From Pete Sampras‘ autobiography, A champion’s mind:

The summer hard-court season leading up to the US Open was always low-key. As hectic as the Open is, the tournaments leading up to it are laid-back affairs of the heartland. Indianapolis and Cincinnati are two of the biggest events, yet you can drive from one venue to the other in an afternoon, and each one has a little bit of that air of a county fair.

Although I lost in the quarterfinals at Cincinnati to Thomas Enqvist, I won Indianapolis, improving my career record against Goran to 8-6. Going into New York, I felt good about extending my streak of winning at least one major per year to four. And the draw opened up nicely for me. The only name player I would meet before the quarterfinals was Mark Philippoussis, whom I handled in straight sets. That put me into the quarterfinals against Alex Corretja, who was known primarily as a clay-court grinder, but who also put up some good results on hard courts. I expected a tough match.

There was very little backstory going into the match. Most people, at least in the States; figured I was a shoo-in to beat Corretja. But at the quarterfinal stage, I always worried about anyone I played, and I took nothing for granted. The one thing that may have helped shape the day was the fact that I went out there low on fuel. I remember that I ate lunch in the players’ lounge, but then the match before mine went unexpectedly long. It was just about 4 PM but the time I got on court. I should have snacked more – consumed a cookie, a banana, a hunk of bread – before taking the court.

It was a pretty warm day, but nothing like the real corkers you sometimes get at the Open. I was sweating a lot, though, and Alex was bringing plenty of game. He drew me into a baseline battle and made me work very hard. Alex was using the most basic strategy a grinder can bring to the fast-court game. He was just kicking in his first serve to my backhand to keep me from taking control of the point with an aggressive return.
When he did that, I was less likely to smoke the return, and he could immediately run around his backhand and engage me in a forehand (his) to backhand (mine) rally, keeping me pinned to the baseline. If I went bold and tried to go down the line with a big backhand to his open, forehand court (remember, he was standing way over on the backhand side), he could run over there and smack a winner crosscourt with his best shot. If I attacked, he would have a good look at a passing shot. […]

Alex had imposed a template on the game, and it was making me uneasy; I was stupid to have played along for such a long time. I was a bit mesmerized. I knew I should change something, but by then I was fatigued, feeling pressured and stressed, and unsure how to get out of the rhythm I had established. And when your mind fails, all you have to fall back on is your will and character.

Midway through the fourth set, I started losing my legs. They were heavy, with little of the usual spring left in them. When that happens, your game inevitably declines. You no longer get up as high when you serve, and you don’t get that explosive first step to the ball. You don’t move corner to corner effectively, or change direction that well. And when an opponent sees that, he uses it as emotional fuel, even if he’s also tired. This was shaping up as one of those matches that I would have to find some way to save – whatever it took. […]

I hit a wall late in the fifth and felt like I was going to die. But I knew in the back of my mind that I had one chance to win – one chance at salvation. This was the US Open, and that meant that you played a fifth-set tiebreaker. I kept telling myself to hang in there and just get to the tiebreaker; the match could not go on forever. I hung on and got to the breaker, but by then my head was spinning and things were getting a little blurry around the edges. I then told myself that whatever else happened, I could get through this. It could be as short as seven points. It was just a tiebreaker, I had played a million of them before, and none of them lasted before.
At 1-1 in the tiebreaker, all the pain and distress and nervous energy got to me and I got sick. My back was cramping and my legs felt like they were made of wood, and not entirely under my own control. I remember playing a tough point and all of a sudden I had this realization: Holy shit, I’m going to throw up. I’m going to puke – in front of the whole friggin’ world! […]

We lurched along to 6-6 in the tiebreaker, with me serving. It was time to decide things. I went for broke on my first serve end and missed. My second serve went wide to his forehand and, to my everlasting good fortune, Alex guessed backhand. There was nobody home. The ace brought me to match point. By that stage, the atmosphere was totally supercharged. People were leaning over the railings in the stadium, hanging into the court, screaming encouragement at me. I didn’t know it, but all over the United States and the world, things in many places came to an utter standstill as people got sucked into the drama of it all.
And then Alex blinked. He did the one inexcusable thing, under the circumstances: he double-faulted at match point. I won without having to take that additional step – one that I might not have been capable of making.

I left the court completely spent, dehydrated, disorientated, and vaguely aware that I had made a spectacle of myself. I went right into the doctor’s office under the stands in Louis Armstrong Stadium and collapsed. They immediately hooked me up to an IV bag. […]

The Corretja match quickly became engraved in everyone’s mind as my defining moment – my warrior moment.

From Jimmy Connors‘ autobiography, the Outsider:

Some of the shots that Borg and I played that day – he with his little wooden racquet and me with my T2000 – were just flat-out crazy. The crowd responded with the kind of passion that showed their appreciation for fierce competitors and great tennis.

The first set went according to plan. I came into net when I could, following up my punishing groundstrokes by taking the ball out of the air whenever possible, not letting Borg settle into a rythm. In the second set, I was hitting the ball so flat to the corners that I missed a few shots, both out wide and into the net, giving Borg a way back into the match, but I refused to let it put me off my game. I was playing to win, continuing to go for my shots.

Sitting back and letting Borg dictate the play – playing it safe like a lot of guys and hoping for the best – wasn’t an option for me. Those missed shots just made me press even harder. Keep playing your game, Jimmy. That’s what you do best. If you lose, OK, you lose, but it happens on your terms.

Going into the third set, I stuck to my game. I kept hitting flat, deep balls to the baseline, not letting Borg build on the momentum of winning the second set. It worked. The match had sapped our energy, and winning the tiebreaker in the third set proved to be the turning point. Fighting to the end is what tennis is all about for me, and with Borg you could take nothing for granted. But I got on top early in the fourth, won the title on my third match point, and added another Grand Slam to my collection.

In December 1975, I was supposedly finished – just a chubby, washed-up, fading superstar with no manager, no coach and no fiancée. By September 1976, I had my fourth Grand Slam, Mom looking after my business, Pancho in the stands, and Miss World to wake up to. Washed-up ain’t so bad.

Olympic gold medallist Andy Murray

From Andy Murray’s autobiography, Seventy-Seven

The atmosphere on finals day was nerve-tingling once again. So many were decked out in Union Jack colours, every spectator seemed to have a flag. I would imagine for Roger, the fact that the fans wee so obviously in my corner must have been a shock for him. He’s been on that court so many times and the British have great affection for him. The Wimbledon final was fairly split, but in the Olympics the support for me was amazing. When the crowd is behind you, it does make a huge difference – it makes you perform better, the opponent can feel intimidated, and when things are going well it is easier to carry that momentum through a match. Against Roger, this time, I didn’t let up at all.

The middle part of the match was, without doubt, the best I’d played in my career to that point. I’m not saying Roger played his best match, but the support of the crowd and the momentum from everyone else in every other sport doing so well seemed to carry me along. I just felt right the whole match.
I finished it with three big serves in a row. I think he only got a racket on a couple of them. I was serving gor the biggest title of my career and I served as well as I had ever done.

In the moments after a special match like this there are certain people you want to be with. Not everyone got to see what I was really like after Wimbledon, even though Kim and my mum and dad would have known how I was feeling. They had seen me lose so many of those matches before. That made me doubt myself – and maybe they doubted me as well – so it was great to be able to spend two or three seconds with them straight after I’d won. They knew all the work that went into the victory and how many tough losses there had been along the way. Out of all the things that happened to me in 2012, winning the gold medal was the proudest moment.

There had been four weeks to the day between one of the hardest moments of my life and one of the most fulfilling. Roger was involved in both of them and he made them special because he’s arguably the greatest of all time.

I was nervous before the final of the Olympics but I don’t remember feeling the same fear as before at Wimbledon. Maybe when I was playing on Centre Court before I felt I had to behave myself, because everyone was watching me and maybe I felt a bit self-conscious. People weren’t necessarily waiting for me to slip up but if I did, somebody would have something to say about it and everyone would have an opinion on what I had or hadn’t done. But after Wimbledon, people accepted my flaws – and I have loads of them. People seemed to see me for what I am and how I express myself, not judge me on what I should or shoukdn’t do.

I remember shaking my head when I was up there on the podium, ready to receive the medal. All of the guys in my team were there and the podiums were set up so that I was facing them. Seeing them all smiling, and everyone looking so proud, amde me feel wonderful. Yes, I was proud of myself, but when I saw everyone smiling and everyone singing the national anthem, I got a real sense of togetherness.
Maybe we don’t show enough of that in our country, and maybe the result is that sometimes we don’t get a sense that everyone can pull together for the same cause. When I saw Sir Chris Hoy holding the flag at the opening ceremony and he was completely blubbing the whole way around, I realised that you don’t get that in other competitions and that the London Olympics was really specials.

Check out the whole match here.

Andy Murray, London Olympics

From Andy Murray’s autobiography, Seventy-Seven

Beijing was one of the best experiences I’d ever had as an athlete. To be involved and part of the team, to go to the opening ceremony, and to speak to many gifted, wonderful sports people – I absolutely loved it. But then I lost in the first round to Lu Yen-hsun of Taiwan.

When I weighed myself the night after my loss, I discovered I’d lost five kilos since leaving Cincinnati a week before. I was completely dehydrated. I had not been a professional in my approach because I was so excited at being part of the Olympics. I knew that when London came around my attitude had to be different. I was never going to make the Beijing mistake again. I had forgotten I was there to win matches for the country, because I was enjoying the experience so much.

I didn’t think that going to the opening ceremony in Beijing would affect me. It was only in hindsight that I realised I had used tremendous amounts of energy, speaking to loads of people and enjoying the whole occasion. For some participants that is what the Olympics should be about, but I know how disappointed I was to lose so early because I had a chance to do well for the country and I blew it.

I would have loved to have gone to the London 2012 opening ceremony – it turned out to be the most spectacular event – but it was the wrong thing to do from a professional perspective. I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.
However, I was among the fortunate people nominated to carry the flame on its journey across the nation. That was a tremendous privilege. OK, I was only able to carry it inside the confines of the All England Club, but there were memebers and players in attendance – I remember Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych cutting short their practice sessions to come and watch me receive the flame.

My first match against Stanislas Wawrinka was a really tough one. I had been practicing with him so often beforehand .. and killing him actually! In those ten days, I think I had won every practice set and I had just felt great generally.[…]

I watched as many of the other sports as I could when I wasn’t playing, and I wanted to try to be a part of that success. When I lose at the Wimbledon Championships, there isn’t usually anyone else left for British fans to support; if I’d have lost at the Olympics, there was still Bradley Wiggins, Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis and Chris Hoy. If I had lost, I doubt whether people would have spent much time talking about it, because there were so many other exciting things going on elsewhere to concentrate on.

The night before playing in the final, I watched Ennis, Farah and Greg Rutherford all win gold in Olympic Stadium. The atmosphere was outrageous, it was crackling. The country was alive with optimism, there was momentum and everyone was so positive, from the spectators to the media.
In advance of the Games, the stories had all been about the prospect of terrible traffic problems, potential security problems and ticketing issues. People thought the opening ceremony would not be as good as in Beijing, but it proved to be an incredible spectacle.
Then a few days, it was all: ‘We haven’t won a gold yet’. Everything was negative again. But once the first gold arrived, then another, then a couple more, it all changed. There was nothing to complain about anymore and the whole nation was carried along on a wave of excitement. The athletes performed better than anyone was expecting – career-best performances, golds, silvers, glorious achievements – and I put a lot of that down to the positive momentum all around. As an individual sportsman, I’d certainly never experienced anything like it.

I managed to make good progress through my first four rounds, only losing one set to Marcos Baghdatis, who challenged me really hard again. Then, after I defeated Nicolas Almagro on No.1 Court, with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge amongst the spectators, I was into the semi-finals to play Novak again. I spoke to Ivan the evening before and his lessage was the same as usual: to impose my game on the match, play the game on my terms and not to lose running around with my arse against the back fence.
I managed to execute the game plan, turning in one of my most complete performances of the year. In windy conditions I thought I struck the ball really well. In the first set there were some tremendous rallies, but the second set, by comparison, wasn’t quite as good. Novak had a lot of break points, but I served really well and hung tough in those moments and just managed to get the break myself in the end.
The atmosphere was unbelievable, different to anything I’d experienced before. I’d always said that the mnight matches at the US Open had the best atmosphere, but they weren’t even close to what it was like against Novak.
I celebrated victory in the normal way until I sat down in the chair. Suddenly, I leapt up again, as if electricity was surging through my body. I’d realised I had guaranteed myself an Olympic medal.

The final would be a rematch against Roger for Olympic gold.

Rafa Nadal, Beijing Olympics

Excerpt from Rafael Nadal‘s autobiography Rafa:

I stayed in the Olympic village with all the other athletes, and once again, as in the Davis Cup, I had a taste of that team spirit that I loved so much when I played football as a kid. Living with my Spanish teammates, in the same residential compound, meeting and making friends with the Spanish basketball team and track athletes (some of whom, a little embarrassingly, would stop me in the corridors, or in the communal laundry room where we all washed our clothes, to ask me for my autograph) and stepping out in uniform alongside them all for the opening ceremony – these were unforgettable experiences. But my sense of good fortune came accompanied by a strong dose of indignation.

I understood better than ever just how privileged we professional tennis players are, and how unjust is the predicament of so many Olympic athletes. They train incredibly hard, at least as hard as we do, yet the rewards tend to be far smaller. A tennis player ranked number eighty in the world has economic benefits, social privileges, and a degree of recognition beyond the dreams of someone who is number one in track and field, swimming, or gymnastics. On the tennis circuit everything is laid on for us all year round, and the money we receive allows us the chance to save for our futures. These people train with the discipline of monks over a period of four years in preparation for the one competition that stands out above all others, the Olympics, yet the vast majority of them receive very little support relative to the effort they invest. It’s admirable that they should prepare so rigorously, at so much personal sacrifice, for the mere satisfaction of competing and because of the passion they feel for their sports. That has a value beyond price. But that shouldn’t have to be enough. With all the income the International Olympic Committee generates from the Games – an event that depends for its success on the commitment of the athletes – you’d think they might be able to share the cash a little more fairly. In my case, I have no need to be paid, luckily, but an athlete who runs in the 400 meters or the marathon needs a lot of financial backing just to be able to train at the level required to make it to the Olympics and then compete for the top prizes. I understand that tennis has broader public appeal, at least over the course of a calendar year, but I think it’s unjust that more of an effort is not made to allow these incredibly dedicated people to live more decently and train in better conditions.

But these were my reflections after it was all over. Moaning and griping was not what defined my time in Beijing. What stays with me, above all, was the camaraderie between the athletes and the chance I had to learn about so many different new sports and discover how much we all had in common. Just to be able to participate, and to have access to a world I never thought I’d get to know, was uplifing enough.

Then to win gold in the men’s singles, after beating Djokovic in the semis and Fernando Gonzalez of Chile in the final, and to see the Spanish flag being raised to the accompaniment of the national anthem as I stood on the winner’s podium: well, it was one of my life’s proudest moments. People don’t usually associate the Olympic Games with tennis. I certainly didn’t when I was growing up. The game only reappeared as an Olympic sport in 1988, after a 64 years absence. But in tennis players’ minds Olympic gold has become something to covet. After a Grand Slam, it’s now the prize we most cherish.