Some early press has already created a buzz about the book. What do you think about the release of the The Outsider?
The recent controversy about Caroline Wozniacki’s impersonation of Serena Williams got me thinking about the history of impersonating a player’s ticks or idiosyncrasies. My mind initially thought that Jonas Bjorkman was the progenitor of this fad. His rain delay US Open fodder of lighthearted imitations did indeed pave the way to Djokovic’s 2007 US Open impersonation tour. However, a more contentious and longer history came into my mind the more I thought about the topic. It is doubtful that Rod Laver ever impersonated John Newcombe, but since the late 1980′s impersonations have popped up and generally engendered bad feelings.
1988 – Boris Becker Imitates and Gets Imitated by Pat Cash
Boris Becker won Wimbledon in 1985 and 1986. Pat Cash was the defending champion having claimed the title in 1987. Their 1988 quarterfinal round battle lived up to the hype, but not because of the tennis. Becker won the match routinely 6-4, 6-3, 6-4. Here is how Mitch Album described the memorable events on June 30, 1988:
Well. Let us take you to the second set Wednesday: Becker was leading, 4-1, and Cash came charging, hit a volley winner — and fell over the net.
Fell over the net? Yes. And Becker got so excited, he somersaulted over the net as well. Wheee. Are we having fun, or what? Now we had two guys on the wrong side. Becker was kidding. He offered his hand. Cash was serious. He offered his thoughts.
“What did he say?” someone asked Becker.
“I don’t think I should repeat it,” Becker said. “He taught me some new words in English.”
And the girls screamed. Cash wigs out after losing
But wait. Before you castigate Cash for being a poor sport, let us take you now to the post-game press conference — after Becker had humbled Cash in two hours and 17 minutes. Everyone figured the moody, broody Australian wouldn’t show, right? He had just lost his title.
But here he came, wearing a red punk-rock wig, all spikes and points. The kind that makes you look like Son of Porcupine.
1988 – Agassi Ticks off Connors and McEnroe Simultaneously
Andre Agassi’s first US Open tilt with Jimmy Connors was seen as a passing of the torch as Agassi would assume the mantle as the top US born player. John McEnroe was watching as well. At some point during the match, Agassi imitated McEnroe’s serving motion, an act that infuriated Johnny Mac. Agassi’s post-match comments angered Connors into making a biting paternity joke. Agassi did win the match 6-2, 7-6, 6-1.
1989 – Boris Becker gets Imitated by McEnroe
Boris Becker defeated John McEnroe in an epic Davis Cup encounter in Hartford, Connecticut in 1987 4-6, 15-13, 8-10, 6-2, 6-2. Even before that match, McEnroe and Becker had exchanged tense words and stares dating back to their first match. McEnroe’s autobiography You Cannot Be Serious describes their relationship as generally being that of friendly rivals. At times, tensions did boil over. McEnroe saw fit to challenge perceived gamesmanship on Becker’s part during their semifinal encounter at the 1989 Paris Indoor. McEnroe loudly coughed in response to Boris Becker’s characteristic cough. At a changeover, Becker asked for compassion, and McEnroe retorted that Becker had been sick since 1985. McEnroe calling Becker out for gamesmanship in this manner did not endear him to the crowd and helped inspire Becker to a 7-6, 3-6, 6-3 victory. McEnroe even recounted that this event led to a post-match argument with his first wife.
1998 – Andre Agassi Mocks Karol Kucera
Karol Kucera had a great season in 1998. He reached an Australian Open semifinal and a US open quarterfinal. Along the way, Kucera dispatched of Andre Agassi in the 1998 US Open round of 16 6-3, 6-3, 6-7, 1-6, 6-3. Kucera’s return of serve and ability to change the pace and direction of the ball during a rally mystified Agassi. Head games were the only thing that made this match close. Agassi, irritated by either the scoreline or Kucera’s frequently errant service toss, began to imitate a Kucera. Agassi timidly approached the service line and mockingly attempted to toss the ball. Beyond that, Agassi hit moonballs to his upstart opponent. These tactics unnerved Kucera and helped the match extend to 5 sets. Personally, this is the lowest moment of tennis imitations that I can remember. Agassi was simply trying to throw his opponent off through mockery.
The Sampras-Agassi Hit for Haiti Debacle
The first Hit or Haiti was an unqualified success. Major world athletes threw together an enjoyable charity event without the meddling hands of sponsors and agents. It was a feel good event. When Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were added to the mix for a sequel charity doubles match, things looked great, right? Who would not want to see all-court maestro’s Roger Federer and Pete Sampras take on two men who revolutionized backcourt tennis in Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal? It did not live up to the hype.
“That aint personal.” (?)
Sampras and Agassi already had some bad blood from Agassi’s recently published autobiography Open. Agassi did not take Sampras’ imitation well and threw out a tasteless imitation implying that Pete is cheap. Sampras went head hunting, and Agassi still pressed his claim of Sampras’ stinginess.
Boris Becker attempted a funny net dive when playing Pat Cash and was repaid by Cash wearing an ugly red wig?!?! John McEnroe’s impersonation of Becker helped to inspire his opponent to victory and started an argument with his then wife. Andre Agassi angered or incited John McEnroe and Karol Kucera with impersonations. Agassi responded badly to Pete Sampras impersonating him. This spiraled to a tit for tat impersonation that managed to ruin a fundraiser for a natural disaster. Caroline Wozniacki, as well as Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic, have made questionable imitations of Serena Williams’ body-type.
My advice is that unless an impersonation serves a purpose and is obviously approved of by the player being mimicked (a la Djokovic’s take on Guga) to not do imitations. My main reason for saying this is not that charitable events or marriages might be threatened. My advice for not doing imitations stems from the fact that impersonations have been done to death and are not terribly comical (Gustavo Djokovic aside). If comedy is not funny, what is it?
The Exception that Proves the Rule? (No Impersonations Unless They are This Funny?)
Roger’s The One
Roger Federer’s four set win today gives him sole possession of holding the most men’s Grand Slam singles match wins in the open era. His first round match allowed Federer to tie Jimmy Connors for the honor. I would not make too much of this record. Many players routinely skipped the Australian Open. Connors played the event just two times in his career. Jimbo also skipped the French Open for a period of years. Also, it makes sense that the man with the most Grand Slam titles would be at the top of the match win totals as his career progresses. Jimmy did win his first round match at the 1992 US Open when he was 40 years of age. For Federer to surpass him at 30, is no easy task. Still, Federer likely cares more about winning a seventeenth major much more than he does this record.
Roger Federer’s first match at the French Open (a loss to Patrick Rafter who had apparently just finished a cameo on Baywatch)
Serena Williams’ loss reminds me that tour veterans often get tighter as their career advances. Serena locked up mentally after failing to close out the match in straight sets. As a tennis player, I know what it is like to see a lead slip away at a park or junior tournament. It feels awful to put it politely. To magnify those stakes by an exponential amount begins to explain what Serena and others on the pro tours face. Professional athletes tend to handle these situations incredibly well. Sometimes they do not. I think Serena has proven she can still win tennis’ biggest prizes during this clay season despite this early exit. I think she will bring home at least one big prize at either Wimbledon or the London Olympics.
Historical Difficulty with Repeating
Rafael Nadal won nearly everything of importance from the onset of the clay court season of 2010 through the conclusion of the US Open 2010. Nadal’s 2011 did not feature the same level of success. The same could be said for Nadal’s 2008 French Open, Wimbledon, and Olympic Gold trifecta was followed by an Australian Open title in 2009 and not much else from Nadal. Jim Courier first launched himself into the top tier of tennis by winning both Indian Wells and Miami in 1991. After winning the 1992 Australian Open, Courier claimed the number one ranking right as he had many points to defend. Courier stumbled at both hard court events and lost the number one ranking. Courier of course rebounded winning two indoor events in a now defunct Asian indoor swing that followed Miami, winning the Italian Open and winning the French Open to reclaim the number one ranking. Still, Courier admitted that the computer had impacted his play in Miami and California. For the remainder of 1992 and 1993, Courier would simply say a player cannot beat the computer and therefore should simply ignore it.
John Feinstein’s 1991 book Hard Courts explored how at that time U.S. born players such as Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe viewed the number one ranking as something to claim and defend. He noted that European players such as Boris Becker and Mats Wilander looked at the number one ranking like an honor to attain, but did not view it as something akin to a boxing heavy weight title that requires defense. Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg were already exceptions to Feinstein’s observation. The presence of these exceptions throws some doubt onto the notion in the first place. Undoubtedly, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic all take pride in holding the number one ranking as well.
Still, if one considers that Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg had pretty similar levels of success with the lone exception of their time at number one. Becker never finished a single season ranked number one and held the ranking for a total of twelve weeks. Edberg finished 1990 and 1991 ranked number one and spent seventy-two total weeks atop of the rankings. A sixty week difference implies to me that Becker did not care a great deal about holding the number one ranking. This counter-intuitive approach would save a player from any stresses associated with fears of losing the top spot. If a player does not care where he is ranked, he may be free to play better tennis in any given situation.
The approach of holding the number one ranking and defending it resonates more with my gut than the idea of keeping the ranking at arms length. Jimmy Connors held the number one ranking for many weeks when most tennis pundits considered Bjorn Borg to be the top player in the world. John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl locked horns over the number one ranking and a changing of the guard occurred in 1985 from which McEnroe never really recovered.
Today’s players seem to be somewhere in-between Feinstein’s two approaches to the number one ranking. Roger Federer clearly wanted to hold the top spot in 2008, but when he lost the number one ranking it did not stop him from winning the 2008 US Open or having a successful 2009. Rafael Nadal philosophically says that he seeks to be the best he can be and if that is behind someone else being number two is not bad. He however says he will always seek to improve making a return to number one plausible. Even Pete Sampras gracefully gave up defending number one in 1999 only to win Wimbledon in 1999 and 2000 while also winning the US Open in 2002.
Hunter versus Hunted
To get to my point, I think Novak Djokovic will need to come to some sort of solution that works for him. From January 2011 through September 2011, Djokovic won nearly every big tournament. He piled up enough computer points that the need to defend points from March through June 2012 should be minimal. To paraphrase a comment on this week’s power rankings, Novak does not need to win everything in 2012, but he does need to win more than anyone else does. His Australian Open title is a great start to carving out a 2012 that will keep him atop of the rankings. Djokovic is a smart guy and seems to be taking all of this in stride.
Roger Federer, despite being thirty and having finished each season starting in 2001 among the top eight players in the world, seems to be relishing a chance to build his rankings up toward a tangible goal rather than defending territory earned in the previous seasons. To this point, Federer’s three consecutive titles place him in a clear second slot for 2012. At both Indian Wells and Dubai, Federer has gained on Djokovic relative to last year’s results. 2012 is shaping up to be a season in which the old man may get one last run at the top while Novak methodically puts together a year that leaves him number one when the season finishes. Given the wrinkles added by the Olympic games, some positive signs in Andy Murray’s game, and Rafa’s iron will, 2012 may be a most interesting year in terms of tennis psychology.
With Indian Wells Underway this Week will be all Vintage Highlights
- – The video quality is not great, but two legends in a stakes match is worth a view.
- – 1994 Australian Open quarterfinal – Edberg puts on a paralyzing display of serve and volley tennis
- - 1995 Australian Open quarterfinal
- – Safin and Agassi in a baseline brawl. Agassi once said, “If a player can’t take his backhand up the line he can’t beat me.” Safin answers the call.
Men Who Stare at Tennis GOATS Part 3
Why Pete Sampras Might be the GOAT - Pete Sampras holds fourteen Grand Slam singles titles and seven Wimbledon titles. Pete Sampras spent more weeks ranked number one than any other player. He finished a record six consecutive years ranked number one. Pete Sampras also shares an Open Era record of five US Open titles with Roger Federer and Jimmy Connors. These numbers are staggering. Considering that a player as strong as Rafael Nadal has finished two non-consecutive years as the number one ranked player and that Andre Agassi only finished one year ranked first, Sampras’ best claim might be his consistent finishes during the 1990′s.
I think Sampras best claim is found in the surface speeds of the tour when he played. Each Grand Slam in the 1990′s played at significantly different speeds. Pete Sampras won fourteen majors without the luxury of being able to play similarly at each major. All four slams playing somewhat similarly makes piling up major titles easier. The significantly different cast of contenders at the French Open and Wimbledon in the 1990′s meant that a player would have to make serious adjustments to contend in Paris and London.
Finally, Pete Sampras generally controlled key rivals in his career. He tended to get the better of Andre Agassi. Sampras beat Boris Becker at Wimbledon three times. Sampras’ only significant blemish was losing to Stefan Edberg at the 1991 US Open final and in the semifinal round of the 1992 Australian Open.
Why Pete Sampras is Not the GOAT - Sampras repeatedly set out the goal of holding the most Grand Slam singles titles in history. By his own definition of greatness, Sampras is number two. He even said Federer is the greatest player of all time following the 2009 French Open. That seems like an air tight case against Sampras as the GOAT, but of course his failure to reach a French Open final also looms large. Bjorn Borg reached the US Open final on four occasions and came up empty. Sampras did not once get that close to his white whale. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andre Agassi all holding the career Grand Slam further damages Sampras’ GOAT credentials. Like Sampras, The French Open is Federer’s worst Grand Slam. Still, Roger Federer reached the final round of the French Open five times including his 2009 title run. Sampras may very well be the best fast court player ever, but GOAT seems out of reach.
You Decide - Does an impeccable record against his main rivals, unmatched season ending rankings, and fourteen major titles overcome Sampras’ difficulties on terre batu?
Next – Roger Federer’s Case
3 Good Tennis Videos
Highlights of Federer winning his 18th Masters Series Shield.
Roddick won the set featured in this video, but this video focuses on Roger’s shot-making skills.
Connors mugged Edberg in straight sets. I love that the broadcast was sponsored by Comodore Computers. That PC had pretty good gaming capabilities for that day and age.
Three Good Tennis Videos
Jannko Tipsarevic continues his climb in the rankings with a win over Viktor Troicki 6-4, 6-2.
Monfils, much like Murray, has seen his career hampered by playing defensively too often. Admittedly, his defensive play is amazing.
I don’t know what is best, a close 5th set in a slam semifinal, Connors’ beard or mentioning WKRP in Cincinnati as a favorite show to be broadcast once the match ends.