Tony Pickard and Stefan Edberg, Wimbledon 1991

By Arthur Brocklebank, Tennis Week, 2008

The fox is becoming extinct in England, but deep in middle England, Nottinghamshire an old silver fox sits alive and well in his armchair reflecting on his days of coaching Stefan Edberg and reviewing the state of the spot today. Tony Pickard coached six-time Grand Slam champion Edberg, who was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2004 and is set to make his senior debut on the Blackrock tour this year. The 42-year-old Swede will compete in Paris, France at The Trophée Jean-Luc Lagardère, September 18-21 and at the Royal Albert Hall in London, England at The BlackRock Masters Tennis, December 2-7.

Pickard still has that energy in his heart to stoke up a burning desire for anyone in the tennis profession who wants to listen and learn. He owns one of the most impressive coaching resumes in the nation, having worked with Edberg, Marat Safin, Petr Korda and a Canadian, oppphhhh I mean an adopted Brit, Greg Rusedski. Edberg amassed 41 singles titles, including two Wimbledon crowns, and 18 doubles championships in his career. Edberg and John McEnroe are the only men in Open Era history to hold the No. 1 ranking in both singles and doubles simultaneously.

It was a turn of circumstances at the beginning that would bring Tony Pickard and Stefan Edberg together. I asked Pickard, when he started playing tennis himself.

“My parents never played tennis. I was nuts on football. It all started by an accident when I was 14 years old. I loved football but one day I jumped into a swimming pool and landed on a broken bottle that cut my foot. I was in a wheelchair for six months. My sister took me to the tennis court where she played and I watched. I thought this is an easy game to play so I took it up,” Pickard says with a bemused smile as he gazed up to the ceiling.

Pickard soon played county tennis and later played several times at Wimbledon. He represented his country in the Davis cup and captained the under 21 and Davis Cup teams for Great Britain.

One incident that stands out in his playing career was in Rome at the 1963 Italian Open. He was playing the big-serving New Zealander Ian Crookenden in the Italian Championships and not only the crowd, but the line judges were losing interest.

Pickard takes up the story: “It was a match point. He served and it was at least nine inches long. The umpire looked to the baseline judge for the call, but he was turned round buying an ice cream over the fence.’ Crookenden won the point and went on to win the match. I felt as sick as a pig,” says Pickard.

Was there any possibility of an appeal I asked?

“In those days you could never appeal or you would have been brought up before a governing body committee and banned. A protest was not possible.”
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Andy Murray Davis Cup debut in 2005

From Andy Murray: tennis ace, by John Murray

There was a huge prize at stake for Britain in their Euro/Africa Zone One round two tie against Israel. The winner would have the chance to get into the World Group – the place where everyone wanted to be. With British No. 1 Tim Henman not available, Team GB faced a tough task, especially as the tie was being held not on home shores, but in Tel Aviv.

On day one Greg Rusedski got them off to the best possible start with a three-set win over Harel Levy, but Noam Okun leveled it with victory against Alex Bogdanovic. Those results meant the doubles match would be even more important, with the winner likely to take out the tie – as if there wasn’t enough pressure on Andy already in his Davis Cup debut!

The Scot’s doubles partner David Sherwood was also making his first appearance. Their opponents, on the other hand, had experience by the bagful. Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram had won doubles titles all over the globe and, in 2008, would go on to be Australian Open champions.

Even so, British captain Jeremy Bates had faith that the two youngsters could do the job and, from his very first shot – a winning return – Andy showed he wasn’t going to be fazed by the occasion. They won the first set 6-4 and then the second as well in a tie-break. Israel hit back in the third set, but another tie-break success was enough for GB to claim a memorable victory.

Andy may have been Britain’s youngest ever Davis Cup player, but he had competed like a veteran.

That result did indeed prove crucial as Rusedski finished the job off against Okun the next day. Sherwood was then drafted in for the final singles match, losing to Levy, but the outcome didn’t matter. Britain were heading back to the World Group playoffs and, in Andy, they had a player who had the potential to take them all the way to the top.

Karen Khachanov

Pro tennis was back in Lille last week, three months after the historic Davis Cup final. The Open du Nord, a $15,000 Futures tournament, is of course much less prestigious than the Davis Cup, but it is always fun to get to watch some live tennis. Lower tournaments are also a good opportunity to discover young players in the making like Karen Khachanov and Quentin Halys, or some charismatic veteran players like Rudy Coco.

This tournament was full of surprises: the number 1 seed, Boy Westerhof (No. 1) was upset in the first round by qualifier Corentin Denolly; in the quarterfinals the defending champion Yannick Mertens (No. 263) and Jonathan Eysseric (No. 278) were beaten by Constant Lestienne (No. 459) and Quentin Halys (No. 619).

Khachanov, Lestienne, or Halys Coco, who will join Ronald Agenor, Greg Rusedski and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga as winner of the Open du Nord?

Le tennis pro était de retour à Lille la semaine dernière, trois mois après la finale de Coupe Davis. Bien sûr, l’Open du Nord, un tournoi Futures 15 000$, est bien moins prestigieux que la Coupe Davis, mais c’est toujours agréable de regarder du tennis live, quelque soit le niveau, non? De plus les tournois Challengers et Futures permettent de découvrir de jeunes espoirs, comme Karen Khachanov et Quentin Halys, ou des vétérans charismatiques comme Rudy Coco.

Les surprises se sont enchaînées durant le tournoi: Boy Westerhof, tête de série numéro 1 et 252ème mondial a été battu par le qualifié Corentin Denolly, 17 ans et 1036ème mondial dès le 1er tour; en quarts de finale, le tenant du titre, Yannick Mertens (No. 263) et Jonathan Eysseric (No. 278) ont été battus respectivement par Constant Lestienne (No. 459) et Quentin Halys (No. 619).

Khachanov, Lestienne, Halys ou Coco, qui va rejoindre Ronald Agenor, Greg Rusedski et Jo-Wilfried Tsonga au palmarès de l’Open du Nord?

Karen Khachanov (No. 363) vs Constant Lestienne (No. 459)

The 18 yr old Russian takes the control of the match from the first point on, and wins easily 6-4 6-0. Khachanov, whose biggest weapons are his powerful forehand and serve, has already 3 victories over top 100 players (Hanescu, Ramos and Tipsarevic). I guess we’ll hear more from him in the years to come.

Le jeune Russe prend le contrôle du match dès le premier point, et l’emporte facilement 6-4 6-0. Khachanov, dont les points forts sont le coup droit et le service, a déjà 3 top 100 à son tableau de chasse (Hanescu, Ramos et Tipsarevic). Un joueur à suivre, qui pourrait faire parler de lui sur le circuit ATP dans les années à venir.


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Henri Leconte

My reports on the Optima Open are finally online! This match took place on Saturday, August 16th (read my complete Optima Open report here).

Second match of the day: crowd favorite Henri Leconte against Greg Rusedski.
Rusedski won the match 7-5 6-3 but as expected Henri stole the show on court (let’s say Rusedski is not really a charismatic player…)

Rusedski and Leconte were both Grand Slam finalists: the Brit lost to Pat Rafter in the 1997 US Open final, and Henri lost the infamous Roland Garros 1988 final to Mats Wilander.
Leconte is now a commentator for Eurosport and has recently launched a padel club in Manosque, South of France.
As for Rusedski if I’m not wrong, he’s involved with junior players but I’m not so sure about that.

Henri Leconte

Greg Rusedski

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Optima Open 2014 report

Optima Open

I spent a day in Knokke-Heist, Belgium, last month to attend the third day of the Optima Open, the Belgian stop of the ATP Champions Tour. It was the second seniors event I attended this year after the World Tennis Day showdown in London last March (find all the recap here).

Situated in the heart of the country’s Flemish-speaking Flanders region, Knokke-Heist is considered to be one of Belgium’s most exclusive and affluent seaside resorts. Knokke-Heist is the perfect base for exploring the enchanting Zwin region, on the Belgian-Dutch border.

Knokke

Knokke

Knokke

The tournament has the typical senior event format: 2 groups of 3 players, with the winners of each group facing each other in final. This year the Optima Open also featured a star-studded mixed doubles exhibition event: with three former world number one, winnners of 20 singles Grand Slam titles in total, and tennis’ greatest entertainer, Mansour Bahrami completing the foursome.

Group A Group B Special guests
Fabrice Santoro Xavier Malisse Kim Clijsters
Greg Rusedski Goran Ivanisevic Monica Seles
Henri Leconte Pat Cash John McEnroe
Mansour Bahrami
Sabine Appelmans
Dominique Monami

All results on the official website (Malisse beat Santoro in the final)

Optima Open

Optima Open

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Marin Cilic

One week before the start of the US Open, I did attend the Optima Open, the Belgian stop of the ATP Champions Tour. Goran Ivanisevic was taking part to the tournament, and after his match against Pat Cash, he talked a bit about his protege Marin Cilic, said Cilic was playing really well and that he had high expectations for the US Open. I thought, well we gonna have a Djokovic-Federer final, and Cilic could maybe reach the last eight.

I’ve watched Cilic live more than once (at practice with Djokovic, Ivanisevic and Becker at Roland Garros this year, at Bercy last year after his doping ban, at Roland Garros in 2012) and never thought he could be one day a Grand Slam champ: too nonchalant, lack of focus, one-dimensional playing style… How wrong I was.

As for Nishikori, I’ve watched him playing twice at Bercy last year (against Benneteau and Tsonga), and at practice with Michael Chang at Roland Garros this year.
Nishikori is a player I enjoy watching: quick feet, good hands but he clearly lacks power and is sometimes too naive in his shots’ selection.

Cilic and Nishikori met in the final on Monday and the match was even more one-sided than the Williams-Wozniacki final the day before. Nishikori was paralyzed with nerves, whereas Cilic was ready to jump on the opportunity to capture a Slam, and became the unlikeliest winner of a men’s Grand Slam title in a decade, as New York Times wrote.

What did you think of the final? Do you think Cilic will be a one Slam wonder or this major win will be first of many? What about Nishikori, will he bounced back? Please share your thoughts.

Here some pictures of the final:

US Open 2014 Kei Nishikori vs. Marin Cilic final matchup

US Open 2014 Kei Nishikori vs. Marin Cilic final matchup

US Open 2014 Kei Nishikori vs. Marin Cilic final matchup
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