From Jimmy Connors‘ autobiography The Outsider:

“The clay in Paris back then played incredibly slow, which meant hitting more balls per point than I had for a long time. I’d won my first two matches by staying faithful to my game, hitting it early, flat, close to the net, on the lines, basically attacking the ball instead of hanging back. And now I was playing Michael Chang, who was a mere 20 years younger than me.

The mercury had risen to over 100 degrees as I walked out onto the red clay of Roland Garros to face Chang, an opponent who was prepared to be there all day if necessary, to run down every ball. It’s kill or be killed. That turned out to be a bit too close for comfort.

We traded the first two sets, he took the third and then in the fourth I hit the wall for the first time in my life. I had no idea where I was or what I was doing. I was done – fatigue, dehydration, everything. At one of the changeovers, as I looked around the stands, I turned to Lelly, who was sitting courtside. ‘Why are all these people here?’ I asked. Just a little out of my mind.

Doing things half-assed doesn’t fit my personality, and I hit that wall running so hard I managed to force my head through to the other side just long enough to hear a voice tell me, ‘Not yet Jimmy, not yet’. A couple in the crowd made a move to leave. ‘Don’t go’ I called to them. ‘This isn’t over yet’.

I broke Chang to go 5-4 up and held on to even the match at two sets each. ‘Allez Jeemeee! Allez, Jeemeee!’

After three hours 31 minutes, I faced my second fifth set in as many days. Wounded and exhausted, I dragged myself out of my seat. I knew I’d gone as far as I could. My back was seizing up, my vision blurred, head spinning? Kill or be killed? What asshole said that?

All through the months of hurt and sweat that had brought me to that moment in Paris, I’d only thought about one thing, the tournament that defined me, the US Open. New York in September.
To keep going against Chang would be insane, jeopardizing everything I’d been working toward. If I screwed up, if I injued myself, that would be it for the summer and probably forever. Yet I didn’t have a choice. The crowd wanted more. I thought ‘Come on Michael, let’s see what you’ve got’.

Chang serves the first point of the fifth set. I attack it with my backhand, sending the ball screaming down the line, clipping the baseline, leaving him with no response. Now I am done. Slowly I walk forward to the umpire Bruno Rebeuh‘s chair.

The score stands at 4-6 7-5 6-2 4-6 0-15. If you’ve got to quit, then do it when you’re ahead

Bill Norris, the ATP trainer and one of my friends on the circuit, helped me off the court. Bill had been around forever. I knew him well, and I knew he’d look after me. As we walked off, the Parisians came to their feet, cheering and clapping. That place rocked. They knew what they’d just witnessed, and I like to think they were saying merci.

Michael Chang

Michael Chang

Michael Chang

Jimmy Connors

Jimmy Connors

Jimmy Connors

Michael Chang

Jimmy Connors

Jimmy Connors

That was pure class. Jimbo then reached the third round at Wimbledon (lost to Derrick Rostagno) and the semifinals at Flushing Meadows (lost to Jim Courier). He retired in 1996 at 44.

Manolo Santana Roland Garros

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

One of the craziest anomalies of the 1960s, a decade in which the great champions were bared from the great tournaments, concerned two Spaniards born within nine months of one another duing the Civil War. There was nothing to choose between their levels of performance. But Andres Gimeno turned professional in 1960 and played his best tennis in the proud, exclusive environment of Jack Kramer‘s tour. Towards the end of the 1960s, only Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall were better players.
But superficial historians may recall Gimeno only as the chap who, at the age of 34, won the 1972 French championship from an unusually modest bunch of challengers. By contrast Santana stayed in the ‘shamateur’ ranks, picked up an impressive array of Grand Slam titles, had a wonderful Davis Cup record, became a national hero, and captivated everybody in sight. So Santana received far more publicity and achieved a bigger reputation, except among the cognoscenti. Santana played no better than Gimeno did but had the more spectacular game, the more crowd-pleasing court presence, and probably a greater depth of competitive self-belief.

First a word about Gimeno, who was Santana’s Davis Cup teammate from 1958 to 1960 and 1972-1973, winning 17 out of 22 singles and breaking even in ten doubles. Gimeno was 6ft 1 1/2in tall but looked even bigger because he was straight-backed, held his head high, and had a tiptoed style that suggested he was wary of damaging the court. His bearing was patrician, his manner courteous, his game elegant. Gimeno stroked the ball with the teasing flourish one associates with the bull-fighting breed. The forehand was his stronger flank and although it was sometimes said his backhand couldn’t break an egg, he placed the shot shrewdly.
Gimeno had a sure touch and made effective use of the lob. There was a purpose behind every shot he played and his game was as tidy in detail as it was sound in conception. But he had nothing that could really hurt his opponents and on big occasions he tended to be too highly strung, too diffident, to do himself complete justice. Gentleman that he was, Gimeno may have had too much respect for the likes of Laver and Rosewall.

Would Santana have done any better in that company? One doubts it. He turned down a professional offer because he considered he could more tournaments and more prestige, make more money, and have a more congenial lifestyle by remaining in the ‘shamateur’ ranks. There came a time when Santana and Roy Emerson, as the biggest fish in a thinly stocked pool, could command $1,000 to $1,500 a week. They had no illusion. They knew that they would be smaller fish in the professional pool. An embarrassing decision was forced upon them and they chose the course that suited their circumstances and their natures. It worked out pretty well for them and it worked out pretty well for Spain, too. By winning two Grand Slam titles on clay and two on grass, and twice guiding his country to the Davis Cup challenge round, Santana did even more for Spanish tennis (and the nation’s sporting reputation in general) than Severiano Ballesteros was to achieve via golf.[…]

Santana was the Ilie Nastase of the 1960s: less of an athlete, true but more disciplined in his conduct and his match-play, and in the same class when it came to artistic wizardry. An example of the shots they had in common what that rare flower, the chipped forehand, which both played with such facility that they might have been picking daisies. The joyous feature of their tennis was a common ability to mask their intentions. Their dextrous powers of deception were such that they consistently pulled off the tennis equivalent of the three-card trick.

Santana used every hue in the box during the 1961 French championships, in which he beat the top three seeds – Roy Emerson, Rod Laver and Nicola Pietrangeli – to win his (and Spain’s) first major championship. Santana beat Laver 3-6 6-2 4-6 6-4 6-0. Laver led 4-1 in the fourth set but, emmeshed in a beautiful network of shot-making, could not win another game. In the final, Santana beat a kindred spirit, Pietrangeli, by 4-6 6-1 3-6 6-0 6-2. It was a sunny afternoon and the arena was as much an artists’ studio as a tennis stadium. Each man in turn stepped up to the canvas while the other was, so to speak, taking time off to mix his colours. The vast assembly could hardly believe their luck. Ultimately Pietrangeli, champion in the two previous years, had to admit that he was the second best. […]

They met again in the 1964 final but by that time Santana’s star had waxed and Pietrangeli’s was beginning to wane. On clay, Santana had proved all he needed to prove. So he concentrated his attention on the grass-court bastions: and had luck on his side in that, at Forest Hills and Wimbledon in turn, the most fancied contenders never turned his path. At Forest Hills he played only two seeds, Arthur Ashe (5th) and Cliff Drysdale (8th), and at Wimbledon he played only one, Dennis Ralston (6th). Never mind. Santana beat everybody he had to beat. He had conquered the ‘shamateur’ world on the two extremes of clay and grass.

There was an engaging but frustrating appendix to the years of glory. In the 1969 French championships Santana and Gimeno, both 31, clashed after a nine-year beak. It was Madrid vs Barcelona plus, for watching players, a leftover battle between the now united ‘shamateur’ and professional armies. For two sets, Gimeno was too nervous to play his best tennis, whereas Santana’s shot making had a subtle splendor about it. Then Gimeno settled down and in the stress of combat santana pulled a groin muscle and eventually had to retire. Gimeno won 4-6 2-6 6-4 6-4 1-0.

Santana and Gimeno had explored different avenues in their pursuit of fame and fortune. Their joint achievement was to lift Spanish tennis to a level it had never reached before: a level that was consolidated by Manuel Orantes and to some extent Jose Higueras. Orantes was runner-up for the 1974 French title and in 1975 he won the first of the three US Open contested on a gritty, loose-top surface.
That was a memorable triumph for two reasons. In a semi-final Vilas led Orantes by 6-4 6-1 2-6 5-0 and had five match points. Orantes won, but he was up half the night because he could not tourn off the bathroom tap and had to find a plumber. Then he went back on court and, in the final, gave Jimmy Connors a lesson in the craft of clay-court tennis.

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.

Men's tennis best rivalry?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Article by Tennis Magazine, April 2014, translated by Tennis Buzz.

When a number 1 from yesterday meets a number 1 from today, what do they talk about? Stories of number 1 of course!
But what can these legends bring to champions whose achievements have nothing to envy theirs? That’s the question… One thing is sure: the 80’s and 90’s are trendier than ever. In fact, the courts took a very vintage look lately.

Two legends, Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker, but also Michael Chang, Sergi Bruguera and Goran Ivanisevic have made their return to the circuit at the Australian Open, alongside their peers.
Ivan Lendl was a pionneer, as he started working with Andy Murray two years ago. But the trend took momentum in the offseason, with associations between Cilic and Ivanisevic (November), Gasquet and Bruguera (end of November), Nishikori and Chang (mid-December), and at last but not at least, two partnerships who had some kind of a bomb effect, Djokovic with Becker and Federer with Edberg (end of December).

What can these former great players add compared to a conventional coach? And why the glories of yesterday have chosen to come back on the circuit? With interviews of players and coaches, Tennis Magazine updates on these duos.

Without a doubt, to have Ivan Lendl by my side was a real bonus.

Readily acknowledged Andy Murray after his first Grand Slam victory at the US Open in 2012, nine months after the beginning of his collaboration with the Czech.
The pair, intriguing at first, was conclusive. Their two parallel respective experiences were obvious: like his coach, Andy Murray finally captured his maiden Grand Slam title after four defeats in the finals.

I knew what he was going through and the frustration that he could feel, explained Ivan Lendl .

Former champions turning to coaching is nothing new. Some have not left a great memory in this role. Mats Wilander with Paul-Henri Mathieu and Marat Safin, Jimmy Connors with Andy Roddick and Maria Sharapova were not really successful. But what’s surprising today is the high number of these collaborations that almost occured at the same time. So, simple coincidence or new trend?

Tennis has always followed trends. Two years ago you had to eat like Djokovic, and 3 players out of 4 found out they were “allergic” to gluten. Now your coach must be a former number 1 or 2 when you are a top 10 player.

Critic, Patrick Mouratoglou distrusts the new trend. So, what can be the actual contribution of these former legends of yesterday to today’s great players?

Their experience is of course their first quality. The top players are seeking some sort of alter ego, someone who like them has experienced the stress of tennis at the highest level.

I was looking for someone who had experienced similar situations, and I thought of Boris, explained Novak Djokovic

Same speech for Marin Cilic, who saw in his compatriot Goran Ivanisevic the ideal person to take him in the top 10.

It is important to have the support from someone like him . He brings me all his experience, and all the things he experienced in his career.

Just as Richard Gasquet who found in Sergi Bruguera a champion who has experienced a very high level with two Grand Slam victories (Roland Garros 1993 and 94), Andy Murray explains how working with someone who has been there can be benefical:

All these players know the state of mind you must have when you play for major finals. And maybe, knowing the situation themselves, they better understand certain decisions taken on the court, under pressure, while it is more difficult to grasp for someone who has never known it.

For Sam Sumyk, Victoria Azarenka’s coach, the experience of high level is an undeniable asset:

They have a greater background than 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 to know how the player will react on different situations.

For Patrick Mouratoglou , despite his reserves, there is a special relationship between all these legends:

They can talk the same language and shed a different light, or alternatively strengthen positions

For Patrice Hagelauer, Yannick Noah’s coach when he won Roland Garros in 1983:

Former champions see things and analyze them with more objectivity. They are not in emotions like a coach who lives these situations for the first times can be.

If one can understand this process for players looking to access to the highest level like Gasquet, Cilic and Nishikori, it is less evident for Federer or Djokovic, who have at least as much, if not more,
experience at the high level that their own coach and already an outstanding record.

Even though he already has a beautiful trophy case, Novak is not satisfied with his six Grand Slam titles. He wants more and he wants the better team around him to improve, said Boris Becker in Melbourne

Novak Djokovic choice has surprised. How to interpret the world number 2 decision to shake up his stability with his historic coach, Marian Vajda, while he was on the rise after a fantastic year-end. Novak Djokovic wants to see further:

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.

Novak Djokovic, who has not won a Grand Slam since the Australian Open in 2013 or Roger Federer, seeking
his former glory, want to see in these new collaborations a way to improve again, or return to the top .

Even champions of the caliber of Federer or Djokovic can still improve and change things in their game, says Sam Sumyk. This is the advantage of high level, this is not just the technique of a forehand or backhand,
there are lots of parameters that come into play. The help Edberg can bring to Federer or Becker to Djokovic is on details. It can be in all areas: technique , way of thinking , or state of mind.

Former champion and coach of Lendl , the Pole Wojtek Fibak is more direct :

What they bring is their presence. That’s all, but it is not nothing.

Stefan Edberg also thinks his help will be in the details:

I think I can really bring a little something. And maybe that little something can bring back Roger to where he was some time ago.

A sentence pronounced before the Dubai tournament, where Federer beat Djokovic for the first time in almost two years.

At this level , the difference is therefore on things sometimes insignificant, although difficult to define:

The higher you go, the more you have to unlock things that are difficult to perceive, to feel, said Arnaud Di Pasquale

Eveyone agrees on this, Roger Federer will not revolutionize his game and play the serve and volley constantly to “please” Stefan Edberg, the same goes for Novak Djokovic. But according to the Serbian, Boris Becker contributions can be numerous:

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.

Roger Federer, like Wotjek Fibak, prefers to talk about inspiration rather than mental concerning the presence of Stefan Edberg, his childhood idol, at his side.

I did not hire Edberg to explain me how to come to the net. For me, it is something else, a global thing. I don’t see him in the role of a coach, but more as an inspiration, a legend spending time with me.

Beyond the technical, tactical or physical aspect, the help would be, in general, psychological.

Basically it comes from a need to be reassured, explains Patrice Hagelauer. 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.

Here we are far away from the role of the coach, in the strict sense, but more in the role of an advisor.

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, explains Di Pasquale.

We must not forget that coach is first of all a full-time job, says Mouratoglou.

Without removing anything to the experience of the great champions, a great player does not necessarily make a good coach, while most coaches were not No. 1 or Grand Slam winners.

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, says Arnaud Di Pasquale .

But only time will tell the impact of these former champions on today’s champions. But it’s obvious it is difficult to compare the cases of Federer and Djokovic and those of Cilic or Nishikori who are still quite far from the top. And the job of a full-time coach has nothing to do with the role that Edberg and Becker play.
We’re not going to find a single answer to very different situations. How else to explain the success of players who keep the same coach for a very long time, if not forever? Like Rafael Nadal, for example …

Indian Wells

Legendary tennis commentator Bud Collins explains how unique the atmosphere is at Indian Wells. Interview by Vincent Cognet for L’Equipe, translated by Tennis Buzz.

Q: You knew this tournament long before it moved to Indian Wells. What are your memories of those years?
It was already a good tournament but it moved often. And all the best ones were not always there, unlike today, but those who had loved it because it is one of the most beautiful places in our country. (Former tournament director) Charlie Pasarell had to fight because it was planned to move the tournament to China. But this tournament has always been relaxed, almost family at a time.

Q: The weather is also really cool
Not always! Sometimes it blew a terrible wind. One year, the press tent flew away. Between us we thought it was Richard Nixon who did it! Moreover, the final was not held that year.
Another year, Jimmy Connors and Roscoe Tanner had reached the final, but the wind was so violent that it was impossible to play. Both players refused to enter the court until NBC, the tournament broadcaster, decided to bang its fists on the table. Connors and Tanner did not say anything and played the final.
I also remember a year, it must have been in 1974, where the referee could not make the draw, he threw the coin up into the air but it never fell down, because there was so much wind! It was completely insane.

Q: What do you think of Larry Ellison, the owner of the tournament?
He is a very discreet, private person. And he loves tennis, he also has a private coach, a former pro who never really made it to the next level. He seems to do quite well racquet in hand.

Q: Do you think players are more relaxed here than on the rest of the circuit?
Absolutely! Players are different. They do not feel persecuted or spied. At Indian Wells everyone mixes with everyone. It has always been the desire of Pasarell, players owe him a lot.

Photo by Rick, find out more pics of Indian Wells 2011 here.