Rafael Nadal, Australian Open 2015

The Happy Slam is already around the corner! On the men’s side, Novak Djokovic will be once again the huge favorite, but the women’s draw is open than ever: all four of the top-ranked have withdrawn from tournaments they entered this week due to injury.

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A trip down memory lane:

Australian Open trivia
The tragedy of Daphne Akhurst
The Norman Brookes Challenge Cup
1960 Australian Open: Neale Feaser, a costly volley
1960: first Grand Slam title for Rod Laver
1960-63 Australian Open: Jan Lehane four time runner-up
1974 Australian Open: Jimmy Connors first Grand Slam title
1975: John Newcombe defeats Jimmy Connors
1981: First Australian Open title for Martina Navratilova
1983: Mats Wilander defeats Ivan Lendl
1984: Mats Wilander defeats Kevin Curren
1985: Edberg wins in Australia and Sweden changes look
1987-1988 Swedes spoil the party
1987: Stefan Edberg defeats Pat Cash
January 11, 1988: first day of play at Flinders Park
1988: Mats Wilander defeats Pat Cash
1990: John McEnroe disqualified!
1990: Ivan Lendl’s last Grand Slam title
1991: Monica Seles first Australian Open title
1994: First Australian Open title for Pete Sampras
1995: Mary Pierce defeats Arantxa Sanchez Vicario
1995 QF: Pete Sampras emotional comeback win over Jim Courier
1995: Andre Agassi defeats Pete Sampras, wins first Australian Open title
1996 Australian Open: Mark Philippoussis defeats Pete Sampras in the 3rd round
Impressions from the 1996 Australian Open: Monica Seles and Boris Becker last Grand Slam titles, Stefan Edberg last appearance in Australia
1997 Australian Open: Pete Sampras defeats Carlos Moya
2001 Australian Open: Pat’s last chance
2001 Australian Open final: Andre Agassi defeats Arnaud Clément
2002: Capriati scripts a stunning sequel in Australia
2003 Australian Open: last Grand Slam title for Agassi
2009 Australian Open: Rafael Nadal defeats Roger Federer

Recap:
Fashion and gear:
Polls:

Who will be the 2016 Australian Open champion?

  • Novak Djokovic (45%, 66 Votes)
  • Roger Federer (22%, 32 Votes)
  • Andy Murray (9%, 13 Votes)
  • Rafael Nadal (9%, 13 Votes)
  • Stan Wawrinka (7%, 10 Votes)
  • Other (3%, 5 Votes)
  • Kei Nishikori (3%, 4 Votes)
  • Tomas Berdych (2%, 3 Votes)
  • Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (1%, 1 Votes)
  • David Ferrer (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Richard Gasquet (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 147

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Who will be the 2016 Australian Open champion?

  • Serena Williams (38%, 41 Votes)
  • Maria Sharapova (22%, 24 Votes)
  • Other (14%, 15 Votes)
  • Garbine Muguruza (9%, 10 Votes)
  • Agnieszka Radwanska (7%, 8 Votes)
  • Angelique Kerber (5%, 5 Votes)
  • Simona Halep (2%, 2 Votes)
  • Petra Kvitova (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Karolina Pliskova (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Venus Williams (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Timea Bacsinszky (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 107

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By Emanuela Audisio, La Repubblica, 10 December 1985

In Australia the least Swedish Swede of all won: Stefan Edberg, the boy to whom Percy Rosberg, Borg’s first coach, had advised to leave the two-handed-backhand behind. “It spoils your natural aggressiveness” (he had said exactly the opposite to Borg).

A clear score: 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, to his friend Mats Wilander in the first all Swedish final in a Grand Slam tournament. It wasn’t much of a fight: the match has always been in Edberg’s hands and far from Wilander, the match time says it all: just an hour and a half.

If the seventeen-year-old Becker had triumphed in Wimbledon, in Melbourne the nineteen-year-old Edberg ruled, showing that now it’s almost exclusively the young who control world tennis. Young but not unripe, though, at least judging their results, even if they are never considered favourite at the start.

Wilander had won in Paris earlier this year, Edberg hadn’t won anything really big so far, even if in ’83 he had been the only player to win the Junior Grand Slam, even if one year later in only two weeks he had climbed the computer rankings from 83 to 17, even if he had won the golden medal in the Los Angeles Olympics, even if he had beaten Jarryd and Wilander in Milan in March ’84, even if he had swept Connors away in the US indoors in Memphis.

A good player, everybody said, and with an even better second serve than his first, more similar to McEnroe than to Borg, but a player who has often dreadful gaps in the match. Little Swedish, little patient, one who doesn’t wait for the others’ mistakes, but preceedes them.

Very good at the net, with fast starts, but difficult chases. And tennis at high level often also means chasing.

“He has a defect: he is too respectful of others, he does too much what they want”

said of him Erik Bergelin, the trainer son of Borg’s former coach. And he meant that Edberg, enterprising on court, wasn’t as much so mentally.

Young often happen not to trust themselves and it was exactly the problem of this policeman’s son grown in Vastervik in a tennis club without dressing rooms.

Becker‘s sudden and fast growth, then, had surprised him, pushing him out of the spotlights. Becker was younger, more extroverted, more spectacular, more everything. Edberg could only stay there like an unexploded bomb waiting for a maturation.

This until the Australian Open where he starts so so against Anger, where, in the fourth round, he saves two match-points against Masur in the third set, where in the semis he meets Lendl, in a winning streak of three months and 35 matches. The Czech, who hasn’t lost since the last Us Open, is forced to give up after four hours in five sets: Lendl smashes a short lob with all his anger, Edberg recovers it, wins the point under Lendl’s more and more amazed eyes, shakes his head and smiles. For the first time he looks like a Swede. The Czech accepts to play at the net, and Edberg, with soft volleys replies with kind arrogance.

In the final against Wilander he’s given unfavourite, he is 4-1 down in the head-to-heads. But the match starts and ends in his hands; only once in the entire match Wilander will get a break, in the eighth game of the last set and then he’ll say:

“He didn’t give me a chance: he surprised me with his shots from the baseline”.

His chase to Becker is successful by now: Edberg will reach the fifth place of the ATP ranking stepping over the German, who lost at his first match in Australia. The head-to-head is next to come. In Munich from 20th to 22nd December Germany and Sweden will meet in the Davis Cup final. Becker is sure to play, Edberg isn’t. We’ll see if the coach will keep on preferring “a more Swedish one” .

Pete Sampras, 1990 US Open

From Hard courts: real life on the professional tennis tours, by John Feinstein:

This was a great day for American tennis. In 1986, one American man, Tim Wilkison, had reached the Open quarterfinals. Four years later, there had been five American quarterfinalists. No American had been in an Open final since McEnroe, in 1985. Now, with Agassi having beaten Becker, the US was assured of having the men’s champion for the first time since 1974. The USTA was taking all sorts of bows for his renaissance, but it had almost nothing to do with it. None of the top young Americans were products of the USTA’s programs. One, Michael Chang, had benefited from some clay-court coaching from José Higueras, but that was it. The rest were products of their families, private coaches, and their own desires.

The crowd didn’t care about any of that. It just knew McEnroe was on court. Sampras, who had been the hero Wednesday, against Lendl, was now cast in the role of villain. He was ready for it.

“I know they’re all going to be for John,” he had said on Friday morning. “If I was sitting in the stands, I would be for John. I understand it, but I just have to shut it out. I think the match will be decided by who can come closest to keeping his level where it was Wednesday. One of us is bound to have a letdown. I hope it isn’t me.”

In truth, it figured to be Sampras. He had played the match of his life on Wednesday to beat Lendl. On Thursday morning, over breakfast at Wolf’s Delicatessen, Blumberg told him that he had concluded a lengthy renegotiation of Sampras’ contract with Sergio Tacchini. The new contract was for five years and would guarantee Sampras at least $4 million, although it could go considerably higher if Sampras continued to improve.

Having beaten Lendl, having become extremely rich, Sampras would have been excused if he had a letdown against McEnroe. It never happened, though. He came out bombing untouchable serves, and before McEnroe knew it, the first set was gone, 6-2. In the second set, McEnroe began to creep into the match. down a break, he broke back to 4-all with a miraculous scoop half volley. For the first time all day, the crowd was into the match.

If it bothered Sampras, it didn’t show. He hit two perfect returns at McEnroe’s feet to set up a break point. McEnroe , trying to avoid another return like that, went too much on a second serve and double-faulted. Sampras calmly served out the set.

What was happening there? How could McEnroe, who had played so superbly in his last two matches, be getting manhandled like this? In a sense, McEnroe was looking across the net and seeing himself, circa 1979: young and brash, supremely confident, and equipped with one weapon – the serve – that could keep any opponent off balance.
The difference, of course, was in Sampras’ demeanor. He wasn’t bratty at all. He played one point, then another. No flash, no dash, no whining or crying.

“I wasn’t always that way,” he said. “When I was fourteen and I was still playing from the baseline with a two-handed backhand, I was a real whiner. But then I saw some tapes of Rod Laver, and I said, ‘That’s the way I want to be.’ I’ve tried to act that way ever since.”

He was succeeding. Much as the crowd wanted to see McEnroe complete his miracle, it couldn’t help but marvel at Sampras. McEnroe did come back and win the third set, but even with the crowd now manic, Sampras didn’t wilt. He started the fourth set with his sixteenth ace of the day, broke McEnroe to go up 4-2, and served the match out, ending it with – what else ? – an ace.

McEnroe walked off to one last huge ovation. He was disappointed but not devastated.

“I don’t think I played badly,” he said philosophically. “His power really put me off. He served well when he had to. I think he’s really in a groove right now, and that’s a good thing. I think the guy is really good for the game.”

He smiled.

“Hope springs eternal. Rosewall played in two Grand Slam finals when he was thirty-nine. I’ll be thirty-two next year. The next time I play Sampras or Agassi, they’ll be favored. The pressure will be on them.”

Lendl had said that the key for Sampras was to forget he was playing John McEnroe. He had been able to do just that, largely, he felt, because he had played McEnroe earlier in the summer, in Toronto. Then, it had taken him a set and a half to forget who his opponent was and just play. This time, he had come out firing. He had beaten Muster, Lendl, McEnroe. The question now was, could he do it one more time?

Pete Sampras, 1990 US Open

From Hard courts: real life on the professional tennis tours, by John Feinstein:

“I remember watching Lendl in all those Open finals,” Sampras said. “I was eleven when he played his first one, and everyone was against him. So I rooted for him.”

Six years later, when Lendl was No.1 in the world and Sampras was a brand-new seventeen-year-old pro, Lendl invited him during the week of the Masters. Lendl likes to have young players work with him. They are eager, attentive, and challenging. Sampras didn’t disappoint Lendl and Lendl didn’t disappoint Sampras.

“He taught me what it means to really be a pro,” he said. “There were times I hated him because he made me ride the bike or run until I was about to drop, but I learned from him. He also told me over and over to worry about one thing in tennis: the Grand Slams. He said he wished he had learned that when he was younger.”

As much as he respected Lendl, Sampras had a quiet belief he could beat him. Everyone in tennis knew that the Wimbledon loss had damaged Lendl’s psyche. The hunger to win every single match and every single tournament wasn’t there anymore. He had played in only one tournament prior to the Open and had lost his first match – to Malivai Washington – in New Haven.

Sampras has watch him play Michael Stich in the second round. Stich was a tall, twenty-one-year old German who was quietly moving up the computer. But he certainly wasn’t a match for Lendl on hard court. And yet, Stich kept Lendl on court for four difficult sets.

“It wasn’t like the difference was huge,” Sampras said. “The guy was still great. but he wasn’t quite at the same level as I remembered in the past.”

Sampras was hyper the day of the match, wandering from the locker room to the players lounge to the training room and back to the players’ lounge. Lendl sat quietly in the locker room with Tony Roche, waiting to play. Remarkably he had been to eight straight Open finals. This was not new to him.

The match was a roller coaster ride. Sampras, coming up with huge serves at all the key moments, won the first two sets. But Lendl didn’t roll over at this stage of his career, not in a Grand Slam. He came back to win the next two sets. Sampras felt tired, frustrated. Lendl seemed to be getting stronger. But, down 0-4 in the fourth, Sampras found a second wind. He came all the way back to trail 5-4 and even two break points to get to 5-5. Lendl saved those and served out the set, but Sampras felt as if he was in the match again.

Lendl, having come back to even the match, felt pretty good about his chances, too. But, serving at 1-2, he got into trouble – with his thirteenth double fault. Sampras had returned so well that Lendl felt he had to make his second serves almost perfect and, as a result, had missed a few. Lendl saved that break point and had two game points of his own. Sampras kept coming, though. He got to break point again and bombed a crosscourt forehand that Lendl couldn’t touch. Lendl swiped his racquet angrily at the ground. He was down 3-1 and knew that breaking Sampras again would be difficult.

Sampras was trying hard to stay in the present.

“I just had this feeling I was going to win the match, that it was meant to be,” he said. “I really felt that way. But I didn’t want to think about any of that before it was over.”

He had one scary moment when Lendl had a break point with Sampras up 4-2. Sampras took a deep breath and served a clean winner. He followed that with an ace – his twenty-third of the match – and closed the game with another service winner. With a chance to get back into the match, Lendl hadn’t put a ball in play for three straight points. The look on his face told the story. Six points later, it was over. Sampras hit one more solid backhand. Lendl chased it down and threw up a weak lob. As Sampras watched it float toward him, he felt chills run through his body. “Just hit the ball,” he told himself. He did, cleanly, and his arms were in the air in triumph.

It was another four-hour marathon and another stunning upset. Sampras was the young American most fans hadn’t heard of, but they knew who he was now.

Like it or not, Sampras’ life had just changed for ever. He was no longer a prospect or a rising young American. He was now a star, a just-turned-nineteen US Open semifinalist – one who had beaten Ivan Lendl to get there.

Becker and Edberg, Wimbledon 1990

By Andrew Longmore, London Times, July 7, 1990

Rarely can the ball have been hit as hard for as long as it was in the men’s semi-finals on centre court yesterday. At the end of the bombardment, Ivan Lendl‘s odyssey had ended, Goran Ivanisevic‘s had just begun and Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg were left to contest their third consecutive Wimbledon final. Fearful of an unhealthy sense of continuity, the centre court crowd were mostly sympathetic to the two Ivans, one out of sympathy, the other novelty. But Lendl, by his own admission, was never in the match, losing in straight sets, and Becker survived the loss of the first set and an edgy second set tie-break before beating the explosive young Yugoslav 4-6, 7-6, 6-0, 7-6. He even won the battle of the aces, 15 to 14.

“It was the best grass-court match I have played. Goran went out there and played very strongly for a set and three-quarters. I’m glad it’s all over,” Becker said.

After their varying adventures over the past fortnight, Becker and Edberg will meet in the final like a pair of long-lost school friends.

“I know his game blind and he knows me,” Becker said. “It’s going to be a matter of who wakes up in the better frame of mind on the day.”

Two years ago, it was Edberg who won in four sets; last year, it was Becker in three. Neither match quite lived up to pre-match billing, so they owe us a classic.

Lendl, the No.1 seed, was unlucky again, not in the way that he played, but in the way that Edberg played. In an hour and 48 minutes, the No.3 seed gave an almost flawless exhibition of grass-court tennis, winning 6-1, 7-6, 6-3. So complete was the Swede’s superiority that, even after all his painful preparations, Lendl did not feel too distraught in defeat nor too downcast to go through the same agonies again next year.

“Last year was more disappointing because I had a real chance against Becker. Today Stefan outplayed me and I really could not get into the match,” Lendl said.

There is a touch of the Stan Laurel about Edberg. At any moment, you expect him to scratch the top of his head. He looks perplexed whether he is playing like a drain or a dream and as he can do both with equal facility, he lives life in a permanent state of puzzlement.

Yesterday, was one of the dreamy days when his volleys are controlled as if by radar, his serve hums off the grass and even the usually wayward forehand comes to heel. On such days, Edberg explores areas of grass-court play forbidden to less instinctive players. Lendl might have been blindfolded for all the chance he had of finding that promised land.

The Czechoslovak had only one chance to break Edberg’s service in the whole match. The moment came in the second set, the game after Lendl had saved five break points to lead 4-3. Lendl drove a cross-court forehand, which threatened to leave a hole in Edberg’s frail torso, but the Swede, almost standing on the net, parried the pass and the ball dropped sadly into the acres of vacant green grass.

If the tie-break was to be Lendl’s last stockade, it proved to be a flimsy barrier against the arrows which shot from Edberg’s racket. The Swede will not hit a more telling series of ground strokes as long as he graces Wimbledon than the passes, three forehand and one backhand, which left Lendl looking forlornly up into the players’ box for inspiration. He found none. Edberg took the tie-break 7-2.

The decisive break came in the sixth game of the third set. In desperation, Lendl lunged to his left to intercept an Edberg forehand on break point and the ball ballooned over the baseline. With it went the world No.1’s hopes and dreams, 12 months’ thought and three months’ preparation.

Becker had to conquer a strange feeling of nostalgia in his match. Five years ago, he was the big-serving unseeded semi-finalist, hurling himself about the centre court with youthful abandon. In his serving, the power of his ground strokes and his utter disdain for his elder and his better (this time), the Yugoslav was the image of Becker. But the one difference is that Ivanisevic looks permanently in need of a square meal; the one problem that his mind sometimes goes off in search of it. Three times, Ivanisevic paid the price for a lack of concentration. Once when, serving for a two-set lead at 6-5, he netted two volleys to give Becker the break back; second, when he let a 3-0 lead slip in the subsequent tie-break and the third time as Becker took the third set in 17 minutes. By the time his mind had returned to base, Becker was rumbling towards victory and the little the Yugoslav did in the way of imitation could not disturb the inevitability.

“During the match, I was thinking about somebody who was 17 years old who played like that,” Becker said. “The way he serves, hits his forehand volley and his ground strokes. He is doing the same things as I did.”

In time, he should win Wimbledon too.