Vince Spadea on Lleyton Hewitt’s first ATP title, extract from Facing Hewitt by Scoop Malinowski:
I expected to steamroll the kid
I played against Hewitt in the 1998 quarters at Adelaide, his hometown in the south of Australia, when he was a sixteen year old wildcard. Everyone was wondering how he got a wildcard in the first place, because he was like No.500 in the world at the time and nobody had ever heard of him. Some of the other Australian players were mystified. He had just played a Satellite, which is an even lower pro tournament than a Challenger, that has since been mostly phased out in favor of Futures, the week before Adelaide, and he had lost to a nobody. Our match was a night match, center court. I see this little guy with long blond hair who looks like a surfer, walk out on the court. I figure: “I’m in the semis. This kid is sixteen and he looked weak, inexperienced, unrehearsed, and unpolished.”
The match begins and he’s holding his own. He keeps on hitting balls in the court. I wasn’t playing strongly enough or consistently enough to overpower him even though I’ve got him outweighed by about forty pounds. I end up losing the first set 7-5. Now I’m thinking: “What does this kid think he’s doing?” He didn’t miss one shot long the entire set. My dad, who was coaching me, said after the match “He missed into the net and he missed wide but he never missed past the baseline.” Whenever Hewitt won a big point he screeched out, ‘COME ON’ and punched the air with his fist. I thought that was a little annoying and cocky of him but I didn’t let it bother or initimidate me. I won the second set 6-3. I had been working with Jim Pierce (coach and father of Mary Pierce), so I was in great shape. I had been killing myself in training. I expected to steamroll the kid in the third set. But instead, he put his game into another gear and beat me soundly 6-1 to win the match.
The next day I was eating breakfast with my dad in the players’ cafeteria and Brad Gilbert, coach of Andre Agassi, walked up to us and completely ignored me. He approached my dad and said “Your son had Hewitt last night but he choked. Andre will show you how to handle the kid tonight.”
Of course, Hewitt straight-setted Agassi 7-6 7-6 and then went on to win the tournament. Hewitt has gone on to win almost twenty million dollars in his career, along with a Wimbledon and US Open title. He’s a true warrior on the court. He doesn’t get fazed by disappointment o failure? He doesn’t worry about if he’s hitting the ball great or if he’s winning or losing, he just enjoys the battle. The only other player who battled as successfully as Hewitt was Jimmy Connors. Hewitt will never give up and he doesn’t mind if he has to win hard or easy. He’s one of the greatest competitors in tennis.
Photo credit: Al Bello/Allsport – Lleyton Hewitt in 1998
From Nick Bollettieri‘s book, Changing the game:
I have seen thousands of tennis players over the past 60 years and can identify only three who have had the gift of magic hands. I’ve already mentioned two – Xavier Malisse and Marcelo Rios. The third is Kei Nishikori.
I met and started to work with Kei because in the 1980s Arthur Ashe and I traveled to Japan to conduct a clinic for 500 youngsters. While there we toured many of the local tennis facilities. On the day of the clinic the skies opened with torrential rains, forcing us to move indoors. Arthur was panicked – how to deal with so many children at close quarters – but this wasn’t a challenge for me. We found a huge gymnasium and held two clinics, each for one hour with 250 participants. We had two lines running at the same time and each kid got to hit two balls. They all thanked us profusely.
I learned a few things that day about Japanese children. They were very polite, quiet and patient; but they watched our every movement and took in every word I spoke. They were so eager to learn, you could see their excitement as their eyes darted from me to Arthur to the interpreter and back again.
During our visit I was introduced to a kindly gentleman, Mr Morita, whose family was the largest shareholder in the Sony Corporation. He loved tennis and wanted very much for Japan to develop a steady stream of world-class players; His passion for the sport and confidence in me led to a fruitful relationship that continues to this day. At the time, Japan’s most successful male player, Shuzo Matsuoka, was in a class by himself. His highest ranking ever was No.46 in the world, but both Mr Morita and I believed that with focus, determination and funding, more could be achieved.
So Mr Morita dispatched Sato Nakajima to work at IMG academy and act as a liaison for Japanese players. He also began to send youngsters there, all sponsored by Sony. One of those players was 14-year-old Kei Nishikori. Kei, who didn’t speak one word of english at the time and had never eaten american food, housed in an apartment with seven other boys; not surprisingly, he was scared and took some time to feel comfortable. Not on the tennis court, though. I didn’t take me very long to realize that he had talent. He was extremely quick and had those magic hands of a gifted shot maker. Like Agassi and Rios, he possessed innate skills that can’t be taught, but need only to be channeled.
Mr Morita continued to support him. Today, Kei is not only the highest ranked player from Japan on the ATP tour but one of the most celebrated sports stars in Japanese history.
His able team includes IMG agent Olivier van Lindonk, who sees to his schedule and business affairs, and his personal coach, Dante Bottini, who is quiet and unassuming but understands Kei. They relate well to each other. I continue to participate in the role of team advisor.
I was especially pleased to see Michael Chang coming to town to join Kei’s coaching team. THe last time Michael was at the academy was in 1985 when he was 13 years old and training with his coach. Michael was a champion because of his movement, his recovery and his ability to avoid hitting defensive shots, not to mention an indomitable will. On the way to the 1989 French Open singles title, he had an epic match againt Ivan Lendl, overcoming leg cramps, fatigue and dehydration in a remarkable five-set victory.
I watched Michael working with Kei and quickly identified what his plans were. He realized that magic hands were not enough but would make a big difference in combination with the right leg work. He showed Kei exactly how to load from the ground up which, in turn, got his racquet below the ball. This allowed Kei to aplly more height, depth and spin, especially when he was out of position and behind the baseline. In the past, Kei’s shots would land on the service line and get him in trouble. I applauded Kei’s decision to add Michael Chang to his coaching team, alongside his regular coach.
Can Kei really compete with the best in the world? I know he can! But, he must learn to truly believe in himself – exactly what Michael Chang yelled to him in his first round, five-set match at the 2014 Australian Open – and to know with every fiber of his being that he deserves to be on the court with the big boys. And he must deliver that as a potent message when he competes against top 10 players? I believe he will do it! Mr Morita and I will continue to cheer for Kei.
Photos by Tennis Buzz
Round robin: Federer defeats Murray 6-0 6-1
By Robin Finn, The New York Times, 4 December 1989
After a bridesmaid’s season in which he had twice been the runner-up in Grand Slam tournaments, a beaming Stefan Edberg was only too thrilled to get a grip on the flower-filled Tiffany trophy that pronounced him the champion of the 1989 Masters, the last event of tennis’s year and the last run of the tournament at Madison Square Garden.
It was, for Edberg, a whirlwind of a weekend, during which he knocked down the top two players in the world: Ivan Lendl, a five-time Masters champion, and Boris Becker, the defending Masters champion.
Those victories were the only tonic he could imagine that would restore a self-image that had suffered this year as he gained a reputation for making progress to tournament finals only to crumble. Until he defeated Becker in four sets yesterday, Edberg’s record in 1989 finals was a discouraging 1-6, and he had failed in five consecutive finals.
More than any other player here, Edberg seemed sincere when he conceded, before the Masters began and after the tournament was over, that he had not only wanted to win the tournament; he needed to.
”I’ve been waiting for this one,” said Edberg. ”It’s something I really needed. I’m going to start believing in myself, and that’s something I needed to do, because I know I’ve got the game and the talent to challenge for the No. 1 spot.”
Edberg, an even-tempered Swede who has been No. 3 in the world since last spring, followed his defeat of Lendl in two close sets in the semifinals Saturday with a 4-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-1 dethroning of Becker, in a 3-hour-2-minute match yesterday afternoon.
”It’s not the easiest thing in the world to beat Lendl or Becker on two consecutive days,” said Edberg, who prefers an understated approach in his analysis of matches but could not help being bowled over by his achievement here. ”I played the best tennis of my life in those two days.”
Fadeout After First Set
Becker, whose banner year included two Grand Slam titles – Wimbledon and the United States Open -attributed his deflation as the match wore on yesterday to a simple case of burnout. After he had won the first set easily and come within a point of claiming the second-set tie breaker, Becker’s resolve, usually omnipresent, vanished.
”I was getting tired physically and mentally,” he said. ”Not many people understand how close a match can be. One set, and if I make that shot in the tie breaker, it’s an easy three-set win for me. But sometimes I’m just empty. I’m exhausted, and that’s the bottom line.”
Becker had needed to resort to acrobatics to force the second set to the tie breaker in the first place, saving himself from Edberg’s well-aimed backhand pass at a break and a set point with a somersaulting backhand volley at the net.
Fateful Forehand Pass
He pumped his fist after two strong serves put him up, 6 points to 5, in the tie breaker, but lost his edge when Edberg, who had double-faulted twice at the start of the tie breaker, presented him with a service winner, then an ace, to take a 7-6 advantage.
Edberg won the tie breaker, 8-6, by returning Becker‘s second serve with a swift and unretrievable forehand pass.
”After I took the second set, I could see his serve breaking down,” said Edberg, whose play, with the exception of a single game in the third set, only grew steadier. Consistency, from the back court and at the net and eventually on his serve, again paid off for Edberg.
Becker briefly made as if to run away with the third set, where he broke an angry Edberg to take a 2-0 lead. But after changing from a worn-out racquet to a fresher one, he was broken by Edberg. That left him fuming for the rest of the match, in which he won only 2 of the last 13 games.
Beginning of the End
The new racquet did not survive for long: Becker stalked away and smashed it after the third game of that set. ”I picked out a bad one,” he said, ”and the racquet is now gone.”
In the final set, Becker progressively unraveled, raising his eyebrows at his own mistakes and raising them in grudging surprise as Edberg calmly splattered his passing shots off the side lines and laced his netside volleys with a geometry the West German could not solve.
Becker double-faulted three times in the course of losing his serve in the fourth game. When Edberg smashed an overhead to the court’s hinterlands to go up by 4-1, he clenched his fist in an uncharacteristic display of bravado.
With careful, classic ground strokes, Edberg broke Becker to take a 5-1 lead. Then, serving for the match, he did not allow Becker a single point, ending the contest with a sharp backhand volley into a court his opponent did not bother to guard.
Big Plans for ’90
Edberg was so excited about celebrating with his longtime coach, Tony Pickard, that he nearly forgot to shake hands with Becker.
Becker, acknowledged by all of his peers, but not by the computer, as 1989’s finest player, said later that he expected either Edberg or himself to take the No. 1 spot away from Lendl in 1990.
”If we stay healthy and play long enough, I think it’s definitely the case one of us will be the next No. 1,”
said Becker, who has a rematch with Edberg in two weeks when the two compete in the Davis Cup final in Stuttgart, West Germany.
”Now I’m kind of the unofficial No. 1,” Becker said. ”To have it written down on paper that I’m No. 1 and Lendl No. 2: that I would like to see.”