Excerpt from Andre Agassi’s autobiography Open

Going into the 1994 US Open, I’m number 20, therefore unseeded. No unseeded player has won the US Open since the 1960s.

Brad (Gilbert) likes it. He says he wants me unseeded. He wants me to be the joker in the deck. You’ll play someone tough in the early rounds, he says, and if you beat them, you’ll win this tournament. [...]

Because of my low ranking, I’m under the radar at this US Open. (I’d be more under the radar if Brooke weren’t on hand, setting off a photo shoot each time she turns her head.) I’m all business, and I dress the part. I wear a black hat, black shorts, black socks, black-and-white shoes. But at the start of my first-rounder, against Robert Eriksson, I feel the old brittle nerves. I feel sick to my stomach. I fight through it, thinking of Brad, refusing to entertain any thought of perfection. I concentrate on being solid, letting Eriksson lose, and he does. He sends me sailing into the second round.

Then – after nearly choking – I beat Guy Forget, from France. That I take out Wayne Ferreira, from South Africa in straight sets. [...]

Then I walk into a classic Chang buzz saw. He’s that rare phenomenon – an opponent who wants to win exactly as much as I do, no more, no less. We both know from the opening serve that it’s going down the wire. Photo finish. No other way to settle it. But in the fifth set, thinking we’re destined for a tiebreak, I catch a rythm and break him early. I’m making crazy shots, and I feel him losing traction. It’s almost not fair, after such a back-and-forth fight, the way I’m sneaking away with this match. I should be having more trouble with him in the final minutes, but it’s sinfully easy.
At his news conference, Chang tells reporters about a different match that the one I just played. He says he could have played another two sets. Andre got lucky, he says. Furthermore, Chang expresses a great deal of pride that he exposed holes in my game, and he predicts other players in the tournament will thank him. He says I’m vulnerable now. I’m toast.

Next I face Muster. I make good my vow that I will never lose to him again. It takes every ounce of self-control not to rub his head at the net.

I’m in the semis. [...] Martin, who just beat me at Wimbledon, is a deadly opponent. He has a nice hold game and a solid break game. He’s huge, six foot six, and returns the serve off both wings with precision and conviction. He’ll cane a serve that isn’t first rate, which puts enormous pressure on an average server like me. With his own serve he’s uncannily accurate.[...]

Still, as the first few games unfold, I realize that several things are in my favor. Martin is better on grass than hard court. This is my surface. Also, like me, he’s an underachiever. He’s a fellow slave to nerves. I understand the man I’m playing, therefore, understand him intimately. Simply knowing your enemy is a powerful advantage.
Above all, Martin has a tic. A tell. Some players, when serving, look at their opponent? Some look at nothing. Martin looks at a particular spot in the service box. If he stares a long time at that spot, he’s serving in the opposite direction. If he merely glances, he’s serving right at that spot. You might not notice it at 0-0 or 15-love, but on break point, he stares at that spot with psycho eyes, like the killer in a horror movie, or glances and looks away like a beginner at the poker tables.

The match unfolds so easily, however, that I don’t need Martin’s tell. He seems unsteady, dwarfed by the occasion, whereas I’m playing with uncommon determination. I see him doubt himself – I can almost hear his doubt – and I sympathize. As I walk off the court, the winner in four sets, I think, He’s got some maturing to do. Then I catch myself. Did I really just say that – about someone else?

In the final I face Michael Stich, from Germany. He’s been to the final at three slams, so he’s not like Martin, he’s a threat on every surface. He’s also a superb athlete with an unreal wingspan. He has a mighty first serve, heavy and fast, and when it’s on, which it usually is, he can serve you into next week. He’s so accurate, you’re shocked when he misses, and you have to overcome your shock to stay in the point. Even when he does miss, however, you’re not out of the woods, because he falls back on his safe serve, a knuckleball that leaves you with your jock on the ground. And just to keep you a bit more off balance, Stich is without any patterns or tendencies. You never know if he’s going to serve and volley or stay back at the baseline.
Hoping to seize control, dictate the terms, I come fast out of the blocks, hitting the ball clean, crisp, pretending to feel no fear. i like the sound the ball makes off my racket. I like the sound of the crowd, their oohs and aahs. Stich, meanwhile, comes out skittish. When you lose the first set as quickly as he does, 6-1, you instinct is to panic. I can see in his body language that he’s succumbing to that instinct.
He pulls himself together in the second set, however, and gives me a two-fisted battle. I won 7-6 but feel lucky. I know it could have gone either way.
In the third set we both raise the stakes. I feel the finish line pulling, but now he’s mentally committed to this fight. There have been times in the past when he’s given up against me, when he’s taken unnecessary risks because he hasn’t believed in himself. Not this time. He’s playing smart, proving to me that I’m going to have to rip the trophy from him if I really want it. And I do want it.
So I will rip it. We have long rallies off my serve, until he realizes I’m committed, I’m willing to hit with him all day. I catch sight of him grabbing his side, winded. I start picturing how the trophy will look in the bachelor pad back in Las Vegas.
There are no breaks of serve through the third set. Until 5-all. Finally I break him, and now I’m serving for the match. I hear Brad’s voice, as clearly as if he were standing behind me. Go for his forehand. When in doubt, forehand, forehand. So I hit to Stich’s forehand. Again and again he misses. The outcome feels, to both of us, I think, inevitable.

I fall to my knees. My eyes fill with tears. I look to my box, to Perry and Philly and Gil and especially Brad. You know everything you need to know about people when you see their faces at the moments of you greatest triumph. I’ve believed in Brad’s talent from the beginning, but now, seeing his pure and unrestrained happiness for me, I believe unestrainedly in him.

Reporters tell me I’m the first unseeded player since 1966 to win the US Open. More importantly, the first man who ever did it was Frank Shields, grandfather of the fifth person in my box. Brooke, who’s been here for every match, looks every bit as happy as Brad.

Video and text by Mauro:

Some highlights and funny moments at the 2012 Champions Trophy in Halle, a mixed doubles exhibition among tennis legends introducing the Gerry Weber Open. Stefan Edberg and Anastasia Myskina met Michael Stich and Martina Navratilova in a show match played at the best of three sets with a Champions’ tie-break in the final set.

I was able to film some of the best moments of the day from the stands: the presentation of the players, some rallies and the on court interview to Stefan Edberg. At a moment in the clip, a little band appears on the stands of the Gerry Weber Stadion and starts playing the Italian pop song “Quando, quando, quando” during play, causing ilarity from the crowd and the players. Stich and Navratilova eventually won the match 5-7, 6-2, 10-8.

More info on STE…fans.

Part 3 of Mauro’s report of the “Champions Trophy” at the Gerry Weber Open (part 1, part 2).

Do you really care about the match, after all? Well, it was really a show much more than a match, often players laughed and joked, even during rallies. You can’t expect much more from a doubles senior exhibition, when even singles matches between former champions are played with smiles on their lips. There was even a moment when music was played during the match and the players found themselves dancing at the rhythm of the Italian pop song “Quando, quando, quando”. And the 10 thousand people crowd appreciated the atmosphere of relaxation… (By the way, it was amazing to see how many people chose to renounce to watch the French Open mens’ final on tv to attend an exhibition among legends. There’s a growing demand for Champions tennis, mostly by fans who are no longer satisfied with what tennis has become today, an aspect that can’t be ignored by tournament organizers).

Myskina and Edberg started the match behind, suffering an early break, but then recovered and won the set 7-5, with a littile bit of quarrel on the set point, when the play was stopped for a presumed double bounce on a pick up from Martina. No story in the second set, when Stich and Navratilova went immediately up a break and closed 6-2.
In my opinion, the match was decided in the Champions’ tie-break, on the score of 8-7 for the German/American team, by an amazing shot from Navratilova, a wonderful forehand lifted lob that overcame Stefan Edberg on the net and died just a few centimeters away from the bottom line, getting Edberg’s applause and an ovation by all the crowd. That shot alone was worth the ticket price… that, in the end, I could even have not paid, since I received a free ticket in a shop in the centre of Halle and also one from my friend Doris, another fan of the page and our translator from German. I watched the match next to her, sitting in a much better place than the one I had booked on the website of the Gerry Weber Open.

I can’t thank her enough for giving me the chance of watching Stefan Edberg’s dancing on grass just a few meters away from the court, a show that would have even captured the eye of an alien who doesn’t know what the word “tennis” means. I was also impressed by the sliced backhand vs sliced backhand by Stich and Edberg, but, unfortunately, most of the times the German shifted to Myskina “cutting” the ball, the rally ended… The Russian showed why she was the only player on court who had never won a Slam on grass and her lack of specialization on that surface was even more evident, because compared to the smooth movements and shots by three masters of what lawn tennis used to be. At the same time, it was nice to see Martina Navratilova in such a brilliant physical shape. Her stretch on the net and her touch are just a miracle, a joy to watch for a tennis fan of any age.

Read part 1 of Mauro’s report here.

Where to start from? When you have the chance to meet your childhood idol, suddenly every word becomes foreseen. So I would like to begin from the kindness of the staff at the press office of the Gerry Weber Open. It was only thanks to them that, without any media credential, I managed to access the press conference of the Champions Trophy and, believe it or not, without really knowing how, I found myself sitting in the first row, watching the winners of 70 Grand Slam tournaments combined speak, two meters away from the man I had always only watched on tv and who was the owner of my feelings back in my teenage days.

I was there, waiting to come in at a sign of the tournament communication director after all the players had ended speaking. He, indeed, introduced me to Stefan who saw me and smiled at me, when he recognized the outfit I was wearing: «Ah… and he has a nice Adidas jacket!», he said, maybe going back with his memory to 25 years ago, when he lifted his second Australian Open trophy with that on.

I was not shaking as I thought I would be, it was such an informal situation, after all, and, no need to say, Stefan is surely not the guy who makes you feel uncomfortable or out of place. I had the chance of shaking his hand and came in with very straight words:

«Hello, Stefan, nice to meet you. My name is Mauro and I’m from Italy. I’m the admin of STE…fans, the international fan community dedicated to you. I want to give you this special screenshot of the home page of my site in memory of this day, that, for me, ranks at the very top of the best moments that I had in my life».

Stefan didn’t know of the site (secretly I hoped he would…), but nevertheless he said: «Thanks very much, I appreciate it!». Then, he came down to the space before the seats in the media room and kindly accepted to take pictures of the moment. Unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to exchange more words with him. But, just the meeting itself was an extraordinary opportunity that I received from the tournament staff only thanks to the quality of my work and, maybe, to the human interest of the story of a fan who had flown to Westphalia from Italy just to hand his hero a little gift.

Read More

Thanks a lot to Mauro for his report from Halle. Check out his website STE…fans for more news, pics and videos about Stefan Edberg.

Halle is the Gerry Weber Open. Everywhere you can see the logo of the tournament, that turns 20 years old in 2012, and the walk from the quiet and tidy historic centre of the town to the Gerry Weber Stadion, along Alleestraße and Gartenstraße, is filled with indications that seem to celebrate it as the most important touristic attraction. Surely not everybody is a tennis expert here, but everybody knows (or has heard of) the tennis tournament, even the nice taxi driver that takes me to the hotel from Bielefeld, a town 18 kilometers away, and doesn’t speak a word of English.

Halle, Gerry Weber Stadion

Many would say there’s not much more to see in Halle Westfalen, but, in my opinion, this is not true. Surely not the best destination if you’re looking for “movida” and intense night life (you would hardly meet twenty other persons in the centre if you take a walk from 7 to 9 pm, just as I did), but there are at least a couple of things that catch the eye of a foreigner.

Halle is definitely a “green” city. Without need to reach the near Teutoburg Forest, you will find plenty of nature-friendly spaces inside the town itself and going slightly outwards. Most of the houses built in the characteristic half-timbered style, that remind of the Medieval history of the town, have a very well kept garden space that shows the love and respect for nature by the inhabitants. More bikes than cars around, and this, for an Italian abroad, is always something amazing to watch, just like the “culture of silence” they have here and, generally, in this area of Europe. If you were to think of a tennis tournament for Halle, it could only be on grass, and the rainy weather, the temperature just over 13-14 Celsius degrees of these days reflect the perfect “scenario” for the typical grasscourt tournament of middle June.

Halle Gerry Weber Open
Read More

The London Underground Map has been redesigned for the Olympics, with each of the 361 stations named after an Olympic icon.

As part of London’s Olympic celebrations, the London Underground Map has been transformed, with stations renamed after legendary Olympic superstars.

The new map brings in famous Olympians from a variety of sports, including US swimmer Michael Phelps, gymnastics great Nadia Comaneci from Romania, Spaniard and five-time Tour de France champion Miguel Indurain and 1992 US Dream Team basketball players Michael Jordan and Larry Bird.

Tennis players included on the map are: Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Fernando Gonzalez, Laurence Doherty, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Nicolas Massu, Mark Woodforde, Todd Woodbridge, Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf, Boris Becker, Michael Stich, Justine Henin, Serena Williams and Venus Williams.

The Underground Olympic Legends Map was designed by Alex Trickett, international editor for the BBC sport website, and sports historian David Brooks.

The map not only celebrates multiple gold medal winning athletes but also features other extraordinary athletes who may not have won an Olympic gold medal but are recognised for their abilities or in some cases, famous defeats

To view an enlarged version of the map, click here.

Via insidethegames