“Going into the Australian Open in 2009, I felt my chances of winning were as good as they had been at Wimbledon six months earlier. I had, in other words, a good chance. The ball bounces higher than it does at the US Open, so it doesn’t fly so fast and it takes my topspin well. What I hadn’t reckoned on was a semifinal like the one I had against my friend and fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco. I won, in the end, but i had to battle so hard and was left so physically destroyed by the end of it. For most of the one and a half day of preparation I had for the final against Federer, I was convinced I had absolutely no chance of winning. The only time I’d felt like that before a Grand Slam final was at Wimbledon in 2006, but that was because I did not believe, in my heart of heats, that winning was an option.
Before the Australian Open final in 2009 it was my body that rebelled, begging me to call a halt. It didn’t cross my mind to pull out of the match but the result I anticipated, and for which I strove mentally to prepare myself, was a 6-1 6-2 6-2 defeat.
The semifinal I played against Verdasco was the longest match in Australian Open history. It was incredibly tight every step of the way, with him playing spectacularly, hitting an extraordinarily high percentage of winners. But I somehow held on, on the defense but making few erors, and after 5h14, I won 6-7 6-4 7-6 6-7 6-4. It was so hot on court that the two of us rushed to drape ice packs around our necks and shoulders in the breaks between games. In the very last game, just before the very last point, my eyes filled with tears. I wasn’t crying because I sensed defeat, or even victory, but as a response to the sheer excruciating tension of it all. I had lost the fourth set on a tie break, and that in a game so tense and in such conditions, would have devastating had I not been able to call on every last reserve of mental strength I’d accumulated over fifteen years of relentless competition. I was able to put that blow behind me and begin the fifth believing I still had it in me to win.
The chance finally arrived with me 5-4 and 0-40 up on Verdasco’s serve. That should have been it, with three match points, but it wasn’t quite. I lost both the first and second points. That was when it all got too much for me and I broke down; that was where the armor plating fell away and the warrior Rafa Nadal, who tennis fans think they know, revealed as the vulnerable, human Rafael.
The one person who didn’t see it was Verdasco. Either that or he was in even worse shape than I was. Because his nerves got the better of him too. In a moment of incredible good luck for me (and terrible luck for him), he double faulted, handing me victory without me having to hit a shot. Both of us fell flat on our backs, ready to expire of physical and nervous exhaustion, but it was me who made it up first, stumbling forward and stepping over the net to embrace Fernando and tell him it was a match neither of us had deserved to lose.
The match ended at one in the morning, and i did not go to sleep till after five. […]
“No sooner had the match got under way than the the aches began to recede. So much so that I won the first game, breaking Federer’s serve. Then he broke me back, but as the games unfolded I found, to my great relief, that I wasn’t out of breath, and while my calves still felt heavy, there were no signs of the muscle cramps I had feared. And none materialized, despite the match going to five sets. In the end, as Titin says, pain is in the mind.
If you can control the mind, you can control the body
I lost the fourth set, as I had done against Verdasco, after going two sets to one up, but I came back, my determination bolstered and my spirit enhanced by the surprise and delight I felt at having made it as far as I had without falling apart. At 2-0 up in the fifth set I turned to where Toni, Carlos, Tuts and Titin were sitting and said, just loud enough so they could hear, in Mallorquin, ‘I’m going to win’. And I did. Toni had been right. Yes, I could. I won 7-5 3-6 7-6 3-6 6-2 and I was Australian Open champion; to my astonishment I had come back to life, and there it was, my third of the four grand Slam titles, now my sixth overall.”
“I entered that event after having had less than a month of “off season” following the Grand Slam Cup (I pulled out of that with an ankle injury), and there was no way I was ready, much less eager to play.
I made the trip, though, and I played and ended up losing in the third round to an Aussie, Mark Philippoussis. The conditions were perfect for an upset: Mark had an adoring home crowd behind him and it was a night match, with some eighteen thousands fans jammed into the Rod Laver Arena, hungry for an upset. Mark just overpowered me – he was in the mythic zone, and when that happens to a player who has as big and versatile a game as Philippoussis, you’re in trouble.
Down deep, I didn’t feel too badly about the loss. I’d done my best. It might have been different if I’d been able to have six or eight weeks off to recharge my batteries and prepare for the new year. It also might have been different if it were any other major but the Australian. I never really liked playing in Melbourne, and my results over the years reflected it (I won just two titles there). This surprised many people, because on the surface the Australian Open might have looked like the perfect Grand Slam for me.
The Aussies have a great tennis tradition, yet even their icons tended to be regular, plainspoken, understated guys, somewhat like me. That was an immediate affinity I felt with Australia. The Australians also are a friendly, easygoing people, and the atmosphere at their major is laid-back; that also suited me. You could get gut-shot in the street there and if you crawled up to a guy for help he’d probably say, “No worries, mate!” and then do all he could to help.
The facilities at Melbourne Park, including Rod Laver Arena, are modern and first-class. You don’t have that feeling of chaos and crowding that characterizes the other majors; even the media presence is considerably smaller. So you have a little less of that intensity and crazy pressure.
In Melbourne you could always count on a few days when the temperature pushes the 100 degree mark, and even though it isn’t very humid, the heat can be draining. It was a special problem for me, because I secretly suffered from thalassemia, a mild disease common to men of Mediterranean descent. It’s basically a blood-iron deficiency that causes anemia, and those who have it are prone to wilting in intense heat.
Another unpredictable thing about the courts at Melbourne Park was the Rebound Ace surface (which was replaced by Plexicushion for 2008). Rebound Ace was a rubber compound that they painted over the typical hard-court base of asphalt. The surface provided a little cushioning and slowed the bounce, but it did strange things in the heat. It was so hot in Melbourne one year that a TV crew cracked an egg on court and, using time-lapse photography, recorded it frying. The heat made the Rebound Ace very sticky.
Yet the conditions in Oz can change in the blink of an eye. The difference between playing day and night matches there is huge (the Australian and US opens are the only two majors that have night tennis, and the retractable roof over the Laver Arena means you can have night indoor tennis). The surface reacted easily to ambient changes of any kind; it was simply a different court when the temperature was a comfortable 75 or 80 degrees – which was often the case during the night matches that followed scorching afternoons. To me, the Australian major was a crapshoot in the areas where I most preferred consistency – the surface, the balls, and the ambient conditions.”
4-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic is the first player to step onto Rod Laver Arena in preparation for the upcoming Australian Open.
Follow our Australian Open coverage on Tennis Buzz.
“The ITF, in a rare burst of sense and forgiveness, announced in 1973 that all pros were now eligible for Davis Cup. She’ll be apples! That’s an old Aussie expression for good days ahead.
And I got the Davis Cup itch again after years of feeling it was no longer for me. Why not? But, realistically, I was 35, not at my very best, and for a very long time hadn’t been involved in the most stifling of tennis pressure, Davis Cup – yes, greater than a Wimbledon final. Especially in Australia where so much success had raised expectations to the clouds. I hadn’t been on the team for 11 years, a lark, overrunning Mexico in 1962. But I was getting itchy to prove myself since the 1960-61 Cups were also romps, over Italy. The lone tough encounter of my four winning teams was the U.S. in 1959, and I lost both singles, to Barry Mac-Kay and Alex Olmedo. Only the presence of Neale Fraser, winning both singles plus the doubles with Emmo, saved us.
Now I had to talk to Fraser, the successor as captain to Hopman. A good friend, but very practical. Was I up to it? And how would the other guys feel about a newcomer at this stage? They had won two series to lift the team to the semis. Happily, I was accepted by my mates: Newcombe, Rosewall, Geoff Masters, Ross Case, Mal Anderson. They just wanted to win for Australia. If I could help, fine.
But could I? Fraser wasn’t at all sure. The acid test prior to the semifinal against Czechoslovakia was the Australian Indoor Championships in Sydney. Captain Fraser made it clear that I’d have to do well to have any chance to play against the Czechs.
I worked my bum off to get fitter than I’d been in almost a year. The lineup of would-be Laver-flatteners was daunting. In the quarters, it was Raul Ramirez, the quick, sharp-volleying Mexican, and I got him, 6-3 6-4. Next, world No. 6 Rosewall. Where did they find him? I barely escaped, 6-4 3-6 8-6. Finally, it was No. 2 Newcombe, in a roaring five sets, 3-6 7-5 6-3 3-6 6-4.
Captain Fraser shook my hand with, “Rocket, welcome to the team.”
It couldn’t have been a nicer setting after gloomy, rickety Hordern Pavilion, site of the Indoor. We were in Melbourne for the semi, plenty of November sunshine heralding the onset of summer on the famed grass courts of Kooyong. The Czechs would have preferred clay, but Jan Kodes, a future Hall of Famer, could handle the lawn. He’d won Wimbledon and was finalist to Newcombe at Forest Hills only months before.
For the last time, my parents saw me play, and fortunately I didn’t let them down. Or Fraser and the country. It was extremely difficult, though. After I stopped Kodes, 6-3 7-5 7-5, Jiri Hrebec, wildly erratic, put it all together to stun the crowd as well as Newcombe – on grass! – 6-4 8-10 6-4 7-5. Now Rosewall and I were on the same side for a change, and we needed each other in a long, demanding go-ahead doubles over Vladimir Zednik and Kodes, 6-4 14-12 7-9 8-6. That left it up to me to tame Hrebec (seldom heard from again) 5-7 6-3 6-4 4-6 6-4 settling it.
We were on our way to Cleveland, a quartet called, by my co-author, “Captain Fraser’s Antique Show” – Rosewall, 39; Laver, 35; Mal Anderson, 38; Newcombe, 29. Rosewall had been away from Cupping for 17 years, Anderson for 15, Laver, as I said, for 11, Newcombe for six, Fraser for 10. Never been anything like it.
We were old enough to go out alone, but nobody wanted to in the December chill of downtown Cleveland. What a place for a Cup final. Old, vast, drafty Public Hall, attracted few people to see us do our stuff: a 5-0 triumph that ended the U.S. streak of five years and a record 15 encounters. A terrible promotion. Some writers were calling us the greatest of all Davis Cup teams, yet nobody wanted to see us (maybe 7,000 for three days) or the home heroes.
It didn’t matter to us. We wanted Yank heads to show that the, shall we say mature, Aussies were still breathing. And we got them on an overly drawn out Friday night and a brief Saturday afternoon. Newcombe led off with a mixture of uncharacteristic spins, soft stuff, plus his usual muscle to overcome Stan Smith in five 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4. Then Tom Gorman and I went at it furiously, charging the net, serving and-volleying for five more sets. A bit of revenge for Wimbledon ’71 was mine, 8-10 8-6 6-8 6-3 6-1.
Fraser decided he wanted two forehands down the middle plus troublesome serving in picking me and Newc to conclude the assignment. We fast-finished the Yanks, Erik van Dillen and Smith, 6-1 6-2 6-4. How pleasant to have the company of our old friend, the Cup, again, and swill victory grog from it. Long time no guzzle for all of us. My Davis Cup itch had been unexpectedly scratched.”
Watch out Australia’s winning team of 1973 reflect on their famous 5-0 victory over the United States in Cleveland.
A global fashion icon will be reborn in 2014 as the legendary Stan Smith returns from its sabbatical. Removed from the shelves for the past few seasons, the classic silhouette has been re-invigorated and updated for the modern day while still staying true to the look and shape of the original.
Since its debut as a tennis shoe, the Stan Smith has made its way from the tennis court to the street, becoming adidas’ best-selling shoe of all time, with over 40 million pairs sold. American tennis icon Stan Smith began wearing what was the world’s first ever leather tennis shoe in 1971, when he won the US Open on grass and the Davis Cup on clay with the American team. In 1972 he won Wimbledon wearing the classic adidas shoe.
To celebrate the return of the Stan Smith, a host of international talent from the worlds of music, sport and screen came together to reveal what the sneaker means to them.
Watch the trailer below featuring Stan Smith and Andy Murray as well as actors, artists and designers.
I will play Jo-Wilfried Tsonga just before the start of the Australian Open in Melbourne on Wednesday 8 January 2014. The proceeds from the event will go to the Roger Federer Foundation and the Australian Tennis Foundation. Special guests include Australian tennis legend Rod Laver. Tickets go on sale midday November 14 – don’t miss out on this unique night of tennis! http://premier.ticketek.com.au/shows/show.aspx?sh=ROGERFED14