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Nick's travels with Michael McClune

Arrived in Dubai!


It is 7:45am Dubai time Friday morning.



Yesterday was a tough day. My alarm was set for 3:45am, but my dog alerted me that it was time to get up at 3:30am. I left my house with my tennis bag, travel bag, and backpack, all stuffed to the brim, by 4:15am. I arrived at SCJ at 5:10am and was off to Houston at 6:15am with coffee and bagels in hand. You would expect it to be a tough check in when you’re traveling to the Middle-East, but going to the United Arab Emirates is quite easy. The only thing you need is a valid US Passport and you’re off. No Visa letter, no long lines, no hassles.



I found Michael at gate D5 at 12:45pm in Houston with his usual airport pose. Headphones on, chatting on AIM, and surfing the web. His first assignment of the trip to Dubai was to read the book “Zen in the Martial Arts”, by Joe Hyams. This book is a fantastic, short read and it directly relates to mental toughness. It is a fantastic book that I recommend to every one of our serious tournament players.



http://www.amazon.com/Zen-Martial-Arts-Joe-Hyams/dp/0553275593



We had a 6 hr layover in Houston, and it gave me a chance to catch up on a few last minute phone calls and e-mails to various people. Also, I had a chance to eat at a sit down restaurant at the airport, which is a rare occurrence. Hydration is important during any flight, but especially with a 14 hour journey directly in front of you waiting to dehydrate every muscle in your body. Houston was hit hard with a thunderstorm, but luckily, we were leaving on time.



As we boarded Emirates flight 212, I was immediately impressed with this airline. We were on a Boeing 777, and walking through first class and business class en route to my economy seat was quite breathtaking yet depressing at the same time. Each seat had a sweet setup, whether you were in first class or economy. On demand TV, movies (over 200 movies for you to chose from), Music, Games, and pretty much everything you can think of. The seats reclined beautifully and there was quite a bit of leg room. I started the flight by watching Michael Clayton, a George Clooney flick and planned on watching Rush Hour 3, and many other classics. After the movie, a very impressive airline dinner was served. I was absolutely dying of exhaustion and I spent the next 8 hours in and out of sleep, and my plan of watching movies all flight long quickly fizzled. When I woke up 11 hrs into the flight, I noticed the fantastic view outside the aircraft. We were flying over Iran and there was a beautiful sight of snow covered mountains. I’m not talking your little hills in Cupertino and Los Gatos; I’m talking mountains. The plane was cruising at 39,000 feet, but it looked like we were barely at 15,000. As I got up to stretch my legs, I was hit with a pain in both knees and had a hard time walking. When I say I had a hard time walking, I mean that the actual technical move of walking didn’t seem natural to me. I was convinced that I would have to re-learn how to walk again, but luckily my athletic ability kicked in and I was walking normally within 5 minutes. In a long flight situation, it is important to walk around every few hours or so and get some exercise in. After 5 minutes of walking up and down the isle, I retreated to my seat and decided that I had to stay awake for the duration of the flight if I had any chance of adjusting to the time rather quickly once in Dubai.



After a solid 14 hr flight from Houston to Dubai, we finally settled into the hotel room. It’s going to be tough adjusting to the clock in Dubai (12 hrs ahead of California), but we’ll do our best. Upon arrival to the airport in Dubai, Michael and I cleared customs rather quickly, and we took a cab to the hotel. I did not see much outside since it was already dark, but was eagerly anticipating the 5 star hotel and resort, Le Meridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort, where we are staying. Here is the link to the hotel:



http://www.starwoodhotels.com/lemeridien/property/overview/index.html?propert...



Obviously, it is a beautiful place and both Michael and I are excited to stay here. We did some “hotel room leg exercises” since the gym was closed here at the hotel when we arrived. We also stretched out and made sure to keep hydrating.



The phone rang in the hotel room at 9:20 pm. Michael answered and spoke briefly to the mystery person on the other line. It was Roger! He instructed us to be ready at the hotel tomorrow at 3:30 pm that he will be picking us up. I wonder what ride this guy will show up in to pick us up. With this news, I decided that Michael and I will be hitting at 11:00am at the hotel (hotel has 2 courts) for a few hours and do some fitness. Then we will battle to fight the urge to take a nap and eagerly await 3:30pm for the hit with Roger.



It is now 9:15 am and I’m off to the beach to relax and plan our week out further. Every night (morning back home), I will be posting our daily activities and obviously from now on it will be more tennis related. I look forward to your comments and questions and hope you enjoy my blog.







Nick




1st hit with Fed




My hit with Michael went really well in the morning. We worked on some backhands, volleys, and serves. We also did about 30 minutes of semi-hard fitness. It was a solid 2 plus hour workout. My goal this week is to really work hard physically. I want Michael to do a ton of footwork drills focusing on explosiveness, and footwork efficiency. But enough of that, lets move on to the fun stuff.



The answer to the trivia question in the previous post was that Roger pulled up with a Lexus SUV. Solid ride, which he won by winning the US Open. He casually drove us to another hotel for our hit and on the way there it was quite comfortable as small talk was exchanged pretty fluidly. He is a very easy going, easy to get along with guy.



The hit with Roger was fantastic. It was simple, yet effective. His trainer told me that the goal of the day was to simply get a good groove and rhythm. Here is the straightforward, boring overview of the practice.



The guys hit for about 20 minutes down the middle and then got into some lengthy cross courts. Following the cross courts, Roger came in and took volleys. He then had Michael in one corner while he continued to work on volleys. Needless to say, this guy has some serious zing on the ball when he’s up at the net. After that, he wanted some up and backs while at the net and I challenged Michael to a wager that he would not be able to hit a clean chip lob winner during this drill. Even though Roger is extremely good at getting back for overheads, sure enough, 3 lobs later, the ball went right over Rogers head. The ball clearly landed on the line (clean winner) and I asked Roger if the ball was in or out, obviously hoping for an out call. He said it was in and I was down a quick $10.



After the loss of money, Michael came into the net and warmed up his volleys. After that, both guys warmed up a few serves. Following the serves, we went into what Brian and I call a continuous point. The guys simply moved each other around, extending the point as long as they can within reason. Once the point got too long, either guy could finish it with a clean winner. We did two sets of continuous points, with each set lasting 5 minutes. After the continuous points, Roger took some additional serves, while Michael returned. Michael’s heart rate after the continuous points could have been over 170, while my best guess is that Roger’s heart rate never went above 99 the entire practice. Ok, maybe it did, but he bluffed well.



As I was watching the practice and telling Michael a few things that we discussed including focusing on lowering his heart rate, I couldn’t help but to be impressed with Roger. What impressed me the most from the world’s #1 ranked player is not any shot of his in particular, because they are all just plain sick (in a good way for some of our older readers :). What impressed me the most is that he was having a blast practicing. He genuinely enjoyed every minute of practice. I was impressed at the amount of fun that this guy, who happens to have won 12 grand slams had during a two hour practice session. Think about that for a second. 12 slams…Enjoying practice with an 18 year old.



Plan for tomorrow is to hit with Roger for 1 hour only. After the hour we will continue hitting for an additional hour, working on a few things. In the afternoon, we will come out again and do about an hour of serve and returns and then we will hit the gym hard. During the next 6 days or so, we will be alternating footwork with gym on a daily basis, but tomorrow I might be able to sneak out a session of both with Michael. He seems to be holding up great phisically after day 1 and I think I will be able to push him pretty good. I feel like fitness is an area that so many of the top players in the world are phenomenal in. Just look at the top 10 players in the world. Who there is not a good mover? Federer? Nadal? Djokovic? Davidenko? Ferrer? Roddick? Gasquet? Youzhny? Blake? Murray? What about Nalbandian? Hewitt? Baghdatis? All have tremendous speed, great anticipation, and cat-like court coverage.





I’m off to bed hoping to get more than the 6.5 hrs I got last night. I’m so looking forward to some blacker than black Arabian coffee in the morning.





Who's going to win the SAP? My call is Roddick over Stepanek in the final.
 
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Continuing on:


Entry for February 23, 2008



I woke up at 5:45am and desperately tried to go back to sleep. No chance. Got up at 7:10am after a significant number of re-adjustments in bed failed to put me out for a few more hours. It was time to get the day started and I’m paying for it now as I barely stay awake at 5:35pm.



Traveling and adjusting is not easy on the body and I’m very happy with Michael today as he hit the ball great with Fed in the morning, and really stepped it up in the afternoon practice and lift with me.



A couple of things of note before I get into our day.



Has anyone ever ordered bacon in a foreign country? As I ordered it yesterday, I was expecting to see 2 pieces of crispy bacon next to my omelet. What I got is a mountain of bacon which was far from crispy, borderline soggy. At least 14 pieces of bacon.



Has anyone ever pressed the “door close” or “door open” button in an elevator in the States? I have never seen it work once at a Holiday Inn. So many times I’ve pressed that button at many different hotels across America and you might as well be yelling at the door. Simply doesn’t work. Ever. Period. Well… it works in Dubai. That’s how you know a place is big time…when the “door open” button actually opens the elavator door immediately!





We took a cab to the Madinat Jumeirah beach hotel and resort where we have been hitting with Roger. This place is an absolute joke as it’s indicated in the $1000 per night rate. We arrived at the main entrance at 10:35am, and after frantically searching for the tennis courts, we finally arrived at 10:50am. Roger was on the court finishing up his fitness that he started at 10:00am. It looked like he had his trainer out there doing some court movement stuff with a medicine ball. I had Michael do 2 jump rope sets at 4 minutes a piece with 2 minutes rest in-between. That sounds pretty easy, but it’s great to get a sweat going particularly if you do single leg jumps and some double jumps.



Michael hit the ball really well for the 2nd day in a row. I’m expecting him to continue to hit the ball well as he’s still mentally fresh after the second hit. Roger worked on his volleys again and the guys did some serve and returns. Again, it was nothing special, but it was very efficient. The hit lasted for about an hour and a half.



As Roger was giving us a ride back to the hotel, he blasted a little Kanye West, Stronger, for us Americans. I am eagerly awaiting tomorrow as Michael will be hitting with Roger from 11:00-1:00pm and then probably either 3:00-5:00pm or 4:00-6:00pm. We will play it by ear for the second hit, where there will probably be a few sets played.



The afternoon hit today went really well. I hit with Michael for about 1hr 45min, and we worked on a ton of volleys. I stood in one corner and we did a few sets of 5 minutes to each corner and then a few sets of up and backs to each corner (exactly what Roger did in the morning). I wanted Michael to work on serves and returns, but since he already did that in the morning, I decided to play a doubles set against him where we play half court, alleys count. I wanted to win my $10 back, but after a few sub par volleys, I was down another 10. 6-1 Michael in about 17 minutes. I was so pissed. At least he got a few serves, serve volleys, and a few returns…whatever…I’m still pissed.



We then did a few rhythm backhand returns and a few rhythm backhands. I actually did some hand feeding so that we finished on a very positive note. I feel like we had a great afternoon hit.



Immediately after the hit, Michael went on the treadmill in the gym to cool down for 7 to 10 minutes. He then proceeded to lift. I don’t give him a workout for the gym. I let him do his own thing while I pretend like I’m lifting. I saw him working on shoulders and abs mostly. He had a pretty good sweat going so I know his workout was more productive than mine. I did 3 sets of lat pulldown, and 2 sets of tricept pulldown. I was so tired after that that I went into a restaurant and ordered a can of Coke to keep me going. As the lady rang me up, she actually said “that will be ONLY 14 dirhams”. A dirham is the currency here in the United Arab Emirates. The Coke cost me roughly $4.25…only.



The coke wasn’t worth it as it did not provide enough energy. I went in there and bluffed my way through a few more excercises and I was out of there.



I’ll let you know how the sets go tomorrow. I’m looking forward to watching some English Premier League soccer tonight.


Entry for February 23, 2008


This is in response to AJ's comment on the previous post.



AJ,



The Dubai Open indeed is starting on March 3rd, with the qualifying beginning on March 1st. Michael signed up for the quallies, but his current ranking of 386 does not get him into the draw. Michael's agent has requested a wildcard and we will not know if the tournament director will grant him one until the last second.



The main draw cut-off is 36, meaning the last guy to get in was 36th ranked Fabrice Santoro. The way it works is this:



The draw size is a 32 draw. There are 24 spots reserved for the top 24 players who sign in. Fabrice Santoro, ranked 36th is the lowest ranked among the 24 players who got directly into the tournament. This is pretty unbelieavable. The cut-off for the SAP (also a 32 size draw) was Diego Hartfield, who is ranked 106.



Then, there are 4 quallifying spots. 16 guys will battle for 4 spots. In the quallies, 12 guys get accepted based on ranking, and the other 4 get wildcards. The cutoff right now for Dubai quallies (quallifying) is 178. Michael is 386, so he will need a wildcard. In comparison, the cutoff for San Jose quallies was 799th ranked Jose DeArmas.



To answer your question, directly, the pros have to sign into a tournament like the juniors. Each tournament is a certain draw size. Dubai is 32, Indian Wells is 48, US Open and all the slams are 128. There are certain spots reserved for quallifiers and direct entries. Rankings control your fate.



Please aks if you need me to elaborate
 

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more and more:

Answer to Santo's questions and Day of training update for Sunday




Santo, thanks for some great questions. I will answer them all (refer to Santo's questions in the comments section of post "1st hit with Fed")



#1. Michael is the only practice partner for Fed right now. Pretty cool.



#2. Federer knew he wanted to get about 10 good days of training in before the Dubai, Indian Wells, and Miami stretch of tournaments. He tells his agent he needs a hitting partner in Dubai for 10 days. Agent goes to work (Fed is with IMG). Michael is also with IMG and Michael's agent jumped on the idea as soon as he found out Fed is looking for someone. Federer's agent asks Fed if Michael is OK (Federer hit with Michael at the US Open so he knows him) and Federer says done deal. Next thing you know, we're on a flight to Dubai. This is why agents get paid.



They (the pros) pick guys to hit with based on who they like practicing with. Fed told me he hated practicing with certain pros (I will not mention who). Like I said, the guy likes to have fun. So he chooses his hits based on other guy's personalities. During the Dubai Open, Fed will hit with other pros he likes to hit with. I don't think it has anything to do with other guys getting insight on his game. These guys travel with each other year round, so there is no secret as to what their game is like. Another reason why Fed likes to practice with younger guys is that he knows that they will be busting their ass off in practice. He knows he will not get that with certain established ATP players and that he will get a better practice with a guy like Michael.



#3 Obviously, this is great for Michael and his game. It gives him great confidence and also he gets to practice against a heavy professionally struck ball. In order to get to the next level, Michael needs a certain familiarity with this type of ball. Obviously, Fed is hitting it heavy:) Michael is not going to get significantly better in the next 8 days. It's impossible to get significantly better in that span of time. If you ever send a kid to an expensive academy for 2 weeks and expect them to come back better, you will get an expensive lesson. Tennis, as anything else, takes time. This 8 days with Roger is just a sturdy building block in the foundation of Michael's tennis game.



FYI Kuznetsov has the same agent as Michael.



#4 Fed's training regimen is directed by two guys. He has a trainer here with him present for every hitting session. Also, there is Swiss coach here, with whom Fed is familiar with when he was training under the Swiss federation as a youngster. The coach directs the training sessions. As far as the overall training plan, both guys (trainer and coach) are in unison here and it's a very finely oiled machine in terms of what he will be doing. I get the sense though that Roger organizes his hits AROUND his fitness. I get the sense that FITNESS (court movement) comes first for Roger.



Even though Roger doesn't officially have a coach, he definitely has a team to help him plan his day and execute his practices.



#5 Michael will be hitting with Roger for 10 days. Pros will have a hitting partner based on their training goals. It ranges anywhere from 4 days to 2 weeks, rarely longer or shorter. During the tournaments there is no need for hitting partners as there are plenty of players available to hit with when guys are on the road.



#6 Michael can get it up to 125 or so. His average serve speed is a little lower than that, but we are working on getting this a bit stronger. FYI we are throwing a football around on the beach on a daily basis to get the shoulder a bit stronger.



He does not serve from 3 quarters lenght of court to Roger. Only a coach would do that. As a matter of fact, Roger is very conscious of Michael's needs and is truly fantastic in that regard. Michael served at him for about 10 minutes straight and Roger insisted that we change the drill up because he didn't want Michael to hurt himself by serving too many balls in a row. He is very aware of the other guy's needs and is truly a gentelman about that. He wants Michael to have productive practices and every practice so far has been nothing short of one.



#7 ATP does not build up a set of hitting partners. This is the job of an agent. When at Indian Wells, it is the coaches job to set up hits for their players. As I mentioned earlier there will be no need for hittting partners at Indian Wells due to the endless supply of ATP players there.



Hope that Answers your questions... those were all excellent questions and hopefully I've answered them for you. Keep them coming.



SUNDAY- February 24th - Day of training with Fed



A friend of Roger's called at 9:30 am and informed us that Roger will be doing fitness before the 1st hit and pushed the hit back to 12:00. This meant that the second hit was going to happen at 4 or 4:30 until about 6 or 6:30. I planned on doing fitness with Michael after the two hits, but due to the schedule change, I was forced to do it before the 2 hits.



With a two separate two hour sessions with Federer staring us in the face, Michael and I hit the beach for a sand footwork workout and I absolutely killed Michael (and myself by the way). We had so much fun grinding out there. The sand, sprinting in the sand, and diving in the sand makes you forget just how hard you are working. By the end of the hour out there...I thought...oh shit...we gotta go hit with Fed now. I won't tell you exactly what we did...I'll leave it as a surprise. We have a day off on Tuesday because Federer is shooting a commercial in town. I have decided to give Michael a day off as well since he has been working really hard both mentally and physically. So while Fed is shooting a commercial, Michael and I will shoot a youtube video on sand conditioning for all to see just how hard we're grinding.



With a quick shower and an even quicker bite to eat, we were down in the lobby waiting for Roger to pick us up.



Michael responded beautifully. He bluffed so well. He worked really hard mentally and gave Roger a great 2 hr workout. Roger did 2 on 1's, the same 2 on 1's we do at clinic every day. He did 2 sessions of 10 minutes a pop. Impressive explosiveness. Both guys worked on their volleys and a few serve/volley excecutions. Again, the guys did a continuous point where they move each other around. At the end of the workout they played two 11 pointers which Roger won 11-10. Sudden death baby. It's like his numerous routine 7-6, 7-6 victories.



Afternoon was more of the same. I expected the boys to strike up a few sets, but more drilling ensued. More continuos points and more simple serve and return work. Also, they worked a bit more on transitioning into the net and finishing points at net. Again they played best of 3 baseline games and this time Michael got him 2 games to 1. Some very impressive forehands and forehand passes from Michael.



Post hit, we quickly showered and went to check out the Mall of Emirates, which is the largest mall outside of the US. This is the place where they have indoor skiing. I actually saw snowboarders in a mall going down a man made hill. The temperature inside the indoor skiing place was -4 degrees celcius, which is roughly 25 degrees farenheit. The mall was extremely big. Just to give you an quick picture...inside the mall there is a Chili's, TGI Fridays, Cinnabon, Starbucks, Marble Slab Ice Cream, Quiznos... I mean, this is not an American mall so you can imagine the sheer size of this as there are many, many non-American shops there.



After our meal at the mall and our brief tour, we took a cab back to the hotel. I tried reading a bit, but fell right asleep at around 11:00pm. I did manage to sleep in till 7 this morning so I feel really fresh.



The plan today is to hit lightly with me in the morning and to hit the gym. Michael is hitting with Roger only once today before our day off tomorrow. Post hit, I will arrange a massage for Michael since he's indicated that he's pretty sore from the preceding 4 days. He has a much needed day off tomorrow before we get right back into it full force on Wednesday.



I will update tonight. Keep the questions coming.

Entry for February 26, 2008



It is 6:30pm my time now on Tuesday night. We are enjoying our day off and are going to try out an Italian place for dinner tonight.



Yesterday (Monday), we were scheduled to hit with Roger at 3:00pm. I wanted Michael to do a quick, light hit in the morning to work on a bit of transition (we've been working on taking balls early and coming forward), and also some rythm backhands. Before stepping on the court, however, I had him in the gym at 11:30am doing a light 10 minute jog. Post jog, we took our time in the gym and stretched out for 20 minutes or so, mostly in the legs. The day before we had a tough 5 hour plus day, so I wanted to make sure Michael was properly warmed up and stretched even for the lightest of hits.



We hit for exactly 45 minutes and then Michael went directly into the gym and knocked off an upper body workout while I planned out the week a bit further.



When we arrived at the Medinat Jumeirah tennis courts at 2:50pm for our 3:00pm hit, I was surprised to see Roger dressed in street clothes. I'm assuming he just got done with a meeting with his agent, whom I was introduced to right then. Roger changed pretty quickly and the first ball was struck at 3:15. With Feds agent watching casually from the side, Michael and Roger engaged in a solid 2.5 hour hit where Roger turned it up a level.



The boys drilled for around two hours before finishing up with a tiebreak style 15 pointer. During the drilling, they did a drill that I'm falling in love with here. Here is the drill:



Michael is in the backhand corner with Roger at the net. It's a game to 11 where Roger has to hit it to Michael's backhand corner and Michael has to hit only backhand slices. Basically, he's trying to pass Roger with his slice backhand, which is no easy task. It really forces the slicer to be creative, use angles, lobs, and hit firm slices in order to win points. Before the game started Roger jokingly announced "a slice winner is worth 100 points". Then he said he was kidding and announced that a slice winner was actually worth 3 points, but "that's just a tease since its not going to happen". Michael really played a good game and used his touch angle in combination with the firm down the line slices. He also used a few lobs to mix it up. With Michael up 10-9, he angled Roger with several low agles cross court, and then struck like a cobra with one of the firmest, tailing away, down the line slices that I've ever seen. Outside of the line winner. Ball game. Roger gave out a quick shrug and a smile and the guys took a break.



To conclude the hit, the guys played a quick tiebreaker format game to 15. Roger stepped it up a bit and Michael was quickly down 10-3. Fed was stepping into the court, serve-volleying, and really put up an impressive display. If Michael hung anything in the middle or remotely short, the point was over in a hurry. 15-8 Fed, with a few courtesy points for Michael at the end.



He gave us a ride to the hotel last night and we tried a different restaurant, which is located at the hotel pool. Today, we had a day off and enjoyed it by sitting at the beach for a few hours. We basically just hung out and threw the football around a bit. Then, in the afternoon we went to the Medinat Jumeirah resort to check out the traditional Arabian market there. We also had a coke at nearby cafe and just enjoyed the scenery. We took a great picture of us and the Burj Al Arab, the nicest hotel in Dubai (top of the post), in the background. For just over $2,000 a night, you can enjoy this hotel. To book your reservations today, click on the following link.



http://directrooms.com/uae/hotels/b...dvanced&OVADID=11255476011&OVKWID=77389695011



We just got back from the Medinat and are about to have dinner at the Italian restaurant downstairs. I think I'm going to go with a solid pasta dish, preferably with some seafood involved.



FYI- Here is a little addition for you guys. Michael and I have a deal where I have agreed to do something if he takes a set off of Fed in practice. To find out what it is click here:



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdEtaQlXd3o
 
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Thanks for posting!! Good read.

And yet another confirmation of what a cool, down to earth, nice guy Roger is. :)
 

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Nice story and all but what does Fed gain from practicing with these guys? If he played at 100 % these guys would be lucky to win more than a handful of games vs him in a full practice session.
 

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Nice story and all but what does Fed gain from practicing with these guys? If he played at 100 % these guys would be lucky to win more than a handful of games vs him in a full practice session.
Yeah, I think he is really just being a nice guy more than anything, inviting a guy who he thinks has some potential and giving them some insight and confidence. Really shows the character of the guy. :worship:
 

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That is so awesome for Michael (and it explains why he's been missing from a few draws lately).
 

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Thanks.
 

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Oh, this is fantastic stuff. I don't think we've ever gotten such a close insight on Roger's practices, and it is coming from a coach - not a fan who is watching.
 

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:wavey:This was so nice ... Thank you very much!:hatoff:
 

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Fed is a good guy - the best, in the words of Duck "He deserves all the credit he gets for the way he handles himself....".
 

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roger always choose those young guys to practise with him. last year before US OPen he practised with Levine and Barankis
 

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i remember him calling up eysseric last year as well before some grand slam. i think it was the french open, i'm not sure though.
 
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