Jun/12

7

Biofile with Luke Jensen


Status: Former ATP Tennis Professional. Former French Open doubles champ and ESPN TV commentator. Currently serves as head coach of Syracuse University women’s tennis team.

DOB: June 18, 1966 In: Grayling, Michigan

First Tennis Memory: “That would be playing the Firecracker Open at the court in Luddington, Michigan. My dad was the high school tennis coach. And he always had the Firecracker Open during the Fourth of July and the Cannonball Classic on Labor Day, U.S. Open. And just going out there and competing for the first time, figuring out what the score meant and trying to get the ball in the box and rallying with a wood racquet with the white tennis balls.”

Tennis Inspirations: “Honestly, probably watching the 1979 Wimbledon on TV live, Bud Collins calling it with Borg and Roscoe Tanner. Tanner had the perm going. Left-handed. Goes five sets and him hitting the match point into the side fence, basically into the front row [laughs] and Borg going down on his knees. And then saying to myself, ‘I don’t know what I have to do to become a professional tennis player but this is what I want to do. This is just the coolest thing.’ Bud Collins’ calls of ‘Net cord!’ And ‘Chalk dust!’ And he just elevated live tennis. The Ice Man Borg and the lefty American, red, white and blue. And then McEnroe-Connors and the whole thing. Tennis was just in a zenith.”

Greatest Sports Moment: “I would say it’s a slam dunk – winning the French Open with my brother (Murphy). But internally – being in the ‘96 Australian Open with my brother and sisters (twins Rachel, Rebecca), to be a family of four that come from really nothing in terms of tennis terms, in Luddington, Michigan and now all four of us were in the main draw in the Australian Open in doubles. That was, as a team, we were always a team, the Jensens was about a team concept. And we were all gonna be on the Tour and do it. That was our real pinnacle.”

Most Painful Moment: “Blowing out my knee. Couldn’t play again. Going through that, on a daily basis, that when I’m at a major and watching professional tennis, knowing that I can still be there. But you blow your knee out, you do the surgery, you do everything you can to come back. And you just gotta move on. (Where did it happen?) Coral Springs playing Jonas Bjorkman. Going out for a forehand, split out and it just basically crumbled, annihilated, imploded. I was never the same.”

Closest Tennis Friends: “My brother Murphy. We were fishing buddies growing up as munchkins. We got into sports and got into tennis, got a chance to play at the highest level of the game. Still today, get to travel around and be this thing called the Jensen brothers, whatever we created through our energy and enthusiasm. He’s definitely the closest. Outside of my family, I would say probably Richey Reneberg. He used to always get me in trouble, he was the instigator, tell me to do something, I’d do it. From wingin’ water balloons at Pete Sampras and doing crazy stuff. He was the instigator, we were really close.”

Funniest Players Encountered: “I really had a lot of fun with Agassi, when he was…before he got serious. That was a lot of fun. Because when he said, ‘Hey, let’s take off and do something” – it was in a private plane and it was with some celebrity, it was – he paid for everything. It was a shark trip in Australia when he was gonna give me $50,000 to take a lap around a shark infested boat. I mean, it was always something. I mean, to me, he was always the funniest guy to be around.”

Toughest Competitors Encountered: “The guy that I felt never gave me a point in practice or anything was always Jimmy Connors. And my first year here as a junior in ‘83, Connors took me out basically as a sacrificial lamb. And beat the living snot out of me. Didn’t give me points. And he really taught me so many things. And continues to to this day. Whenever I see him, I learn so much from him, just based on you don’t play this to win, you play this to compete. And that guy just never let up. He never let up on the media, he never let up on his opponents, he just, even now, he just wants someone to play against, to battle against.”

Why Do You Love Playing Tennis: “To be honest, whether it’s a park or whether it’s a final of a slam or anything, I just like winning. I like going out there and someone’s gonna win, someone’s gonna lose. It doesn’t matter what you’re ranked, doesn’t matter what your age is, spin the racquet and it starts up zero-zero. And someone’s gonna serve and someone’s gonna return. At the end of the entire contest, if you’ve put in the entire effort and you’ve put in the right tactics and you executed it, you’ve got a shot to win. And, to me, it’s about putting it on the line. And no one can pull you off the court, there’s no politics, it’s raw, it’s out there, it’s real. And it’s the best thing of all time. Once you leave that arena, it’s political. It is, Who’s popular? It’s who you know. It’s not so clear. And this game is extremely clear. You’re winning or you’re losing.”

Strangest Match: “I think every match we ever played is kind of out of the ordinary [laughs]. The first thing that jumps out of my mind – I didn’t even play – was dealing with Murphy’s disappearance in ‘95 at the Wimbledon Championships. We were out of the doubles and we were staying at a house at Wimbledon. And Murphy is playing with Brenda Schultz and they were in the quarters of the mixed doubles. And he honestly just disappears and leaves. And dealing with all the media and it was reality TV. And he’s running around away from the media and they’re trying to chase him up in Scotland. It wasn’t a match but it was a situation. And to do it at Wimbledon. And again, coming from humble tennis beginnings, and now you’re this center of attention because your brother’s a knucklehead – and he just doesn’t want to play Wimbledon. How do you not want to play Wimbledon? But Murphy’s Murphy.”

Embarrassing Tennis Memory: “I know there are lots of them…When I was a junior player I went out and you have your warmups and you pull your warmups down and I don’t have my shorts on.”

Favorite Players To Watch: “Number one, to be perfectly honest, I could watch Rafael Nadal practice, I could watch him in the player’s lounge, the man is so intense. And so focused and has so much purpose and drive that he’s truly such an overachiever because he doesn’t have the biggest guns, he doesn’t have the most talent. This is all self-made. He’s like one of those self-made millionaires. Came from nothing really. Plays with his opposite hand. He’s not left-handed, he’s right-handed. He’s not a hard court player but he became one. He’s not a grass court player, he became on. He’s evolved. How many players, that we’ve covered now, they get to a point and it is too hard and they don’t evolve. And they just kinda sit in the same spot. And they drop and they come back – and this guy continues to get better. His new challenge is Djokovic, truly is, another kind of chapter in his life where he’s gonna figure it out, it may be the next tournament, it may be next year, I don’t know, but the guy is not going away. And I have so much respect for that attitude.”

Which Match Were You At Your Very Best: “Agassi in ‘96, playing him in Memphis. Played completely out of my mind. Playing that good should have been illegal – I should have been arrested after that match. That was truly one thing. I had to play a certain – I couldn’t play any other way – it was all-out, two first serves, there was no second serve. Nothing under 100 miles an hour. It was as hard as I could hit, every single point. And everything went in. It was one match, one time the stars were aligned and it was a Super Nova time. I was just so on Cloud 9. I’ve seen it on video since then a bunch of times. I still can’t believe that person who won that match is me.”

8 comments

  • Dan Markowitz · June 7, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    What an honest, down to earth guy. Great Biofile, Scoop. I loved watching Jensen play. And he was talented. My claim to fame is I was in a Satellite event in Estoril, Portugal where Luke was the No. 1 seed. I was playing the qualis. Anyway, I love his answer about why he loves playing. I think that battle and the meritocracy of any sport is why we love playing, and the rawness.

  • Scoop Malinowski · June 7, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    Yes Dan it’s one of the all time best biofiles I’ve ever done. I was ecstatic just sitting back listening to him elaborate on his answers. He is a great ambassador for tennis and one of the best TV tennis commentators to ever don a mike. ESPN should have utilized his talents far more than they did, if not bring him back now. The sport needs as many spirited enthusiastic characters like Luke Jensen in influential positions as it can get. He also made a tremendous contribution to my Marcelo Rios book. Luke Jensen is absolutely one of my favorite people in the sport.

  • Andrew Miller · June 8, 2012 at 12:32 am

    Dual hand Luke. He is an honest and incisive commentator, loves and knows the game. I enjoy his commentary as much as Robbie Koenig and Jason Goodal. He’s U.S. (as in, he’s an American and talks a lot) but he also reveres the sport (knows his stuff).

    I think he’s the best U.S. commentator – the most humble and respectful of the sport, up there with Courier, no disrespect intended to Pat Mac, John Mac, Brad Gilbert. Taylor Dent I think is also going to get better and better.

    I think Luke is like the equivalent of a young Drysdale, U.S. version – you can tell that, much like Drysdale is a South African, Luke is an American, but you can also tell his reverence for the players and the sport. He knows when to be quiet and when to talk, something Drysdale, Goodal, Koenig do extremely well, Taylor Dent too.

    With those guys, you know the match is about the tennis. Pat Mac and Drysdale are a great combination, and I enjoy listening to Courier. Something none of them has in contact with the female announcers: none of them have a bone to pick with current players.

    That may be a swipe against the femme announcers but it’s true, sometimes I think they are a little disrespectful of the current crop of players, as if they wanted to go ahead and take their racquets away and show em how it’s done. No such feeling when listening to the atp announcers.

    Shriver sometimes does a very decent job, and I like Mary Joe too. But I have a tough time listening to a few legends that call matches.

    Agassi did a pretty phenomenal job of calling the Roddick-Federer match a few years ago at the U.S. open, but even he betrayed that he played the game, picking on Roddick’s backhand a bit (basically saying the backhand sucks). It was honest but a little too honest. Nonetheless, you could tell the Agassi mind is a tennis mind – he knew his stuff back and forward.

    I think Scoop got stumped because Rios was an adidas player, not just because Agassi wouldnt give an interview for an unauthorized biography. Still I would be pretty happy just that my request made it to Agassi’s desk and that he knew about it.

  • Andrew Miller · June 8, 2012 at 12:36 am

    Wonder if Luke and Murphy were the inspiration for the Bryan brothers.

  • Scoop Malinowski · June 8, 2012 at 2:11 am

    Well said as always Andrew. Agree, Shriver sometimes does a very very decent job, she has gotten better lately, used to really dislike when she would harp on odd topics like Hantuchova’s supposed eating disorder, if you listened to her you’d think Hantuchova was about to physically collapse from being so weak and skinny, but that is just her body type and she was/is actually strong despite her thinness and battled out many three setters when she was supposedly suffering from the eating disorder nonsense. Shriver is more fair now and less nitpicky and her tennis observations are a pleasure and privilege to listen to. I enjoy to listen to her and Evert and Mary Jo, but the best of the best are Koenig, McEnroes, Goodall, Jensen, Cahill, Gilbert, Stolle, Drysdale, Courier. Haven’t heard much of Dent but I do know he is very sharp and knowledgeable. Agassi is superb too, the few times he dons the headset.

  • Roger Cox · June 8, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Great piece, Scoop. I used to think Luke was a flake until I met him and discovered just how passionate he is about tennis, how much he cares about getting others to love the game, and how thoughtful he is growing the game and instilling his passion in others. As you quite rightly point out, he’s one of our great ambassadors for the game.

  • Scoop Malinowski · June 8, 2012 at 11:19 am

    Thank you Roger. Luke’s the man. He is also one of the best expert sources to discuss current players and analyzing their games. Richard Pagliaro, for one, has high regards for LBJ as a source. He knows what it takes to be a successful tour player and a champion. See you in a few weeks Roger, enjoy the Djokovic-Federer showdown today in Paris.

  • RIP · June 8, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    All-time Classic Biofile Scoop! Agree with the earlier comments: Luke Jensen one of the best tennis commentators and sharpest tennis minds out there, IMO. Because he has a sense of humor (I remember covering the match years ago when Luke and Murphy wore the Scooby-Doo shirts – gotta love a guy willing to play tennis wearing a Scoooby-Do shirt) and is so energetic seems like people sometimes underestimate his mind and skills.
    Have done a few of his clinics, he’s such a good teacher and coach and often sprinkles anecdotes (like being a practice partner on the US Davis Cup team and watching Johnny Mac teaching Sampras about doubles positioning before they played Switzerland in the Davis Cup final) and really engaging you as a player. The other thing is he is very generous with his time. Once got him during Agassi’s farewell US Open appearance and he gave a great 40-minute interview on Agassi and tennis and even last year saw Scoop interviewing him outside of Heineken Bar at Open and got some very insightful comments from him on American tennis, DY, etc.
    As Roger, Scoop and others said: he is a great ambassador for tennis and truly loves the game. Great biofile!

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