Category: Sports

Open: An Autobiography

Andre Agassi's Open: An AutobiographyThe moment I opened Andre Agassi’s controversial book, Open: An Autobiography, I was hooked on this brilliant retelling of the story of one of tennis’ most colorful champions. The Golden Slam winner (7 grand slams and 1 Olympic gold medal) held nothing from his readers and instead offered an insider look at the lonely world–at least his world–of tennis.

The son of a tennis-obsessed, violent Iranian migrant, Agassi was practically forced into the sport at 8, his father believing all along that he would become world number 1 someday. Thus began his hatred for the sport that would make him one of its most successful players. We all know that tennis rides equally on the mental strength of its players and on their physical agility, and Agassi provided page after page of insight into the mental savagery that went on in every game, including the psychological maneuverings on- and off-court among players, their supporters, and the pesky press.

Much has been said in the media about the crystal meth and Agassi’s lying to the ATP to escape a possible banning from the game that he never failed to mention he hated to anyone who was willing to listen.  People derided his wild mohawk then, and the public made fun of the hair when it was announced that it was fake after all. The fear that the fake hair would fall during a rally even cost him what could have been his first French Open title.

However, the real story is what went on during the years of his fall from the top of the ranks to outside the 100 circuit because of depression. I remember somewhat following tennis back in my college days on the news. While Sampras won slam after slam, the supposed competition between Agassi and his fellow American helped make the sport very popular in the US in the ’90s. I listened to news of his marriage to Brooke Shields and then found months later that Agassi had fallen so far below the rankings that it only made me believe that the actress caused his troubles. In Open, Agassi does not necessarily blame his first wife for his bad results, but it surely factored in the depression over the sport, his life and the treatment he suffered in the hands of the press.  However, if ever their relationship had any redeeming value at all, it was that Shields convinced him to ditch the wig.

Months after their divorce, everything started to come together for Agassi. The humbling experience forced him to play in qualifying rounds and challenger circuits in order to be able to compete in more serious tournaments. Eventually, his efforts paid off and he managed to become the fifth man to complete a career Grand Slam and the oldest to be world number one at 32.

The best part, however, is reserved for his courtship of Steffi Graf whom he had already admired even before he won his first major title, how he set up practice sessions with her, followed her around the tennis circuit, and waited for her to call him back. To this reader, “fraulein forehands” represented the elusive but eventually attainable French Open title, and if the cosmos had played any part in their fates, both players won their last French Open titles on the same year.

The implications of Agassi’s meth use might have had a bigger impact on tennis although it was just a recreational drug instead of a performance enhancer (I’m no expert on this). His fake wild hair was his way of hiding his confusion over who he was instead of being his way of rebelling against the norms of the sport. But I would dare a guess that what spurred him on to achieve greatness in the sport that he hated was his equal hatred for losing in it. I wonder how much he would have attained had he loved tennis.

It’s the same guys every week

Federer is back to number 1 by winning Wimbledon, while Nadal slips to number 3 by failing to reach the semi-finals of Rogers Cup last week.

NY Times’ tennis blog, Straight Sets muses on the level and intensity of the sport’s top players. By quarterfinals of last week’s Rogers Cup, all top 8 players were the only ones remaining.

Beyond the considerable shadow cast by the two greatest players of their generation, the rest of the top 10 remains deep and dangerous. Perhaps not since the days of John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, among others, has there been so much talent clustered at the top of men’s tennis.

“This is as deep as the men’s game has been since the early ’80s,” said Larry Stefanki, a coach and pro for 30 years. “This is as good as I’ve seen it. You have 10 guys every week challenging for titles.”

I’m kind of deprived of tennis TV, thanks to Balls’ choosing boring WTA over ATP, so I’m relying mostly on online feeds. Read the rest of the story: “An Era Defined by More Power, More Speed and Unmatched Depth

On another note, Nike compliments Federer by adding twin baby figures on his US Open shoes.

federer's nike shoes with twin baby icons

Fifteen, Six, One

Roger Federer wins Wimbledon 2009

After 4.5 hours of harebrained tennis that topped the excitement of last year’s final, Roger Federer prevailed at 16-14 on the fifth set, denying Andy Roddick the Wimbledon title for the third time. Their previous championship battles were in 2005 and 2006.

Fifteen is also his sixth Wimbledon title, and it sets him up as World Number 1 in the ATP rankings this week after languishing in second for almost one year behind Rafael Nadal. It’s interesting to note that three months ago, he was behind the Spaniard by almost four thousand points and only ahead by 30-odd points of world number 3 Novak Djokovic; now let’s see how many more weeks he will hold the top spot, and if he will beat Pete’s record of 280 weeks at the top of the rankings.

Federer vs. Roddick Wimbledon 2009 Scoreboard
Did he fly in Sampras to the finals? I’m not sure, but had Roger lost, that would have been as heartbreaking as the last Australian Open results, where all five men who held five career grand slams were in attendance. Sampras and wife walked into the Royal box where Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, and Henri Kissinger were already watching as the first set was progressing. Spotted somewhere else, Woody Allen.

Pete Sampras, Rod Laver, and Bjorn Borg on Centre Court Royal Box, Wimbledon 2009
Unlike in previous Wimbledon championships, the giddy GOAT did not collapse on the ground. No tears either, but only a victorious yell followed by several high leaps that made him look like a ballet dancer instead of a tennis player. I was almost disappointed to not see tears flow down the champion’s face, but I suppose he can also win and not cry.

Roger Federer's 15 Grand Slam Titles
What did I say? What did I say? I made the wrong bet, didn’t I? Oh Andy, thine had put up an awesome fight, but I had put my bets on thee. Record-wise, shouldn’t this put Roddick as second best on grass? His performance at Sw19 this year has been so much better than last year’s where he lost to Tipsarevic on the fourth round.

Today’s Facebook message: “so excited and thank you for the support!!! more to come soon…” Does he mean more grand slam titles to come soon, as the US Open starts in six weeks? Or are we getting more news from him, as his wife is about to give birth soon? Will it be a girl or a boy?

So, is Roger really back?

The old Roger Federer is obviously reappearing, and it looks like he’s now beating mono for good. Traces of mono virus can still linger in a patient’s organs and parts of the brain (according to the truthiness of Wikipedia), causing lethargy or mental fatigue even if tests show 100% recovery. That applied to The Fed in the earlier months, and now it’s fairly easy to believe that the funk he was in was not mental at all in the psychological sense. It was physiological.

I still don’t think that he’s playing with all gears yet, but this is so much better than all the game everyone had seen from him in the previous 8 weeks. Last night (or yesterday if you are in that part of the world), Roger defeated Novak Djokovic 6-3 5-7 7-5 6-2. He had a solid first set, lost a shaky 2nd, barely scraped through the 3rd, and then closed the deal in the 4th. Towards the end of the fourth set, it was as if Djokovic had given up as The Fed racked point after point with the powerful forehand. Flashes of Fed’s brilliance resulted in one of the highlights of the match, which was the overhead lob that only a guy like him could produce.

This match looked easier than the 4th round five-setter with Igor Andreev. And perhaps part of the win/loss factor was the NY crowd’s support for the current world no. 2. Djokovic was booed during the post-match interview by the Arthur Ashe stadium crowd when he made references to Andy Roddick’s jokes about his frequent calls for trainers.

Most fans are hoping for a Murray-Federer championships, and commentators agree. But it’s TMF himself who thinks otherwise. If his wish is granted, I’d better stock up on antacid and avoid coffee before the match.

“Who do I prefer to play? I prefer the trophy, that’s what I prefer,” said Roger, who was deposed as world number one last month. “But I guess I would have to say Rafa because we’ve had such great battles over the year. Wimbledon was unbelievable so I hope we can have another one.”

Murray was giving current no. 1 a hard time yesterday until the weather refused to cooperate, so Roger might get his wish. My happiness does not depend on Federer winning this year’s US Open title, but I’m crossing my fingers for him, just the same.

Sigh. This is one of those times when I wish I were still in New York. Lisa, please?


So it’s with Andy Murray, then. Live telecast of the championship match starts at 5AM on Balls.