By Jon Wertheim, Tennis Magazine, June 2004

The working conditions were awful and the hours were worse. My subterranean workspace was a dimly lit room that reeked of the confluence of Bengay, sweaty socks, cheap cologne, and “eau de body.” I think I was paid $300; even for a college kid with economic needs that didn’t extend much beyond pizza and the occasional CD, that amounted to bupkis. And for 10 days it was a dream job.

While in college at Yale, I taught tennis in Connecticut elementary schools as part of a grass-roots program sponsored by the Volvo International, a U.S. Open tuneup event held on the Yale campus in New Haven. In August of 1992, a few weeks before my senior year began, my boss called with a frantic request. The man who was going to manage the locker room during the Volvo event had backed out of the job. Would I be willing–please!–to fill in?

I had been planning to while away the final days of my last college summer with friends on Cape Cod. Instead, I was being offered a chance to spend that time picking up the sweaty towels of Ivan Lendl and a hundred or so of his colleagues. Naturally, I accepted.

Although I received a 30-minute tutorial on ‘locker room etiquette’ from an ATP official before the tournament–just to make sure I wouldn’t do something as gauche as toss a towel at a player, but instead offer it, palms up–my real training came during the qualifying tournament. Many of the players were my age, so there was something demeaning about tending to their lavatorial needs. But I did my job dutifully.

On the final day of the qualies, a shy, skinny Russian teenager with a terminally uncool bowl cut and a halting command of English offered me a “tall five” after he made it into the main draw. In ensuing years, I’d see a lot of Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

On Monday, the main-draw players arrived and my job began in earnest. In addition to dispensing towels–palms up–I cleaned the benches, vacuumed the floor, and threw out used grip tape, Gatorade bottles, Odor-Eaters, and other tennis detritus.

But the work was far from tedious. I delivered what might euphemistically be called a ‘mash note’ from a female admirer to a young American doubles player. He read it, laughed, and crumpled it up, as though having women offer to prostrate themselves before him was a common occurrence.

I also helped Leander Paes stretch his arms before a match and Pat McEnroe find dinner when, after losing a night match, he wanted to eat away his sorrows with several slices of New Haven’s famous pizza. Now this was something I knew about. And as Pat had forgotten the name of the place recommended by his brother John, I commandeered a courtesy car and dropped him off at Sally’s on Wooster Street.

I was surprised by how little correlation existed between the players’ rankings and their dispositions. At once regal and casual, Stefan Edberg walked into the locker room on the first day of play and plopped down his duffel near my spot on the bench. Instinctively, I snapped to attention, much like when I passed one of my professors on the quad. Edberg just looked at me, extended his hand, and said, warmly, ‘I’m Stefan’–as if I needed an introduction to the best player in the world.

I was awestruck, so Edberg picked up the conversational slack. He asked, “You go to school here?” I nodded. He added, “I’ll try not to make too much work for you,” and then patted me on the back.

On the other hand, a curly haired Californian who was, at best, ATP marginalia, lit into me when I committed the sin of handing him an insufficiently fluffy towel. “If you’re going to give me crappy towels,” he barked, “at least give me two.” Because I am large-souled and don’t hold grudges, I won’t reveal that it was Jeff Tarango.

As a writer at Sports Illustrated, I frequently get asked, “What is so-and-so really like?” Invariably, I serve up a lame answer–“Andy is a cool kid” or “Venus is nice but can be distant”–while the unvarnished truth is that we in the sports media often have no real idea. Our access is limited, and our subjects have control over every aspect of how we perceive them. British novelist Martin Amis was once assigned to go ‘behind the scenes’ at a tennis tournament. He later remarked with frustration, “All you get when you go behind the scenes is another scene.”

But my stint in New Haven was different. I was a fly on the bench, so to speak. Some players interacted with me, others didn’t. But no one bothered to adjust his behavior on account of my presence.

Unlike Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, who was disappointed when she peeked behind the curtain and discovered that the wizard was really a pitiable old man, my own backstage experience fueled my passion for tennis. It also served as a catalytic event in my decision to write about sports for a living.

I saw firsthand the intense individualism of tennis. The players were superficially collegial, but ultimately they sat alone, tackling their thoughts and fears in isolation. I also saw just how international the sport is: With no trace of irony, players spoke of meeting up or having dinner in Madrid or Tokyo. I saw just how physically grueling the pro game can be: After 90 minutes on the tennis court, these world-class athletes required lengthy rubdowns.

And I saw that the glamorous cast of the ATP tour is not so different from most work forces, an omnium-gatherum of wallflowers and social animals, eager rookies and jaded veterans, jerks and gentlemen.

Indeed, on my last day of work, Edberg beat MaliVai Washington in the final. As I scoured the locker room one last time, I came across an Adidas bag near Edberg’s locker–strange, since he had already taken his check and trophy and skipped town. I looked closer.

The bag was stuffed with new shoes, an Adidas sweatshirt, and a racquet. On it was a note: ‘Jon, thanks for everything. Good luck at school. Stefan.’

I never had a chance to thank Edberg (who, incidentally, went on to win the U.S. Open a month later). And by the time I started covering the sport for SI, he had retired. But if our paths ever cross, I’ll make it a point to express my gratitude and explain how meaningful I found his gesture.

And then I’ll extend my hand to shake–palm up, of course.

Monica Seles and Anke Huber, Australian Open 1996

By Claude England, Maryland Match Point

At first I thought it must have been the strong capuccino I had enjoyed after ou last dinner in Melbourne that was keeping me so wide awake, but as the minutes continued to tick by, I came to realize it as the sheer excitement of the past five days at the Australian Open that was still tingling through my body.
So many talented players, great matches, and the magnificent state-of-the-art Australian Open facility. Where to begin?

Mark Philippoussis opened up the center court action with a straight victory over Nicolas Kiefer, who would have, at that time, thought he would go on to upset Pete Sampras in straight sets, only to be thrashed in the following round by fellow Australian Mark Woodforde.
Next it was defending champion Andre Agassi who basically limped onto center court after having the misfortune of hurting a tendon in his knee during a fall on his apartment steps. Andre, wearing a pathetic bandage, somehow won this match against Argentine qualifier Gaston Etlis, who at one point was serving for the match, and at another time was within two points of perhaps the upset of the decade. It was a sad sight from both ends of the court. Etlis played brilliant tennis, showing no mercy for Andre’s inability to move around the court, hitting precision drop shots that the defending champion, instead of racing towards, could only stand and watch. But when it came to winning those final points, Etlis became even more creative in finding ways not to win, and Andre hobbled to a 6-3 in the fifth victory.
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John McEnroe

Enjoy these exclusive pictures of Pat Cash and Todd Martin win over the McEnroe brothers in the Men’s Champions Doubles final:

Cash/Martin vs McEnroe/McEnroe

Cash/Martin vs McEnroe/McEnroe

Cash/Martin vs McEnroe/McEnroe

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Pete Sampras

The second-ever World Tennis Day took place on Monday 3 March 2014. World Tennis Day aims to promote tennis and increase participation among players around the globe, and this year’s celebrations were centred around exhibitions featuring Grand Slam or Davis Cup champions, on three different continents:
Li Na vs Sam Stosur and Tomas Berdych vs Lleyton Hewitt in Hong Kong
Pat Cash vs Ivan Lendl and Andre Agassi vs Pete Sampras in London
Bob and Mike Bryan vs John and Patrick McEnroe, and Andy Murray vs Novak Djokovic in New York

For the first time this year an event was organized in London, and obviously I couldn’t miss that! Read my recap below and stay tuned for more pics and videos.

Cardio tennis demo

To start the evening, a demo of cardio tennis, a group fitness activity featuring fast paced drills and games. It combines the best features of tennis with cardiovascular exercise.
It does not require tennis skills, but is all about keeping your heart rate up, burning calories and having fun. The main purpose is to get fit.

Cardio tennis

Cardio tennis

Ivan Lendl vs Pat Cash

First highlight of the evening, the one-set match between 9-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl and Wimbledon 1987 champion Pat Cash.

The Ivan Lendl from today is really different from the somewhat cold and robotic player he was back in the days. Believe me or not, Lendl was the real entertainer of the event, he kept talking and joking with the crowd and his opponent.

Ivan Lendl to Pat Cash:

Are you ok? I am supposed to be the old guy!

Cash attacked the net and Lendl demonstrated his back-court skills: drop shots, passing shots and powerful backhands. The Australian took the set 8-6.

Pat Cash, Andrew Castle, Ivan Lendl and Jonathan Ross:

Pat Cash and Ivan Lendl

Ivan Lendl

Ivan Lendl

Ivan Lendl

Pat Cash

Pat Cash

Pat Cash

Pat Cash

Below, Ivan Lendl being interviewed by fellow legend Mats Wilander:

Ivan Lendl

ITHF rings ceremony

The International Tennis Hall of Fame Class of 2014 was announced on Monday, newly elected Hall of Famers are: three-time Grand Slam champion Lindsay Davenport, wheelchair tennis pioneer Chantal Vandierendonck, former USTA President Jane Brown Grimes, legendary coach Nick Bollettieri and the “voice of Wimbledon”, John Barrett.
Chantal Vandierendonck and John Barrett were in attendance in London and were honored in a special ceremony.
One of the early stars of wheelchair tennis, Chantal Vandierendonck was the Esther Vergeer of the 90’s: she was the first Wheelchair Tennis World Champion in 1991, she won seven US Open and five Paralympic medals. She is the first Dutch tennis player to be inducted to the Hall of Fame.
A former British Davis Cup captain, John Barrett was the “Voice of Wimbledon” on the BBC from 1971-06. His wife, former top-ranked player Angela Mortimer Barrett, was inducted into the Hall in 1993. Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf are the only other married couple in the ITHF.

Shown below: ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti, Hall of Fame Chairman Christopher Clouser, Vice Chairman of the Nomination commitee Ingrid Lofdahl Bentzer, Chantal Vandierendonck and John Barrett.

Chantal Vandierendonck with John Barrett

They were then joined on court by Ivan Lendl, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi who received Hall of Fame rings.

Said Christopher Clouser:

“These one-of-a-kind rings are a symbol of all that they have accomplished and their legacy in the sport.”

Ivan Lendl

Pete Sampras

Andre Agassi

Gordon Reid vs Marc McCarroll

Next, British wheelchair tennis players Gordon Reid and Marc McCarroll took to the court to play a championship tie-break. World number 3 Reid won easily 8-3 over world number 12 McCarroll.

Wheelchair tennis follows the same rules as able-bodied tennis. Except the ball is allowed to bounce twice. The second bounce can be either inside or outside the court boundaries.

If you get the opportunity, don’t hesitate to go watch some wheelchair tennis, it is highly entertaining. You can read here and here about my day at the London Paralympics in 2012.

Gordon Reid

Gordon Reid

Gordon Reid and Marc McCarroll

Andre Agassi vs Pete Sampras

And finally, the match everyone was waiting for: Andre Agassi vs Pete Sampras.
With contrasting styles and temperaments, they played each other 34 times from 1989 through 2002, with Sampras winning 20 of their matches. They played some memorable matches like the 2001 US Open quaterfinal, 2002 US Open final. Their rivalry was the Nadal-Federer of the 90’s.

Of the four Grand Slam champions that played that evening, Pete Sampras was the only player I had never watch playing live before, and I enjoyed watching his smooth serves and volleys.
Sampras struggled a bit at the beginning but from what he said after the match, he doesn’t play much tennis these days. I guess it’s easier to find back your rythm when you play from the baseline than when you play serve and volley.
Agassi took the match 6-3 7-6 on a Sampras double fault.

There was not much interaction with the crowd and despite what they said it’s obvious these guys will never be friends, they just tollerate each other.

Pete Sampras, Elaine Paige and Andre Agassi:

Pete Sampras, Elaine Paige, Andre Agassi

Pete Sampras

Pete Sampras

Pete Sampras

Pete Sampras

Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi

Sampras and Agassi lap of honor:

Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi

Despite the (really) high price of the ticket I really enjoyed this evening of tennis featuring four tennis legends. A suggestion for next year: what about Rafter-Ivanisevic and Becker-Edberg matches?

More pics and videos of the matches Cash-Lendl and Agassi-Sampras:

Strange things happen every day, and when you put professional athletes and tens of thousands of fans in the hot August sun in Queens, New York, weirdness is bound to follow. Here are some of the more interesting things that have happened over the years at the US Open.

Most of you still remember the 2009 US Open when Serena Williams lost her cool. She was playing Kim Clijsters in the semi-final. The linesman foot-faulted Serena on her second serve. Serena then let loose one of the most shocking rants in the history of professional tennis (giving many spectators fearsome flashbacks of John McEnroe). Apparently Serena said, “If I could, I would take this ******* ball and shove it down your ******* throat.” The linesman told the chair umpire who called the tournament referee. A disgraced Serena lost a point and lost the match.

oh serena

Tennis isn’t usually thought of as a dangerous sport. But, in 1983, 70-year old linesman Dick Wertheim was fatally injured. Stefan Edberg was playing Patrick McEnroe. Edberg’s serve sent a speeding ball straight into Wertheim’s groin. Wertheim fell, hitting his head on the hard court and fracturing his skull. He died from blunt cranial trauma, a direct result of his injury. Edberg, only seventeen at the time, went on to win six Grand Slams.

At the 1979 US Open John McEnroe was playing Ilie Nastase. It was the fourth set. McEnroe was serving. Nastase held up his hand to signal that he wasn’t ready. McEnroe, never known for his patience, served anyway and the umpire gave him the point. Natase started complaining, 10,000 yelling fans joined him. Natase wouldn’t shut up and was docked the game. The crowd went crazy. People started throwing stuff onto the court (mostly trash). The cops were called to restore order. Seventeen minutes later Nastase was asked to resume the game. The one-minute service time period went by and still he refused. Unsurprisingly, he was disqualified. The crowd was still going nuts; fearing an all-out riot, the umpire was replaced and the match was continued. Not that it mattered, McEnroe won anyway.

In 1977, during the match of John McEnroe and Eddie Dibbs, a gun went off. James Reilly, a 33-year-old fan innocently watching the match in the stands, was shot in the thigh by a .38 caliber gun. Turns out Reilly was hit by a stray bullet fired from a gun outside the stadium in Queens, NY. The game was delayed while Reilly was taken out of the stands and out of the stadium. When McEnroe and Dibbs were told why the game was delayed, Dibbs is reported to have said: “I’m out of here.” To keep the players from leaving and the game from suddenly ending, the umpire lied and told them that a fan was in shock. McEnroe won the match. Afterwards, the umpire confessed that he was correct the first time, and that a fan was shot, not in shock.

The 1977 US Open must have been an exciting tournament. Renee Richards made her debut in the women’s singles, against Virginia Wade. Seventeen years earlier, at the 1960 US Open, Renee made her debut in the men’s singles, as Richard H. Raskind. After a sex-change operation, and a ruling by the New York State Superior Court, Richard/Renee was allowed to come back to the US Open, the same tournament, different division. When she played as Richard Raskind he lost his first-round match. When she played as Renee Richards, she also lost her first-round match.

Excerpt of Top 100 greatest days in New York City sports by Stuart Miller:

Jimmy Connors won five U.S. Opens on three different surfaces at two different places, yet he’s best remembered for a tournament in which he didn’t even reach the finals. That 1991 performance was the third and final act for Connors, who had won as the brash bully of the 1970s and as the curmudgeonly craftsman of the 1980s. This time Connors, seemingly washed up, transformed himself into a feel-good story for a society built on both a Peter Pan complex and the worship of true grit. This aging inspiration captivated even the most casual sports fans, attaining a new level of celebrity and forging an unforgettable legacy with his classic American blend of tenacity and showmanship.

That tournament, Connors said later, was “the most memorable 11 days of my career. Better than the titles.”

And he gave his growing legion of fans not one but three classic matches.

So which is your favorite? Bet you can’t choose just one.

You could select the first-round comeback against Patrick McEnroe on August 27.

Because it seemed incredible that Connors was even there. His iron man records—109 pro titles, 159 straight weeks at number one, 12 straight Open semifinals, and 16 straight years in the top 10—were in the past. Connors had played and lost three matches in 1990 before submitting to wrist surgery. He’d plummeted to 936th in the world, defaulted at the French Open in 1991 owing to a cranky back—the defining symbol of old age—and lost in the third round of Wimbledon; he was ranked just 174th by Open time and needed a wild-card berth just to gain entrance to his “home court.”

Jimmy-Connors 1991 US Open Tennis

Because he beat a McEnroe. Sure, Patrick, ranked just 35th, lacked the skill and artistic temperament of his famous older brother, but he was an Australian Open semifinalist and had beaten Boris Becker that summer.

Because this was the first time we saw Connors’s vibrant Estusa racket flashing through the night, proclaiming the return of the king.

Because he overcame the greatest deficit of all, dropping the first two sets to the steady McEnroe 6–4, 7–6, then falling behind 0–3 in the third. Connors was limping (an act, perhaps, lulling his prey or laying groundwork for an alibi), and the stadium was emptying, everyone writing Connors off. By the next game there’d be perhaps 6,000 loyalists from the original sellout crowd. According to Joel Drucker’s biography-memoir Jimmy Connors Saved My Life, even Connors’s staunchest supporter, his mother and first teacher Gloria, turned away from the television.

Then, at 0–40, one mistake from oblivion, Connors finally turned it on. And once he did, McEnroe could not finish off tennis’s Rasputin, who drew his lifeblood from the screaming, stomping, bowing fans that remained. Connors held, saved two more break points at 2–3, won five of six games for the third set, then snared the fourth set 6–2 and finished McEnroe off 6–4 in the fifth. The 4-hour-18-minute epic ended at 1:35 a.m. “The crowd won it for me,” Connors said. “The crowd was an awful heavy burden for Patrick.”
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