Kei Nishikori

From Nick Bollettieri‘s book, Changing the game:

I have seen thousands of tennis players over the past 60 years and can identify only three who have had the gift of magic hands. I’ve already mentioned two – Xavier Malisse and Marcelo Rios. The third is Kei Nishikori.
I met and started to work with Kei because in the 1980s Arthur Ashe and I traveled to Japan to conduct a clinic for 500 youngsters. While there we toured many of the local tennis facilities. On the day of the clinic the skies opened with torrential rains, forcing us to move indoors. Arthur was panicked – how to deal with so many children at close quarters – but this wasn’t a challenge for me. We found a huge gymnasium and held two clinics, each for one hour with 250 participants. We had two lines running at the same time and each kid got to hit two balls. They all thanked us profusely.

I learned a few things that day about Japanese children. They were very polite, quiet and patient; but they watched our every movement and took in every word I spoke. They were so eager to learn, you could see their excitement as their eyes darted from me to Arthur to the interpreter and back again.

During our visit I was introduced to a kindly gentleman, Mr Morita, whose family was the largest shareholder in the Sony Corporation. He loved tennis and wanted very much for Japan to develop a steady stream of world-class players; His passion for the sport and confidence in me led to a fruitful relationship that continues to this day. At the time, Japan’s most successful male player, Shuzo Matsuoka, was in a class by himself. His highest ranking ever was No.46 in the world, but both Mr Morita and I believed that with focus, determination and funding, more could be achieved.

So Mr Morita dispatched Sato Nakajima to work at IMG academy and act as a liaison for Japanese players. He also began to send youngsters there, all sponsored by Sony. One of those players was 14-year-old Kei Nishikori. Kei, who didn’t speak one word of english at the time and had never eaten american food, housed in an apartment with seven other boys; not surprisingly, he was scared and took some time to feel comfortable. Not on the tennis court, though. I didn’t take me very long to realize that he had talent. He was extremely quick and had those magic hands of a gifted shot maker. Like Agassi and Rios, he possessed innate skills that can’t be taught, but need only to be channeled.

Mr Morita continued to support him. Today, Kei is not only the highest ranked player from Japan on the ATP tour but one of the most celebrated sports stars in Japanese history.
His able team includes IMG agent Olivier van Lindonk, who sees to his schedule and business affairs, and his personal coach, Dante Bottini, who is quiet and unassuming but understands Kei. They relate well to each other. I continue to participate in the role of team advisor.

I was especially pleased to see Michael Chang coming to town to join Kei’s coaching team. THe last time Michael was at the academy was in 1985 when he was 13 years old and training with his coach. Michael was a champion because of his movement, his recovery and his ability to avoid hitting defensive shots, not to mention an indomitable will. On the way to the 1989 French Open singles title, he had an epic match againt Ivan Lendl, overcoming leg cramps, fatigue and dehydration in a remarkable five-set victory.

Michael Chang

I watched Michael working with Kei and quickly identified what his plans were. He realized that magic hands were not enough but would make a big difference in combination with the right leg work. He showed Kei exactly how to load from the ground up which, in turn, got his racquet below the ball. This allowed Kei to aplly more height, depth and spin, especially when he was out of position and behind the baseline. In the past, Kei’s shots would land on the service line and get him in trouble. I applauded Kei’s decision to add Michael Chang to his coaching team, alongside his regular coach.

Can Kei really compete with the best in the world? I know he can! But, he must learn to truly believe in himself – exactly what Michael Chang yelled to him in his first round, five-set match at the 2014 Australian Open – and to know with every fiber of his being that he deserves to be on the court with the big boys. And he must deliver that as a potent message when he competes against top 10 players? I believe he will do it! Mr Morita and I will continue to cheer for Kei.

Photos by Tennis Buzz

Boris Becker

Boris Becker, looking bored during Djokovic second round win over Philipp Kohlschreiber:

Boris Becker

Becker won the Bercy tournament three times in 1986, 1989 and 1992. He was also finalist in 1990 and 1995.

Former world number one Amélie Mauresmo, now Andy Murray’s coach:

Amélie Mauresmo

Amélie Mauresmo

Amélie Mauresmo

Michael Chang watching Kei Nishikori’s second round win over Tommy Robredo, with his wife and eldest daughter. Roland Garros champion in 1989, he reached the semifinals at Bercy 3 times (1991, 1994, 1999).

Michael Chang

Wawrinka’s coach, Magnus Norman. He never got past the second round as a player, but he was Robin Soderling’s coach when he won the title back in 2010.

Magnus Norman

Magnus Norman

Sébastien Grosjean, during Richard Gasquet’s victory over Denis Istomin. He captured the biggest title of his career here in 2001. Only two other French players won the Bercy title: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2008, and Guy Forget in 1991.

Sébastien Grosjean

Nicolas Escudé, coach of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He won the doubles title with Fabrice Santoro in 2002.

Nicolas Escudé

Tennis greatest entertainer Mansour Bahrami. I had the pleasure to see him once again at the Optima Open last August.

Mansour Bahrami

Arnaud Di Pasquale:

Arnaud Di Pasquale

Also seen (but no pics, sorry): Davis Cup captain Arnaud Clément, Bercy tournament director Guy Forget, and former Bercy tournament director Cédric Pioline.

Sadly, my all-time favorite player Stefan Edberg was not in Paris with the Federer team, but at least I managed to see Marat Safin:

POPB

Enjoy our Bercy 2014 coverage on Tennis Buzz.

Kei Nishikori

While Tsonga and Melzer were playing on Court Central in front of 10,000 people, Tommy Robredo and Kei Nishikori were battling on Court 1 in front of about 300 people.
Court 1 is terrible, the ceiling is low, it is really noisy and looks like a warehouse or a bunker. The only good thing is that spectators are close to the players.

I arrive just in time to see the Spaniard take the first set 7-6.

Tommy Robredo

Playing more aggressively, the recent US Open finalist won the next two sets, defeating Robredo 6-7 6-2 6-3. The season is now over for Robredo, but Nishikori remains on course for the London ATP finals.

1989 French Open champion Michael Chang watching the match with his wife and daughter:

Michael Chang

Game, set, match Nishikori:

Follow our Bercy 2014 coverage on Tennis Buzz.

Excerpt of Pete Sampras‘ autobiography A champion’s mind:

“After Wimbledon, I lost four straight tournaments on my surface of choice, outdoor hard courts. But I went deep in three of those events (Los Angeles, Cincinnati and Indianapolis). I made two semis and a quarterfinal, and I lost to a Grand Slam champion (or future Grand Slam champion) each of those times (Richard Krajicek, Stefan Edberg and Patrick Rafter, respectively).

I felt fine going into the US Open, and it was one of those years when the draw simply opens up like the vault of a bank, leaving the gold there for the taking. The toughest guy I faced during the Open was Michael Chang in the quarters, and by then I had too much game for my childhood rival. I simply overpowered him, playing out the most basic storyline in men’s tennis.

I faced a surprise finalist at Flushing Meadows, the Frenchman Cédric Pioline. This was a guy with a tricky game; he was a good mover, and he had a stroking repertoire that he used to good effect to keep opponents guessing. But it was also his first Grand Slam final, and that’s a pretty daunting assignment for a guy well along in his career, unaccustomed to the thin air at the peak of the game.

One of the curveballs thrown at guys who get one or two chances at the golden ring of a Grand Slam title is the conditions that greet you on the big day. Nobody daydreams about playing a Grand Slam final under diificult conditions that make it tough to play your best or most attractive tennis. In the finals of your dreams, the sun is shining, the air is still, the crowd is poised and hanging on every forehand and backhand with oohs and aahs.

But it rarely works out that way. It was windy on the day of the Open final – it seems like it was always windy in Louis Armstrong Stadium – and that probably bothered Pioline. I went into the match thinking How do I win this match with the least amount of drama and trouble? I played within myself, and he seemed nervous and not entirely comfortable on the big stage.

I won 6-4 6-4 6-3, and the match marked the beginning of the period when I dominated the game.”

Stefan Edberg, 1992 US Open champion

By Alison Muscatine, Washington Post, September 14, 1992

It was a long time coming, but Stefan Edberg repeats U.S. Open title. In a match of second, third seeds and last two champions, Stefan Edberg punches out a 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 victory over Pete Sampras.

Stefan Edberg mustered just enough energy to win the U.S. Open today. The battle-weary defending champion outlasted an exhausted Pete Sampras to win the final in Louis Armstrong Stadium, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 Edberg’s victory capped one of the most arduous fortnights in recent memory. Coming into the match, the 26-year-old Swede had played more sets than any finalist since 1951, including three straight five-setters. But today his perseverance was rewarded as he claimed his first Grand Slam title of the year and regained the No.1 ranking he relinquished to Jim Courier five months ago. When Sampras thumped a backhand service return into the net to end the 2-hour 52-minute match, Edberg leaped over the net, shook Sampras’s hand, and ran to the friends’ box to give his wife, Annette, a long embrace.

“I really earned it this year, I think,” the mild-mannered Edberg said as he ogled his sixth Grand Slam trophy. “I really worked hard.”

Instead of a riveting dogfight, the final was more like a battle of the walking wounded. The third-seeded Sampras was plagued by acute stomach cramps at the end of his semifinal victory Saturday night over top-seeded Courier, and afterward was given fluids intravenously to combat dehydration. Overnight and early this morning he suffered from diarrhea and intestinal cramps, but took some medicine to settle his stomach and insisted that he felt fine when the match began at 4 p.m.

By the fourth set, however, the 21-year-old American visibly faded. His body slumped, his shins were sore and his feet seemed glued to the court. For both players, it was almost a relief when the match ended.

“I just ran out of gas,” Sampras said. “I was just very tired, very exhausted.”

Seldom had two finalists arrived on court having been so physically and mentally strained. The second-seeded Edberg had survived a record-setting 5-hour 26-minute semifinal against Michael Chang on Saturday and had played 24 sets in his first six matches. He hadn’t had a day off since Wednesday.
Sampras, meanwhile, had played two five-set matches back-to-back earlier in the week and obviously was fatigued by the time he encountered Courier in the semifinals.
Despite their respective conditions, both appeared remarkably fresh when the match began on a cool, dry afternoon. Edberg had warmed up for 90 minutes to overcome lingering stiffness and said he felt mentally stronger than at any point during the tournament. And Sampras, at least at the outset, was strong enough to rifle some big serves and claim the first set.

It was a rare match-up of serve-and-volleyers and of two of the most elegant players. They had played four times, with Sampras easily winning the last two.
Inevitably, today’s match was a duel for control of the net. Edberg routinely chipped and charged on Sampras’ second serve or approached off the first short ball. Sampras followed his big serve in and hoped to take advantage of Edberg’s weaker ground strokes. But that only worked well at the beginning. In the second set Sampras’s serve began to falter — he missed 56 percent of his first serves — and Edberg stepped up the pressure with skidding returns to the corners that he followed with volleys.

“I think my serve really let me down today,” Sampras said. “Maybe it was the occasion. I was a little more tight than I would normally be. I think that affected my serve.”

Edberg‘s plan was to try to stay with Sampras as long as his body would hold up. Fortuitously, he found his groove on serve and held easily in the second set. He also was determined to take advantage of any mental lapse on the part of his opponent. Although Sampras staved off three break points at 2-3, he gave Edberg another chance serving at 4-5. A double fault at 40-30 brought the score to deuce. A backhand long gave Edberg break point. And a trademark backhand volley down the line by Edberg ended the set.
The tenor of the match shifted markedly at the end of the third set. Sampras broke Edberg at 4-4 and served for the set at 5-4. But, again troubled on his serve, Sampras double-faulted on break point to even the score at 5. He was equally lax when they went into a tiebreaker. He double-faulted at 4-5 in the tiebreaker to set up two set points. Then he launched a backhand passing shot wide, resulting in a 2-sets-to-1 lead for Edberg.

“Once I got the third set he lost momentum,” Edberg said. “I put a lot of pressure on him.”

While Edberg became increasingly authoritative on his volleys and more confident overall, Sampras’s energy and conviction seemed to wane. He lost the first game of the fourth set with another double fault on break point. Serving at 0-2, he watched flat-footed as Edberg rifled a forehand passing shot cross-court and then a forehand service return down the line to get another break.

“I could see him drop a little bit,” Edberg said. “I noticed that he got a lot slower and didn’t move that well.”
Sampras tried to remain confident but his body was too sore to allow it. “It was more mental than anything,” he said. “I was just telling myself that my body couldn’t do it and as a result it didn’t.”

Edberg, by contrast, served better and better, a welcome relief after a disastrous day on Saturday when he fired 18 double faults. He hit only five double faults in this match.
Most important, Edberg’s serving prowess enabled him to take full advantage of his volleys. By the fourth set he was unerring, often winning points on the first shot, and taking total control of the net. In all, Edberg approached 133 times, compared with 65 for Sampras.

“The longer the match went on the better I felt physically,” Edberg said. “I was a bit surprised, actually.”

For Sampras, the loss was a painful finale to his best Grand Slam year ever. He had advanced to the quarterfinals on clay in Paris, to the semifinals on grass at Wimbledon, and had hoped to build toward a title here. His prospects looked good. He had won 10 matches in a row and claimed back-to-back titles in warm-up tournaments in Cincinnati and Indianapolis.
He also had a new appreciation of what another Open title would mean. After becoming the youngest champion here in 1990, at 19, he struggled with his newfound fame for most of the next year. But in the last eight months his improving tennis had been accompanied by a new maturity and a new outlook.

“I said coming into this tournament that if I could win, it would mean more to me than in 1990,” he said. “In 1990 it all happened so fast, probably too fast. I didn’t realize the importance and the history of the tournament. Coming in today I definitely knew of the importance. It was a huge match.”

But a summer of tennis that stretched from Wimbledon to the Olympics to the U.S. hard-court season clearly had taken a toll on his body. Despite his hard work and his dreams, Sampras had little left to give by match time today.

“I came close but it wasn’t enough,” he said. “I had my chances. I couldn’t finish it off. It was just a pretty tough day at the office.”