The Rocket Rod Laver

Rod Laver

From Love Thirty: Three Decades of Champions, by Rex Bellamy, published in 1990:

Rodney George Laver was the most astounding player I ever saw, and may have been the greatest ever. His record is without parallel. Consider what that record might have been but for his exclusion from 21 Grand Slam tournaments when he was, presumably, at his physical peak, between the ages of 24 and 29. Had professionals been eligible for those events, Lew Hoad might have had the better of laver for a year or so and Ken Rosewall would always have been worth an even-money bet. But one has to believe that from 1963 to 1967 Laver would have collected another bunch of major championships and perhaps a third Grand Slam. Laver overlapped and dominated two Grand Slam eras separated by seven years. He did so because he had it all. Because he was adventurer and artist in one. Because he could raise his game to any level demanded of it.

Laver was only 5ft 8 1/2in tall and usually weighed around 10st 71lb. But he had gigantic left arm and his speed and agility were breathtaking. The circumference of his left forearm was 12in and the wrist measured 7in. The strength of that wrist and forearm gave him blazing power without loss of control, even when he was on the run at full stretch. The combination of speed and strength, especially wrist-strength, enabled him to hit ferocious winners when way out of court – often when almost under the noses of the front ow of spectators. And he was a bow-legged, beautifully balanced, and as quick as a cat. He had some glorious matches with Rosewall – and with Tom Okker, who could match Laver’s speed and panache but was second-best in terms of strength and technical versatility. Laver also had the eyes of a hawk and fast anticipation and reactions. Like Budge, he was feckle-faced and had copper-coloured hair. Another distinguished feature was a long nose that, in spite of the kink in it, gave a false impression of hauteur. For much of his career Laver was confessedly shy and self-conscious, but there was no ‘side’ to him. He was easy going – except on court.

Marty Riessen once summed up Laver admirably: “To look at him walking around, you wouldn’t think he was world champion. He doesn’t stand out. His stature isn’t something you expect, like a Gonzales or a Hoad. Off the court, his personality seems almost retiring. But it’s as if he goes into a telephone booth and changes. On court he’s aggressive. Such a big change of personality – when a lot of players play the same as they act. What impresses me is his quickness. Speed enables him to recover when he’s in trouble. And the thing I learned from playing Laver is how consistent one can be with power. It’s amazing how he can keep hitting with such accuracy. He combines everything. There are a lot of good competitors. But he’s fantastic.”

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Roland Garros opens its doors

Every year in September, 50 European countries take part in the European Heritage Days, a programme that offers opportunities to visit buildings, monuments and sites, many of which are not normally accessible to the public. For the first time, yesterday, the French Federation of tennis opened up the Roland Garros stadium and museum free to the public as part of Heritage Days, and of course, I was there.

Waiting to enter the museum, you could still see the Davis Cup semifinals poster and the French and Czech flags atop Court Philippe Chatrier.

Roland Garros

Tennis museum

The permanent exhibition showcases trophies, players memorabilia, a few videos as well as some infos about tennis history and the future Roland Garros stadium expansion.
You might be disappointed if you’ve visited the Wimbledon museum, Roland Garros museum is quite small, with less content and interactivity.

Below, the trophies presented each year to the winner of the men’s singles (Coupe des Mousquetaires) and women’s singles (Coupe Suzanne Lenglen):

Roland Garros trophies

Replica of the 1991 Davis Cup captured by Henri Leconte and Guy Forget over the dream team of Sampras, Agassi and Flach-Seguso:

1991 Davis Cup replica
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Vitas Gerulaitis

Excerpt of Jimmy Connors‘ autobiography The Outsider:

A friend remembered

Vitas Gerulaitis was 17 and I was 19 when we first met, after he met the Riordan circuit.
We hung out a lot together through the 70s and 80s. When I won the US Open in 1978, I went out for a celebration dinner at Maxwell’s Plum in Manhattan. Vitas drove up and parked right in front of the restaurant, and let me tell you, he was hard to miss: Vitas was the only guy around tennis – or around most places – who drove a yellow Rolls Royce. He got out of the car with two cute young girls who couldn’t have been a day over 18, waltzed in, and sat down to congratulate me. He was the only one who did that. He was all class.

What the public saw was the real Vitas: the dazzling smile, the free-spirited guitar-playing rocker, the over-the-top playboy lifestyle. Yet he was also one of the most decent guys I’ve ever known, and everyone liked him.
Although he had his own crowd that included Borg and Mac, Vitas and I were close, and it was a no-bullshit friendship. It was an open secret that Vitas had a big problem with cocaine, and it led to his retirement from the game at the end of 1985.
Without the discipline of tennis to hold him in check, Vitas’ habit intensified dramatically. It’s the reason I asked him in 1989 to travel with me to Europe for five months. I might not have been his closest buddy, but you don’t abandon people when the going gets tough. As much as I hated drugs, we were buddies throughout the good, the bad and the ugly of it all.

My friend Vitas was only 40 years old when he died. He was very close to his mom and his sister, he was a good son and brother and always looked after his family. Patti and I went to his funeral, at St Dominic, in Oyster Bay, Long Island, and joined 500 other people – including Mac, Borg, Billie Jean King, Tony Trabert, Jack Kramer, Bill Talbert, Fred Stolle, and Mary Carillo – to mourn our friend. Out if respect for Vitas, the governor closed the Long Island Expressway when they took his casket from the church to the cemetery.

Vitas brought a lot to tennis – not just his athletic style of play but also his rock-star sex appeal, which added a new dimension to the tour. He was a wild and flamboyant but also a great champion, winning the Australian Open in 1977 and reaching the finals of the French Open and the US Open. He was a Davis Cup participant and winner of 25 Grand Prix tournaments.
Is any of that recognized by the tennis establishment? No. Vitas had a Hall of Fame career, but apparently he didn’t have a Hall of Virtue career, but who does? It shouldn’t be the case but his outstanding record and major contribution to the sport have, sadly, been overshadowed by his issues off the court.
I miss him.”

2014 US Open coverage

Novak Djokovic

10 tips for your day at the US Open
US Open trivia

Fashion and gear:

A trip down memory lane:

Top 5 strange events at the US Open
US Open biggest upsets
1970 US Open: Margaret Court completes the Grand Slam
1971 US Open: Chris Evert becomes the “It Girl”
1972 US Open: Ilie Nastase defeats Arthur Ashe
1973 US Open: Margaret Court defeats Evonne Goolagong
1978 US Open: 4th consecutive US Open title for Chris Evert
1978 US Open: Jimmy Connors defeats Bjorn Borg
79 US Open 2nd round: McEnroe vs Nastase, chaos on court
1979 US Open: John McEnroe defeats Vitas Gerulaitis
1980 US Open: John McEnroe defeats Bjorn Borg
1981 US Open: Tracy Austin defeats Martina Navratilova
1981 US Open: John McEnroe defeats Bjorn Borg: Borg’s last Grand Slam match
1983 US Open: Career Grand Slam for Martina Navratilova
1984 US Open: John McEnroe last Grand Slam title
1990 US Open: Linda Ferrando upsets Monica Seles
1990 US Open: Alexander Volkov upsets Stefan Edberg
1991 US Open: Connors, 39 qualifies for the semifinals
1991 US Open: Seles and Capriati introduce power in womens tennis
1991 US Open: playing to perfection, Edberg grabs first Open
1991 US Open: Edberg’s final dominance doesn’t diminish Courier
1992: Stefan Edberg defeats Pete Sampras
1992 US Open: Edberg takes Sampras, US Open, No.1 ranking
1993 US Open: Pete Sampras defeats Cédric Pioline
1994 US Open 4th round: Jaime Yzaga defeats Pete Sampras
1994: first US Open title for Andre Agassi
1996 US Open: Class act Edberg making one last run at US Open
2001 US Open: Venus defeats sister Serena
2001 US Open QF: Andre Agassi – Pete Sampras
2001 US Open: Lleyton Hewitt defeats Pete Sampras
2002 US Open: last Grand Slam title for Pete Sampras
2004 US Open: First time to NYC for a French fan of Agassi
Andre Agassi gives the Open crowd one more thrill ride, August 31st, 2006

Reports:

Polls:

Who will win the 2014 US Open?

  • Roger Federer (41%, 59 Votes)
  • Novak Djokovic (28%, 40 Votes)
  • Rafael Nadal (12%, 17 Votes)
  • Grigor Dimitrov (4%, 6 Votes)
  • Other (4%, 6 Votes)
  • Milos Raonic (3%, 5 Votes)
  • Andy Murray (2%, 3 Votes)
  • Kei Nishikori (2%, 3 Votes)
  • Tomas Berdych (1%, 2 Votes)
  • Stanislas Wawrinka (1%, 2 Votes)
  • David Ferrer (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 143

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Who will win the 2014 US Open?

  • Serena Williams (38%, 22 Votes)
  • Eugenie Bouchard (17%, 10 Votes)
  • Maria Sharapova (16%, 9 Votes)
  • Other (12%, 7 Votes)
  • Petra Kvitova (7%, 4 Votes)
  • Simona Halep (5%, 3 Votes)
  • Li Na (2%, 1 Votes)
  • Jelena Jankovic (2%, 1 Votes)
  • Victoria Azarenka (2%, 1 Votes)
  • Agnieszka Radwanska (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Angelique Kerber (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 58

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Will Roger Federer win another Grand Slam title before the end of his career?

View Results

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Bjorn and Connos, 1978 US Open final

Extract from Inside tennis – a season on the pro tour by Peter Bodo and June Harrison

The swelling began on Saturday night, shortly after Bjorn Borg mastered Vitas Gerulaitis in the semifinal. It grew like a small bubble of pain beneath the callus on the joint of his right thumb. Borg phoned his New York physician late that night and took an oral anti-inflammatory drug. But when he woke up on Sunday morning, the thumb had worsened; the pain increased. When Borg tied to hold a racquet with his customary grip, he found that the pain made it impossible. Once more he called his doctor, who gave the player an injection of Marcaine, a strong anesthetic, at 3:30 in the afternoon, less than three hours before the match.
Borg did not consider defaulting. An international television audience waited. The stadium was sold out. The dim vision of a Grand Slam still flickered before him.

The lights are already on as the men’s final gets underway. It is not quite dark, but it will be soon, and the scoreboard atop the stadium will rear up into the night like a monument to the defiance of Jimmy Connors – American hero, American scapegoat.
It is clear from the start that Borg is not himself. In one of his early servoce games, the racquet flies from his injured hand and clatters along the court. He watches Connors’ winning return with his arms dangling at his sides.

Connors leads the first set 6-4 and leads the second 5-2. It is dark now, Connors is prancing at the baseline, his jaws working over a piece of gum. It is time to throw himself into one final, savage round.

Just moments earlier, resting in his chair during the changeover, Connors had been telling himself,

“Don’t let up in any way. This is how you won in the past, and this is the only way you’re ever going to win? Don’t let up. Set up and 5-2 – hell! This is Bjorn Borg, and he can get back into it at any time. Rip the ball! Don’t let up – rip that fucking ball.”

Connors is still prancing, fixing Borg with a stare as fierce as any volley or smash in his hot, hard world. At the far end of the court, Borg is implacable, his eyes hidden beneath the omnipresent headband. He is too pround to show his pain, too cool to show any emotion, even as he faces Connors’ little dance of death.

The noise from the stands is non longer polite, encouraging applause, but a heavy, rolling din filled with unhealthy mental excitement. It drowns out the thunder of still another jet passing over the stadium. The Swedish boy stands with his weight on one leg and his shoulders slanted, still as Michelangelo’s David. He rubs the grip of his racquet with his fingers.
He knows that look in Connors’ eyes, but he doesn’t want to think about it, because he has won so often and played so well when he ignored things like that. So he just waits, aware of the pain increasing as the anesthtic wears off, sensing that he is about to lose the match and his hope for the Grand Slam. But he is not disturbed by that either, because in the end it is just another tennis match.

The game begins. Both men strike the ball furiously, sending it from corner to corner, line to line, exchanging points until 40-30. The next maniacal rally ends with Connors hitting a forehand just centimeters behind the baseline. He shakes his head violently. It is deuce. The retching sound of his effort fills the stadium, and he hits a service winner for advantage. It is set point. There is a short rally. Borg drives Connors back from the net and then comes forward behind a heavy forehand to the backhand corner. Connors barely manages to float it back; the ball bounces high in the midcourt area but the backhand is mistimed, and Borg bangs the ball into the net.
Connors has the second set. Before long he has the third as well, to win 6-4 6-2 6-2. Borg did not hold a single break pint agasint Connors in the entire match; his opponent put a remarkable 80 percent of his first serves into play. It was a reversal of the Wimbledon final.