Tuesday, 13 June 2017


Around three years ago I posted a chapter on this site called 'Mr Topspin', in reference to a Swedish Tennis Champion by the name of Kent Carlsson, former World number 6,( 1988 ).
Carlsson played with a style not unlike Rafa, plenty of loop from both sides and a big kicking serve.
The Swede owned the distinction of dropping possibly the least games ever recorded in a 'Grand Prix' tennis event, as it was known back then. The tournament I am referring to is the now defunct Bologna Outdoor Grand Prix held in Italy from 1985 to 1998.
One name stands out from the rest as far as past Champions of Bologna are concerned. It was in 1990 that a fellow by the name of Richard Fromberg from Australia won the event from Olympic Champion Marc Rosset of Switzerland, 7-6 in the third set.
The rest of the champions from the Bologna event were made up of Europeans which leads us to believe that 'Frommy' was a rather unique Aussie tennis pro who's game was modelled on Borg's, no doubt about it.
I saw Frommy play in Queensland and New South Wales in the 80's and he hit a two handed backhand like Borg complete with the one handed follow through, not many players could do that but the Tasmanian obviously modelled his game on the Swedish champion.
I vividly recall watching Richard when I was 12 years of age at a resort in Tasmania when I holidayed there with my Mum, Dad and sister.
While waiting for a hit on the resort court we watched in awe of the scruffy, skinny kid who hit the ball with a brilliance I had never seen before. I saw his profile in an Australian Tennis magazine perhaps a year or two later as he was ranked in the first handful of Aussie kids nationally for his age.
Frommy was a talent and I saw him play one particular tournament on clay in Sawtell, NSW, perhaps 1987 when he was a teenager, he was born to play on the dirt. He barely missed a ball.
Back to Bologna, Italy.
Kent Carlsson 'owned' that tournament in 1987 when he lost just ten games for the entire tournament and five of those were in his first match. The Swede's style was almost impossible to attack as the height of his shots were ridiculously uncomfortable.
If I were to rate clay court players of the last 30 years I would place Carlsson right up there because if he had stayed injury free he may have won a record amount of titles on that surface. As it stands he won nine clay court titles between 1985 and 1989.
Carlsson was only 22 when he retired due to a knee injury, a 'travesty of justice' in any mans language, a waste of a career that could have seen him talked about in the same breath as some of the all time greats of clay court tennis.
Anyone who knows the sport in detail no doubt would hold him in high esteem regardless of his short but brilliant career on the European dirt.
My heroes Borg and Wilander who I have written about in great detail on this site won nine French Open titles between them however there were a few smaller events that raised the eyebrows as far as their domination was concerned on a surface that tames the big servers yet looks after the rally ball exponents.
In 1977 Borg played Eddie Dibbs, former World number 5 and a man who won 22 singles titles between 1973 and 1982 in the Barcelona Grand Prix semi finals, the event that Rafa has won on ten occasions. In that particular event Borg won 6-0, 6-0, 6-2 against a man who won 14 clay court titles.
Does that defy logic ? Probably, though Rafa just won 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 against Stan in the 2017 French Open final and Stan owns a Paris title, work that discrepancy out.
In 1983, a year after Wilander won the French Open Mens Singles title as a 17 year old he beat Guillermo Vilas 6-0, 6-3, 6-1 in the final of Barcelona but what makes that result even more remarkable is the fact that Vilas, back in that era owned the record for the most consecutive clay court wins, 53.
( Rafa eclipsed that record with 81 consecutive wins on the dirt ).
How a teenager can beat a man of that knowledge on a surface that netted him that many consecutive wins is beyond belief. Wilander though was a Borg clone who played the same way and seemingly thought the same way and Vilas won just six matches in total against the two Swedes out of 30 matches played ( Borg 5-18, Wilander 1-6)
Perhaps Stan Wawrinka should not be so disappointed about his French Open loss to Rafa this year because history shows that the dirt can produce some amazingly one sided matches despite rankings, past titles and winning streaks.
It seems that there are a handful of clay court champions that owned a thought process and game to match that put them so far ahead of their opposition that they were quite literally lonely.
Carlsson, Wilander and Borg quite possibly gave Rafa a view on how to play on European clay as their records were quite brilliant considering Carlsson retired at age 22 and Borg at 26. Put another five years onto their relatively short careers and could you imagine just what they may have achieved on their surface of preference ?
The dirt is a tennis surface for the thinker. Why it is not trained on in every Country in the World and not just Europe is one of the Tennis World's great mysteries that may never be solved.......

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