“Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited” Shares The Champion’s Story By Steve Flink - UBITENNIS
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“Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited” Shares The Champion’s Story By Steve Flink

At 19, Pete Sampras won the first of 14 Grand Slam titles at the US Open. He closed his illustrious career claiming his final major in New York, the city where it had all began. Over the years, a library’s worth of stories have been written about him, but none compare to “Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited”. In the book, renowned tennis journalist Steve Flink, in recognition of the thirtieth anniversary of Sampras’ initial triumph, offers a unique overview of the man that few know – The Real Pete Sampras.

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Pete Sampras stunned the tennis world when he won the US Open singles title as a 19-year-old in 1990. In essence, an unknown became known and – borrowing from Frank Sinatra – reached the “top of the heap…” in New York. Twelve years later, he took full advantage of the opportunity in that same setting to bring the curtain down on his extraordinary career. At 31, he made a final entry in the record book when he won his fourteenth major championship in storybook fashion… It seemed as if it had come full circle… To once again quote Sinatra, with a slight alteration, “It brought an end to a very good career”. 

 

(At the 2003 US Open, after having not played another tournament since the triumph, he fittingly took a final bow where it all had begun and officially retired.) 

In “Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited”, Steve Flink paints a portrait as if he were Claude Monet, who saw the reality of the world and made it more beautiful. The acclaimed Impressionist relied on the eyes of the viewer to mix the colors he used for his captivating landscapes, many of which he painted in his Giverny garden. Flink, the 2017 International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee, uses words similar to the way Monet utilized his palette to create an understanding of who Sampras is and more important, a genuine feeling for him as a player and an individual that many watched but very few really knew.

Sampras’ birthday is August 12, 1971. He joined the pro ranks at Indian Wells in 1988, five months before he turned 17. Early on, his talent had been widely recognized, but, because he was shy, he didn’t really burst on the scene. Actually, he never sought attention and he certainly wasn’t loquacious. With Rod Laver as his model and Wimbledon as his goal,  he lived by the motto – I let my racquet do the talking. As a result, many tennis aficionados knew him only based on his tournament results. Otherwise, he was nearly invisible. 

Flink, who has a photographic recall of points and matches played, travels through Sampras’ record setting; from New York and significant stops in between and then back to New York – from his first major to his last. The easy to read writing style weaves facts and observations smoothly, with no apparent seams in the story’s fabric. The author is so skilled that he makes the reader feel as if he/she is fortunate enough to be sitting in the room and listening to conversations between Steve and Pete as they discuss details gleaned from his Grand Slam competitive triumphs, the successes that were realized at ATP Year-End Championships and his most cherished accomplishment – finishing No. 1 in the world for six straight years – a record that may never be broken.

Every tennis “story about…” features a list of accomplishments and praise of the subject by former opponents and those who played prior to the individual’s time in the limelight. For the most part, the supporting quotes can be summarized in driving onto a dead-end street fashion – “Good player, Good guy”. Because of Flink’s relationship with current and former players, he can use a masterful variety of insights about Sampras to make the story compelling. He collects them from the likes of Jim Courier, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang, rivals that date back to their shared junior days. Mats Wilander, Patrick Rafter and Goran Ivanisevic add to the richness of the canvas. So do the thoughts offered by Billie Jean King, Mary Carillo, Martina Navratilova and Tracy Austin. Keeping with the tennis’ hierarchy parade, Stefan Edberg and Ivan Lendl make some revealing assessments, too. John McEnroe is quoted and naturally lives up to his being “ever-so-candid” by reputation. Todd Martin, a circuit opponent, who is now the CEO of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, is as usual, solid with his remembrances. Comments by Paul Annacone and Tom Gullikson, one a former Sampras coach and the other his Davis Cup captain, thread through a portion of the book and  enhance its depth.

(I wrote the first Pete Sampras story that appeared nationally. It was in the “Inside The Junior Game” section of the June 1978 issue of World Tennis Magazine. Coincidentally, Steve Flink was the editor of the publication all those years ago. Perhaps it was fate, but he would go on to become a Senior Writer at Tennis Week, and I found a spot as a Contributor to that magazine as well.)

Mark Winters and Steve Flink at Flink’s 2017 International Tennis Hall of Fame induction in Newport, Rhode Island. Photo Cheryl Jones

Having had a lengthy career as a journalist and having already written two books that are “musts” for inclusion in every tennis library –  “The Greatest Tennis Matches of the Twentieth Century” in 1999 and later, “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” in 2012, I asked Flink why he had decided to focus on Sampras. As one of the game’s premier historian, he could have written about anyone in tennis. 

He explained, “I interviewed Pete a bunch of times over the telephone from 1992 to 1995. We met at Wimbledon in 1995. I wrote about him countless times both during and after his career. I would say I have done at least 15 or perhaps 20 features on Pete over the years.” 

Flink continued, “It took about a year-and-a-half or slightly less to write the book, primarily because I knew the subject so well. As I said in my introduction, in my mind I had been writing the book since late in his career.”

There is much more to the book than an encyclopedic listing of Sampras’ wins and losses. In “Save the Best for Last” fashion, Flink explores one of the game’s universal questions – stepping from one era to another, in their prime, who would win? Though such ventures are speculation, it is always fun to wonder – Would Bill Tilden have been competitive against Jack Kramer? Would Richard “Pancho” Gonzalez have held his own against his one-time brother-in-law Andre Agassi? How might Rod Laver have dealt with John McEnroe?

Flink tantalizes the reader with a look at how Sampras could have done against Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. In a pièce de resistance, he brings the story to a close offering his Top 10 American men ever and Top 10 American men in the Open Era. I will not even hint at what he has to say, but these two chapters are standalone book-worthy in and of themselves.

“I felt it had to be done,” Flink said. “I had always wanted to do this book. Pete is too often taken for granted. His contributions to the game have been immeasurable. I felt that knowing him so well and understanding what he is about made me perhaps uniquely qualified to be the author of a retrospective examination of Pete’s impact on the game.”

A group of French artists used a complicated technique to create an optical illusion and it was called trompe l’oeil. In English, it means “deceives the eye”. In no way was there any deception or deceit to Sampras. Flink entertainingly points out that he is genuine and for that matter, purely and simply real.

“I always deeply appreciated not only his gifts as a player but also his quiet way of going about things. The bottom line is that he deserves a laudatory book done on his exploits. My goal is for many fans to be reminded of why they admired him so deeply. Hence the title: ‘Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited’.”

“Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited” will be available to purchase after September 1, 2020. (Check Amazon)

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Indian Wells Daily Preview: 2019 Finalists Andreescu and Kerber Face Stiff Competition

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Bianca Andreescu is the defending champion of this event (twitter.com/BNPPARIBASOPEN)

Monday hosts some stellar third round matchups in both the men’s and women’s singles draws.  10 of the days’ 16 singles matches feature seeded players colliding.  They include 2019 champion Bianca Andreescu, three-time Major champ Angelique Kerber, and newly-crowned US Open champ Daniil Medvedev.

 

Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Monday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time.

Angelique Kerber (10) vs. Daria Kasatkina (20) – 11:00am on Stadium 2

It’s the 2018 runner-up against the 2019 runner-up.  Both players submitted subpar results thereafter, but have bounced back strongly in 2021.  Kasatkina started the year ranked outside the top 70, yet is now inside the top 30 after racking up 36 wins and reaching four finals.  Kerber rediscovered her mojo on the grass.  Since her title run in Bad Homburg, she’s 18-4.  These two players have split eight previous encounters, though Kasatkina leads 4-2 on hard courts.  Most recently they met two years ago in Tororto, where Daria prevailed 6-4 in the third.  Their clash of styles on these slow courts should provide some dynamic, compelling rallies.  But based on Kerber’s current level of confidence, I give her the slight edge.

Bianca Andreescu (16) vs. Anett Kontaveit (18) – Second on Stadium 2

Andreescu may be the defending champion and higher seed, but as of late, Kontaveit has been the better player.  She recently hired Dmitry Tursunov as her coach, and she’s been on fire.  Since late-August, Anett is 14-1, with two titles.  By contrast, Andreescu is only 6-8 since Roland Garros, with the US Open the only event where she has won back-to-back matches.  However, Kontaveit did withdraw from a WTA event in Chicago two weeks ago with a thigh injury, so she’s not been 100% after playing so much tennis in such a short span.  Bianca rarely goes down without a dogged fight, especially at big events on hard courts, but she may be the underdog on this day.  And she’s never beaten Kontaveit, who is 2-0 against Andreescu, including a straight-set victory earlier this year on the grass of Eastbourne.

Other Notable Matches on Monday:

Diego Schwartzman (11) vs. Dan Evans (18) – Schwartzman saved match points on Saturday against American Maxime Cressy, while Evans survived a grueling three-setter against Kei Nishikori.  Two months ago in Cincinnati, Diego defeated Dan in three.

Casper Ruud (8) vs. Lloyd Harris (26) – Ruud leads the ATP with five titles this season, winning his first hard court event just eight days ago in San Diego by defeating three top 30 players.  Harris is on the verge of breaking into the top 30 himself, coming off his Major quarterfinal debut in New York. 

Reilly Opelka (16) vs. Grigor Dimitrov (23) – This summer in Canada, Opelka took out Dimitrov in straight sets, though these slower courts will mitigate some of his Servebot prowess.

Su-Wei Hsieh and Elise Mertens (2) vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Iga Swiatek – These teams played what was perhaps the most exciting doubles match of the year at Roland Garros, when Mattek-Sands and Swiatek saved seven match points to eventually prevail after three hours and 11 minutes.

Ons Jabeur (12) vs. Danielle Collins (22) – These are two of the WTA’s strongest performers in recent months.  Last October at the French Open, Collins upset Jabeur 6-4 in the third.

Denis Shapovalov (9) vs. Aslan Karatsev (19) – Since advancing to his first Slam semifinal at Wimbledon, Shapovalov is a meek 4-6.  Karatsev achieved the same feat back in February, but is now 8-11 since mid-May. 

Coco Gauff (15) vs. Paula Badosa (21) – This could be one of the best matches of the day, between two of the WTA’s fastest-rising performers.  Gauff is just a few wins away from putting herself into qualifying position for the WTA Finals.

Hubert Hurkacz (8) vs. Frances Tiafoe – Tiafoe leads their head-to-head 2-1, though Hurkacz claimed their latest clash, two years ago in Winston-Salem.

Roberto Bautista Agut (15) vs. Cameron Norrie (21) – Norrie has accumulated 42 wins on the year, reaching five finals.  Bautista Agut has underperformed this season, and hasn’t achieved a final since March.

Daniil Medvedev (1) vs. Filip Krajinovic (27) – Medvedev is looking for his 50th win of 2021, while Krajinovic arrived at Indian Wells with a record of 17-17.  However, he did defeat Daniil at the last staging of this event two years ago.

Barbora Krejcikova (3) vs. Amanda Anisimova – Krejcikova is one of many players who have shared how exhausted they’ve felt after such a busy season, though it’s been an incredibly successful one for her.  Anisimova dropped only seven games in four sets played last week.

Monday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Medvedev is the winningest on hardcourts, but it’s not enough to become the world N.1

At least as long as Novak Djokovic is around: an analysis of Daniil Medvedev’s numbers from 2019 Wimbledon to the 2021 US Open. He surely wins a lot, but relies too much on the hard courts.

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92 – the number of the matches won on hardcourts (outdoors or indoors) by Daniil Medvedev since the end of Wimbledon 2019.

Right after the Championships played two years ago, the 25-year-old Russian was not yet at the level of the best players, but he certainly wasn’t an also-ran either. He had in fact already reached the threshold of the Top 10, a ranking he attained thanks to his wins in four ATP tournaments: during 2018, in what was for him the first season ended in the Top 50, he won the ATP 250 in Sydney and Winston Salem and Tokyo’s ATP 500, to which he added Sofia’s ATP 250 in February 2019.

 

He had already shown he deserved a top-ten ranking in the previous months, thanks to four wins over foes who belonged to the world’s élite (the most prestigious win he had was on Djokovic in Monte Carlo 2019, the tournament in which he recorded his only semifinal appearance in a Masters 1000 event played on clay).

In August 2019, in the first tournament played with a top 10 ranking in Washington, the turning point of his career arrived: Daniil reached the final, losing against Kyrgios, but from the tournament played in the capital of the United States, he started an impressive streak of 25 wins (eight of which against Top 10-ranked players) in the following 27 matches.

These victories allowed the Russian to claim two Masters 1000 titles (Cincinnati and Shanghai) and an ATP 250 (St. Petersburg), as well as to reach two very important finals at the Masters 1000 in Montreal and at the US Open. Thanks to these results, the Russian pocketed a total check of $5,123,640 in prize money alone in a few weeks, and a booty of 4,050 points that allowed him to climb to the fourth place in the rankings back in September 2019. A sudden rise was followed by an inevitable period of adjustment. Daniil closed 2019 with four consecutive defeats between the debut in Bercy’s Masters 1000 and the three round robin matches of the ATP Finals, and even 2020 – at least until the end of October – was made mostly of shadows: his record before playing in Bercy was a subpar 18-10. When his decline seemed unstoppable, Medvedev rose again during the season finale: from the first round of the last Masters 1000 of the ATP calendar, the Muscovite began a 20-match win streak (12 of which against Top 10 competition) that earned him the Parisian tournament, the ATP Finals, the ATP Cup, and a run to the Australian Open final, when he was brutally halted by Djokovic.

His growth has never stopped since. In February 2021, he won his eleventh ATP tournament in Marseille and the following Monday he earned a great honour, becoming the first tennis player other than the Big Four (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray) to rise to second place in the ranking since Hewitt, who 794 weeks earlier – it was July 18, 2005 – found himself ranked world N.2 for the last time. The Muscovite did not impress in Miami but at Roland Garros – after having lost his debut match in six of the previous seven tournaments played on clay – he surprised everyone by reaching the quarterfinals. Medvedev continued his season by avenging his debut on grass – a bad defeat against Struff in Halle – with the Mallorca title (his first ATP title on this surface) and for the first time reached the fourth round at Wimbledon, where he lost in five sets against Hurkacz.

In the summer played on outdoor hardcourt, he disappointed at the Tokyo Olympics (where he was defeated by Carreno Busta in the quarterfinals) and in Cincinnati (in Ohio he was stopped in the semis by Rublev, who won over him for the first time after five defeats in as many previous matches against Daniil), but in between he won the fourth Masters 1000 of his career in Toronto. His first Grand Slam title, the US Open, came in the tournament where he’d lost a five-set final to Nadal in 2019. Medvedev won with a clear display of superiority over his colleagues: in the seven matches that led him to triumph, the only one to take away a set from him was qualifier Botic Van De Zandschulp in the quarterfinals. The other six opponents, including a Serbian named Djokovic, never managed to snatch even five games per set from him.

With the victory of the last Grand Slam of the year, Medvedev consolidated his second place in the ranking with a current tally of 10,780 points, “just” 1,353 less than Djokovic and 2,430 more than Tsitsipas. Unfortunately for him, the race for the number 1 in the world, however, appears to be rather difficult, more than what his current ranking implies.

Up to the next Australian Open, the Russian defends 5,585 points (52% of his total share of points) and it is therefore very difficult for him to claim the number one ranking in the next six months: Djokovic, in addition to the advantage he currently holds, has a smaller amount to be wary of in the same period, an amount of 4,835.

In order to close the gap, Medvedev must above all improve his performance when he is not playing on hardcourts: in the last 26 months, as you can read from the table that compares his performance with that of his main antagonists, he has won more matches than everybody else on hardcourts, and by a large margin. In total, he has won 21 more matches than Djokovic and put on the bulletin board a greater number of tournaments, as many as 9, including the US Open, the ATP Finals and four Masters 1000 titles. His own win percentage on hardcourts starting from July 2019 to today is lower (by 3 percentage points) only than that of the Serbian champion alone, and similar to that of Nadal – the latter has however played about half of the Russian’s matches. Medvedev’s ranking is all based on tournaments that are played on the hard courts: between outdoors and indoors hardcourt events, Medvedev has collected 88% of his current points, a big disproportion looking at the other players (from our summary diagram it is shown how, among those players, only Zverev has collected a higher percentage than 60% of his points on the same surface).

In the last two years, the current number 2 in the world has played only when forced to do so: just eight events, from which he collected a title (Mallorca, where he faced only two Top 50 players, Carreno and Ruud, both tennis players with very little expectations on grass) and won only twelve matches. If it seems more than likely that over the next few years Medvedev will be one of the big favorites in the tournaments that will be played on hard, the numbers confirm the impression that only by improving the results on other turfs the Russian could aspire to do the last and most difficult step he is missing: becoming the best player in the world.

Article by Ferruccio Roberti; translated by Michele Brusadelli; edited by Tommaso Villa

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Numbers: On The Unpredictability Of Women’s Grand Slam Tournaments

Over the past four years, every major tournament has been a hunting ground for new players, a sign of discontinuity at the top.

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54 – the number of WTA players who’ve reached the quarterfinals at least once in the past 12 Slam tournaments. 

Tennis experts and fans have often pointed out that men’s tennis hasn’t had much of a change of the guard in terms of big tournament winners, generally providing the same face-offs between players in the final rounds. At the same time, the last seasons of the WTA Tour have repeatedly been criticized for not providing any champions the public could become used to due to the steady turnover of winners and players competing in the last rounds of the most prestigious tournaments. To better understand if these assumptions are actually justified, we analysed the Slam draws from the past three years (starting with the 2018 US Open) and listed all the players (male and female) who reached a Major quarterfinal at least once, in an attempt to understand the differences between what’s going on the ATP and WTA tours.

 

41 male players have reached the quarterfinals of a Slam, while on the WTA circuit the 96 available slots have been occupied by no fewer than 54 different tennis players. We can also see this same discrepancy by looking at some other stats on the number of players to make it through only once to a Major quarterfinal: on the male tour, in the timeframe considered (the last twelve Slams played), there were 17 players, while in the female one the number rose to 21. The women whose only accomplishment was to reach one semi-final are over twice as many as the men who did the same: some of the male players are Pouille, Karatsev and Hurkacz, while the women’s list includes Sevastova, Anisimova, Strycova, Podoroska, Zidansek and Kerber.

The greatest difference between the two tours, however, can be found in the number of players who get past the semi-finals. There have only been four major tournament winners among ATP players in the past three calendar years: Djokovic (the Serbian won 7 times), Nadal (2), Thiem, and Medvedev. Among WTA players, on the other hand, there have been as many as eight different Slam tournament champions:  Osaka (a four-time winner), Barty (2), Halep, Andreescu, Kenin, Swiatek, Krejcikova, and Raducanu.

Del Potro, Zverev, Federer, Berrettini and Tsistipas were the only male players to get to the finals, but there were no fewer than nine female players achieving the same result: Serena Williams (three times), Kvitova, Vondrousova, Muguruza, Azarenka, Brady, Pavlyuchenkova, Pliskova, and Fernandez. “One-time-winners” aren’t easy to find among male players, since all four major tournament-winners (Djokovic, Nadal, Thiem and Medvedev) have done well in several other Slams, which isn’t the case amongst the female players. In the eleven Slams that we’re analysing, two players (Andreescu and Raducanu) didn’t get any other important results other than their wins; in their case, if truth be told, the explanation to this probably lies in their very young age, and in the injuries they sustained, making their “isolated” wins more than understandable.

This fact should, however, be considered together with the cases of three other female players (Krejicikova, Swiatek and Kenin) who, in addition to their finals victory, only reached the quarterfinals once. The absence of continuity in today’s strongest female circuit-players can be inferred from an additional statistic:  among male players in the past three years, Djokovic (10 times), Nadal (9), Federer (5), Thiem (5), Zverev (6), and Medvedev (5) got through to Major tournament quarterfinals at least five times, but amongst the female players only Serena Williams (6) and Barty (6) did the same.

Further confirmation of what we uncovered can be found by looking into the players in the top positions of the ATP and WTA rankings. Among the men, after the 2018 US Open, the only players who reached the first position are Djokovic and Nadal; meanwhile, Medvedev, Tsitsipas and Rublev have reached the Top 5 for the first time in the past three years. And let’s not forget Berrettini, Schwartzman, Bautista Agut, Shapovalov, and Ruud, who also made their debut in the Top 10.

In the WTA rankings, on the other hand, these past 36 months have seen Halep, Osaka and current number 1 Barty pass the queen’s crown around; compared to the men’s circuit, even more players have ascended to the Top 5 for the first time: Sabalenka, Andreescu, Bencic, Kenin. There are “only” two players, Swiatek and Krejcikova, who’ve gotten through to the first ten positions of the ranking in the time frame we’ve been looking at.

In conclusion, the tennis élite has a very different profile in the two tours. It’s a difference that is bound to be reduced as the likes of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic get older: but will the advent of new rivalries at the top be able to preserve the sport’s popularity?

Article by Ferruccio Roberti; translated by Giulia Bosatra; edited by Tommaso Villa

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