Pete Sampras is one of the legends of men's tennis, holding the record of 286 weeks as world No. 1 -- a position he maintained for an unprecedented six years in a row.
14-time grand slam champion Pete Sampras talks to Pat Cash about the future of U.S. tennis.
Here is an assortment of observations leading into the final tune-up week for the Australian Open:
The ATP World Tour Finals event was a colossal letdown on many fronts, replete with injuries, dubious effort and the crystal-clear messages from Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal that the men's Tour simply runs too long. None of that seemed particularly surprising. The overriding story, from this viewpoint, was a Roger Federer masterpiece recalling the best of Pete Sampras.
What do you make of Roger Federer's comments about the court being slower this year? Why did they make it so? Given how much controversy was generated by the switch to Babolat balls at the French Open, I am surprised that this apparent slowing down of the surface has not generated much, if any, discussion. Roger lamented that the difference between grand slam surfaces has become smaller and smaller. Why the desire to slow down the courts? -- Mahsh Kalyana, Cary, N.C.
What does it say about the quality of the women's game right now that the Williams sisters, off long injury layoffs, can make it all the way to the fourth round of a major? I mean, before being summarily drummed out. A sad statement, really. -- Adam Kamp, Sturgeon Lake, Minn.
Canada's rising tennis star Milos Raonic talks to CNN's Candy Reid about his breakthrough year and meeting his hero Pete Sampras.
A single piece of evidence can be a fluke, and even a second misfire can be misleading. But Rafael Nadal has now lost three straight matches to Novak Djokovic -- twice on hardcourts, once on clay -- and there was something about Sunday's Madrid final that spoke to absolute command.
There's nothing like a really strange list to get the tennis community up in arms. You know, the one that ranks Roger Federer No. 7 since the onset of the Open Era (1968). One's immediate impulse to create a more authentic list -- and I'll admit, I can't resist the temptation.
The dominant theme you guys address this week: "What's up with Federer?" Before we discuss that, let's pause and acknowledge Novak Djokovic, who's been living the dream these past few months. He's beaten Federer multiple times, led his country to Davis Cup glory, won a major (after a three-year drought) and looks like the next Great One. Bravo.
Ten thoughts in the wake of Pete Sampras' 6-3, 7-5 exhibition win over Andre Agassi:
1. Faulty Federer falls. Both the gleeful Federer buriers and concerned Federer loyalists were out in full force this weekend. Their man dropped still another match to Novak Djokovic, a shank-o-rific Dubai final that saw Federer lose 6-3, 6-3. While Djokovic played stellar, complete tennis once again, Federer did himself no favors, framing shots, hitting destinationless backhands and finding few answers when Djokovic posed the difficult questions. Federer is now like a stock whose beta/variance is starting to widen. He's still capable of greatness -- that London win over Nadal wasn't even 100 days ago. Yet the dismal matches are becoming more common. Realistically, we knew the ride couldn't go on forever. And Federer's performance is in keeping with the life cycle of a champion. The consistency is the first thing to go. The old weaknesses, such as they are, start to surface. (In this case, the drive backhand.) There's still magic left in the wand, but it's not automatically
The men's tour stopped by my neighborhood last week. It also stopped by Brazil and the Netherlands in its never-ending quest for global outreach, but San Jose's SAP Open drew an excellent field and made some headlines. Among them:
The scores made it seem so ordinary -- 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 -- but the Caroline Wozniacki-Francesca Schiavone quarterfinal was a beacon of contrast at the Australian Open and the ultimate showcase for women's tennis. We may not see anything like it, with so much at stake, until Schiavone returns to the French Open to defend her title.
You predicted someone other than Roger or Rafa would win a Grand Slam this year. When does that happen? And is there anyone currently (or in the future) who could match Roger's five consecutive wins at two different events? Do you see anyone matching that ... or winning five consecutive at even one Grand Slam? --Marina, Dallas
Esther Vergeer has the best record in tennis, 401 straight wins and still going. CNN's Candy Reid investigates.
Los Angeles Police want to question a "person of interest" in the theft of nearly all of legendary tennis champion Pete Sampras' trophy collection from a public storage facility.
1. Reckless gamble: I was talking to a prominent men's doubles player recently about pressure. Playing for the Wimbledon final, he asserted, was nothing compared to the stress of playing a pro-am match in the Huggy Bear tournament. Come again? The Huggy Bear is the Skull and Bones of tennis events, a private affair held before the U.S. Open on private courts in the Hamptons. No TV, no sponsors, a small handful of fans. But some of the most intense matches of the year.
The U.S. Open is often a barometer of American tennis and its prospects for the future, but appearances can be deceiving. Ryan Harrison struck just about everyone as the real thing, a clever and imaginative kid who has every right to think big. The women's side -- and that's two years running -- has the look of a mirage.
As last week's Legg Mason tournament in Washington D.C. staggered to a connoisseurs-only conclusion, we heard a familiar lament: Where are the Americans, with all that hard-court talent? To me, this was the more pressing question: If Andy Roddick is about to vacate his post as the No. 1 U.S. player, where will we find the panache?
Perhaps there's no resurrecting Roger Federer. Maybe he dropped the definitive hints at recent Wimbledons, strolling onto the court in those over-the-top evening jackets, as if preparing for a bit of pipe smoking with Alistair Cooke. Perhaps the rest of his career is just one big barnstorming tour -- "Come see the greatest player who ever lived!" -- as he swats those legendary groundstrokes, generally dominant but occasionally laying a massive egg.
Just a housekeeping note: We'll post Wimbledon seed reports shortly after the draw comes out on later this week.
I had the pleasure of covering 17 Wimbledons for the San Francisco Chronicle, and it's the most satisfying collective experience of my career. Money's a bit tight these years, but you never know, I might get back someday. If you love tennis and have the means to make an adventurous summer trip, I can't recommend it highly enough.
As the "Hit for Haiti" exhibition descended into farce at Indian Wells the other night, I couldn't help but wonder what Steffi Graf was thinking. The sight of a lithe, spirited Graf had been a highlight of the women's event -- and then her husband and Pete Sampras decided the whole thing was about them. It's very hard to screw up an event of such class and integrity, but these two guys pulled it off.
Best of Three while wondering what is the appropriate tip for a valet?
For a sport founded on upper-class convention, replete with 19th-century Londoners leaping across pristine lawns in long white pants, tennis has been molded by rogues, eccentrics and non-conformists. Its history would be as stodgy as four o'clock tea without its relentless plunges into the improbable. If you see a bleak immediate future for American tennis, I'd suggest a measure of patience. The next miracle cannot be too far away.
When it comes to the appeal of American men's tennis, there is no set standard for the public. Over the course of the Open Era, we've embraced class (Arthur Ashe), petulance (Jimmy Connors), combustible genius (John McEnroe), rock stardom (Andre Agassi) and the monotonous (Pete Sampras). So I guess I should be excited that two young players -- any two -- are simultaneously on the rise after so much negative conversation.
I dreamed last night I was some sort of amoeba, capable of splitting myself into independently functioning pieces. Some difficulties arose -- it took me two hours to decide between trail mix and Froot Loops -- but there was one enormous benefit. For the first time, I was able to stay in touch with the men's tennis tour.
Isn't it surprising, Jon? Roger Federer only came up with the "Hit for Haiti" idea on Saturday morning. Television only advertised it on Saturday afternoon and evening, and the papers the next morning. I was there and we had a great time. It is quite astounding that they were able to organize it in one day -- and good on people for coming. Laver was full capacity and it still surprises me, even with the realization that Down Under is a sports-mad society. Props for Tennis Australia, players and fans. A chunk of change was donated, too. -- Deepak, Melbourne
Is Nikolay Davydenko the new "Greatest to have not yet won a Slam?" Beating both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal two tournaments in a row surely elevates him on that list? Maybe he's not such a dark horse for the 2010 Australian Open! -- Andrew Roth, Sacramento
Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Nov. 30. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer.
A few thoughts as the season comes to an end ...
WTHIGOW Melanie Oudin? -- Tom, Riverwoods, Ill.
SI.com caught up with senior writer Jon Wertheim to discuss the contents of Andre Agassi's autobiography, Open.
The grassroots renaissance of tennis in the United States was the subject of an Associated Press feature that appeared online and in many newspaper sports sections over the weekend. The story argues, among other things, that "today's dearth of top American professionals" hasn't curtailed the sport's post-2000 growth:
The Wimbledon grass has always been a bit of a yoga mat for Roger Federer, who routinely moves around Centre Court at mental and physical ease while his more bruiser-like counterparts clip-clop on its blades.
So, Roger Federer has passed Pete Sampras, which means I now will make a statement -- of somewhat sound mind, with a good night's rest behind me -- that is inarguable, indisputable and incontrovertible:
What did you make of the matches on HBO? And how much should we read into the results? One never knows how hard the players are playing, does one? -- Barry, Arizona
Five things we learned from the Australian Open men's final while most of America slept:
He stands 6' 1", weighs 185 pounds and can send a tennis ball pretty much anywhere he pleases. He's won on a variety of surfaces, collecting Grand Slam singles titles at a breakneck pace. He projects professionalism and grace and a distinctly European dignity. For all his success, he remains modest and grounded, uninterested in the usual trappings of modern celebrity, attracting attention only with his play.
1. Where does the Nadal-Federer passion play go from here? You'd be hard-pressed to name a more gripping and textured rivalry in professional sports. One versus two. Lefty versus righty. Grit versus polish. Nouveau versus classic. Will versus Grace, as it were. In 2008, Nadal beat Federer all four times they met --including their spellbinding Wimbledon final -- and assumed the No. l ranking in the process. Yet Federer recovered and enter 2009 within a single Major title of tying Pete Sampras' record. So long as both remain healthy, Rafa-Roger the best theater in tennis, no matter what happens.
Check back next week for our annual Baggie Awards ...
While I agree that Rafa Nadal's decision not to play in Shanghai might require some re-thinking about the year round schedule, don't you think it is also a reflection that the Davis Cup is very much alive outside the U.S., and that Rafa does not want to award Argentina any advantage. It seemed Rafa and Ferrer were going to have the tough time adapting from China to Argentina, now it is only the unlikely Del Potro. -- Marcos Clutterbuck, Buenos Aires, Argentina
For Wertheim's audio roundup of today's matches, click here or scroll down below.
As I write this, I'm 40,000 miles above ground hitching a ride on a private plane with tennis legend Pete Sampras. We're headed to Boston, where he'll be competing in the Outback Champions Series, and I'll be covering the tournament for television.
What's going on with Roger Federer? -- Dallia, Sudan/Egypt
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- A trend of contradicting columns is emerging between my colleague, Jon Wertheim, and me. We disagreed with the state of Andy Roddick's game and character two weeks ago. This week, I take an opposing view on the health and state of tennis.
Just exactly who says that tennis is "struggling?" I'm getting sick of hearing about it.
Wanted to see what I could do, if anything, to lighten your workload:
NEW YORK -- It was a night where the old building in New York, which bills itself as the most famous arena of all, lived up to its billing.
I just heard Roger Federer went out to Andy Murray in the first round in Dubai. Question: Is it because Roger doesn't have enough match play? Is he on a slip, which is normal considering you can't stay at No. 1 forever? I seem to think both. I also think Roger wouldn't mind doing well against Pete Sampras on March 10. A tired Federer wouldn't do the trick. I miss him winning, though. And I hope he finds a way to win the French. -- Adrienne Kostal, Bethel Park, Pa.
Bad news for Andy Roddick if he has to resort to blatant intimidation to win a match over an 18-year-old newcomer. Admitting that you're purposely trying to use gamesmanship is completely bush league. I'd expect that from the USTA league players on the weekend, but not a top pro. -- Patrick Preston, Lexington, Ky.
It's been nearly two weeks, but the sports world is still buzzing over the Giants' last-minute victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Eli Manning's third-down conversion to David Tyree has become the latest play talked about around the water cooler. How did Manning get away from those massive Patriot linemen, pass the ball to a tightly covered Tyree, who then somehow leaped into the air, grabbed the football with his fingertips, and managed to come down with it, all while juggling it off his helmet? Was it just phenomenal athleticism or just luck? Or maybe, in that enclosed stadium on a rainy afternoon in Arizona, it was their destiny.
MELBOURNE, Australia -- I snuck out to the indoor practice facility at Melbourne Park Tuesday during a break in my commentating responsibilities for the Tennis Channel when, of all people, Roger Federer was finishing up on my court. Typically, the greatest player of all-time was using his off-day to hit tennis balls.
For professional tennis players, December is the rarest of opportunities to rest and regroup after a grueling 11-month season. You'd think most of us would be lying on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean, sipping margaritas. But you'd be dead wrong.
I suggest the title for this week's mailbag be simply "Nalbandian." A couple months ago, we were raining praise on Novak Djokovic for accomplishing an amazing feat when he beat David Nalbandian, Andy Roddick, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer consecutively to win the Rogers Cup.
The moment of consolation came late at the 2007 U.S. Open, but it was not for Roger Federer's latest victim. This one was for the crowd, for the 25,230 unsuspecting fans who had come to Flushing Meadows to take in a New York spectacle, watch some tennis and overpay for food and drink, and who suddenly found themselves lacking. This one was for those who'd tracked Federer's elegant ride into history for the last two weeks, who'd seen him rise to every challenge with otherworldly calm and brush aside all comers like lint off a lapel.
NEW YORK -- While their global campaign for Gillette may revolve around beauty, the relationship between Roger Federer, Thierry Henry and Tiger Woods clearly isn't skin deep. Among the 40 text messages Federer received following his fourth consecutive U.S. Open victory were from sports supernova pals Henry and Woods.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- In-your-face, obnoxious fans applauding double faults by the visiting team. Live DJs spinning music, emcees on the microphone, players dancing in between points while fans do the same in the stands. Popcorn, hot dogs, beer and soft pretzels fill the concession stands.
A quick Baguette while waiting out the rain. ...
Your thoughts on Roger Federer's split from his coach? I say good! -- Natasha, Toronto
A Mailbag as Pete Sampras returns to the tennis forefront:
I suppose you are crowing now that Wimbledon has capitulated to the ridiculous claim by women tennis players for equal pay for less work? Where is the backbone of the men in the ATP who agree to play longer hours for the same pay? Where, pray tell, is the equality? Why not just have one championship open to all players regardless of gender? -- Al Ferg, Sherbrooke
Last week Sports Illustrated writer Richard Deitsch interviewed Pete Sampras for the magazine's Q&A. The 35-year-old Hall of Fame tennis player will compete in the Outback Champions Series, an over-30 tour, in Boston from May 2-6. In July he will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I. Here are additional excerpts from their conversation.
Everyone contemplates how another Pete Sampras vs. Roger Federer match would run (including Sampras) except Federer! Everyone's intrigued, Sampras thinks he would hold his own. But when we talk about it, we discuss it as if Sampras were dead and the match is beyond the realm of possibility! He's only 35! Theoretically, this hypothetical can be made a reality very easily, no? Why hasn't anyone suggested they play an exhibition? -- Brad Uy, Honolulu, Hawaii
1. The Colts touched down in Miami on Monday night. They weren't talking about the health of Peyton Manning's swollen thumb, but it might not have been a good sign that it barely fit in the overhead compartment.
We lead off with a multiple-choice quiz from Jamie Prenkert of Bloomington, Ind.:
Do you think Rafa Nadal's career may follow a similar arc to Jim Courier's? Both made their names by imposing their gritty, physical games on opponents. This led to early success for both, especially at Roland Garros. But Courier's career peaked early as other players began to figure out how to play (and beat) him. It appears that Nadal is in a similar situation. Maybe I should wait until after the clay season to make this metaphor, but after his loss to Xavier Malisse, Rafa looks to have lost some momentum. -- Jay Lassiter, Philadephia
Have you wondered why some people get all the breaks? It's not that they were born under a lucky star, but they seize opportunity when they see it.
Fox's American Idol was so successful that the other TV networks are trying to develop copycats. The Hype Index is not immune. This month, our American Idol Edition takes a look at some icons, past...