Conchita Martinez:

Conchita Martinez

Cristiano Ronaldo:

Cristiano Ronaldo

Ivan Ljubicic:

Ivan Ljubicic

Virginia Ruano Pascual:

Vivi Ruano

Carlos Moya and Roberto Carretero:

Carlos Moyá y Roberto Carretero

Photo credit: Davinia

Manolo Santana Roland Garros

From Love Thirty, three decades of champions – published in 1990

One of the craziest anomalies of the 1960s, a decade in which the great champions were bared from the great tournaments, concerned two Spaniards born within nine months of one another duing the Civil War. There was nothing to choose between their levels of performance. But Andres Gimeno turned professional in 1960 and played his best tennis in the proud, exclusive environment of Jack Kramer‘s tour. Towards the end of the 1960s, only Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall were better players.
But superficial historians may recall Gimeno only as the chap who, at the age of 34, won the 1972 French championship from an unusually modest bunch of challengers. By contrast Santana stayed in the ‘shamateur’ ranks, picked up an impressive array of Grand Slam titles, had a wonderful Davis Cup record, became a national hero, and captivated everybody in sight. So Santana received far more publicity and achieved a bigger reputation, except among the cognoscenti. Santana played no better than Gimeno did but had the more spectacular game, the more crowd-pleasing court presence, and probably a greater depth of competitive self-belief.

First a word about Gimeno, who was Santana’s Davis Cup teammate from 1958 to 1960 and 1972-1973, winning 17 out of 22 singles and breaking even in ten doubles. Gimeno was 6ft 1 1/2in tall but looked even bigger because he was straight-backed, held his head high, and had a tiptoed style that suggested he was wary of damaging the court. His bearing was patrician, his manner courteous, his game elegant. Gimeno stroked the ball with the teasing flourish one associates with the bull-fighting breed. The forehand was his stronger flank and although it was sometimes said his backhand couldn’t break an egg, he placed the shot shrewdly.
Gimeno had a sure touch and made effective use of the lob. There was a purpose behind every shot he played and his game was as tidy in detail as it was sound in conception. But he had nothing that could really hurt his opponents and on big occasions he tended to be too highly strung, too diffident, to do himself complete justice. Gentleman that he was, Gimeno may have had too much respect for the likes of Laver and Rosewall.

Would Santana have done any better in that company? One doubts it. He turned down a professional offer because he considered he could more tournaments and more prestige, make more money, and have a more congenial lifestyle by remaining in the ‘shamateur’ ranks. There came a time when Santana and Roy Emerson, as the biggest fish in a thinly stocked pool, could command $1,000 to $1,500 a week. They had no illusion. They knew that they would be smaller fish in the professional pool. An embarrassing decision was forced upon them and they chose the course that suited their circumstances and their natures. It worked out pretty well for them and it worked out pretty well for Spain, too. By winning two Grand Slam titles on clay and two on grass, and twice guiding his country to the Davis Cup challenge round, Santana did even more for Spanish tennis (and the nation’s sporting reputation in general) than Severiano Ballesteros was to achieve via golf.[…]

Santana was the Ilie Nastase of the 1960s: less of an athlete, true but more disciplined in his conduct and his match-play, and in the same class when it came to artistic wizardry. An example of the shots they had in common what that rare flower, the chipped forehand, which both played with such facility that they might have been picking daisies. The joyous feature of their tennis was a common ability to mask their intentions. Their dextrous powers of deception were such that they consistently pulled off the tennis equivalent of the three-card trick.

Santana used every hue in the box during the 1961 French championships, in which he beat the top three seeds – Roy Emerson, Rod Laver and Nicola Pietrangeli – to win his (and Spain’s) first major championship. Santana beat Laver 3-6 6-2 4-6 6-4 6-0. Laver led 4-1 in the fourth set but, emmeshed in a beautiful network of shot-making, could not win another game. In the final, Santana beat a kindred spirit, Pietrangeli, by 4-6 6-1 3-6 6-0 6-2. It was a sunny afternoon and the arena was as much an artists’ studio as a tennis stadium. Each man in turn stepped up to the canvas while the other was, so to speak, taking time off to mix his colours. The vast assembly could hardly believe their luck. Ultimately Pietrangeli, champion in the two previous years, had to admit that he was the second best. […]

They met again in the 1964 final but by that time Santana’s star had waxed and Pietrangeli’s was beginning to wane. On clay, Santana had proved all he needed to prove. So he concentrated his attention on the grass-court bastions: and had luck on his side in that, at Forest Hills and Wimbledon in turn, the most fancied contenders never turned his path. At Forest Hills he played only two seeds, Arthur Ashe (5th) and Cliff Drysdale (8th), and at Wimbledon he played only one, Dennis Ralston (6th). Never mind. Santana beat everybody he had to beat. He had conquered the ‘shamateur’ world on the two extremes of clay and grass.

There was an engaging but frustrating appendix to the years of glory. In the 1969 French championships Santana and Gimeno, both 31, clashed after a nine-year beak. It was Madrid vs Barcelona plus, for watching players, a leftover battle between the now united ‘shamateur’ and professional armies. For two sets, Gimeno was too nervous to play his best tennis, whereas Santana’s shot making had a subtle splendor about it. Then Gimeno settled down and in the stress of combat santana pulled a groin muscle and eventually had to retire. Gimeno won 4-6 2-6 6-4 6-4 1-0.

Santana and Gimeno had explored different avenues in their pursuit of fame and fortune. Their joint achievement was to lift Spanish tennis to a level it had never reached before: a level that was consolidated by Manuel Orantes and to some extent Jose Higueras. Orantes was runner-up for the 1974 French title and in 1975 he won the first of the three US Open contested on a gritty, loose-top surface.
That was a memorable triumph for two reasons. In a semi-final Vilas led Orantes by 6-4 6-1 2-6 5-0 and had five match points. Orantes won, but he was up half the night because he could not tourn off the bathroom tap and had to find a plumber. Then he went back on court and, in the final, gave Jimmy Connors a lesson in the craft of clay-court tennis.

Last Sunday in Miami, Martina Hingis captured her 38th doubles title, her first. 17 years ago in Miami she was crowned the new Queen of tennis. Between those two dates? Lots of highs and lows, trophies and retirements.

Summary of an article published in French sports daily L’Equipe, translated by Tennis Buzz:

By sweeping Monica Seles in final at Key Biscayne 6-2 6-1 in only 44 minutes, Martina Hingis reached the number one ranking at age 16 1/2. A record of precocity that still stands to this day.
Surpassed in all areas of the game, Monica Seles didn’t know how to counter Martina Hingis’ tactical intelligence. The stronger she hit the ball, the quicker it came back at her.

Despite her precocity, her accession to the top was ineluctable, scheduled a long time ago. Scheduled since her birth on September 30, 1980 in Kosice in the then Czechoslovakia? Perhaps not, but her mother Melanie Molitor put a lot of effort for her daughter to succeed. This former good player named her daughter Martina in honor of Martina Navratilova and put her on tennis courts at the age of 3. Two years later she entered her first tournament and in 1987 mother and daughter exiled in Switzerland.

Her progress and exceptional talent attracted agents, sponsors and medias and she hasn’t deceived them. She became junior world champion in 1994 and turned pro the same year.
Her arrival on the circuit at such an early age was criticized by many people who feared Hingis would follow the same path as troubled teen prodigy Jennifer Capriati.

In 1996, Hingis reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and the semifinals at the US Open (loss to Graf 5-7 3-6) and finished her season with another loss to Steffi Graf in the Masters final at Madison Garden 0-6 in the fifth set.
1997 was her biggest year (71 wins, 5 defeats). She captured her first Grand Slam title in Melbourne against Mary Pierce and also won in Sydney, Tokyo, Paris, Key Biscayne and Hilton Head. And just before the clay court tournament in Hamburg she fell off a horse. Injured, she didn’t play any clay court tournament before Roland Garros, where she lost the final to Iva Majoli.
She then won at Wimbledon (victory over Jana Novotna 2-6 6-3 6-3) and the US Open (victory over Venus Williams 6-0 6-4).
Even though she won two more Grand Slam titles after this fantastic 1997 season (Australian Open in 1998 and 1999), the Swiss was no longer as dominant when approaching the 2000s.
Overpowered by the Williams sisters and bothered by recurring injuries, she dropped out of the top 10 at the end of 2002, for the first time since 1995. She announced her retirement in May 2003, at only 22, after 209 weeks at the top ranking.

She came back in 2006, reaching the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and Roland Garros but in 2007 she tested positive to cocaine at Wimbledon. Suspended for two years by the ITF, she retired again.
Since then she came back to the courts to coach or play a few doubles tournaments, but she was also often on the front page of gossip magazines.

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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Article by Tennis Magazine, April 2014, translated by Tennis Buzz. Read part 1 here and part 2 here.

Georges Deniau

Former coach of the French Fed Cup and Davis Cup teams

What can these former number one bring to today’s great champions?

1 – On their game system in general: a more or less methodical but sharp review because their vision is of the highest level of our sport. It can only be to do a little more or a little less this and that (depending on their qualities, surface, weather, their opponent etc.) and take everything into account (strokes, game areas, duration of rallyes, initiatives, variations, improvisations, adaptations, percentage). With their sharp eye it can bring a decisive bonus on a specific point!

2 – On their personal technique, it is unlikely that they have to intervene. Perhaps a detail, with the coach in place and the desire of the player himself of course.

3 – For the training itself, they had different habits . However, they may suggest things and bring new life with enthusiasm and passion, the ingredients necessary to be effective.

4 – In the mental area where these three cracks (Djokovic, Federer and Murray) are top notch, with Nadal, it is an additional challenge. Prove themselves, prove to their team, and to the skeptics they were right. Any excess of zeal could have the opposite effect: doubt. It won’t be the case . A “detail” will perhaps have done difference. And in this case, it will not be a simple “detail” anymore…

Patrice Hagelauer

Former coach of Yannick Noah

Basically it comes from a need to be reassured. They seek confidence and serenity they sometimes lost and need to confide in a champion, who is somehow their equal. I don’t see that as a work of a coach, it is more psychology, it is more on the emotional level than on the playing level. With these legends, the champions of the caliber of Federer and Djokovic can speak freely and confide. This is very different from the work of a coach who is there all year long and who has not this experience.

Federer is not look not looking for someone who accompanies him on the court, he wants someone to help him feel good. Sometimes a champion simply needs another speech, or the same things said otherwise. Because all that really lies in the field of communication. Former champions see things and analyze them with many
objectivity. They are not in emotions like a coach who lives these situations for the first times can be.

All these experiences make me think of Yannick Noah, who had many discussions with Arthur Ashe, when I was coaching him. These moments were essential for Yannick because Arthur had a role model. He was a character who was shining on an off court. The discussions they had and that could be very intimate really triggered many things with in him, confidence and self-esteem. For me too, in my work as a coach, it brought me a lot. It comforted me in my approach.

Yannick Noah

I was surprised to see Boris and Stefan back to the circuit. But it makes sense. They can bring, share. Boris has experienced amazing things… And they are available. I talked to Boris I can tell you that I feel he’s really motivated.

Paul-Henri Mathieu

Coached by Mats Wilander between January and September 2008

The big difference in the speech of these former players is that they are used to these important situations and they know what to expect. That is something you can not talk about with a coach who has not experienced these major events. In the matches preparation it was interesting for me to have the opinion of a former great player.

At the beginning of my practices with Mats and especially during matches, I felt the need to impress him because he was not everybody else! I was a little scared at first, afraid of being judged, but this disappeared after a few weeks.
What is undeniable is that these champions have a background in more in comparison to another coach. But it’s not enough, otherwise it would be too easy, everyone would take a former player!
What’s difficult for a former player who becomes a coach is to find the right balance and remember you’re a coach and not a player anymore. Some former players understand it very well and others will have difficulty to adapt, and to put themselves in the player’s skin. To coach is something else, it is a full-time job.

To coach is not to judge others, it is also to feed oneself from the player. The former champions know that and in general it works well. But it is not so easy. Everyone is not able to embark on a new career, because it takes time and energy. With stopped our collaboration with Mats, because I needed someone full-time and he had other obligations.

Wotjek Fibak

Former champion, former coach of Ivan Lendl and Djokovic’s advisor during the 2013 US Open

For me, the cases of Becker, Edberg and Lendl are very different. Djokovic, when he started working with Becker was at his best. Technically , tactically and physically. He had not lost since a few months. The only thing to expect from Becker is that he doesn’t change anything, waste anything. The bonus, for Djokovic is to have a star in his box, and have him as friend. This is not a need, it is more a trend now than a necessity…

Edberg, he came alongside Federer in a crisis, or just out of a crisis. But he is like all the Swedes, except Wilander: as much as Becker is open, lively and funny, Stefan is shy, and do not talk much. But Federer is a little “in love” with him and Edberg is his idol. Edberg brings his presence and can make Federer a little more aggressive. It worked in Australia until Nadal. But Federer can’t beat him by coming to the net or playing rallyes, so… Becker and Edberg are financially independent. With them, it is more a story of fun and friendship than real coaching.

It is really different for Lendl. Murray needed Ivan’s help mentally, physically and tactically. He improved everything. Djokovic and Federer, what could they change?

But I am very happy with this trend. It’s great!

Sam Sumyk

Victoria Azarenka‘s coach

As I am someone curious, all these experiences interest me. We must be patient before making a true assessment .
Tennis is often played on details, so the help Edberg can bring to Federer or Becker to Djokovic is certainly on details. It can be technical or psychological. It may be taks about the game or small changes in all the parameters of the game. This is the advantage of high level it is not just the technique of the forehand or backhand, there are a lot of parameters that come into play.

All these champions have experienced so many things, they went through so many emotions. They have a
background more important than ours, that mine for example. They have an asset that lambda coach do not have: the anticipation. They understand better what is going to happen, they have more instinct yo know how the player will react on different situations. Even champions of the caliber of Federer or Djokovic can still improve and change their game. Their is no limit, it is only a matter of will.

Players have the right to go for it, if it’s allow them to improve. When you engage in a certain way, you don’t always know what will happen. You are still a little in doubt, but it is positive, it moves forward.
With Vika, we experimented with Amélie Mauresmo, it seemed interesting to have a woman with us, to have an outside view, someone with her experience, someone Vika would respect. It was worth it, and it was rewarding for everyone: Vika was able to share with Amélie, but I found it also interesting for me.

Arnaud Di Pasquale

I don’t think we can talk of trend. Be careful, work with a former great it’s not the miracle solution. The high level, this is not an exact science. What’s true is that the higher you go, the more you need to unlock things that are difficult to perceive, to feel. The idea, in my opinion , for these players is to have an advisor more than a coach. They expect a speech, a psychological intake more than a technical input. Moreover, it seems that they rely on these former champions on specific periods.
Often, they already have a full-time coach. To not have been a great champion is not a disavantage for a coach. It is a bonus to surround themselves with someone who has experienced the highest level, but the contribution of the great champion does not replace the role of the coach. You can learn how to do this or that shot even if you were not able to do it yourself at very high level, the French system proves it. There’s a lot of theory in the efficency of shots.