaper that the report in an Australian magazine was “absolute rubbish.” Hewitt said he and his family have had “fantastic experiences” in the nine months they have lived in a gated community on New Providence island. “For us it’s a fantastic place to raise a young family.”

SAYS YOU, SAYS ME

You knew it had to happen. Novak Djokovic and John McEnroe took turns imitating each other during an impromptu US Open moment. Following his victory over Radek Stepanek, Djokovic called McEnroe down from his television booth, then mimicked the mannerisms and serving style of the four-time US Open champion. He tossed his racquet onto the court and screamed at an imaginary umpire. Once McEnroe arrived on court, he unbuttoned his white shirt, rolled up his sleeves and, using a borrowed racquet, bounced the ball repeatedly, imitating Djokovic’s pre-serve habits. Two years ago, Djokovic delighted the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd by impersonating Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova, among others. “What I’ve done in 2007 with those impersonations and tonight playing with Johnny Mac, I think that’s what the crowd wants, especially in these hours,” Djokovic said. “I think these night matches are very special.”

SKIPPING SCHOOL

Her exciting run to US Open quarterfinals kept Melanie Oudin in New York City doing what she wants to do. She doesn’t do the ordinary high school things, like going to the junior prom or homecoming, or even hanging out with friends at the mall. “She doesn’t do any of that kind of stuff, and she’s OK with it,” said Katherine Oudin, Melanie’s mother. “I know she misses the normal life a little, but she does not regret it at all. Zero. She’s totally OK with it because she knows this is what she’s wanted her entire life.”

SOCKING IT AWAY

Each of the singles champions here at the US Open will take home USD $1.6 million, a nice tidy sum in any language. Going into the year’s final Grand Slam tournament, Roger Federer has earned USD $36 million over the past 12 months. His three Grand Slam wins – 2008 US Open, French Open and Wimbledon – and other tournament play netted him USD $8 million. And when he won his first-round match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center this year, he became the first player to surpass USD $50 million in career earnings on the court. The 28-year-old Federer has 10-year endorsement deals with Nike, Rolex, Wilson and Swiss coffee machine maker Jura. His Nike contract extension that he signed in 2008 is worth more than USD $10 million annually. Maria Sharapova is close to Federer in off-court earnings. The Russian earned USD $22.5 million over the past year despite missing most of the season with a shoulder injury.

SUED

The US Tennis Association (USTA) has been sued by a New York City documentary filmmaker who claims the ruling tennis body discriminates against wheelchair players by refusing to sell broadcast licensing rights to their matches. Brooklyn, New York, filmmaker Alan Rich is a lawyer who is representing himself and seven handicapped players. He has been filming a documentary about the players called “Fire in the Belly.” Rich contends that because the major networks covering the tournament – CBS, ESPN and Tennis Channel – do not cover wheelchair events, he should be given the rights. USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier said his organization limits filming of matches to the three television companies that have contracts with them. He said that two years ago, Tennis Channel aired the wheelchair finals competition live and produced a half-hour highlights show of the tournament.

SIMON REPLACED

Jeremy Chardy will play Davis Cup for France against the Netherlands. Chardy replaces Gilles Simon, who has a knee injury. France plays the Netherlands for a spot in next year’s World Group. The French team also includes Gael Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and doubles specialist Michael Llordra. Chardy originally had been selected as an alternative. That role now goes to Julien Benneteau.

SCRIBE AWARDS

Sixteen writers were honored at the US Open by the US Tennis Writers Association in the 10th annual USTWA Writing Contest. William Weinbaum and John Barr of ESPN.com won first place in Hard News/Enterprise for their story about the controversial match between Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello. Other first-place winners were: Bruce Jenkins, San Francisco Chronicle, Column/Commentary; Cindy Shmerler, TENNIS Magazine, Feature Story (Pro); Stephen Tignor, TENNIS Magazine, Feature Story (Non-Pro); Filip Bondy, New York Daily News, Game Story (Pro); and Paul Fein, TennisOne.com, Service Story.

The USTWA announced the election of its board of directors at its annual meeting at the US Open: Cindy Cantrell, Tennis Life; Paul Fein, freelance writer; Ann LoPrinzi, The Times of Trenton (New Jersey); Richard Kent, freelance writer; Jim Martz, Florida Tennis; and Art Spander, The (San Francisco) Examiner. Fein, Kent and Spander are new to the board. The officers will be determined by the board.

SHARED PERFORMANCE

Genoa: Daniele Bracciali and Alessandro Motti beat Amir Hadad and Harel Levy 6-4 6-2

SITES TO SURF

Davis Cup: www.DavisCup.com

Quebec: www.challengebell.com

Guangzhou: http://sports.21cn.com

Bucharest: www.bcropenromania.ro/

Metz: www.openmoselle.com

Hansol: www.hansolopen.com

Tashkent: www.tashkentopen.uz

Saint Malo: www.opengdfsuez-bretagne.com

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP

$150,000 Pekao Open, Szczecin, Poland, clay

WTA

$220,000 Bell Challenge, Quebec City, Canada, hard

$220,000 Guangzhou International Women’s Open, Guangzhou, China, hard

DAVIS CUP

World Group Semifinals

Croatia vs. Czech Republic at Porec, Croatia

Spain vs. Israel at Murcia, Spain

World Group Playoffs

Chile vs. Austria at Rancagua, Chile; Belgium vs. Ukraine at Charleroi, Belgium; Brazil vs. Ecuador at Porto Alegre, Brazil; Netherlands vs. France at Maastricht, Netherlands; South Africa vs. India at Johannesburg, South Africa; Serbia vs. Uzbekistan at Belgrade, Serbia; Sweden vs. Romania at Helsingborg, Sweden; Italy vs. Switzerland at Genova, Italy

Americas Zone

Group I Playoff: Peru vs. Uruguay at Lima, Peru

Group II Final: Dominican Republic vs. Venezuela at Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Asia-Oceania Zone

Group I Playoff: China vs. Thailand at Jiaxing, China

Group II 3rd Round: Philippines vs. New Zealand at Manila, Philippines

Europe/Africa Zone

Group I Playoffs: Slovak Republic vs. FYR Macedonia at Bratislava, Slovak Republic; Great Britain vs. Poland at Liverpool, Great Britain

Group II 3rd Round: Latvia vs. Slovenia at Jurmala, Latvia; Finland vs. Cyprus at Salo, Finland

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$650,000 BCR Open Romania, Bucharest, Romana, clay

$650,000 Open de Moselle, Metz, France, hard

WTA

$220,000 Hansol Korea Open, Seoul, Korea, hard

$220,000 Tashkent Open, Tashkent, Uzbekistan, hard

$100,000 Open GDF Suez de Bretagne, Saint Malo, France, clay

SENIORS

Trophee Jean-Luc Lagardere, Paris, France, clay

Monica Seles – Head of the Class

Monica is “head of the class” of the 2009 group of inductees in the International Tennis Hall of Fame. She won nine major singles titles in her career – including four titles at the Australian Open. Her classmates are super agent Donald Dell, former French Open champion Andres Gimeno and Dr. Robert “Whirwind” Johnson. Bud Collins, himself a 1994 inductee into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and the author of the definitive tennis encyclopedia THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS, summarizes Seles and her career in this excerpt from his book.

How could anybody stop her? An all-time prodigy, a unique No. 1 with her double-barrelled fusillades—both hands on both sides—Monica Seles was a 19-year-old tearing up tennis until that fateful day in Hamburg, April 30, 1993. An allegedly demented German spectator, Guenther Parche, stopped her, struck her down with a knife in the back as she sat beside the court on a changeover.

The quarterfinal match against Maggie Maleeva ended at that abrupt moment, and so did tennis for a kid who seemed des­tined to be the greatest of all. She had won eight majors (three French, three Australian, two U.S.). After taking the U.S. of 1992 over Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, 6-3, 6-3, she was the youngest ever to hold seven of them (18 years, eight months), undercutting Maureen Connolly by three months. (Curiously, Connolly, who wound up with nine, had been cut off, too, as a teenager, in a traf­fic accident.) Breaking Steffi Graf’s four-year hold on the No. 1 ranking in 1991, Seles had held off Steffi in her last major appear­ance before her stabbing, to win the Australian, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

But putative assassin Parche intervened, claiming he knifed Seles to restore Graf to preeminence, a story the Seles family doubted. It was 28 months before Monica was seen on court again. The psychological damage had been more severe than the physical. She, like everybody else—except, apparently, the judge in Parche’s trial and re-trial—wondered why he was not incarcer­ated. “He’s still out there walking the streets,” she worried.

Attempting to put it behind her, Monica re-emerged in August 1995, beating Martina Navratilova in an exhibition at Atlantic City, content with the co-No. 1 ranking with Graf granted her by the WTA. Then acting as though nothing had changed, she was back in business—electrifyingly so. Opponents at the Cana­dian Open in Toronto acted as though they were seeing a ghost. They were—a ghost of championships past—as she marched to the title on a loss of no sets, 12 games in five matches, ripping Amanda Coetzer in the final, 6-0, 6-1.

On to the US Open, where she’d won 14 straight matches. The opposition continued to melt until the final, where Graf ended the streak at 20, fitter in the third set, 7-6 (8-6), 0-6, 6-3. At 6-5 in the tie-breaker, Monica groused at a call of fault on her bid—a frac­tion wide—for a set-point ace. She lost her composure momen­tarily, and may have missed the title by a smidgen of an inch.

Her return to Australia, where she’d never been beaten, was triumphant. She won Sydney from match point down over Lind­say Davenport, 4-6, 7-6 (9-7), 6-3, then the Open (Graf was absent) over Anke Huber, 6-4, 6-1, a ninth major title. However, after that, the 1996 season didn’t go as well as she and her fans had hoped. Knee and shoulder injuries were bothersome. Her conditioning was suspect; she pulled out of several tourneys. Though she did win three more tournaments and help the U.S. regain the Federa­tion Cup, there was disappointment at the French and Wimble­don. Jana Novotna clipped her Paris streak of 25 in the quarters, 7-6 (9-7), 6-3. More painful perhaps was losing the last four games and a second-rounder at the Big W to an unknown Slovak, No. 59 Katerina Studenikova, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4. “I’m playing too defensively, not attacking the ball the way I used to,” Monica said accurately. She was a finalist again at the U.S. Open but was pushed around by a charged-up Graf whose superior quickness showed, 7-5, 6-4.

Seles, a left-hander who has grown to nearly six feet, was born Dec. 2, 1973, of Serbo-Hungarian parentage, at Novi Sad in what was then Yugoslavia. Getting her started, her father, Karolj Seles, a professional cartoonist and keen student of the game, drew faces on the balls for her to hit. He and her mother, Esther, felt her future lay in the United States They moved to Nick Bollettieri’s Tennis Academy at Bradenton, Fla., in 1986 when Monica was 12, and headmaster Nick oversaw her early development. Papa took over the coaching again at their Sara­sota residence until his death in 1998. Monica became a U.S. citizen in 1995.

Monica sounded the alarm in 1989 as a 15-year-old by spoil­ing the last final of Chris Evert’s illustrious career in. Houston, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. “She’s the next,” exulted an overwhelmed witness, his­torian Ted Tinling. Soon after, “Moanin’ Monica” took her bubbly grimacing-and-grunting act to Roland Garros to show Parisians noisy tennis nouvelle: rip-roaring groundies, bludgeoned from. anywhere in a baseball switch-hitting style (the backhand cross-handed). She constantly went for winners, seemingly off-balance and out-of-position but buoyed by excellent footwork and antici­pation. Graf barely escaped in the semis. But she wouldn’t a year later, in the final, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4. Seles became a major player. She bounded into the world’s Top 10 in 1989 (No. 6) and was there through 2002, 13 years, (except for non- ranked 1994): No. 2 in 1990; No. 1 in 1991-92; No. 8 in 1993; co-No. 1 in 1995; co-No. 2 in 1996; No. 5 in 1997; No. 6 in 1998; No. 4 in 1999-2000; No. 10 in 2001; No. 7 in 2002.

For two-and-a-half years Monica was nearly invincible as the titles piled up and her ball-impacting shriek—“Uhh-eee!”—was heard across the globe. She charmed the public with girlish elan and mystified people by vanishing before Wimbledon in 1991 and then resurfacing to win the U.S. Open. She may have been psyched out of a 1992 Grand Slam when complaints about the grunting from Wimbledon victims, Nathalie Tauziat and Martina Navratilova, (leading to a warning from the referee) muted her in the final, where she was destroyed by Graf, 6-2, 6-1. Still, she was the first to win three majors in successive years since Mar­garet Court (three and four, 1969-70), a feat equaled by Graf in 1995-96. Among her souvenirs was the 1991 U.S. final, when at age 17, she defeated Navratilova, 34, a singular generation gapper, 7-6 (9-7), 6-1. Her brightest seasons of 10 singles titles each were 1991 (winning 74 of 80 matches) and 1992 (70 of 75).

At the close of 2003, after 12 pro seasons, and portions of two others, she had played 177 tournaments and won 53 singles titles with a 595-122 won-loss record (.836); 180-31 in the majors (.861). She has also won six doubles titles with a 89-45 won-loss record and earned $14,891,762 in prize money. She won a singles bronze at the 2000 Olympics, and won her last title, Madrid over Chanda Rubin 6-4, 6-2, in 2002. She was inactive after 2003, and announced her retirement in 2008. An exemplary figure who has coped well with much adver­sity, including several injuries, she was not the player she might have been, yet is clearly, constantly upbeat, saying, “Tennis will never end for me because I love it so much. When my profes­sional career is over I will continue to play all my life.” Monica has put an indelible signature on the game with her style, per­sona and championships, a woman doubtless on a journey to the Hall of Fame.

MAJOR TITLES (9)—Australian singles, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996; French singles, 1990, 1991, 1992; US. singles, 1991, 1992.

FEDERATION CUP—1995-96, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002

SINGLES RECORD IN THE MAJORS— Australian (43-4), French (54-8), Wimbledon (30-9), U.S. (54-10).

Bill Mountford: Final Thoughts From Newport

Some final thoughts from Newport, Rhode Island and the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Championships… It was a treat to see “The Magician”, Fabrice Santoro, defend a title for the first time in his long career.  The Frenchman did not lose a set all week at the Hall of Fame Championships.  He served well, moved exceptionally well, and treated fans to his usual assortment of quirky, disguised shots.

The grass courts at the Newport Casino played like grass courts from yesteryear.  In fact, they played like the courts at the All England Club prior to 2002.  After years of complaints that Pete Sampras was boring and the big-serving efforts of Goran Ivanisevic during his improbable run to the title in 2001, the AEC committee changed the texture of the grass (by importing four tons of quicksand) to make sure that longer rallies were more likely.  Be careful what you wish for… most matches at Wimbledon 2008 looked like they were being played on medium-paced hard courts.  Newly-inducted Hall of Famer Michael Chang spoke of the obvious changes in playability of the Wimby grass. Had the courts been as slow during Chang’s prime as they are these days, then he would have surely contended for a title at the Big W.

If there were more old-style grass courts or lightning-fast indoor courts on the ATP Tour, then Prakash Amritraj would be ranked higher than No. 204 in the world. He volleys decisively and moves aggressively in the forecourt, and these skills are becoming increasingly rare in professional tennis. Vijay Amritraj was a beacon of fair play and sportsmanship throughout his playing career. It was a little surprising to observe his constant and blatant (illegal) coaching during his son Prakash’s semifinal and final round matches.

John Isner took his first ATP Tour doubles title with Mardy Fish.  It was great to see these American players working so hard on their fitness on the practice courts after they both lost their first matches in singles.  It will be another grinding hard court season this summer, and that fitness work will pay dividends.

Monica Seles ought to be inducted into the Hall of Fame next July.  She should surely be joined by her former coach, Nick Bollettieri.  The ageless Bollettieri was in Newport last weekend supporting the sport, and has been the most successful coach in the Open era. Michael Stich should also receive serious consideration for the roll of honor.

Lastly, for the thousands of tennis enthusiasts who are eager to feel what it is like to play on natural grass, visit  http://www.tennisfame.com/ithof.aspx?pgID=895.

For Bill Mountford tennis instruction videos click here!

Photos by Catherine O’Neal

Mark McCormack To Be Inducted In International Tennis Hall Of Fame

On Saturday, July 12, the International Tennis Hall of Fame will induct its Class of 2008 – Michael Chang, Mark McCormack and Gene Scott – in ceremonies at the home of the Hall of Fame, The Casino in Newport, Rhode Island. Hall of Fame journalist Bud Collins profiles all three inductees in his just-off-the-press book THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS ($35.95, New Chapter Press, click here for 39 percent discount). Today, we present to you the profile of Mark McCormack, the founder of the International Management Group.

Mark McCormack

United States (1930-2003)

Hall of Fame-2008-Contributor

By founding IMG (International Management Group) as a young man of 29, Mark Hume McCormack would revolutionize sports agentry and marketing on a world-wide level, much of it to the benefit and growth of tennis.

McCormack, a lawyer and an exceptional golfer who quali­fied for the U.S. Open and British Amateur, first turned his atten­tion to that sport. Tremendously imaginative, a business genius, he sensed new opportunity on the links. It was in the forms of three men who would become all-time greats: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Through their play and his man­agement they became wealthy and kindled increasing interest in golf.

When tennis became “open” in 1968, blending amateurs with the previously outlawed professionals, McCormack was quick to act, realizing that this game should attain far broader popularity, and that he could be a positive force in its rise.

Immediately, he signed on to represent the world’s foremost player, Australian Rod Laver, also to represent the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club (aka Wimbledon), a relationship that continues to this day.

Laver was the first of a long line of tennis players to select McCormack’s IMG as their agent. Among them other Hall of Famers Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Bjorn Borg, Jim Cou­rier, Pete Sampras.

Mark’s thoughts and ideas flowed in all directions in sport, and beyond. IMG became the world’s largest independent pro­ducer of TV sports programming. His system has spread and promoted economic advances for players, tournaments, ten­nis institutions and the game’s industry as a whole. In 1992, the Times of London named him one of “A Thousand People Who Most Influenced The 20th Century.”

Born Nov. 6, 1930, in Chicago, he grew up there, graduated from William and Mary College (’51) and Yale Law School (’54), and served a year in the U.S. Army in 1956. He was inducted into William and Mary’s Athletic Hall of Fame for golfing prow­ess in 1958.

IMG acquired the Nick Bollettieri Sports Academy in 1987, continuing Nick’s successful tennis “boot camp” that trains out­standing players from across the globe.

As an author, he somehow found time to write Things They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School, a best seller in 1984 published in 82 countries.

Mark’s second marriage was to a standout American tennis player, Betsy Nagelsen in 1986, eight years after she was the final­ist at the Australian Open. A 2008 inductee to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, he died May 16, 2003, in New York

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.

Mondays With Bob Greene – Rafael Nadal Wins Monte Carlo Masters Series

STARS

Rafael Nadal won his first title of 2008 and his fourth consecutive Monte Carlo Masters, defeating Roger Federer 7-5 7-5.

Nuria Llagostera Vives won both of her singles and teamed up to capture the doubles and lead Spain over China 4-1 and into the Fed Cup World Group finals.

Vera Zvonareva beat Vania King to clinch the Fed Cup World Group semifinals victory as Russia beat the United States 3-2.

Marcelo Rios beat Michael Stich 6-3 6-3 to win the BlackRock Champions Cup in Barcelona, Spain.

SAYINGS

“Winning four times here is unimaginable.” – Rafael Nadal, who became the first player to win four straight titles at Monte Carlo since Anthony Wilding of New Zealand did it from 1911-14.

“He deserves to win. I’m pushing Rafa today, having the feeling I can beat him if I play the right way. That’s the feeling I didn’t have after (Monte Carlo) last year.” – Roger Federer after his 7-5 7-5 loss to Rafael Nadal for the Monte Carlo Masters title.

“I knew I could do it, but there were times when I wondered.” – Robert Dee, who finally won his first professional match after 54 consecutive losses.

“It was my first match on red clay in almost two years. That’s why I was a little nervous at the start of the match.” – Vera Zvonareva, who beat Vania King 4-6 6-3 6-2 to give Russia an insurmountable 3-0 lead over the United States in their Fed Cup semifinal.

“I felt really sorry. I really didn’t want to lose.” – Peng Shuai, after losing 6-4 6-4 to Nuria Llagostera Vives as Spain clinched its Fed Cup semifinal victory over China.

“We knew we could win the tie, but we never expected to win three matches in a row.” – Nuria Llagostera Vives on Spain’s Fed Cup semifinal win.

“It’s not worth it. I’m just 20 years old. Still a lot of time, a lot of tournaments to come.” – Novak Djokovic, on how he felt it was too risky to continue his semifinal match against Roger Federer because of dizziness and a sore throat.

“Physically I was tired. That’s why next week is good. I don’t play any tournament.” – Nikolay Davydenko, who is taking a week off before playing in the Rome Masters.

“It’s still enjoyable. It’s nice to play the tournaments again where I have such great memories of what’s happened in the past.” – Gustavo Kuerten, after losing in the opening round of the Monte Carlo Masters. Kuerten is on a farewell tour which will culminate at the Roland Garros.

“We should have both (Maria) Sharapova and (Svetlana) Kuznetsova in the lineup. I might even have them play doubles together.” – Russian captain Shamil Tarpishchev, talking about who might play for his team at the Fed Cup finals in September against Spain.

SUPER SPANIARD

Rafael Nadal joined Jim Courier as the only players in ATP Masters Series history to win both the singles and doubles at the same event. Nadal beat Roger Federer 7-5 7-5 for the singles title, and teamed with fellow Spaniard Tommy Robredo to down Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles 6-3 6-3 for the doubles crown. Nadal is the first player to win both titles at Monte Carlo since Ilie Nastase in 1973. Courier won both titles in an ATP Masters Series tournament in 1991 at Indian Wells, California.

SUCCESS – FINALLY

Robert Dee walked off the tennis court a winner after 54 consecutive defeats. The Briton defeated Arzhang Derakhshani of the United states 6-4 6-3 in qualifying for a Futures tournament in Reus, near Barcelona in Spain. Dee’s 54-match losing streak was the worst since Diego Beltranena of Guatemala also lost 54 straight matches between 1997 and 2005, although Beltranena at least managed to win a set. Until his victory over Derakhshani, Dee had played 108 sets – losing them all – since turning pro.

SUCH A PAYDAY

The payout at Roland Garros this year will be more than 15.5 million euros, an increase of more than 2 percent from last year. With equal prize money again awaiting men and women, the champions will each pocket one million euros. The French Tennis Federation (FFT) said the biggest prize money increases are in the wheelchair events where the total prize money available is 60 percent higher than in 2007.

SMOKIN’ SEMIS

When Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Nikolay Davydenko reached the semifinals of the Monte Carlo Masters, it marked the first time since Roland Garros in 2006 that the world’s top four ranked players were in the semifinals of the same tournament. It is the first time since the ATP Rankings began in 1973 that the top four-ranked players were semifinalists at Monte Carlo.

STOPPING THE BOMB

Frenchman Gael Monfils pulled off a unique feat in his 7-6 (8) 6-1 win over huge-serving Ivo Karlovic at the Monte Carlo Masters. Monfils didn’t concede a single ace against the 6-foot-10 Croatian. It was the first time in his career that Karlovic had failed to serve at least one ace in the match.

SITE SENSATIONAL

A record number of visitors checked out the Davis Cup web site as the nations played quarterfinals on April 11-13. The official site of the event, www.daviscup.com, recorded 4,568,701 page views, a 35 percent increase on the quarterfinals weekend in 2007. The total number of visitor sessions also saw a 39 percent rise from the previous year.

SO LONG

Clarisa Fernandez, who upset Kim Clijsters en route to the semifinals at Roland Garros in 2002, is calling it quits because of knee injuries. The lefthander from Argentina played her first professional tournament at an ITF event in Buenos Aires in 1997. She was ranked as high as number 26 in the world before undergoing surgeries in 2004, 2005 and 2007.

SEEKING HELP

Donald Young, the youngest player ranked in the ATP Top 100, will work out at Nick Bollettieri’s Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida. It is one of the first examples of the USTA Elite Player Development’s new collaborative approach with top coaches and private academies in a bid to develop the next generation of American champions. The USTA also announced that three top junior prospects – 12-year-old Sachia Vickery, 12-year-old of Victoria Duval and 9-year-old Alicia Black – will be working with Bollettieri.

STAYING HOME

Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish, two of America’s top three players, will skip the Beijing Olympics, opting instead for a U.S. Open tuneup event. Roddick will defend his title and Fish will join him at the ATP Washington Classic, which will be played August 9-17 opposite the Olympic men’s tennis tournament. Fish was a silver medalist at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

SPANISH SHOCKER

Spain being in the Fed Cup final is no surprise. Peng Shuai losing three matches and Spain crushing China 4-1 in the semifinal at Beijing are shockers. Peng was the highest ranked singles player in the competition, ranked number 68 in the world. She and Sun Tian Tian are ranked ninth in the world in doubles. Instead, Nuria Llagostera Vives won three matches, teaming with Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez in the doubles, while Carla Suarez-Navarro, ranked number 132 in the world, beat Peng in straight sets.

SHARAPOVA READY

Russia will have Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova for its Fed Cup final against Spain in September. Sharapova made her Fed Cup debut against Israel in February and won both of her singles matches to lead Russia to a 4-1 quarterfinal victory. Svetlana Kuznetsova led Russia to a 3-2 win over the United States in semifinal play. Against Spain, Russia could field both Sharapova and Kuznetsova, who are ranked third and fourth in world, respectively.

SPONSOR

BoscoSport, a Russian sporting goods company, is the new official clothing sponsor of Fed Cup. It will outfit the linespeople and ball kids at all Fed Cup ties. BoscoSport has been the official Russian Olympic team outfitter since the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games and is also the outfitter of the Russian Davis Cup and Fed Cup teams.

SCRIBE

Bud Collins has written a new book about tennis. The writer, historian and Tennis Hall of Fame member has written The Bud Collins History of Tennis, which is due in bookstores later this spring in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, and is available now with internet retailers. Collins’ achievements include being the recipient of the ATP’s 2007 Ron Bookman Media Excellence Award.

SHARED PERFORMANCE

Doubles Champions

Monte Carlo: Rafael Nadal and Tommy Robredo beat Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles 6-3 6-3.

SCORING FED CUP

World Group Playoffs

Italy beat Ukraine 3-2; France beat Japan 4-1; Argentina beat Germany 3-2; Czech Republic beat Israel 3-2

World Group II Playoffs

Belgium beat Colombia 5-0; Switzerland beat Austria 3-2; Slovak Republic beat Uzbekistan 5-0; Serbia beat Croatia 3-2

SITES TO SURF

Barcelona: www.opensabadellatlantico.com

Munich: www.bmwopen.de

Fes: www.frmt.ma/

Prague: www.pragueopen.cz

Rome: www.internazionalibnlditalia.it

Berlin: www.german-open.org

Boston: www.championsseriestennis.com/boston2008

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

ATP

$824,000 Open Sabadell Atlantico 2008, Barcelona, Spain, clay

$370,000 BMW Open, Munich, Germany, clay

WTA TOUR

$145,000 Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem, Fes, Morocco, clay

$145,000 ECM Prague Open, Prague, Czech Republic, clay

SENIORS

$150,000 Outback Champions Cup Boston, Boston, Massachusetts, hard

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$2,270,000 Internazionali BNL d’Italia, Rome, Italy, clay

WTA TOUR

$1,340,000 Qatar Telecom German Open, Berlin, Germany, clay

SENIORS

BlackRock Tour of Champions Rome, clay