Tuesday, 30 September 2014

'A HAIRCUT AND A FOREHAND'

If ever there was a famous quote in World Tennis it had to be the one from Czech Champion Ivan Lendl in 1987 when asked at a press conference what he thought of a young Andre Agassi.
 The Stratton Mountain Tournament in the US played in August of '87 saw the emergence of a 17 year old kid who wore denim tennis shorts and wore his hair rather long. The kid would go on to win every Grand Slam available and became the World's best player in 1995.
Andre Agassi entered Stratton Mountain as a player ranked 90 in a field of 64 players so naturally he had to receive a bit of a helping hand by the tournament committee, a Wild Card was granted.
 In the first round he faced American Luke Jensen , a player ranked number 415 but who could serve with both his left and right arms , now that's clever.
Andre struggled past Jensen in three sets then set up a second round meeting with '87 Wimbledon Champion, Aussie Pat Cash. On paper this match looked rather one sided however Agassi found a way to sneak past Cash in two breakers , people were starting to take notice.
The round of 16 saw Andre take out American Chip Hooper in three, then a quarter final win against countryman Joey Rive in straight had him up against World number 1 Ivan Lendl. Now this match was entertaining however I have only seen extended highlights of it , would love to watch the entire match one day.
This match saw Andre running around his backhand at any given opportunity to belt his already huge forehand back at Lendl who at times looked rather confused at the kid's ability. The big Czech eventually won the match in three sets , 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 but not before being given a huge fright by a skinny 17 year old with flash shorts.
The press conference after the match was one that produced this chapter's title as Lendl gave his opinion on the new kid on the block. Looking back I suppose Andre could've taken it as a compliment as it was rather obvious that Ivan rated the forehand highly, perhaps not so much the haircut.
A year earlier at the same tournament John McEnroe beat Andre at the quarter final stage in straight sets but paid him a huge compliment. Whilst I do not have the transcript in front of me he told a press conference that a winner by Agassi from his forehand was the hardest shot he had ever had hit against him. Fair endorsement for a 16 year old. 
Some people knock Agassi because he admitted taking drugs but they obviously haven't read all the detail.
 I don't remember the last time a recreational drug has been proven to enhance any sportsman's performance, Andre included. At the time that he tried it he stated he wasn't enjoying the game and his ranking had dropped. I believe everyone is entitled to a little 'time out'.
Andre Agassi didn't have to tell anyone yet he was big enough to admit he took something, I think that shows integrity........

 
CONNORS, AGASSI, SAMPRAS, A LACK OF LOVE
Jimmy Connors and Pete Sampras  have one thing in common with each other, there is tension between them and Andre Agassi, for different reasons. As far as I know there is no tension between Sampras and Connors and these two are definitely not members of the Andre Agassi fan club. Here's why.
The tension between Andre and Jimmy started way back when a young Andre was apparently 'snubbed' by Jimmy when all the young fellow wanted was a friendly chat and as Andre put it in his book, 'some love'. Andre's father used to string Jimmy's rackets so there should've been a starting point for a conversation however it didn't really eventuate. Rather than me try to explain it have a read of the Agassi book , a great read and it explains it in detail. 
Andre Agassi had to wait possibly another 10 years until he got some pay back on Connors for the way he was apparently spoken to as a kid, a 1988 US Open Quarter Final. This match was no real classic but it gave the tennis public a glimpse of the talent of an 18 year old kid with long hair and a very big forehand.
 At the conclusion of the match in an interview Agassi apparently told reporters that he had a dream he would win the match 3, 3 and 3. A loss of just 9 games against a man who won 109 tournaments, a big ask. He actually won 6-2, 7-6, 6-1 so his prediction of a win with the loss of just 9 games proved to be correct, just around the wrong way, near enough.
Connors was rather peeved at the way Andre spoke of the dream as reporters relayed the Agassi prediction. 'Jimbo' was notorious for his 'Jimbo quotes' and this was his post match reaction to Agassi's comment. "I enjoy playing guys who could be my children. Maybe he's one of them. I spent a lot of time in Vegas".  
The 1989 US Open Quarter Final between these two was a different story, in fact Connors took the third set 6-0 and came back from 1-5 all the way to 4-5 in the fifth set to just lose in a thriller. In Agassi's book he writes about a comment he made to his brother in the crowd  "I'm going to take him to five sets and give him some pain". I suppose if you lose a set in around 20 minutes with 19 unforced errors then you have something planned.
Andre was not happy again with Connors when he had played his last match of his career against Benjamin Becker at the 2006 US Open in round 3. Connors did not applaud Agassi in the locker room as everyone else apparently did and Agassi felt offended.

He wrote words to that effect in his book. Connors said it wasn't his style to applaud other players . It seems that this was the case especially with Agassi, a long history that started some 25 years earlier.
As far as Agassi and Pistol Pete were concerned well this was all rather silly. The Hit For Haiti in 2010 was a charity event and a Mens doubles match between Federer and Sampras against Rafa and Andre was a ripper. Andre however thought Pete should loosen up a little as he felt he was taking it too seriously so he told him "You always have to go and get serious don't you Pete "? That brought on an impersonation of Andre by Pete so Andre returned the favour, then it got rather uncomfortable, worth a look on the net.
Sampras did however get his revenge against Andre , a 6-4, 7-5 victory in New York early in 2011. Usually though an exhibition match is a 'friendly' match, this one however wasn't as Pistol fired down ace after ace plus many non returnable serves that had Andre scrambling left, right and centre for. Andre was in no physical shape to belt them back as he so often used to.

A phone call to Pistol later that night did not go down too well as Andre asked Pete to 'lighten up' as it was only an exhibition match. This was a quote from Andre regarding the matter: "Pete certainly is more capable than me on the court these days and the quality of that entertainment was solely in his hands".
The following exhibition matches scheduled in Argentina did not take place, they in fact flew in replacement opponents, Mardy Fish and Marat Safin. Is the common denominator in all of this one man by the name of Andre or is it just me ? Three players, several incidents, yet one man's name keeps coming up.
Egotistical sport is tennis, always has been , always will be........


'SOMETHING SPECIAL'

In 1984 at the French Open in Paris there was a gentleman by the name of Hans Gildemeister from Chile who owned a rather interesting style of playing, he hit with two hands off both sides. Hans went into Roland Garos un seeded in '84 as his ranking had dipped quite dramatically from his career high of 12 in 1980. He in fact sat outside the top 100 for his shot at the title in Paris in '84.
Gildemeister was not just a singles player however as he reached World number 5 in doubles in 1987, the year he actually retired. He won 23 doubles titles in his career, 17 of those were with 1990 French Open Mens Singles Champion Andres Gomez of Ecuador. Hans was a remarkably talented tennis player as he had to be to survive in the Borg era of the 70's and early 80's. 
He in fact played Borg in the quarter finals at Roland Garos in 1979 losing in straight sets though the final set was 7-5. Anyone who knows tennis will realise that if you managed to get to five games all against Borg on clay you were a gifted tennis player, to say the least. So back to the draw of 1984 and Gildemeister started his campaign with a straight sets win over the '79 finalist Victor Pecci and then won even more convincingly against Brad Gilbert in round two.
In the third round Hans was drawn to meet Swedish Davis Cup hero Henrik Sundstrom, the number 9 seed, a tough assignment on clay as the Swede was known for the brutal amount of spin he put on the ball. On clay that is tough to deal with. It is unclear just how Gildemeister actually did it as footage of this match is not available yet he lead Sundstrom by a score that would have any tennis die hard searching for the video for tactical ideas.
It is set in concrete that Hans Gildemeister of Chile lead Henrik Sundstrom of Sweden in the 1984 French Open, round three by the score of 6-2, 6-0, 5-1, 30-0. He then lost. Yep he LOST from there. How did that happen ??! It is uncertain what on earth went on in that match from that point that seemingly had the Chilean cruising to an easy straight sets upset victory against one of the fancies for the title in '84.
At 5-1 up in the third set Hans Gildemeister was receiving Sundstrom's serve and won the first two points then after that his whole game fell apart. There were no fewer than 12 unforced errors in a row from Gildemeister from that point on which later Sundstrom would in fact describe as a 'choke'. Not quite sure about the etiquette of players back then however can you imagine that being said now days of an opponent ? Would go down about as well as a fish milkshake.....
For history's sake the final score in that particular match was 2-6, 0-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 to Sundstrom and he would go on to win his next match in straight sets before the great Jimmy Connors found a way to hit through the topspin with his flatter style of play and beat him in straight sets.
I would give anything to watch what transpired from the 5-1, 30-0 moment in this match as it may in fact be the all time greatest comeback and 'choke' in the history of tennis.
There have in fact been more high profile matches such as the Davis Cup final of 1996 where Boetsch defeated Kulti after trailing 6-7, 0-40 in the final set in the fifth and deciding match but that particular match was tight throughout. The Gildemeister/ Sundstrom match was ridiculously one sided for the first three sets yet it went the way of the player who needed an alarm clock inside his head to wake him up before posting an outrageous comeback victory.
Sometimes in tennis a player can almost pace himself to a win even when victory it seems is not even on his agenda but we as spectators are non the wiser as to what is going on in their thought process. Did Faldo's win against Norman at the Masters in Augusta in 1996 have the same type of feel to it do you think ? After all the scoring was similar if you compare them.
Norman lead by six shots going into the final round yet shot a 78 whereas Faldo shot 67, there's an eleven shot discrepancy not unlike the twelve shot 'discrepancy' from the Gildemeister/ Sundstrom match.
The match in Paris in '84 will without a doubt go down as one of the all time greatest tennis comebacks from a seemingly impossible position yet the match was not a high profile one that people still talk about as they do the Norman/ Faldo result. Coming back from those types of losses is however where the mind comes into play.
Can you imagine the devastation ? It would be a tough thing to recover from.
For history's sake again, Gildemeister recovered, he won another nine doubles tournaments. Norman won three more including a million bucks in one particular event which required a birdie on the final hole for victory. The Swede Niclas Kulti went on to win the pivotal doubles with Bjorkman in the Davis Cup finals of '97 and '98 which set Sweden up for their two titles of those years.
A tough thing is professional sport. We as spectators simply look at it and offer our thoughts, "he choked, he's got no heart" or  "he's in the zone, he's a freak show".
A professional sportsman is a genius whether he wins a match or loses because he owns a mind to compete against the World's best and that requires something special.......


'TENNIS, A RICH PERSON'S SPORT'

The recent post on the ATP site in regards to Victor Estrella Burgos of the Dominican Republic is one of those typical tennis stories that have you both proud of the man himself yet almost angry at the sport and the way in which it is run. Victor didn't even turn pro until he turned 26 years of age, Borg was the same age when he retired.The reason the inspirational little man from the Caribbean didn't turn pro earlier was because he couldn't afford to, pretty simple really. The article begs the question, what if he had the funding to turn pro as a teenager or in his early twenties at least ? Many what if's with Victor Estrella Burgos.
I wrote a post on my site quite some time ago about this man because I was taken back by his desire to earn his spot in the Tennis World amongst the big guns albeit as a 'veteran' right from the very start.
I believe the yearly expenses of a tennis pro add up to around $150,000 including coaching also which means that three grand is needed per week just to make ends meet. Now that figure has not been plucked from thin air, it appears to be a fact.
The USTA has stated that it costs around $143,000 per year to fund the life of a Pro Tennis player however that figure could actually be halved by some. Apparently it costs $70,000 alone just to fund a travelling coach for the year so if you are a struggling player you may not even consider a coach. Tough to get better if you don't have someone analysing your matches and explaining where the improvement needs to happen.
I have always been rather bemused at the ever increasing prize money at the Grand Slams in particular as I am sure that all players would be more than happy with a 'capped' two million for a title win. Yet each year we read on in awe of the three or four million dollar first prize for a Grand Slam win which is more than an average Lotto win in the land of Oz.
I have often stated that I firmly believe the next Novak is sliding around on a clay court somewhere in an obscure South American Challenger event relying on a semi final showing just to break even for the week. The pressure to perform would be nothing short of enormous. Some say that it's the nature of the sport where only the strongest survive but I disagree with that.
If you have bucket loads of money you do not have to make the semis each time you play because you have a financial back up and no pressure as far as a time frame is concerned. Look at Victor's circumstances, he saved his coaching money and received nothing else to help him speed up the process of getting him on tour. 
That to me is a blight on the entire tennis system that boasts $100,000,000 in Novak's account now days, ( Before Tax of course ). 
Unless you are a 'once in a generation' talent such as Zverev or Coric you will scratch around for years on the Challenger Circuit earning the equivalent some weeks of a Check Out chick's K Mart wage. 
You know what I would love to see one day ? I know this is a real pipe dream but a portion of the Grand Slam title winner's purse to go into a fund to help the struggling future of the game simply make ends meet. Whip out a hundred grand before the cheque is even written, he won't even notice it's gone.
Victor Estrella Burgos is a man who could have been a top twenty player if he had the funds to support himself at an earlier age, no risk whatsoever. It is inspiring to read his story and how he will do his best to make sure in his Country at least the youth of the sport do not struggle like he had to.
As one last example that I believe to be most relevant, when Victor was just 23 he defeated a then 18 year old Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay in three straight sets in a Davis Cup match. Victor was ranked 1,110. Yes that isn't a mis print, ONE THOUSAND, ONE HUNDRED AND TEN. Cuevas sits currently at World Number 21.
As Victor says on the ATP World Tour site, he had the ability, just not the finances to make it happen. A rich person's sport indeed is tennis........


 


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