Extract from Hard Courts by John Feinstein

The person many people were picking to win was the new No.1 – Edberg. he was, without question, the hottest player in the world. In fact, he had not lost a match since the Bruguera debacle in Paris – a streak of twenty-one matches and fou tournaments. He had won all three events he had entered after Wimbledon: Los Angeles, Cincinnati, and the Hamlet Cup, on Long Island, the week prior to the Open.

In the past, Edberg had played two weeks before the Open and then taken off the week before it began. He had changed that this year because of a new touring-pro deal he had signed with the Hamlet, a golf/tennis resort that had once employed Jimmy Arias as its touring pro. Part of the deal – which was worth $2 million for four years – was that the touring pro played in the Hamlet tournament. Edberg not only played, he won it, playing three matches the last two days because of rain delays.

That may have had nothing to do with what happened to him on the second morning of the tournament. After all, his pre-Open preparations in the past had not produced sterling results, so a change might not have been a bad idea. Or maybe it was.

In any event, Edberg showed up for his match with Alexander Volkov with the hangdog look he had worn in Paris. He didn’t play quite as poorly as he had against Bruguera, but he came close. Once again he was bounced from the first round of a Grand Slam and once again it was in straight sets.

“I just never felt comfortable,” Edberg said. “I can’t tell you why. I thought I would do well here. But it’s all over now.”

Volkov had been so certain he would lose that he had committed to play in German League matches that weekend.

“I was supposed to fly out of here tomorrow,” he said. “I was surprised Stefan played so poorly.”

Volkov made it to his German League commitment. The day after beating Edberg, he lost to Todd Witsken in straight sets – winning only seven games.
Almost everyone had expected an Edberg-Lendl semifinal in the top half of the draw. Now that was out of the question. But the craziness was just beginning.

Extract from Hard Courts by John Feinstein

Almost without fail, the shocking upsets during the first week of a Grand Slam take place on the men’s side. The top women are just too strong to lose an early round match.
The Open began exactly that way: Monica Seles, playing the first match of the tournament, started with a 6-0 6-0 victory over Elena Pampoulova. Steffi Graf dropped two games in her first match; Martina Navratilova dropped four; Zina Garrison, four; and Gabriela Sabatini, two. By the end of the first week, though, the women had the kind of delightful chaos on their hands that’s usually reserved for the men. The first to fall, in what may have been the single most stunning upset of the year in the women’s game, was Seles.

There had been some hints that Seles might be vulnerable. She had shown up in Los Angeles wielding a Yonex racquet, part of a huge multiyear, multimillion-dollar deal she had signed with the company after Wimbledon. This was all well and good, but Yonex had insisted, as part of the deal, that Seles use the racquet at the Open.

Seles had been playing with a Prince – with pretty fair results – and to ask her to change racquets two weeks before a Grand Slam was a mistake. But Yonex wanted to make a splashy pre-Open announcement, and IMG ans Seles’ army of advisers didn’t want to chance losing the deal.
So, they chanced losing the Open. Seles had won Los Angeles, beating Navratilova in a wonderful final. But it had been clear there that she wasn’t hitting the ball with the same authority as in Europe. She was still plenty good and would no doubt get better as she grew accustomed to the racquet, but a lot of people wondered if it would affect her at the Open.

It did. Seles lost in the third round to Linda Ferrando, a twenty-four year old Italian ranked eighty-second in the world – seven spots below Elena Pampoulova. Seles had practiced with Ferrando earlier in the year, in Chicago, but had completely forgotten the session. She expected her to stay back.
Ferrando, after dropping the first set 6-1, began attacking on almost every point. She won the second set 6-1 and led throughout the third. She even had three match points but couldn’t convert them, making choky errors on each one. It looked as if Seles would escape when they went to a tiebreak in the final set. Only, she didn’t.
Ferrando jumped ahead in the tiebreak, and when she got to match point again, she made sure she didn’t choke. She charged in behind a backhand return, and Seles, trying to hit a perfect shot, smacked a backhand into the net tape. She let out a tiny shriek of surprise and anguish, then dealt with the defeat graciously.

“I never thought she would come back after I won the first set 6-1,” she said. “I think I just got nervous at the end.”

Ferrando was still in a little bit of shock.

“I can’t tell you why I won,” she said. “Maybe I can tell you tomorrow.”

In tennis, you have to come up with the answer today because, by tomorrow, you may be forgotten. Ferrando was a case in point: two days after beating Seles, she lost in straight sets to Leila Meshki.

Extract from Hard Courts by John Feinstein

Cincinnati had been favored stop on the tour since 1979, when it had become The ATP tournament. For years it was the only tour stop that contributed funds to the players’ pension funds. It was also a prime example of how a tournament could grow by promoting itself as an event rather than by just showcasing name players.

Paul Flory, the tournament direct, was a minster’s son who had grown up in Dayton and worked most of his life for Procter&Gamble. He had been tournament director since 1975, when the Cincinnati tournament was still the Western Open and was played on clay in a small club down by the Ohio River.
The tournament had moved to Kings Island in 1979, when the ATP offered itself to Flory if he could find a site with hard courts. Flory moved the tournament and had built the stadium slowly, adding stages each year as the tournament became a summer staple in the Cincinnati area.

The tournament benefited the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and a number of players visited during the week. Some took this responsibility quite seriously. Jim Courier went back three times. Miguel Nido, a qualifier, went around the players’ lounge one day trying to round up players. Benji Robins, the tour’s marketing-services coordinator, worked all week trying to encourage players to go to the hospital. It wasn’t easy. A couple of players asked tournament officials if they could get paid to visit the hospital. On Friday, eight players were scheduled to go. One – Nido – showed up.

That afternoon, the tournament got a bit of unexpected bonus, when Edberg beat Chang in a superb three-set quarterfinal and officially moved past Lendl to become No.1 was no small thing. Edberg was only the eighth man to be No.1 since the start of computer rankings, in 1973. The women’s No.1 club was even more exclusive – it had only six members.

Edberg actually appeared excited about becoming No.1. Remembering his twenty-four hours as No.1 in 1988, after the ATP staff’s error, he smiled and said,

“I hope this time they got it right. It’s nice that I can say I was number one in the world, even if I don’t keep it for long. Not many guys get there. For years, people told me I could be number one. I’m glad I made it.”

Tennis is a game that takes players to all corners of the earth. It was therefore fitting that on the night he became No.1 player on the planet, Edberg, a Swede who lived in London, sept in room 536 at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Blue Ash, Ohio.

Regardless of where he was, Edberg was playing brilliant tennis. The Wimbledon victory had clearly given him renewed confidence. He won in Los Angeles in his first tournament since Wimbledon, and he won rather easily in Cincinnati. The Chang match was his most difficult. He beat Gomez and Gilbert in the semifinals and final respectively, without losing serve once. The score in the final was 6-1 6-1. It was over in fifty-nine minutes. When someone asked Gilbert if anyone could have beaten Edberg, he shrugged. “All I know is there’s no way I could have beaten him, that’s for sure.”

Edberg was feeling good about things, he even made a joke in his postmatch press conference. When someone jokingly asked if President Bush had called to congratulate him on becoming No.1, Edberg shook his head.

“No, he didn’t”, he said, deadpan. “But he did call and ask me about that Iraq thing.”

The most fun part of the Edberg-Gilbert final was the awards ceremony: it took exactly seven minutes.

Steffi Graf and Boris Becker, Wimbledon 1989

Article by Barry Lorge, June 1990

At the Baden Tennis Center in the Heidelberg suburb of Leimen, the most productive of 13 regional training facilities operated by the West German Tennis Federation, coach Boris Breskvar finishes hitting with three youngsters and invites a visitor into his office. The wall behind his office is covered with photos, a couple of which he points with particular pride. There he is with Steffi Graf and Boris Becker at the European junior championships in 1981. And five years earlier, a group photo of the Baden kids, when Steffi had just turned 7 and Becker was a lad of 8. Surely another picture is destined for this gallery. Graf and Becker, at 20 and 21, posing together last July, after she won the women’s singles title at Wimbledon for the second straight year and he captured the men’s crown he held in 1985 and ’86. If you perused newstands in Germany the week after this extraordinary “Deutschland Doppel,” they dominated the covers. One magazine even had them dressed in full regalia like king and queen.

Before last Wimbledon, Becker and his girlfriend, Karen Schultz, went out for dinner with Graf and her coach, Pavel Slozil. Becker and Graf also met a couple of times during the tournament and talked.
“In other tournaments, we saw each other and said hello and that was it,” Graf says. “This was the first time we communicated more than before, and we both came out as the winner. Afterward, we hugged. It was a great moment for both of us because we have known each other quite a while.”
A fairytale come true, Becker says, “I used to be the worst in the boys and she used to be the best in the girls, so when I was almost 9 and she was 7, I all the time had to hit with her. From then on we more or less went through the same tournament and matches and we all the time kept a relationship… It’s impossible to think something like this can happen.”

GRATIFYING: It was particularly gratifying for Breskvar, who worked with Graf occassionally, and coached Becker daily, from the time they were barely out of kindergarten until they were teenagers. He had them hit against each other – not only because Graf was the top girl in Baden and Becker the runt of the region’s promising boys, but also because he saw in them similar stuff of champions.
“Steffi was (an) exceptional talent, and also mentally very, very strong,” he says. “She was never afraid. You know when it’s 5-all in the final set, they are all afraid a bit. They push the ball a little. Not Steffi and Boris. They were never afraid. They also lost matches, 5-7 in the third set, but they never pushed their shots. Also, they liked to compete.”
Breskvar, 47, who played internationally for his native Yugoslavia and has been employed by the German and Baden federations for 18 years, was at Wimbledon the second week of last year’s tournament with a team of German juniors. He watched the men’s final at Centre Court, guest of Becker’s Romanian manager – Svengali, Ion Tiriac, an old friend from their touring days.

An outgoing, expressive man with burning brown eyes, Breskvar saw Graf and Becker hold their trophies aloft and thought back to the kids on his wall. “For a coach,” he says, “this is a super feeling, something really special.” Becker grew up in Leimen, a town of 20,000 previously best known for producing cement. His home was less than a mile from the Blau-Weiss (blue-white) Tennis Club, whose indoor courts are now called Boris Becker Halle. Becker started hitting against a wall at the age of 5. After the Baden centre was built across the street in 1976, he practised there almost exclusively. Boris’ father, architect Karl Heinz Becker, designed both the tennis centre and Breskvar’s house. The coach discovered young Boris at a talent search at Heidelberg Schwarz and Geld (Black and Gold) Club in 1974, and worked with him for 10 years.
When Becker was 16, Breskvar turned him over to Gunther Bosch, a Romanian born friend of Tiriac; it was a year before Becker became the youngest man ever to win Wimbledon.
“His father told me, ‘Take care of my boy, and I don’t interfere. You must do everything,” Breskvar says. “Before he went to Bosch, he asked me three times to travel and coach Boris. I told him I prefer to stay in Leimen. I don’t want my boss to be one young guy. Nothing against Boris, who is a very good friend, but I prefer to work with a lot of juniors.” Breskvar’s relationship with Graf is decidedly cooler. She is from Bruhl, a town of 14,000 a few miles northwest of Leimen, closer to industrial Mannheim. In his instructional book – Boris Becker’s Tennis : The Making of a Champion, which has been published in Germany, Yugoslavia, Japan, England and Holland- Breskvar recalled his introduction.
“She was only 6 when she first came to us, but she already had a fairly reasonable technique. She had learned the basics from her father, who was a tennis coach . I can clearly recall the first time we met. Peter Graf came up to me and said, ‘I’ve found out as much as I can about you, and I think you’re the right man to train Steffi – because one day she’s going to be No.1 in the world.

“I don’t think I can be blamed for assuming that I was talking to yet another of these ambitious fathers who think the whole world is just waiting to see their child play. By the time we (had) completed the half-hour training session, I was greatly impressed, and inwardly asked Peter Graf to forgive me for thinking ill of him, for Steffi really did have talent.”

Her father groomed Graf’s game and is still her principal advisor, although former Czechoslovakian Davis Cup player Slozil also travels and hits with her. Breskvar believes that the Baden centre played more of a part in Graf’s ascent than the family is willing to admit. Steffi says: “My coach was my father. When he didn’t have so much time because he was giving lessons himself, I went to the centre. I played there until I was 12 or 13 – maybe 15 or 20 times a year.”

Steffi Graf and Boris Becker

ENERGETIC: Breskvar is an energetic lefthander who puts an intriguing variety of spins on tennis balls and converses in 6 languages (German, English, French, Italian, Serbo-Croatian and his native Slovenian). He does not dwell in the past, which in his case includes being the third man on Yugoslav Davis Cup teams that featured two players ranked in the world’s top 10, Nikki Pilic (now the German Davis Cup captain) and Zeljko Franulovic. At the Baden centre, he has a number of promising prospects, including Anke Huber, 13, already the best junior girl in Germany and Romanian defector Mirela Vadulescu, 12, who has moved to Leimen with her family and was signed to a contract by Tiriac last year. Breskvar smilingly predicts, “they will be playing each other in the Wimbledon final in five years.” These days, however, the coach happily obliges frequent requests to reminisce about Graf and Becker. They were both exposed early to a sophisticated programme that incorporates not only traditional training in technique and tactics, but also physical and psychological conditioning. Breskvar works closely with Prof. Hermann Reider, director of the Sports Science Institute at Heidelberg’s celebrated university.

“For five years he helped me with Boris and Steffi, making psychological tests, motivational tests, studies,” Breskvar says. “He agrees with me that it is very important to train children not only in tennis, but in other ball sports.” Breskvar points to basketball hoops and goals for football and field hockey on an area paved in asphalt, adjacent to the four red clay courts at his centre. Here players develop their sense of space, movement and what is possible to do with a ball and bodies. “We play these sports a lot, as well as sprints and jumps and other athletic drills for conditioning,” Breskvar says. “I think this is very important when children are 9,10,11, because you must play a lot of combinations in your head. How to beat the opponent, move, set up a score. If you can transfer this to tennis, you can improve a lot. Steffi is a wonderful basketball player. Boris is good in basketball and very, very strong in football.”

Breskvar encourages an all court game, with particular emphasis on the style for which a given player is suited by physique and personality. “We take all the children to a medical centre and make an X-ray here,” he says, pointing to the wrist, “so we can see how tall they will be when they grow up. We can tell within two centimeters. We did this also with Steffi and Boris. This is very important because Boris was very small when he was 9 years old, but since I know he is going to be 190 centimeters, I must practise a lot of serve and net with him. If I know someone is going to be 166 or 168, we must practise a lot of topspin and ground strokes.”

AGGRESSIVE: Despite his diminutive size, Becker was already aggressive the first time Breskvar saw him, lunging and diving and making the horizontal leaps at the net that have become his trademark from the grass of Wimbledon to less forgiving hard courts. “Boris tried for everything, but his technique was not so good – tennis of jumping,” Breskvar recalls. “He didn’t know how to roll. Knees and elbows scraped, blood everywhere. I said,’Hey, stop, don’t do this. You hurt yourself.’ He said,’No no,it’s ok and again he does it. I liked him from the first moment, but I stopped the session because I was afraid he would break some bones. I told him,’O.K. in two days you can come to the centre and begin training with me,’ but I thought to myself first I must teach him to jump properly.”

Breskvar ordered gym mats, which still hang on the walls alongside the centre’s three indoor courts, and tought Becker to land like an acrobat. “After, I encouraged him to jump,” Breskvar says. “This is his personality and an important part of his game, for three reasons. First, he can reach more balls. More important is the psychological effect. When Boris jumps and gets the ball, the next time the opponent thinks, ‘I must play exactly on the line.’ He tries to hit into an area half as small, and that is very difficult, and often he is hitting out. The other advantage is this jumping is very attractive for the spectators, and pretty soon they are all on Boris’s side. This is a great plus.”

Graf has improved her volley, but favours playing from the back court, winning with a lethal topspin forehand and quickness and concentration that are almost as intimidating. Graf has outstanding hand-eye coordination, reflexes and racquet control to go with her speed afoot. Breskvar remembers the first time she picked up a plastic hockey stick and joined in one of his post-practice scrimmages: “The others looked on in astonishment as she stopped, dribbled and hit the ball as if she had practiced the game for years.” Graf also loves basketball, but says she was disappointed that Breskvar wouldn’t let her play soccer “because I could easily get injured.” Breskvar says that tests showed Graf had weak ankles, for which trainer Erko Prull designed a special exercise programme. She still works on conditioning with Prull, who she calls “a very good friend of our family.” It was in large part because their drive to succeed was so similar that Breskvar had Becker hit with Graf. “They practiced together sometimes, but not a lot,” Breskvar says. “This was better training for Steffi than Boris. I like him to play with older, stronger boys. It is important to find the right sparring partner- somebody who is a little bit better, but not too much.”

Graf realises now that she and Becker had some similarities. “Temperamentally, yes,” she says. “I have always been somebody who criticised myself a lot. When I didn’t play well, I was getting mad. Boris was the same.”

At the time, though, she didn’t sense how much alike they were. “Anyway, we were kids,” she says. “At that age, nobody really expected Boris would become the player he is. They thought I had much more chance.” What gave Breskvar a vision of the future was that Becker shared Graf’s uncompromising determination. One of the coach’s friends manufactured Capri-Sonne, a fruit-juice made in Heidelberg, which became the unofficial currency of training wagers. “Boris would ask all the time, how many will you give me if I win?” Breskvar recalls. “He was already a real professional. It was incredible. The more drinks at stake the better he was playing. When he was 14 or 15, I was still stronger than he was, but we had good matches- 6-3 or 6-4 every set. One day he asked, ‘How many drinks will you give me if I beat you?’ I said ‘The whole box.’ He was trying like a madman, and he beat me, first time. Boris is a born competitor.” This begs the question that is widely debated, within Germany and abroad. Was the emergence of Graf and Becker from the same corner of the country without much tennis tradition a quirk of history or the result of a programme capable of producing more like them?

Boris BEcker and Steffi Graf, 1985

FAIRY TALES: Becker said at Wimbledon that his and Graf’s success was so improbable that they will be grandfather and grandmother before their countrymen realise what they have accomplished. Graf also says it was the stuff of fairy tales: “What else can you call it? I mean, you can’t build up two players like that. I don’t see it happening again. It’s just luck, coincidence.”

Breskvar disagrees. “They are great talents,” he says. “Without talent you cannot work. But I also think that we have done a lot with those players. You ask Mr. Graf it is only him. This is difficult. But I think this centre was very important. It was the first in Germany, and without the opportunity to practice every day without paying one Deutschmark, over eight years, it would be very, very difficult.” The chief coach of the German Tennis Federation calculated that Becker’s court time, coaching and travel as a junior had been subsidised to the tune of $500,000.

“It is too much money for most families,” Breskvar says. “We pay everything. We pay everything. This is very important. A champion must be born with talent, but he must also have the environment. You can have a great natural talent for skiing, but if you live in the Sahara, you cannot win an Olmypic gold medal in skiing.”

Good genes and God-given gifts need to be nurtured. Raw potential needs to be recognised, moulded, motivated. “Boris was not the best in Germany when he was 12, 13, 14” Breskvar says. “He was about No.10. But when our federation was deciding where to put the money, I told our President, ‘I think Boris will be the best. We try with him,’ I don’t think it would happen without our help. There are so many players now, a champion must be something special, and he must be very well managed. The times are over when talent alone will rise to the top.”

Says Tiriac: “Boris Breskvar is a guy who had, and has, very good kids, so the results prove that he knows what he is doing…..Boris and Steffi emerging from the same area at the same time? That is an accident with ingredients that helped. Like tennis courts to play (on). Like parents connected with tennis. Like Breskvar to discover and develop the talent. If there are no courts and coaches, it is impossible to recognise a gift for tennis.”

The Baden tennis centre where Becker and Graf hit against each other as kids – must be recognised either as the setting, of an extraordinary fairy tale, or as a contemporary cradle of champions.

John McEnroe, Australian Open 1990

On January 21, 1990, at the Australian Open, John McEnroe becomes the first player since 1963 to be disqualified from a Grand Slam tournament for misconduct. Leading Mikael Pernfors 6-1 4-6 7-5 2-4, McEnroe is disqualified by chair umpire Gerry Armstrong after breaking a racquet and insulting the supervisor.
The last player to be disqualified from a Grand Slam for misconduct had been Willie Alvarez of Spain, in the 1963 French Open, 17 years earlier.

John Mcenroe

From John McEnroe’s autobiography Serious:

“In January 1990, I was playing Mikael Pernfors in the fourth round of the Australian Open. At one set all, I disagreed with a call a lineswoman had made, and I walked over to her. I didn’t say anything; I just stood in front of her and stared at her, bouncing a ball up and down on my strings. ‘Code of conduct warning, Mr McEnroe’, the umpire announced. That seemed debatable to me, and so I debated for a few moments. The umpire prevailed, and I calmed down and won the third set.

Then, serving at 2-3 in the fourth, I hit a forehand approach wide. Suddenly, on that very hot Australian afternoon – it was 135 degrees on the court – I saw red. I slammed my racket to the ground. The frame cracked. ‘Racket abuse, Mr McEnroe’, announced the umpire. ‘Point penalty’ My anger did not subside. I went up to the umpire, let him know how I was feeling for a minute or two, then demanded to see the tournament supervisor. The supervisor materialized and calmly said that a cracked racket frame was an automatic penalty. That was when I broke some new ground. As the supervisor turned away, I made an extremely rude suggestion, in a very loud voice. Thee was a gasp in the stands – McEnroe had topped himself.
‘Verbal abuse, audible obscenity, Mr McEnroe’, the umpire said.

Default. Game, set and match, Mr Pernfors

It was the only other time in my career, besides the doubles at the 1986 US Open, that I had been defaulted. I had also made history by becoming the first player defaulted out of a Grand Slam event in the Open era.

I plead idiocy – but I also plead ignorance. If you look at my career, you’ll see that in dozens of matches, I took matters to that edge where if I incurred one more penalty, I was gone. However, the one ond only time that I went over the edge, I literally didn’t realize that the default rule had been changed, from four steps to three.

At the moment the words flew out of my mouth, I thought, OK, I’ve lost the game. I thought that it was going to be four games to two in the fourth, but that I was still up two sets to one. I still felt certain I’d win the match. But when the umpire said, ‘Game, set and match’ the first thing I thought was that my agent, Sergio Palmieri, had forgotten to tell me about the rule change.
Obviously, I can’t just say, ‘It happened because my agent forgot to tell me about the change.’ Of course I have to take the responsibility for the whole incident. I truly believe, though, that if I had known the new rule, I would have contained myself. I sometimes went off the rails, but I always knew where I stood.