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01-27-2006, 09:39 PM

01-28-2006, 07:17 PM
Paul Thomas: Personality missing in intense tennis


Nicholas Kiefer, David Nalbandian, Marcos Baghdatis - who are these people?

No, they're not Eurovision Song Contest judges or the Chelsea midfield - they're tennis players, semifinalists no less, at the Australian Open, which this weekend, heatwave permitting, trundles to its conclusion.

The fourth men's semifinalist was Roger Federer who, following the departure of Pete Sampras, the imminent departure of Andre Agassi and the ongoing evolution of the women's tour into a gravy train for leggy, pouting Slavs, seems to carry the tennis world on his shoulders.

Which brings me back to my question. What about this Ivan Ljubicic, who was apparently roped in to make up the numbers for the quarter-finals? Well, it turns out he's become the eighth-ranked men's player in the world and has accumulated $5.8 million in prize money without anyone in the real world noticing that he exists.

Tennis has become the sporting equivalent of a 19th-century Russian novel without the tragedy and the grandeur: a slow-moving juggernaut featuring characters with unpronounceable names whom one has great difficulty telling apart.

Who's the one who plays in a negligee: Sharapova, Petrova or Pullova?

Agassi is both the prototype of the modern tennis player and the odd one out. Courtesy of the mandatory obsessive parent, he was introduced to the tennis ball while still in the cot and, if you can believe the legend, was serving overarm on a full-sized court by the time he was 2.

Agassi became a male version of Anna Kournikova, earning millions in what was effectively appearance money. Dolled up in torn-off jeans and eyeliner, he adorned many a schoolgirl's bedroom wall and inspired many a middle-aged woman's toy-boy fantasy.

Against all odds he became a great player and a gracious human being, which makes him exceptional on several counts.

It wasn't always this way. Time was tennis was a freewheeling drama full of vivid and equivocal characters such as Ilie Nastase, who when all else failed zeroed in on his opponents' ethnicity, and Jimmy Connors, whose speciality was a performance art piece - Simulated Sex Act With Tennis Racquet.

Most distinctive of all were Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, whose epic rivalry transformed the game, and from whose giant shadows succeeding generations of players have struggled to emerge, most unsuccessfully.

So black and white in their differences were these two that they could have been created by a Hollywood scriptwriter with a world view based on John Wayne movies.

Borg was a lank-haired Swede whom the tabloids called "IceBorg" for his blank, nerveless self-possession or "CyBorg" for his machine-like consistency.

Nothing was left to chance. After his parents had watched him lose at Wimbledon in 1975 and win in 1976, he banned them from attending in odd-numbered years.

In the 1980 Wimbledon final Borg blew seven match points in the course of losing a monumental fourth set tie-breaker 18-16. He sat down, checked his racquets and walked back on to the court for the fifth set as if nothing had changed. Which it hadn't: there was still a tennis match to be won.

"I thought Borg would be physically deflated," said McEnroe. "Whatever he had inside him was beyond anything I could imagine."

But having painstakingly constructed this fortress of self-belief, Borg left by the back door. After losing the 1981 US Open final to McEnroe, he skipped the presentations ceremony and drove straight to the airport. Three months later he retired.

As driven and neurotic as his fellow New Yorker Woody Allen, McEnroe had the misfortune to be a perfectionist whose talent bordering on genius made perfection seem attainable.

As a result, many of his matches were a mesmerising blend of artistry, raucous conflict and primal scream therapy.

McEnroe raged against anything that intruded on his quest for perfection: dodgy line calls, camera noise, his own fallibility. When he insisted that one of his more florid outbursts - calling an umpire "a disgrace to mankind" - was actually directed at himself, he wasn't being entirely disingenuous.

Referring to Cyclops, the machine that determines whether serves are in or out, he said, "I don't want to sound paranoid but that machine knows who I am." The last stop on this journey was, not surprisingly, the psychiatrist's couch.

His heir, in tennis terms at least, is Federer, a 24-year-old Swiss.

While some judges believe Federer's well on the way to being the greatest player ever, watching him slouch through his games this week one felt that, for both his sake and the game's, a worthy rival can't emerge soon enough.

Federer knows he can win most matches without having to galvanise himself and his intermittent disengagement from the contest drains it of drama and intensity.

In his brilliant little book On Being John McEnroe the English writer Tim Adams attributes much of McEnroe's theatrics (and private anguish) to Borg's premature retirement, which deprived him of the inspiration to be as good as he could be and the measure for how good that was.

"There was this void," said McEnroe, "and I always felt it was up to me to manufacture my own intensity thereafter."

01-28-2006, 07:25 PM
Updated: Jan. 28, 2006, 2:31 PM ET
Federer a perfect 6-0 in Grand Slam finals

ESPN.com news services

No.1 Roger Federer vs. Marcos Baghdatis

A true David vs. Goliath matchup.

Roger Federer is the world's top-ranked player, having won 23 tournaments since the beginning of 2004, while Marcos Baghdatis has never won a single tournament on the ATP circuit.

To put in perspective how dominant the 24-year old Federer has been, if he wins he'll have more Grand Slam titles than Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg had in their careers.

Federer is the only player in the Open Era to have won his first six Grand Slam finals. With another, the Swiss No. 1 will be one win shy of Pete Sampras' Open Era record of winning eight straight Grand Slam finals.

Federer is the first player since Andre Agassi in 1999 to reach three consecutive Grand Slam finals and hopes to become the first to win three straight since Sampras in 1993-94 ('93 Wimbledon, '93 U.S. Open, and '94 Australian Open).

However, Federer has shown some vulnerability in this tournament. He needed five sets to knock out Tommy Haas, and has gone four sets in his two matches since. His total of four sets lost en route to the final are more than he had in any of his previous six Grand Slam wins.

Federer has won 51 consecutive hard court matches. That's 19 more than the next longest streak in the Open Era.

His opponent, Marcos Baghdatis, has been the biggest surprise of the tournament. Ranked 54th in the world, the Cypriot is playing in just his sixth career Grand Slam event. Interestingly though, five players before him have won their first Grand Slam in fewer attempts.

The last player ranked lower than Baghdatis to win a Grand Slam was Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon in 2001, who was ranked 125th. The last unseeded player to win a Grand Slam period was Gaston Gaudio at the French Open two years ago.

Baghdatis is the first player ever from Cyprus (man or woman) to be ranked in the top 100. He is now 9-1 all-time at the Australian Open and 1-4 in the other three Slams combined.

If this match goes the distance, don't necessarily expect Federer to come out on top. His opponent is 6-0 lifetime in five-set matches, including three such wins at this tournament.

If Baghdatis wins on Sunday, he will be the first unseeded winner of this event since Australia's Mark Edmondson 30 years ago.

The finalists have met three times previously with Federer winning each, including a straight-sets win earlier this year in an Aussie Open tuneup. Last year they met at the Australian Open with Federer also winning in straight sets.

01-29-2006, 11:45 AM
Like i said in the other thread please help cheer me up some way I hate the way things are going, I know i shouldnt be against Federer but just the things they say ANNOY ME

01-30-2006, 12:45 AM
Like i said in the other thread please help cheer me up some way I hate the way things are going, I know i shouldnt be against Federer but just the things they say ANNOY ME

Here is some cheering up. :angel: :angel: :worship: :worship: :wavey: :wavey: :) :) :D :D

01-30-2006, 08:23 AM
Like i said in the other thread please help cheer me up some way I hate the way things are going, I know i shouldnt be against Federer but just the things they say ANNOY ME

They might annoy you, but what there saying you have to admit is true. Roger is a great player and realisticly looks like he's going to end up as the best player to ever play the game! It's not a question of being a fan of Federer or Sampras or Roddick, it's not about any of that, it's just the fact that if Federer keeps this up people just have to accept, he's going to end his career probablly with more grand slam titles then Sampras! I understand some people get annoyed because of all the great things people say about Roger, but just because they say those things dosen't mean those things are not true!

01-30-2006, 12:26 PM
They might annoy you, but what there saying you have to admit is true. Roger is a great player and realisticly looks like he's going to end up as the best player to ever play the game! It's not a question of being a fan of Federer or Sampras or Roddick, it's not about any of that, it's just the fact that if Federer keeps this up people just have to accept, he's going to end his career probablly with more grand slam titles then Sampras! I understand some people get annoyed because of all the great things people say about Roger, but just because they say those things dosen't mean those things are not true!


01-30-2006, 11:28 PM
They might annoy you, but what there saying you have to admit is true. Roger is a great player and realisticly looks like he's going to end up as the best player to ever play the game! It's not a question of being a fan of Federer or Sampras or Roddick, it's not about any of that, it's just the fact that if Federer keeps this up people just have to accept, he's going to end his career probablly with more grand slam titles then Sampras! I understand some people get annoyed because of all the great things people say about Roger, but just because they say those things dosen't mean those things are not true!

Oh no not this loser, ive seen him on other fan boards, he knows absoultley nothing about tennis and talks complete Bull$hit IF ITS NOT ABOUT BEING A FAN OF A PLAYER THEN WHY ARE U THE BIGGEST FEDERER FAN BOY AROUND!!?!

01-31-2006, 12:14 AM
The Natural, what is your problem. I didn't say one mean thing to you yet you start calling people names because what there saying you don't agree with, no matter how true it is. Your posts have showed that you don't know much about tennis and your name calling shows that you are a punk. I hate people who just start watching tennis and think they know everything. Natural, you need to watch some tapes of players from the past and you need to stop calling people names. You sound stupid when you post like that!

01-31-2006, 10:50 PM
They might annoy you, but what there saying you have to admit is true. Roger is a great player and realisticly looks like he's going to end up as the best player to ever play the game! It's not a question of being a fan of Federer or Sampras or Roddick, it's not about any of that, it's just the fact that if Federer keeps this up people just have to accept, he's going to end his career probablly with more grand slam titles then Sampras! I understand some people get annoyed because of all the great things people say about Roger, but just because they say those things dosen't mean those things are not true!

They might be true or not my friend jacobhiggins, but it was not so long ago some of these same people singing Pete's praise to no ends, that is why I am not going to believe most have what is been said, because we human can be so fickle, sport is a cycle my friend, and who to say in the next two years are so, they will be saying something else all together,or coming down on Roger, remember we are a bunch of frickle lots. :worship: :angel: Take my words for it. :cool:

And another thing, until Roger surpass Pete's records, then they can talk to me, since he hasn't done it yet, well you get my drift, who know what is going to happen, tomorrow, next week or year. :wavey: :p

They did say the same thing about the Williams sisters and lots of other more, dont they. :angel:

01-31-2006, 11:20 PM
Tennis: Wimbledon remains the Holy Grail

By Darren Walton

MELBOURNE - Two questions continue to burn after Roger Federer downed Marcos Baghdatis to win his second Australian Open tennis title.

Will the Swiss superstar eventually eclipse Pete Sampras' benchmark 14 majors? And will he complete the "Roger Slam" at this year's French Open and hold all four of the sport's major trophies simultaneously?

Not since Rod Laver in 1969 has one man been reigning Australian, French, Wimbledon and US Open champion all at once.

But while few would bet their house against Federer achieving the feat, he was adamant the French Open, however nice it would be to win, was not the be-all and end-all.

Wimbledon remains top priority.

The 24-year-old will still be a contented man even if, like Sampras, a French Open title is the gaping hole on his resume when he retires.

Federer accepts the spotlight will burn brightest when he arrives at Roland Garros as the first man since Sampras in 1994 with an opportunity to complete the sweep of Slams.

But he is not prepared to move heaven and earth to do it, and makes no apologies for that.

"I enjoy winning tournaments. I enjoy playing well at Slams. Obviously, I know the importance of winning the French, what it would do to my career.

"But, again, Wimbledon is the one for me. And if I keep on winning Wimbledon and not the French, I'm very happy about that, too.

"So that's no problem."

Not that Federer doesn't give himself a shot at triumphing on the Parisian clay, the surface on which he grew up learning the game.

Federer will consider asking his Australian coach Tony Roche, whose only Grand Slam singles title came at the 1966 French Open, to join him a week earlier this year as they try to plot a path to Roland Garros glory - and, most particularly, a way to beat claycourt king Rafael Nadal.

Nadal upstaged Federer in four sets in last year's semifinals and eventually amassed nine claycourt titles for the season before missing the Australian Open with a foot injury.

"He [Roche] is definitely coming for that trip again, I'm very happy about [that]. I think he also knows the importance of the French and of the clay," Federer said.

"I think the more time I spend with him, the more information I get about playing on clay.

"Just being together and working together, it's very interesting.

"I thought I played the right way last year at the French. Maybe I didn't play as great as I was hoping to, but I still gave myself a chance.

"I thought the match against Nadal was decent ... he was better on the day. Best player by far on clay last season. He totally deserved the French. I hope he'll be back by then and I get a chance to play him again."

But even if winning the French is not an obsession, Federer is aware he is closing in on tennis history.

He has moved past Don Budge, Jack Crawford, Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg into 11th place on the Grand Slam honour roll to be exactly halfway towards matching Sampras' 14 majors.

"I left my idols behind me now. That means something. I'm very pleased. But they still stay my heroes - Becker and Edberg," Federer said.

"Definitely on a great roll at the moment. I don't forget that it's been a tough road for me.

"I amaze myself every time I do well. It's been so consistent, too, winning so many slams, seven out of the last 11. It's quite incredible.

"I try to keep it up, stay healthy and keep enjoying it because that's what I'm doing, and I think that's what makes me play well."

Federer admitted it was frightening to compare his uncannily similar career thus far to Sampras', but insisted he wasn't in desperate pursuit of the American's record.

"We were almost born on the same day, just a few days apart and exactly 10 years [difference]," he said.

"[At the same age] he has one or two tournament victories more, the same amount of slams, just a couple of weeks more No 1.

"It's quite scary actually. If you compare it, it's basically the same.

"We won Indian Wells, Key Biscayne back-to-back, we won the Masters also twice each.

"I'm on the same road, but I've got to maintain it and he's the happy guy who already did everything.

"I've got to do everything still, so it's a long road. It would be great just to challenge it, but it's not my priority.

"It's really to have fun and enjoy the tour and try to win as many tournaments as possible and just enjoy it with the fans."

Federer is happy being the people's champion, but there is no doubt he is on course to becoming the greatest champion the game has seen.


Sampras Slams

1990 US Open
1993 Wimbledon
1993 US Open
1993 Australian Open
1994 Wimbledon
1995 Wimbledon
1995 US Open
1996 US Open
1997 Australian Open
1997 Wimbledon
1998 Wimbledon
1999 Wimbledon
2000 Wimbledon
2002 US Open

Most Slams

14 Pete Sampras
12 Roy Emerson
11 Bjorn Borg
11 Rod Laver
10 Bill Tilden
8 Jimmy Conners
8 Ivan Lendl
8 Fred Perry
8 Ken Rosewall
8 Andre Agassi

Roger Slams

2003 Wimbledon
2004 US Open
2004 Wimbledon
2004 Australian Open
2005 US Open
2005 Wimbledon
2006 Australian Open


01-31-2006, 11:28 PM
No elementary talent

Joseph DiGiulio, a 10-year-old Newport Beach resident, has shown plenty of growth potential on the court.

By Natalie Venegas, Daily Pilot

When Joseph DiGiulio played in his first tournament three years ago this month, he had never competed in a match. He wasn't even sure of how the scoring worked.

But when he won that first tournament, coaches paid attention. When he won the next three, his parents knew he was different. Now, three years and two national championships later, some believe the 10-year-old Newport Beach resident may have a special future in the sport.

DiGiulio, rated No. 20 in the nation and No. 5 in Southern California in his age group, has been competing up in the 12-and-under division. After dominating at that level, he said he is moving on to the 14s, where the 4-foot-8 prodigy will compete against boys up to twice his size -- exactly how he likes it.

"He's not affected by pressure," said Billy McQuade, his coach since he began three years ago at the Palisades Tennis Club. "He doesn't yell, he doesn't swear, he doesn't throw his racquet. You can't even tell if he's up, 5-0, or down, 5-0. His court presence is something I've never seen in all my years. You just can't teach that."

The budding star just returned from Arizona, where he competed at the United States Tennis Assn. National Winter Championships. After losing a match in the third round, the Pete Sampras look-alike won six consecutive matches to win the Boys' 12 singles consolation northeast draw.

DiGiulio then won in singles and doubles, the latter with David Blakely, at the Copper Bowl, in Tucson, Ariz. He won six straight singles matches to claim the crown.

"He says he wants to be a tennis pro," McQuade said. "In all my years, I have never seen someone so focused."

But the fifth-grader is focused on more than tennis.

He practices five or six days a week, while also collecting straight A's at St. Catherine Catholic School in Laguna Beach.

He has the maturity and the backswing of an adult, but displays a child-like passion for tennis, as well as pursuits away from the court.

"I really like hanging out with friends and with my brother," DiGiulio said. "I like math, I like spelling, I like going swimming, and I like tennis because it's pretty fun."

His father, Paul DiGiulio, said his son is always racing home asking about what tournament is coming up next.

"When he gets home from school, he can't wait to get on the tennis courts," said his mother, April DiGiulio. "He started playing golf, but then he told me, 'Mommy, this is boring.' And he hasn't wanted to play any other sport since."

After dominating the 12s, DiGiulio told his coach and his parents he wanted more competition, not only in matches, but also at the club, where he plays against college kids as well as the club's top players.

"He's used to such strong hitters and people twice his size, but he's not intimidated," his father said. "He doesn't act like a 10-year-old. He has the mind of an adult. He's all concentration and doesn't let anything distract him. He's so consistent, he's like a machine every game."

When asked why he craves shuffling across the court with older players, DiGiulio said, "it's more fun because there's more competition and it's more challenging."

Last weekend DiGiulio attended the Whittier Open. Having won the 12s singles title at the tournament last season, he competed in the 14s. For the first time in four years, he lost in the first round.

Even though DiGiulio, who has sponsorship deals with a shoe company and a racquet manufacturer, lost to a player 14 inches taller, McQuade said it's only a hiccup.

"Everyone has to lose once in a while," McQuade said. "It makes you appreciate winning more. It's a good experience and he's ready to compete again."

02-01-2006, 11:16 PM
Laver turns heads at Australian Open
January 29, 2006 - 7:09PM

It's the sort of old-fashioned hero worship where a father discreetly points as he leans down and whispers to his son: "That's him, that's Rod Laver."

Laver visited the Australian Open this week for the first time in a while, and plenty of kids learned that not all great Australian tennis players wore their hats backwards.

He had a stroke a few years ago and more recently, a knee replacement.

But even as he approaches his 68th birthday, there is still something about the greatest tennis player there's ever been.

It makes you want to stare at him and wonder what it used to be like and what he thinks about today's game and players.

What was his best grand slam win, what does he think about the modern racquets, why don't they serve and volley like they used to and the old favourite: "How many grand slams would you have won if you hadn't turned pro."

The best part is that he doesn't mind telling you, and he does it thoughtfully and easily.

For the thousandth time.

It's no secret that Laver is the hero of his latest successor as the world's No.1 player, Roger Federer, just as he was to the previous star of the game, Pete Sampras.

Laver's hero, he says, was Lew Hoad, but he also has a reciprocal admiration for Federer.

"There's a lot of ingredients go into being a good tennis player," Laver said.

Federer, he believes, has most of them.

"As soon as they make a mistake, Roger just sits on them," he said.

"His court coverage is uncanny ... he can do it all from behind the baseline, but if they slip up, he's in there.

"If his backhand's in good shape, he just rolls."

But as much as anything else, he recognises in Federer some of the things he saw in himself.

"He looks like he's enjoying the game," Laver said.

"And he speaks so well about it."

"I was fortunate because I learned the game as an amateur and got to love it."

As for that decision to join the professional tour after he won his first grand slam of the four majors in 1962, Laver would do the same again.

The decision meant he couldn't play the grand slam championships for another five years, and two years after the "open" era began, he won his second slam.

"I have no regrets about turning pro," he said.

"I had a lot of trophies but you had to earn a living.

"As well as that, all the best players were pros and I wanted to play against the best."

© 2006 AAP

02-01-2006, 11:19 PM
January 29, 2006 latimes.com : Sports : Tennis

She Couldn't Gut It Out
Henin-Hardenne's withdrawal in middle of Australian Open final has drawn criticism, despite her history of playing through illness.

By Lisa Dillman, Times Staff Writer

MELBOURNE, Australia — Pete Sampras' throwing up on the court at the U.S. Open, and going on to beat Alex Corretja, is burned deep into tennis fans' memories.

There was Andre Agassi hobbling through the final two sets of an agonizing five-set loss to Jarkko Nieminen last year at the French Open, barely able to move because of an injured back, which would keep him out of Wimbledon.

Serena Williams grimly forged ahead despite an abdominal injury, losing to Maria Sharapova in the final of the season-ending WTA Championships in 2004. This was a significant career correction for Williams, who once had quit because of an injury when she was a couple of games away from losing to Virginia Ruano Pascual at Wimbledon in 1998 in the third round.

All brave, and widely chronicled efforts, to be sure. But just how should someone who takes the other path be regarded?

More questions were raised than answered about Justine Henin-Hardenne's decision to quit, citing an upset stomach, in the second set of the Australian Open final against Amelie Mauresmo, who was winning 6-1, 2-0. It was the first time it had happened in the women's final at a Grand Slam in the Open Era.

The episode largely went against past performances by Henin-Hardenne. This is the same woman who needed an IV in the early-morning hours after a grueling semifinal win against Jennifer Capriati at the U.S. Open in 2003 and, despite looking as though she was running on empty, returned later that night to defeat countrywoman Kim Clijsters of Belgium in the final.

She once stayed on the court against Mauresmo, despite blowing a set and a 5-2 lead in the second at a clay-court event at Amelia Island in 2004, and said she felt weak during the loss. She subsequently was diagnosed with a debilitating virus. At the 2004 French Open, as the defending champion, Henin-Hardenne completed a second-round match despite suffering from flu and bronchitis, losing to a qualifier.

This track record didn't help her much in some quarters of the court of public opinion.

Mauresmo was asked about the issue of professionalism.

"What can I say? Am I going to make controversy about that?" she said. "No. That's not the day for this for me."

Henin-Hardenne didn't get much help afterward — but maybe that was her decision. A statement from the doctors or trainers who treated her might have quieted some of the critics. But some of the wounds were self-inflicted during her post-match news conference as she appeared less than complimentary when asked about how well Mauresmo was playing.

"I think she had a lot of time because I was very far from my baseline, no energy, nothing in my ball," Henin-Hardenne said. "So she had a lot of time. When you have this kind of time, it's pretty hard to do mistakes."

This was from someone who, less than 24 hours earlier, had spoken about how great she was feeling, saying convincingly, "In the last two years, I never felt as good as now."

02-02-2006, 11:57 PM
The Natural, what is your problem. I didn't say one mean thing to you yet you start calling people names because what there saying you don't agree with, no matter how true it is. Your posts have showed that you don't know much about tennis and your name calling shows that you are a punk. I hate people who just start watching tennis and think they know everything. Natural, you need to watch some tapes of players from the past and you need to stop calling people names. You sound stupid when you post like that!

Yeh Ive seen the way you post on Tennis.com, "Federer was proclaimed the greatest at 24 years old, Federer would destroy pete in all their matches, Federer Destroys 150 MPH Serves, thats an idiot talking, your the idiot who has never watched old tennis matches, Ive been watching that Debate about Sampras and Federer and you always come up with the most biased statements and you say as much as possible to put pete down. Ive been watching Tennis since the days Of Mcenroe and Edberg and I know a hell of alot more than you. Your the one who became a fan BECAUSE of Federer and youve always harped on about how federer is "perfect" and Sampras was "nothing". Get over yourself

02-05-2006, 02:53 AM
Yeh Ive seen the way you post on Tennis.com, "Federer was proclaimed the greatest at 24 years old, Federer would destroy pete in all their matches, Federer Destroys 150 MPH Serves, thats an idiot talking, your the idiot who has never watched old tennis matches, Ive been watching that Debate about Sampras and Federer and you always come up with the most biased statements and you say as much as possible to put pete down. Ive been watching Tennis since the days Of Mcenroe and Edberg and I know a hell of alot more than you. Your the one who became a fan BECAUSE of Federer and youve always harped on about how federer is "perfect" and Sampras was "nothing". Get over yourself

Dont send your blood pressure up over fools natural, it is not worth it, trust me, I use to do the same thing and get myself work up - but I stop doing so, when I heard people like jacobhiggins talk - I have been watching tennis long enough to know what i am talking about :angel: :angel: sometimes it is good to let them yalk nonsense, believe me - one love. :wavey: :D

02-05-2006, 03:29 AM
Paul Lewis: Fight to the death or don't bother showing up


There are many things I don't understand. I don't get Billy Bowden, I don't get personalised plates (why would anyone want one and why is it that so many BMW drivers own a number plate that tells you the car is a BMW?) and I certainly don't get the David Tua-Kevin Barry hissing and spitting. Why don't they just reach an agreement and spare us all the histrionics? It got boring yonks ago, chaps.

Oh, and I now don't understand the backlash against those who criticised Justine Henin-Hardenne for withdrawing from the final of last weekend's Australian Open tennis final.

I was surprised at the emotionalism of the backlash and some of the apologist reasoning. Commentators got all high horse and gnashed their teeth about we wicked types daring to question Justine's motives on the basis that she is one of the gutsiest people in sport and certainly in tennis.

Quite right. And this newspaper ran a picture of a distressed-looking Henin-Hardenne below a heading which said: 'I've got a tummy ache.'

You see, some backlashers got carried away. They accused Henin-Hardenne's critics of ascribing motives such as the following: Conspiracy theories, like she deliberately threw the final for bookmaking reasons.

She was saving herself for another tournament.

She saw she was losing and surrendered the final deliberately.

Hogwash, all of 'em. The backlashers have missed the point. Henin-Hardenne's quitting was all the more shocking because she is such a fighter. The apologists, like Martin Blake, writing in the Melbourne Age, would have it that we have to take her word for it that she felt sick and couldn't go on.

He said: "Henin-Hardenne is entitled to the benefit of the doubt here. If someone has proof she was not sick, then speak out."

"What do we need as proof of her inability to continue playing? A bit of blood perhaps? Some vomiting beside the court? Maybe a collapse out there?"

Actually, Marty, yes.

This isn't a social game down the West End tennis club. It's the Australian Open. This isn't suburban housewife versus social climber. It's the Aussie Open. One of the top four events in world tennis, which carried a prize of $600,000 for coming second. This is the same Aussie Open which occasioned the debate about women playing best-of-five sets instead of best-of-three because they are paid the same money as the men.

Now, I might be being a bit harsh on Justine here, but I reckon 600,000 smackers buys a fair bit of commitment to the cause. As did all the ordinary Ockers and others who paid megabucks for a ringside seat to the action. Tennis majors have a long and revered history of battlers who have beaten the odds and other handicaps like not feeling well.

Two that come straight to mind are Pete Sampras in the 1996 US Open. In a five setter with Alex Corretja in the quarter-finals, Sampras became dehydrated and threw up twice - twice, Marty - but somehow hung in there, overcame Corretja and won the tournament. And there was also the case of Michael Chang in the 1989 French Open. He was cramping badly when facing the world No 1 Ivan Lendl - so badly that his ground strokes weren't working and he had some trouble serving.

With his game curtailed, Chang hit on the brilliant ploy of trying to put the metronomic Lendl off his stroke. So he served underarm and hit moonballs and generally confused Lendl into hitting long and making errors. Somehow, inch by inch, Chang dragged himself back into the match, being hit intermittently by cramp. At match point, Chang was receiving serve just a foot or two past the end of the service box. Lendl double-faulted. Chang won the Open.

There's a touch of heroics there. No one would have blamed Chang or Sampras if they'd tossed in the towel and retired. Because they had demonstrated they were prepared to fight.

No one is suggesting Henin-Hardenne deliberately chucked the match. When she did the towel-tossing, she was obviously looking out of sorts. But while she was plainly not herself, there was equally no sign - like Sampras' vomiting and Chang's cramping - that anything major was wrong, so wrong that you'd bail out in the final of a major, the first woman ever to do so.

Afterwards, as she took part in the presentation ceremony, Henin-Hardenne talked to Amelie Mauresmo and others and generally looked not discommoded enough to have pulled out. It was an unfortunate moment.

Those of us who come from an era which taught values like 'if it's worth doing, it's worth doing properly' are sometimes frustrated by the fair-weather philosophy of some of today's professional sportspeople. Like the county cricketer who prods a green wicket and thinks: 'No runs for me today" and then doesn't try very hard, getting out early.

For what it's worth, I am certain Henin-Hardenne felt lousy. I'm not even going to go into the anti-inflammatory pills she took as I think it is barely relevant. I think she misjudged the situation. She felt bad and felt herself losing and pulled the plug when the better thing to do would have been to have battled to the end, even if she did not win another point. Then afterwards she could have explained what was wrong.

In life, there are some tough lessons. One is that credibility is hard won but easily lost. I hope Henin-Hardenne gets back on the horse and demonstrates all her fighting qualities in her next tournament. She needs to.

• More by Paul Lewis

02-07-2006, 10:14 PM
Federer quietly dominating the world of tennis

Staff Writer

February 06, 2006

All the hype right now is surrounding the Super Bowl, college basketball and the outstanding play of the NBA’s Kobe Bryant, but one story has gone unnoticed: the epic saga of Roger Federer.

You might ask, “Why are you writing about tennis?” Well, I have a unique background in and appreciation for the sport. I played the game religiously for six years, spending countless weekends at tennis clubs around the Ohio Valley, practicing at least three hours a day. Let’s just say I did not make it in tennis, despite the pressure from my mom’s side of the family, which sent seven of 12 kids to college on full-ride tennis scholarships.

Outside of boxing, I don’t think there is any tougher sport in the world to compete in, much less dominate, than tennis. Tennis players top the list when it comes to people who are overall athletes. They have the perfect combination of strength, speed, agility, hand-eye coordination, stamina and intelligence. And while nobody will ever give Federer the credit he deserves as one of the greatest athletes on the planet, he is well on his way to becoming the greatest tennis player ever to walk the earth.

The 24-year-old Switzerland native captured his seventh Grand Slam title just over two weeks ago in the Australian Open. Number seven for Federer puts him half way to the all-time Grand Slam record held by my childhood idol, Pete Sampras. Beginning with Federer’s first Grand Slam win at the 2003 Wimbledon Championships, he has won seven of the last 11 slams, rivaling Tiger Woods’ run of seven of 11 majors within a three-year span on the PGA Tour.

Federer will go for his eighth in May as he looks for his first French Open title, and if successful, he will hold all four major titles at the same time. That accomplishment would put him in a league of his own as the first men’s player ever to hold all four. Quite possibly the only feat to top this in all of tennis was Steffi Graf’s “Golden Grand Slam” in 1988 when she won all four majors while also taking home the Gold Medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Federer looks like a great tennis player on paper, but you have to see him on the court to truly realize why he may go down as the all-time greatest. He is a jack of all trades. He owns one of the most dangerous serves on the tour, has blistering ground strokes from both sides, moves like the wind and can beat people in any number of ways.

His poise is what carries him. While many of the past greats on the men’s tour dominated as Federer has, none were ever so composed in doing so. McEnroe and Connors were always known for their tempers. Sampras was easily flustered. What made Sampras great was his ability to get through those moments and still pull out a win, à la his five-set epic win in the 1996 U.S. Open Quarterfinal against Alex Corretja, where Sampras puked in the middle of the fifth set tiebreak. Andre Agassi had spurts of greatness but would disappear for years at a time. Federer is downright as close as you can get to being a robot when he is on the court, and if all his parts stay together, there is no limit to what he can do.

02-08-2006, 10:33 PM
A glimpse at the real Roger Federer

It is fashionable to see Federer not as a person but as some elegantly engineered robot, writes Rohit Brijnath

Before anything else, before the thrill of victory slowly seeps into the bones, before contemplating his new place in history's scorebook, when the last point is won the predominant feeling that overcomes the champion is relief. It is done, he thinks.

And then, often, the athlete will simply let himself go, allow his emotions so long carefully imprisoned to break free, a sort of permission slip to the self that now, finally, it is ok to lose control.

Michael Jordan grasped his first NBA Trophy to himself like he might a child and wept. Tiger Woods fell into his father's arms on winning the Masters. Diego Maradona blubbered on his 1986 World Cup victory.

And on Sunday night, as extravagant with emotion as he usually is with shot-making, Roger Federer struggled to contain his tears after winning the Australian Open. It was the only battle he beautifully lost all fortnight.

It is fashionable occasionally to see Federer not as a person, but as some elegantly engineered robot. My God, it was noted, during his struggles through the tournament, Roger sweats, as if his insides are normally air-conditioned.

Emotional ride

But late in the tournament he sometimes lost his composure, erratic and irritated, appearing almost vulnerable, and it was revealing. For some this was the imperfect Federer, but perhaps it was a glimpse at the real Federer, momentarily unshackled from his impeccable control.

Listen up, he was saying, I may look composed mostly, but I rage within. Before the tournament began he admitted there are days when tennis is hard labour for him, but we laughed it off. His ease has disguised his effort and it pains him. He is artist yes, but pugilist too.

This should be evident. Thrice now in Grand Slam finals, Andy Roddick at

Wimbledon 2004, Agassi at the U.S. Open last year, Baghdatis on Sunday, players have confronted him with audacious shot-making, dominated sets, nudged at his self-belief, yet Federer has not wilted.

"I was struggling so much to hold my serve," he said after Sunday's final. "I was sweating like crazy. I thought, `Well, if this is going to continue, I'll probably lose and (only) a miracle is going to save me.'" But he, once a hothead, has trained himself to stay calmest amidst everyone else's storm of shots, alerting the clear-thinking warrior within him.

Striking similarities

In this he bears resemblance to Sampras, and not only there; indeed, so compelling are the similarities between him and the American, that Federer on Sunday called it "scary."

Born four days and 10 years apart, at exactly this time when 24, Sampras had seven Grand Slams, so does Federer; Sampras had won two Masters, so has Federer, the American had been the first since Laver to win three Slams in a row, now so has Federer, Sampras had 36 titles, Federer has 35.

Men labour a lifetime to win one Slam, for as Federer said "it is so hard to do." Especially for him, for so accomplished he has become that we believe he carries no fear, nor owns any doubt. He is not allowed, he said, to be sick. He must always be "physically strong" and "mentally tough." Every day, even as 127 opponents gang up with a solitary idea: beating him.

Match after match, he must manage nerve, stir desire, swallow pressure, staying normal in an abnormal environment and somehow willing himself to keep control.

Then he wins, and Rod Laver is shaking his hand, and the trophy within his grasp. Then it is all too much. Then he says, as if his tears didn't speak enough as it is: "I'm also just human."

02-13-2006, 01:30 PM
gr8 articles
I have given up trying to defend the epic Sampras from nonsense fans who just woke up to Federer's play.
It would be better for him & the sports to have a rival & more comeptition.
Its no wonder baseball, basketball & other are having more attention & media coverage. he is cruising without so much a struggle up until the AO. not to say its his fault but other need to step up ASAP

02-13-2006, 10:45 PM
gr8 articles
I have given up trying to defend the epic Sampras from nonsense fans who just woke up to Federer's play.
It would be better for him & the sports to have a rival & more comeptition.
Its no wonder baseball, basketball & other are having more attention & media coverage. he is cruising without so much a struggle up until the AO. not to say its his fault but other need to step up ASAP

I agree with you almouchie, Roger needs a rival, somebody who is going to push him, one love. :bigwave: :bigwave:

02-14-2006, 11:18 PM
Roddick calmly moves United States into quarterfinals
By KEN PETERS, AP Sports Writer

Monday, February 13, 2006

(02-13) 00:11 PST SAN DIEGO, (AP) --

Andy Roddick tried the calm approach, and it worked.

That doesn't necessarily mean he plans to be low-key all the time on the court.

"Even the calmest guys, you see Pete (Sampras) get fired up sometimes," Roddick said Sunday after his victory over Romania's Razvan Sabau moved the United States into the Davis Cup quarterfinals against Chile.

"But I think it's something that can definitely be learned, and especially in Davis Cup matches when tensions are high, kind of learn just to take it down a little bit," Roddick added. "Maybe today was the start of it, who knows?"

Roddick, who was nauseous during his opening singles and lost to Andre Pavel, came back to beat Sabau 6-3, 6-3, 6-2. Unlike his match two days earlier, Roddick seemed subdued while he was controlling the match against Sabau.

"I just wanted him to relax, and not just emotionally play and get too hyped up," team captain Patrick McEnroe said. "I think sometimes he gets so excited in Davis Cup that maybe he expends too much energy early in the match, sort of what happened on Friday."

Roddick, whose win over Sabau gave the Americans an insurmountable 3-1 lead in the best-of-five competition, said he paced himself.

"I kind of put it on cruise control early and was trying to not overexert energy between points," he said. "I felt fine, but I wasn't wanting to test it too much and find out how deep I could go."

"I was just trying to maintain energy and keep an even keel."

In the earlier match against Pavel, Roddick won the first two sets and had match point before he became really sick. He vomited and wound up being so dehydrated he had no energy. Pavel came back to win in five sets.

"I felt horrible the other day after my match," Roddick said. "I didn't want to test those waters. It would have been useless for me to throw around energy (in the Sabau match) that didn't need to be thrown around."

After Roddick's win clinched it for the Americans, James Blake made the final 4-1 with his closing singles victory.

Blake and the doubles team of Mike and Bob Bryan provided the first two U.S. victories, then Blake capped the first round with a 6-1, 7-5 win over Horia Tecau in what essentially was an exhibition match shortened to two sets.

Sabau, ranked No. 112 to Roddick's No. 3, filled in for injured teammate Victor Hanescu. Hanescu, No. 41, tore ligaments in his left side during doubles the previous day and had to quit after the first set, won 6-2 by the Bryans.

Blake had beaten Hanescu in straight sets Friday to even the matches 1-1 after Roddick lost to Pavel.

Sabau realized Roddick was playing conservatively.

"I wish I could have done more than I did because I saw that Roddick was not 100 percent," he said. "I saw him playing a different tactic than he usually is playing. He was defensive and he stayed very long distance behind the baseline.

"I was expecting him to attack me."

Roddick, who wasn't pleased with his serving, still had 17 aces to one by Sabau, and three double-faults to nine by the Romanian.

The United States assured itself a home date and the choice of playing surface for the April 7-9 matches. The site and surface are to be determined.

In Chile's win over Slovakia, Fernando Gonzalez defeated Michal Mertinak, and Nicolas Massu beat Dominik Hrbaty. Gonzalez and Massu then teamed to win the doubles and clinch a spot a spot in the quarters.

The United States has won the Davis Cup 31 times, but not since Sampras led the team to the title in 1995. The Americans didn't make it past the first round last year, when they were eliminated by Croatia in matches at Carson.

02-24-2006, 08:54 PM
Getting it right, in the end

The last thing even his many detractors would wish upon Ganguly is a painfully long fading away into the sunset, writes Nirmal Shekar

For much of his life as a cricketer, Sourav Ganguly has been a fighter rather than a quitter; a man who could take charge of his own destiny and make things happen rather than one given to self-defeating whingeing.

But, then, there comes a time in the career of every sportsman — even the greatest — when never-say-die spirit becomes a sort of excess baggage that can lead to embarrassment from being a virtue that could lead him to greater glory.

For India's most successful captain, that time is now. A man who has passed many a test bravely faces his biggest — and perhaps most tricky — examination now after being dropped from the side named to play England in the first Test at Nagpur.

As a man blessed with more intelligence than most cricketers can claim credit for, Ganguly should see the writing on the wall for what it is. The Prince of Kolkata should accept that his international career has reached a dead end.

In the event, Ganguly has two choices now. He can put up a brave front in public and continue to dream unrealisable dreams while his band of supporters, who always sound cloyingly sentimental, drum up their familiar protests. Or, he can wave goodbye with a broad smile.

The second option may be hard to choose but history will prove that it is the right one. For, the last thing even his many detractors would wish upon Ganguly is a painfully long fading away into the sunset.

The style of athletic leave-taking has changed considerably since the day (July 18, 1971 to be precise) a man called Pele lapped the field at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janerio, waving his No.10 jersey in triumph, tears streaming down his face, the noise of fireworks cutting through chants of "Pele, Pele" and "fica, fica" (stay, stay) after the first half of a Brazil-Yugoslavia international.

End of an era

An era had ended. To the fans of the world's most popular sport, it was an era that was the equivalent of the Romantic period in western classical music and the Renaissance in art. And the greatest maestro of them all left even as the whole world hoped he would stay on, as hundreds of thousands signed letters urging him to continue.

Then again, for every Pele there are hundreds of other sportsmen, some of them among the greatest, who slip unnoticed into oblivion, fading imperceptibly. Do you remember when Ilie Nastase retired? Do you recall his last match? On the other hand, everyone will know when Pete Sampras quit.

In the context of Indian sport itself, you could wake up a cricket fan in the wee hours of the morning and he will readily tell you that Sunil Gavaskar made a masterly 96 on a minefield of a pitch in Bangalore against Pakistan in his last Test appearance.

Of course, a lot of players, great and good and average, will want to go out with the proverbial bang but, more often than not, the bang has very little to do with what the player does or does not do in his last match.

The timing

The bang has more to do with timing than with anything else. Don Bradman, Pele and Gavaskar timed their goodbyes to perfection. But even the greatest of them all, Muhammad Ali, failed to get it right, his traumatic last days as a pro a harrowing experience for his millions of fans.

When it comes to the question of playing or not playing after one has left one's peak behind, there are levels of ego involved in the decision-making process. Experience may teach the ageing sportsmen a few tricks that can help live down age and postpone retirement. But even the most intense athletes, the ones that are able to keep the emotional fires raging into `old age', find out sooner or later that the flames are continually doused with cold splashes by Father Time.

So, what is the best time for a sportsman to retire? More often than not, it is the individual himself who knows best. If he ignores all the feel-good balderdash that his fans dish out and devotes time for a bit of introspection, Sourav Ganguly can be expected to make the right decision. But still, it is his decision, not yours, mine or even the BCCI selectors'.

02-25-2006, 06:18 PM

Fed-Ex matches Pistol Pete

rediff Sports Bureau | February 25, 2006 16:54 IST

Ever since Roger Federer beat Pete Sampras in the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2001, he has been hailed as Sampras' successor on grass.

Five years since, Federer is threatening to topple Sampras as the best modern-day player, ever.

The American, when at his peak, looked like a one-in-a-lifetime player. But it took only 10 years before Federer was born.

Australian legend Rod Laver, the only player to win all four Grand Slams the same year twice, thinks Federer can win a Grand Slam of titles.

Andre Agassi, after the 2005 US Open final, proclaimed that the Swiss was the best he had ever played against.

At 24, Federer has seven Grand Slam titles. Sampras retired with the most men's singles Slams in history --14.

ATP released statistics that show their amazingly similar career paths, separated by exactly 10 years.

Birthdate Sampras: August 12, 1971
Birthdate Federer: August 8, 1981

Winning % Sampras: 0.773 (437-128)
Winning % Federer: 0.765 (391-120)

Titles Sampras: 36
Titles Federer: 33

Year Sampras' Reign began: at the 1993 Wimbledon contest(it was his 5th Wimbledon competition and the 17th major he had entered)
Year Federer's Reign began: at the 2003 Wimbledon contest (it was his 5th Wimbledon and the 17th major he had entered)

Sampras' peak period: Won 6 out of 10 majors 1993 Wimbledon to 1995 US Open
Federer's peak period: Won 6 out of 10 majors 2003 Wimbledon to 2005 US Open

Sampras' Grand Slam record: 1 Australian Open, 3 Wimbledon titles, 2 US Open titles
Federer's Grand Slam record: 1 Australian Open, 3 Wimbledon titles, 2 US Open titles

Wimbledon Sampras: 1993-1995
Wimbledon Federer: 2003-2005

Major stumble Sampras: Roland Garros, 3 quarterfinals
Major stumble Federer: Roland Garros, semifinal, quarterfinal, 4th round

Masters Cup Sampras: 1991, 1994
Masters Cup Federer: 2003, 2004

Sampras at No. 1 slot: 109 weeks
Federer at No. 1 slot: 100 weeks

The list does not include Federer's 2006 Australian Open victory. The period up until January 1996 is considered for Sampras and the one up until January 2006 for Federer

02-27-2006, 10:40 PM

Tennis prodigy power play
Leo Schlink

THE International Management Group's extraordinary largess does not usually extend to 13-year-olds.

But in January, Bernard Tomic and his parents John and Adi were invited to Melbourne for IMG's Australian Open party.

Not only were there centre court tickets at Melbourne Park, flights from Queensland and accommodation at Crown, there were the intangibles few other companies can provide.

Tomic was introduced to Maria Sharapova, Taylor Dent, Jonas Bjorkman and, best of all, shared a photograph with Roger Federer.

Tomic and his family were impressed. They were meant to be.

Within a few weeks, IMG expects to secure the services of a prodigy described as a tennis wizard.

If all goes to plan, and Tomic becomes the champion many people are forecasting, IMG will have turned an expensive exercise into a windfall.

As a student of past and contemporary players, Tomic has a strong working knowledge of the sport's elite and a fair idea of what makes champions.

And, after winning 75 tournaments in a career not yet six years old, Tomic covets the best of the best.

"I want the serve of Goran Ivanisevic, the heart of Lleyton Hewitt, the mind of Pete Sampras and the groundstrokes of Roger Federer," he said.

"I want to be No. 1 in the world and win all the grand slam tournaments."

Simple. If Tomic has been scripted, it is not apparent.

This is an astonishingly driven young athlete whose emigre family has survived a living hell as Croatian refugees.

Having spent four years in Germany waiting to move to Queensland, John Tomic declares Australia the best country in the world.

There is no suggestion of glibness. Gratitude is the currency.

By way of repaying his adopted country a favour, Tomic Sr wants his son to become an Australian Davis Cup player.

"But my biggest target is to build Bernard into a very good person," Tomic Sr said.

"He's a good athlete. He has everything. He's a natural. He can play any sport."

Mercifully for the talent-shrivelled ranks of the Australian game, Tomic chose tennis.

Now he is the most gifted and accomplished player of his age in the world.

His string of credits is long. Two wins stand out -- the Eddie Herr and the Orange Bowl. While many junior victories can be diminished by a number of factors, the time-honoured Florida tournaments have thrown up generations of world-beaters.

Disarmingly direct, Tomic volunteered his ambitions, anticipating a question he may be asked a thousand times.

"I want to be the youngest Australian Davis Cup player in history," he said.

Asked if he knew the youngest -- it's John Alexander (17 years and six months in 1968) -- he replied: "It will be me."

He recalled how two weeks ago he contested qualifying in New Zealand against a group of 18-year-olds. His goal was to reach the main draw.

He did, then reset his target.

"The second week, I said I wanted to win the tournament and I did without dropping a set," Tomic said.

"I didn't have an 18-and-under ranking before those tournaments. Now I have."

Tomic, who lists his favourite entertainer as Eminem, is not shy.

His mother, a bio-mechanical scientist, and father have kept a tight rein on the youngster Australian tennis is praying can keep developing.

John Tomic has no doubt his son can make it.

He recalled the first time Bernard hit the ball.

"It was a surprise to me," he said. "He had amazing connection with the ball.

"The feel and the spin that he had . . . he was a natural.

"He's won tournaments as a nine-year-old beating 14-year-olds. He's always been playing against older players. Now he's 13 and he's beating 18-year-olds. He has everything."

03-06-2006, 10:16 PM
COLUMN-Federer will relish rivalry with Nadal
Mon Mar 6, 2006 3:51 PM GMT

By Martyn Herman

LONDON, March 6 (Reuters) - Roger Federer rarely suffers defeat and Saturday's loss to Rafael Nadal in the final of the Dubai Open would have left a bitter taste in the Swiss world number one's mouth.

Nadal's 2-6 6-4 6-4 victory snapped Federer's Open-era record of 56 straight victories on hardcourts and confirmed the Spaniard as a serious challenger to his world domination, as if we needed reminding.

The fact that the bandana-wearing Spaniard bounded around the court with no sign of the ankle injuries that threw a question mark over his year was good news for a sport crying out for a serious rivalry.

Even for Federer, despite a chastening third defeat in four meetings with Nadal, it could well prove a positive experience and spur him to even greater feats.

A trawl through the last 30 years of men's tennis throws up some memorable rivalries.

Ice cool Swede Bjorn Borg scaled the heights to take on the raging John McEnroe, while the American firebrand regularly crossed swords with compatriot Jimmy Connors on the world's biggest stages.

Czech Ivan Lendl raised the bar still further, becoming almost unbeatable at the U.S. Open, while Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg contested three consecutive Wimbledon finals.

Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, as different as chalk and cheese on and off the court, played 34 times from 1989, culminating in Sampras's final bow when he beat his rival in the 2002 U.S. Open final, his 14th grand slam title.


Although Agassi claimed his eighth major title at the Australian Open title in 2003, there is no doubt he missed having his old sparring partner in his sights.

Sampras also benefited. When Aggasi returned from his self-imposed break in the late 90s, he sent the Las Vegan a note expressing his relief that he was back.

In the biography "On being John McEnroe" the American admits the premature retirement of Borg left a vacuum that no other rival could fill, not even Connors.

His respect for the Swede led him to try, unsuccessfully, to lure him back to the circuit.

So, while 19-year-old French Open champion Nadal was tearfully collecting his trophy in Dubai at the weekend, Federer stood at courtside, already plotting revenge.

The Swiss, who many feel is the greatest player ever to wield a racket, knows that the French Open, the only major to elude him, will prove his greatest challenge.

He probably would have won it last year, only to get trampled by the marauding Spaniard in an intense semi-final.

He also lost to Nadal in Miami in 2004 and his only success against him came, also in Miami, a year later when he recovered from a two-set deficit to claim the title.

The game comes so easy for Federer that he can beat top-10 grand slam winners like Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick with cruise control switched on.

Nadal is different. So far, at least, Federer has not worked out a way to counter the fizzing topspin and sheer tenacity of the Mallorcan matador.

"It's not easy being expected to win all the time," Federer said after losing in Dubai. "But I'm happy with my game and it gives me something to look forward to when I play him again."

For his part, Nadal keeps up his mantra that Federer is untouchable as world number one, although it is unlikely that he really believes that.

The bristling, bad-tempered showdowns of the Eighties might be asking a little too much, such is the obvious rapport between the world's top two players.

However, if they end up on opposite sides of the net on a regular basis this year, and barring injuries that will surely happen, tennis fans will be in for some epic showdowns.

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

03-06-2006, 10:20 PM
Forget A-Rod, Nadal looms as Federer's great nemesis

By Whit Sheppard
Special to ESPN.com

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- In the latest installment of a budding rivalry that just might reach Sampras-Agassi or Borg-McEnroe proportions one day, teenage phenom Rafael Nadal of Spain extended his mastery over world No. 1 Roger Federer, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4, Saturday in the finals of the Dubai Duty Free Men's Open.

Nadal, 19, now holds a 3-1 career advantage over the seven-time Grand Slam winner, who's widely touted to eventually surpass Pete Sampras' 14 career Grand Slams. Nadal fired an important first salvo in the battle for supremacy between the pair in 2006 in front of a crowd that included 11-time Grand Slam winner Bjorn Borg.

The world No. 2, winner of last year's French Open among his 11 titles in 2005, was playing in just his second tournament since injuring his left foot last October at the Madrid Masters Series tournament.

"To be out for three months with the injury and then to beat Roger is a very special thing," said Nadal. "It's unbelievable for me."

In the process, Nadal snapped Federer's 56-match winning streak on hard courts, handing him his first loss on the surface since he lost a semifinal match to Marat Safin at the 2005 Australian Open.

Men's tennis has been without a compelling rivalry since Sampras laid down his racket after his 2002 U.S. Open win over Agassi, ending a storied, 13-year rivalry with his compatriot in which Sampras finished with a 20-14 lifetime edge.

And while many in and around the game had hoped that Andy Roddick would be able to provide Federer with a worthy foil, that hoped-for rivalry has failed to take off. As Roddick said after one of his two consecutive losses to Federer in the 2004 and 2005 Wimbledon finals, "Rivalry? I've got to win one of these to make it a rivalry." Federer holds a 10-1 lifetime advantage over Roddick.

But whenever Nadal's looming on the other side of the draw from the otherwise incomparable Swiss, Federer's path to tennis immortality faces a formidable roadblock.

For his part, Nadal says all the right things in his limited but improving English. He's seemingly content to play Avis to Federer's Hertz and showered his opponent with praise after the match.

"He's the best sportsman, I think, in the world," said Nadal. "He has a lot of humble."

When asked if his thoughts were on supplanting Federer at No. 1, Nadal said he was only looking ahead to the coming week's Masters Series tournament in Indian Wells, and quite content for the moment to be No. 2 to the "unbelievable" Federer.

But it's evident that Nadal has the weaponry to disrupt the immensely talented Swiss, and a competitive will that few players exhibit so nakedly or to such advantage.

Along with his trademark shouts of "Vamos!" and his leaping fist-pump after big points, Nadal's body language at the outset of the match spoke volumes.

After the players met at the net for the coin flip that would determine who served first, Nadal sprinted back to the baseline, doing a bob-and-weave that conjured images of players sprinting through the tunnel when introduced at the Super Bowl, while Federer coolly strolled to his baseline.

For his part, Federer seemed unfazed by the loss, his first in 2006 after 16 consecutive wins.

"Rafa was just better today. I gave him too many chances on second serves in the last two sets and he broke me at the right time [to go up 5-4 in each of the last two sets].

"I think he deserved to win, he was more consistent and played better in the end."

Asked what Nadal is able to do to him that other players are not, Federer paused for a moment before answering.

"He's a good player, I've never denied it. He's such a good lefty and that doesn't make it any easier on the serve and with the cross-court forehand."

The only other player who sports a winning record (two matches or more) against the Swiss is Argentina's David Nalbandian, who holds a 6-4 lifetime advantage against Federer, greatly helped by winning their first five matches.

The win here in Dubai is sure to provide a big boost to the Spaniard's confidence heading into the two Masters Series tournaments this month in Indian Wells and in Miami.

With his foot injury apparently healed and specially made orthopedic shoes on the way from Nike, Nadal looks to be in good shape to provide men's tennis with the other half of the rivalry that it's been looking for. For the moment, on any surface other than Wimbledon's grass, he's clearly capable, all of his self-deprecation aside, of turning the tables on Federer and closing the gap that exists at the top of the men's game.

Whit Sheppard is a Paris-based sportswriter and writes for a variety of international publications.

03-07-2006, 11:05 PM
Agassi and Sampras lost without each other

London, Mar 07: Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, as different as chalk and cheese on and off the court, played 34 times from 1989, culminating in Sampras's final bow when he beat his rival in the 2002 US Open final, his 14th grand slam title.

Although Agassi claimed his eighth major title at the Australian Open title in 2003, there is no doubt he missed having his old sparring partner in his sights.

Sampras also benefited. When Agassi returned from his self-imposed break in the late 90s, he sent the Las Vegan a note expressing his relief that he was back.

Bureau Report

03-08-2006, 01:18 AM
Yes pete said his worst year on tour was in 98 (that was in an interview before wimbledon 99) and before that we all know 97 was tough because his dominance started to fade, especially after losing to Rafter. Its more irritating to push to be number 1 for a 6th year when agassi wasnt there to challenge him

03-08-2006, 09:26 PM
Yes pete said his worst year on tour was in 98 (that was in an interview before wimbledon 99) and before that we all know 97 was tough because his dominance started to fade, especially after losing to Rafter. Its more irritating to push to be number 1 for a 6th year when agassi wasnt there to challenge him

Maybe we will see the both of them play in their old age again, we need Pete to start playing again. :wavey: :angel: ;)

03-08-2006, 10:31 PM
It takes 2 to tango, but only 1 came to the party

Bikash Mohapatra
Wednesday, March 08, 2006 21:30 IST

MUMBAI: Modern tennis has a certain degree of predictability. It may be witnessing power and precision but it still lacks depth. In the last 15 years (post 1991), men’s tennis has been marked by the domination of a single player. So if it was Pete Sampras who dominated the sport for most of the 1990s, it is Roger Federer who rules the roost now.

Compare this to the 1970s and 1980s, considered by many as the golden age of tennis. The Bjorn Borg-Jimmy Connors-John McEnroe rivalry of the 1970s and the Boris Becker-Ivan Lendl-Mats Wilander-Stefan Edberg tussle of the 1980s hasn’t been replicated in recent times. It is not as if there haven’t been other competent players in this generation. Andre Agassi, Michael Chang, Goran Ivanisevic, Patrick Rafter, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Thomas Muster and the ilk have been formidable players and have results that proved their calibre.

But still they didn’t have the firepower to withstand the fury of Sampras on a regular basis.

What these players lacked was the consistency, the ability to maintain a high-level of play in the long run. One witnessed Andre Agassi being ranked No.1 one year and plummet to unfathomable depths (a ranking of 141) another year. The same happened with others in the 1990s. And this is exactly where Sampras scored — playing with remarkable consistency and taking advantage of the lack of a regular rival. The same is happening in the case of Federer.

The Swiss, his achievements notwithstanding, has dominated primarily because he has had all time to concentrate on his game and had no rival to worry about. The Andy Roddicks, Lleyton Hewitts and Marat Safins, despite all their flair, have failed to challenge the supremacy of the world’s best player.

However, with the arrival of Rafael Nadal, Federer has perhaps for the first time in his career started feeling the heat.

The young Spaniard, with his athletic ability, looks like the one who can rival the Swiss on a consistent basis. Though it is too early to term it a rivalry, the Federer-Nadal match-ups look set for a long run and give tennis a much wanted rivalry.

03-09-2006, 09:58 PM
Posted March 9, 2006

Courier at the helm of seniors' tennis comeback


Florida Sun-SentinelFORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Jim Courier's first career was professional tennis. In his second, he became an entrepreneur. This weekend, he's both in the kickoff event in Naples of the new four-city Outback Champions Series that brings senior tennis back to the United States after a long absence.

It has taken Courier the better part of three years to resurrect this tour in the way he wants it, with younger players, more prize money ($48,000 maximum first prize) and more intense competition, but he seems to have found the right eight-man mix with himself, John McEnroe, Michael Chang, Mats Wilander, Pat Cash, Aaron Krickstein, Mikael Pernfors and Petr Korda for this inaugural.

There are 21 Grand Slam singles titles among these men and, while the round-robin format will continue to dictate eight-man fields, there are other suspects waiting to play.

Pete Sampras, who will play the short World Team Tennis circuit this year, is a strong possibility for later this year or in 2007 and there are hopes that two other high-profile players, Patrick Rafter and Stefan Edberg, will be sufficiently recovered from injuries to get back on court.

Naples play begins at 2 p.m. Friday with players separated into two four-man round-robin groups. The winner of each group plays for the title on Monday. If there is a two-way tie for first in either group, head-to-head decides who goes into the final. In a three-way tie, the first tiebreaker is sets won and the second tiebreaker games won.

"Nervous? I'm excited, though I'm sure I'll be nervous Friday," Courier said this week. "I'm preparing for this the same way I prepared for tennis. This has been a work in progress and there will be bumps and blind spots along the way. But we've learned a lot already."

Courier says his predominant audience will be ages 30 to 70. "It's a boomer audience. We might get some younger people out with their parents, but not teenagers," he said.

There has been a solidly financed seniors tour in Europe, and Courier has done well there. But the former masters tour in the United States, which leaned heavily on McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, saw its end shortly after 9/11, when a crucial event was canceled because of the attack on the World Trade Center.

The tournament is at The Players Club and Lely Resort. Other Champions Tour events are scheduled at Boston (April 27-30), Memphis (Oct. 5-8) and Houston (Nov. 9-12).
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03-11-2006, 06:45 PM
Federer plays down talk of rivalry with Nadal
Sat Mar 11, 2006 4:40 AM GMT

By Matthew Cronin

INDIAN WELLS, March 10 (Reuters) - World number one Roger Federer said it was too early to tell whether he and Rafael Nadal will establish a major rivalry.

Spanish teenager Nadal broke Federer's 56-match hard court winning streak with a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory in Dubai last Sunday and boasts a 3-1 record against the Swiss

But Federer said the competition was too fierce to develop a rivalry in the fashion of Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras.

"I've played him only four times and obviously we are number one and number two, but we'll have to see how it progresses," said Federer, the top seed at this week's Pacific Life Open.

"There are more players than just Nadal. The other players will play well here too at Indian Wells.

"I don't think we can call it a rivalry yet. There's just to many great players around."

But eight-times grand slam champion Agassi think the pairing has the makings of a classic and said that the left-handed Nadal, who is seeded second at Indian Wells, has the game to challenge Federer.

"I think it would be impossible for anybody to dominate in the past two years the way Roger did," Agassi said.

"It's great to see that the one person that closes to him in the rankings is his most difficult matchup. Nadal can hit that one shot that everybody wishes they can hit against Roger and that's getting the ball up to his backhand side.

"It's isn't brain surgery. Nobody likes it up there. That's the only area that Roger doesn't hurt you with. So it's great to see a matchup that lends for a rivalry for a long time to come."

Swiss Federer believes the more he plays the Spaniard, the more success he'll have against him.

"He's a big guy," Federer said. "He moves very well for his height and he's got strong legs. He gets back many balls and he's got a great forehand, great spin.

"He reads the dimension of the court very well. He's got a good all round game. We don't have to many of those, but I enjoy playing him. I'm at the top of my game so, when I win or lose, I don't freak out." ((SPORT-TENNIS-FEDERER. Editing by Miles Evans, Asia Sports Desk; +65 6870-3971))

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

03-11-2006, 06:49 PM
A Celebrity Who Takes the Clicking, Keeps On Ticking

By Bill Dwyre, Times Staff Writer
March 11, 2006

In a celebrity-starved world, Roger Federer gets tennis in the game. He makes the racket for his sport, just as Tiger Woods is the driver for his.

Even if rain hadn't disrupted most of the matches Friday at the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells, Federer still would have been the big show. And he won't even play until Sunday.

Russian Marat Safin, one of the best players in the world, the man who beat Federer in the 2005 Australian Open final, and an interesting, charismatic person, won a match and barely created a ripple.

American Lindsay Davenport, a local star from Laguna Beach, long a No. 1 player, winner of three titles in Grand Slam events and a friendly, engaging person, blasted another young American off the court in a 6-0, 6-0 whipping and barely created a ripple.

Federer meandered into a press gathering, dressed in a drab gray sweatshirt and dirty jeans, hair slightly disheveled. And suddenly, you had the Beatles.

It was standing room only. From all corners, cameras buzzed, whirred and clicked. Federer smiles. Buzz, whir, click. Federer gestures. Buzz, whir, click.

It was 15 minutes of "Access Hollywood" and, as an afterthought, some questions about tennis.

There are a couple of dozen mainstream newspapers and broadcast outlets from the desert to Los Angeles, and there were twice that many bodies in the room. Federer is far from a local story. His attraction is both Tennis magazine and People magazine. He is from Switzerland, but tennis has given him to the world. And he has given back, willingly and comfortably.

His results alone might put him on his pedestal.

When he won the Australian Open in January, it was his seventh Grand Slam title. At 24, he's already halfway to Pete Sampras' record.

More astounding, though, is what he has done since the beginning of 2004. In that span, his record is 117-11. He has won 24 tour titles, including six of the last nine Grand Slam events, and recently passed Bjorn Borg for fifth place for length of stay at No. 1, currently 110 weeks.

Yet he has remained accessible, comfortable with his role as the guy wearing the crown. He is not a great quote, but he is not dull. He has a presence, not a swagger.

Perhaps the most interesting/insightful thing he said Friday was that, for a while, when somebody had a winning record against him, he took it personally.

"I thought they were not nice people," he said, smiling over his own pettiness. "I look at things more relaxed now."

Tour officials say they have never had anybody more willing to promote the game, more willing to cooperate with tournament officials or sponsors or reporters from pint-sized papers or 10-watt stations. While he is doing that, he maintains a measure of realism and humility.

"I'm excited" to be playing here, he said, "but at the same time, I feel the pressure, of course."

After the English version of his news conference ended, he did another in German. When you are Roger Federer, the globe is your stage.

03-14-2006, 04:16 PM
This Belgian Is Vanilla, but Her Game Is Not

By Bill Dwyre, Times Staff Writer
March 14, 2006

Justine Henin-Hardenne, the top-seeded woman at the Pacific Life Open tennis tournament, waltzed through one of those early-round matches Monday that receives little attention and deserves even less. Her 6-0, 6-0 victory over Aiko Nakamura of Japan took 56 minutes and, by the time it ended, had nearly emptied the 16,100-seat Indian Wells Garden.

It wasn't Henin-Hardenne's fault that her opponent couldn't play.

But it is unfortunate that her stature on the tour is often measured by things other than her results.

Those things include a somewhat bland post-match personality, exacerbated by a faulty grasp of English-language nuances. The French-speaking Henin-Hardenne, from Belgium, sticks to a pretty narrow range of topics in English, most of them tennis and few of them fresh.

A few years ago, at the WTA Championships in Los Angeles, she left in tears after being pressed by that noted tennis writer and general humanitarian, T.J. Simers of The Times, who wanted to know why she wore a watch when she played. Simers knew the answer: She wears it because she is paid to.

Simers had a column, as well as another notch in his belt, and Henin-Hardenne had, once again, confirmed her label of good player, dull personality.

She also has suffered through a series of injuries that took her from No. 1 in 2003 to No. 43 in '04, and that took up a lot of post-match yammer. Necessary, but dull stuff.

Her image took a large hit when she defaulted in the final of January's Australian Open. She quit at 1-6, 0-2, handing the title to France's Amelie

Mauresmo, later citing a shoulder injury that forced her to take lots of anti-inflammatory medicine, which made her so ill she couldn't continue. Recently, she has said she regrets having Mauresmo's first Grand Slam title marred by her withdrawal and added that she shouldn't have even taken the court in the first place.

Still, the press and public embrace Pete Sampras throwing up on the court much more than somebody saying no mas, especially in a Grand Slam final.

Despite all that, her results should get fair consideration in defining her, and there is one measure that is so telling, and so obscure, that even Henin-Hardenne wasn't aware of it until told Monday.

It goes something like this: There are two people ever who have won all four major tennis titles — the Australian, French, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open — as well as an Olympic gold medal in singles. The two are married to each other, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf.

There is only one who has been close enough to have won all but one, and lost in the final of the other. It is not Lindsay Davenport, who has not won the French and has gotten only as far as the semifinals there. It is not Serena Williams, who has won all four majors and has won a gold medal in Olympic doubles, but has never played in Olympic singles.

It is Henin-Hardenne, who won the Olympic gold in Athens and has only a Wimbledon title left for her perfect resume. She lost the 2001 final to Venus Williams in three sets.

When told of her current place in tennis history, she said, "Wow." Which was a pretty good English nuance.

03-16-2006, 04:56 PM
Roddick Has Become a Most Lovable Loser

By Bill Dwyre, Times Staff Writer
March 16, 2006

Andy Roddick is the teenage son who wrecks your car and, as you place your hands on his neck in the strangle position, tells you he was on his way to buy flowers for his mom. He's the golden retriever who chews a hole in your easy chair and then follows you to the garage, licking your ankle as you get the belt.

He is a tennis player by trade, the third best in the world among male players, according to the mathematicians who calculate such things. He has won more than $10 million doing this, and he is only 23 years old. He even won a major title, the 2003 U.S. Open, and reached the final of the last two Wimbledons.

He is also the great American hope, now that Pete Sampras has gone golfing and isn't coming back and Andre Agassi is close to doing the same. He is the cornerstone of the U.S. Davis Cup team, the darling of every promoter in this country who holds a tournament and expects to sell lots of tickets to people who want to root for "our Andy."

Then, our Andy shows up and, more often than not lately, blows a gasket early and leaves the American tennis fan no choice but to figure out who Janko Tipsarevik is.

That's pretty much what happened Wednesday in the fourth round of the Pacific Life Open at Indian Wells, where, in a three-set loss, Roddick managed to make Russian Igor Andreev look like Rod Laver.

Not only did Roddick lose, but he went out in a blaze of un-glory, getting himself to within one point of match disqualification with two warnings from the umpire's chair. First, he offered an obscenity as an analysis of his own performance, and did so within earshot of the chair. Then, he reacted to another stupid shot by testing the springiness of the court surface with his racket. The court won. The racket looked like spaghetti.

So, as chronicler of such things, you go to hear what he has to say after all this, and you go with a degree of indignation. The questions all come down to one: What's the matter with you? With all this talent comes a responsibility to use it, to maximize it, to keep your head and not act, nor play, like a punk.

News conferences in such situations can be confrontational, even ugly. The guy who bought a ticket and sat in the stands, or the guy at home watching on TV and being bombarded by deodorant commercials deserves to know, and you are his pipeline.

And then Roddick disarms you. He makes no alibis, no excuses. He played like a jerk and says so. Most of the time you go listen to some guy who has a degree in boredom yammer on about not winning because of the (a) wind, (b) rain, (c) sun, (d) unfair draw, or (e) lousy lines calls. Not Roddick. You go to his news conference, you get Jon Stewart.

He called it his "funeral press conference." He said it was the pits because when we break something in anger, only "the wife and kids" see it. When he does it, "there are people watching."

He said that, at a crucial time in third set, he just "went on walkabout." He said he "went mental" at the end when he smashed his racket, but it wasn't significant because, "You know, I could have reached Gandhi-like peace of mind and it wouldn't have mattered at 5-1."

He was asked a question that implied his opponent had kept his poise better, to which Roddick replied that Andreev had slammed his racket on the net at one point.

"Judging from the way he went and attacked the net in the middle of the tiebreaker, went Sideshow Bob on it, I don't know," Roddick said.

"Sideshow Bob," you find out, is a character in "The Simpsons" whose nature is to go ballistic at all times.

Roddick was angry with himself, both sincere and clever about how he expressed it, and introspective about what might get him going again. Soon, you realize that you, the media, are not the enemy, but his therapists.

So you leave unsure of lots of things, but certainly not as angry as you had been. You theorize that Andy Roddick might be a better celebrity now than he is a tennis player. You wonder if he is overrated or an under-achiever. You hate his game, but you love how he deals with you hating his game.

You decide he isn't even a top 10 player now, but you are certain that he is the world's No. 1 at holding a disarming news conference.

03-25-2006, 06:20 PM
Agassi says retirement 'possible'

By Charles Elmore

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Saturday, March 25, 2006

KEY BISCAYNE — Retirement is "definitely possible," Andre Agassi said Friday after his withdrawal from the Nasdaq-100 Open, a tournament he was won more than anyone else.

He hopes the pain and stiffness in his back relents enough to allow him to play Wimbledon after a three-month rest, Agassi told a packed interview room.

"I really, really want to," Agassi said. "I plan on it. I'm optimistic about it. But I have to also call it like it is right now. Is it possible that I can't anymore? It's definitely possible."

For the first time in two decades, Agassi missed the tournament he has won a record six times.

"After 20 years, it's emotional," tournament chairman Butch Buchholz said. "Andre and the tournament are so interconnected. He helped keep the sport going when we had kind of peaks and valleys. When Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe left, up popped Andre and Pete Sampras."

Agassi returned serve better than anyone in the game, Buchholz said. He stopped himself short of a career eulogy, saying "I think Andre is going to do everything in his power to play again."

Agassi, who turns 36 on April 29, said he knew late Thursday he could not play well enough to win because of back pain and limited motion on his practice shots. Sciatic-nerve inflammation has bothered him off and on for four years.

After losing in the first round of the French Open last May, he disclosed that he has been taking cortisone shots to relieve the discomfort.

The pain and stiffness did not let up for three days before his withdrawal, he said. He might have been able to pull himself together for a match, but felt he could not have won the tournament. At this stage of his career, he said, that is why he plays.

"Right now, I'm not in a position to be out there," Agassi said. "I'm way less than 100 percent."

The pullout marked his third withdrawal of 2006. Agassi skipped the Australian Open because he turned an ankle playing racquetball in late 2005. In January, he made his first appearance at the International Tennis Championships in Delray Beach, reaching the quarterfinals before losing to then-No. 112 Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, 6-4, 6-2.

Back problems forced him out of San Jose and Key Biscayne.

Skipping the coming clay season and French Open became "a pretty clear decision this year for me," Agassi said.

As for Wimbledon in June, "I'll have to be realistic about that too, and when the times comes I'll have to assess it," he said.

Missing the tournament in Key Biscayne hurts almost as much as his back, Agassi said.

"The only thing I love equal to Miami is playing in this tournament," he said. "A lot of memories, a lot of great matches, certainly one of the arenas to be at my best. This is disappointing. Twenty years in a row at the U.S. Open, it would have been nice to be here. But that's not worth being less than my best."

Boca Raton teen gets win: Anna Tatishvili doesn't have much experience at WTA events, but the 15-year-old who lives in Boca Raton had a large and vocal cheering section to watch her 7-6 (6) 1-6, 7-6 (8) victory over India's Sania Mirza in a late match Thursday.

The native of the nation of Georgia trains at the Evert Academy, which brought almost all of its pupils to watch Tatishvili compete.

Tatishvili fought off three match points to defeat No. 41 Mirza.

"That was my biggest win," said Tatishvili, who is ranked No. 1144. "It was very exciting."

03-26-2006, 07:18 PM
nothing against Federer
i am not a real fan
but it is the way everyone in the media to start with
have galvaniszed him to the elite & best, greatest status ever
since he won his first slam
let him reach his peak or whatever
then makes serious assessment
I remember Pete had won 10 slams & 6 years at no.1 b4 anyone even contemplated the greatest ever
Pete had his competitiors & rivals
Federer has yet to be tested
no fault of his
yet it is become increasingly dull knowing he is reaching all the finals & winning every tournie he plays
he needs a rival & more competition
for the sake of the game.

03-27-2006, 11:05 PM
Posted on Sun, Mar. 26, 2006


Game on an upward swingAmerican James Blake has reached a career-high No. 9 in the rankings, boasting 'sky-high' confidence in his play and winning friends along the way.


Nice guys don't always finish last.

Every once in a while, the kid in the back brace, diagnosed with scoliosis at 13, grows up to model for GQ and play tennis for Harvard.

Every once in a while, the young man who breaks his neck, loses his father to cancer and suffers facial paralysis in one horrific summer winds up battling back from No. 210 to ninth in the world rankings.

James Blake is that guy.

And his storybook career is entering its most promising chapter. The 26-year-old American cracked the Top 10 for the first time last week. He is 20-5 this year, 42-11 since last August, and he has won four of his past 12 tournaments after winning just one of his first 94. Not since Arthur Ashe has a black player been as highly ranked in the men's game, a stat in which Blake takes considerable pride, though he says he has ``a very, very long way to go to be linked to him in terms of what he did off the court.''

Blake is 1-12 against good friend Andy Roddick and legend Andre Agassi, and insists Roddick remains ''America's No. 1'', but no American was playing better than Blake entering the NASDAQ-100 Open. Last week, he scored his second victory over Rafael Nadal in the semifinal in Indian Wells, Calif., and on Saturday he breezed past second-round opponent Carlos Berlocq of Argentina 6-0, 6-0 in 53 minutes.

''It builds your confidence to know you can beat a player at this level that soundly,'' Blake said. ``Last shutout I scored? I'd have to go back to college days.''

Mardy Fish, one of Blake's closest friends on tour, said: ``James is on a roll and his confidence is sky-high. He feels like he can beat anybody -- and he can.''

Added TV analyst Patrick McEnroe: ``James has taken his game to another level. His backhand used to be a liability, and now it's actually a weapon. His shot selection is so much better. He used to be a guy who was capable of beating anybody and losing to anybody, but now he's much more consistent. He finally believes he's a Top 10 player, that's the difference.''
The expectations on Blake are higher now, as are his expectations of himself.

But he refuses to be called the top American player. ''Not yet, that's for sure,'' he said. ``Andy has dealt with this for years. He's proven himself, won a grand slam, Masters Series titles, he's still No. 4 in the world, and in my mind, America's No. 1. Right now I'm playing great tennis, but even if I were to pass Andy in the rankings, until I've done it day in, day out, month in, month out, I don't feel I deserve that title.''

Blake, who was the top-ranked college player while at Harvard, was just another member of the U.S. brat pack rising through the pro ranks a few years ago, along with Roddick, Fish, Taylor Dent and Robby Ginepri. American tennis was looking for new stars to take the baton from Agassi and Pete Sampras, and Blake was in the mix, known for his speed and forehand but not really distinguishing himself.


Then, in May 2004, on a slippery court in Rome, everything changed. Going for a ball in practice, Blake smashed head-first into a net post and fractured his neck.

He was forced to rest six weeks, which he later said was a blessing in disguise. Those were the last six weeks of his father Tom's life. Tom Blake was dying of stomach cancer. Had his son not been injured, he would have been touring in Europe. Instead, James went home to Connecticut and was at his father's bedside during those critical weeks.

''I never would have had that time with my dad, so in a way, that accident was a blessing,'' Blake said.

Tom Blake died in July 2004, and a few weeks later, perhaps because of the stress of the summer, James contracted Zoster, a shingles-like condition that affected his speech, vision, balance, and paralyzed the left side of his face. He played only three matches the rest of that year.

Blake returned to the game in January 2005, and four months later, his ranking was down to No. 210. Little by little, he regained his strokes and his confidence, and by August, he was up to No. 71. An emotional run to the U.S. Open quarterfinals bumped him up to No. 34. He beat second-ranked Nadal, and took Agassi to five sets in the quarterfinals.

''That Nadal win helped a lot because he had an unbelievable summer, winning the French and winning at Montreal, so people probably expected me to lose,'' Blake said. ``But I had my crowd, my friends there, and there was no reason why I couldn't beat the No. 2 player in the world. I think that's a match that a few years ago I would have lost. It helped me to know I can play my game and beat the No. 2 player in the world on a large stage.''


Blake has always been one of the most liked players in the locker room and the interview room -- a far cry from the ''complete brat'' he was as he came up through the juniors.

He abused rackets, whined and moped, and always found excuses when he lost. After one big junior win, his coach, Brian Barker, pulled Blake aside and told him that the victory wasn't as sweet as he thought because nobody at their club was rooting for him.

''I learned to be respectful of people and be friendly,'' he said. ``It makes life so much better. When I was a kid, I was a brat on the court, and it wasn't fun being me against the world, when all the parents don't like you because you're a brat. Even if you're winning, no one cares.''

Now, things are very different after Blake wins.

''I come into the locker room after doing well, and I get 20 or 30 congratulatory handshakes and pats on the back,'' Blake said. ``I know I have friends in that locker room that are going to be friends for life outside of tennis. I know Mardy Fish is going to be a friend. Andy Roddick, Robby Ginepri, Taylor Dent -- those guys are going to be friends of mine even if I never win another tennis match.

``. . . It doesn't matter. I'm so happy. That's more important than winning. I have friends now.''