By Mark Winters
Phil Thorn is responsible for the grass courts at the Gerry Weber Open. Because of all the issues involved in keeping them playable throughout the tournament, he can be called the “Keeper of the Lawns.”
Halle, Westfalia, Germany – For a change, all the umbrellas had been put away, and the sun was shinning warmly. There wasn’t a cloud darkening the Halle skyline, and Phil Thorn was content. Sitting on a bench behind the Gerry Weber Center Court, he had just finished his lunch and was about do the same with the soft drink he was holding.
He appeared to be supremely relaxed as he exchanged pleasantries with members of the tournament staff who passed by, as well as with some of the individuals who are on his crew. For a man who had experienced continual days of rain, he seemed shockingly carefree.
Thorn, for those unfamiliar with grass court tennis, is the “Keeper of the Lawns” at the Gerry Weber Open. The incessant downpour that ravaged the playing schedule and the courts early in the week had kept him and his team scrambling. Team, in this case, is the optimum word. “Prior to the tournament I have ten students who help me (preparing and caring for the entire facility),” Thorn said. “During the event the number rises to 45. During the rest of the year, I have three and a half people working (said with a smile).”
Creating the best playing grass tennis courts is his primary focus, and in truth, part of being a Thorn. His father, Jim, was responsible for the care of the Temple of Grass, better known as the All England Lawn Tennis Club, in London, where Wimbledon is staged annually. Having learned the tenets of grass court maintenance from a “legend in the field” (his father), Phil’s job is even more complex. Not only does he oversee the three outside courts found at the Halle facility, he also has to conjure up ways to deal with the tests that rise up due to the fact that the Gerry Weber Open Stadion center court has a closeable roof.
He proudly admitted, “It used to take 90 seconds to close the roof. Now, it takes 60, but when there is rain, time must be taken (roughly a half an hour) to make sure the court is dry and that players are not going to slip. This is now an ATP 500 event, so the responsibility has increased to make sure that the surface offers the best possible playing conditions.”
The center court grass is grown on pallets on the grounds at the tournament site. Four hundred are used to fill the space and they weigh between 800 kilos (1764 pounds) when they are dry and up to a ton (2000 pounds) when they are wet. “I am always trying to make the surface on the center and outside courts consistent,” he said. “Every year, some changes are made. If a court remains the same for too long thatching increases then the surface and the bounce of the ball are affected.”
Thorn is like a master chef. He has recipes that have proven successful, but he is always looking for a better mix, as it were. In 2016, he believes he has found it. “I used combinations of grass, but this year I have used pure rye grass,” he said. “It was sown into the courts and I am pleased with the result.”
Jokingly, he added, “I am always aware of the grass. If it’s a piece of s**t, then I will say it is. If it’s a good piece of s**t, I will say it’s a good piece of s**t…and that means there will be good bounces.”
When the roof is closed, center court becomes quite humid when there is a full house. (It seats 12,500). Several years ago, the situation became better when (and yes, this is true) AC (air conditioning) was added. “We have learned how to use it to help keep the court dry, but not make it too dry,” Thorn noted.
Mention lawns, and most people think about their yard or the pitch at a nearby park. Based on this perspective, one thing is important – if it’s green all is good. For Thorn the situation is much more complex.
“We are dealing with nature, and nature is very unpredictable (as we have seen this week),” he said. “Earlier in the year, it was very, very warm so the sprinklers had to be used. But, it’s not a matter of simply turning them on and letting them go. It’s done by a control system. One time, they didn’t turn off and that created a problem, one that took time to fix.”
Phil Thorn’s goal is to ensure all the courts used during the Gerry Weber Open have a consistent playing surface. Good naturedly, he admitted, “I walk around and I rarely look up in the sky. If I do, I’ll do it very quickly. Everything I’m concerned about is on the ground.”
The words of a true a true “Keeper of the Lawns.”
(EXCLUSIVE) Daria Kasatkina’s Coach Martinez Gives His Verdict On Her Current Form Ahead Of US Open
Kasatkina was the only top 10 player to play a tournament the week before Flushing Meadows but there was a good reason for her doing so…..
Heading into the US Open Daria Kasatkina finds herself as one of the most successful players on the Tour this season in terms of matches won.
The Russian world No.9 has registered 37 victories so far in 2022 with only three other women managing to win more matches than her on the WTA Tour. Ahead of her is Ons Jabeur (38), Simona Halep (39) and Iga Swiatek (48). Kasatkina is also one of eight players to have won multiple titles in 2022 with her most recent triumph occurring on Saturday at the Granby Championships where she beat Daria Saville 6-4, 6-4, in the final.
Invariably there have also been blips for Kasatkina on the Tour. Between winning titles in San Jose and Granby this summer, she lost her opening match at two tournaments. Falling to Bianca Andreescu at the Canadian Open and then Amanda Anisimova in Cincinnati.
Besides her results, the 25-year-old made headlines around the world after taking part in a fascinating documentary with vlogger Vitya Kravchenko where she spoke openly about her personal life for the first time, as well as the war in Ukraine. Andrey Rublev also took part in the documentary which was filmed in Spain where the two players train.
At the centre of Kasatkina’s success on the court is her coach Carlos Martinez. A former player on the men’s Tour who has previously worked with the likes of Svetlana Kuznetsova, Marc Lopez, Kateryna Kozlova and Feliciano Lopez. The most striking aspect about Martinez is his honesty. He could easily say everything over the past few months has been great for Kasatkina but instead he points out there are still improvements to be made. His philosophy as a coach is ‘to go day-by-day and to do our best every day.’
Martinez spoke to UbiTennis shortly before Kasatkina won her sixth Tour title in Granby this weekend. The Spaniard explains why it was important to play a tournament the week before the US Open and what his expectations are for the Grand Slam.
UBITENNIS: Carlos, we last spoke during the French Open. Since then Daria has won the San Jose Open. How would you describe her current form heading into the US Open?
MARTINEZ: She has been doing well but not since San Jose. She didn’t play her best tennis and didn’t compete very well. The mentality was good. She had a few matches where she played well but her level was not unbelievable.
She has been doing well all summer because after Miami we made more specific preparations and then she was practising hard on court. That is why since summer she has been doing well and now we have got the results.
She is very consistent and this is what I want from her, to be very consistent every week. After San Jose, she lost two matches against Andreescu and Anisimova. They were tough matches against good opponents but in my opinion she could have won both matches. She is doing well and now she is in the final of Granby. My philosophy is to go day-by-day and to do our best every day. Like this, she is going to achieve the results she wants.
UBITENNIS: There has been a lot going on in Dasha’s personal life and when she spoke publicly about her sexuality there was a lot of media attention. Have you noticed any positive impact on her tennis since this has happened? Other athletes in the past have said they feel they perform better after coming out.
MARTINEZ: I will not talk about her personal life because I want to focus on her performance in tennis. I do not agree that since she did that interview, everything was getting better. At the beginning of the year and then in the summer she was good. To me, this is not the reason why she is playing well and winning matches. I am focused on just her tennis career and trying to help her in the best way.
UBITENNIS: Daria was the only top 10 player to play in a WTA event the week before the US Open. Why did you decide to play in Canada instead of heading to New York earlier?
MARTINEZ: I am not focused on her ranking but the level of her performance. After losing two first-round matches I didn’t want her to wait two weeks between Cincinnati and the US Open. Because it is possible that at the end of one month she could play just two matches.
For Dasha, it is important for her to be in competitions. To have this adrenaline inside (her). I think the best preparation for her US Open is to play here (in Canada). Every single tournament to me is important, every match she plays is important for her improvement. That’s why we are here and next week we are going to be at the US Open. It’s going to be what it’s going to be. The most important (thing) is to play in the present.
UBITENNIS: What do you think of Daria’s US Open draw? She has only managed to reach the fourth round in New York once in her career so far.
MARTINEZ: The draw is always tough. The first match is super tough and the second match is super tough. So there are no easy matches.
There are many good players, it depends on the part of their career…. we will see. Dasha right now is in a good shape. I like to see the present – not the past or the future. She did this in the past (reach round four) and I hope every single year she is going to be better and better.
UBITENNIS: I understand that your main job is to work on Daria’s physical training. How does she manage the mental side of being an athlete?
MARTINEZ: I am trying to help her both ways because I think I can with my experience as a coach and as a player. We are talking a lot about tennis, the technical and tactical side. But also about how to manage situations in matches, how to see the light and these kinds of things. I am trying to support her in both ways.
Physically, tennistally and mentally. This is how I work with her. She is a very tough player mentally and tennistically.
Kasatkina is the 10th seed at the US Open and will begin her campaign against Great Britain’s Harriet Dart. In her section of the draw, she could play Veronika Kudermetova in the third round followed by Jabeur.
Travelling across tennis, relationships and life with John Lloyd
Ubaldo Scanagatta spoke to John Lloyd about a series of topics on his professional and personal life.
In an exclusive talk with Ubitennis founder Ubaldo Scanagatta, John Lloyd, former British No.1 and Davis Cup Captain provides insights on tennis, a changing world and his personal history
Edited by Kingsley Elliot Kaye
Wimbledon and the recent publication of “Dear John”, John Lloyd’s autobiography, set up the occasion for Ubitennis to meet up with John Lloyd and have a long talk which embraced four decades of tennis and personal anecdotes.
“Friend” is the word which most often recurs in John’s tales and unveils his unique empathy in his relating to people, to life. Always eager to embrace new experiences, yet loyal to his past.
Indeed, John Lloyds’ best run in a major was halted by a friend. In 1977, in fact, he reached the final at the Australian Open, which he lost in five sets to Vitas Gerulatis:
“The Slam in Australia wasn’t like it is now. It was still a big tournament, but some of the big players didn’t come over because it was over Christmas. I got to the final. I should have won that match. I lost in five sets to my friend Vitas, which was a big disappointment although if I was going to lose with someone, he’s the guy because, you know, he was a great guy. It was one of the saddest days when he passed away at 40 years old with that tragedy with the carbon dioxide poisoning.“
John is not a person who allows rear-view perspective to indulge in regrets, yet in terms of tennis he admits he regrets never managing to make a breakthrough at Wimbledon, where he says he always suffered from a self-inflicted pressure:
“For some reason at Wimbledon I never played my best tennis. I won two mixed doubles, which was great [in 1983 and in 1984 with Wendy Turnbull] but in singles I was always very disappointed with my performances. I had a couple of big wins. I beat my friend Roscoe Tanner when he was seeded number 3 and a lot of people thought he was going to win the title that year. I beat him on court number 1 but it was typical of my Wimbledon performances that I lost the next day to a German player called Karl Meiler who I should have beaten [after comfortably winning the first two sets he ended up losing in 9 7 in the fifth]. I let myself down after having one of the best wins of my career. And that was my Wimbledon story.“
“Dear John” was written with Phil Jones, BBC journalist, while the foreword is by a tennis great, and friend, Bjorn Borg:
“Bjorn is a good friend of mine. We’ve had many good times together when we played and also when we played on the senior tour. Bjorn is a lovely man and I called him up and asked him and he said no problem, I’d love to do it. We’ve had so many good stories. I’ve always thought he is one of the greatest champions of all time. I beat him once in Monte Carlo on clay [1975, 60 57 64, in the quarterfinals]. It was probably my best ever win although there are rumours he was out until four in the morning with some ladies…but that’s not my fault!“
When we mention how there was a moment when he became very popular also outside the world of tennis, owing to his romance with Chris Evert, John opens up about the difficulties in getting married so young and to a worldwide tennis star:
“We had some good times. We were married for 8 years but we were too young, both 24, on the tennis circuit, going to different places. If we had been married 10 years later we could have had a chance. We had some good times and some bad times, but we are still friends. I married into someone who was a huge legend. It was fortunate I was well known in Britain so I was used to having press around and that kind of stuff, but it was nothing like until I got married with Chris. It opened a lot of doors to me, to be honest. I met people I wouldn’t have met before. We went to wonderful places, met amazing people.“
As well as broadcasting for BBC, John Lloyd’s working life spans from selling real estate for Sotheby’s in Western Palm Beach, where he is currently living, to some coaching, and some tennis lessons in Mar-a-Lago club run by Donald Trump, former US president and a man who built a financial empire with real estate. Mr Trump’s knack for business is well proved by a story John recalls:
“I’ve known Mr Trump for 40 years. I saw him about three months ago at the golf club and had a chat with him. He said “John, how about you doing some celebrity lessons at Mar-a-Lago?” I said “Mr President, that could be good”. He said “This is what we will do: I’ll tell the director of the club and you’ll charge 500 $ an hour. So that’s good and I’ll take half.” “That’s a good deal” I said. So that was the president. He knows how to do business. There was no negotiation. It was like I’ll take 250, but 250 is not bad so I’ll do that.“
Donald Trump is only one of the celebrities John Lloyd met in his journeying around the world and that he writes about:
“I do a lot of name dropping. I’m very good at that. I’ve been around with a lot of celebrities. I’ve had some funny stories about celebrities that people would like to hear, I hope. I’ve been fortunate. I’ve met presidents, the queen, the royal family, I’ve met billionaires, amazing businessmen.
“I’m a boy from a place called Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, a small town. From a family below middle class. And I’ve seen every country in the world I’ve wanted to be. I’ve been very very fortunate.“
We can infer that John Lloyd’s autobiography is not just an album of tennis memories:
“I think that the word “great” in tennis is a very overused word. I think great players are players that have won slams in singles. I was a good player and a good player cannot write a book on just what he did on the court. But I’ve been very fortunate in my life. I’ve lived in four decades of professional tennis. I came in at the end of the Rod Laver era, and then came in with my era which was Borg, Connors and McEnroe. Then I went into the next era where I was Davis Cup captain with Henman, Rusedski, and Agassi, Sampras. Then the TV puts me into another one. So this book is really stories more than anything and I’m proud of it. But there’s also some serious stuff. I do a chapter about when six years ago I had prostate cancer and I’m very honest about that.
“I also talk about my family and my son, who I’m very proud of. He had an addictive problem and he’s been clean now for thirteen years. When I wrote the book he asked me if I was going to mention it and I said no. And he said I want you to, because maybe it will help someone. So that was a very emotional and difficult chapter to write, about that period in my life which was without doubt the worst period, but then it became the most wonderful period to see my son turn out to be this amazing person.
Venturing back to tennis, since John has just spoken about players who were and still are good friends of his, we ask him if there were players he actually didn’t get along with. We learn that the toughest times came as a Davis Cup Captain:
“I struggled a little bit with Andy Murray at times. I put in the book how much I admire him as a player, but I struggled a bit with his behaviour with coaches, the way he would say things to them. To be honest, it was one of my fears when I took the Davis Cup job that he was going to be on the court with me. I always thought to myself that if someone behaved like that and I was coaching them, I would just walk out, no matter how much they paid me. But as a Davis Cup captain, you can’t do that. I got really nervous about it. Then I came up with a good idea. At the time when I was captain he was being coached by Brad Gilbert. So I asked Brad to give me some instructions when Andy was playing, and he agreed to. And when Andy was coming up to me and I could see he was mad, I told Andy, for instance, “Andy you need to come in to the net on the forehand more.” And he was about to say something, and I said, pointing at Brad, “He told me to tell you! It was him!” So Brad got all the shouting and I just gave him [Andy] the towel.
“I struggled with Greg Rusedski a little bit too. He was fine on my team but, after he left, he was then trying to get my job and made a few remarks about me on TV, that I was picking the wrong players, the wrong chords, that kind of stuff that I wouldn’t do, sure.“
This is the prompt that leads up to a comparison between tennis of different eras and John has a few prickly ideas.
“Most players were good in my era. There were some guys that I struggled with a little bit, but, you know, we didn’t have entourages around us the way they do now. We had a group and we’d play matches, we’d be in the locker room and the guy who lost, it was like “Let’s go out tonight.” Now they’ve got managers and physiotherapists and parents, they are in all these groups… I always say to people I’m envious of how much money the players of today make, of course I would love that, but they don’t have as good a time as we had. I have friends that I still see. And I’m lucky I wasn’t in the era with cell phones and Ipads. I would probably have got locked up about twenty times for the things I did, but nobody could catch me.“
As John has sailed through so many tennis eras and is well docked in the current harbours, we ask him if he expected players to be able to win twenty and more slams, and three players to win 62 [63, after Wimbledon 2022]. We also cannot but be curious to hear his say on the GOAT debate:
“It’s a remarkable feat that these three players have done. I also wrote a chapter on this, called records. I like all those players but one of the things I like about Djokovic is that he is not scared to tell you that he wants to win the most titles, that’s his goal. Rafa and Roger come up with all this rubbish where they say “Oh no, that’s not my concern.” That’s just lies, of course it is. It’s in your DNA. Records are records, that’s what you live for if you are a player. And for them to say that is nonsense.
“Who is the greatest of all time? It’s a fun conversation. I thought for sure that Novak was going to win more and then Nadal does what he does. I still think Novak is going to win more in the end, but for me when I talk about the greatest and all this, I switch it a little bit to say that what Rafa has done at the French Open, the 14 there, is the greatest sports achievement in any sport in history. So for me, whether he finishes second or third in terms of slams is not important. It’s a miracle he played 16 French Opens and won 14. It’s impossible what he did. That to me is the greatest achievement anyone has ever done.“
(EXCLUSIVE) Anne Keothavong Reacts To British Success At Wimbledon
The captain of the British Billie Jean king Cup team tells Ubitennis she believes her players can keep the momentum going beyond the grass swing.
This year’s Wimbledon Championships have without a doubt been a success for British tennis.
It all began during the first week when 10 Brits secured a place in the second round of the tournament – six in the men’s draw and four in the women’s. Making it the most successful start to the Grand Slam by British players since 1984. Continuing the momentum Liam Broady and Katie Boulter secured a place in the third round. Meanwhile, Heather Watson made it to the last 16 for the first time on her 12th attempt.
The stand-out Brit this year though has been Cameron Norrie who is only the fourth man from his country to reach the last four of Wimbledon in the Open Era. The breakthrough by the 26-year-old has been one in the making following a series of successes he has achieved on the ATP Tour. Norrie, who has featured in nine ATP finals since May 2021, will take on top seed Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals on Friday.
Watching the success from the sidelines is Anne Keothavong who is the current captain of the British Billie Jean King Cup team. As a player, she cracked the world’s top 50 in 2009 and was the first female player from her country to do so for 16 years. She played in 24 Grand Slam main draws during a 13-year period.
As it is with every Wimbledon, the task for the LTA is to continue the momentum generated by their players beyond the grass season. Something Keothavong thinks will be certainly possible.
“That’s the challenge. All the British players – men and women – have had an unbelievable grass-court season, not just Wimbledon,” she tells Ubitennis.
“Naturally there is a kind of a break to regroup after everything that has gone on but they will be back in training in no time and getting ready for the hardcourt season.”
Due to the ban on Russian and Belarussian players playing at British events this year, no ranking points have been issued. Undoubtedly an annoyance for the likes of Watson and Norrie but they have made peace with the situation already.
Keothavong is one of those nurturing the best female players in her country and providing any possible help if asked to. The British women have been thriving in recent months, especially Emma Raduanu who became the first qualifier in history to win a major title at the US Open. In total there are six Brits in the WTA top 200 and a further two younger players just outside. 21-year-old Francesca Jones is 219th and 20-year-old Sonay Kartal is 226th.
“On the women’s side, all of those players have so much confidence,” said Keothavong. “Their ranking is going in the right direction, they are able to enter tournaments which they might not have been able to do at the start of the grass-court season. It’s a good place to be but they need to remain focused and keep doing what they can do.”
The tennis community is described by some as a family. An analogy Keothavong can certainly relate to as she describes herself as a ‘big sister’ to the other girls. Throughout Wimbledon, the home players have spoken out in support of each other with Norrie mentioning their participation in the Battle Of The Brits exhibition helped them form a closer bond.
“If you ask them (the players) they probably say I am like a big sister to them,” she said. “In my role as Billie jean king cup captain, I guess it is important that I do maintain a good relationship with all of the players. I follow their progress and if they need extra support they know I’m there.”
“It’s really important to have that relationship with them as captain and we need to be open with each other. I don’t invade their privacy but they know if they need anything I’m there.”
Under Keothavong’s guidance, the British Billie Jean King Cup team has won six out of their last eight ties since 2019. Their only losses were to the formidable Czech Republic (2-3) earlier this year and Slovakia (1-3) in February 2021.
The team will return to action later this year in the Finals which will be held in Glasgow. Britain has been drawn in the same group as Spain and Kazakhstan.
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