Steffi Graf

The Greatest Forehands In Tennis History – Ranked!

The forehand is perhaps the most the most destructive weapon in the sport of tennis. Who in the history of the game had – or has – the best forehand of all time? Steve Flink, newly-nominated International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee, tennis historian, journalist and author of the book THE GREATEST TENNIS MATCHES OF ALL TIME (available here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Greatest-Tennis-Matches-Time/dp/0942257936/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1346763283&sr=8-1&keywords=Greatest+tennis+matches+of+all+time) ranks the top five forehands of all time as part of his book. The list is found below.

Top Five Forehands of All Time – Men

1.ROGER FEDERER Some hit the ball more mightily off the forehand side, and others were flashier, but Federer’s forehand is the best I have ever seen. His capacity to station himself inside the baseline and shorten the court for his opponent has surpassed all others. Once he is inside the court, he can go either way—inside-in or inside-out—and hit winners at will. In top form, he clips more lines with his majestic forehand than anyone and yet he makes very few mistakes for someone so adventuresome.

2. RAFAEL NADAL The Spaniard’s forehand has always been his trademark shot. Nadal tortures his rivals with his rhythmic precision off the forehand. The hop he gets on the forehand with the heaviest and most penetrating topspin of all time is almost mind boggling. He can go full tilt for hours on end and hardly miss a forehand, but it is not as if he is pushing his shots back into play; he is pulverizing the ball and weakening his opponent’s will simultaneously. He sends his adversaries into submission with a barrage of heavy forehands, weakening their resolve in the process. His ball control off the forehand is amazing. I give Federer the edge over Nadal for the best forehand ever, but it is a very close call.

3. IVAN LENDL The former Czech who became an American citizen transformed the world of tennis with his playing style, most importantly with his signature inside-out forehand. There were an abundance of serve-and-volley competitors along with more conventional baseline practitioners during his era, but Lendl changed it all, serving with impressive power to set up his magnificent semi-western, inside-out forehand—the shot that carried him to eight major titles. Lendl’s power and accuracy with that forehand had never been witnessed before.

4. BILL TILDEN Over the course of the 1920’s, when Tilden ruled tennis and studied the technique of the sport with all-consuming interest, the American influenced the sport immensely. He had an estimable first serve and he improved his backhand markedly, but the forehand was Tilden’s finest shot. He drove through the ball classically and confidently and it was a stroke that would not break down under pressure. The Tilden forehand was a shot made for the ages.

5. BJORN BORG, PETE SAMPRAS and JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO Although many observers took more notice of the Swede’s two-handed backhand because he joined Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert to popularize that shot in the 1970’s, his forehand was in many ways superior. Borg ushered in a brand of heavy topspin that was unprecedented and the forehand took him to the top of the sport. He passed particularly well off the backhand and disguised his two-hander adeptly, but the Borg forehand defined his greatness more than anything else. Sampras had the most explosive running forehand of all time and he could do quite a bit of damage from the middle of the court off that side as well. His magnificent forehand was relatively flat and it was awesome when he was on. Del Potro is changing the face of the modern game with his explosive flat forehand, the biggest in the sport today. It is a prodigious weapon, released with blinding speed. More than anything else, his sizzling forehand was the reason he halted Federer in a five-set final at the 2009 U.S. Open.

 

Top Five Forehands of All Time – Women

1 . STEFFI GRAF This was among the easiest selections to make among the best strokes ever produced. Considering how much pace she got on this explosive shot, it was made all the more remarkable by her grip—essentially a continental, on the border of an eastern. She would get into position early and with supreme racket head acceleration she would sweep through the ball and strike countless outright winners with her flat stroke. She had little margin for error, yet the forehand seldom let her down. In my view, it stands in a class by itself as the best ever.

2. MAUREEN CONNOLLY A natural left-hander who played tennis right-handed, Connolly had a beautifully produced one-handed backhand that was a shot which came more easily to her. The fact remains that Connolly’s forehand paved the way for her to win the Grand Slam in 1953. She placed the same value on fast footwork as Graf. Her inexhaustible attention to detail and sound mechanics gave Connolly a magnificent forehand.

3. HELEN WILLS MOODY Brought up on the hard courts of California, taught to play the game from the baseline with steadfast conviction, realizing the importance of controlling the climate of her matches, Wills Moody was not called “Little Miss Poker Face” without good reason. She was relentlessly disciplined in her court craft, making the backcourt her home, refusing to make mistakes yet hitting her ground strokes hard. Her flat forehand—hit unfailingly deep and close to the lines—was far and away the best of her era and one of the finest ever.

4. MONICA SELES Authorities often debated whether Seles was better off the forehand or the backhand. Both were left-handed, two-fisted strokes. Each was taken early. She could explore the most acute crosscourt angles or direct her shots within inches of the baseline off either side. Unlike most of her peers, Seles’s forehand was not one dimensional.

5. SERENA WILLIAMS On her finest afternoons, when her timing is on and her concentration is sharp, Williams can be uncontainable off the forehand. She covers the ball with just enough topspin and takes it early, often from an open stance. It is the shot she uses to open up the court, to either release winners or advance to the net. She can be breathtaking off that side at her best, but her ranking is not higher because her brilliance off that side can be sporadic.

“The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” book features profiles and rankings of the greatest matches of all time dating from the 1920s featuring Bill Tilden and Suzanne Lenglen up through the modern era of tennis featuring contemporary stars Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Flink breaks down, analyzes and puts into historical context the sport’s most memorable matches, providing readers with a courtside seat at these most celebrated and significant duels. Flink also includes a fascinating “greatest strokes of all time” section where he ranks and describes the players who best executed all the important shots in the game through the years. Other champions featured in the book include Don Budge, Maureen Connolly, Rod Laver, Margaret Court, Billie Jean King, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf among many others.

“The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time,” a hard-cover book that retails for $28.95, can be purchased via this link http://m1e.net/c?110071729-mFSTVX3uyJ5zw%407612075-hqIGItXY8SJAw at www.NewChapterMedia.com and where ever books are sold.

Flink, one of the most respected writers and observers in the game, is currently a columnist for TennisChannel.com. A resident of Katonah, N.Y., he is the former editor of World Tennis magazine and a former senior columnist at Tennis Week.

The book has received high praise from some of the most respected names in the sport, including Chris Evert, a winner of 18 major singles titles, who wrote the foreword to the book.

Said seven-time Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras, “Steve Flink was there reporting on almost every big match I played in my career. He has seen all of the great players for the last 45 years. I encourage you to read this book because Steve is one of the most insightful writers on the game that I have known and he really knows his tennis.”

Said former U.S. Davis Cup captain and player Patrick McEnroe, “As a writer and a fan, Steve Flink’s knowledge of tennis history and his love of the sport are second to none, which is why you should read his new book.”

Said ESPN’s Cliff Drysdale, “To see tennis through the eyes of Steve Flink is to wander through a wonderland. These are not fantasies because Steve captures the essence of tennis matches in graphic detail. There is no one more passionate or caring about his subject. In this absorbing book, I can relive matches that I have called on television.”

Said CBS, NBC and Tennis Channel commentator Mary Carillo, “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time is a masterful tennis epic. Its pages are brimming with insight, hindsight. And as always with Steve Flink, the 20/20 vision of the subtleties and complexities of a match. From Budge to Nadal and “Little Mo” to Serena Williams, Steve will guide you through the greatest matches you ever saw, or never saw. The game’s finest players and brightest moments will come alive and play again, right before your eyes. This book is a tennis treasure.”

Founded in 1987, New Chapter Press (www.NewChapterMedia.com) is also the publisher of “The Greatest Jewish Tennis Players of All Time” by Sand Harwitt, “The Secrets of Spanish Tennis” by Chris Lewit, “Roger Federer: Quest for Perfection” by Rene Stauffer, “The Bud Collins History of Tennis” by Bud Collins, “The Education of a Tennis Player” by Rod Laver with Bud Collins, “The Wimbledon Final That Never Was” by Sidney Wood, “The Days of Roger Federer” by Randy Walker, “Acing Depression: A Tennis Champion’s Toughest Match” by Cliff Richey and Hilaire Richey Kallendorf, “Titanic: The Tennis Story” by Lindsay Gibbs, “Jan Kodes: A Journey To Glory From Behind The Iron Curtain” by Jan Kodes with Peter Kolar, “Tennis Made Easy” by Kelly Gunterman, “On This Day In Tennis History” by Randy Walker (www.TennisHistoryApp.com) “A Player’s Guide To USTA League Tennis” by Tony Serksnis, “Boycott: Stolen Dreams of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games” by Tom Caraccioli and Jerry Caraccioli (www.Boycott1980.com), “The Lennon Prophecy” by Joe Niezgoda (www.TheLennonProphecy.com), “Bone Appetit, Gourmet Cooking For Your Dog” by Susan Anson, “How To Sell Your Screenplay” by Carl Sautter, “The Rules of Neighborhood Poker According To Hoyle” by Stewart Wolpin, “How To Permanently Erase Negative Self Talk” by Emily Filloramo, “Lessons from the Wild” by Shayamal Vallabhjee among others.

Serena Williams Beats Sister Venus For Record 23rd Major at Australian Open

by Kevin Craig

@KCraig_Tennis

 

Serena Williams won her 23rd major title on Saturday at the Australian Open as she defeated her older sister, Venus Williams, in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4.

The theme after the match was not about Serena celebrating her win, but about celebrating her relationship with her sister.

“She’s an amazing person. There’s no way I’d be at 23 without her,” Serena said. “She’s my inspiration. She’s the only reason I’m standing here today.”

The match-up between the Williams sisters in the final in Melbourne was the oldest major final in history on the women’s side, but the two sisters showed no signs of slowing down this fortnight as each looked very impressive. Serena was just a bit more impressive, as she was able to claim her 7th Australian Open title and regain her throne at No. 1 in the WTA rankings.

“I’m enormously proud of you. You’re the world to me,” Venus said.

The match got off to an interesting start as there were four breaks of serve in a row. With each player possibly a bit nervous and unsure of how to handle the situation, it took a few games for everything to settle down. But once it did, Serena was the one who took charge. She would break for a 4-3 lead in the first set before holding at love a few games later to close it out.

Up a set, Serena continued to look confident. She had a look at a break point in Venus’ second service game of the second set, but the older sister was able to fight it off. But with Serena continuing to dominate on serve, the pressure on Venus was ever-present, and it finally got to be too much in the 3-3 game.

With Venus serving, Serena created three break chances and was able to capitalize on the third, giving her a break lead and putting herself just two games away from the title. Nothing would get in Serena’s way, as she dropped just two points in her last two service games, holding comfortably to close out the win and take the Australian Open title.

Serena is now an astonishing 23-6 in major finals, and improves to 7-2 in major finals against her sister Venus. Venus still has many positives to take away from this event, as she will improve to No. 11 in the world, her highest ranking since September, plus she also had her best result at a major since 2009.

“Thank you, Venus, for inspiring me to be the best player that I could be and inspiring me to work hard,” Serena said.

Serena’s 23 major titles is now an Open Era record, passing Steffi Graf’s 22. Margaret Court holds the overall record at 24, something that Serena will certainly have her sights set on throughout the rest of 2017.

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Serena Williams Ties Steffi Graf 22-Major Open-Era Record With Wimbledon Win

by Kevin Craig

@KCraig_Tennis

 

Serena Williams captured her 22nd major championship on Saturday as she was able to defend her Wimbledon title, beating Angelique Kerber in straight sets, 7-5, 6-3.

Williams, who has been the No. 1 player in the world for well over the past three years, had been attempting to tie Steffi Graf’s mark of 22 major titles since she won the Wimbledon title in 2015, but a semifinal appearance at the US Open followed by two runner-up performances delayed her efforts. Now that the American has grabbed No. 22, though, she currently sits just two major titles behind the record holder Margaret Court, who won 24 in her career.

“It’s been incredibly difficult not to think about it. I had a couple of tries this year…but it makes the victory even sweeter to know how hard I worked for it,” said Williams of her 22nd major title.

In a rematch of the 2016 Australian Open final in which Kerber won in three sets, the 34-year old Williams looked to be the one to get off to a fast start as she had three break chances in the second game of the match. The German, though, was able to fight each of those off, and actually looked like the more comfortable player on serve from that point on.

That quickly changed in the 12th game, though, as Kerber, the 28-year old who was playing in just her second major final, served to take the set into a tiebreak. Williams was able to crush a few returns when it mattered most, opening up a 15-40 lead which gave her a look at two set points. After missing out on the first, Williams, who hit 39 winners compared to Kerber’s 12, capitalized on the second with an un-returnable backhand to take the set.

The second set was completely dominated by the servers as there was only one break point in the first seven games. Williams, though, has always been able to turn her level of play up a notch or two when she needs to the most, and, just like in the first set, that is what she did in the second.

With Kerber serving at 3-4, Williams fought back from a 40-15 deficit and won four points in a row to break and set up an opportunity to serve for the title. Three unreturned serves later, Williams, who hit 13 aces, found herself at championship point.

A brief rally ensued before Williams was able to come to the net and put away an easy forehand volley for the win. Falling to the court in joy, the American had just placed herself in the record books again as she earned her seventh Wimbledon title.

“It’s an honor to play on Centre Court and a great feeling,” said Williams, who faced just one break point in the match. “This court definitely feels like home.”

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Bartoli Ends Azarenka’s Win Streak

With the result of the match no longer in question, tears began forming in Victoria Azarenka’s eyes. There would be no magic escape from defeat this time around.

Marion Bartoli, ranked a career-high No. 7, beat world No. 1 Azarenka 6-3, 6-3 in a convincing fashion to end the Belarussian’s 26-match win streak. The 27-year-old Frenchwoman kept Azarenka on her heels all night and won six out of 10 break points. As the match wore on, it was evident that the 22-year-old Azarenka was running out of steam. She finished the match with 16 winners to Bartoli’s 27.

“I honestly never seen her play that well,” said Azarenka, who owns an 8-3 head-to-head edge over Bartoli. “But, I mean, all the credit to her. She did an amazing job today.”

Bartoli will play fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska next in the Sony Ericsson Open semifinals. She is through to the final four in Miami for the second time (2010) and is aiming for her first final at the WTA Premier Mandatory event.

“I think the main key for me was the belief and really to step up on the court trying to win the match,” said Bartoli, the 2007 Wimbledon runner-up. “Not only thinking about how well she’s playing and everything, but really go on the court, having a game plan and try to go for my shots.”

Azarenka has been the dominant player on the WTA Tour this year. She has won four titles, including her first Grand Slam – the Australian Open – to become the top ranked player in the world. But in the quarterfinals against Dominika Cibulkova in Miami, Azarenka was forced to dig deep and fought back to emerge with a 1-6, 7-6, 7-5 victory, keeping her 2012 win streak alive. It was the longest win streak to start a year since Steffi Graf began the 1990 season with 25 wins. Five-time Grand Slam winner Martina Hingis holds the record for the longest season opening streak at 37 wins.

“What I’ve done in the last couple of months, I have to be really proud of myself,” said Azarenka. “For sure, you know, I could have maybe played better today, that’s for sure, but I gave it all I had. Physically I was just not able to do anything today. It was just not possible. You know, I’m a human, not a super woman, and I wish I could be but I’m not (smiling).”

While Azarenka will get some time to rest, Bartoli will be getting ready for Radwanska, a player she has not defeated in six tries.

“I know the stats (smiling),” said Bartoli. “But I think a first is always to happen, so maybe it’s going to be my first tomorrow. But I know it’s not going to be easy. That’s for sure. I know I will have to run a lot, a lot more forward, because I know she’s going to make a lot of dropshots. I’m going to be ready.”

Maria Kirilenko on sharks, her best friends on tour, and hitting with Steffi Graf as a 9-year-old


Russian tennis player and current world #22 Maria Kirilenko may best be known for her beauty, but tennis fans know her as one-half of the best women’s match of the 2011 U.S. Open when she played eventual champion Sam Stosur. On the court, Maria is fierce and competitive, but off, she is feminine, charming and engaging. I had the opportunity to chat with Maria during the Sony Ericsson Open about the time she hit, as a 9-year-old, with Steffi Graf, how she was almost a ballet dancer, and sharks. (Photo gallery at bottom)

What is your most memorable moment on court?

Of course, when I win! There are so many matches … the first tournament that I won was Beijing and that was a big one. There are so many matches. (Smiles) I won twice against [Sam] Stosur, [Maria] Sharapova,[Jelena] Jankovic when she was #3.

What is the best part of being a tennis player?

The best is that you can compete at a good level and that people come and watch you. You play in front of – I don’t know how many people, 10,000 maybe more – it’s the greatest.

If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be?

Difficult to answer, I don’t know. (Smiles)

Do you have any hobbies on the side?

I mean, before tennis, I was a ballet dancer, and I was good as well. I had a partner and we won first place. So I would be a dancer, maybe. But I like tennis more. (Smiles)

If you could play against any player in history, who would it be and why?

It would be nice to play against Steffi Graf, because when I started to play [pro], she already finished.

Did you ever have a chance to hit with her?

Yes. I was, I think, 9-years-old and she came to Moscow and did a kids’ clinic. They chose the best little girls and that was me as well, so I had a chance to hit with her then.

That was the last time?

Yes, it was the last time! Didn’t happen again yet.

If you are hosting a party, what three tennis players would you invite and why?

Three tennis players? (Smiles).Of course, I’m going to invite my girls, Elena Vesnina, Nadia Petrova, and Victoria Azarenka. We are good friends.

What are two things that you couldn’t live without?

Um, my phone. Yea, the phone is important. (Smiles) And the second … maybe my credit card?! It’s tough to live without. (Laughs)

What is one thing that scares you?

I’m very afraid of sharks. (Smiles)

Do you like swimming in the ocean?

I like, but every time I go to the ocean or sea, I am so afraid. (Laughs)

I’m the same way. When I was little, I used to think there were sharks in the pool.

Oh yea? (Laughs) I have this in my mind as well! It’s silly. (Smiles)

(Sony Ericsson Open photos courtesy of Rachel Vinson of OnTheGoTennis; other photos courtesy of Neal Trousdale. For more photos from the 2012 Sony Ericsson Open by Neal, check out his full gallery on Flickr.)

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Fun Q&A With Sam Stosur


Australian and current world number 5 Sam Stosur has been riding high since winning last year’s U.S. Open, and she has cruised through her first match here at the Sony Ericsson Open. With her game still soundly developing and her mental strength peaking, Sam is on course to potentially be a multiple-slam champion. Only time will tell, but in the meantime, enjoy the Q&A I did with her in Miami. We talk about her most memorable moment, Steffi Graf and flying.

One of the more easy-going WTA players, she came across friendly and eager to participate.

What is your most memorable moment on court?

Definitely the U.S. Open last year — the final, the whole last two weeks was fantastic. And I remember every match but, of course, the final was the standout one.

Looking back on it with what happened with Serena Williams, does it overshadow your victory or anything?

Not in my eyes, no! (Laughs) I don’t even think about that point in time. Obviously, it was a big point in the match and that could have really turned it, but that’s not something I look at and it doesn’t make anything with it sour.

What player do you least like to face on court and why?

I don’t know. There’s a few players I have never beaten before, I guess. So probably those. There are lots of players you like playing against and you like the way they play and the way the ball comes off. And then there’s others that you definitely don’t [like to face on court].

Any particular players?

I won’t name names but you can see who I’ve never beaten before and put them in. (Laughs)

*Editor’s Note: On a quick search, Sam is 0-6 against Victoria Azarenka, 0-5 against Kim Clijsters and 0-4 against Flavia Pennetta.

If you could play against any player in history, who would it be and why?

Probably Steffi Graf. She was my idol growing up and I loved the way she played, loved her forehand, her demeanor court, everything. She’s got to be one of the greatest players that’s ever played, so I would like to play her.

Have you ever had a chance to hit with her?

No. I met her once though so that was pretty cool. I was probably more nervous meeting her than playing most of my matches. (Laughs)

If you were hosting a party, what three tennis players would you invite?

There are some fun ones on tour … [Francesca] Schiavone, Na Li, Alicia Molik – she’s retired now, but you can put her in. (Laughs)

What are two things you can’t live without?

Lip balm and maybe a computer.

Are you online a lot, staying in touch with family/friends that way?

It fills in time, doesn’t it? (Laughs)

Do you watch movies on your laptop?

Yup.

What’s the most recent good one that you have seen?

Good one that I’ve seen? I haven’t watched too many good ones recently. (Laughs) The last one I downloaded was “The Help” but I haven’t watched that one yet.

It’s good, I enjoyed it – made me cry.

(Laughs) I will probably cry too then.

Last question, what is one thing that scares you?

Flying.

Flying, really?!

Yea, I don’t like flying. (Laughs)

You’re a tennis player and you have to travel so much?

I know, it’s a really bad combination!

(Photo courtesy of Neal Trousdale. You can view his full Flickr gallery here.)

Sabine Lisicki on Brad Pitt, Roger Federer and her Wimbledon Semifinals Run

After a resurgent 2011, German beauty Sabine Lisicki is sitting pretty in the WTA Tour rankings at a career-high number 13. I had the opportunity to sit down with Sabine at the Sony Ericsson Open and chat about her most memorable moments on court, Roger Federer, legends she has hit with, and the three famous people she would most want to have dinner with.

During the course of the interview, Lisicki could not have been more gracious and involved in the questions, laughing and/or giggling a total of eleven times. I would bet that her and Ana Ivanovic could compete in a “giggle-off” and see who the nicest WTA player is – it would be a tough call! But alas, I digress. On to the questions and get ready for some laughs!

What is your most memorable moment on court?

There are several. Obviously, my first grand slam in Australia [in 2008]. But from last year, a very emotional moment was winning the title in Birmingham and beating Na Li at Wimbledon, on center court, with a full house. That meant a lot to me, especially after coming back from an injury.

If you weren’t a tennis player, what would you be?

(Laughs) I hate that question! (Laughs) I honestly don’t know, because tennis was always what I loved and what I always wanted to do and I feel very lucky that I have the opportunity to do what I love.

Do you have any hobbies on the side that you enjoy?

There are things that I might do after tennis, because I’m interested in design/fashion, but also in the human body, so some medicine-type of thing, because we go through so many health issues and we learn a lot about our body and I’m just curious to learn more, so I’ll see which direction I’ll go. The human body is veryinteresting, so you can always discover more.

If you could play against any player in history, who would it be and why?

(Long pause) The ones I would love to play against, I’ve practiced with them already! (Laughs)

Is this like Steffi Graf?

Steffi and Andre, I’ve played with both and I’ve practiced with Mary Pierce and Martina Hingis, so all the idols. I would love to hit with Roger [Federer] one day.

What are two things that you couldn’t live without?

Friends and family.

If you could have dinner with any three people, living or dead, who would they be and why?

Living or dead? (Laughs) Ok, a fun one, Brad Pitt. (Laughs) An interesting one would be the pilot who landed the plane on the Hudson River. I would love to hear from him what he thought in those moments, because he was so under pressure having so many passengers and landing the plane. And the third one, Drew Brees (NFL Quarterback).

Understanding the Tennis Fan

There’s always a point of no return.

For Brad, it was seeing Steffi Graf’s ponytail fly up and hit her in the face when she hit her forehand in a 1990 match against Jennifer Capriati. For Chris, it was watching a teenage Andy Murray at the 2005 Wimbledon stand up to then 14th seed Radek Stepanek by mocking his lucky net-cord kiss. For Kelly Padgett, it was stumbling upon one of  Andrea Petkovic’s infamous videos on youtube, and laughing as Petkovic pretended to pay Novak Djokovic for an interview.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the psyche of tennis fans lately. What is about this sport and the people that play it that makes us rearrange our schedules, worry for days on end, and get up at all hours of the night to watch a fuzzy yellow ball be hit back and forth from one side of the court to the other? Why do we care so much? Why does it matter?

To try and make sense of it all, I asked for volunteers to answer some questions for me about their experience being a tennis fan. Overall, I received thirty-one completed “fandom surveys” from fans of twenty-one different players. I laughed and cried as I scoured through them for days, re-reading the candid stories and over-analyzing the similarities and differences between them. I was overwhelmed by the honesty and poignancy. At the end of the day, I’m not sure if I solved any great mysteries, but I did come away with a deeper understanding of the power of our sport.

 

THE LOYAL

 

Melissa has been a Xavier Malisse fan since 1998- fourteen long years of ups and downs. “I just started following him, and never stopped,” she said. “Once I start following a player, I support him through good and bad times, even if that is sometimes hard.  I don’t abandon a player because of negative results.”

Ruby, a Marcel Granollers fan, feels the same way. “Pathetically enough,” she told me, “I almost see it as my ‘job’ to stick by him.”

Melissa and Ruby are far from the only loyal tennis fans out there. Thirty of the fans I surveyed said that there was nothing they could imagine (besides a flippant mention of manslaughter) that would make them stop being a fan of their favorite player.  Y. Jones, a Kei Nishikori fan, was the lone exception.  She told me that she’d have to re-think her commitment to Nishikori if he ever got his ear pierced. “I just cannot stand a male figure wearing (an earring) in general,” she confessed.

Of course, a loyal tennis fan usually endures more lows than highs.  Linda started following Flavia Pennetta in 2006, and became a die-hard fan when she saw an injured Pennetta enthusiastically cheering on her teammates in the Fed Cup Final that year.   She couldn’t have picked a worst time to start being a fan. Between “the wrist injury, the struggle to come back, the breakup with Carlos Moya, and the struggle to recover from that,”  Linda describes the events of 2006-2007 as “twelve months of horror” for Pennetta.  But Linda stuck by the fiery Italian, and her loyalty paid off.   She got to experience the joys of Pennetta’s two wins over Venus Williams, and her incredible run in the summer of 2009 when Pennetta won Palmero and L.A. back to back and became the first Italian woman to enter the Top-10. Linda describes the entire summer as “magical”.

As an Andy Murray fan, Hannah has been on a roller-coaster ride, but it’s how Murray has reacted during the low points that has secured her as a fan for life.  She started following him during the 2010 Hopman Cup, but after his 2010 Australian Open Final loss to Roger Federer, there was no looking back. It wasn’t necessarily his play on-the-court that she admired, but rather his heartfelt display on the podium afterwards that made an impression. “Oh that speech.”

Similarly, Hannah was deeply impacted by how Murray acted after withdrawing from the World Tour Finals in London last November.  “I was waiting for him (after his press conference announcing his withdrawal), just wanting to wish him luck for the next season and a fast recovery from that groin injury. As he walked out the venue, he was clearly very disappointed with not being able to play. However, he was still kind enough to give fans his autographs and thank everyone there for waiting and cheering him on.”

“His decentness as a guy is just admirable,” she concludes.

Curtis, an Ana Ivanovic fan, can relate.  He recalls being “on cloud nine for an entire month” after (Ivanovic’s) 2008 French Open win, and has stuck by her through all the tough times since.  “I have always considered myself a bigger fan of Ana Ivanovic the person, than Ana Ivanovic the tennis player,” he said.  “While her results on court have changed over the years, she hasn’t changed as a person, which I really admire. She never let her fame or her struggles change the person who she was. That’s not easy to do. That’s why I keep coming back.”

In order to “keep coming back”, even in the rough times, most tennis fans maintain a delicate balance between their hopes and expectations. Charlotte, an Andy Roddick fan since 2003, realistically expects him to just win a few more minor tournaments, but deep down lets herself  hope that he will “win many slams and beat Roger Federer as many times as he damn well likes.” Linda says that she’s learned the hard way to “never really have high expectations for (her) favorite players. The lower your expectations, the smaller you chance is of being disappointed!”

 

THE SPOILED

 

There are rare occasions when hopes and expectations merge together. For fans of players such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic, this happens more often then not.

Freelance sportswriter Matt Zemek became a Federer fan in 2004. “(Federer) played a brand of tennis that was more eye-pleasing and stylish than anything I had seen before.” He vividly recalled the first breakthrough moment he witnessed as a fan, Federer’s 2004 U.S. Open Quarterfinal against Andre Agassi. “When Agassi forced a fifth set in very windy conditions on that Thursday afternoon – the second day of the match – the American had the advantage. Federer somehow found a way to turn the tide in the fifth set and play particularly focused tennis. When he won, he let out a particularly primal roar and tore at his shirt. (He’s not Djokovic, so he didn’t succeed in tearing the shirt!)  Federer seemed to know right then that he had conquered New York and all of its distractions. Sure enough, he didn’t lose another U.S. Open match until 2009.”

After such an immediate and long-term payoff, it’s no surprise that Zemek calls becoming a fan of Federer, “the most rewarding fan investment of (his) life.”

Zemek’s experience is unique.  Most of the time becoming a fan, even of the greatest players, isn’t instantly rewarding. Aleksa became a fan of Novak Djokovic in 2005. “I first saw him play Marat Safin that year in the first round of the Australian Open,” she remembered. “He was crushed, of course. He was just a baby with porcupine hair.  Six years and six months later he won Wimbledon.”

Anna became a Novak Djokovic fan a little later- in 2010 to be exact.  She hoped that he would win another Grand Slam or two, but she never saw the 2011 season coming. “I felt constant surprise, joy, and elation. Never in my wildest dreams did I think he’d pull off all of that,” she said. While Anna admits that she does “hope that (Djokovic) wins all the Grand Slams from now on”, she realizes that is unrealistic. She is going to have to start managing her expectations again, keeping her hopes in check. Angela, a Rafael Nadal fan, is having a hard time doing just that. “Though (Nadal) has accomplished so much already, I would like him to have even greater successes,” she admitted.  Angela does, however, realize that he may never reach the same heights he did in 2010, and says she will “deal with it as it comes.”

That’s the thing about reaching the top of the tennis world, whether as a player or as a fan- eventually, there will be a decline.

Siva, a Federer fan since 2001, is trying to come to terms with this. “Decline is the one constant in the game. I am fairly certain that Federer is declining. I am not sure I am prepared to deal with it.” Zemek disagrees. “Watching Federer handle tennis mortality is something to relish, not cringe at (for now),” he says.

Lawrence, another Federer fan, sides more with Zemek. “If (Federer) doesn’t become number 1 in his professional career again the Earth will still twirl around the Sun. Yes. It doesn’t matter.”

 

THE  INSPIRED

 

Aisha has been an Ana Ivanovic fan since 2005 when she was a ball-girl during her match against Nicole Vaidasova in Miami. Throughout the match Aisha recalls that Ivanovic “was an absolute sweetheart.”  Aisha has stuck by the Serbian through the thick and the thin past seven years, but sometimes the losses are hard to take.  When Ivanovic lost to Petra Cetkovska at Wimbledon last year, Aisha momentarily lost control and smashed her iPhone to bits. (Luckily she works at Best Buy and was able to get a replacement one quickly.)

Romi Castagnino promised herself that if her favorite player, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, ever won a Major that she would go sky-diving.  Mattek-Sands won the Australian Open Mixed Doubles Championship with Horacia Tecau last month.  Castagnino is rapidly trying to overcome her fear of heights.

Though the above examples are extreme, it was clear after reading through the surveys just how strong of an affect tennis players have on their fans.  I was expecting to read about the loss of sleep, the occasional (or not-so-occasional) skipped class, and the general emotional highs and lows of fandom, but it became apparent that the influence runs deeper than that.

Many fans have drawn messages of hope and fortitude through their relationships with their favorite players. Maureen has learned about toughness by watching Maria Sharapova battle through matches and injuries. “I’ve learned not to give up easily,” she reflected.  Christy has taken similar lessons from David Ferrer. “He has shown me that perseverance can overcome almost anything,” she told me. “Just because you’re ‘too short’ or whatever, doesn’t mean you can’t reach (your goals).”  Karen Williams added, “Becoming a fan of Venus (Williams) has made me realize personally that through times of adversity you can accomplish much.” Suman has tried to adopt Roddick’s “never-say-no attitude”.

For Hannah, being a Murray fan has made her a much more independent person. She has traveled, often alone, all around the United Kingdom (and beyond) to see him play.  For Lawrence, the impact Fed has had on his life is simple. “Be yourself.  Stay cool.”

For some, the connection runs even deeper than that. Besides being pushed to face her fear of heights, Castagino has been inspired by Bethanie Mattek-Sands comeback from injury. “This was extra inspirational for me because around the same time she had her injury I broke my psoas muscles and it was pretty serious thing. I am still in rehab but seeing Bethanie come through her injury gives me extra motivation to push harder and keep my mind positive.”  Similarly, a Rafael Nadal fan (who chose to remain anonymous), also found inspiration in Nadal’s transition from knee problems in 2009 to three-time Grand Slam Champion in 2010 . While struggling with personal matters during the time of his Wimbledon and U.S. Open triumphs she reflects that, “it was Rafa who got me through the bad days, the ones where I felt there was no hope.”

Most of the time in sports, you become a fan by default. You root for a team because you were born in a certain state, or went to a certain school, or were brought up a certain way.  Being a tennis fan is different. It’s a relationship. It’s personal. It’s intimate.  We don’t become fans of groups of people, states, or organizations- we become fans of human beings.

Sometimes we choose the players we are going to be fans of. Other times, the players choose us. Whether there’s something about them that we relate to, or something about them that we aspire to become, once the connection is made it’s virtually unbreakable.  It’s why we get worked up when our favorite player is insulted. It’s why we get anxious for the matches, sad for the defeats, and exuberant over the victories. It’s why we do care. It’s why it does matter.

If I’ve learned nothing else from reading the stories of thirty-one passionate tennis fans, it’s that our favorite players aren’t just an extension of us, they’re an integral part of us. Most of the time, that’s a good thing.

 

 

(Eternal thanks to all those who took the time to fill out a survey and help me with this article: Curtis @curtos07, Charlotte @crystaleyesd,  @eternal_elenea, Angela @4allsurfaces, Rhian @rosso_neri, Kelly Padgett, Siva, Lawrence, Chris @scoobschris, Matt Zemek @mzemek, Kelly @mikomonstr, Jane @jb10is, Géraldine, Suman, Karen Williams, Christy @triplebagel, @thriding, Melissa, Sarah @thetennisstorm, Aisha @Isha312, Brad @bradhunter, Maureen @drewsmama, Dianne @champingthebit, Anna @anna_tennisfan, Romi Castagnino, Ruby @ficcanasa, Y. Jones, Brooke, Hannah, Linda, and Aleksa.)

Five ‘Encore Performers’ Djokovic Could Try to Emulate in ‘12

They say one of the hardest things to do in sports is repeat—a task Novak Djokovic will try to accomplish 10 times in 2012. Coming off one of the best tennis seasons of all time, questions abound on whether the Serbian will be able to go “back-to-back” performance-wise. He’s not the first player to have to prove their career year was a fluke. Here’s a look at five stars that pulled off some of the best repeat performances in the Open Era.

Steffi Graf

Great Year: 1988. Graf became the only player—male or female—in the game’s history to win the “Golden Slam”; that being all four Majors plus an Olympic title.

The Follow-Up: In 1989, “Fraulein Forehand” won the Australian Open to start off the year in Grand Slam play, and then advanced to the finals at the French Open. She shockingly fell to Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, but rebounded to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, bringing her two-year Slam record to 55-1.

Jimmy Connors

Great Year: 1974. Connors only happened to go 99-4 during his breakout season, winning three Grand Slam singles titles that year: Wimbledon and the Australian and U.S. opens. He missed out on the French, mainly due to the fact that he didn’t even play the event.

The Follow-Up: Connors repeated his final-round efforts at the three Majors he won the year prior. However, he lost in all three of them. Still, he won nine titles over the course of the season and made three other finals besides the second-place finishes at the Slams.

Roger Federer

Great Year: 2004. This is the season when Federer first reached number one in the rankings, and it was years before he ever looked back. He won three Majors in a year for the first time and 11 titles overall.

The Follow-Up: While he “only” won two Slams in 2005, Federer fell one match shy of equaling John McEnroe’s record for winning percentage set in ’84. Federer won 11 titles again and of his four losses on the year, none came before the quarterfinals.

Pete Sampras

Great Year: 1993. It had been some time since Sampras’ breakthrough win at the 1990 U.S. Open. He only made one other Slam final—at the 1992 U.S. Open—before ’93. That loss to Stefan Edberg in the finals lit a fire under the American and he went on to win his first Wimbledon crown, as well as the U.S. Open.

The Follow-Up: Among a lot of dominant years in his career, this one might be the most complete. Sampras captured his first Australian Open, making it three Slams in a row won, then repeated at Wimbledon. Overall, he won 10 titles, which included the year-end championship and three Masters crowns—the most impressive and unexpected of them being the Italian Open, the second-biggest clay-court event in the game.

Venus Williams

Great Year: 2000. Younger sister Serena beat her to the punch as far as winning a Grand Slam singles title. When Venus finally did win one at Wimbledon in 2000, it was as if a great weight had been lifted and she went on to win the U.S. Open, too, keeping the New York-based Major in the family after Serena won in ’99. Big sis also captured Olympic Gold, too.

The Follow-Up: Venus started off 2001 by reaching her first Australian Open semifinal. And aside from an opening-round loss at the French, the Majors were good to her as she successfully defended her Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles. She also wrapped her career Slam in doubles by winning the Australian with Serena.

Agassi in Hall of Fame, Federer’s Charity Drive and Murray’s Emotional Scotland Return

Agassi Rightfully takes his Place amongst Tennis Royalty:

Very few inductions in to the International Tennis Hall of Fame have ever quite been anticipated as eagerly as this one. American superstar Andre Agassi, the eight-time Grand Slam winner and an Olympic gold medallist, was inducted in the bright Rhode Island sunshine as he took his place amongst the elite of the famous old sport after his distinguished and controversial career. Visibly emotional, he thanked all those who had helped him along the way and touched upon many aspects of his career that fans remember so vividly. “I’ve stood at this podium twice before,” he said. “Once was to introduce my beautiful wife, Stephanie Graf. I was so much more comfortable that day because I felt the recipient to be far more worthy. The second time was in my father’s imagination, in his mind’s eye. From the day I was born, my father Mike saw this day in my future and described it to me many times.”

Federer going Back to School:

World No.3 Roger Federer has announced that his foundation will provide $3.3m to put 54,000 kids in Malawi in to school over the next ten years. The foundation is aiming to build 80 community-based childcare centers around the country that will provide education, play areas, supplies and meals. Over half the nation (13 million) is said to live below the poverty line with over 3 million children under the age of eight out of school. “As the father of two little girls, I observe every day how incredibly fast children learn if their environment is a stimulating one,” Federer said in a statement. “It is a great privilege for me and my foundation to help give children in Malawi the chance to reach their full potential.”

Home Comforts Too Much for Murray:

An emotional Andy Murray broke down in tears after helping Great Britain to a straightforward victory over Luxembourg in their Davis Cup tie in Glasgow last weekend. The 24-year-old, who secured the first triple bagel of his career in the singles rubber against retired tennis pro turned coach and lawyer Laurent Bram, defeated Gilles Muller in his other singles rubber before breaking down emotionally in front of his adoring home crowd. “Davis Cup is just different to all the other tournaments and that showed today,” he said. “(The Scottish crowd) makes a difference, it was the first time in a long time that I got the chance to play in Scotland.”

“We Want Nadal,” says Ferrer:

Spain’s David Ferrer insists his country would love to see world No.2 Rafael Nadal back playing with them despite comfortably seeing off the USA last weekend in their Davis Cup quarterfinal without the reigning French Open Champion. “It would have been better to win with Rafa,” Ferrer said. “He is very important to us. We won the final in Argentina (in 2008) without Rafa, but we wouldn’t have gotten there without him playing in the other rounds. He is a player we need.”

Tomic set for Kuala Lumpur:

Current ATP flavour of the month Bernard Tomic has signed up to play the Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur, beginning September 24. The 18-year-old Aussie looks to have turned his troublesome early career around and he wowed the London crowds at this year’s Wimbledon where he eventually fell to the champion in waiting Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. He had already stepped past Nikolay Davydenko, Robin Soderling, Igor Andreev and Xavier Malisse. “I am thrilled to have Bernard playing the Malaysian Open Kuala Lumpur once again and to be able to welcome him back as well as his father and coach John,” said tournament director Nick Freyer. “I know the tournament is touched that he enjoyed the Malaysian hospitality enough to make an early decision to come back and play here.”

Isner makes Correct Call over Hall of Fame Championships:

John Isner has revealed that he missed his brother Nathan’s wedding last weekend in order to compete in the final of the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships at the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum in Newport, Rhode Island. It proved a wise decision. Isner triumphed 6-3, 7-6(7) over Olivier Rochus to lift his second ATP Tour title and become the first top seed to triumph at the championships since its inauguration in 1976. It was also the 100th win of Isner’s career. “I told myself that I was going to take the wild card here and the only way I was going to miss the wedding was if I got to the semi-finals,” he said. “But it definitely turned out to be a great decision and I owe a huge thanks to [Hall of Fame CEO] Mark Stenning for the wild card. It’s the perfect start to the summer and I really feel like my best surface is the hard courts in the US so I’m going to have a lot of confidence from this.”

Kafelnikov has Olympic Ambitions:

The Russian press reports that the two-time Grand Slam champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov is attempting to qualify as a golfer for the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro. “There are five more years before the start of the Olympic Games at Brazil,” said the 37-year-old Kafelnikov, who won a gold medal in tennis at the Sydney Games in 2000. “This period is long enough to reach serious playing level. I’m not completely sure I will be able to earn an Olympic qualification, but I seriously want to try my skills in golf. I made this decision after my recent win at the Russian golf championship. I proved I’m capable of playing golf by winning the national title. However, I understand it’s clear I have to practice for hours every day to reach a professional level.”

Monfils Single Again:

France’s Gael Monfils has ended his three-year stint with Australian coach Roger Rasheed. The two had worked together since July 2008. Under Rasheed, the 24-year-old Frenchman became a top-10 player, reached the semifinals of the 2010 US Open and the quarterfinals of Roland Garros last month. “We decided to stop our collaboration by mutual agreement,£ Monfils told reporters after France’s victory over Germany in the Davis Cup quarterfinals. “We had reached the end of a great story. I owe him a lot, I learned a lot with him. It went very well. We talked, we had a good discussion. We’re still very good friends.”

Montanes Fast Tracks Success:

As part of the ongoing MercedesCup currently taking place in Stuttgart some of the stars on show were taken to the nearby Mercedes-Benz test track at their factory in Sindelfingen. Sergiy Stakhovsky, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Radek Stepanek and defending Champion Albert Montanes all took the new SLK roadster for a spin with the Spaniard Montanes coming out on top in the time trials. An omen perhaps? All the players finished within 2 and a half seconds of each other on a track used to test vehicles that very few outside of the company get to experience. “We as players love the cars, love the speed,” said Czech ace Stepanek. “To have this chance to have the track for ourselves, try to do the crazy stuff, it’s definitely special and we’re all enjoying it.”

Rankings Watch:

Czech ace Tomas Berdych has moved up to No.8 in the world in this week’s South African Airways ATP World Rankings at the expense of Mardy Fish, but that is the only movement in the Top 10. John Isner’s Newport title moves him up 10 places to No.36 in the world while Belgian Steve Darcis’ title at Scheveningen sees him jump 23 to re-enter the Top 100 at No.95. Polona Hercog is the only Slovenian in the Top 200 of the Sony Ericsson WTA World Rankings, and having conquered Bastad last week she is now at a career-high No.37 in the world after her first career title. The girl she bested, Swedish No.1 Johanna Larsson, cracked the Top 50 for the first time at No.46. There were also another three personal bests. American Bethanie Mattek-Sands is now the highest ranked American at No.30, Roberta Vinci’s Budapest title now makes her the world No.23, while the losing finalist Irina-Camelia Begu is the new world No.60.

GOAT Race:

Neither Roger Federer nor Rafael Nadal were in action last week, leaving the GOAT race scores as we were.

Roger: 955 Rafa: 1665