Extract from Tennis’s strangest matches by Peter Seddon:
A quarter-final match between Dutchman Richard Krajicek and three-in-a-row Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras always promised much but no one could have predicted such a stirring response as that given by the Guardian when it was all over:
“Something magical happened in Centre Court on Wednesday 3 July, an event in its own way every bit as much a testament to the fortitude of the native British spirit as Elizabeth I’s rallying of the troops against the Armada some years back. “
Yet bizarrely it wasn’t the tennis that made this match so strangely memorable, but what happened when the rains came and the tennis stopped.
At a Wimbledon already badly interrupted by inclement weather, the last thing a troubled refeee and the increasingly fractious crowsds wanted was a wet Wednesday. But they got it all the same. After play began at 12.30, games were just 2-all in the first set when the heavens opened yet again. Three hours later, with the green covers raised tent-like over the court, it was still bucketing down.
Sandwiches had been eaten, books read, crosswords finished and British resolve tested to such limits that the bedraggled crowd were beginning to look mighty glum.
Enter Sir Cliff Richard, the Peter Pan of Pop, an avid regular at the Championships.
“Would he, perchance, be prepared to deliver a song or two to raise the flagging spirits of the Centre Court faithful?” ventured a Wimbledon official.
Cliff answered in the affirmative and it was just like the war all over again. Appearing in the royal box with a microphone, the 55-year-old icon began his repertoire with, naturally, ‘Summer Holiday’. With unwavering eccentricity the British fans cast off their dampened spirits and joined in.
‘The Young Ones’ swiftly followed. Then ‘Bachelor Boy’ and ‘Livin’ Doll’. As the scene became ever more surreal, Sir Cliff was joined by a backing group including Martina Navratilova, Pam Shriver, Gigi Fernandez and one-time Queen of All England Virginia Wade.
As the crowd swayed in time to the ditties and Cliff danced with a black lady corporal on royal box security duty, the unthinkable happened. The sun came out and resumption of play was announced.
Cliff left the stage with a cheery
“I never thought I’d play the Centre Court”
and Sampras and Krajicek resumed battle once more. Most of the crowd present that day forget that, between further rain breaks, they saw Krajicek take a two set to love lead before a further shower finally curtailed play just after 8 pm at 1-1 in the third.
Being one of those days, even that fate came courtesy of a Wimbledon oddity as it was a delay in covering the court that finally drew the curtain on this unpredictable affair. Ground staff member Mark Hillaby failed to follow the drill, ending up in hospital after tripping and banging his head during the attempted cover up.
For the record, Krajicek later prevailed over Sampras and went on to win his first Wimbledon crown, but it was Cliff who was that year’s star. His impromptu turn was suely the best Centre Court performance by a British man since Fred Perry completed his hat trick of wins in 1936.
1978 was the first year the US Open was played at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows after having been organized at the West Side Tennis Club venue in Forest Hill since 1915. It was also the first time the tournament was played on hard courts: it was originally played on grass until Forest Hills switched to Har-Tru clay courts in 1975. Jimmy Connors is the only player to have won the US Open on all three surfaces.
Extract from Inside tennis – a season on the pro tour by Peter Bodo and June Harrison:
By late August, summer weighs heavily on the city of New York; each day seems like one long tepid breath drawn until dusk, then exhaled slowly through the night. The US Open is about to begin.
The USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow, Queens, has been completed just in time to host the tournament that will henceforth call it home. A boardwalk leads from the subway to the new facility, which is adjacent to Shea Stadium, the sprawling home of the New York Mets and Jets. This boardwalk crosses over a subway yard, where hundreds of cars sit idle, covered with graffiti. The walk is lined with flags: American flags. Over seventy of them, counting those on top of the new Louis Armstrong Stadium. There isn’t a foreign standard in sight, because the USTA is bullish on the American role in international tennis.
The Americans leaped on the treadmill of professionalism faster than their international counterparts. As part of its massive attempt to popularize the sport, the USTA abandoned the West Side Tennis Club in nearby Forest Hills, a site redolent of tradition and all the genteel qualities associated with tennis. Although the stadium at Forest Hills held 13,500, the USTA deemed it to small. The hordes that descended on the 10.5 acres of the West Side Tennis Club created impossibly crowded conditions. Besides, parking facilities were inadequate, and this meant a great deal to some people. When the club rejected expansion proposals in 1977, USTA president Slew Hester decided to move the tournament to a newer, bigger home.
Louis Armstrong Stadium, the centerpiece of the National Tennis Center, is a bowl of epic proportions; its sheer sides give over 20,000 spectators a dizzying view of the main court. But the finest court at the site is in the grandstand, which nestles against one side of the stadium in much the same way that the Number One Court nestles against the Centre Court at Wimbledon. Sunken about ten feet below ground level, the court is surrounded on three sides by seats for about 6,000 spectators, who lean in over the players like aficionados around a bullring.
By Dave Scheiber, Sports Illustrated, March 1990
Dazzling new tennis star Jennifer Capriati, 13, showed that her future is now by deftly handling more-experienced opponents – and the media – in her professional debut.
While hundreds of reporters descended of The Polo Club in Boca Raton, while thousands of spectators spilled through the gates, while other players at the Virginia Slims of Florida gazed at the mob scene with bemusements, the cause of all the excitement, 13-year-old Jennifer Capriati, was curled up inside Chris Evert‘s elegant stucco house several blocks from the stadium court, watching a rerun of The Bionic Woman. “It was a way for me to relax a little”, she said.
As it turned out, Capriati couldn’t have picked a more fitting show to tune in to as she savored some privacy with her father, Stefano, her mother, Denise, and her brother, Steven. Later than afternoon, faster than you could say Lindsay Wagner, Capriati dismantled 10-year veteran Mary Lou Daniels 7-6 6-1 – for the record, the date was March 6, 1990 – to earn a victory in her first match as a pro. By week’s end Capriati, the kid with the grown-up groundstrokes, had served stirring notice that a new American tennis heroine had arrived, ready to pick up where Evert left off when she hung up her racket last year.
“This wasn’t a debut,” said Ted Tinling, the 80-year-old tennis eminence. “It was a premiere!”
From Hard courts: real life on the professional tennis tours, by John Feinstein:
Long before she played her first match as a professional, Jennifer Capriati was the hottest thing going in women’s tennis. Labeled a prodigy at the age of nine and, without having hit a ball yet as a pro, a thriving corporation at the age of thirteen, she had already been the subject of lenghty stories in Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. Time, Newsweek, The Washington Post, The National, and the rest of the world would follow shortly. Each would tell essentially the same story:
Capriati was the oldest of Stefano and Denise Capriati’s two children. Stefano was Italian; Denise, American. They had met in Spain; Denise had lounging by the pool when Stefano had popped his head out of the water and asked her to dinner. He was fifty-four, she was thirty-nine. He was dark and stocky, she was blond, petite, and very pretty. He had played soccer, worked in real estate and, for the past ten years, focused much of his life on Jennifer. Denise was a flight attendant. They had moved from Fort Lauderdale, where Jennifer had taken lessons from Chris Evert’s father, at age five, to Saddlebrook, a tennis resort. There, the people who rran the resort, the USTA and anyone else who could get in the door, fought to take credit for Jennifer’s prowess.
Jennifer Capriati wasn’t just another teenager who could stand at the back of the court and bang ground strokes all day. Forst and perhaps foremost, she was American. Born on Long Island, raised in Florida (after a brief interlude in Spain), she was an all-American girl who happened to be very pretty. She had her father’s dark skin and broad shoulders and her mother’s attractive features.
Women’s tennis was desperately in need of American star with sex appeal. Even at thirteen it was apparent Capriati was the answer. Ever since Chris Evert had first flashed across the tennis horizon in 1971 en route to icon status, tennis had been in search of the next Chrissie. Tracy Austin and Andrea Jaeger had burned out. Pam Shriver never won Grand Slam singles titles. Steffi Graf and Gabriela Sabatini weren’t American. Neither was Monica Seles, even if she had lived in Florida for four years, even if she did speak English with a midwestern accent.
Everyone in tennis has always agreed on the need for American stars. When no American-born male reached the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament in 1986, near panic set in. That was why Andre Agassi became so rich so fast when he began to win in 1988. He was the American that sponsors, television people, bureaucrats, and fans were starving for.
The situation had never gotten quite that desperate on the women’s side. Evert was still a top-five player right up until she retired, at the 1989 US Open, and Martina Navratilova was accepted as an American by some, if not by all. Starting out 1990, though, the only American-born player in the Top ten was Zina Garrison, who was black. The people who control the money in tennis – corporations – don’t think there is much market for a black player in their sport. As a result, Garrison, the fourth-ranked player in the world, didn’t even have a shoe or clothing contact.
That was where Capriati came in. By age nine, agents and manufacturers were already negotiating with her father. She was wearing Ellesse clothing by the time she was ten. Cino Marchese, the IMG agent who is the majordomo of the Italian Open, remembers having a handshake agreement with Stefano to bring his daughter to the Italian Open when she turned pro. Jennifer was nine when the two men shook hands.
In 1989 Capriati won both the French and US Open junior titles, confirming her status as The Next One. Already, the Women’s Professional Tennis Council was passing what would become known as “Capriati Rules”. The first (Capriati I) stated that a player could not participate in professional events before turning fourteen. The second (Capriati II) amended that to say that a player could play a pro event in the same month that she turned fourteen. Capriati turned fourteen on March 29; Boca began on March 5. What a coincidence! The press release announcing the amendment specifically said that these rule changes were not aimed at Jennifer Capriati. (And Zina Garrison’s lack of a clothing contract had nothing to do with her being black…) […]
Capriati was entered in the tournament as a wild card since she didn’t have any points on the computer yet. Every tennis tournament reserves several places in its draw for wildcards – Boca Raton had two spots saved – in case a big star decides to enter at the last minute or an injured player comes back from an injury or an up-and-coming young player comes along. Wild cards are frequently abused by tournament directors, but in Boca they had been used perfectly. the two wild cards were Capriati and Anke Huber, the fifteen-year-old German who, in Australia, had been dubbed the next Graf.
Huber wasn’t about to get noticed this week, though. It was as if the rest of the tennis world had become invisible; This would turn out ot be a wild and fascinating tournament, but no one would pay attention. Jen-Jen mania was completely out of control. […]
Tuesday, March 6, was the day the hype finally became reality. By this time Capriati had been forced to sneak off to faraway courts in order to practice in private. Evert had gone off to Aspen for the week to leave the stage clean for her protégée. The day was hot and sunny. Capriati-Mary Lou Daniels was the fifth match on the schedule. By noon there was chaos in the press tent because there weren’t enough seats to go round. There was no press section, so seats in the stands had to be found, and there were not very many of them available.
By 3:40 the stands were packed and the crowd was restless. The previous match had been over for twenty minutes but there was no sign of Capriati. Finally, at 3:43, Capriati and Mary Lou Daniels appeared. They walked exactly three feet onto the court and were besieged by photographers. They stopped and posed. And posed. And posed.
Daniels was almost a perfect opening-day opponent for Capriati. She was twenty-eight, married, and had been featured in commercials for Coast soap at one point. She had once been ranked as high as No. 15 on the computer, but that was eight years ago, when she was still fresh-faced Mary Lou Piatek. […]
Seeing her up close for the first time, amny in the crowd were surprised by her side. Still three weeks away from fourteen, Capriati was almost five feet seven and weighed at least 130, perhaps more. None of it was fat, though; she was simply big boned and extremely mature.
“She doesn’t hit the ball like a thirteen-year-old,” Daniels said. “She hits more like Steffi Graf.”
Capriati’s nerves and Daniels’ competence kept the first set close. Capriati lost the first point of her career – history will record that it came at 3:57 pm, when she netted a backhand – but quickly won the first three games. Daniels came back to lead 6-5, but Capriati won the tiebreak 7-1, then won the second set easily, 6-1. It had taken seventy minutes.
Everyone was happy. The crowd knew it had seen the real thing and responded with a standing ovation. Daniels was impressed. “She’s worth all the hype,” she said. Other players who had wandered out to watch were equally impressed. “Gee, I wish I had brought my camera,” Pam Shriver said, watching all the commotion. Stefano was happy, too, accepting congratulations from all sides. John Evert (Chris sister and Capriati’s agent), who from that day forth would be knwon in the media as “Colonel Parker” was thrilled to see that the kid could handle it all.
Even the ravenous media was happy. When Capriati came in to a jammed press conference, someone asked her about what she thought of the whole experience.
“Well, she I think playing my first match was great. But the media is really sort of out of control.”
The rest of the week was all Jen-Jen. In the second round, she recovered from losing the second set 6-0 to Claudia Porwik to win her first three-setter. She upset eighth-seeded Nathalie Tauziat and crushed No. 4 Helena Sukova 6-4 -1 in the quarterfinals. Then she beat Gildemeister in the semis. In five days she had won five matches, beating three top-twenty players along the way. She also played doubles with Billie Jean King, even winning a first round match.
Capriati’s joyride ended in the final, when Sabatini beat her 6-4 7-5. But it didn’t matter. the match was close, the crowd loved the whole thing, and it proved that as good as the kid was, she was human. People were beginning to wonder.
What made it all so appealing was Jen-Jen herself. She was completely thirteen, full of giggles and “I means” and “you knows.”
John Evert had advised the Capriatis not to hire a media trainer, at least for the moment. Evert figured – correctly – that a wide-eyed thirteen-year-old who sounded like a wide-eyed thirteen-year-old would be much more appealing than someone who sounded trained.
Virginia Slims, image conscious to a fault, had kept a media trainer on staff for years. More often than not, this training was beneficial to the players although one could tell from a hundred miles away when a player had just been through the sessions. Seles, for example, never referred to a tournament as just “Washington” or “Houston”; it was always “Virginia Slims of Washington” or “Virginia Slims of Houston.”
For now, Capriati would be allowed to be herself. She mouthed all the appropriate clichés and charmed everyone right out of their socks. When the week was over, there was no doubt that a star had been born and that Jen-Jen mania would continue unabated for quite a while. Bud Collins summed it up best when the tournament was over.
“What was that old broad’s name?” he asked. “Everet? Evette? Played twenty years ago, right?”
In 1990 at the Virginia Slims of Capriati in the year of Jen-Jen I, Chris Evert might as well have played twenty years ago.
Published in World Tennis Magazine, December 1989.
In October 1989, Chris Evert represented the United States for the last time in the Federation Cup. Here, she recounts the week.
Our first-round match is against Greece. I play Christine Papadaki, who I have never played or even seen before. The stress I feel before the match has nothing to do with the match itself, but with whether I will fit into the new tennis skirts the USTA made for us. They have red, white and blue sequined flags on the front. Anyway, Martina (Navratilova) and I overcame our jet lag (we arrived in Tokyo the night before after playing in a series of exhibitions) to win easily. Pam (Shriver) and Zina (Garrison) win the doubles.
We go to the NEC Sponsor Dinner later that night. NEC has been sponsoring the Fed Cup for eight years, and the buffet is great. Lots of giveaways too (television sets, pearls, walkmans, silks).
I wake up at 7 am to the sound of rain. We are scheduled to play Denmark, and we go indoors to hit just in case the weather clears up. Sure enough, by 11:30 we are on the court. The first round was played on court 4, a fast court, and this round we’re playing on court 1, which is very slow. It’s hard to figure out why a huge, impressive facility like this (it’s much bigger than Flushing Meadows) doesn’t have uniform-speed surfaces. No matter. I prefer the slower court and beat 16-year-old Karin Ptaszek easily 6-1 6-1. Martina, however, has trouble adjusting and Tine Scheuer Larsen takes advantage of some great passing shots to stretch Martina to 7-5 6-3. Zina and Martina win the doubles. Another 3-0 victory.
I’m still crossing my fingers, but so far team spirit is very high. Our coach, Marty Riessen, is good at dealing with four high-strung perfectionnists. I’m eally motivated – I just hope it lasts all week. The tough matches will begin Friday against Austria.
It’s a day off for the team, but I get early and go through a tough but fun two-on-one with Zina and Pam. Zina is hitting the ball so solidly and moving so well, it’s too bad that, at No. 5 in the world, she isn’t playing in a singles match somewhere. I think that reaching the US Open semis (by beating me!) and getting married (to Willard Jackson) have inspired Zina tremendously. She is coming into her own, which is great to see.
Pam, on the other hand, has come to a crossroads in her career and personal life. This is not an easy time for her: she is frustrated by injuries, her split with Martina in doubles, and her indecisiveness about whether or not to dedicate herself 100 percent to tennis. I really like Pam: she is bright and witty and multidimensional. I have no doubt she will emerge from this low period in her life stonger and wiser.
Here we are in the quarter-final match against Austria. I’m playing Judith Wiesner on center court. We both play well, and because she’s a baseliner we have some very long rallies, though I eventually pull it out. Martina beats Barbara Paulus and the doubles is called off because of rain. Pretty routine, I just heard that the Czechs beat West Germany. Martina is upset, she wanted a rematch with Steffi (Graf).
It rains all day, matches are cancelled.
Czechoslovakia, the match we’ve all been gearing up for. Helena Sukova and Jana Novotna are excellent singles players as well as No. 1 in the world in doubles. In other words, we don’t want to get into a 1-1 situation with them.
I’m ready and I’m focused. I pass Jana at the net and serve effectively to win 6-2 6-3. I think the Czechs were counting on winnning this match. In fact, I think a lot of players think they can beat me because I’ve had some loose, careless matches (for me) this year. But I’m determined not to give an inch.
My heart is in my mouth as Helena storms into the net at every possible moment against Martina and wins the first set 6-4. All of a sudden, our chances of winning this Federation Cup are in jeopardy. If Martina loses to Helena, it will be up to the doubles and the Czechs will be favored. But using the new-found determination that Billie Jean King has worked to rekindle, Martina blows Helena off the court in the second set 6-1, and then shows guts in winning the third, 6-4. In our minds this was the Cup final and we all share a sigh of relief.
One more to go. It has been three long years since we last won the Cup in Prague. We want it back.
They’re calling the final with Spain ‘thirtysomething’ versus the 17 year olds. Conchita Martinez and Arantxa Sanchez, both of whom are in the Top Ten, pose a real threat to me and Martina because of their slow-surface prowess. I feel a little bit apprehensive today because we have been psyching ourselves up more for the germans and Czechs than the Spaniards, because of my lack of knowledge about my opponent (Martinez) and because, more than likely, this will be my last tournament match. That could explain why I woke up at 5:30 this morning. I start to get uptight, but I finally convince myself not to worry, enjoy the competition, and work hard for one more match.
With Pam, Martina and Zina cheering me on from the sideline, I once again play intense, heads-up tennis to beat Conchita 6-3 6-2. Asked after the match why I am retiring when I’m playing so well, I start to realize why everyone on our team is in top form: we have camaraderie, we have Riessen as our coach on the court, and who wouldn’t improve practicing with Martina, Pam and Zina every day?
I think Martina is so relieved that I won my singles (and she is genuinely happy for me) that she forgets about her own game for a while. After losing the first set to Sanchez 0-6, Martina guts out the next two, 6-3 6-4. We have clinched the Cup! Pam and Zina then come out with 3-0 written in their determined eyes and makes us all proud by winning 7-5 6-3.
Andy and my parents watch the ceremony from the sideline. It is bittersweet: I am happy and proud; I am also sad. Later on in the locker room I get a migraine and shed the tears that have been bottled up for quite a while. I’m having a hard time dealing with the finality of it all and still find myself questioning my decision to retire. When I think of how well I played this week and the adrenaline flowing and the highs of winning, it’s hard to think of retiring. But then I force myself to remember the hard work, intense concentration, sore body, total commitment and disheartening losses. Retirement is all at once very calming.
Extract from Inside tennis – a season on the pro tour by Peter Bodo and June Harrison
The women’s final is played first, in bright sunshine. Shriver shows no sign of nervousness; although she is broken early in the first set, she hangs on and reaches 3-4. In the next game, when she hits a desperate backhand volley at full stretch at 30-all, her opponent is set up for an easy forehand pass off the high bounce. But Evert‘s stroke is tight, and the ball falls into the net. Shriver has break point. It goes to deuce, then break point again. Twice, three times, four times, five – Evert is nervous, but Shriver is incapable of ending the game. It goes on to three more deuces, and this time it is Shriver who ignoes the advantage points her opponent holds. The last deuce is reached with a portentous double fault. Evert is beginning to buckle under the strain of the long game. An overhead winner gives Shriver break point again. Evert serves; Shriver returns a backhand slice to her forehand corner. At the decisive moment, Evert decides to lob instead of pass down Shriver’s backhand line, but she scoops the ball up short, and Shriver drills it into the opposite corner. She has broken back to even the match 4-4 after a game that contained twenty points.
Shriver has been capitalizing on Evert’s lack of speed. As long as she can control the pace of the match by ending points quickly, she is in good shape. When she lapses, Evert forces her to deuce before the younger girl holds for 5-4. Then Evert holds her own service at love.
In the next game, Shriver is at the point where she can smelle it. The scent makes her nervous. She loses the first point but hits a service winner for 15-all. She attacks again during the next point, but indecisive lobs answered with tentative overheads result in Shriver putting a crosscourt backhand wide. She cuts her next volley too fine, and Evert has two break points at 15-40. She loses one to a fine, deep serve on the backhand side, but gets the break when Shriver puts her first volley of the 30-40 point into the net. It is the classic error of an overeager hand, to which even the most seasoned players succumb now and then. Evert holds the next game easily to take the set 7-5.
A break in the long ninth game of the second set gives Evert the championship, 7-5 6-4. It is her fourth consecutive US Open title.
Evert and Shriver met the press together. Pam looked fresh as a rose, while Chris seemed haggard. Shriver admitted that things had changed for her with the Navratilova match. When she went out to buy a newspaper that morning, people on the street recognized her and wished her good luck. She felt she played well, despite feeling rushed.
In retrospect, she would have tied to slow down the pace of the match without prolonging the actual points.
“It all seemed to go by too quickly,” Shriver said.
Evert felt vindicated. She had won the tournament even though it was no longer on clay. She had also driven a wedge into Navratilova‘s grip on the number-one ranking, and the year was not over yet. The major title had been captured. She was proud of the intensity with which she responded to big points and the match in general. It proved that the competitive spirit was still there.
Later was I saw her in the lounge, she said:
“I know I’ve played better finals. It would have been a lot easier to play Pam in the second round. But I really needed this for my confidence, because it’s been a real struggle with little help from anyone since Wimbledon. When I first played Tracy there last year, I felt like crawling into a hole before the match. I mean, I had everyting to lose. It was like that his time, too, but I felt less uptight, and that was nice.”
Shriver had been adopted as the darling of the crowd. Evert had seen this happen too often to complain, but there was one thing she felt she had to clear up.
“If I was a normal schoolgirl or a housewife or something like that, I’d probably go for the underdog, too. But I know what it’s like for the winners. I know what real pressure is. Now I always find myself rooting for winners, because I know how tough it is to be one.”