player blog - jim courier
October 4, 2012
Tom Petty was right...the waiting is the hardest part.

One week from today I\'ll get on a plane, fly to Phoenix and drive over to Surprise, Arizona for the first stop of the 2012 PowerShares Series.

I\'ve been hitting 4 days a week in NYC since I returned from Davis Cup in Spain, playing sets most of those days to get my body and, just as importantly, my mind ready for the battle ahead. I haven\'t played a live match (with an umpire, crowd, etc) in a few months time so I\'ve been putting a real emphasis on concentration in my practice matches. The last match I played was up in Montreal in early August against Michael Chang during the Rogers Cup WTA event (sorry, I don\'t count the exhibition with Kevin James as my doubles partner at the US Open as a live match) so I want to make sure my brain is battle ready for the stress of the one-set matches ahead.

On the PowerShares Series we play in shootout type tournaments where there is little room for error. A one-set match can be over very quickly if you start slowly and get behind early on. Being down 3-0 in a best of 3 sets match isn\'t a real cause for concern but it absolutely is when you\'re playing a one-set match. It took me a few tournaments last year to get used to the format but now that I know what I\'m dealing with I\'ll be better equipped for it in 2012. The key for me is to make sure I am good and warmed up physically and ready to go from first ball mentally. There\'s no \"feeling\" your way into these matches. It\'s a sprint from first ball.

I played a good hard set in practice today. I was sharp. I am ready. I am tired of waiting.
 
March 7, 2011
http://www.usta.com/us_captain_jim_courier_blogs_from_santiago_chile/
 
January 4, 2011
Happy New Year everyone. Soon I will be off to Melbourne to commentate for Australia's Channel 7 but top of mind for me at the moment is the newly announced format of the 2011 Champions Series which is coming to North America this fall. These events will see the best champion players playing each other in one-night shootouts' which will be a blast for us to play in. The reason I still like to play competitively after 22 years of pro tennis is to test myself against the best in my peer group and see if I can still handle the pressure to perform when the chips are down. When you have two one-set semifinals followed immediately by a final, as the new format provides, the pressure will undoubtedly be high and so will the energy in the arena.

I know it's a bit early to start hard core training since the CS begins after the US Open but I am already working physically to get my movement and endurance up to speed after a nice December of rest and relaxation. I am also switching rackets (Donnay is the new stick) to get a little more power and a bigger sweet spot which is my first nod to a slower first step which comes with being 40 years old. With the new rackets I have moved to a hybrid string combination (currently trying a few different brands like Luxilon/Babolat in the cross string to go along with my standard Gosen 16 gauge nylon in the mains) to take advantage of the new angled shots the poly strings allow you to hit. I think my backhand may be better now than it was 20 years ago, but then again that's not saying too much. In any case, I am eager and excited to tackle the best of the best on the 2011 Champions Series and look forward to seeing you tennis fans out there along the way.
 
May 20, 2010
Roland Garros. Just the name of the site of the French Open brings a warm feeling to my body. The overall scene is spectacular there. Paris in the springtime is tough to beat with the flowers covering the gorgeous grounds of the tennis center and knowledgeable fans excited to see great tennis while dressed in their elegant manner. Overall it's a tough vibe to beat as a player and spectator. I haven't been at the French since I gave out the trophy to Guga in 2001 but I hope to get back there to enjoy the special energy there again some day.

RG has my favorite tennis court in the entire world; the "bull ring" or court 1. It's the cylindrical court off to the side of Court Central. It has a different sound than any other outdoor court I've played on due to it's shape. The ball echoes in there as if you're playing on an indoor court. It gives you the feeling that you're hitting the ball bigger than normal, which I love. And the crowd envelops you in a bull ring like circle. I played many memorable matches there, starting with a win in 1989 over Andre Agassi in the 3rd round and then a 5 set defeat the next day on the same court to Andrei Chesnokov after leading 2 sets to love. Talk about a whirlwind of emotions in 24 hours. Court 1 is a must-see for any fans and an amazing place to spend a few hours grinding out a match as a player.

So, on to the task at hand; thoughts on the 2010 edition. First up, the men:

Rafa is (spoiler alert) the favorite. So long as Rafa is healthy he remains the dominant force on the dirt until further notice (and deterioration due to injury or age). He's undefeated on the clay with three big titles in 2010 and fresher due to a smarter schedule. I think he wins RG without ever being in danger of losing. With respect to all the other fantastic male pros in the draw, I think he will lose 2 sets or less in the entire tournament, going 21-2 or better in the set department. I wish this could be considered a brave prediction but it just looks very matter of fact to me. So, who is Rafa's competition? I haven't seen the draw as of this writing so this won't take the breaks of the sections into account but he's #2 again so we know that Fed's in the top and Rafa on the bottom.

Federer is the most likely player to make the finals on his side of the draw but, with all due respect to Roger's greatness, the match up against Rafa is still as grim as ever for him on this surface. Still, I like his momentum coming off of the Madrid finals result and I predict he will make the semis at least to keep his utterly absurd streak of consecutive major semifinals alive. Roger is fresh and ready to go. And if he makes the semis he is guaranteed to take the all-time number of weeks at #1 record away from Sampras so there's some extra motivation there in the back of his mind I am sure (though I don't expect him to admit it to the media until he clinches it).

The biggest disappointment for me is that Juan Martin Del Potro is not playing RG due to wrist surgery and that is a shame. I think he is Rafa's biggest competition on the dirt in the next few years, assuming he can get his wrist back to full strength. Rafa may have the edge in the "match up" with Federer due to his FH going high into Rog's BH but I think Del Potro has the edge in the match up with Rafa due to his height and ability to blunt Rafa's FH with his BH alongside his superior power and serving ability. We clearly saw that in NYC last summer (even taking into account Rafa wasn't 100% confident there). Ultimately you need to be able to blow Rafa off of the court to beat him (see Soderling, Robin) and very few guys can do that on the slower clay surface. DP is that guy. I relish the day when DP and Rafa are at full strength and go toe to toe in Paris over best of 5. I'll want to be there to see that one in person.

Davydenko is out with injury as well and he can disrupt at Slams but hasn't shown he can push it to the limit on the biggest stage yet. Ferrer has had a great clay season and should go deep, possibly a final if he stays out of Rafa's half. Watch out for Gulbis too as he's finally realizing his talent. Verdasco in the semis? I can see that. Murray in the quarters is doable but I don't like his chances against a Ferrer or high quality dirtballer along those lines. Almagro is a threat too.

What about the Frenchmen? Plenty of talent there with Monfils and Tsonga. Would be fun to see one of them make a run like Monfils did the other year. Will Gasquet ever recapture his magic or is he too mentally damaged from the suspension drama to find it again? (side note: I'll take his backhand if he doesn't need it anymore)

Americans can have a good run if the clay and balls play fast (and I define "good" as 4th round or better). Andy, Sam, John, Mardy, Taylor, Robbie, et al need to maximize their offensive games on the dirt by serving big and being aggressive when they get the opportunity (wait for the right shot to be aggressive and then let it rip) and need to be ready to grind if they catch one of those heavy/wet/cold days that come through the French each year at some point. Those cold days are the days to get your drop shot going as the ball just dies on the damp surface if you can deftly place it in the right spots. Sam and John have had good results on the clay and if Andy can play with abandon the way he did in sets 2 and 3 against Rafa in Key Biscayne and in sets 3 and 4 against Cilic in Melbourne good things will happen.

Punch line; Rafa wins. Now to the women:

Justine Henin is my favorite, no matter where she is seeded. We'll see if she's mentally prepared to play big in the key moments. She had her first tournament win since the comeback on the dirt the other week and she has plenty of match toughness in the tank now. Making the Aussie final was a fantastic launch to her season but I wasn't sure she looked like she believed she could win a Slam that soon. Now her body has readjusted to the rigors of the tour and her mind should be in a comfortable place as far as knowing she's prepared to win rather than wondering if she is, as I felt was the case in Australia. And having Clijsters out of the draw is good for her too since Kim has gotten her a few times this year.

Serena overpowered Justine in the Melbourne finals but that is a lot harder to do on the dirt. Serena's played a light schedule since Melbourne but it's a Slam, she seems to be healthy and this is go-time with the French-Wimby busy season now upon her. I expect her to be in the semis at least. She's Serena...she knows how to turn it on when the big lights shine.

Venus is back at 2 in the world but clay is not her go-to surface. That would be grass. She's gotten the matches she needed to be ready for Paris and I think she'll roll to the quarters or better this year. Madrid finals had to feel good, even losing to Rezai. And she and Serena will win the doubles just for the spare change and practice.

So who else can win? With Aravane Rezai and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez winning big events in the lead up it's pretty cloudy. I'm not sure there are too many others to mention that could realistically go the distance. Jankovic has shown a few glimpses of her best self recently but she would need to overcome some doubts. Wozniacki has been inconsistent but could definitely turn it up but a win may be out of reach at this moment. Stosur has really shown some clay style this season but winning a major would be a huge mental jump for her. Sharapova is back but how healthy is that shoulder? Kuze, Dementieva, Azarenka...I'm feeling a lot of upsets/uncertainty in the women's draw. An unseeded Ivanovic could cause some havoc.

I'm very interested to see how Melanie Oudin's game develops in the coming majors. She's struggled since her US Open breakout last year but had some great success in Fed Cup. I don't think clay is the ticket for her just yet but she's tenacious and that alone could get her out into the 3rd round or so.

In short, I am going with Justine for her 4th consecutive win and reserve the right to be terribly, wildly off the mark with all of my predictions/thoughts.

If you're like me it's time to free up space on the DVR, lock in the auto record for tennis on NBC-ESPN2-Tennis Channel and let the games begin.
 
March 30, 2010
Back in NYC now, having recovered from the trip down to Rio for the initial Champions Series event of the year. Rio is one of the earth's most beautiful cities and we had a great time there. But like most things seen from the outside, pro tennis can seem a lot more glamorous than it is in real life and our trip home from Rio certainly underscored that. Here are some details from our departure to better illustrate:

Flights out of Rio depart late in the evening back to both Europe and the US so all of the foreign players, save Mikael Pernfors who had flown back Saturday night and Wayne Ferreira who was staying an extra day in Rio, were booked to depart on Sunday evening following the 3rd place and Championship matches on Sunday. Cedric Pioline, Marat Safin, Mark Philippoussis, Mats Wilander and myself along with Champions Series head honcho Jon Venison and Mats' wife, Sonya all met up in our airline's VIP lounge (business class, one of the perks of Champions Series life) to await the boarding of our planes. Marat and Cedric were headed back to Paris at 11:30pm and the rest of us were going to NYC at 11pm, or so we thought. Note: we're all flying on the same Brazilian airline.

10pm: We got word that the airport runways had just been closed due to severe weather (and we knew it had been awful earlier as Guns N Roses were set to play a live show in Rio outdoors that night at 10pm and around 6pm the stage had collapsed from high winds which forced the concert to be cancelled and their staff to overflow our hotel lobby as we left for the airport). We're all travel veterans so no one thought too much of the runways closing until they told us that the plane we would be traveling on to NYC had been diverted en route to Rio to another Brazilian city and was currently a one-hour flight away from Rio, which meant that it was parked until they re-opened the runways. We were now looking at a substantial delay if you did the math...airport closed indefinitely plus 1 hour flight plus turnaround time of at least 1 hour to clean-refuel-load baggage-board passengers-etc prior to taking off = NotGood.com. The better news for Marat and Ced was that their Paris plane had arrived safely so they just needed the airport to re-open to get going. Mark was regaling us with stories of how he walks his gal's dogs around in the NYC snow and getting a lot of grief from the fellas about it. Marat and Cedric found the concept of the big man being pulled along by these little creatures (I can't recall what breed they are) exceptionally funny. There's some video of this and some of our other airport moments at www.youtube.com/championsseries. We settled into our seats a bit deeper and waited for an update. We were still in a pretty good mood. That would change soon enough.

11pm (1 hour later) : The lady who works the desk in the lounge (we'll call her "lounge lady") is still reporting the airport is closed when asked but as I get up to stretch my legs and take a walk around the airport I notice planes are taking off. Something was not smelling right. I pass Mats who is walking around as well and we both just shake our heads. This is going to be a long trip home...we have no idea just how long.

11:30pm (30 mins later) : Lounge lady is being asked a lot of questions by passengers, including some of our group, as impatience starts to rear its ugly head. People want an update and she's doing a very, very poor job of disseminating information. One of the other passengers, a woman from NYC, appears to be a litigator as she is absolutely grilling lounge lady like she's cross-examining a witness. Lounge lady seems to have no information and the litigator's requests for the supervisor are going unheeded. People are now starting to sit/lay on the lounge floor, as there are more people than seats due to the overflow of flights waiting to depart. We can't figure out just which planes are taking off as no one is leaving our lounge. It sure doesn't seem like the Rio air traffic controllers are giving our airline , the home team, any preferential treatment. This is not going in a good direction.

12:30am (1 hour later) : Marat has been sleeping on the floor and Ced and I have captured some nice pictures and video of him passed out to amuse ourselves. I have also been interviewing Mark and Jon with my Flip video to fight boredom off. They call the Paris flight for boarding. The rest of us bid Marat and Ced farewell and hunker back down, again asking for information on our plane's whereabouts. Now that the runways are back open (lounge lady has to concede that fact now that the boys flight to Paris has been called) our plane is supposedly in the air headed to Rio and due to land in 30 minutes. We're also asking about the crew, as in "do you have a back-up crew standing by since we are not leaving here before 2am and your original crew may not be legally allowed to fly due to pilot restrictions on amount of hours in the cockpit?" The look of confusion on lounge lady's face is not comforting as she doesn't appear to have any idea what we are talking about. Where's that supervisor?

1am (30 mins later) : I fall to sleep in a very uncomfortable chair. Sonya is crashed in a similar chair as well. Our plane should be arriving any minute.

1:30am (30 mins later) : My neck is killing me from sleeping in the chair. I wake up and ask the boys for an update. Mats, Mark and Jon are still up talking, killing time. Our plane still hasn't arrived. Uh-oh. Lounge lady has some explaining to do, something she's not qualified for.

2am (30 mins later) : More rumblings from lounge lady about how our plane is now, finally, seriously, in the air and on the way to Rio. Sure it is...passengers are nearing riot level upstairs at the gate, according to the boys who venture up for a look-see, and there is a continuing request for the airline supervisor to explain what is actually happening to everyone, which is ignored again. The supervisor, who is clearly a master of survival, is likely hiding in his office and is experienced enough to know not to come out and try to deal with this problem. Well played, sir.

2:15am (15 mins later) : I go back to sleep, this time on the floor using my headphone case as a pillow. Desperate times call for desperate measures. I sleep fitfully and in increments, waking every 10 minutes or so to try to find a better position to sleep in.

4am (2 hours later) : Jon and Mark wake me and tell me "we're going" so I scramble up, grab my stuff and follow them, Mats and Sonya out of the lounge (goodbye, lounge lady!), excited to get on the plane into a comfortable chair and begin the 10 hour flight back home. I'm following them and about 25 others out of the lounge expecting to turn left to go upstairs to the gate but we turn right instead, staying on the ground level, and head pass customs into baggage claim at which point I catch up to the boys (and Sonya) and ask them "what the hell are we doing?". "The flight's been cancelled, we're getting our bags and going to a hotel," Jon tells me. "They booked another plane for us leaving at 11:30am later today". This is now officially a debacle.

4:30am (30 mins later) : Our bags finally arrive. Where do we go now? Back upstairs to re-check them in at the normal check-in line where we were at 9pm and get our hotel/taxi/food vouchers. I'll spare you all of the gory details of waiting in the line but suffice to say the inefficiency levels of the airline set a new standard in air travel and there was a fair amount of venom being directed at their officials by the passengers, a situation that was becoming habitual.

6am (90 mins later): All of our group has just now finished the process of re-checking our bags (we are now officially ON TILT) and we have made the collective decision not to go to the hotel they offered up. The hotel was a 30 minute drive from the airport with no traffic at 6am...probably 60-90 minutes coming back to the airport at 9am when we would need to leave. A lot of stress for 2 hrs sleep = not worth it. Instead we head to an airport coffee shop to eat toasted ham and cheese sandwiches and drink coffee with our awesome food vouchers (about $22 worth of local currency to spend; for breakfast. We're set!). We're in survival mode, trying to stay awake until we get on the plane since the only comfortable place to sleep in the airport is on our plane which we will board in 5 hours supposedly at 11am.

8:00am (2 hours later) : We clear security for the second time in 10 hours and head back to where it all began, the awesomeness of the VIP lounge. Sweet...at least lounge lady has gone home and there's a new guy there. I don't think we could have taken any more of her act.

8:15am (15 mins later): When you're fighting to stay awake the internet is as good a place as any to try to amuse oneself. Mats and I are surfing the web like it's the north shore of Hawaii (cnn.com, nytimes.com, pagesix.com, comedycentral.com, funnyordie.com, etc) while the others have now conceded to fatigue/full stomachs and are attempting to sleep in various compromised positions. There's a woman who's pulled two chairs together who is dead to the world, so much so that when her phone alarm starts going off it doesn't wake her. It is in her purse in the seat, right next to her head, yet she cannot hear it. Meanwhile it's all the entire lounge can hear as it sounds like a mortar shell going off to our jangled nerves. Finally after the alarm cycles through the 4th time without her waking, I can't take it anymore. I get up, walk over and begin going through her purse to try and sedate the monster, which causes her to wake with a look of sheer terror as she is now certain that she is being mugged...by me! She is panicked but soon understands her alarm is the mugger and she slays the beast so we can all go back to our respective states of discomfort. Are we all edgy? You bet.

9:30am (75 mins later) : We should be boarding in 2 hours. I feel like I'm deep in a 5th set, using all of my reserves to get by. Mats is still surfing but I can't focus anymore. He's always had remarkable concentration. Mark and Jon are sleeping side by side in chairs...cute couple as I'm sure their respective ladies will appreciate. Sonya is also asleep nearby. I put some music on and sit upright in a chair to try to keep myself awake but it doesn't work, even at high volume, and I drift into a semi-conscious state.

11am (90 mins later) : It's go time! It feels like Christmas as we bid the lounge adieu and head upstairs to finally board the flight. We should already be in NYC by now but at least we're moving in something other than circles. We give our tickets to the guy at the gate ("gate guy") who asks us to wait just a few minutes before we go on board as they are still putting the catering on the plane. Um, didn't you have enough time to do that in the 7 hours since you cancelled our other flight?? And why can't we board the plane while you put catering on from the opposite side doors? I've seen that done often enough to know that it's possible.

11:30am (30 mins later) : It was a mistake to have everyone get out of their seats, into a line to get on the plane 30 minutes ago. We've been standing in front of the entrance to the gate since 11am and this airlines deficiencies continue. These guys need to hire a McKinsey or Parthenon Group to give them some recommendations on how to improve their customer service and communications. Gate guy refuses to get on the loudspeaker and explain to everyone what is going on so instead he is going 10 feet at a time and saying the same thing over and over again in both English and Portuguese ("we're still waiting for catering, it will just be a few minutes more and we'll begin boarding"). Gate guy is about to get beaten up by a mob. Can't this airline walk and chew gum at the same time? How hard is it to put food in the galley while passengers go to their seats? Seriously...I can't make this stuff up. The passengers are getting understandably more and more upset and now a soccer clap breaks out with all passengers (save some confused tennis players) clapping loudly in unison. We are nearing riot level again. Gate guy retreats to the safety of the walkway between the plane and the gate where no one can get to him and waits for the plane to be ready. Gate guy isn't coming anywhere near the passengers until he has good news.

12pm (30 mins later) : After 1 hour of standing at the gate (and 13 hours after our scheduled departure time) we are finally allowed to board the flight. We take a hard glance at gate guy as we walk past, simultaneously ready to swing at him for the inconvenience and happier than we've ever been to get on the plane. We settle into our comfortable chairs (seriously, this thing felt like the best chair I had ever been in...it's situational) and take off 30 minutes later with a smooth climb out to 35,000 feet.

12:30pm-9:30pm (10 hour flight but a 1 hour time change due to daylight savings back to EST): I think everyone is so relieved to be moving, as well as completely fatigued, that we all calm down and let the stress dissipate. I take a Tylenol pm, kick the seat into recline and sleep 8 solid hours. I don't even care that my body clock is going to be screwed up for the next few days. I just need to get through this flight and I do. Mats, Sonya, Mark and Jon all sleep well also. The flight was uneventful, which feels like some sort of miracle.

9:30pm (10 hours later) : Pay dirt. We land at JFK, tired, dirty and happy as hell to be home. Mats and Sonya still have a trek back to Sun Valley ahead that will now take place tomorrow so they're still on the road but for Mark, Jon and me it's the end of the line. It didn't come soon enough but we made it in the end...

10pm (30 mins later) : With bags in hand and customs cleared we say goodbye to Mats and Sonya and head into NYC. The taxi line is mercifully short, it's not too cold and before you know it we cross the Williamsburg bridge into Manhattan. Home is not too far away...

10:40pm (40 mins later) : 27 hours and 40 minutes after leaving the hotel in Rio, I walk into my apartment. Home, sweet home.

Does professional tennis = glamour? Sometimes, but not all of the time. Certainly not this time.

ps. Keep your eyes open on www.youtube.com/championsseries in the coming weeks as we will be posting some more scenes from inside the Rio locker room as well as the aforementioned Rio airport footage.
 
March 10, 2010
It's that time of year again: time to strap on the shoes, tighten the strings and gear up for some Champions Series tennis. It's been a cold winter in NYC so I'm excited to get down to our first stop of the season in Rio de Janeiro (although 2 weeks doing TV in Australia in January certainly broke up the cold a bit). Today's Tuesday and I'm flying overnight tomorrow to Rio, arriving early Thursday morning before we fire up the quarterfinal action on Friday night. It's a pretty easy flight, I sleep well on planes and the time change is minimal. I'll be good to go.

They've assembled a terrific lineup of players for this year's Rio event, led by Marat Safin's debut in Champions tennis. I'm looking forward to seeing Marat Safin bring his power and all around game, not to mention all-around personality, to the Champions Series. He's a great guy, lots of fun as you would imagine and certainly will be a fan favorite straight away. He's never been to Brazil before, let alone played there, so that will bring an extra level of interest to the tournament which is always a good thing. Marat's still single and in Rio that aspect alone could make for an interesting week.

My first match is against Mats Wilander. Nothing like starting with a 7-time major champ in your face...I've been hitting quite a lot in NYC with Mark Philippoussis (Flipper) so I should be ready to go for this tourney, and I'll need to be obviously. Flipper's already down there gearing up for the tournament and everyone else is getting in either Wednesday or Thursday. It's go-time.

End note:
I got to see quite a bit of the US-Serbia Davis Cup tie this weekend on TV. Looked like our team put up a great fight. That experience, even in defeat, will be valuable for both Sam and John going fwd. As their games mature the US will continue to be a team other countries won't like facing and a threat to win it. I can't imagine it's much fun having to return those guys serves all weekend long for an opponent. A tip of the hat to Andy and James for their years of service and another tip of the hat to the new guys, along with Mike and Bob (bummer about the food poisoning, Mike) for representing the Stars and Stripes with honor and excellent tennis, even in defeat.
 
January 20, 2010
Day 3 of the Australian Open is starting in a few hours, where I'm doing TV for Australia's Channel 7 for the 6th year in a row. It's been a cool start, temperature wise, at a tournament known for some extreme heat and so far there hasn't been an overabundance of sweat for the top players in their opening rounds. But it's early yet...

The only major upset thus far was in the women's side with Kirilenko over Sharapova. Maria S looked like she needed a little more match play before getting back to peak form again but I'm still glad to see she's able to serve with her old wind-up again after abbreviating it last summer on her return following 10 months away with a shoulder issue. She needs more match play but if her shoulder is 100% she'll be back as a contender sooner than later. The big story is the return of the Belgians, Clijsters and Henin, after sabbaticals from the sport (let's all please stop calling players who step away in their early to mid-twenties "retirements" unless they suffer a career ending injury). Get out your popcorn for tonight's Henin-Dementieva second round match. That should be a beauty.

On the men's side, Federer had a pretty good scare with Andreev but used his experience to get through a 4 setter while most of the other top males have cruised, looking impressive and confident. Del Potro's tendonitis was the only other major concern for the top guys in the first round. One thing I know about tendonitis is that rest is the only solution, so Del Potro will continue to suffer in this event. Only he knows exactly how bad the tendonitis is and he's not saying much.

While it's currently very pleasant in Melbourne the weather can and does change quickly here. However, unlike in past years, the extreme heat is really only a factor in the first week of the event for top players like Fed and Rafa who mostly play night matches. Until the last few years most of the matches were played in the day, including both semifinals and the finals, where it can get up to 110 degrees this time of the year down here. Now the night sessions have taken precedence for the biggest matches. Once we get into the second week of this event the extreme heat is not much of a factor when you consider that from the quarterfinals on, in the men's side, only 2 matches (one quarterfinal each next Wednesday and Thursday) will be contested in the day session. The two marquee quarterfinals, both semis and the finals are night matches. There can still be a fitness factor in play (see last year's semifinal with Verdasco/Rafa at over 5 hours) but the heat can't beat players at the end of these events like it used to.
 
September 4, 2009
The Open is in full flight now and as expected the top men are cruising and the top woman seem to be struggling. Nothing has really changed my mind so far that I've seen as far as the favorites go.

Rafa looked good and I'll be watching him closely this weekend to see how his 'braking' looks on the court. I would imagine the knee feels the pounding the most when he slams on his brakes to change directions, which at his weight class puts more pressure on his than most. In any case, it's great to have him back in the mix and the 2nd week is shaping up to be a beauty.

As terrific as it is for Melanie Oudin to have beaten Dementieva it's even better for Maria Sharapova's chances to go deep in this tournament. She's made a nice adjustment to her serve toss (lower) that seems to be working out well so far. Also good to have her back.

This is a busy time for me with Open TV commitments, meetings and normal work for InsideOut on the Outback Champions Series and continued physical prep for the Breezeplay Championships in Charlotte which are coming up at the end of this month w/Pistol Pete headlining.
 
August 25, 2009
So close, yet...still no grass court title. Another final, another loss to a natural grass courter. I feel like that character in the Peanuts comic strip who keeps getting the football pulled just as they're about to kick it. Frustrating for sure. "Thanks Cashy" for the beat downs two years running in Newport. I am pleased, however, that I made the final. Beating the big fella, Todd Martin, on grass was a particularly good win, but it's a bittersweet aftertaste this week.

So, what's next? Well, first of all this week there's plenty to do as the Outback tour looks ahead to the next event (on hard court) in Charlotte in September, the Breezeplay Championships at The Palisades w/Pistol Pete headlining a tough field. I was in the office working with my fellow InsideOut crew reviewing the marketing materials (radio spots, TV spots, print ads, web ads, outdoor ads, direct mail, eblasts...all of the channels we use to let people in the region know the tournament is coming) yesterday, although I'm trying to take a day off after the tournament this past weekend. I'll probably hit a few tennis balls later this week to keep sharp for the fall tournaments to come and hoping to work out of the home office the rest of the week as much as possible.

I'm also doing prep work for my telecast duties for the US Open as I will be shooting the preview show this Friday at the tennis center with Dick Enberg and Mary Carillo. Since I rarely do TV work (Australian Open TV for their network, Channel 7 and the CBS gig at the Open are my 09 TV weeks) I have to work to get caught up on everything by reviewing my notes from last year's Open, scouring the web, etc so I'm up to speed. I follow along on TV and the web regularly but it's not the same when you're not around the tour talking to people regularly and I haven't been at an ATP/WTA event since the Aussie Open in January. Since I won't be calling many live matches for CBS (I'll be the studio guy mostly) I need to be prepared with background info, stories, big picture vantage points to help paint the scene with an economy of words. Calling live matches requires less prep for me than studio work since it's pretty easy to react to the flow of a match, point things out that the viewer is not likely noticing so they enjoy the match in a different way, etc. You have a lot longer to get your prepared points across in a 2 hour match. Being in the studio is a different skill set that requires succinct points that hit their mark/make impact immediately and you also have to be prepared for the director/producer to cut you off in your earpiece when you're mid-point to say "get us out in 15 seconds" so they can get to a commercial break...it's a dance for sure with your partner on the desk. Bill Macatee will be my studio partner I think for CBS and we've worked for years on USA Network together so that's helpful since he's a smooth pro who makes the difficult look very easy and we know how to work well together already. Doing TV (well) is more of a challenge than you may think which is why I find it interesting from time to time. This is my first year with CBS so I'm very interested to see how they do things as every group has their own unique method in the production truck to making tennis come to life on your TV screen.

Lastly, my friend Alex O'Brien is in NYC with his wife/daughter staying with us for a few days too. Since my girlfriend and I always stay at their place in LA when we head west it's nice to reciprocate and share some east coast time with them. One of the great things about the Open is all of the friends who gather that you get to catch up with. Looking forward to seeing some great friends and great tennis in the coming weeks.
 
August 11, 2009
Just putting the finishing touches on my grass court preparation as I turn my full attention to the Hall of Fame Champions Cup next week in Newport. I have been hard at practice lately, having played both Stefan Edberg and Michael Chang in some matches at the LA Open as well as hitting the courts and gym here in NYC.

It's been a rather odd summer of weather so far in New York with lots of rain and lower than average temperatures. That doesn't really affect me at all these days since I prefer practicing indoors any time of the year in any case. Here are a few reasons why I like to practice indoors;
1. I don't have to deal with the sun which means no sunscreen to apply. Having lived in Florida and worked outside most of my life I have had more than enough sun to last a lifetime. Given that I am more "melanin-challenged" than most I am more than happy to avoid the sun where possible.
2. The temperature is always perfect and there's never any wind. I find that (again, having grown up in Fla where its windy all of the time and too toasty/humid in summer) I have less tolerance for those things as I mature so I'd rather save what little energy I have to deal with any nuisance when I'm at a tournament.
3. While in winter indoor courts can be tougher to book, in the summer I have virtual run of the courts in the clubs I play at. Feels like I'm at my own private court.
4. With no elements to deal with there are no excuses to missing shots so I have a very good idea of what level my game is when I head out for a tourney.

Moving on to the tournament, playing in Newport at the Hall is a blast and I am looking forward to getting back up there to see if I can FINALLY win a grass court tournament. Never did it in juniors or pros so it would be nice to get over the hump. My biggest opposition will be Martin, Cash, Philippoussis, Ferreira and my extreme grips.

Being in LA was nice to see some of the ATP guys play as I haven't been to a tour event since the Australian Open this year. Sam Q looked like he is playing some awfully good tennis and so is Tommy Haas. The Bryan Bros just keep on rolling and were also busy cutting a music EP in the studio that week...very cool. I watched a fair bit of DC and the WTA-Carson event on the TV this wkend and thought Andy R looked excellent and JM Del Potro played an amazing tiebreaker to get him in the final. Hoping that JBlake and MFish can get themselves healthy as they are both on the sidelines w/injuries they suffered in DCup in July. And the US Open is around the corner where I will be joining the CBS crew for some weekend action as the studio guy for an up close vantage point.

Hope your summer has been as smooth as mine so far. Come see us in Newport if you're looking for a last minute vacation spot.
 
July 5, 2009
With what looked to me like the Mount Rushmore of men's tennis watching (Rocket, Bjorn and appropriately Pistol), Fed withstood the Roddick assault and came out on the other side with another Wimbledon crown. Roger did what I expected him to today but it was a different match than I expected. Rog played a very solid match and waited for his chances but Andy was up for the battle. Rog played offense when he could and tried to lure Andy into the net with short slice backhands as per usual. Roddick's game plan was different than what Fed has seen in their 20 matches preceding and Fed was not only fighting to get the Roddick serve back but now Andy was pushing him in the baseline rallies and holding his own for the most part. With Roddick serving around 70% that should have been unbeatable, right? What does Rog do? He cranks up his own serve, serving a career high 50 aces. He saves 2 key break points in the 5th with a service winner and a swinging FH volley. He hangs in and hangs in until finally he gets a look and toughs out a break for the match. The great ones find a way and he did it for the 15th time...and counting.

Andy played at an incredible standard. I hope he's able to take some positives away from this tournament but I am also sure that at the moment it's awfully tough to feel anything but crushed, (having lost a 5th set in a major final myself I recall that feeling all too well). He has so much to be proud of, starting with the class he displayed after the match. I'd never seen Andy hold his own in baseline rallies against Fed the way he did in this final. Sure he served unbelievably well but Andy held serve every single time until the last game of the match not just because of the quality of his serves. He also made better choices with his shots overall, showing more patience and belief in himself than he ever has against Rog. The backhand down the line's today were tremendous and I also liked the variety of serve locations, with many body serves keeping Rog off guard (trying not to get hit). Now with his lighter frame, Andy's playing better defense and that should continue to pay off for him going forward. He's getting better. I don't think the Roddick who won the US Open in 2003 would stand a chance against today's version and for that he should be awfully proud. Now he just needs a little bit of luck to go with that skill to hoist another major trophy over his head again. He certainly deserved one today.

I didn't get to see all of the Women's final (missed the 1st seven games) but it was no surprise that the Williams sisters continued to show that they are the best players out there, no matter what the rankings say. Serena's effort in the semi's may have propelled her in the final. Saving a match point can often make you feel free in your next matches and she played like that once she secured the breaker. And how sweet for them to be able to win a doubles title together and allow Venus to put the singles out of mind for a little bit. We'll be watching the movie on these women one day. A truly amazing story that's still being written.

This is a very special time for tennis. The quality of play as well as sportsmanship is remarkable and the individuals who populate the upper echelon of tennis these days are more than just worthy champions, they are fantastic ambassadors for the sport. These are role models for any parent to point to. The sport is in safe hands and a lot of fun to watch these days. And for that, all tennis people should all be thankful. Now, on to the Open...
 
June 29, 2009
Week two of Wimby starts up now and it's always good to appreciate the past as we look to the future so, with that in mind, here are some thoughts on Wimby 2009.

The Ladies:

The favorites have made their way into week 2 pretty comfortably, with the notable exceptions of Sharapova, who is still adjusting to her surgically repaired shoulder and new service motion that resulted from it, and Jankovic who was upended by her equilibrium and a plucky 17 year old American. Let's get under the hood and look around...

Williams sisters sweep anyone? Singles and doubles? As the French say, "plus ca' change, plus c'est la meme chose". It's not hard to understand why the two women with the best combination of power and movement have dominated this tournament. With the Venus wingspan, court coverage, power and self belief (which automatically lifts a notch at Wimby like Sampras' used to) it's no mystery why she's the favorite here. Serena is not as tall as her big sister and on this surface that matters. Venus' defense shrinks the court, forcing her opponents to try to hit the ball closer and closer to the line. And then she cranks up the offense and her opponents can't cover the court like her. Add it all up and the 5 titles (and counting?) are easily understood.

Tip of the hat to Ivanovic for the win over Stosur. That match may have saved her year. Can't see her beating Venus in the 16's but she needed a boost after changing coaches again and beating Stosur, who has a good game for grass, and getting back into the conversation was much needed.

Safina has been quietly doing her thing and hasn't dropped a set en route to week 2. With her power, her game is good for grass. She has a tricky draw w/Mauresmo to play Wozniacki. Feels like one of those ladies takes her out. If not, Venus awaits in the semis. Her game looks solid but her mental state is what bears observing.

Azarenka and Wozniacki are in the conversation now and they certainly are handling themselves like they expect to start winning majors soon, which is what they should be thinking. They're both putting down the building blocks this year and by the US Open could be true contenders. Not just yet at Wimbledon but go long on these two in general.

Sharapova needs time. That's all. She missed 9 months of action and is working her way back into match toughness which she will likely have in place by the US Open. She seems to still be fearful of her body's past betrayal and is tentative with her serve. Also, with an altered service motion, she has to build confidence in an adjusted technique under pressure which can only be done in full public view. This is all totally normal and she is on schedule as far as I am concerned. In time, assuming she doesn't feel twinges of pain in her shoulder, she'll come to trust in her body again which will allow her to freewheel it on court and then the results will quickly follow. Of course, she may have to adjust to some physical limitations but as long as she keeps her fighting spirit, which is her best attribute, she will be back challenging for majors soon enough.

In the semis I expect to see Wozniacki v Venus and Serena v Dementieva.

The Gentlemen:

Not too many surprises of note on the men's side thus far. All the major protagonists are either in week 2 or on the beach in Spain. Here's my breakdown.

Roger's looked excellent in week 1, playing as if he had left some excess baggage back in Paris. He should be fine against Soderling in the 16's but if Karlovic gets past Verdasco as I suspect he will there will be serious danger for Rog in the quarters. As Rog pointed out in a press conference earlier in the tournament, it's not exactly "tennis" when you play Ivo, it's a lot about guesswork and chance. Rog is as good as I've seen at sensing serving patterns and blocking big heaters back (see Fed v Roddick) but Ivo's angle of attack from 6'10" is simply brutal on any surface. They've played 9 times and Rog is 8-1 including a Wimby win in 04 and two wins this year but in those 9 matches they've played tiebreak's 12 times out of 22 sets. Nerve wracking stuff and certain to have Rog on edge if Ivo gets by Verdasco.

Murray has it going now after a tougher match against Robert Kendrick than most of the UK expected. He's such a crafty player and one the other players should be studying since he is a walking playbook on how to dismantle opponents. Most players have their "A" game that they enjoy using most days and will shift out of if things are working on that day into plans B, C, D, etc., but Andy is a chameleon which makes him unique and very, very enlightening to watch. An opponent likes pace? Here come the high looping balls or slow slices with nothing on them until the player implodes. Watching Andy dissect an opponent and get them to beat themselves is a gift that not many players have and it's why he is going to win many majors. Maybe even this week.

Novak has been flying under the radar with lowered expectations, seemingly his own and the media's, which makes him very dangerous. He played some awesome tennis in the first week (just ask Mardy Fish) and has the draw he would have hoped for to reach the semis. The pressure of "hosting" the Serbian ATP event that he bought with his family wore him out in the clay court season in my opinion. That coupled with the 4 hr loss to Rafa in Madrid made him a shell of himself in Paris but now that he's had a little time to recover and shift gears to another surface he could hoist a trophy in a week if he keeps up the level he showed in week 1. He's the 3rd favorite behind Fed-Murray.

It was a meat and potatoes kind of first week for the other Andy of note. Roddick played solidly in his 3 matches and was very crafty in his own way against Melzer in round 3, using the slice to allow Melzer to beat himself in baseline exchanges for a few sets before Jurgen adjusted to it, which forced Andy to shift into more of a power gear to close him out. Andy should get into the semis for a huge match w/Murray.

Hewitt over Del Potro was not an upset in my book. On this surface I had Lleyton as the favorite and he didn't disappoint. Normally pre-Slam exo's don't mean a lot to the fellas but I believe the win Lleyton had over Rafa (fit or not) a few days prior to Wimby was the confidence boost that lead to the win over Juan Martin and into the 2nd week. The road ahead is tough w/Stepanek and then likely Roddick but for Hewitt to get a top 10 win again on center court puts some wind back into his sail as he heads toward the US Open Series.

Rafa has been sorely missed. The energy of this event is different without him. Of course there are amazing storylines out there with Murray and Fed both trying to create some history but having Rafa in the mix would have sweetened the pot for sure. Here's to healthy knees for Rafa so the run up to the US Open is a battle for the #1 year end ranking.

Sure looks like Roddick v Murray and Fed v Djokovic in the semis. But then again, they play the matches on the court, not on the computer, so my opinion is worth exactly what you are paying for it...nothing.
 
June 22, 2009
It feels like just yesterday that the French was wrapping up and already, for better (fans) or worse (players), Wimbledon commences this morning. The tournament has huge energy this year with Fed on the verge of a magical number in men's tennis...15 majors. Also with the debut of the roof there is a curiosity regarding how the court will play indoors versus outdoors. What a shame that a rematch of last year's final is no longer a possibility. Let's all cross our fingers for a quick recovery for Rafa and a big summer of hard court tennis in North America that sees the resumption of Rafa v Rog.

I recall very well making the transition from clay to grass and it was never easy or much fun for me. The better you play in Paris the tougher it is to be ready both physically and mentally for the big W but you do what you have to do. In my case, due to the way the grass played, I had to shelve my normal game, suck it up as best I could (trying to smile at least once during the tournament) and grind my way through the grass court world for a few weeks if I could last that long. It was Wimbledon after all...In my early years there I felt like I had absolutely no choice other than to serve and volley on both serves, which was not a recipe for success with my volleys (to say the least). After a few frustrating years and few wins I ended up trying to mix it up, staying back quite a lot and throwing in the serve and volley at times, but always going for quick points, trying to hit winners if I had a look. It lead to a little more success but one thing was consistent; it always took me a full week of practicing on a hard court after I would lose at Wimby to feel like a tennis player again. Wimbledon would take my game away from me and the hard courts would give it back. How things have changed...From what the players tell me now, the surface transition isn't as severe due to how firm the grass courts are, how heavy the balls are and how level the courts are compared to how they were back in the 20th century. I was astounded to hear consistently at the US Open last year that the Open was playing faster than Wimbledon. Are you kidding me? It blew my mind and was a far cry from the Sampras-Ivanisevic Wimby era for sure. It also explained to me how the players were able to consistently have lengthy baseline exchanges of extremely high quality, which were rare in my years of playing big W tennis. I would have liked Wimby to play slower than the Open a few yrs in the 90's. I doubt I would have won but at least I wouldn't have lost a week a year trying to find my game again!

OK, lets get into the draw and the ramifications of a Rafa-less Wimby. I say advantage Roddick and Murray with the way the draw broke. Fed and Novak didn't really see their draws change too much. On the top, watch out for Hewitt who could sneak past Del Potro and make a run if he gets on his game. Stepanek could be dangerous as well. On the bottom, it's awfully hard to see Fed struggling much early. Tsonga-Karlovic could be a spicy 3rd rounder. Blake got the benefit of dropping into Del Potro's slot when DP shifted to take Rafa's so his draw looks pretty good with Cilic-Haas and of course Novak in that mix. Should be a better time for US fans (as always) than in Paris. A-Rod, Blake, Fishy should all have a good run and Taylor Dent may get out to Murray in the 3rd round.

The women's draw worked well for the two favorites, Venus and Serena, as they're on opposite sides. It's a weird time for women's tennis. Feels like a free for all in most events but not as much here. It's hard to see anyone other than one of the sisters winning. Venus has Ivanovic and Jankovic in her section but something major has to change to give them a big chance vs Venus. Biggest question in the bottom half is Maria and her fitness/sharpness. One will lead to the other. If she is gaining strength in her shoulder she will start gaining it in her mind as well. She could have a fun one with Serena in the quarters.

I'm home in NYC doing a promotion for Wimbledon today on behalf of HSBC at Rock Center with Jenn Capriati and Luke Jensen, where they've laid a grass court down for the week. Tennis fans can come by all week to the Rock and get free strawberries and cream, watch Wimby on big screens and even hit a few balls on the grass court if you feel up to the challenge. I'll also be doing a kids clinic tomorrow in the city which will be a blast.

I'll be back next week with some more thoughts on the 1st week's action and there will also be other players from the OCS blogging this week at ChampionsSeriesTennis.com so feel free to check back in from time to time.

JC
 
June 8, 2009
Well that was something. I don't know if in his heart of hearts Roger thought he would ever hold that trophy in Paris coming into this tournament but he sure looked like he knew it was going to be his today. His feet were floating and the forehand and serve were stinging. I honestly hadn't seen him rip the FH like that consistently in a long time. It was a little windy but I only saw him mishit one FH in the entire match, which had been a problem for him in tight moments recently. The weather also was ideal for Fed vs this style opponent. Soderling needed it to play fast, to be hot and dry, so he could crack winners and overpower Fed the way he did against Rafa. It was not to be. Instead it was a full display of Fed's arsenal, from the aces in the 2nd set breaker, to the drop shots and half-volley backhands from the baseline. This match was never really going to be about Soderling. Roland Garros and Pete Sampras were the real opponents for Fed and, despite a little hiccup in the last game when he was serving it out (you'd have been a little nervous too if you were about to reach your dream), Fed conquered all of his opponents out there.

There is plenty of talk about Roger and where he fits into the conversation of the greatest player of all time. I think you can safely say that Roger has the best record of any player in the Open era, but it is really impossible to compare it with any of the players prior to 1968. By winning the French and equaling Peteís record of 14 majors and joining Fred Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and Andre Agassi in an exclusive club of men to win all four major singles titles in a career, Rogerís record is right up there against any of the all-time greats. He still has plenty of runway left to add to his record if he stays healthy. Looking at Open era achievements, you have to look at Laverís 1969 Grand Slam, Peteís 14 majors, Pete finishing the year ranked No. 1 for six straight years, Lendl reaching eight straight US Open finals, Rogerís five straight Wimbledons and five straight US Opens (and still counting in Flushing) and Rogerís semifinal or better streak at a major (also still counting).

Hats off to John McGuiness, NBC's producer of the telecast, for making some terrific choices, especially staying with Rog on the changeover before he served it out so we could see the tension in the moment which was gripping him tightly. Magical stuff. And Ted, John and Mary sat silent for the last game, allowing the match and the moment to breathe, which it deserved.

I know I had said that I would address the women's side in my last blog but it's been pretty hard to focus on them given the history we've been witnessing. Of course Kuze deserves credit for snatching her 2nd slam. Here's to hoping Dinara can conquer her nerves and play the big tennis she normally plays along the way in the finals next time she gets there. She's got plenty of time to figure that out and she'll get over the line eventually.

Now, back to Fed...

With Rafa losing early, If Fed had lost this tournament it may have been a crushing blow and sent his career in an entirely different direction. Now, with this win, he has such huge wind at his back that I could easily see him winning Wimby and a 6th straight US Open this summer. Especially with Rafa's knees apparently not doing so well. But the way Fed's movement looked today it is clear that he is 100% healthy and turning defense into offense, which he wasn't able to do much of last year due to the mono. With good health and now the return of his confidence he could be off to the races for another slew of Slams.

I really hope to see Rog and Rafa square off in the Wimby final. That would be sweet. Is that asking too much?
 
May 29, 2009
No real surprises thus far in the men's side at RG. All the heavyweights are through and the 2nd week battles are looming.
Here's a quick run down on the top challengers from what I've seen so far...keep in mind that I've watched some, not all, of the tennis as the InsideOut office beckons in the day and I do most of my viewing through the beauty of DVR replay.

1. Rafa- I wasn't surprised that he started a little slowly in the first round but with his blowout win over Hewitt in the 3rd round the train has now left the station and it's going non-stop to title number five. There are only two ways I see that potentially changing...injury or a lot of rain (weather like we saw at Wimby a few yrs ago) in week two which would force back to back to back long matches that could take his legs away like they were in Madrid's final.

2. Roger- Not a very convincing match against Acasuso but the great one's find a way to win Roger's one of the all time greats, of course. That match may have taken a little wind out of the sail from the win in Madrid but at this stage for Rog, who cares...just keep grinding away and see what happens. As far as the draw goes, the flip of the coin to get Novak in the semi was bad luck. He would have preferred Murray on this surface. Of course there is a lot of work to be done before he gets there but shorting Roger in the early rounds is not something I recommend. Lot of talk about him slumping yet I notice that he's been in the last 4 Slam finals. I'd take that kind of slump any day...so would you.

3. Novak- I had him as 2nd favorite coming in to the event and nothing's changed. I think he has a slight edge in the semi's if it's Roger on the other side of the net. He seems to have gotten past the racket switch and the newfound celebrity struggles that distracted him for a bit since he won in Australia 08. I personally think that his win in the new ATP event in Serbia his family owns was extremely impressive...imagine how many different ways he was getting pulled that week (and I have lived that in some of the Outback Champions Series events that my company owns and it's safe to say the pressure on our tour is significantly less).

4. Murray- Looked quite good so far and he's ever improving. Obviously the surface that suits his game the least (flat shots) but he's such a crafty, intelligent player he's going deep here in the near future. Not sure if it's this year or not. Cilic is a tough out on any surface and should put up serious resistance. There's a tournament within a tournament here and if Andy gets to the semi's I'd count that as a win for him. Like anyone else, hard to see him getting past Rafa in the semis.

5. Others to watch.
Del Potro-The guy's barely losing games so far. Testament to the (correct) assumption that Rafa's a lock, nobody's talking him up. Still, impressive play thus far and Del Potro-Tsonga would be an awesome match to see in the 16's.

Verdasco- One of the few guys strong enough to take Rafa 5 and walk off of the court on his own two feet, I'm hoping to see those guys battle in the Qtrs. I was calling their match in Australia from Channel 7's courtside bunker for all 5 hrs+ and I can't recall seeing two guys hit it that hard and well for that long...bring on the rematch.

Roddick- What, you thought I'd neglect my buddy and fellow Yank??? Lighter these days, moving better and staying up in the court to play offense. Those are all good things and the results have come early. His draw is favorable to get to the qtrs, which would be a win for Andy. He'll need to watch out for Monfils (who may not be too healthy by then) but a 1st time appearance in the 2nd week of this one is long overdue for Andy. I will be blatantly pulling for him.

I'll tackle the women's side early next week but one quick word on Maria Sharapova. Her competitive instincts have often been overlooked but she never fails to impress me with the way she lays it on the line, point after point. It's great to see her back. She won't be ready to win until Wimbledon but here's to Maria going well into the 2nd week in Paris. Venus losing early certainly has made the semis a likely outcome for her.

JC
 
May 26, 2009
The Tennis Geekís Guide to the Red Clay at Roland Garros

So hereís what you need to knowÖthe clay courts at Roland Garros (RG) are the best in the world, period. Iím going to get to the Ďwhyí part in a second but first let me be clear that I write this without overt bias towards this location. This has nothing to do with my success in Paris from time to time as I can recall more clearly matches I have lost there as opposed to any wins. I have the clay court background to back my claim up. Unlike many of my fellow American players I grew up playing quite a lot on clay (albeit Har-Tru) in my native Florida as a youngster and first played on a red clay court when I was 14 years old in South America. I love clay in general and practice mostly on the surface these days to save the wear and tear on my body that hard courts deliver. Iím a connoisseur. Itís not JUST about RG hosting the Granddaddy of all clay court tournaments. Itís because they make them like no one else. Let me share with you the subtle, and not so subtle, reasons why the courts in Paris at RG are second to none.

The Clay

Itís smooth as silk at RG. A player glides along the top of the court easier at RG than anywhere else and a lot of that has to do with the top layer, the silkiest crushed brick around. Itís like that fine chocolate they sprinkle on your cappuccino. The donít glob the clay on at RG. The fantastic grounds crews keep a fine layer of clay on the surface no matter what the conditions (replacing it when the wind blows, drying it out with salt when it rains, etc). When you slide at RG it makes less noise than on any other clay court in the world. There seems to be less friction with no loss of control as you slide. Itís perfect. Iíve played in other tennis clubs around the world where the RG clay has been imported as they want to be as good as RG but for some reason the clay never feels quite as fine and never sounds the same. There could be other reasons for that so letís move along.

The Ground Underneath

You may have seen the memento theyíve given a few players like Gustavo Kuerten that is clear glass (or crystal, not sure) showing the many layers that make up the RG surface underground. Thereís definitely a science in how they construct the base of these courts and Iím not privy to the details (never got that memento to study it!) but I can talk for hours about the result of it. These are the firmest, flattest clay courts anywhere. You know how on the clay courts youíve played on there are bad bounces all over? You ever notice how when you drag your toe when serving that you can dig a little trail in the ground that eventually makes you feel like youíre serving up a hill? Well, none of that ever happens at RG. These courts are so hard that you need a shovel to make a dent in them and so flat that I'm sure they laser them every year to correct any imperfections. When the wind blows all of the top surface of clay off of the RG courts and into the stands (as it often does) it can be dangerous on your ankles to try and slide as these courts play like a hard court (unless youíre Kim Clijsters or Gael Monfils). The only time you get bad bounces in Paris is either when you or your opponent lumps enough clay into one little area through movement and the ball manages to find that spot or when the ball hits a line. And hereís the thing. Even the lines in Paris are better. They paint them on, rather than nailing them down. I donít know the science of this aspect either but I do know that when a ball hits the slick, nailed down lines youíre used to playing on, the ball moves much faster than the clay beside it and in Paris there is still a difference between clay and line but itís much less. Hereís some more minutia for youÖI asked the tournament referee in NYC last year how much faster the lines at the US Open are compared to the non-lined deco surface they rest beside. He told me that the paint is about 15% faster than the hard surface it sits on, which is why a player often knows when theyíve hit the line based on how late their opponent is in hitting the ball in question. Details, details, details. (and the obvious question, can they get that 15% in NY closer to zeroÖthe answer is, theyíre trying)

The Grounds Crew

These men and women are All-Stars. Each court at RG has a dedicated team, just as they do at Wimbledon, to ensure playability. That means grooming the courts not only before and after matches but also sweeping the courts and lines during matches between sets to make sure there are fewer lumps of clay to create those dreaded bad bounces. Oh yeah, they also gently water them during matches too, if the conditions warrant it. And they do that by hand, not by underground sprinklers that are automatically controlled by computer, which demands feel like Novakís drop shot to ensure that the courts are evenly watered. By the way, they have two minutes to both sweep, line and water the court before the players get back out there to start the next set. Try that at your club with a group of friends and a timerÖgood luck. There can be windswept days when these teams are out with buckets of clay, trying to replace (again, evenly) the clay that is now being carried on the clothes of the patronís in the stands. There are also the rainy days when you will see them quickly cover the courts with a tarp (Iíd love to see which team is faster, Wimbledon or RG. To be fair weíd need to have them compete ďhome and awayĒ). On the really wet days they will spread rock salt on the courts after they remove the tarps to dry the courts out and that is the only time that a player ever feels any friction of note when sliding on these beautiful courts.

Conclusion

As you can see there are a few different factors as to why these are the best courts around. There are probably many more factors I am unaware of that create this perfect playground for clay court tennis but these are the ones most apparent to me and easiest to translate into words. Come to think of it, since I havenít played on the clay at RG since Ď99, Iím a little bummed out that no one else has figured out how to replicate them. Iíll be out in the next few days playing on the terrific clay courts in NYC that I enjoy regularly but Iíll be acutely aware that theyíre not as smooth, quiet, flat or firm as the ones Iím watching on TV in the early morning hours.
 
April 22, 2009
Back in Grand Cayman where OCS players will once again suffer as we ply our trade on the red clay courts of The Residences at the Ritz Carlton. I am here defending my honor and my title as last year's champion but the task ahead will be a challenge, as anything worth doing tends to be. This is a spectacular place to be/play and I met several people on the plane today who were flying in from the States specifically to see the tennis, which was nice. They're in for a treat. The stadium is very intimate and the setting is simply magnificent (am I raving too much?). Last year my Father came in for the week to hang and see some tennis and this year it's my Mom's turn. I guess next year it'll be one of my siblings turn. Got to spread the family love.

First up for me is Mikael Pernfors on Friday night in the quarters. If I can get through that one I'll play the winner of Wayne Ferreira/Mark Philippoussis in the semis. I beat Wayne in last year's final in a 6 and 6 barnburner on a toasty/humid day that had both of us reaching for towels with greater frequency than normal. That was the lift off for my season where I won here and then 3 more tournaments after a slow start. I am looking for the same thing here this year as I have had a bumpy start to my 2009 OCS campaign and am in need of a jump start. Tweaked my back pretty badly in my 1st match of the year vs JMac (was lucky to be able to finish the match) and played Rio-Cabo at less than 100% health (and thankfully didn't hurt myself further). There's very little that frustrates me more than being unprepared and unable to go all out. Since Cabo I have been able to train hard on/off court once again and should be ready to make a serious run this week for the title. We'll see if that's enough. With the tough field, I'll have to earn it if I'm going to hold the trophy again.

The off court activities here are pretty amazing. Some of the guys went to Stingray City last year where you take a boat a few miles of shore and feed a school of stingrays right out of your hands on a sand bar. There's great golf on property (Greg Norman course) and the beach-pool scene is sweet too. We'll all be doing the pro-am, clinics, beach party, kids day activities around our matches so there's not a ton of time for extra curriculars but I'm hoping to get on the water on Sunday afternoon before we roll back home on Monday.

Off to practice some with Mats W now to get things tightened up, assess the conditions, break a sweat, etc. I'll be posting some tidbits on Twitter.com as well so you can check me out there at @jimcourier if you're so inclined.
 
April 8, 2009
I've been having a little fun with my Twitter friends via a contest to see who would be the first to get the correct answer to "Who was the first player to wear long tennis shorts" and I thought that elaborating on the history would be educational (and a great waste of time). Twitter is excellent but limiting so this blog gives me a little more space to get it all down in one fell swoop as opposed to 17 consecutive messages. Sometimes you just need the room to roam so here goes...

Pistol Pete was the original "long shorts" guy on Tour. Here's the back story of how it happened that you may not know (and definitely don't NEED to BUT if you're reading this already...you may as well finish this since you obviously have too much free time on your hands and your boss must not be able to see your computer screen).

Pete was initially a Sergio Tacchini guy, rocking the short Italian shorts in his early Tour years and, as any California teenager yearned to do, he started wearing surfer shorts on the practice court (I think they were Quicksilver's) while still wearing the Tacchini's on the match court (which surprisingly Tacchini didn't have a problem with). Once Nike swooped in and brought Pete on board, Team Swoosh made it clear that for the $$ they were paying they expected Pete to be in Nike garb 24/7. At this stage a beautiful accident occurred as Pete and the Nike design team decided that instead of him wearing one style for matches and another for practice they would just make some 'board shorts' for tennis, with pockets for the balls and let him stir it up Although I wasn't at the meetings, I am fairly sure this is how it went down since I had meetings with the same team during that time as well...I'll be sure to confirm with Pistol next time I see him at one of the Outback Champions Series events. As an aside, I guess the pockets ended up being not so sweet as Pete went the way of the ladies tour and gave up on holding a ball in his pocket which was more work for the ball boys but it didn't seem to phase Pistol at all. The aces just kept coming, 1st AND 2nd serves. Now you see several guys on Tour doing that.

Nike was all about stirring it up in those days and this was an interesting way for them to have Pete be a fashion leader, which if you know him well like I do is kind of awesome...sort of like having me be a "tanning leader" for Coppertone. To be fair, I would say that I was equally disinterested in fashion at that time (and made some poor, poor choices) but my fashion instincts have improved over the years. When Pete got married his fashion improved as well...funny how that happens.

As Pete started rocking the long shorts on the match courts every other manufacturer got on the train and the rest is history. Rafa took it to the next level with the "low boys" but has since pulled back from the edge (of his ankles). Now and then I hear from people who mention that they miss the short shorts and would like to see them make a comeback. I am not in that camp and find it funny (and awkward) when I see clips of us playing in those days. My K-Swiss shorts these days are the perfect length, just above the knee cap. A few yrs ago Johnny Mac and I were practicing in NYC and he surprised me by pulling off his sweatpants to reveal the blue and black checker board Nike short shorts from 1984 (vintage) that he had pulled out of his closet. He fit in them perfectly (which is pretty awesome in and of itself) but even Mac was forced to admit that he looked ridiculous.

So there you have it...a little tennis fashion history, not that you asked for it...
 
March 30, 2009
A quick note to let everyone know I've taken the plunge into Twitter as of a month ago. Follow me on Twitter.com at my top secret codename "jimcourier" if you're so inclined.
 
February 26, 2009
We're getting ready to leave winter behind and head down to the warmer climes of Rio and Cabo, both new spots on the OCS. I can't wait as it's about 33 degrees outside of my office window in NYC and although I was in Australia in January (and missed a very cold month up north) I am looking forward to being in Brazil and Mexico for obvious reasons.

I haven't been to Rio since 1988 when I played a challenger on Copacabana beach in my rookie ATP season. I would imagine things have changed a bit there since then so I'm pretty excited to check it all out. Pretty tough field in Rio and I haven't hit a ton of balls since I tweaked my back in Boston the other week so I'm hoping to get off to a good start and a big finish.

I went to Cabo last year around Thanksgiving and had a fantastic time playing tennis, golf and hitting the beach for some paddle boarding. What a beautiful spot. Will be nice to see Patty Rafter back on the scene again. In spite of what you hear about him he's actually a pretty decent guy. Kidding. All for now...back with more from Rio.
 
June 17, 2008
Paris is in the rear view and it's Wimbledon time again. Put away the clay shows and break out the spikes....
Rafa is on an incredible run and with his huge win at Queen's is certainly coming in with a boatload of confidence. You have to be amazed that he could go straight to the grass from Paris to beat both Roddick and Djokovic in straight sets and get that title. Incredibly hard, both physically and mentally, to change gears from clay to grass but he did it with style (and played doubles in London). He's certainly the second favorite based on those results for Wimby but Federer's grass court streak is alive and well so until further notice, Roger's the man to beat.

It's going to be great theatre seeing Roger go for his 6th straight title there. Novak, Andy certainly would be the next favorites and there are some nasty floaters like John Isner and Kevin Anderson who can serve it up nicely and will be unseeded so I imagine there will be lots of fingers crossed not to play either of them in the 1st round by the seeded players.

On the women's side I'm most interested to see how Ivanovic responds to being a new Slam title holder. Her game should be quite good for the grass (and the tabloids will have a field day blasting a bunch of photos of her around the UK). I'm expecting to see Maria, Venus and Serena come in with some fire since I am sure they were disappointed with their short runs in Paris.

I'm not heading over this year so I'll be glued to ESPN2/Tennis Channel/NBC checking it out.
 
January 20, 2008
It's been a hectic first week of action in Melbourne. Matches have ended at 2am and 4:30am on consecutive nights and the drama has been on overdrive.

Headlines...well they've been on the men's side primarily. Federer pushed to the brink of losing in the 3rd round (and with a loss he would probably have lost his #1 ranking to Nadal), Roddick out in a barn burner, James Blake back from the dead to win in 5 sets, Hewitt choking and then charging back to win the latest finish in Slam history. The 2nd week is when the drama will kick in on the women's side as they have largely been holding up the status quo end of the proceedings.

I got to the hotel last night at 5am simultaneously wired and fried from calling both Fed and Hewitt's epic matches. 10 sets of tennis. My brain frazzled from 9 hours of TV focus (trying not to be repetitive is taxing) but certainly not as whipped as the boys who were in the battle. Had to be back on site for the Tsonga-Gasquet match around 12:15pm so it was a quick turn. Thankfully today was a quick one. Tsonga won pretty handily and I had a nice 4 hour gap before the Nadal-Mathieu match up. Managed to hit indoors for an hour (jetlag now replaced by 5 set lag and the young American challengers have left to play a challenger in Hawaii so I hit with Marty Laurendeau, the coach of Dancevic/Nestor from Canada who was on the atp tour when I was) and get showered up in time to get on air at 7:30 for the opening of our night show in the studio then wait for the ladies to finish before the boys go on and I go into the bunker (our TV booth) to call the match. Mathieu defaulted after a set and 1/2 so we were on the opposite end of the time spectrum from earlier this am and finished at 10:30 which was 1 hour earlier than Hewitt-Bagdhatis started last night. I like it...

Lots of friendly faces down here from Fred Stolle to all of the Tennis Channel crew and everyone in between. The tennis world is a traveling circus and its pulled into Melbourne for its annual stop. 1 more week before it pulls up stakes. Let it be half as intriguing as week 1 and we'll have had a helluva tournament. Then its back to the States for me. OCS tennis is around the corner.
 
January 15, 2008
Day two is in the books and it was a relatively smooth day. No major upsets and terrific, pleasant weather.

I covered two matches for TV, local favorite Lleyton Hewitt's beat down of Belgian Steve Darcis (Hewitt won 0-3-0) and then Fed's 2008 debut, a whitewashing of Argentine Diego Hartfield with the exact same score line of Hewitt's match. A unique feature of this event is that on Rod Laver Arena the TV booth is right on the court down in the corner. It's called "the bunker" and that's pretty much what it is. An air conditioned, sound proofed box with wires going everywhere to carry images into our monitors and our voices out and over the airwaves. With the proximity the Channel 7 team takes the opportunity to send one commentator per match to interview the winner and whenever I call the matches I am the lamb sent to slaughter (see a few posts ago re: how to get me to ask questions you may want answered by your favorite players). Due to the shortness of today's matches I needed to extend the interviews from the normal 3 questions and out to as much as I could muster for the sake of the in-house and TV audience. Fortunately I only talk to the winners so I'm guaranteed to get someone who's in a good mood and today was no different. Both Hewitt and Fed were very open and talkative, with Hewitt discussing his daughter and Fed his year end vacation/off season. These interviews give the audience a better look at the human side of the players and tend to get a pretty positive response from the stadium crowd. It's an "US Magazine" society so the more the top players can do a little show and tell like this the better...tennis has to give the audience a reason to care and insight into the stars and stars on the rise's lives is something I think we all have to recognize is imperative for the health of the sport these days. Well, in America anyway...it's enormously popular here in Oz.

In between the TV matches I was able to make a phone call or two (and email, thank you tech support!) and hit some more balls with the young American, Scoville Jenkins (who was out for baseline game revenge) and his friend and fellow young pro, Scott Ouedsema. They tag teamed to play against me in 2 baseline games to 11 and I clipped them both times, to my sheer delight and their utter frustration. Having only slept 90 mins the night before I had my excuses built in but didn't have to lay them down as my experienced shot selection and court knowledge won the day over their speed and raw power. Nadia Petrova came to hit next to us on the indoor courts after winning her match against Nicole Pratt today to work out some kinks in her serve. She's a nice girl (when she's not trying to destroy her opponents...she's fierce on court) and we had a chat about the women's game, fitness and service motions.

The boys may get one more shot at a baseline game with me tomorrow as I am calling Rafa's match and then Arod's evening match which means I will have a nice window of tennis opportunity before I am due in the studio at 7:20pm.

By the way, the 'new' surface here at the Oz is pretty darn good. Out with the Rebound Ace and in with the Plexicushion. It's slower than the US Open but certainly nice to play on and their courts are virtually the same colors as those we have on the Outback Champions Series carpet which we use for indoor events. Very soothing to the eyes (as Fed pointed out in our chat post-match) and medium paced.

OK, it's past midnight and time for me to call the ball and shut down.
 
January 14, 2008
I'm in Melbourne to do TV for Channel 7 (their version of a CBS or NBC) at the Aussie Open. We cover the event wall to wall. We're on the air 14 straight days/nights.
The days can be pretty long but my first one here was a bit longer than expected. Here's how it went...

Monday, Jan 14, 2008
6:30am Wake up raring to go due to jetlag. Alarm was set for 9am...oops. Going to be a long day.
6:45am workout at the hotel gym. Treadmill run and sprints. Getting the wheels turning early. Feeling good.
8-10am: Phone calls, emails and a futile attempt to get my phone's mobile email working down here...not happening. Not so fun.
11am Went to courts early to call ARod's match for channel 7 TV (he's scheduled 2nd match on Vodaphone)
2:15pm Arod's match starts late (Jankovic wins in 3 sets in 3 hrs in a choke-a-thon in Vodaphone's 1st match which featured something like 14 breaks of serve in the 3rd set. Brutal)
4:30pm Roddick closes up an easy but awkward 3 setter (his opponent was manic depressive. Errors and winners but gave no rhythm to Andy which frustrated Arod)
5pm Hit 10 mins w/Roger Rasheed (fellow commentator) to test speed of new hard courts here and balls so we can discuss on air later (and they can show video of it). Courts are slow...balls get HUGE. Like they had static electricity. Definitely different than Rebound Ace used to be. This is a slow set up. It's also very cool and breezy today. Probably in the low 70's.
5:30-6:15pm Hit w/Scoville Jenkins, American who lost in 3rd round q's. Beat him 2 out of 3 baseline games on major jetlag as I am now starting to fade physically...will need caffeine to make it through the rest of the day/night.
6:55pm Cappuccino pit stop.
7pm In studio for rehearsal for 1st night show. Suit and tied.
7:30pm Live on air in studio for 15 mins talking about the day. I'm a little rusty. Haven't done studio TV since US Open. No major mistakes but I wasn't on top of my studio game. It didn't help that the director had her line open in my ear piece the entire segment so all I was hearing in one ear was the production truck calling for different shots for the screen, graphic, counting down to commercials, etc--not so easy to speak lucidly when you have 7 conversations you're not interested in blaring in your ear at once. Maybe they're a bit rusty too.
8-10pm Hang around players restaurant drinking a macchiato, surfing the web in the computer room for NFL stats/results and watching one of the 700 flat screens hoping Alicia Molik will win quickly so Nadal's match can get started which I am calling tonight. Not happening...long 2 set win for Alicia.
10pm Nadal match begins and I'm in the booth w/Todd Woodbridge. We're on a late start...and I'm already asking for espresso after the first changeover. Jetlag is not your friend.
12:30 Nadal finishes off the Serbian qualifier Troicke in 3 long sets. Good tennis. This Serb can play too but Rafa wore him out.
1am: Back in hotel room trying to get my treo to work again...painful
1:30am Emailing on computer with InsideOut office as it's now 9:30am Monday US time. Phone is booting up...it better work this time.
2am JACKPOT! The phone finally starts accepting email. I am not sure why that makes me as happy as it does...I just know it to be true.
2:35am: I'm thinking that last espresso around 12:15am wasn't the best idea...still wide awake.
3am: I better get to sleep soon. I have a 9am breakfast meeting...seemed like a good idea at the time. Tomorrow is basically rewind and repeat. Scoville wants another shot at the title. I'm calling Hewitt and Federer matches tomorrow. Only 13 days like this one to go...

 
January 11, 2008
Happy New Year to all.

2008 is off and running already for me in a hurry. I came back from a much needed 2 week break in Florida over the holidays (and my golf handicap now sits at a 2.2 index from multiple rounds and some decent ball striking) and spent New Years Eve with friends in the big apple. It was back to work the next day at InsideOut to try to get a lot done before my first major voyage of the year. As we move into the 3rd full season of Outback Champions Series tennis I have to take a second to take a deep breath and appreciate how far we've come in a short time. From 1 tournament in November 2005 to 7 events in 2007 it's been a wild and fun ride. Just this week we announced an exciting location for a new tournament, The Residences at the Ritz Carlton, Grand Cayman. We'll be island hopping this April the week after Easter and I cannot wait to get down there and enjoy some island time in between crushing forehands and serves. Already lots of friends are booking their trips down there to hang out, see some great tennis and enjoy the beaches. I went there about a year ago to put this deal together and I can tell you it is an incredible resort and I've been lucky enough to see a lot over the years. There are a lot of other exciting things on tap for OCS 08 (we'll be announcing another new event soon so stay tuned for that as well) and Naples will be the kick off as it has been since 07 in March. I have enjoyed a nice off season training program to try and right the ship after having reached two finals but snagging zero titles in 07. I'm out to change that this year and am feeling good about my Outback chances but the competition will be strong with Sampras, McEnroe, Martin, Ferreira, etc all out for blood.

Speaking of the Outback, 15 years after my 2nd Australian Open title I am heading back to the scene of the crime in high spirits, ready to take a seat in the booth and talk a little tennis to the Australian viewing audience on their Channel 7. This is my 4th year calling matches as their lead announcer and they are a blast to work with. Todd Woodbridge, Roger Rasheed and John Fitzgerald will be in the booth with me at various times which makes it a lot of fun. They do things different than US TV tennis shows as they have gone away from the traditional "play by play" guy (think Ted Robinson) and put two analysts in the booth to have at it. I end up doing the nuts and bolts of getting us in and out of commercial most of the time so it's a bit of double duty but a nice little challenge. Doing TV in Oz is a great way to start off the year, heading to summertime (instead of wintry NYC) for a few weeks to see friends, talk some tennis, play some tennis when I'm not on air (Justin Gimelstob is doing Tennis Channel TV so we're already lining late afternoon hits up) and generally enjoy Melbourne.

One unique thing about our coverage in Oz is that the booth is literally on center court in the corner which allows us the opportunity to interview the winning player immediately following the match for both TV and the Rod Laver Arena crowd. I call two matches a day (1 day/1 night) typically in their entirety so I'll do 2 interviews with the guys post-match daily. I keep it pretty light and try to get the personalities to shine by asking some more personal questions that give the crowd a chance to know them a bit better as human beings, rather than the warrior persona they normally only get to see. So here's my challenge to you at YOUR computer. SEND ME SOME QUESTIONS for the top male players and I will try to ask them on court (as long as they're above board) and we'll post the answers here on ChampionsSeriesTennis.com. I don't interview the ladies so I can't help you there but will probably speak to most of the top males as they play on the center court mostly.
\
OK. I'll hope to get a few blogs up from Melbourne with some scoop on what I'm seeing. Send those questions...

JC
 
November 20, 2007


Dubai. 10 years on...I was last here in 1997 for the ATP event and I have landed in a place that I no longer recognize. I had seen the pictures and video images of what had become of this landscape but to witness it firsthand is truly to observe what civil engineering (with a seemingly unlimited budget) can achieve on a grand scale. I used to live in Miami where islands were manufactured in the bay early in the last century which is what has happened here in the Gulf recently but x10. And there is a bay (called the Creek) that didn't exist either. If you can think it up, it is likely happening here which is where we come in as...the Outback Champions Series is now here as well.

Non stop from NYC to Dubai 12 hours in the air and we hit the ground running. Jon, Deb, Nick and I (team InsideOut) all arrived last night and went into gear. I have yet to sleep since arriving. I've been up 21 hours straight having worked out in the gym, played tennis, done a press conference/photo shoot/one on one's with local media and squeezed a few meals and some computer time to stay on top of things both important (work) and trivial (football scores). It's about 3:30pm here (6:30am NY time) and I'm heading towards a nap but have to keep it short as we have a tour of a museum of contemporary Middle Eastern art which I am very much looking forward to followed by dinner with all of the players and our gracious host and tournament organizer, Farbod.

Tomorrow we have a children's clinic as well as a pro-am and party so a full day's action before we go into tournament play Thursday. Pernfors awaits in my first match. Perhaps Muster next. The matches are never easy but this is the last tournament of 2007 so I won't leave anything in the bag. I'm still after my first title of the year so I'm hungry for a win.

This is my first post. I will be posting some more this week so check back in...
JC

 
October 26, 2007
It's been a busy fall and I am fatigued from 4 physical and intense matches in Dallas this past week and am happy to be home regrouping. I won't have much down time though as I am gearing up for some exo's against Pete Sampras in the coming weeks and then there will be the final big push for our Dubai event. It's been an incredibly intense time since mid-August when we cranked up on the Newport grass at the Gibson, followed immediately by 11 days of US Open TV and then a run of Charlotte and Dallas Outback Champions Series (OCS) events, exo's and charity events. I just laugh inside when people ask me on the street what I am doing in 'retirement' since I'm busier now than I ever thought of being in my 20's. I remember those days when I had time to burn doing crossword puzzles and reading books well but don't wish to return to them...this is tiring at times but also a blast most of the time.

I was two points from victory in Dallas last week but came up short against Wayne F. After splitting the first two sets it came down to a tense champions breaker with Wayne playing some excellent tennis to grab a lead and than choking 4 match points away before closing me out 11-9. I am definitely disappointed to lose and somewhat perturbed at a few untimely errors that will cause some lost sleep for a few days but I would rather be in the heat of battle and come up short than be on the sidelines so in a twisted way I am rather pleased to be pondering how I could possibly miss that forehand at 9 all by an inch or two. This is the life of a tennis player...you spend far more time on the ones that got away. I won two 3rd set breakers last week and I couldn't tell you one thing about them but from the loss I can tell you how many serves I made, where I hit them, how I hit the tape on two forehands and got no love and how Wayne stepped his game up in grave detail...sad, isn't it, how the memory chip works? Anyway, a tip of the hat (trademark, Stephen Colbert) to Wayne for his 2nd title of the 2007 OCS.

Next up on the OCS is Dubai where I will conclude my playing for the year. I'm still looking for my first title of the year but after overcoming some injuries my game feels like it's moving in the right direction so I hope I'll be able to burst through the tape at the line and take some momentum into 2008. Stay tuned for our 2008 OCS calendar with some new and exciting events to be announced soon. The circuit has been tougher, more exciting and more exposed through TV & web this year than 2006, a trend we expect to continue in 2008. Look for us in a city near you and keep the questions to me via the website coming.

 
August 12, 2007


Where are my grass court shoes? I had to ask myself that question the other day as the upcoming Gibson Guitars event in Newport sunk into my frontal lobe and the realization that I'd need those little plastic nubbed soles on my shoes very shortly hit my radar. I last played on grass in an exo in Germany a few years ago so I have a few pair laying around somewhere but they haven't seen the light of day since then. No worries though. I'll find them and I'll be ready to go.

Some players make a big deal about switching surfaces but experience has taught me that I need to stay true to my game even if I'm playing at zero gravity. Therefore, I don't transition for grass. I try to make grass bend to my will (and I think it may be stronger considering I have more first round losses than finals at Wimbledon). I have no intention of becoming a serve and volleyer; I'm going to dance with the date I brought, as the saying goes, and look for my forehand and follow it to net when appropriate. I get to tee it up against Mal Washington, Richard Krajicek and Todd Martin in the RR portion of the tourney. It's a tough draw but I like to think that they see it that way as well. As long as I serve well I'll have a shot at the title.

On the heels of Newport I'll be donning a mic and talking about tennis for a few weeks at the US Open with USA Network. I must say that playing and commentating are a nice mix (I also call the Aussie Open for Ch 7 Australia) and I think doing both makes you better at the other. The analysis I utilize while commentating has translated into more court and situational awareness when I play and competing helps me stay grounded and in lockstep with the stress the players are under for analysis. I've listened to far too many commentators in tennis and other sports who speak in the voice of God and have no awareness (either never had it or have long since lost it) for what the athletes are enduring, risking and feeling. I think there's a balance to be struck on the mic for an analyst and I think playing helps me walk that line.

I've had a great summer since our last event in Athens. I've played a few exos, most notably a really cool one in the Talon Air hangar on Long Island against Mr. Sampras that was a private event. That was an amazing day with Maserati's test drives on the tarmac (yes, it was closed for us), David Burke catering and the Talon Air fleet of jets/choppers around the court. 'When's the last time you did something for the first time' is a line in a commercial I've seen a lot of lately and I can say that this would be my answer. Pistol Pete clipped me 5 and 5 in a tight one. Know that one well. Not the first time he's done that. I also made it to Kalamazoo for an exo with Todd Martin and LA for one w/Johnny Mac. I've been feeling pretty good and playing pretty well overall and the exos have been a good gauge for my game going into Newport and the big fall swing with Charlotte, Dallas and Dubai on tap.

The summer break was needed and I took full advantage with trips to the beach, golfing out west in Oregon, a quick jaunt to Dublin and plenty of down time in NYC where the weekends are oh so wonderfully quiet (with all of the traffic heading out to the beach). Saw a few good flicks like Sicko, Bourne and Knocked Up and ridiculously great concerts like R.E.M. in Dublin, Ireland and a charity one-day festival called Crossroads in Chicago that benefited Eric Clapton's charity in Antigua. Hard to complain overall. Hope you can say the same.

OK. That's all for now. jc
 
May 21, 2007


Rain delays. It's the glamorous part of the job. Rain is falling in Athens on our last day here. Pete just took me out a few hrs ago 2 and 4 (I stunk) so I am not overly concerned since I don't have to go back out to play. I am done for now and letting the event/playing stress roll off of my shoulders. I've got my computer in the players lounge and I am digesting season 1 of "24" on DVD. Jack Bauer is getting it done. Meanwhile Pete and Todd sit playing cards (Pumba) while they wait for the rain to stop (so they can go play the finals) with Dean Goldfine, who traveled with Todd in ATP days and is on the trip to make sure Todd doesn't stay out partying too much. His nice guy image needs to stay intact and that's why the chaperone...Pete, Todd and Dean have all watch 24 so they keep coming over in between games to see where I am in the show and taunting me with the threat of giving away the ending. Meanwhile Alan Mills, the tourney referee, keeps coming by trying to figure out why I am shouting at the screen every so often. He's seen a few rain delays in his day (haven't we all?) and this is old hat but it feels pretty weird in some ways since we've been pretty rain free until now on the OCS. Reading is how I normally do it but these TV terrorists have my full attention. This show hooks you quickly.

Some of our InsideOut crew is staying over in Europe after the tourney ends, heading to the beaches for some well deserved rest time. It's been a tough event stretch for all with Tampa followed immediately by Boston and then here in Greece. The troops deserve a break. They'll get one this week. I'll get mine in a few weeks. I'm off to NYC on Monday and will just plow through for a few more weeks before I do my 10 day Houdini act.

As much as Athens has been a great week and everyone welcomed us to Greece I eagerly await some NYC time starting tomorrow night. I think I'm going to check out the Bright Eyes concert on Friday. The new one, Casadega (Sp?) is fantastic. Hoping to catch some rock shows this summer from BMRC, Amy Winehouse, Arcade Fire, Amos Lee, The Hold Steady, Joshua Radin, Kings of Leon, Killers, Modest Mouse, Spoon, Son Volt and Ryan Adams. My buddy Jamie produced Ryan's new record and it's tremendous. He's also playing a few shows with Ryan and his band the Cardinals which is cool. Hoping to catch one of those. Not sure when any of these bands will be in my area but all have new records that I am digging.

I also need to hit pilates and get my body right so I can win one (or more I hope) of these things this summer/fall. Losing is sub-optimal and I've done too much of it lately. Got to change it up as the body hasn't been helping much lately. The back injury from Naples is still nagging me a bit so I need to clear that up so I can sharpen up...that's the mission.

Bye for now...

 
May 13, 2007
Sitting at the window seat as Halifax passes underneath Olympic Air from JFK to Athens. Sleep isn't nearby but it's already 3am in Greece so if I were doing the right thing I'd be closing in on sleep but I am not closer to it so I'm typing away instead. Champions Cup Athens awaits me on the other side of this flight.

Boston is in the rear view mirror and what an event we had. Our best crowds so far on the Outback and the return of Pistol Pete who stole one from Todd M in the finals. I feel like I played pretty well considering I didn't get as much practice leading into Boston as I would have liked, coming off of the injury I sustained in Naples. I was able to get in about 2 weeks of practice/training and hit the ball pretty well overall, losing a close one to Todd and then getting clipped by Mac for 3rd pretty solidly. Usually my 2nd serve is rock solid but I went through some tough spells against Mac and doubled quite a bit to break myself on a few occasions. He played very well to his credit but I do hate to dump serve without forcing the opponent to come up with some good shots. Then I had to suffer through John talking all about how he had thrashed me in Boston on the radio when he and his brother Pat hosted the slot where Imus used to be on Tues-Wed. I got a bunch of emails of people telling me they were all over me on the radio. Revenge will be sweet.

My week off consisted of a trip Mon-Tues with Todd M to Outback's national conference in Nashville where I judged a "Dancing with the Stars" competition featuring their top executives with professional dancers which was hilarious and fun. They do things first class and the production was amazing with a live band, big stage for dancing and TV screens so the 2,000 invitees could get a good look at the big bosses making fun of themselves and cutting loose. There were 3 judges; me, a female employee who had a few too many cocktails and was making public passes at the brass and one of Outback's attorney's who was absolutely hysterically funny in his Simon Cowell impression as the bad guy. We were all mic'd up and on a dais commenting on the dances after each concluded. Trust me when I tell you its much better to judge than be judged. My dancing skills are sub-optimal. Todd opted not to be a judge...wimp. Todd and I did hit some tennis balls the next day with some of the execs/guests before we headed out. Then it was 3 days of office time in NYC to catch up on a few things, regroup post-Boston with the ISE team (who left mid-week for Athens) as well as get some on-court practice/gym time. Vince Spadea was in NYC so I hit a few with him on Wednesday. I've known him and his family since he was about 10 as his older sister is my age and was a top flight junior player from Florida.

Athens should be fantastic. I've only been there for the Olympics, which is like visiting a Disneyland version of a city as everything is perfectly presented/painted/dusted/prepared. It was also a military fortress then (an amazingly beautiful one) so I'm anxious to see what the city is truly like under normal daily conditions. We have a great field playing here so I'm going to have to be on top of my game. Pistol Pete's playing and bringing his parents with him. He's never been to Greece before so this will be special for him I'm sure, especially with his parents here. Game on...

JC
 
April 22, 2007
It's finally spring time in NYC after a prolonged winter which feels great. I have my windows open and everyone seems to be in a great mood, breaking out the flip flops, shorts, skirts, etc. I am breaking out my game preparation as it's about to get very, very busy for me in the next few days (not that I have been loafing lately) with a major road trip ahead.

First task ahead of me this week is the premier of a documentary I have been working on since 2004 called Unstrung, which we exec produced at InsideOut Productions with Mike Tollin of Tollin/Robbins. We followed some of America's most promising junior tennis players from December 2004 until September 2005 as they followed their dreams of making it to the top of junior tennis en route to what they hope are pro careers. It is premiering in the Tribeca Film Festival this coming Thursday which is a pretty incredible place to open. It's screening 5 times during the festival and 4 of the 5 screenings are already sold out. Mike, Rob Klug (the director) and I will have some press to do Thursday as well as a party to attend, etc. Should be interesting.

Next up on Saturday night will be the the annual Couriers Kids fund raiser, the Mercedes Benz Classic in Tampa, Florida. Pete Sampras, Chris Evert, Nicole Vaidisova, Renee Stubbs, Jon Lovitz and I will be there to play some high quality tennis (well, Lovitz makes his tennis high quality with his sense of humor, although he does hit a very nice ball) and raise money to support tennis and education programming for our most deserving kids. We have had great fields in the past and I continue to be grateful to the players for donating their time for this worthy cause.

Then it will be on to Boston for Champions Cup Boston, round 2 of the 2007 Outback Champions Series and the debut of one Pistol Pete. The Boston tennis fans are in for a treat as they may not realize that Pete practices with people like Sam Querrey in LA on a frequent basis and will definitely be running and gunning from ball one.

I am off to practice today for the 5th straight day this week. My game is rounding into shape. I had to take some time away from the court after tweaking my back in Naples when I was playing Cashy so it feels good to get back out there. I had a nice blister on my hand when I started hitting again the other week from my hands softening from lack of tennis which I haven't had in years. In a funny way I enjoy the process of getting everything back in form, painful as it can be at times.

I've been hitting some with Pat Mac as he is now chilling in the city for a while before he heads over to Paris for ESPN. I think this is our year for Davis Cup. We have Sweden next and if we win will have a home tie for the finals. Our guys deserve to win one. They've committed to it and it is their time.

OK, off to the courts...

JC
 
March 7, 2007


Here we go. 2007 OCS action gets under way tonight and I tee it up against Petr Korda to start my season. He's a tricky match-up because he is so unpredictable. He can hit winners from everywhere so I'll have to be alert and consistent. Also have to control the nerves as I will be anxious to get off on the good foot.

We had a nice welcome party last night at the Lely Resort where we are playing. We mingled, answered questions from the group of 100 invited guests and enjoyed a pretty sweet buffet. My pre-event meal? Roast Beef/veggies/salad and one mean bananas foster...life is good and yes, I am still at my playing weight.

I have been here in Naples since Saturday getting used to humidity and wind again since I play all of my tennis in New York indoors. I play on indoor red clay up there so no problem adjusting to the green clay here. The lights are quite good too and I have been hitting the last few nights with Aaron Krickstein who I always enjoy practicing with. His ball is a great 'groove' ball and the rally's are usually long and intense which is perfect for rhythm leading into a tournament.

Everyone seemed quite relaxed and happy to be back into tournament mode yesterday as the guys arrived. Cashy in from London looking rested and ready. He has been hitting some with Jon Venison, the tournament director and my partner at InsideOut, and JV has had enough of seeing Pat's genius volleys. Welcome to the club, JV.

I realized this week that I am starting my 20th year as a professional. I turned pro in 88. Time sure flies when you live in the tennis bubble. Let it keep flying...

jc
 
January 30, 2007


She was always going to be a great champion, Serena Williams. From her early days on tour it was obvious she had great natural skill and a fierce drive to win and be more than just 'Venus' little sister". She had 7 major titles, the world's #1 ranking and everything at her fingertips. It all went awry and away quickly and is only now returning. Here's some advice she's not asking for and would surely feel like she doesn't need. I get that. I felt that way when I was winning majors too. Here it comes anyway...

So a little perspective first. Serena suffered injuries, the loss of her older sister Yetunde and an understandable lack of motivation (and an appreciable ranking drop as a result of hardly playing) in the last few years. She was interrogated in a courtroom for a week last fall by attorneys of misguided promoters suing her father for a supposed breach of contract involving the sisters. She may be a warrior but she's still a woman and she had to wonder what it was all for when her world shifted so dramatically into reality rather than the cocooned existence of top flight tennis.

I flew back on the plane today with Serena from Australia and the difference in her mindset from my first look at her in 2007 a few weeks ago to now is apparent. She has confidence (and the trophy next to her window seat, Slam #8), no doubt, from winning a tournament no one gave her a shot at after her loss in a small warm-up event down under pre-Open. She also now has a look and feel of someone who has rekindled her passion for what she was made to do...play the world's best female tennis. Two weeks ago she looked like an unsure tennis player in the Open's underground hallways, unconfident in her fitness and game. A bit insecure. That's all in the rear view mirror now. She is confident in a big way. It's seeping out of her pores. Crushing Maria Sharapova in the final will give that to you. Serena's athletic and shot making ability is unparalleled in the women's game and her mental toughness is back and likely to only get better as she predictably will go on a run and finish this year #1 in the world, assuming she remains healthy. I am quite sure she will stay focused. She had a long break the last few years to consider where she will put her energy and tennis has won for the near term. All of her outside interests appear to be on the back burner although I am a big fan of her continuing to open her mind to things outside of the cloistered tennis world so she can grow as a person, which tennis does not promote, so long as she knows where her primary focus is.

Here's my issue and I am not the first to suggest it. If Serena took her comeback one level further and added an outside coach (to compliment her mother and father's current guidance) to teach her strategy and sprinkle a few different spices to her meat and potatoes game of crush everything in sight she would play the best tennis a woman has ever played. I long to see that. Fernando Gonzalez quickly went from a crusher, a mindless basher of the ball, to a fully realized tennis player in the space of 8 months with guidance from a premier coach, Larry Stefanki. When I look at the women's game I see more and more of the old Fernando style with notable exceptions in the smaller women at the top, Justine Henin, Martina Hingis and also Amelie Mauresmo (can you believe she is now small for the women's game?). All it will take to change that is for one of the big hitters (Serena, Maria, Nicole V, Venus) to up the ante with newfound diversity in their game and it will quickly become an "anti-arms" race. Until that happens nothing will change and the hitters will win the battle against the shrinking thinkers and all tennis fans will be poorer for it.

Serena can be the one to do this. She is now writing chapter two of her story. I heard she had inquired recently about hiring Gil Reyes, Andre Agassi's long time conditioning coach and mentor. What she should really do is hire Gil and add Darren Cahill to her team as her master strategist. Darren would quickly make her better technically and, more importantly, tactically. She would be opening her eyes to the other side of the court for the first time, noticing where the weak links in her opponents games are and better exploiting them. Then the anti-arms race in women's tennis would begin. Wouldn't that be something?

 
January 24, 2007


We are getting to the finish line here in Australia and some of the usual suspects are in place...Federer, Roddick, Sharapova and Clijsters. We also have some surprises in Gonzales, Haas, Vaidisova and Serena W. Lets start with the last one mentioned and go from there.

Serena Williams is back and making it happen. Her talent is carrying her. She came into this event undercooked with only 4 tournaments in the last 12 months but she insisted she was geared up and ready to go from day 1 and has backed that up. Her talent has never been in question but her fitness and commitment have come under fire here in the media. She certainly has had the final word on that with her results. I continue to marvel at her ability. She is an amazing athlete and I am not alone in wanting to see her get more from her talent. I want her to excel and find her maximum potential which I think she is still miles away from. I said the same of Andy Roddick a year ago and we are seeing him become a more well rounded player and the results are quickly following. Jimmy Connors has done more than a fine job and one has to wonder if Serena learned how to maximize her talents along that line how high up would be. It speaks volumes of her talent that she has achieved so much without a truly experienced tennis mind on her bag. Tiger Woods left the comfort of the advice of his father for the wisdom of Butch Harmon and others in his efforts to find his maximum potential but we have not seen Serena (or Venus) do the same yet. I hold out hope that she will eventually seek to find out how good she can be one day before it is too late.

Speaking of potential, a Tip of the Hat to Larry Stefanki, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert for their immediate coaching impact on Fernando Gonzalez, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray. Each of these coaches took the baton in the middle of 2006 and the results speak loudly. Each of these players had different areas of need but I am confident that each of these coaches could have traded places and impacted the players almost identically as they are all incredibly astute strategists and talent managers. An extra special Tip to Jimmy as he is an Icon who adds to the sport merely by his presence at an event. The sport has given much to Jimmy but he is giving back by being in the arena and using his talents to assist Andy's re-ascent. Tennis needs its Icons to be present and it is great to have Jimmy back.
Speaking of Icons we had Vilas, Rosewall and Laver sitting together in the Presidents Box today at Rod Laver Arena. It sent chills through the venue when they were shown on the big screen.

It has remained cool down here in a tourney that traditionally tests the players with brutal conditions. one of the coolest Opens I can recall other than one hot day which received a lot of media attention.
With the men's semis and finals now played at night fitness is no longer really an issue if you make the last 4. I missed that in 93 when I played Edberg in 105 degree heat...
 
January 21, 2007


Greetings from Melbourne. From ridiculous heat to unrelenting rain we have seen some kooky weather but it's a not so gentle reminder of the value in having not one, but two, stadium courts that feature retractable roofs here at the Aussie Open. The tournament marches on unencumbered by the weather that would be backing matches up by the handful in the other 3 majors. Wimbledon will be the next Major to feature a retractable roof and that will be ready in a few years. Surely the others will be forced to follow suit.

I commentated on the Roddick-Ancic match today which Roddick took in 5 sets. Andy and Mario both played well and it came down to Roddick being able to pressure Mario's serve by holding his so easily. I also called the Federer-Djokovic match, er, clinic. Rog is in fine form and Slam #10 seems to be a week away. Novak talked it up before the match but couldn't deliver on the court. Rog crushed him.

To borrow from Steven Colbert a "Tip of the Hat" goes to Mardy Fish for reaching his 1st Slam quarterfinal after missing last year's Open with a low ranking due to two surgeries on his wrist. He is playing well and in great spirits as he looks ahead to his match versus Roddick on Tuesday. A great start to 07 for Mardy...and a "Wag of the Finger" to me for forgetting my last question while I was interviewing Andy Roddick after his match on center court on live national TV in Australia (I interview the winners of the matches I commentate on for Channel 7 down here immediately after the matches and can get some pretty funny questions in since they're in a good mood and typically know me pretty well). Andy gets a "Kick Save and a Beauty" for saving me by taking the mic and making fun of my snazzy pant/shirt combo and amount of product in my hair. He is a funny kid and a natural with the quip.

Good co-mingling of media/players here at the Open as several of the players eat in the relative quiet of the media restaurant which has the same food as the players resto but less people. The more the players and journos interact the better as we're all in this together in some ways. Players need media to tell their stories and help the game grow while the journos need access for better stories to do their jobs. It's tenuous at times but this interaction can help melt the freeze that exists sometimes (I certainly have had my fair share of frostiness with the media in my time) as well as the general distrust amongst the two camps.
 
January 17, 2007


The new year starts with a bang if you're a tennis player. Right out of the blocks you have to be in peak physical condition if you want to excel at the year's first major, the Australian Open. I am in Melbourne working for Australia's network, channel 7 so I've got a nice, air-conditioned view of the proceedings. TV's good for that...you don't suffer in the heat and you always make it to the final.

100+ degrees. That's what the players had to deal with yesterday. It was

so hot they stopped play other than on the 2 stadium courts which have retractable roofs. It was like a rain delay in effect. That meant that when it finally cooled down around 8pm that matches went on everywhere all at once. I left the grounds at 1:30am after local favorite Lleyton Hewitt's comeback win from 2 sets to love down ended and there were about 8 courts in action that probably didn't finish until the 3am mark.

Brutal for the players on one hand but better than suffering in the oppressive heat.

Years ago before the heat rule was put into effect players just suffered. You would see lots of defaults. Basically if a player got too far behind they would just quit as they knew there was no way to come back physically. Compared to the older days when this tournament was played on grass it makes sense to have a heat rule because it is so much tougher on the athlete these days. The hard rebound ace surface reflects, rather than absorbing, the oppressive heat and stretches the typical length of point compared to grass. All in all the game is a lot more physical and this rule makes sense.

Maria Sharapova is a big fan favorite here but she almost lost 1st round yesterday. She beat a young French player 9-7 in the 3rd after choking away a 5-0 lead in the final set. Along with Kim Clijsters and Amelie Mauresmo, she is expected to charge for the title. Serena is here but I would put her and Hingis in the second group of favorites.

Roger Federer is the runaway men's favorite but watch out for the Americans. Both James Blake and Andy Roddick have started the year in strong fashion and they were the only players to get a set off of Fed at the US Open. With Rafael Nadal also here and looking good the men's event should be a fun watch. Andy Murray looked pretty good out of the gates yesterday too, putting the beat down on a Spanish player, Albert Martin, 6-0, 6-0, 6-1. Ouch.

Tennis is massively popular down here in Australia. For the next two weeks it will dominate the front page of all the national newspapers and nightly news. Imagine NBC or CBS having tennis on live daily from 11am-6pm and nightly from 7:30pm until midnight uninterrupted for 2 consecutive weeks during the US Open because that is exactly what the coverage is here down under. Massive indeed.
 
October 9, 2006


Time for a big recap after a very intense run this (early) fall.

I knew my life was going to be pace-ful (feeling free to make up words in my fatigued state) from the US Open until the Stanford Championships in Memphis wound to a close so I was prepared to grind it out for the 6 week period but now that it is finally over I am finally starting to feel the strain that I have been trying to ignore. My back is aching. So is my head (maybe the rum wasn't a good idea last night...actually, I think it was a necessary evil). Come to think of it, almost everything is aching. I am ready for some rest and time in my own bed. I'll get the home-bed part starting tomorrow...the rest will have to wait until the weekend.

It has been an exceptionally good run this fall even though it's been grueling; all of the short nights, stress, discussions (arguments), aches, etc were worth it.

TV world---Doing TV at the Open was more intense than ever this year with Andre and Billie Jean forcing us to offer broad perspective rather than our normal reactive comments about who's hot and who's not and why. It was the most challenging TV experience I have had so far and also the most rewarding. I was very emotionally connected to Andre's farewell so that took a lot out of me since I wanted to make sure I hit the exact tone I was looking for, which was tricky. I am normally pretty sarcastic and loose on set but the situation didn't call for that so I stressed about what to say and how to say it in the few seconds you get with the red light on. It felt like I hit my points ok. I really enjoyed it much more when I was off-air just watching AA play from our TV perch in Ashe on the outdoor deck with JV, my brother and other friends who came to hang. We had some cool visitors up there as always which makes the Open fun. Good times...

A lot of people ask why I don't call many matches at the Open. I do call some but that's when everyone is at work so nobody ever hears me except when I rock the sweet ties in studio at night! I only call day matches during the first week (Cable guy...USA Net). JMac calls the night matches and the main men's day match as he is obviously the man on our telecast. He does a great job and I enjoy the few chances I get to call matches with him. I am there as a stop-gap for whatever he doesn't do in the day and to do some night time studio pops with him and Al Trautwig. That's pretty fun stuff in the studio. TV hours are long (9:30am-10pm most days) so it gets pretty grueling by the time week 2 arrives (ironically, by the time most of you start to tune in I'm fried and out of material!).

I was also trying to prepare to play in Charlotte during the Open by hitting balls either early (8-9AM at my club in NYC on the way out to Flushing for about 5 of the first 7 days) or in between day and night sessions with whoever I could find in the locker room. One great thing about the Open locker rooms is the weight room that adjoins the men's/women's locker rooms. To be able to grab a quick weight workout is a real bonus when you're trying to stay fit for the upcoming fall Outback Series swing. I know it's hard to tell I hit the iron but I'm sneaky strong. Plus, showing off in front of the WTA cuties is all good.

I had some friends from Naples, Charlotte, LA and Atlanta (among other places. Lots of friends in for the Open) in town during the Open and we hit the apple pretty hard a few nights. Some good, late, huge, fun times. I don't recover too well anymore so they set the old training back for a few days but I turned it around for week 2. Well worth it.

InsideOut time---Right after the Open it was a murderous schedule of getting back into the office in nyc, catching up on all of the emails/phone calls I didn't get to during commercial breaks at the Open and preparing to go to Boston and Memphis that week for meetings and pre-event promotional activity. Day trips are killers and I flew to Memphis on Tuesday am, back that evening and then on Thursday flew up and back to Boston same day. Oh, then I flew on Friday am to Lansing, Michigan for Todd Martin's charity weekend event. It was a wonderful event supporting his kids programs and I really enjoyed seeing a new city and the place Todd grew up. What a beautiful campus MSU has. That weekend felt like my vacation post-Open. Then...on to Charlotte on Sunday.

Charlotte----New events provide challenges and we have had a slew (5) of new events to put on this year. Charlotte was a great experience. We have made so many great new friends there in the last year. The tournament was a success at every level. We had terrific crowds, a beautiful venue, spectacular weather, excellent tennis (I won which made me especially happy) and amazing support from the Charlotte community. It was a very well received event and we had relatively few problems. I played some tough players in Aaron, Wayne, Sergi and Todd and had some close ones but I really did step up when I needed to and made some clutch shots under pressure. It was hot and humid and I almost cramped up after playing Wayne on Saturday afternoon. He is a terrific addition to the circuit. So friendly and easy to get along with for everyone and an obvious talent. Sergi had the southern women heating up a bit which is always a good thing too. Sexy sells. Maybe we should put together a calendar? I snuck the final in over Todd but it was tight...champions breaker for the win. It was good to get my revenge for him taking me out in Boston in April. You thought I forgot?

Back to ISE HQ----I was the only one from InsideOut who got to go home to NY after Charlotte as JV, Nick, Deb, Zach, Vanti and Colette all stayed to close up shop there and then head straight over to out next stop, Memphis, which started 9 days after Charlotte ended which was a seriously daunting task. The amount of work that goes into putting events on is incredible and our team is a focused, hard working, intelligent, motivated group...and that's a good thing because there's no other way we could put on 5 tournaments in one year as well as other events (and not one in our home market) without it. I got to go back to NY as I am not involved in the on the ground Ops so there was nothing I could do but get in the way and someone needed to get back to our office and keep Andrea, our office manager, from bouncing off of the walls since she had been holding down the fort in our absence. I got a lot done that week. With the 5 Outback events, Fantasy Camp in November and one-nighters to pay attention to and new biz ops to pursue there is not enough time in the day to get it all done (and hit a few tennis balls/weights/have a life) but being home and not having to do any day trips meant I could get a lot off of my plate. I didn't have a bad week of late night live music either. Got to see the Raconteurs on Tuesday night and Eric Clapton on Thursday. I love my life. Not getting cheated that's for sure...Sat night, it was airplane to Memphis time...here we go again.

Memphis---Rolled in Sat night to Memphis for a quick venue inspection (looking good) and right into the clutches of our local friends who took us DEEP into the Memphis scene for a big night out. Hollywood Raifords...check it out. It's the real Memphis deal. Sometimes when you least expect it...you end up in a double wide trailer disguised as a night club (run by a living, breathing pimp) with a 40oz beer in your hand dancing to (awesome) Rick James tunes...guess you had to be there. Anyway...the tournament had taken some interesting turns the week prior as we lost 2 players to injury/illness (Korda/Arias) and had to make quick calls to get replacements. We got Wayne F and Magnus Larsson of Sweden last minute. They were great. Both said "tell me when you need me there and I'm there". Good decisions as they ended up in the finals against each other. Magnus was too good for everyone, winning 8 sets on the trot to take the title. Wayne and JMac both took me out though I got a win over Mats in my round robin matches. I tweaked my back in the Mats match and was lucky to have a day off before Wayne on Fri and Mac on Sat. That allowed me to get treated and able to go. Not enough giddy up though to get past those guys...I am feeling better today (Sunday) though and with some ice and stim machine action I should be ready to get back on court by the end of the week. I would be taking the next week off from hitting balls anyway...needing a break. Maybe some yoga or gym time but nothing too strenuous. (Rest is an important part of training!) The tennis was excellent at the tourney and we didn't have any major snafus with the Ops but one area (and quite an important one) we struggled with was getting the crowds out in Memphis, which was disappointing. It's not the best feeling to play to a half full stadium, which was what we had. We'll hope for better next year. It's odd to play to a full house 2 weeks prior in Charlotte and then 1/2 full the next go around but that's showbiz...

NYC here I come----I leave Memphis for the Apple tomorrow. No days off until next weekend (meetings here tomorrow and in nyc all week starting Tuesday afternoon...at ISE the world never stops turning) but I am hoping to get out to the Mets playoff game Wed night. 3 weeks at home for the most part. My favorite time of the year to be in NYC-Fall.

Next---stay tuned for more E-Babbling from me and some other players as we get closer to the last tourney of the year, the Stanford Cup in Houston. I need to win a few matches to clinch year end #1 on the Outback...gotta get it done.
 
September 11, 2006


What an Open. I am exhausted and I didn't play a shot (unless you count my hits on the practice courts with Johnny Mac, Connors and Roddick)...I just talked a lot but the emotion still got me pretty whipped tired.

How good are you, Roger Federer? Good enough to go 27-1 in Grand Slam play in 06, the 2nd best record in the Open era (men's) behind Rod Laver's Slam of 28-0. The crazy thing is other than the match you lost at the French you were NEVER in danger of elimination in any match you played at any of the majors. Never down 2 sets to 1, never down a break in the 5th, never truly pushed to the brink. That is scary. The depth of the 128 men's field is very strong in 2006 but we have a player for the ages in you. Tiger's probably the only guy you can truly relate to with all of that genius ability and dominance. I want you to make sure you follow him in the final round of Augusta when he's paired with Phil next year just to get him back for showing up in the finals. Do me a favor and stand in his viewing line for each putt...he likes pressure so go ahead and give him some. Oh and remind him you're closer to breaking the all time major's record than he is and you're giving him 5 years...I would recommend, however, for his sake that he sit in a neutral box rather than yours next time you play an American in the US Open final 2 weeks before he heads over to play Ryder Cup. That was a bit confusing for us all.

Andy Roddick. Welcome back into the mix. You weren't gone that long but now that you're playing with swagger again I think you're headed towards your best tennis. #3 year to date in the rankings. Nice summer kid...keep it rolling in Russia as it's been too long since we won a Davis Cup. Come to think of it, the last time we did it was on the same court you'll be playing in 11 days time. Good karma there...Pete was no clay courter and he won all 3 matches.

Maria, Maria. Reminds me of a west side story (you think the Santana song was the inspiration to use West Side Story lyrics for the nike spot? Hmmm)...well done to you as well. You had a terrific summer and thanks for proving I am a prognosticating genius by winning the Open...at least for this tournament I got both winners right. Who cares what they are saying about the coaching? You shouldn't. Just win, baby. The second you don't they will be all over you complaining that you're too caught up in celebrity, too wealthy to care, etc. Just keep doing what you do and let the jealousy fall off of your shoulders.

Martina, Billie Jean and Andre...thank you all for inspiring us this fortnight and making it about even more than your fabulous tennis. Thanks for reminding us that athletes have the ability to move people and also move mountains if they choose. On a personal note, thanks for inspiring me to continue to push myself for excellence on and off of the court.

Speaking of, I am hitting the court a lot myself now as I prepare for the fall swing of Outback Champions Series tennis. Charlotte in September, Memphis in October and Houston in November will test me and I can't wait. As a kid I always got so pumped up to play after watching the world's best do their thing on the big stages. It's no different now and I can't wait to test myself once again under the heat of battle. Maybe I'll be able to hit one of those between the legs shots like Roger did...maybe.

So in closing, thanks for letting me share some thoughts with you. Hope you agreed or disagreed. I like my chances on that point.

Jim
 
September 6, 2006


Today's a big day of tennis with the rain relenting and all players in action. A fantastic day to have a grounds pass which the USTA has priced at $20 today. With that ticket you can see every court on the grounds except for Ashe Stadium which means you would get to see Mauresmo, Federer and Nadal on Armstrong. That's good value.

I've written mostly on the men (OK, exclusively) so let's give the ladies a fair shake and get into their tournament now that we're getting towards crunch time and the Andre farewell has taken place.

Before the tournament I predicted Maria Sharapova would be taking the title here and I still believe she has a great shot. She plays Tatiana Golovin today in the qtrs, a talented French player having her best Grand Slam moment so far. Maria should get through that one and would then likely face world #1 Amelie Mauresmo in the semifinals, who has come a long way in the past year with wins at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon. Mauresmo really impressed me the other night by rebounding after a 6-0 second set loss versus Serena, who had owned her coming into the match. Her mental toughness is readily apparent and well deserved, having gotten rid of the moniker of "best not to win a major" by winning those 2 slams. Based on what I am seeing here I would give Amelie a very slight edge over Maria in the semis should they both win today.

On the other side of the draw the big match is clearly Davenport vs Henin-Hardenne. Lindsay has said this may be her last Open and she has played very well through an injury to reach this huge moment vs the world #2. Justine is having a great year as well, having reached the finals at all 3 majors and winning in Paris. This match is an absolute pick-em. Should be a beauty and the winner of this one should get comfortably by surprise semi-finalist Jelena Jankovic to reach the final.

Few surprises until now in the women's draw this year but one that jumped out was the quick exit of Martina Hingis who has climbed out of retirement and into the top ten again. I love the way she plays and am disappointed she got bounced in round 2 by Virginie Razzano. I would have enjoyed a Mauresmo-Hingis qtrfinal. Maybe next year.

OK, back to the action. We have today and tomorrow on USA Network until we turn it over to CBS for the big finish. That means I finally get a little more time to hit some balls of my own and get prepped for the Outback Series this fall. Watching all of this tennis has me fired up to get my game in gear. It's nice to talk about it on tv but also fun to get out into the fire too.
 
September 3, 2006


Today was without question the most memorable day at a tennis tournament in my lifetime. With Andre Agassi saying goodbye, a very large chapter in tennis history ended. And in that moment the single most evolved athlete I've encountered, and have the great fortune to call a friend, walked off into a sunset he painted brightly and boldly for sports fans around the world to see. Lots of tears were shed today. I contributed greatly to the number that hit the floor.

Andre made us all part of his swansong this week and it was unlike anything I've seen. His fellow players, the very men whose job it is to defeat anyone in their path on a daily basis, saluted him in the players meeting prior to the tournament with a standing ovation, with Andre urging them to take great care of each other and our sport. Those same players gave Andre a standing ovation in the locker room after his final match today, bringing tears to everyone's eyes. The media finished their time with him in his last US Open press conference with another standing ovation. And finally, the fans who put bells in Andre's ears on Ashe Stadium for his final 3 unforgettable matches stood for 7 minutes (and on outside courts they stood and cheered at the same time too, stopping play all over the grounds) in appreciation. Somehow this very public moment felt very private and personal in spite of it being such a shared experience, perhaps because Andre allowed you a look into his soul to see the vulberability that exists in every athlete but is rarely shown. Everyone knows Andre in varying degrees because of his willingness to open up and we now know even more about him after this week that is admirable and aspirational. If you want to read something truly incredible, attain the transcript to his press conference from today.

A game like tennis cannot replace someone like Andre. The best we can do is remember his contributions and hope that the path he has blazed will inspire other athletes to achieve as much off of the field as on it, as he has. And to leave the game better off than when you arrived.

If there was a time capsule for the history of tennis, Andre's moving speech today would have to be included as a defining moment. But that little glimpse of Andre could never do justice and provide enough perspective to what he has meant to this sport and the people who work in it, follow it and believe in it. No, you'd need 21 years to understand that.
 
August 31, 2006


Andy Roddick is into the 3rd round of the Open but he's not the male American I want to type about tonight. Nor is James Blake, our #1, who won his first round tonight on Armstrong stadium. No, not even Mr Agassi who will lace them up Thursday night.

No, tonight I want to tell you about Sam Querrey, the 18 year old Californian who won his debut match at the US Open tonight in stylish fashion on Armstrong. American tennis fans say hello to your future. He may not be the only one of the young American male crop upcoming you get to know but you'll be seeing Sam in the top 100 very soon, most likely in the next 2 months.

Sam plays with major power. He is 6'6" with a massive serve/fh combination. He is a personal favorite of Andy Roddick, having been a practice partner for the Davis Cup team twice already and a sparring partner for Andy a few weeks ago in Austin, TX for the week leading up to Cincinnati's Master event which Roddick won and saw Sam take Rafael Nadal to 3 sets in the first round. Oh yeah, Connors was in Austin with the boys for the week. Not a bad little training camp for a rookie pro, huh? A tip of the hat to Roddick for taking Sam under his wing and showing him the ropes, an invaluable and selfless thing to do when Sam could be facing Andy on Tour anytime now.

Johnny Mac let me crash at his apartment in NYC a few times and practiced with me when I was a young pro, freely dispensing advice. There are a long line of American pros that crashed at my house at one time or another for some practice time. Ditto Andre in Vegas. It's important to pass down the traditions so it warms my heart to see Andy mentoring Sam.

Mac and I are both hitting in between calling matches on USA to prep for the fall Outback Champions Series events in Charlotte, Memphis and Houston. John even hit with Connors today for a few minutes after Andy warmed up on the practice courts. The fans were losing it.

OK, I promise to write about foreign female players to be fair and balanced next time. Feel free to send topical suggestions.

JC
 
August 29, 2006


The Agassi Open

Quite the first day at the Agassi Open, I mean US Open. I interviewed Andre for USA Network's coverage seconds prior to his walk-on to Ashe Stadium and I've never seen him more nervous. Typically he is a focused bundle of energy pre-match but I saw fear, not excitement, on his face. It was a great relief to see him quickly get over the possibility that it could possibly be the last match of his Grand Slam career and hit the ball cleanly from the start. Andrei Pavel played a tremendous match and I had to walk over into the TV booth from the outdoor deck I watched the match from and look over Johnny Mac and Ted's shoulder to check the stats out to verify what my eyes were telling me...this was quarterfinal quality in the very first round. So much for the gradual run-up! The 2 Andre(i)'s matched winner for winner for over 3:30 action packed hours and it was a very special night. Of course it's NY so we had all kinds of stars in the stands; Phil Collins, The Donald, Tony Bennett, Terrence Howard (how good was he in Hustle and Flow? Scary good), Giselle and the 50 most important people in Andre Agassi's life, including his wife, kids, brother and father.

I stayed to watch the match until the end. Typically I go home during the Men's late match to rest up for the next day, having started on the air at 11am, but there is no chance I will miss any of AA's matches at this tournament. I feel like I'm back on the Davis Cup team with him, living and dying with each point. It's not the kosher thing for a broadcaster to cheer openly for a player but who's kidding who? I'm no broadcaster...I'm just a player having fun talking tennis and sharing my stories with you, the viewer at home, so I'm not too concerned. Hey, you can always make the Open more enjoyable and hit mute if you like. It's what I did for years when I was playing this tournament!

It's 2am and I am still up. Fired up...Andre lit up the Open tonight and at the newly renamed Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. What a night. Connors, Evert, Navritilova, Venus, Mac all here tonight to celebrate Billie's achievements on and more importantly off the course. A true pioneer. Richly deserved. Tennis had a lot to be proud of tonight. What a way to start it all off...
 
August 25, 2006


It's US Open time! Iím doing TV on USA Network so I'll have a good look at what's going on out there.

So this is, as we all know, the Agassi Open until further notice. If AA makes a run itís going to get pretty kooky at the newly named BJKNTC (well done, USTA). I hope that is the case. Heís been at various times a friend, foe, rival and teammate of mine. Now, just a friend. I spent a day with him in Vegas recently. I got to see the school that he built for needy children that will change the path of families for generations. Heady stuff. I donít care if you like him, you have to respect him for that alone. Anyway, I will be, not so secretly, pulling for him to go a long way in this event even though it means nothing to his legacy at the end of the day. 21 years on Tour. One match wonít change anything but I sure hope his back holds up so he can give it a great run for his sake. He deserves that.

Federer is the big favorite on the menís side. No surprise there. Nadal has been lackluster in his 2 events since Wimby. In the ďall new coaches cornerĒ stand Roddick+Murray+Gonzalez who seem like the form guys with new found court savvy and confidence. Iím hoping James Blake can get a run on as well since the J-Block will be representing for CT. He had a great start to the summer with a win in Indy but has not been able to stay on that roll since. Heís had an amazing 12 months and now itís time to start defending the ranking which can take a little time to adjust to. As long as JB remembers he didnít get to 5 in the world by accident heíll be fine and should be good to reach week 2 of the Open and roll the dice from there.

Itís Mariaís turn on the womenís side. She had a strong California swing and is well rested and healthy. Not too many other gals have that going for them. Clijsters looked good and then, just like that with one slip, sheís gone. No defense of the title. Shame. Lindsay may be peaking at the right time. Itís been a strange summer for the ladies. Lots of withdrawing. Maybe thatís not so strange anymore. Hello longer off season. I know youíre coming soon...Ēoperation shorter seasonĒ is under way at the WTA. Stay tuned on that front.

Big party tonight in NY that Tennis Channel is throwing with ATP/WTA. Should be a fun one. Still time for all of the players to recover before the going gets going on Monday. By the way, unless there are TV schedule/contract issues I fully expect to see the US Open starting on Sunday (15 day event) next year. More weekend TV time of your biggest event is a no-brainer for the sport if the back door biz can get smoothed over.

JC
 
July 4, 2006


Week 2 of The Championships. I have been alerted by many fact-filled articles that we've hit a very grave place in our tennis history as a nation. From what I keep reading there are no "American" players left in the field in either the men's or women's singles draw. 1911 they write. Really? I'll concede the facts but it seems to me that we need to dig a little deeper on this subject so let's go there;

Today Maria Sharapova is a world class tennis player and icon, a Wimbledon champion who has arrived safely into the semifinals in this year's edition. Her passport says Russia but this young woman left her native country for American shores to pursue her (and her father's) dream when she was just a tot. Every single bit of her development from the age of 7 until she turned pro (from the story Mary Carillo tells beautifully. Mary does her homework so if I am wrong here, sue her) came on US soil, largely at Bollettieri's Academy, the same place I honed my skills from the rather advanced age of 14 in pursuit of my own dream. I imagine she sweated alongside as many 'foreign' players as I did in my youth; Japanese, Spanish, American, Argentine, Canadian, French, German, you name it. While her blood may be Russian I can assure you that her game was refined to a sharp point on American soil. She still lives here. Have you heard these names; Nicole Vaidisova, Tommy Haas, Anna Kournikova, Max Mirnyi? Yep, you guessed it. Games all reared and honed from a very young age in Bradenton (and nary a one play for the US). If Nick's was it's own municipality (it's almost as big as Monaco these days) they would have surely won some Davis and Fed Cups by now.

Tennis has been a meritocracy for a long, long time. Tom Friedman, one of my favorite authors, has a best seller in "The World is Flat", which is a must read. He writes of how the internet and technology are turning the world into a meritocracy, knocking down the borders of commerce and offering a level playing field where the best and brightest can play at the same table as the G8 powers. The effect in his view is that the world is on its way to finally becoming a meritocracy (forget for a moment our military strength...we don't have the time). Congratulations tennis! We're ahead of a curve, finally! Bollettieri's and other academies of opportunity flattened the world of tennis many years ago. Academies have been offering the technical, structural and competitive platform to become a champion tennis player for years so long as you've got the raw skill, work ethic, mental aptitude and ability to pay or secure a scholarship (and virtually all the great ones that came through Nick's did it on his or IMG's dime, including me). Our sport is laid out this way...win enough matches and you will become #1 in the world. Nobody or thing can stop you, not even a passport (anymore. Ask Martina N about that one). Friedman may be right about the world flattening but it's been flat in tennis for a while. (On his theory, I do have a hard time believing that the powers won't try to put the lid back on to protect the status quo. Check out China's curbs on the internet in today's NY Times)

I digress. Back on topic...Tennis is an individual sport, save the rare weeks of the aforementioned team competitions. I get the whole patriotic sports fervor, particularly on July 4 (and in the wake of the World Cup), and I understand how American tennis fans are accustomed to home grown champions. Pete Sampras and I played the Wimbledon final on July 4 in 93 (and surprisingly the Brits didn't make that big of a deal about it) but neither of us were playing for our country as much as for ourselves and there was no parade back in the States for any victory in a major for Pete, Andre Agassi, Michael Chang or me that I recall. Hell, there was no parade or White House visit for our Davis Cup wins with the flag on our jackets for that matter. I just hope that the tennis fans in the good ole USA can understand that if Sharapova wins on Saturday that US tennis will have won another major, no matter what her passport says. Still, I doubt there will be a parade when she gets back home to the States...but there should be.
 
June 25, 2006


A few musings from NYC...

Wimbledon is upon us but this year's tournament has already been hijacked by a friend of mine who once ignored the grass courts of the AELTC. Mr Agassi announced he will finally call an end to his remarkable career in a few months time. Fire up the retrospectives...here are a few items of note from my perspective; Andre has been the sports leading icon and crossover star from practically the first day of his pro career. He is on a one name basis with most of the world. People either love, hate or admire Andre but everyone has an opinion. That, my friends, is a Q rating. He has been a constant threat to win at the majors for nearly 20 years minus a few hiccups, a remarkable feat given the depth of today's game. He has played 3 generations of players from Connors to Federer and certainly all in between. For frame of reference, Nadal was born the year Andre turned pro, 1986. On top of all of that he has transformed his persona certainly more than any tennis player in history and perhaps in all of sport by growing from a rebellious figure to a true caretaker of the game and guiding light to his peers. His maturation as a player and person in a very bright public spotlight will be a feature movie at some point in time, guaranteed. The 2006 US Open will be an outpouring of NYC and tennis fans the world over's appreciation for everything Andre has given to the game. Andre is an emotional being and it will be interesting to see him walk off of Ashe Stadium after his last match. I suspect there will be tears in a lot of people's eyes, including his and certainly mine. For my generation of players AA was the first to light the pro torch and now he is finally extinguishing it, years after we have all moved on, as he competes for the last time for a Grand Slam title. Sure, he will likely play some exo's down the road and maybe even join us on the Outback Series for some friendlier competition but he will not gun for the crown at Wimbledon or the other majors after the 06 Open. I have said in the past that when Andre leaves the Tour that for me it will feel like when your last friend finally graduates from college and you have to face the fact that you're not a kid anymore. Well, it's official. I have to grow up now...

One other thing on this topic. There will not be a 'next Andre Agassi' so I hope that sportswriters will give that futile exercise a pass as we go forward. With all that he has brought to the table and will continue to bring with his business acumen and philanthropic bent, there can be only one AA and I am sure he will remain quite visible.

Finally, I am lucky to have had him as a peer, competitor, teammate and friend. Sports fans and the kids in Las Vegas whose lives he changes are lucky to have had him, period.

OK, not much else to write after that so I will just get to some Wimby predictions. I am sure to be way off here since I nailed the French predictions. I am pulling for the Yanks, just in case you were wondering, but these are my picks. I hope I am wrong.

Men's Semis- Federer vs Nalbandian and Hewitt vs Ljubicic. Fed over Luby in 4 sets for the win.

Women's Semis- Venus vs Sharapova, Hingis vs Clijsters. Sharapova over Clijsters in 2 sets.
 
June 10, 2006


I am feeling strong today on my pre-event predictions (and also because I am on a beach in Hawaii as I type and will be here for the next 8 days). Justine came through for the win. I had her beating Kim in the finals if they were on opposite sides so with them facing off in the semis I almost hurt my arm patting myself on the back for that caveat I threw in there. Nice work by the Kuze to get through to the finals, hanging in against Nicole. Nicole obviously choked the semis but will learn from it. Everyone chokes in that situation...nothing new about it. She has a great future. As for Justine, this must be sweet to put the Aussie debacle behind her.

On to the main course...Rog v Rafa. I still like Rafa in 4 as I typed pre-event. Rafa has been impressive which is no surprise. His defense is intimidating the guys in my mind more than his offense...it's counter-intuitive but true. Everyone can be offensive but who defends better? No one. He forces guys to go for more than they want to (and are capable of consistently doing) because he digs and digs and then unleashes the weight of his FH once he gets back to neutral as well as being able to crack BH passing shot winners on the run (and the occasional lob from way downtown which flustered Djokovich to no end). So what if Rafa just rolls his serve in? Nobody is making him pay for it and once he's in a rally he wins more than 50% of the time. Unless you can serve him off of the court and avoid rallies when you are serving he is going to beat you. Anyone can do that math. So...Roger needs versatility and a good serving day coupled with the extra belief in himself that he doesn't have to overplay at crunch time. His shot selection cost him in Rome. If he gets to match point tomorrow let's see if he goes for broke too soon or believes he can stay in the rally and get the right shot to attack on. One thing he knows is Rafa will not give it to him...gotta love that about the kid.

Fact: Federer is by far the 2nd best player on clay right now. Nobody else is in the conversation. Other than Nalby, Rog has rolled guys and looked to be on cruise control. If Rafa lost early Roger would have been the overwhelming favorite. I don't think Roger wins tomorrow but after his clay season he should feel absolutely certain that he will win the French someday, even if it doesn't happen tomorrow.

#1 v #2. Roger Slam versus Rafa's streak. Fire vs Ice. Elegance vs Brute Force. Righty vs Lefty. Oil vs Vinegar. Rivalries make tennis. Harvey Araton of the Times said this is the best rivalry in sport. We have one. People overseas are in tune with it. It's time to let everyone in America know. NBC will hopefully do that in their promo spots today/tonight and let's all hope the match lives up to the hype.

Enjoy.
 
May 23, 2006


It's a gorgeous spring day and it's good to be alive and well. After Champions Cup Boston I played Johnny Mac in a one-night event in Atlanta (Mercedes Benz Classic) where we also played mixed with the Jana and Anna show. It was pretty fun, except for the losing part, and the crowd was into it which was sweet. Mac mooned me. Pulled them right down in front of women, children and yours truly. 2nd time he has directed the full moon to me in an event. I think we may be able to get him a new razor deal based on what we all saw....didn't he used to be sponsored by Bic? Anna almost took me out with a swinging volley in the mixed. I will remember that next time we are on opposite ends of the court...

The Outback Series doesn't kick back in until September in Charlotte and, other than a team event in Spain I will be playing this July, my tennis will be played behind closed doors here in NYC, going at it just as hard but in silence. Here's the thing; I love to play in front of a crowd but I'm pretty happy to battle one the guys around here for my own satisfaction. Tennis is the best workout around. Keeps me young.

Things are good here at InsideOut. We continue to look ahead and prep for the fall Outback events in Charlotte, Memphis and Houston. After the success of Naples and Boston earlier this year we are pushing hard to keep the ball rolling on all fronts. Jon Venison and I are traveling around a bunch as we look at new and current business and the troops in the office are in full grind mode as well. I just looked at my calendar and I will be on the road for more days this year than I have ever been, although no more of those 4 week trips. It's mostly 1-3 day trips. They add up. All good though.

OK, picks for Paris:

Mens-No surprise here. Rafa takes it over Fed in 4 sets in the final. I've caught most of their 3 matches this year (thank you, Tennis Channel). Fed has been pushing the gas pretty hard in those matches, taking more risk than he likes and, strangely for Rog, blinking under pressure. This has become more mental than physical. Rog had match points in Rome and did what we all do sometimes, gagged. The pressure now mounts because if Roger believes (and he definitely does) that he has to be better than usual to beat Rafa than he is the underdog. The bummer for Rog is that he is so good that he will continue to make it out to clay court finals to play Rafa (as 1 and 2 they can only play in finals these days), and surely he will begin to win some of those, but I doubt they will be playing anytime soon on the other extreme surface which heavily favors Rog, grass, because who expects Rafa to make the Wimby finals? Nobody, including Rafa. Not this year anyway. No matter, Rafa will take his 2nd major and be a real force at the US Open.

Women-Can I get some help here? Gone are the days of the lay-up pick, for now. Who's healthy??? Hingis for one and she's back, big-time. For Amelie the pressure will be tough; probably too much to bear. Justine is my favorite if she is strong enough to grind for 2 weeks. What about Petrova? I like her getting to the semis. Bottom line is I like Clijsters-Justine in the final if the draw puts them on opposite sides with Justine taking it in 2 sets. But if you give me the right odds, I'll take Hingis just for fun...

JC
 
April 29, 2006


So far, so good here in Boston. We had a phenomenal charity day on Wednesday to get Champion Cup Boston under way. Tenacity is the charity we are supporting here, a tennis and education program that serves 3,000 inner city kids in Boston. All of the players played in a pro-am at Harvard. I got to play doubles with a few of the kids in the program and they were awesome. Good players and lots of fun to be with. Later that night we all went to Champions for Tenacity, the kick off party for CCB in downtown Boston. Mayor Menino of Boston was there along with 900 of Boston's finest. We raised a lot of money for that program. I was pretty pumped up about that. I left reasonably early as I was pretty tired from having done a lot of pre-event press and a long practice session with Aaron Krickstein earlier in the day.

I had a nice win against Mats on Thursday in my opening match. The court here is playing pretty medium and I got more free points on my serve than Mats did. That let me fire away when he was serving and I got a few key breaks to swing the match in my favor. I clipped Mats 3 and 2 in front of a great crowd. It's been some years since Boston had a pro tournament and they are all fired up.

Yesterday I played Krick in a barn-burner. I beat him 10-5 in the 3rd set Champions breaker in about a 2 1/2 hour match. I started cramping up in my quads from dehydration (forgot to drink enough pre-match!) at about the 2:20 mark and had to use the old "slow, deep breaths and relax technique" to make it through physically. Krick was playing great and the level of tennis was strong. Very few unforced errors. A high quality match. Lots of big FH winners as you would expect. I had to start pulling the trigger earlier to end points at the end of the match and fortunately my shots landed in. I hit quite a few lines in the breaker.

I got to the locker room fine (and relieved) and then the cramps got really bad. I just laid down on a table and tried to relax as much as I could as my quads and hammies palpitated. Fortunately I got enough liquid in my system and they went away after a pretty intense 20 minutes. Needless to say I have been slamming water ever since. It's Saturday morning and I have had about 3 gallons of water since.

The crowds were amazing last night. Sold out and boisterous for Mac vs Cash and Martin v Wilander. Mac was aggravated with a few let cord non-calls out there and got into with the umpire. Boston fans didn't seem to mind...they were encouraging him. May have been the beer.

CCB has been a big success so far. We're sold out the rest of the weekend. Goran plays Mac today in the de facto semi of their group and Todd and I do the same tonight. Todd and I had a late dinner last night (finished around 2) in Boston with Cashy, Matt G who is our merchandise partner at InsideOut-Idegy, my brother Kris and some of our friends from Outback. Got to sleep around 3pm (adrenaline post-match keep me up). I am tired but rested this am. Todd is playing some strong tennis and I will have to play big tonight to get him. Looking forward to that challenge. I clipped him in the Houston final in November so he'll be out with motives tonight.

Heading out to Kraft Kids Day with Todd and Wayne Bryan, who will run the free clinic on center court for any kid under 18 that shows up, in a few hours. Should be a good turnout. We had 100 kids show in Naples so I expect at least that today. OK, more later...I have a clinic to do and a match to win.
 
March 18, 2006


Naples is now concluded and I am finally back home in NYC after a long road journey so far in 2006. Haven't hit a ball since the final (been taking some days off to recover) and it's already Saturday. Time to get back to it. I have a court booked on indoor clay tonight for 2 hours. It'll take me 30 minutes to feel the ball due to the cold but I'm up for it. Need the sweat.

It was rewarding to practice hard in January and February so I would be physically prepared for the event and see it pay off with a Naples victory. I almost peaked too soon. I played really well in my opening matches. Pat Cash made it awkward for me in the finals though, slicing and slapping the ball around, rarely giving me a ball to hit in the strike zone. I had to hang in there enough to sneak the title. I was choking pretty badly all the way through. Strings were too loose initially (the temperature jumped the last day) and I had no feel for the 1st three games and that was enough to hurt my confidence. I was as good as I needed to be that night and that is truly what tournament tennis is about. Win the last point and raise the trophy.

It was tough to see Michael Chang go down with the achilles injury last Saturday against Pernfors. He had surgery yesterday in California. He told me on the phone a few days ago he was really enjoying being at the tournament and competing again and would be back as soon as he healed up. I was really looking forward to playing him Sunday night. We may have to wait a while but we'll eventually settle the score. We're 12-12 lifetime against each other.

It was great having Ted Robinson/Jimmy Arias doing the TV for the event on the Tennis Channel. Ted is the best play by play guy in tennis. He makes everyone around him better, every time. I really enjoy working with him at the US Open. Jimmy and I have known each other forever. One of the funniest guys in the game. He can spin a yarn, big time.

Next up is Boston. Todd Martin brings his game to the north. I played him in Houston last November. I best go hit the courts and get ready for him and the others.