Sampras

U.S. Open – Tie-Break City

By James A. Crabtree

With the U.S. Open fast approaching now seems as good a time as any to look back on the greatest tie-breakers ever.

There is no better place to start than with the only slam to play a tie-break in the deciding fifth set. From one angle it’s a shame the Americans get to miss out on a possibly endless epic that might stretch on for days, like the 1080 points John Isner and Nicholas Mahut endured during the 2010 Wimbledon marathon.

On the other angle it’s great to watch a match where you can have match point, then only seconds later be match point down. Exciting, unpredictable and how very New York.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fLkVJSBplE

One such thrilling tiebreaker took place during the 1996 U.S. Open quarter final between Pete Sampras and Alex Corretja. Sampras won the match after firing a second serve ace down match point. He also showed more Hypochondriasis than Andy Murray before, like Murray, playing like an animal when it really mattered. Sampras went on to win the tournament beating Goran Ivanisevic in the semis and Michael Chang in the final.

The 1996 U.S. Open also initially caused controversy for the higher seeding of American players Michael Chang and Andre Agassi above their world ranking. Thomas Muster, Boris Becker and Yevgeny Kafelnikov were seeded below their ranking with Kafelnikov withdrawing himself in protest.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gw21Z-37JW0

Arguably the greatest match ever, surely Nadal’s most memorable victory, the 2008 Wimbledon final had a bit of everything. Federer, the defending champion was starting to show signs he was human and Nadal was hungry for a slam that wasn’t played on clay. The longest final in Wimbledon history included a couple of tie-breaks, the second that included match points for Nadal. Incredibly Nadal didn’t capitalise in that set, but did manage to win 9-7 in the nail biting fifth set.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjnvvzmX6MY

Another match Nadal won but came up short in the tie-break is the 2009 Australian Open semi, where he was blasted by a player simply on fire. Fernando Verdasco brought himself to the attention of the world with an attacking game that was all but faultless in a tie-break he won 7-1 to level the match. It was hard to think that Nadal could comeback from this kind of thrashing. What was harder still was the level of play Verdasco had to replicate to beat Nadal in the fifth. Against the odds Nadal was fresh enough to win the final, another five set match, against old foe Roger Federer.

Arguably the other greatest match ever and first major tiebreak to capture the attention of the world was during the 1980 Wimbledon final featuring John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. More was on the line than just victory and defeat; this was baseline versus net, lefty versus right but most clearly fire and ice.

Borg had already squandered two championship points at 5–4 in the fourth.  McEnroe saved five further match points during tiebreaker and won 18–16. Bjorn went on to win the fifth set 8-6 for his fifth and his final Wimbledon crown.

The final match to make the list is a Futures event this past January in Florida. Monaco’s world number 636 Benjamin Balleret beat unranked compatriot Guillaume Couillard 36-34 in the first set of their third round qualifying match. Balleret, a former world number 206, took the second set 6-1 and now holds the record for the longest tie-break in history.

 

 

 

 

Federer Racquet – What A Racquet

by James A. Crabtree

Roger Federer playing in Hamburg

Roger Federer’s switch to a new racquet has made more news stories worldwide than a lunar landing. And so it should. When the world’s most successful assassin changes his most trusted weapon, this is big news.

Federer has made minor adjustments over the years, from the Pro Staff 85 6.0 he used in 2001 to defeat Sampras (the same racquet Sampras used). He then went to the Hyper Pro Staff which looked like a paint job of the previous.

If you painted your old Porsche and told everyone it was a new model would they believe you? Well, lets just assume your friends are gullible. And you would argue it is still a Porsche and should be driven with care. Both the Porsche and the Pro Staff are tough to handle.

By 2003 Federer was using a racquet with a 90 sq. inch frame and winning slams. This was the most dramatic adjustment and to many an observer the racquet has barely changed since. Just subtle paint jobs and a twinge on the marketing with a new name to keep mugs like myself trying to emulate our Swiss hero. The nCode range followed, then the nSix-One Tour 90, K Factor Six One Tour, Six.One Tour BLX and up until Wimbledon 2013 the BLX Pro Staff Six.One.

This is a tough racquet to play with. It may also be the least friendly racquet for your regular club player, as it doesn’t allow for errors. It’s a pure players racquet for Samurai’s who have mastered the craft.

So is it the same old Pro Staff that has been around for Eon’s. Well it is and it isn’t. The racquet has been moulded and adjusted to fit the player, rather than the other way around. Federer has made detailed and minute changes to his racquet and although it may look like the one in the shops it would feel and play totally different. The model, which has the same shape and hard edges would vary in weight, balance, swing weight, composite material, grip and strings whether you chose the version played by Sampras, Edberg, Courier or Federer. Regardless, it can still account for 41 slams.

Irrespective of the intricacies the Pro Staff, a racquet initially designed for Jimmy Connors, is now gone. The replacement looks like the Blade that Monfils has been using, but is now suspected to be a prototype. Whatever racquet it is, the switch has laid to rest the most successful racquet in grand slam men’s tennis history.

Usually when players change racquets it is for money, such as Djokovic to Head or more recently Wawrinka and Tomic to Yonex. When players switch model within the same company more often than not it is a paint job. Federer’s latest racquet is definitely more than just a façade.

Federer lost one surprise match at Wimbledon and it’s not unreasonable to think he has overreacted. He has had a horrid year thus far, with only one tournament win and no victories over a top 10 player. On top of this his confidence has taken a hit. He has dropped in the rankings, and showed inconsistency with his various game plans. Is a new racquet just a desperate shot in the dark to find form, or another experiment that could plummet his woes further?

Is Federer learning from Pete Sampras, who never changed his racquet throughout his career but suggested perhaps he should have. Or is coach Paul Annacone in his ear, having been there at the end of both the careers of Sampras and Henman.

Federer has stated he is happy with the new racquet, and the greater sq. inches it provides should add a little more power and help with the various shanks we have become accustomed to seeing. The new racquet hasn’t yet experienced a loss or been put up against a considerable opponent. His arm may have been tested, but not his ability to deal with the underlying psychological aspects it will undoubtedly present.

10 Ways to Make the Professional Tennis Tour Cooler

by James A. Crabtree

Okay, this article will likely get some of you upset and I am sure I may even be accused of being a halfwit. However, they are just ideas, not set in stone, where imagination has gotten the better of me and will probably never happen.

Of course if any of them do happen, I do want a cut of the action and full praise for being a genius.

Cool Idea 1

Get rid of the 32 seed format in grand slams, which has been in place since Wimbledon 2001. Why should we get rid of it? It is far too much protection to the high seeds. The knock on effect is too many of the same matchups from tournament to tournament, less chance for the draw to open up for a no name and thus less variety. Boring. Go back to the 16 seed format, which could right now pair 17th ranked Gilles Simon in a first round match up with Djokovic or 24th ranked Jerzy Janowicz with Andy Murray. Now that would be good.

Cool Idea 2

Shuffle up the events (sorry Chris Skelton). Now for those of you who like uniformity and probably have a tidy bedroom you will likely prefer all the clay court tournaments bunched together, all the grass courts back to back and then a season of hard court events. Like neatly folded bed linen all this is rather…BORING! Why not see which players can mould their games quickly from surface to surface?

In fact this fantastic idea hinders the specialist from racking up points at certain times of year.

Cool Idea 3

Have an indoor event in Australia in October, mainly because I live in Australia and it is a long time between Aussie Opens. Another tournament is needed in this far off distant land to keep the tennis heart pumping throughout the course of year. Twelve months between Aussie Opens is just far too long. Also it would be great to have tour events in some tiny countries. Monaco is taken care of but how about Liechtenstein, San Marino and Vatican City!

Cool Idea 4

There is no ATP 1000 event on grass. Thus the tour needs one and needs to extend the grass court calendar a little longer. Actually, imagine having a top class grass court event in South America or somewhere that is typically only played on clay.

That being said it would be great to mix up the court surfaces across the globe. A clay event in England would be great addition.

Cool Idea 5

More of an exhibition, a “blast from the past” event. This would involve two of today’s top players slugging it out with old school wooden racquets. In fact let’s go full 1970’s; short shorts tight shirts, moustaches and the winner must hurdle the net.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZA5kPOXNUw

Cool Idea 6

Coaching Court – this court could be inside the main ground or enclosed in a glass box outside (cooler option) at any big tournament. Throughout the first few days coaches of respective players would offer instructional analysis and drill summaries for onlookers for free. A brief question and answer service would conclude each session.

Cool Idea 7

Another exhibition match – but the catch? No topspin allowed. I want to see Rafael Nadal chopping at the ball for an hour. If topspin is inadvertently used a side-court judge will determine if a player is to lose a point.

Cool Idea 8

Local area wildcard recipient.  Don’t worry, they won’t just be gifted the entry but an open tournament, where anyone can enter, will be played out. The beneficiary will go straight into the main draw and a possible Vince Papale moment will be born.

Cool Idea 9

Live in match tweeting!! At every changeover a player must tweet what is going through their minds. If they choose to follow or retweet Justin Bieber they will be punished with immediate deduction of a game.

Cool Idea 10

Remember back when we thought of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi as friends? When they did stuff like this?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6o8bLajJfnU

Well the impromptu match needs to be brought back. Not necessarily Manhattan but how about the smallest little tennis club here and there that nobody in their right mind would have expected.

In Appreciation of Tommy Haas

By James A. Crabtree

What thirty five year old Tommy Haas has done this year is just absurd. The guy is not just old; he is pretty much prehistoric.

Tommy turned professional in 1996 and lost his first grand slam match to Michael Stich at the U.S. Open that year. That was the same year Renée Zellweger said “You had me at hello” to Jerry Maguire, everyone danced ‘the Macarena’ and approximately 45 million people were using the Internet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiBYM6g8Tck

Some of the big and very much now retired players young Tommy beat in the years following were Yevgeny Kafelnikov in 1997, Marcelo Rios in 1998, Tim Henman and Andre Agassi in 1999, Pete Sampras in 2000 and Andy Roddick in 2002.

Yet Tommy is still swinging. Better, stronger and faster. In many ways he makes a mockery of the suggestion that the modern player is a much better player/athlete/tactician. He still plays very much the same game he always has. The groundstrokes are still crisp and aggressive, he isn’t afraid of the net and he will likely still have a slight emotional meltdown during the match.

Many a professional athlete has tried a comeback from the usual ailments that affects us all over time, but few have shown the resolve to not only to make it back, but stay back and truly return to a respectable level.

Haas has come back from various injuries for the joy of playing in front of his young daughter. His determination to continue playing shows there is a fire inside that is still burning. It is obvious that Tommy has an increased duty to physical fitness, as he is known to practice hard but also put in the work before and after practice. It would not be unreasonable to believe that Tommy Haas is indeed the result of military intervention courtesy of the Office of Scientific Intelligence and is the new 6 million dollar man (that’s 31 million adjusted to todays money).

2013 has seen him register wins over Alexandr Dolgopolov, Gilles Simon, John Isner and a certain Mr Novak Djokovic. All while wearing the sort of awful translucent fashion statements and lame black socks that you expect your dad to wear in attempt to embarrass. Indeed, Tommy is still human and a dad, so some things should be expected.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xrVUGc0b5wo

The German who is as much an American now is the quintessential nearly man, one of the best to have knocked on the door of grand slam contention having reached 3 Australian Open semi-finals and 1 Wimbledon semi-final. Obviously he still believes he can add his name to the history books having climbed to his current ranking of 14 after an all time high of 2 back in 2002. Not a bad comeback after dropping out of the rankings in 2010.

Tommy does have a long list to be encouraged by such as Andre Agassi, who held the number won spot aged thirty three and Ken Rosewell who won the 1972 Australian Open aged thirty seven. Fabrice Santoro played twenty one years on tour, Jimmy Connors competed in his final ATP match in 1996 at the age of forty three and Pancho Gonzalez sustained his mission until the age of forty six.

Tommy will surely join this list at some time. But for now Tommy is no Haas been.

State of the Union

by James A. Crabtree

What a disappointment the American men currently are.

For a country that is so rich in tennis history it is heart breaking to see a power house such as the United States limp through the season.

True, some players have been playing well. Sam Querrey has displayed a mild resurgence, James Blake is attempting one last hurrah, Jack Sock could well be a diamond in the rough and Mardy Fish is back at Indian Wells but hasn’t played since the 2012 U.S. Open. Outside of the top 100 Tim Smyczek looks to be a hustling player making waves. The players hanging in the bottom half of the top 100 such as Brian Baker and Michael Russell, are those with heart whilst the majority of the new batch, thus far, are all hype.

The real disappointment lies with the supposed new generation of stars. Granted, they do all talk a good game, profess their commitment to hard work and assure us that they are just that one big win from joining the elite. At this point none look like worthy candidates to propel the stars and stripes forward during the teenage years of this decade and for the most part lack true grit.

Ryan Harrison is still only twenty years old, and players tend to show their potential at around twenty two these days. Impressively Harrison has the skills to battle with the elite, just not the temperament to outclass anybody notable so far.

In 2011 Donald Young reached a career high ranking of 38, the fourth round of the U.S. Open and made the final of a 250 event in Thailand. The John McEnroe prophecies were starting to ring true until 2012, when Young pressed the self-destruct button and lost seventeen matches in a row. 2013 hasn’t been so bad, but Young is way off in the rankings.

Back in the early eighties many players from the eastern bloc looked to defect their homeland for the American dream. These days the reverse is happening. After some financial disputes with the USTA, Russian born Alex Bogolmov Jnr decided he was more Russian than American in 2012. Jesse Levine is another with eyes on being part of a Davis Cup team, having aligned with Canada, the country of his birth. Reportedly both players still live in Florida.

None of the current crop look poised to make a leap.

For those who can remember, rewind ten years prior and it was a much different story.

Pete Sampras was sailing off into the distance after his fourteenth slam. Andre Agassi had recently collected his fourth Australian title, and Andy Roddick was only months away from cracking the big time.

In many people’s eyes Roddick didn’t win enough, mainly because he failed to win a second slam. It must be remembered that his second chance was always going to be a lot tougher thanks to a certain Mr Federer who spoilt many careers. Now with the oft-criticised Roddick gone, and enjoying retirement, the torch as America’s best player hasn’t been passed onto a worthy candidate.

Now before the stomach acid of the Isner fans starts churning let’s remember that big John does very little outside of the U.S. or Davis Cup duties and has been looking rather out of sorts this year. Is it too soon to count him out?

And when was the U.S. this unsubstantial? Certainly not twenty years ago when the Americans were surely the majority in any draw.

So what has happened in the years since? Is the college system watered down, do the Academies need a revamp, is American tennis stuck in the past or just stuck in a lull?

As much as champions are formed at the grass root level, the formative years are spent idolising a hero. Naturally, an idol a young player can relate to will only help to cultivate progression.

With so many tournaments stateside, roughly 18% of the total tour, it is bad for tennis to have a weak America. And with so few American contenders a sense of complacent mediocrity can set in quickly.

Federer Finishes on High Note, Davis Cup Clash in Spain – The Friday Five

by Maud Watson

Another Title, Another Record

Last Sunday, Roger Federer became the first male player to win six season-ending championships, surpassing the previous record of five held jointly by Sampras and Lendl.  It also marked his 70th tournament win in 100 finals.  It was a great effort by Federer that showcased his fitness and resiliency.  When others were tired and running on fumes, he stood tall.  And rather than crumbling after a disappointing summer that included two devastating losses in the semis of both Wimbledon and the US Open, the man from Switzerland went a perfect 17-0 to collect three titles and regain the No. 3 ranking to close out 2011.  The ATP World Tour Finals may have also marked a psychological turning point for Federer.  He candidly admitted to being mentally fragile at some key moments earlier in the season, and after finding a way to close out Tsonga in a match that looked like it might yet again prove to be a dramatic comeback from the Frenchman, Federer may finally be putting some of those demons to rest.  This win by no means that he is a guaranteed major winner in 2012 – he finished 2010 with the title in London, too.  But it is a strong reminder that Federer still has more than enough game and motivation to add to his Slam tally before he calls it a career.

Overlooked Achievement

Often overshadowed by singles, there was some spectacular doubles on hand in London, and the team that took the cake was that of Daniel Nestor and Max Mirnyi.  It takes two to lift the title, and Mirnyi certainly did his part, but what an achievement for Daniel Nestor.  At age 39, he’s still one of the greatest doubles players in the game.  As a testament to just how good he is, he’s won the calendar year Grand Slam, Olympic gold, and has now won the season-ending championships four times with three different partners.  Unless he just decides he’s tired of the grind, there’s no reason why Nestor can’t continue to add to his doubles legacy.  Pencil him in as a future Hall of Famer.

Title Favorites

The final hurrah of 2011 gets underway today, as Spain plays host to Argentina in the Davis Cup final.  Both sides have played down their chances, with Argentina calling Spain the favorites, especially since they have Nadal – albeit a Nadal who is suffering from fatigue – playing at home on clay.  Spain meanwhile has said that Argentina is fielding a dangerous team that will be feeling extra motivation, having not won the title in three tries, the most recent final loss coming at the hands of Spain in Argentina in 2008.  One Spaniard who isn’t afraid to proclaim Spain’s status as the favorite, however, is Manolo Santan, who stated that the Spanish team could beat the Argentines on roller skates.  This sentiment was perhaps a bit too cocky (and unwise to give the Argentines extra incentive to make him eat his words), but he is correct in that Spain is undoubtedly the team to beat in this one.  But it should hopefully prove an entertaining matchup, and an upset that would see Argentina win its first Davis Cup title could happen.  Sit back and enjoy!

Changing It Up

The man just named 2011’s Most Improved Player, Alex Bogomolov, Jr., has been granted his wish.  He will now represent Russia instead of the United States.  While it’s understandable that some in the USTA were unhappy with the move given the time and money that has been invested in Bogomolov, it’s not like he’s the first player to benefit from American money and play for another nation (albeit those others did not benefit from USTA-funding).  This move also provides a great opportunity to Bogomolov, who was born in Moscow, as he will be able to represent Russia in the upcoming Davis Cup tie as their currently top-ranked player.  If still representing the United States, he would only be the fourth highest ranked American.  Here’s to hoping he finds the switch of allegiance well worth it.  The second more puzzling changeup concerns Donald Young.  According to TENNIS.com, Donald Young has gone back to being coached by his mother.  Under the guidance of the USTA’s coaching staff, Young enjoyed the most successful period of his professional career, starting at the end of the summer and through the Asian swing.  At the time of writing, few details are known regarding the switch, but a source has told TENNIS that Young was asked to train and practice at one of their facilities during the off season and Young refused.  Hopefully this will not prove another step backwards, but if TENNIS.com’s source is reliable, a frustrating history may be about to be repeated.

Still Plugging Away

Despite multiple surgeries, a major dip in the rankings, and an extended absence from the tour, Lleyton Hewitt insists that he has no retirement plans.  In some ways, he seems up there in age, but in reality, he’s less than a year older than Federer.  Unfortunately for the Aussie, he doesn’t possess Federer’s game, but it’s great to hear that he’s planning to stick around.  He’ll never get near the upper most echelons of the game again, but a healthy Hewitt has the tenacity, smarts, and experience to cause some upsets and maybe add the occasional piece of hardware to his own collection.  You’d be hard pressed to find many players that have more of a fighting spirit than the man from Adelaide, and thanks to being awarded a wildcard into the Australian Open, his legion of fans will be keen to see him hopefully get his 2012 campaign off with a flier.

Tennis‘ April issue: a look at the best of the Open Era

The upcoming issue of Tennis looks back at the past 40 years of tennis (the Open Era), which began with an inclusion of professionals into its most esteemed events — the Grand Slams — for the first time. This move revolutionized the sport and brought us some amazing memories in upsets, defeats, victories, and feats. Read on to see what the mag deemed worthy of its list. (Do you agree? Tell us!)

The Best Shots: The invicible serve of Peter Sampras. “No player owed as much to a single shot. Even as he aged, his serve kept winning him Wimbledons.” The runners-up are Steffi Graf’s forehand, Chris Evert’s backhand; Jimmy Connors’ return, and Roger Federer’s forehand.

Crucial Matches: Props to Tennis for not going with the safe choice of Billie Jean King d. Bobby Riggs (no offense, BJK). Instead, they turn our attention to the 1990 U.S. Open meeting between Sampras and Ivan Lendl. “An unknown Sampras ended Lendl’s streak of eight U.S. Open finals, and helped usher in the power era,” according to the magazine. Runners up are McEnroe defeating Borg at the 1981 U.S. Open, the 1973 Battle of the Sexes, Rosewall winning over Laver in Dallas, 1972; and Graf’s victory over Navratilova at Wimbledon in 1988.

Biggest Upsets: Navratilova’s 1983 French Open loss to Kathy Horvath, bringing the American’s win-loss record for that dominant year to 83-1. Runners-up are Doohan d. Becker, 1987; L. McNeil d. Graf, 1994; Yzaga d. Sampras, 1994; and Ashe d. Connors, 1975.

Outrageous Moments: The biggest buhskyooze moment is the 1993 stabbing of Monica Seles. The incident derailed a potentially historic career for Seles (btw, why wasn’t her backhand in the top 5?). Runners-up are McEnroe defaulting in Melbourne, 1990; Connors wiping out a ball mark, 1977; the Ilie Nastase uprising at Flushing Meadows, 1979; and Jennifer Capriati’s drug bust mug shot, 1994. (By the time Martina Hingis effed up at Wimbledon this year, drugs were already passe…)

Biggest Rivalries: “The cold war duals of Navratilova vs. Evert defined the term ‘rivalry’ in tennis,” notes the magazine. Their duels ended up 43-37 in Navratilova’s favor. Other rivalries mentioned are Laver vs. Rosewall, Borg vs. McEnroe, Court vs. King, and Sampras vs. Agassi. It’s early yet, but what about Rafa and Roger?

Records: Steffi Graf’s Golden Slam. Runners-up are Chris Evert’s semifinals run from 1971-1987; Navratilova’s 350 titles (that’s 200 more than almost everyone else, man or woman!); Roger Federer’s 10 Grand Slam Finals from Wimbledon 2005 to the U.S. Open in 2007 (a men’s record), and Nadal’s clay-court streak of 81 consecutive wins.

Best Dressed: Serena Williams takes the title in fashion. “From the cat suit to the soccer socks, Serena has made tennis fashion a sport of its own.” Runners-up are Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert, Maria Sharapova, and Roger Federer.

Biggest Disappointments: The “ornery and super-smooth” Chinito, Marcelo Rios. He never won a major, and he defaulted a match in Los Angeles back in the early aughts, ruining the one chance I had to see him play. Other losers are Iva Majoli, Anna Kournikova; Dick Stockton, Mark Philippoussis.

Feel-Good Victories: The tearful collapse of Jana Novotna in the 1993 Wimbledon final made her 1998 win against Natalie Tauziat even sweeter. Runners-up: Virginia Wade’s win at Wimbledon in 1977, Yannick Noah’s 1983 win at Roland Garros, Jennifer Capriati’s comeback at the 2001 Aussie Open, and Goran Ivanisevic’s historic Monday final in 2001.