Michael Chang and Stefan Edberg, Roland Garros 1989

From Love Thirty, three decades of champions – published in 1990

The Roland Garros Stadium in Paris has come to be regarded as a graveyard for the American dream. Few Americans are attuned to sliding about on Europe’s slow, loose-top surfaces and patiently manoeuvring for their points. In terms of temperament and background, the nation’s leading players have mostly favoured hustle and bustle, fast action, and short points. It may be that a series of six Davis Cup defeats in Paris in consecutive years (1928-33) gave Americans an enduring, negative attitude towards the alien and hostile territory of Roland Garros. There ensued, with a hint of sour grapes, sporadic comments disparaging the French Open championships. Some Americans avoided the tournament, or regarded it merely as rigorous preparation for Wimbledon. Whatever the reasons, until 1989 only five Americans had won the men’s title, all between 1938 and 1955, and in the next 33 years only five more had managed to reach the final. It took a little Chinaman to show them how to win the toughest of all tournaments. […]

Chang‘s parents, both reasearch chemists, have done their best to merge Eastern and Western cultural values and the blend is reflected in his tennis. Moreover, Chang has been a devout Christian since 1988. He is adamant that it is for the Lord to decide whether he wins or loses: but equally adamant that he will not get a nod from the Almighty unless he bends mind and muscle with total commitment. […]

Agassi, almost two years Chang’s senior, reached the French Open and US semi-finals in 1988 and looked the obvious man to carry the American flag when Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe passed it on. Chang gave us pause for thought in 1989 but Agassi may have the more exciting future if he can tighten his concentration and, tactically, learn to respect the odds – which should come naturally to any man born and brought up at Las Vegas.
Of the other players born in 1970 or later, four could be particularly worth watching: Jim Courier and Pete Sampras, both Americans, Goran Ivanisevic (a Yugoslav from Split, which also produced Nikki Pilic, one of the most engagingly argumentative chaps to enliven the early years of open competition), and Sergi Bruguera of Barcelona, who charmed us by the manner of his progress to the last 16 of the 1989 French championships. The long-limbed Bruguera has an elegant command of spins and angles and could develop into an enchanting clay-court expert. But one never knows what the future will have to say to the young.

Back to Chang, whose mother travels with him as ‘road manager’ and also looks after the cooking and laundry, joins him on fishing trips, and teaches him Chinese. In 1987, at the age of 15 years and 5 months, Chang became the youngest winner of the US boys’ 18 singles title. This was much to the credit of his fist coach, his father, a self-taught player who had taken up the game two years after Chang was born. Later, Chang was to benefit from the acquired wisdom of Brian Gottfried and Jose Higueras. His 1987 boys’ title earned him a place in the US Championships, in which he beat Paul McNamee. In 1988 he turned professional and headed for Paris, where he was overawed and given a hiding by McEnroe. But Chang had Leconte on the ropes for two spectacular sets at Wimbledon and at Flushing Meadow he beat the seeded Jonas Svensson and came from behind to win two consecutive five-set matches and reach the last 16. Agassi stopped him.

None of this prepared us – nor, one suspects, did it totally prepare Chang – for what happened in Paris in 1989. He had been a professional for a little less than a year and had played in only four Grand Slam events. But he came from behind to beat the first and third seeds: Ivan Lendl by 4-6 4-6 6-3 6-3 6-3 in the round of 16 and Stefan Edberg by 6-1 3-6 4-6 6-4 6-2 in the final. The Lendl match lasted four hours and 39 minutes, the final three hours and 41 minutes. At the risk of being too glib, one suggests that Lendl was outsmarted, Edberg outlasted.

Lendl did not take enough tactical initiatives. He seemed to think that if he kept pounding away from the baseline the lad would eventually be too tired and too inexperienced to do anything but lose. Chang did tire, too, but only in the legs – and Lendl was not cute enough to exploit blatant indications of cramp. Mentally, Chang was the sharper of the two when it mattered. Serving at 4-3 and 15-30 in the fifth set, Chang surprised Lendl with an underarm service that left Lendl embarrassingly exposed at the net. When Lendl was serving at 3-5 and 15-40 he missed his first service – and Chang wobbled forward on rubber-like legs to receeive the second ball while standing between the baseline and service line. The crowd roared at the little chap’s cheek. Lendl paused, to think about it: and then served another fault and was out of the tournament. Those two ploys by Chang were legitimate tests of Lendl’s alertness, nerves, and technical resilience; and there were no complaints from the ever-pragmatic Czechoslovakian.

The final was shorter because Edberg’s forecourt game abbreviated the rallies, one way or the other. In the first set Chang was all over him. Then Edberg took charge, finding his rythm with service, approach shot, and volley – and playing discreetly aggressive clay-court tennis to lead by two sets to one. The crux came in the fourth set. After an early break each way, Edberg had a total of ten more break points, the last of which would have left him serving for the match. But it was Chang who broke through, with the help of some good returns and, from Edberg, a few tired errors. That was how it was in the fifth set, too. Some of the spring had gone from Edberg’s legs and he was no longer quite confident enough on the forehand or quite quick enough when going to the net. But it was a classic final, an exemplary contrast between a nimble and crafty baseliner and a specialist in the service and volley.

Not that Chang could be dismissed as merely a baseliner. That was the basis of his game but he was more versatile and assertive than the likes of Bjorn Borg, Guillermo Vilas, Mats Wilander, and Lendl. His groundtrokes were admiably sound, whether he was going cross-court or down the line. Given a short ball, Chang went for a winner or a penetrating approach shot – and, rather like Ken Rosewall, ghosted his way to the net as imperceptibly as a gentle breeze on a summer night. He seemed to have the knack of being in two places at once: and was impressively secure with his volleys and overheads. Chang took the ball early when returning service. As he is only 5ft 8in tall this was particularly prudent when he was challenged by Edberg’s high-kicking ball.

Chang’s outstanding qualities lay in the brain and the legs. He was always thinking and never missed a trick. His quick anticipation and sturdy legs enabled him to parry most thrusts, until his opponent made a mistake or gave him the chance for a telling riposte – a passing shot or lob, or a sudden acceleration of pace. There was logic in everything Chang did and displayed an instinctive flair for reading his opponent’s game and making astute, split-second decisions. Against Lendl and Edberg in turn he gave wonderfully precocious deadspan performances. Ruminating on Chang’s contemplative bent for fishing one felt a wave a sympathy for fish.

Chang was brought up on hard courts but may excel only on clay, as he did in 1989. He will grow stronger but is unlikely to get much taller. One cannot be optimistic about his chances of acquiring the power to win major titles on the faster surfaces.
We noted that, for all Chang’s cunning and tenacity, he was outgunned by Tim Mayotte in the 1989 Wimbledon and US championships. Like Wilander and Boris Becker, who also won Grand slam championships at the age of 17, Chang has built a big reputation on small foundations – in terms of experience, that is. But his place in the game’s history is already unique: and that has to be a comforting feeling for a God-fearing young angler who hooked a couple of very big fish while he was still settling down on the bank.

By David Irvine, World of Tennis 1986

Mats Wilander won the men’s title for the second time in four years. Wilander, at 17 the youngest player to become a French singles champion in 1982, confessed a conscious willingness to present himself to the public as “more interesting” than he had been hitherto. In that aim he undoubtedly succeeded. The Swede, who had not won a tournament of any sort since lifting the Australian crown in Melbourne six months previously, delighted a sell-out crowd in prising the championship from Ivan Lendl’s grasp by a margin: 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 – which accurately reflected the pattern of play. Wilander’s failures in Hamburg and Rome, where he was mesmerised by Miloslav Mecir, had suggested that his career might be in decline. McEnroe, Lendl and Yannick Noah, who had shown touches of his 1983 form in winning the Italian championship, all appeared better bets than Wilander for the men’s title. Only the Swedish press corps had absolute faith in their man, because “this is the one he really wants”. All the same, Wilander must have been mighty relieved to find himself in the opposite half of the draw to Mecir, his bete noire, and among non-Swedish journalists there was still no discernible shift in the odds on Wilander until he routed Germany’s golden boy, Boris Becker, in the second round with a display which cast an entirely different light on the 20-year-old’s attitude.

If Wilander’s positive play delighted, his frank dealings with the press proved more intriguing still. “There have been times recently when I’ve been very bored with tennis”, he admitted. “But I’ve been looking forward to the French for some months. I agree I play well in big events – I don’t know why. Maybe deep inside I’m not concentrating 100 percent at some other tournaments.” He acknowleged that the French public had disliked the way he had played in winning the title in 1982. “And so did I”, he added. “Unfortunately that was the only way I knew how to play then. Now I’m trying to change. I want to be more interesting.”

During the World Team Cup in Dusseldorf the week before the French, McEnroe had questioned Wilander’s motivation and speculated whether the Swede really wanted to be the best. “I’m trying as hard as I can to be no.1”, was Wilander’s assurance, “but if it means practising eight hours a day I’m not prepared to do that. It’s not worth it.” Wilander had a more direct answer to McEnroe in the semi-finals , where he beat him 6-1, 7-5, 7-5, matching the American for touch at the net and then destroying him with the accuracy of his passing shots.

Lendl‘s progress to his sixth defeat in seven Grand Slam finals was even more convincing than Wilander’s for at no time did he drop a set. When the crunch came, though, the Czech’s serve let him down, and once again his inflexibility left him without an alternative strategy to fall back on. His appearance – gaunt, hollow-eyed and nervous – revealed the enormous strain he felt. Wilander, though, played with almost carefree abandon, his subtle command of the conditions (seen best in the confident way he spiralled so many lobs into the wind) underlining his absolute belief in himself.

Sampras and Agassi

French sports daily L’Equipe celebrates the 10th anniversary of the FedererNadal 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)

Despite the fact that Nadal won more than 2 out of 3 of their meetings, their duel still fascinates. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal played a record 8 Grand Slam finals against each other.

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.

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Article by Tennis Magazine, April 2014, translated by Tennis Buzz. Read part 1 here and part 2 here.

Georges Deniau

Former coach of the French Fed Cup and Davis Cup teams

What can these former number one bring to today’s great champions?

1 – On their game system in general: a more or less methodical but sharp review because their vision is of the highest level of our sport. It can only be to do a little more or a little less this and that (depending on their qualities, surface, weather, their opponent etc.) and take everything into account (strokes, game areas, duration of rallyes, initiatives, variations, improvisations, adaptations, percentage). With their sharp eye it can bring a decisive bonus on a specific point!

2 – On their personal technique, it is unlikely that they have to intervene. Perhaps a detail, with the coach in place and the desire of the player himself of course.

3 – For the training itself, they had different habits . However, they may suggest things and bring new life with enthusiasm and passion, the ingredients necessary to be effective.

4 – In the mental area where these three cracks (Djokovic, Federer and Murray) are top notch, with Nadal, it is an additional challenge. Prove themselves, prove to their team, and to the skeptics they were right. Any excess of zeal could have the opposite effect: doubt. It won’t be the case . A “detail” will perhaps have done difference. And in this case, it will not be a simple “detail” anymore…

Patrice Hagelauer

Former coach of Yannick Noah

Basically it comes from a need to be reassured. They seek confidence and serenity they sometimes lost and need to confide in a champion, who is somehow their equal. I don’t see that as a work of a coach, it is more psychology, it is more on the emotional level than on the playing level. With these legends, the champions of the caliber of Federer and Djokovic can speak freely and confide. This is very different from the work of a coach who is there all year long and who has not this experience.

Federer is not look not looking for someone who accompanies him on the court, he wants someone to help him feel good. Sometimes a champion simply needs another speech, or the same things said otherwise. Because all that really lies in the field of communication. Former champions see things and analyze them with many
objectivity. They are not in emotions like a coach who lives these situations for the first times can be.

All these experiences make me think of Yannick Noah, who had many discussions with Arthur Ashe, when I was coaching him. These moments were essential for Yannick because Arthur had a role model. He was a character who was shining on an off court. The discussions they had and that could be very intimate really triggered many things with in him, confidence and self-esteem. For me too, in my work as a coach, it brought me a lot. It comforted me in my approach.

Yannick Noah

I was surprised to see Boris and Stefan back to the circuit. But it makes sense. They can bring, share. Boris has experienced amazing things… And they are available. I talked to Boris I can tell you that I feel he’s really motivated.

Paul-Henri Mathieu

Coached by Mats Wilander between January and September 2008

The big difference in the speech of these former players is that they are used to these important situations and they know what to expect. That is something you can not talk about with a coach who has not experienced these major events. In the matches preparation it was interesting for me to have the opinion of a former great player.

At the beginning of my practices with Mats and especially during matches, I felt the need to impress him because he was not everybody else! I was a little scared at first, afraid of being judged, but this disappeared after a few weeks.
What is undeniable is that these champions have a background in more in comparison to another coach. But it’s not enough, otherwise it would be too easy, everyone would take a former player!
What’s difficult for a former player who becomes a coach is to find the right balance and remember you’re a coach and not a player anymore. Some former players understand it very well and others will have difficulty to adapt, and to put themselves in the player’s skin. To coach is something else, it is a full-time job.

To coach is not to judge others, it is also to feed oneself from the player. The former champions know that and in general it works well. But it is not so easy. Everyone is not able to embark on a new career, because it takes time and energy. With stopped our collaboration with Mats, because I needed someone full-time and he had other obligations.

Wotjek Fibak

Former champion, former coach of Ivan Lendl and Djokovic’s advisor during the 2013 US Open

For me, the cases of Becker, Edberg and Lendl are very different. Djokovic, when he started working with Becker was at his best. Technically , tactically and physically. He had not lost since a few months. The only thing to expect from Becker is that he doesn’t change anything, waste anything. The bonus, for Djokovic is to have a star in his box, and have him as friend. This is not a need, it is more a trend now than a necessity…

Edberg, he came alongside Federer in a crisis, or just out of a crisis. But he is like all the Swedes, except Wilander: as much as Becker is open, lively and funny, Stefan is shy, and do not talk much. But Federer is a little “in love” with him and Edberg is his idol. Edberg brings his presence and can make Federer a little more aggressive. It worked in Australia until Nadal. But Federer can’t beat him by coming to the net or playing rallyes, so… Becker and Edberg are financially independent. With them, it is more a story of fun and friendship than real coaching.

It is really different for Lendl. Murray needed Ivan’s help mentally, physically and tactically. He improved everything. Djokovic and Federer, what could they change?

But I am very happy with this trend. It’s great!

Sam Sumyk

Victoria Azarenka‘s coach

As I am someone curious, all these experiences interest me. We must be patient before making a true assessment .
Tennis is often played on details, so the help Edberg can bring to Federer or Becker to Djokovic is certainly on details. It can be technical or psychological. It may be taks about the game or small changes in all the parameters of the game. This is the advantage of high level it is not just the technique of the forehand or backhand, there are a lot of parameters that come into play.

All these champions have experienced so many things, they went through so many emotions. They have a
background more important than ours, that mine for example. They have an asset that lambda coach do not have: the anticipation. They understand better what is going to happen, they have more instinct yo know how the player will react on different situations. Even champions of the caliber of Federer or Djokovic can still improve and change their game. Their is no limit, it is only a matter of will.

Players have the right to go for it, if it’s allow them to improve. When you engage in a certain way, you don’t always know what will happen. You are still a little in doubt, but it is positive, it moves forward.
With Vika, we experimented with Amélie Mauresmo, it seemed interesting to have a woman with us, to have an outside view, someone with her experience, someone Vika would respect. It was worth it, and it was rewarding for everyone: Vika was able to share with Amélie, but I found it also interesting for me.

Arnaud Di Pasquale

I don’t think we can talk of trend. Be careful, work with a former great it’s not the miracle solution. The high level, this is not an exact science. What’s true is that the higher you go, the more you need to unlock things that are difficult to perceive, to feel. The idea, in my opinion , for these players is to have an advisor more than a coach. They expect a speech, a psychological intake more than a technical input. Moreover, it seems that they rely on these former champions on specific periods.
Often, they already have a full-time coach. To not have been a great champion is not a disavantage for a coach. It is a bonus to surround themselves with someone who has experienced the highest level, but the contribution of the great champion does not replace the role of the coach. You can learn how to do this or that shot even if you were not able to do it yourself at very high level, the French system proves it. There’s a lot of theory in the efficency of shots.

Article by Tennis Magazine, April 2014, translated by Tennis Buzz. Read part 1 here.

BNP Paribas Open Indian Wells March 2014
Roger Federer – Stefan Edberg

Roger Federer:

Edberg was one of my childhood hero. He was not really sure of himself, but he was very flattered, he came to Dubai and we spent a week together. I’m really happy he found time and desire to work with me. He’s really excited I’m sure he can bring me a different perspective.
I don’t see him as a coach, I see him more as a source of inspiration, a legend who spends time with me and taks with my coach Severin Lüthi and me. I’m not 15 anymore, he won’t revolutionize my game. I did not hire Edberg for that. For me, it is something else, a global thing: it’s an inspiration, a motivation to be able to listen to him and talk to him.
It is also interesting to see what he has to say about the evolution of my game towards the net.
I’ve tried a lot of things, I have some ideas but I’m not sue I can do them in matches. It is interesting to see if it’s still possible to do many serves and volleys on today’s slower courts, or if there are other ways for me to go to the net. You think he will dump me if I don’t go to the net?

Stefan Edberg:

It was a real surprise when I received a call from Roger asking me to help him. I was so far away from the tennis world. But Roger is someone so special on and off-court, someone I respect so much that I said “ok, think about it!”
But it’s such an opportunity to work with him… Maybe I can bring something do that he stays in tennis as long as possible because he is extraordinary for our sport. As long as he is healthy and motivated, he has the potential to do great things. The road will be long , but I think he is still good enough to beat anyone.
I do it because I think I can really bring him something. And maybe that little something can bring back Roger to where he was some time ago.
Roger is on court, but maybe hearing a different voice, different speeches from someone who has experienced this situation in the past, will be effective because there are still some things you can work on, details that can be decisive.

Novak Djokovic – Boris Becker

Novak Djokovic:

He can help me progress on a lot of aspects of my game: serve, return, volley. But his most important help is on the mental part. He knows what I feel, the challenges I’m facing, what I’m going through in difficult times.
I was looking for someone who had known similar situations, and I thought of him.
Of course, tennis has evolved, and today’s game is based on today is based on the baseline. But I think with his game, his volleys and the aggressive style he developed, he can really help me.
When you change something in your life, it is always risky, but I do not want to think like that. I chose not to be in fear of change. These are negative feelings.
I am also very pleased to see all these former legends return as coach.
This is very positive for our sport. They won so many Grand Slam tournaments, they have all been number one, they were champions, they know what we’re going through, in the Grand Slams in particular. They can identify to us.

Boris Becker:

I will not go into the details of things we are working on. But because I reached ten Grand Slam finals, I know exactly what a player feels in the final stages of a tournament. As he has already been world number 1, with six Grand Slam titles, I will not teach him how to make a backhand or a forehand. But I think tactically, strategically and mentally, there is room for progress, and that’s why he called me.

Marin Cilic – Goran Ivanisevic

Marin Cilic:

Goran gave me lots of advice on my service. He told me to simplify my gesture “throws the ball in the air and
strikes!” Before, I was thinking too much before serving. But we worked hard on it, and it seems to work. Goran knows what I have work to get to the top. He also brings me all his experience and all the things he has experienced in his career.

Kei Nishikori – Michael Chang

Kei Nishikori:

Michael Chang knows players very well. He gives me great advices on tactics and a lot of confidence. My game will not be fundamentally turned upside down. Michael was part of the top 10 for many years. My goal is to reach the top 10 this is my dream. I hope to learn a lot from him.

Photo by Cindy