I remember watching this and wondering, “How is this guy with the physique of a pencil beating a clay court monster like Muster?” even though I loved his shot-making.
I have always liked tennis and on different occasions discussed the impact my father as well as Boris Becker’s 1985 Wimbledon triumph had on my interest in playing and watching tennis. Days like today’s longest-ever Wimbledon final are why I got interested in writing about tennis. However, I should start at the beginning.
I was elated and impressed as I watched this match unfold
Something in the Air
I did not know much about polyester strings and new stringing patterns when my eye was caught by really impressive shot-making and newer players making waves in tennis. Gustavo Kuerten, Venus Williams, Marat Safin, Serena Williams, Lleyton Hewitt and Justine Henin had all made waves before the closing of the 1990s. I was drawn in by their play. This only intensified in the years to follow. At Indianapolis 2001, I remember being awe struck by how well Guga moved in practice as well as how well he played vs. Goran Ivanisevic in the semifinal round. Sadly, Guga hurt his hip that very day and never recovered fully. I also remember watching Carlos Moya and his jaw-dropping forehand from court-side at Masters Cincinnati 2002. I immediately got on court trying to emulate his form (I was pretty unsuccessful at this endeavor). In short, I was a person who always followed tennis scores in my local newspaper and always watched tennis when it was on television, but something about the level of play I was seeing in the late 1990s and early 2000s made me more interested than ever in tennis.
The first time I paid close attention to Roger Federer
The Big 3
Before there was a Big 3, I remember picking Roger Federer to upset Pete Sampras at Wimbledon 2001. In 2001, Safin and Kuerten were my favorites of the New Balls generation, but I liked Federer as well. I had not seen much of him prior to his match with Sampras in 2001. I remember loving how he played in his 2001 French Open loss to Alex Corretja. After his 2001 clash with Sampras, I was on the Fed train. I remember in 2006 driving to Cincinnati from Dayton for an extra night session thinking, “If I get to see the best person in the world at whatever, I cannot justify passing up on it.” I did not yet have kids in 2006 so I can see how and why such events are missed these days.
In 2004, I knew Rafa had beaten Federer in Miami. I remember being at Cincy and watching Ivo Karlovic and Greg Rusedski practice together as the day began. I said to my companions, “Look, this guy Nadal is really good. Let’s go watch him.” He did not disappoint. He lost in a 3rd set tiebreak, but lost mainly because he ran down a ball in the tiebreak to win the point but fell and skinned his hand. He more or less looked like he would run through a wall to win a point. I liked that.
I watched Novak Djokovic closely at Indian Wells and Miami in 2007 and fell in love with what I saw. When I watched Novak Djokovic practice at Cincinnati 2009, I could not believe how smoothly he moved and struck the ball. I have been attending pro tournaments since 1996 and have never seen anything quite as effortless as his awesome two-handed backhand (photo taken by my sister at Cincy 2009, but we could not get a good shot of his backhand based on how the practice court was set up and the side of the net Nole was practicing on).
In Summary: Tennis Excellence Got Me to Start Writing About Tennis
In the late 1990s, I became more and more taken with the brand of tennis I was seeing. Players were uber athletic and their games were interesting. I wanted to share my passion for what I was seeing with others. That led to me writing for other outlets prior to striking out on my own in 2011. I am still sad that injuries cut short what could have been in terms of watching Guga, but I feel very lucky to have seen Serena Williams win 23 majors and to see the Big 3 shred the men’s singles record books. Serena Williams won her first major 19 years and 10 months ago. Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic first comprised the top 3 in the world in 2007. We have had a lot of bonus years to watch, to be awed, to cheer, and sometimes to feel sad for our favorite players.
I selfishly hope players like Stefanos Tsitsipas and Naomi Osaka (I was gobsmacked watching her beat Madison Keys at the 2018 US Open semifinal) keep the game moving forward. For me, it will always be fun to see where the game goes from here. However, I have to admit I am not sure anything in tennis’ future will personally have the same impact on me as the era that launched my tennis writing career.