From Love Thirty, three decades of champions – published in 1990
Panatta had much in common with Ilie Nastase in that both were under-achievers who never fully exploited their talent but gave immense pleasure and attracted huge followings. The obvious differences between them lay in playing method and conduct. Nastase was the more flamboyant competitor but his behavior was often offensive. Panatta had more power and his deportment was elegantly disciplined as his tennis. He was a heart-throb who milked the role in an engaging way, rather as John Newcombe did. His teenaged fans could admire the man and his tennis without the reservations necessary in Nastase’s case. Panatta was a model of the tall, dark and handsome hero or, to flaunt another cliché, the strong, silent man. At the same time he could be demonstrative in the Italian way and the ladies did not mind at all when he put on his sulky look or tossed back his forelock.
At six feet and almost 13 stone Panatta was a fine athlete, though the professional sportsman was always slightly at odds with his well developed taste for food and wine and the dolce vita. He was a renowned, attractive sportsman who fitted perfectly into fashionable Roman society. When he appeared at the Foro Italico the public’s excitement was so passionately partisan – to the point of conducting matches rather than merely watching them – that players from overseas felt no more popular than early Christians did at the Colosseum. In Panatta’s era the crowd’s hostility towards his opponents was sometimes frightening. Nor was justice consistently evenhanded. But all that was not Panatta’s fault. His presence simply kindled emotional fires that occasionally out of control.
On the other hand one would not wish Italians to be anything but warmly appreciative of tennis players whose brush-strokes respect the nation’s proud artistic traditions. Panatta was not the first.
Two particularly interesting characters 30 years ago were Beppe Merlo and Nicola Pietrangeli. Merlo was a dapper little chap who defied most of the conventions except in his ability to put the ball where his opponents didn’t want it and, often, didn’t expect it. He used a short grip and had no more than a hint of a backswing. No more than a hint of a service, either. He just prodded the ball into play. Merlo’s racket was so loosely strung that his strokes were noiseless save for a muffled plunk. But he was an artful nudger commanding a deceptive variety of spin. Merlo’s tennis was so eccentric, so baffling, that opponents ran the risk of getting their legs knotted.
By contrast Pietrangeli was a classically conventional clay-courter. Born in Tunis of Franco-Russian parents, he could have been a top-class footballer. Instead, Pietrangeli played and won more Davis Cup matches than any other player, took Italy to two challenge rounds with the help of a giant called Orlando Sirola, and twice won the French championship. He played with enviable economy of effort and had such a deft touch that occasionally, like Manuel Santana, he could make a drop-shot spin back over the net. In 1962 Pietrangeli and Nikki Pilic established a Wimbledon record with a 46-game set. Pietrangeli was also an active socialite who often stayed up half the night, arguing that there was nothing much to do in the mornings except sleep.
Panatta first caught ou attention when he beat Clark Graebner in the 1968 Queensland championships in Brisbane. It soon became evident that for all his size and strength and his agility at the net, Panatta was most at ease when using the drop-and-lob routine to design leisurely, almost languid patterns across sunlit clay courts. […]
His annus mirabilis was 1976, when he won the Italian and French championships in three weeks and – with the help of Corrado Barazzutti in singles and Paolo Bertolucci in doubles – brought Italy the Davis Cup for the only time in the competition’s history. It helped that four out of six ties were played at home. Panatta’s individual triumphs in Rome and Paris were remarkable for the fact that in each tournament he came within a point of losing in the first round.
In Rome, Kim Warwick had no fewer than 11 match points. In Paris, Pavel Hutka, an ambidextruous Czechoslovak newcomer to Roland Garros, had only one match point – but the memory of that point is vivid. Silence fell like a pall over the sunny stadium as Panatta prepared to serve. Fault. Both men fidgeted. There was no other movement, no sound. The birds had stopped singing. Hutka clipped the net cord in returning the second ball. Panatta, dashing in, had to break his stride but hit deep and stood towering at the net, waiting to see what Hutka and the gods had in store for him. Hutka’s lob looked a winner but Panatta’s vertical take-off achieved a feeble return off the frame. Hutka’s passing shot looked a formality but Panatta guessed right, flung himself headlong like a torpedo and hit a winning volley – again, off the frame. Whereupon Panatta crashed on to the court, the ground seemed to shiver and the stadium thundered with applause. That was the most amazing point I ever saw.
After that it was all profit. Even Bjorn Borg, champion in the two preceding years, could not cope with the imaginatively adventurous Panatta, who no longer recognized any distinction between the improbable and the inevitable.
Panatta’s arresting presence and artistically macho tennis also gave us memorable hours of pleasure when he was playing on grass, a surface hostile to the graces. And at Wimbledon in 1976, when he was playing Charlie Pasarell, the was an incident that told us much about the man. As Panatta was about to serve, a sparrow twittered away on the grass a few yards behind him. Distracted, Panatta gently olled a ball towards it, but the sparrow could not or would note move. So Panatta strolled back, picked up the fluffy chirper in a strong yet tender hand, and carefully took it across a spectator. Panatta had a way with birds. He had a way with tennis, too. The game was a means of expression, a form of communion with the ghosts of Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.
French sports daily L’Equipe celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Federer–Nadal rivalry (they first met in Miami in 2004, Nadal won in straight sets 6-3 6-3) and at this occasion they published their 5 best mens tennis rivalries. Here’s their ranking (article by L’Equipe, translation by Tennis Buzz):
1. Federer-Nadal (since 2004)
2. Borg-McEnroe (1978-1981)
Fire and ice, ice and fire. You had to choose your side: the steadfast right-handed or the flamboyant left-handed, the inscrutable one and the temperamental one. For many, this rivalry symbolizes the first golden era of tennis. Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe met only 14 times including 4 Grand Slam finals (head-to-head: 7-7), but they played that epic Wimbledon final in 1980 and the tiebreak everyone remembers (18-16 in the fourth set).
(Check out some pics and videos of Borg and McEnroe renewing their rivalry at the Optima Open here)
3. Sampras-Agassi (1989-2002)
Another opposition of styles and personalities. On one side, Sampras offensive game and underdeveloped charism, on the other side, Agassi‘s thousands lifes and looks, his sharp eye and laser-like groundstrokes. Sampras often prevailed (20-14 overall, 4-1 in Grand Slam finals for Sampras), but they played some memorable matches like their 2001 US Open quarterfinal (4 sets, 4 tiebreakers).
(Check out some pics and videos of Agassi and Sampras renewing their rivalry at the World Tennis London Showdown here)
4. Nadal-Djokovic (since 2006)
The classic of the classics (39 meetings) could climb up the rankings because they could play some other memorable matches like the Australian Open 2012 final (5 hours and 53 minutes of play), the 2011 US Open final and the semifinals in Madrid in 2009 and at Roland Garros last year. The decathletes of modern tennis have already played 6 Grand Slam finals against each other (4 wins for the Spaniard).
5. Edberg-Becker (1984-1996)
We could have chosen a more fiercy rivalry (Lendl-McEnroe ou Connors-McEnroe) but we preferred to remember the time when two pure attacking players ruled the world. Edberg opposed a wonderful technical fluidity to Becker‘s power. The German has often had the upper hand (25-10 in their head-to-head) but Edberg won 2 of their 3 Grand Slam finals, all 3 at Wimbledon.
What do you think of this top 5? Personnaly I would vote Borg-McEnroe for top rivalry because of their bigger contrast in styles, personalities and their mythic Wimbledon 1980 final.
Happy to see Edberg-Becker at number five, back in the days I really loved watching them play at Wimbledon.
Please vote and share your thoughts.
The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club:
Wimbledon guided tour – part 1
Wimbledon guided tour – part 2
Wimbledon Centre Court roof
Court 3 : a new Show Court at Wimbledon
Waiting in the Queue to Wimbledon
Wimbledon Museum: The Queue exhibition
The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum: Player Memorabilia
Fashion and gear:
Rafael Nadal Nike outfit
Roger Federer Nike outfit
Maria Sharapova Nike dress
Serena Williams Nike dress
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga adidas outfit
Andy Murray adidas outfit
Ana Ivanovic adidas dress
Novak Djokovic Uniqlo outfit
A trip down memory lane:
Wimbledon past champions: stats and records
Wimbledon ‘s biggest upsets
Wimbledon memories: Mrs Blanche Bingley Hillyard
Wimbledon memories: Charlotte Cooper Sterry
Wimbledon memories: Dora Boothby
Wimbledon 1969: Laver’s getting beat by an Indian
Rod Laver – John Newcombe Wimbledon 1969
Bjorn Borg – Ilie Nastase Wimbledon 1976
Virginia Wade, Britain’s last Wimbledon champion
1981: First Wimbledon title for McEnroe
1982: Jimmy Connors defeats John McEnroe
1984: John McEnroe defeats Jimmy Connors
Wimbledon 1991: the first Middle Sunday
1992: first Grand Slam for Andre Agassi
1993: Pete Sampras defeats Jim Courier
2000 Wimbledon SF: Pat Rafter defeats Andre Agassi
2000 Wimbledon Final: Pete Sampras defeats Pat Rafter
2001 Wimbledon 4th round: Federer defeats Sampras
Wimbledon 2010: Rafael Nadal defeats Tomas Berdych
The Spirit of Wimbledon: a 4-part documentary by Rolex retracing Wimbledon history
Recap and analysis:
Wimbledon 2013 champion?
- Rafael Nadal (31%, 48 Votes)
- Roger Federer (29%, 45 Votes)
- Novak Djokovic (18%, 28 Votes)
- Andy Murray (18%, 28 Votes)
- Juan Martin Del Potro (1%, 2 Votes)
- David Ferrer (1%, 1 Votes)
- Tomas Berdych (1%, 1 Votes)
- Other (1%, 1 Votes)
- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 154
Wimbledon 2013 champion?
- Serena Williams (56%, 78 Votes)
- Maria Sharapova (19%, 26 Votes)
- Victoria Azarenka (16%, 23 Votes)
- Other (5%, 7 Votes)
- Agnieszka Radwanska (1%, 2 Votes)
- Petra Kvitova (1%, 2 Votes)
- Li Na (1%, 1 Votes)
- Angelique Kerber (1%, 1 Votes)
- Sara Errani (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 140
Need a break between two tennis matches at Roland Garros? Pay a visit to Roland Garros tennis museum (also called Tenniseum), situated near Gate B. It is open to the public free of charge from 10am to 7pm during the tournament.
The museum was created in 2003, I first visited it in 2005 or 2006 but haven’t since.
The permanent exhibition area, that has been totally revamped last year, features some player memorabilia, a few videos as well as some infos about tennis history and the future Roland Garros expansion.
In the first-ever meeting between John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, the 19-year-old McEnroe defeats the 22-year-old Borg 6-3 6-3 in the semifinals of the Stockholm Open in Sweden. The loss marks the first-ever professional loss for Borg to a younger player.
The McEnroe-Borg rivalry becomes one of the greatest in the sport as the two titans square off 14 times in all -each player winning 7 times. The two play in four memorable major finals, McEnroe winning 3 of 4 at the 1980 and 1981 US Open and at Wimbledon in 1981. Their epic final at Wimbledon in 1980 is regarded as one of the greatest matches of all-time, Borg winning his fifth consecutive title in a 1-6 7-5 6-3 6-7 8-6 epic.
McEnroe wins the Stockholm singles title the next day, defeating fellow American Tim Gullikson 6-2 6-2 in the final.”
“Some people compare Sampras to Borg. In my mind, there’s no comparison. Even though Pete is one of the greatest players, of all time, Borg, by his presence alone, gave a lot back to the game. His story was incredible too: Who could ever have imagined such a player coming out of Sweden, a country of only eight million people, with a sub-Arctic climate?
He was the best athlete I’ve ever seen on a tennis court – I don’t think people realize how good an athlete he was. And the fact is, he had to be, because his game was bizarre, in a way: running back and forth, well behind the baseline, hitting ball after ball after ball until an angle opened up or the other guy missed. It was so side-to-side, compared to my forward-forward-forward, but Bjorn was so fast he could make up for it.
The first time we played – in the semifinals at the Stockholm Open in November 78 – was a perfect scenario for me, because it was on fast indoor, which wasn’t well suited to his game, particularly against me. I also think he felt pressure playing me in his hometown, in front of a Swedish crowd who’d gotten excited about the game because of him.
The win in Stockholm was a huge win for me – I was the first player younger than Borg to beat him – but it didn’t make me think one bit less of Bjorn. I just felt that I was with the big boys now – and this was the official coronation.”
And 34 years later, the two tennis legends still provide entertaining matches. (photos by Tennis Buzz, Optima Open 2012).
Extract from John McEnroe’s autobiography, Serious:
On the other side of the draw, Vitas was having a great run: he beat Clerc in the round of 16, Kriek in the quarterfinals, and in the semis, Tanner who had just gotten revenge on Borg for his Wimbledon loss. (It was funny how Vitas could beat guys who had beaten Borg, and yet, when it came down to it, couldn’t handle Borg himself. Tennis always works that way.)
But then in final, Vitas faced me.
I was coming off a year in which I had won three big victories over Connors: in the Masters, at Dallas (where I’d beaten Borg to win the tournament), and now here at the Open, in straight sets in the semis. There’s no other way to say it – I felt it was my time. I was a little uncomfortable about having to play my buddy Vitas in a big match – but not uncomfortable enough to lose.
In the end, it wasn’t even a particularly close match – I won in straight sets 7-5 6-3 and 6-3. In fact, I think that Vitas was more uncomfortable than I was. People were booing because they were angry that Connors and Borg weren’t playing. At that moment they were still the real stars – here we were just two guys from Queens! But I thought it was miraculous: two guys from Queens in the final of the US Open! I was convinced it was never going to happen again (I’m still convinced).
For a couple of years, I’d been working to hang out with Vitas, wondering if I could keep up with him off the court. I’d be trying to be his friend. I looked up to him. And now that I’d blown by him, the victory felt hollow. I had taken something from him. He was still a legitimate number four in the world, but now he was off the mountaintop. Now it was Borg, Connors and me .
Things were never quite the same between Vitas and me after that.