Jennifer Capriati, Australian Open 2002

By Suzi Petkovski, Tennis Week, February 2002:

Rarely does the sequel beat the original. Jennifer Capriati was mindful of that as she returned to the Australian Open, site of her fairy-tale first Slam win 12 months before.

“It’s pretty tough to top last year,” Capriati conceded. “I mean, that’s the best I’ve ever played.”

But Capriati had cause to reconsider after her courageous 4-6 7-6(7) 6-2 comeback victory over Martina Hingis in a dramatic 2002 Australian Open final played in brutal heat.

“I don’t know which one was better, winning last year or this year,” beamed the 25-year-old after an arduously successful first Grand Slam defense. “I don’t know what there is to come. But definitely, this is the most unique victory.” Jen, we’re, like, really stoked for you and stuff.

Capriati recovered from a 6-4 4-0 deficit and stood a point from 5-1. She stared down four match points in two separate games, as well as the tiebreak, in the second set. For the first half of the match, the American’s play had been inhibited; a contrast to the blazing winners of last year. But on those critical match points, Capriati was a lion. Not for 40 years has a woman overcome match points in a Grand Slam final; no one has ever survived four.

All this was achieved in horrific heat that turned the Australian Open final into the Australian Open furnace. Temperatures in the stands hit 90°F, but on court the mercury was a brain-frying 107°F.

“It was just really hard to breathe; the air was just so thick and so hot,”

said Capriati of the toughest on-court conditions she’d ever endured. A big call coming from a Floridian.

For all the 130 minutes of the final, the capacity 15,000 crowd wasn’t watching a sporting contest so much as wincing at a form of cruel and unusual punishment. In between long, searching points both players sought relief by taking the seats of line judges, slumping exhausted over the courtside slock, leaving the court several times, and in the case of Hingis, donning an ice vest. During the 10-minute break at the end of the 66-minute second set, both women were packed in ice in the locker room – “quite a sight,” Martina related.

As a Hingis backhand floated wide to give Capriati the tumultuous second set, the Swiss Miss hurled her racquet from baseline to coutside seat. She sensed she’d thrown away her last chance for victory. And so it proved. Hingis dreaded the thought of going back into the inferno. “I didn’t really believe in it anymore.” When they returned, the 21-year old was running on fumes. She’d been on court for a three-set doubles final victory the previous day, also in scorching heat, and fooled no one when she made the first break of the decider to go ahead 2-1.

“My head was all over the place,” recalled Martina. “I knew I probably wouldn’t last if I really needed to.”

Hingis’ physical collapse was as painful as it was inevitable. On her penultimate service game, the spring gone from her step, she foot-faulted to hand the break to Capriati. Finally, on the Hingis serve, Capriati clinched consecutive Aussie crowns with a forehand return winner on her first match point. Having won just four of the first 14 games, Capriati hammered out 13 of the next 17.

Physical strength and staying power, so impressive a feature of Capriati’s triumph in 2001, again proved decisive. This year, a new face joined Capriati’s travelling troupe: trainer Chantal Menard, a Milan-based, former world kickboxing champion. But even more impessive was Capriati’s mental steel. “The whole time, even though I was coming from behind, I thought I could still win this,” Jennifer revealed. “I never really thought of myself as being defeated out there.”

Indeed, Capriati was indomitable in the face of many mental battles: the strain of defending a Slam for the first time, the jolting loss to Alexandra Stevenson in her first match at Sydney, and she strained hip flexors that she carried into the tournament. She came back from a break down in the third set against Greek newcomer Eleni Daniilidou and staved off a set point against Rita Grande in the fourth round. Agasint the erratic Amelie Mauresmo in the quarters, Capriati was ruthless, winning 6-2 6-2, and in a semifinal of fierce, primal hitting against Kim Clijsters, she broke free 6-1 in the third.

But the most perilous test came in the final against Hingis. “I had a lot to deal with out thee,” Capriati reflected.

“Just being the defending champion, trying to keep the No.1 status, dealing with the conditions, and I didn’t feel like I was playing my best tennis in the beginning. So it means a lot to me that, as long as you just stay in there and try your hardest and fight, it can win you matches and that’s exactly what I did today.”

Sles, McEnroe, Clijsters and Bahrami

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

Last match of the day: a mixed doubles exhibition with Kim Clijsters, Monica Seles, John McEnroe and Mansour Bahrami! It’s always a pleasure to see these great champions play and have fun on court.

Players entering the court:

Warm-up:

4-time Grand Slam champion Kim Clijsters, visibly happy to be on court:

Kim Clijsters and Mansour Bahrami

Kim Clijsters

Read More

Goran Ivanisevic and Pat Cash

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

First match of the day between two Wimbledon champions: Pat Cash (1987) and Goran Ivanisevic (2001).
An entertaining match with lots of interactions between the players and the public. Cash and Ivanisevic even tried to “corrupt” the line judges by offering them money. It was a lot of fun with some good tennis too.

Pat Cash

Goran’s impressive serve:

Goran Ivanisevic

Pete Sampras was the first player to pass 1,000 ace mark in a single season, but Goran still holds the record for most aces in a year.

Grandpa Cash, still looking strong at 49:

Pat Cash

Read More

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

Read More

Carlos Moya and Thomas Enqvist

They played at Roland Garros a few years ago, they are now back in Paris as coaches, TV commentators or are taking part to the Legends trophy, and with this new trend of great champions turning to coaching, there’s plenty of past champions to see around the grounds at Roland Garros.

6-time Grand Slam champion Boris Becker, coach of Novak Djokovic:

Boris Becker

Novak Djokovic and Boris Becker

Goran Ivanisevic, quarterfinalist in 1990, the year he beat then world No 1 Stefan Edberg in the first round. He now coaches Marin Cilic:

Goran Ivanisevic

Becker, Cilic, Ivanisevic, Gasquet, Mathieu

Sergi Bruguera, winner in 1993 and 1994, coach of Richard Gasquet:

Sergi Bruguera and Goran Ivanisevic

Bruguera and Gasquet

Magnus Norman, finalist in 2000, coach of Stanislas Wawrinka:

Magnus Norman

Michael Chang, winner in 1989 and coach of Kei Nishikori:

Michael Chang

Martina Hingis, finalist in 1997 and 1999. She coaches Sabine Lisicki:

Martina Hingis

Sébastien Grosjean, semi-finalist at Roland Garros in 2001, coach of Richard Gasquet:

Sébastien Grosjean

Fabrice Santoro, doubles finalist in 2004, interviews players after their matches:

Roger Federer

Kim Clijsters and Martina Navratilova, playing doubles together:

Kim Clijsters and Martina Navratilova

Kim Clijsters

Martina Navratilova

Kim Clijsters and Martina Navratilova

Iva Majoli, Roland Garros champion in 1997:

Iva Majoli

Anastasia Myskina, first ever female Russian player to win a Grand Slam title (Roland Garros in 2004):

Anastasia Myskina

Former world number one Lindsay Davenport and Mary Joe Fernandez, 1993 French Open runner-up:

Lindsay Davenport

Mary Joe Fernandez

1998 Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna:

Jana Novotna

Natasha Zvereva, runner-up in that famous 1988 final against Steffi Graf:

Natasha Zvereva

Nathalie Tauziat and Conchita Martinez practising on court 15, they play the Legends Trophy together:

Nathalie Tauziat

Conchita Martinez

Martinez is now captain of the Spanish Fed Cup team. Tauziat is the former coach of Eugénie Bouchard (below a picture of them two at Roland Garros last year), she now coaches Aleksandra Wozniak:

Nathalie Tauziat and Eugénie Bouchard

Gaston Gaudio, surprise winner in 2004:

Gaston Gaudio

Thomas Enqvist and Carlos Moya, Roland Garros champion in 1998:

Carlos Moya and Thomas Enqvist

Albert Costa, winner in 2002. He is currently coaching Feliciano Lopez.

Albert Costa

Cédric Pioline interviewing Maria Sharapova after her victory over Eugénie Bouchard:

Maria Sharapova

Stanislas Wawrinka beat an injured Rafael Nadal to win his maiden Grand Slam title. Federer, Ferrer, Mauresmo, here are a few players’ reactions on Twitter:

But first Wawrinka’s coach, Magnus Norman:

Amélie Mauresmo who knows a thing or two about players injured in a Grand Slam final:

Feliciano Lopez and David Ferrer congratulate Wawrinka and wish a good recovery to their pal Nadal:

and saving the best for last, Kim Clijsters, a few days ago: