Posts Tagged ‘pete sampras’


 Niranjan K

Sport has a way with human emotions. It transcends geographical boundaries and let people enjoy and adore such great athletes with amazement. There are tournaments that are crown jewels in every sport and lift that particular sport by a few notches. Every football player who trades his wits in Europe wants to play in the Champions League. In Cricket, it’s about being part of a World Cup winning team. Wimbledon is one such event that catches the breath of the tennis world. You may be a winner of 3 other grand slams and World No 1 but you are not regarded as great until you walk out SW19 as Wimbledon Champion.

So what makes Wimbledon special? Is it the place, the royals, the whites or the strawberries? The same set of players who compete in Wimbledon battle week in week out for the rest of the year. But why do great Champions cry in the post match presentation only at Wimbledon? What makes such legends like Sampras and Federer even at 30 years of age and 6 titles already in the kitty, come back and win it like it was their first? Why this romance with the tournament which first started as a fundraiser?

When I first started watching Wimbledon, it was a time when Pate Sampras took over the baton from Boris Becker. When Pistol Pete, with his cool demeanor and a vibrant smile, broke down in the post match presentation, I wondered why a sports person would cry for winning a tournament. But it took me 9 years to know the answer when Goran Ivanisevic’s near impossible journey from a wild card ended as the new Wimbledon champion.

Roger Federer’s mastery of tennis is artistic and complete.Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth

When you look at someone like Sampras and Federer Wimbledon, you know that they are destined to be great champions there. Everything about them is Wimbledon. Quality. Class. Elegance. It was almost like a long decided arranged marriage, always meant to happen. But Ivanisevic’s was a love story of theatrical content. Before the final I was not thinking too much of Ivanisevic but by the third set in the final I was fully behind him and when he won even I had moist eyes. I didn’t know why but I realized that it must have been something special. His relentless pursuit to be a Wimbledon Champion showed why this is such a prestigious tournament.

One of the reasons that I love Wimbledon was the fact that it encourages serve and volley – or it is supposed to, at least. In other grand slams, you don’t really notice the beauty of moving around the court like here in the lawns of SW19. And it broke my heart when such a wonderful expert of serve and volley like Pat Rafter never won at Wimbledon. It also explains why someone like Ivan Lendl, a wonderful player otherwise, also never won the championships.

Lendl was a force from the baseline but never good at the net and that cost him two finals. It takes a great player to master the uneven and sometimes nasty bounce of the grass and no wonder Wimbledon champions were regarded as greats. It’s what separates the men from the boys. Today tennis has changed to a more baseline play than approaching the net. The Australian Open produces slug fest every year with long matches but if you look closely, you will realize that fewer players approach the net to cut down the risk. But is that good tennis? I don’t think so. To me, it’s a horrible site to see men playing double-handed backhand.

I will go any day to watch Federer and Sampras play against each other and create masterful angles with their single-handed backhands than a Djokovic – Nadal slug fest. Women’s tennis is even worse in this which explains why I like players like Navaratilova, Graff and Justine Henin. It’s a pity that Henin never won at Wimbledon despite that beautiful backhand which prompted John McEnroe to comment that it was on par with the men’s.

Now, as Federer masterfully captured a record equaling 7th Wimbledon gentleman’s Singles Championship and Serena Williams her 5th, we take stock of what’s in store for the future of tennis. Sure the future of tennis looks good with the likes of Djokovic, Nadal and Murray. Women’s tennis, though has become a mostly two set contests, still manage to produce good players and beautiful players to keep it going.

But are these players capable of being the great if not the greatest? When Boris retired Sampras rose and Federer took over after that ‘passing the torch’ 4th round match in 2001. But invariably we knew that it was passed from one great player to another. Now who is there to claim it from Federer? Is men’s tennis going to become like the women’s where a new world no. 1 emerges every few weeks just because there are no great players left?

Are we going to be satisfied with baseline slug fest experts winning Wimbledon when there are no artistic masters left? Who is going to use the tennis racquet as a paint brush? Whoever does will make this great game even greater! Even Roger Federer would not want history to remember him as the last great player of the game. But until then, enjoy that awe inspiring tennis that the legend produces for you may see too few and too far once he retires.

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Srivathsa Munirathnam

My love affair with Wimbledon started in 1991 when my first tennis hero – Boris Becker lost in straight sets to his German compatriot Michael Stich in the final. Stich? Does anybody remember him? Did he play tennis? The answers to the above questions are yes and he played brilliant tennis to beat Becker. Those were the first impressions of a tournament I have loved watching till date. I still distinctly remember how devastated I was on seeing my hero lose when the whole world expected an easy win. To see the headline – ‘Stich bombs his way to Wimbledon glory’ – in the newspapers the next day broke my heart.

From then on I have followed Wimbled every year seeing Pete Sampras win 7 titles (I hated him for he was unbeatable and therefore invariably my idol Becker had no chance), the arrival of a new legend in Roger Federer, the almost magical triumph of Goran Ivanisevic in 2001 and many other unforgettable moments. So many memories are floating around my head as I write this but one moment which I will never forget has to be Greg Rusedski saving a match point against a fellow Brit with a second serve ace after his previous serve (which was a second serve too) hit the net cord and tantalisingly fell in. That image is still etched in my brain as Rusedski went on to win from the depths of defeat. Why did I choose that moment? Because till date I haven’t been able to get it off my mind. Yes it was not a big match, an unseeded was playing against a better player but it just stuck in my DNA. May be the sheer audacity of Rusedski to go for broke on match point just amazed me and it still does.

Becker owned Centre Court till Sampras came along. Picture: http://wimbledon.open-tennis.com/

There have been so many great memories and innumerable matches to pick – that’s the beauty of Wimbledon– it fascinates and thrills you like no other tournament. I grew up listening to Vijay Amritraj and, now, of late, Alan Wilkins. They are an irrestible combination and have certainly made watching the Championships more fun. I still remember how I would rush back from school to watch the start of every day’s action. My days would be spent in front of the TV watching the masters of grass battle it out. Ah! Those were the days when the tennis was of the highest quality (which is not to suggest that the quality has deteriorated now). I loved watching serve and volleyers – the likes of Edberg, Becker, Sampras, Ivanisevic, Rafter and many others.

The standard of tennis and the quality of players on show then were of a far superior standard to what we see now. Back in the ’90s there was no clear favorite at Wimbledon– a handful of players could win it. That’s because they all relied on a big serve and then a sound volley to finish off points quicker. Sadly there is not a single serve and volley exponent in the game today and that really puts me off when I see baseline rallies dominating the Championships. It is one thing that has made Wimbledon watching a bit of a chore, but you still get on with it as we do with a lot of things in life.

What makes Wimbledon special? Everything – from the green grass to the tradition, cream and strawberries, the Royal patronage, to the players impeccably dressed in whites. I could go on and on but this is a tournament which has no parallel. It is played in the English summer when the sun is out in full splendor and the tennis is of the highest standard. It is the only major played on grass.

My most favorite Wimbledon memory

This is a difficult one to choose for there are many great memories. But I will go for one of the most incredible sporting moments which made every one emotional and some to cry their hearts out.

It is the summer of 2001, and a certain Pete Sampras is gunning for his 8th title and there are a host of other contenders including the great British hope Tim Henman. Amongst all these contenders is a man named Goran Ivanisevic. He is a three-time finalist at this tournament but his ranking had plummeted to 125 which was not sufficient for him to earn an automatic place in the main draw at Wimbledon but, given his past record as a three-time runner-up, he was awarded a wildcard for entry into the singles draw.

Goran Ivanisevic’s 2001 triumph warmed many hearts across the world. Photo: The Guardian

Surely Ivanisevic didn’t have it in him to defeat the likes of Sampras and Co. His ranking had gone down and he was playing badly. Still it was a wonderful gesture from the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club to give him a wildcard. Nobody expected anyone other than Sampras to win it one more time. But 2001 was also the year when Roger Federer dethroned Pete Sampras in the fourth round which ended an era and heralded the beginning of a new one. With Sampras gone, the whole of Britain felt that it was the year of Henman. But the wildcard was making slow but steady progress through the draw. The aces were coming and in a rain interrupted semi-final Goran beat Henman to end the British dream. Coming into the final against Rafter – perhaps the best serve and volley player never to have won Wimbledon (add Mark Philippoussis and Tim Henman to that list) – Goran knew it was his final chance. His previous three finals had resulted in heart-break for the man from Croatia and here was a man who had another chance to realise his dream when he wouldn’t have expected it.

In an epic final Goran won and the whole world enjoyed his victory. He was a loveable rascal and it would’ve been a pity had he not won Wimbledon. He had the game and the tools to win but always came short against a superior opponent. But in 2001 he was not to be denied. Why is Ivanisevic’s victory so special? Because even as a true neutral that day it would’ve been impossible not to get emotionally swayed by a man who wanted the trophy so badly that he later remarked that he may have shot himself if he had lost for a fourth time. The drama, the tension and the accompanying anxiety following his progress to the title certainly didn’t make me any younger. But it was worth it and maybe it was just destined to happen after all those initial disappointments.

So what does 2012 hold out?

I expect another Djokovic v Nadal final. Don’t read too much into Nadal’s loss at Halle. He is a different beast when it comes to the majors. I also have a sneaking feeling that Tsonga might be one of the dark-horses. He has the game and the will to win. It is all a matter of getting it right on the big stage against a big player. He has done it before (last year v Federer). So it wouldn’t surprise me if he wins it this time. 

Wimbledon holds a special place in my heart. There is a certain beauty about Wimbledon which cannot be captured in words. You have to just experience it and hopefully one day my dream of watching a match on Centre Court comes true. Until then it is time for everyone to say ‘let the Championships begin.’


Goutham Chakravarthi

It is but natural that people pick the best players from their generations as the sport’s best ever no matter what sport. For many octogenarians, Sydney Barnes was the greatest bowler to play the game of cricket as would many middle-aged men swear by Malcom Marshall. The spread is similar in all sport. Here, I take a look at one of tennis’s all time greats, Jack Kramer, who, as a player and as an administrator.

Early Years

Kramer: Tennis's single most significant figure

Born to a railroad man in Las Vegas in 1921, Big Jake would go on to be a part of the golden generation of American tennis players who dominated world tennis: King, Marble, Riggs, Schroeder, Wills, Budge, Vines.

Young Kramer played an aggressive game with a huge serve, which he generally followed-up with a winning volley much like the way Pete Sampras played.

His aggressive serve-and-volley game earned him a doubles spot in the U.S. Davis Cup team in 1939. Almost immediately after that Kramer went away to serve as a Coast Guard officer during the Second World War. He lost some of his best years serving as the Coast Guard officer at the pacific.

After returning from the war he had a great run at Wimbledon in 1946 only to lose in the semifinals as he suffering from blisters in his feet. He went on to win the U.S. Nationals, forerunner of today’s U.S. Open, the same year.

He followed it-up with a victory at Wimbledon in 1947, where he swept past the challenge of Tom Brown 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 in a mere 45 minutes.

He went on to defend his U.S. Nationals title in a classic five-setter; coming from two sets down to beat Frankie Parker.

That finals holds significance, as it was just before the final that Kramer decided he would turn professional.

“It was simple,” he said. “I needed the money.”

Also, those were the times of “shamateurism,” when players remained amateurs in order to compete in major tournaments, but took money under the table.

It was a significant step for tennis and as Bud Collins, Hall of Fame tennis journalist observes of Kramer, “From a competitor to an administrator to a broadcaster, Jack Kramer was the most important figure in the history of the game.”

Between 1946 and 1953 he was considered to be the no.1 player in the world. At the peak of his powers as a player, he was asked to endorse a racquet from Wilson Sporting Goods. They named it Wilson Kramer.

At His Peak

Kramer chucked his beloved Don Budge racquet for Wilson’s new one, but sent it back after going down to Bobby Riggs. He asked Wilson to repaint it, and Wilson obliged, as they wanted to have a racquet named after Kramer.

Since 1947 Wilson has manufactured more than 30 million Jack Kramer Autographed Racquets, giving it the distinction of being the most popular racquet in the history of the game.

Kramer was to get two-and-a-half percent of the racquet sales. Wilson eventually had to renegotiate the deal as the racquet sold by the millions.

“We just did a flat rate,” Kramer said. “I understood. I was making more money than the president of Wilson Sporting Goods.”

He started playing on the pro-tour playing in cities across the world. He had a great time against his rivals Bobby Riggs, Frank Sedgman and Pancho Gonzales. With little left for him to achieve, and suffering from an arthritic back, he retired in 1954.

From Player to Advocate

He was, by then, running the pro-tour that he had dominated so much. He took on the tennis establishments of Australia, England and other nations and sought identity for professional tennis.

In those days, there were severe restrictions on the money that could be taken out of Australia, so Kramer took some of his earnings in racehorses.

As “The Kramer circus” grew in stature over the years the pressure began to tell on the tennis federations, which finally led to the establishment of “Open tennis” in 1968.

From Advocate to Executive

In 1972 he became the first executive director of the players union, Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP).

Kramer also served as an announcer at Wimbledon for the BBC. BBC banned him in 1973 following a player boycott headed by Kramer. Niki Pilic, the Yugoslavian, refused to play in the Davis Cup and a suspension by the International Tennis Federation extended through Wimbledon.

When Wimbledon honored Pilic’s suspension, Kramer led a player boycott that left Wimbledon bereft of top players. Kramer turned villain as a result. But, as it turned out, it led to players gaining more control of tennis.

Kramer was a shrewd businessman. He once hired “Gorgeous Gussy” Moran to serve as a part of his warm-up matches for one of his tours. As you’d expect he hired her more for her beauty than for her game.

His belief that women didn’t sell as well as the men eventually cost him in 1970, when Billie Jean-King led a walk-out after a tournament run by Kramer. That event, the Pacific Southwest Tennis Tournament, offered only 15 percent of the available prize money ($50,000) to the ladies.

The walk-out led directly to Virginia Slims Tour and then to the creation of Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).

Final Days

The Pacific Southwest Tennis Tournament became the Jack Kramer Open in 1979, and was known by that name until 1983. His son Bob Kramer now runs the event at the UCLA Tennis Center.

This year Jack Kramer saw his last tennis match from the sidelines of that UCLA Tennis Center, as he took in an exhibition match between Pete Sampras and Marat Safin.

“Dad loved the way Pete played,” Bob Kramer said, “because it was a lot like he played.”

“He was a class act and always willing to help. I was happy to see him and say hi at the L.A. Tennis Open. This is truly a great loss for tennis,” said Sampras the day after Kramer passed away.

Ramanathan Krishnan, the ace Indian player who was offered a three-year contract for $150,000 in 1959 says, “He was a great player, a critic, commentator, and above all, a wonderful human being who cared for fellow players. Open Tennis, as we see today, is the legacy of the great Jack.”

“We all needed money and he helped a lot of players get some,” says Rod Laver who came into the game when Kramer was a monumental figure in tennis.

Jack Kramer knew everyone in the game of tennis for over half a century. He was a great tennis player and an astute businessman, but it is for his contribution in the elimination of the line between professionals and amateurs that he will be best remembered.

A version of this article first appeared on Bleacher Report


Goutham Chakravarthi

Some of the biggest names in cricket, of all time, are represented in the Indian and Australian cricket teams. Yet, as cricket chugs on to 26th January – Reuplic Day for India and also Australia Day – it is difficult to imagine many excited about cricket. With Australia also offering a colossal battle between Nadal and Federer for the 27th time, it is hard to believe cricket will be fans’ top priority even among stout Australian fans who are witnessing a great run by their team.

Rivalries elevates sport to a different level, a level that stretches physical limits and collective beliefs. Federer might have fallen off the perch and Nadal no longer the king, but when they clash, tennis reaches a level that can rival any art at its best. Australia and India always produced close contests. And the rivalry defined the highest level of cricket in the 2000s, but the last three series have been flat with the odd throwback to brilliance, but this series has been poor.

Clarke and Ponting thwarted the Indian attack for 95 overs in their near quadruple hundred stand. Photo: AP

A day, when a past champion and a young captain who currently ranks to be as good as any one going around, thwarted an attack that had plans, but none else, it looked nothing like Federer vs Nadal or Brazil vs Argentina. It did not even resemble Sampras vs Agassi on the seniors’ tour. One team had plans – Ishant bowled outside off, Umesh tried his best to rough the batsman up, Zaheer tried his various tricks and Ashwin his various spins – and constructed its points like a good tennis player would, but would find the winner coming from the opposition. Sometimes, luckily so, but mostly through sheer brilliance from the opponent.

The day belonged to a champion who is past his prime, but one who has shown ability to graft and bide his time that was considered too passe to him not so long ago. His determination, mostly, and his change in his trigger movements, to a lesser extent, have turned around his summer in to perhaps a couple more Australian summers . Sadly, neither the determination nor the desperation is to be seen in the visitors’ camp.

There is little to suggest that the Indians tried anything different in their planning or preparation in the long break between the Tests. It is clear that the routine that has not been good enough so far is being persisted with. Indians lacked plans and direction when partnerships flowered in Sydney and Perth and now here in Adelaide. Captains and bowlers seem clueless and the fielders seem a dispirited lot.

But none of those mattered to Clarke. He was earmarked as a young player with quick feet and sharp brains. His handling of his side – the veterans and the youngsters – has been remarkable. More so, he has found his best form with the bat and is having the best summer of his life. Though his batting this summer is nothing short of astonishing, it is his personality as a skipper and a leader that has outshone everything else.

As Australia Day and Australian Open beckons, as Australia and Clarke push for glory, as India’s summer spirals out of control like a Formula One car on gravel, when Gambhir and Tendulkar resume their battle, Indian fans might flip channels to see Federer or Nadal in action, but will hope, even if for a fleeting moment, that they see a fight. Not a Tendulkar rampant half-century, but a grinding and stone-walling ton. Not a Gambhir with flashing blade and a loose mouth, but a stodgy and determined Gambhir. Not a Laxman with the languid drive and an airy flick, but the Laxman who produces his best when his team needs him the most. The rivalry is no longer Federer-Nadal class, but should it even match the Sampras-Agassi levels in a seniors’ tournament, it might be worth the while. The hope of putting up a fight is all that remains.


Goutham Chakravarthi

13 February 2011

Bangalore

World cup brings with it many things. Inevitably each edition plays host one last time to a group of great cricketers performing on cricket’s biggest stage in the hope of going out on a high. Expectations, invariably, sky-rocket from loyal supporters. Heroes are made of performing stars and winning teams are immortalized. Inglorious exits are met with wrath and burning effigies. Heads roll and scars linger till the next significant victory is achieved. Only a blessed few get to go out as world champs. Others walk into sunset alone and hurt.

When a player should retire is his own business. Image: Deccan Chronicle

It is a strange thing this retirement. Young men in the prime of their life otherwise are asked to leave just because a younger and stronger cricketer promises to deliver. A performer of grandeur, excellence and one of mass adulation and worship is replaced with the tone of a has-been. A retiring rock star on the other hand perhaps goes on a world tour for a couple of months one last time. Yes, Test retirements sometimes are on that scale (Steve Waugh, anyone?), but how many of the great theatre artists or pop-singers are asked to terminate their profession abruptly?

Still world cups are different. Passions reach fever pitch and average ex-cricketers find the temerity to question colossal giants. Media fuel exits with the same exaggerated care they would a triumph with inane debates and over-the-top obituaries. Fans and media move on with the next game and the next victory but a great career is ended.

Cricket, with its changing fortunes and the many twists and turns, the highs and the lows, heart burns and unbridled joy – often in the same match – is rightly compared to life and its vicissitudes. Retirement is anything but life like. A routine retirement is an occasion where friends and family collate to celebrate the career. Contributions are acknowledged by grateful peers and bosses. In cricket, retirement is often demanded following a high profile exit. Whilst selection is merit oriented and at the discretion of the cricket board, retirement is the individual’s choice. Often, cricketers are pushed into it. Some give in and some retire only to be back very soon after. And some others retire in installments. Whatever the means, it is best left unto the individual.

As with this world cup, this will be the last time truly modern day giants like Tendulkar, Kallis, Muralitharan, Ponting, Jayawardene, Chanderpaul will play in a world cup. All of them would want to go out as world beaters and nothing less. As it might turn out, none of them might be around when it is the finals time on April 2nd. It would hardly count as failure as it is players like them who make cricket invigorating and such a pleasure that you and I worship every minute of it. Their biggest contribution is in leaving the game having inspired millions of others to take to it.

As the world cup gears itself perhaps for its own future in a few days’ time, these great set of players will put on their best performances in the hope of scaling the summit one last time. Cricket will go on with or without them as it should and invariably will. Some won’t get picked after this world cup and selectors and captains are entitled to their judgment. But retirement should be left unto the players themselves. May be, some might announce it a year later from their last competitive game like Sampras did. May be, some won’t. In either case, it is none of our business.