One month after the death of his longtime coach Tim Gullikson, Pete Sampras reached the semifinals at Roland Garros, his best result ever on the parisian red clay.

From Pete Sampras’ autobiography A champion’s mind:

When the draw came out for Roland Garros, I just looked at it and went “Wow”. It was as though as it could get. On form, I would play two recent French Open champions, starting in the second round with two-time winner Sergi Bruguera. It was time to step up; I knew that’s what Tim (Gullikson) would have wanted me to do. Paul (Annacone) wanted me to attack relentlessly, and the conditions for that strategy were good. It was hot and dry and the court would be playing fast. I might be able to attack and pressure Bruguera, although he was a great defender and could run down anything.

The Parisians are astute fans and tennis aesthetes; they like players who are stylish, daring, or flamboyant. They understood what a coup it would have been for me, a serve-and-volley player who played a relatively clean, elegant game, to win the ultimate clay-court title – and the only Grand Slam that had eluded me up to that point.
But most important, they were well aware that I had just lost Tim, and their sympathy for me was obvious. Their press, led by sports daily L’Equipe, was all over the story. Tim had just died, yet because of all the publicity and the endless questions, he was more alive in my mind than at any time since before he became ill.

Inspired by the oupouring of concern, respect, and support, I beat Bruguera 6-3 in the fifth. I know Tim would have been proud of the way I attacked and kept the pressure on. I kept my head up for the entire match and I really felt Tim – and the French crowd – pushing me through the rough parts of that battle. In the next round, I beat my friend and Davis Cup doubles partner Todd Martin, and I lucked out a bit to get Aussie Scott Draper in the fourth round – Aussie attackers just didn’t pose the kinds of problems on clay as the European grinders did.

But in the quarters, I was up against Jim Courier, who played extremely well on clay, especially Parisian clay. He was a two-time champ at Roland Garros, and a dominant guy there for half a decade.
I lost the first two sets, which was suicidal given the quality of my opponent. But I felt oddly confident and calm, as if Tim were looking over my shoulder, telling me that it was okay, everything was going to work out. And in reality, I was striking the ball well and putting myself in position to win points. I was getting my backhand to his backhand, which was always the key to playing Jim, who loved to dictate with his forehand. I felt I was outplaying him, but for one thing: I was missing a few volleys here and there, and generally failing to close.

Things changed in the third and fourth sets. I started to finish effectively, and everything else fell into place. Soon I was dominating, although I was also beginning to feel the physical toll. But emotion and inspiration pulled me through. After I won the match, I said something in the press interview about feeling that Tim was watching and helping me. I stated that as fact, and it just added to the developing story. Beating Jim gave me a semifinal berth opposite Yevgeny Kafelnikov, and I liked my chances in that one. I liked them a lot. […]

When Friday rolled around, I was scheduled to play the early semifinal match. Playing the first semi in Paris is a drag. It’s a late crowd in Paris, especially in the choice seats gobbled up by corporations. Frenchmen are not likely to pass up a long, lavish lunch in the corporate hospitality area jsut to catch the first hour or two of what is usually at least a six-hour center-court program. So in Paris, you can find yourself playing a Grand Slam semifinal that has all the atmosphere of a second-round day match in Indianapolis or Lyon. It’s a bummer to play for a place in a Grand Slam final under those conditions. […]

The lack of atmosphere threw me, and so did the conditions. It was hot, the sun was blazing in a cloudless sky, and there wasn’t the slightest breeze. Of course, a fast, sun-baked court would help my game, but the heat could also drain me in a long clay-court grind.
As it turned down, I didn’t have to worry about stamina. I served well at the start, picked my spots to attack, and made good use of my forehand to force the action. Kafelnikov hung in there without worrying me. We went to the first-set tiebreaker and it was close, but I lost it – theoretically, no big deal. And then everything just imploded. I didn’t get a game in the next set, and won just two in the third. It was by far my most puzzling and distressing Grand Slam loss, and it occured against a guy with a tendency to get tight in big matches – especially against me. […]

I was stunned. Down deep, I’d felt that it was my time at the French Open, and that was all bound up with having lost Tim. I thought it was meant to be, especially after my wins over two worthy former champions. During that entire tournament, I felt like Tim was still alive. Tim and I were going to win the French – it was going to be another team effort, like getting over the hump and winning Wimbledon. I’d even had these conversations with him in my head during my matches at Roland Garros, and they helped pull me through.

During the Kafelnikov match, however, there was nothing but a resounding, deep silence. I didn’t think about this during the match, but I guess the silence probably settled in because my attempt to hold on to Tim, my fantasy that I could keep him alive, expired. Despite having been to Tim’s funeral, I hadn’t really faced up to or accepted the fact that he was gone. Two matches too soon, I had a devastating reality check.

When I hit the wall against Kafelnikov, and felt my dream – our dream – blow up in my face, it really did sink in. Tim was gone. Our dream was gone. It was gone for good.

Thanks a lot to Nikos for taking the time to answer our questions on the Tennis Marathon International event and tennis in Greece.

Tennis Marathon

Q: What is the Tennis Marathon International event and how did you get the idea to organize such an event that combines tennis, history and entertainement?

The 2014 International Tennis Marathon™ Event is an innovative international event exclusively for adult amateur tennis players. It combines sport – culture – tourism and entertainment. Tennis fans from all around the world will travel to Athens (Greece) and will have the opportunity to live the Tennis Marathon experience at the facilities located very close to the historic tomb of the Athenians at Marathon City. This was the place where the decisive Battle of Marathon was held in 490 BC, from which emerged both the international term “Marathon” and the sport of the Marathon Race in the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896.

At the same time the competitors will have the chance to visit the Parthenon, the Acropolis Museum, the Panathenaic Stadium and other historical monuments of world cultural heritage, and also enjoy the Greek hospitality and lively entertainment. The hotel, bungalows and facilities are located on the Mediterranean sea.

Below, pictures of the Panathenaic Stadium, the Marathon Bay and the hosting hotel:

Panathenaic Stadium

Marathon Bay

Hosting Hotel Tennis Marathon

The idea of organizing this International event came after 4 years of organizing the homonymous event in Athens – Greece. In May 2011 I organized the first Tennis Marathon Event and since then I have organized more than 25 events.

The idea of the Tennis Marathon Event was born in the Greek capital, Athens, the home of the Classic Marathon. The idea is to engage a specific number of players in an organized, “Marathon” tennis meeting. The original idea is coupled with a simple and equally unique recipe that makes the event safe and accessible to everyone. The recipe gets even more special by adding ingredients that highlight the importance of the idea of the Tennis Marathon Event and the value of competition and participation.

Q: Do you plan to organize Tennis Marathon in other countries?

My purpose is to expand the Tennis Marathon Events worldwide. The events should be exclusively held by licensed providers who will follow the methodology, rules and philosophy of the original Tennis Marathon Event. The Tennis Marathon brand is an internationally registered trademark in more than 30 countries and is protected by international law.

The right to use the trademark can be acquired only by Licensed Providers. Each tennis club who likes the idea of Tennis Marathon and would like to provide the Tennis Marathon Event at their facilities, can visit the official website: www.tennis-marathon.com and easily become a Licenced provider.

Q: Let’s talk about tennis in Greece, I guess tennis is not as popular as football and basketball?

Tennis in Greece is becoming more popular year by year. Many new facilities have been constructed during the last 10 years. Football and basketball are much more popular, but most of the followers are just fans, not players. On the other hand the number of social tennis players is increasing year after year.

Q: Pete Sampras and Mark Philippoussis are both Greek descendants as well as Australian hopes Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis, how do you explain Greece has never produced a big tennis champion?

There is a big gap between social tennis and competitive tennis in Greece. The first is growing year by year, the second is unfortunately getting worst. There are many reasons for this. The main reason is the lack of infrastructure and education on tennis matters in Greece. Despite this fact there is a great tennis player who is still playing on the Tour, coming from Greece, Eleni Daniilidou, former WTA #14. Marcos Baghdatis, former ATP #8 grew up in Cyprus and as far as I know the Cyprus Tennis Federation helped him a lot at the beginning of his career.
Nick Galis was the player who changed once and for all basketball in Greece, in the 80’s. I don’t know if this is going to happen in tennis. But you never know. This is the… Greek miracle!

Nikos with Pete Sampras

Pete Sampras

Nikos with Marcos Baghdatis

Marcos Baghdatis

Q: 10 years ago, Athens organized the Olympics Games, many stadiums built for the Games are now in decay, is the tennis stadium still in use?

The Olympic tennis facilities were in use until 2012, by hosting ITF Tournaments. Unfortunately today there is almost no use of these facilities, basically due to the economic crisis and also due to bureaucracy.

Q: You worked as a volunteer for the Paralympic Games in Athens, what was your role and which are your biggest memories of those Games?

Before the Athens Paralympics I have worked as a volunteer for the Olympic Games in Sydney. I worked at the spectator services in the Olympic Stadium ( track events ). I will never forget how I felt when I listened to the Anthem of the Olympic Games in Greek language, during the opening ceremony.
At the Paralympics in Athens my role was at the wheelchair tennis players services. This was a once in a lifetime experience for me, to watch these super-athletes moving and playing on the field.

Q: You also helped promoting beach tennis in Greece, is it popular and do you plan to organize Beach Tennis Marathon one day?

Beach Tennis is not as popular as Tennis in Greece, as it is happens worldwide. Beach Tennis is quite a new sport. I personally have already organized some Beach Tennis Marathon Tournaments in Athens the past years. There will also be a “Getting to know Beach tennis” session during the 2014 Tennis Marathon International Event.

Q:To put an end to this interview, a few words to convince people to take part to the Tennis Marathon International event?

The moto of the 2014 International Tennis Marathon Event is “Tennis Meets History”. Greece is not a traditional tennis country, of course, although the tennis sport was first hosted in the Olympics Games, in 1896, in Athens city. In 2014 the Tennis Marathon will be held for the first time at the home of Marathon Race, at Marathon City. From my experience as an athlete and also as a volunteer, the most important reason to take part in such an unprecedented event is to become a part of it!

The registrations deadline will be extend to the 26th of May, but there will be no refund in case of registrations after the 30th of April. Find out more info on tennis-marathon.com

Sampras and Agassi

French sports daily L’Equipe celebrates the 10th anniversary of the FedererNadal rivalry (they first met in Miami in 2004, Nadal won in straight sets 6-3 6-3) and at this occasion they published their 5 best mens tennis rivalries. Here’s their ranking (article by L’Equipe, translation by Tennis Buzz):

1. Federer-Nadal (since 2004)

Despite the fact that Nadal won more than 2 out of 3 of their meetings, their duel still fascinates. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal played a record 8 Grand Slam finals against each other.

2. Borg-McEnroe (1978-1981)

Fire and ice, ice and fire. You had to choose your side: the steadfast right-handed or the flamboyant left-handed, the inscrutable one and the temperamental one. For many, this rivalry symbolizes the first golden era of tennis. Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe met only 14 times including 4 Grand Slam finals (head-to-head: 7-7), but they played that epic Wimbledon final in 1980 and the tiebreak everyone remembers (18-16 in the fourth set).

(Check out some pics and videos of Borg and McEnroe renewing their rivalry at the Optima Open here)

3. Sampras-Agassi (1989-2002)

Another opposition of styles and personalities. On one side, Sampras offensive game and underdeveloped charism, on the other side, Agassi‘s thousands lifes and looks, his sharp eye and laser-like groundstrokes. Sampras often prevailed (20-14 overall, 4-1 in Grand Slam finals for Sampras), but they played some memorable matches like their 2001 US Open quarterfinal (4 sets, 4 tiebreakers).

(Check out some pics and videos of Agassi and Sampras renewing their rivalry at the World Tennis London Showdown here)

4. Nadal-Djokovic (since 2006)

The classic of the classics (39 meetings) could climb up the rankings because they could play some other memorable matches like the Australian Open 2012 final (5 hours and 53 minutes of play), the 2011 US Open final and the semifinals in Madrid in 2009 and at Roland Garros last year. The decathletes of modern tennis have already played 6 Grand Slam finals against each other (4 wins for the Spaniard).

5. Edberg-Becker (1984-1996)

We could have chosen a more fiercy rivalry (Lendl-McEnroe ou Connors-McEnroe) but we preferred to remember the time when two pure attacking players ruled the world. Edberg opposed a wonderful technical fluidity to Becker‘s power. The German has often had the upper hand (25-10 in their head-to-head) but Edberg won 2 of their 3 Grand Slam finals, all 3 at Wimbledon.

What do you think of this top 5? Personnaly I would vote Borg-McEnroe for top rivalry because of their bigger contrast in styles, personalities and their mythic Wimbledon 1980 final.
Happy to see Edberg-Becker at number five, back in the days I really loved watching them play at Wimbledon.
Please vote and share your thoughts.

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Andre Agassi

Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi did renew their rivalry at the World Tennis Day London Showdown. Agassi took the match 6-3 7-6. You can read the complete recap of the event here. Enjoy a few pics and videos of the match:

Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras being interviewed by Andrew Castle:

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:

Andre Agassi will take part to the World Tennis Day Showdown in London on Monday, where he’ll meet archrival Pete Sampras – in another Wimbledon final rematch Ivan Lendl will face Pat Cash.
Prior to his return to London Agassi talked to Tennis Oggi about Wimbledon and its importance in his career.

Interview by Roberto Angelelli, translated by Tennis Buzz

22 years after his first Grand Slam triumph, Agassi recounts the historical moments on that magical green mantle, which helped him to grow as a player but also as a man.
“The last time I played in London – says Andre – was for the opening of the roof on Centre Court in 2009. But other times I came back just to enjoy the city.”

“I’ve always looked for an excuse to set foot on those courts again, and I think the best way is just that: play with Pete. Wimbledon makes me reflect and memories resurface. My career owes much to this tournament and to these people. I’ve learned so much here, I’m very fond of London. Here my wife shined and I grew up and matured, any excuse is a good one to come back and I look forward to it.”

My first experience in England was not good,” admitted Agassi. “It coincided with a particular period of my life, I felt overwhelmed by the big city and from different cultures. Playing for the first time on a totally different surface made ​​me feel like an intruder. I felt like I was in a dollhouse. I have lived a unique, bizarre experience that blew me away enough to not want to come back, because of a number of reasons, for three or four years.”

Opposed to the dressing code of the tournament, which always requires a predominantly white clothing, Agassi ended his self-imposed exile in 1991. And one year after, he won the first of his eight Grand Slam titles. A real turning point in the career of the American tennis player, who then wrote some of the most memorable pages in the history of tennis.

“When I really understood what Wimbledon meant to our sport, I came back and was forgiven by the British people. I think it was a great relationship, something unique, that grew over time. Every time in my career I played in London, regardless of the outcome, I always felt people were ready to support me and this helped me a lot in my life and career, to realize most of my dreams.