Sunday, September 04, 2005

 

The history of professional tennis in the U.S. (1985-2005)

…. seen through the eyes of a follower in India.

The first American guys that I saw play tennis (albeit on the telly) were a rather forgotten duo of Ken Flach and Robert Seguso, who managed to win the doubles at Wimbledon in Boris’ year, i.e. 1985. Unfortunately, during the time that the Television had started coming in a large way into Indian homes, the halcyon days of American tennis with Jimbo and John, were a part of history, and Chrissie was largely a spent force too. Martina Navratilova was still a force to reckon with, but for all the respect that she has gained in the game, Martina will always be Czech-American. So indeed as early as during my initial days of tennis-watching, I had developed an undercurrent of anti-US feelings. Hey c’mon, my heroes were all European. Boris was German. I worshipped him. Sabatini was an Argentine, and was exquisite. Willander was a Swede, and was a favourite too. And although I could hardly ever support either of Lendl, Graf or Edberg, I had nothing but respect in my heart for them. Heard any American name mentioned? No? There you go. The Americans were always dominating the doubles, though, as after the Flach-Seguso combine came the Rick Leach and Jim Pugh combo, which was another sizable duo. But well, doubles will always be the distant and neglected cousin to the glorious singles’ game, and so the Americans were never really the focus of my attention. Sameway, as for the women, after the retirement of the peerless (but Czech) Martina’s retirement, the leading ladies have all been Europeans, with that dictator, Mme Graf, and lesser lights like Arantxa Sanchez. And of course the unfortunate Monica Seles, who came on later.

Of course the first spectacular American Player I saw play was Andre Agassi. But well, the number of talented sportspeople whom I have supported can be counted on the digits of the hand, and what’s more, Agassi was brash. And my football coach in school had always told me that the only way to play was like a gentleman. Of course, I did not follow his directions to a T, but the ideal sportsman in my head is still the polite guy who plays within the rules. And that was Jim Courier. Who was a big favourite with his gigantic forehand and relentless intensity. And incidentally the first American sportsperson I admired.

But….ahem… hmm… Pete?

Ah well, the Pete-following grew on me. During the first few years I hated him. And think a bit and you will understand why. Boris was someone I really admired, and Boris was the person whose throne was taken by Pete at Wimbledon. But then, after Boris was semi-retired, I had to make a compromise. During that time, the hogwash which was the greatest two-way tie-up for the best tennis player, was at fever pitch. And while Pete was all class and little hype, Agassi was the mirror reverse. And well, there were few players but for the two with real class during this time. A fading Boris, an unfocussed Rafter, a crazy Goran, a limited Kafelnikov and a one-dimensional Bruguera…. And Sampras for all his greatness, has a rather easy time picking up all the Grand Slams. And he did it all with exemplary politeness….. now when did we last see that in an American sportsperson?

The golden age of American men’s tennis would include the whole of the ‘90’s with Pete, Andre, Courier and Chang and the master of five-setters Todd Martin dominating the scene, with lesser lights like Vince Spadea and MaliVai Washington (who reached a Wimbledon final once) and Paul Goldstein and Justin Gimelstob also making regular grand slam appearances.

The women’s game has started producing quality Americans too. Jennifer Capriati, with her topsy-turvy career, had to be a favourite. As would be Lindsey Davenport, who had been as well behaved a champion as Pete, I must say. And well, I didn’t like the Williams sisters much when they were at their best, they seemed to dominate the game a bit too much, and if I start dispassionate in sport-watching (which is rare indeed), I will support the underdog. Now, is different. I supported Venus in her Wimbledon triumph against Davenport. And they are quite young as well, so I would like to imagine that the women’s side of the game is in safe hands as for the Americans.

And the Americans have continued producing wonderful doubles players…. Possibly not as many as the Aussies, but enough still. The Bryan brothers and Gigi Fernandez and Lindsey herself and Zina Garrison had certainly made the Americans proud.

And that’s where I come to the topic of the discussion. (Aww, OK, good morning, and you can take a coffee break. But I’ve started so I will finish!)

Roddick, I have always claimed, will have to develop other weapons to be a real threat to the likes of Federer and Nadal. Nobody has ever been a dominant figure in tennis on the dint of a huge serve only. The Roscoe Tanners and the Kevin Currans never won Grand slams, and Goran won one. And well, Roddick cannot change the pace of the game either. So it’s fast, or even faster for Roddick. And that’s a bit of a problem with really talented players like Federer and Nadal. And I have been waiting three years for him to develop one other weapon, and he hasn’t. So there.

But it isn’t a “so there” for Robbie Ginepri, who played a wonderful game to beat Tommy Haas today morning in the US Open. He’s young, and if I have to predict, he has more chances of becoming a Patrick Rafter than a Vince Spadea.

And Taylor Dent IS Patrick Rafter. With the devil-may-care, serve-and-volley every point, bustling game of his, he would not win too many opens… OK fine, he would not win opens, but he would endear himself to tennis fans all around the world.

And there I come to James Blake. And what were, to me, two sets of the best display of tennis I have seen for a long time. It was a spectacular match, and I am fortunate to have seen it live. And well, Blake might not win opens either, his time has passed, you might say, but I could not care for that if he wins nothing else in his life, if he comes up with displays like this once in a while. Incidentally Nadal was awesome too, and as I have predicted quite a few times earlier, he has other Opens but for the French in him. Even a Wimbledon, maybe someday….

So American Tennis will go through these brilliant crests and exasperating troughs, and will surely come up stronger. And yes, I am waiting for more glorious evenings watching amazing matches in the US open like yesterday.

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