Tennis Prose



The Joy Of Tennis

By Scoop Malinowski

Professional tennis players like Federer, Nadal, Sharapova, Sampras, Connors, Serena answer this question: Of all the matches you’ve played, What was the best you ever felt on the court in your life?

Two years of research resulted in this insightful collection:

Amelie Mauresmo: “That’s tough [smiles]. Probably I’d say first set against Myskina in Wimbledon last year. Couldn’t miss. I have memories for me that’s good – the final of The Championships probably (vs. Henin). (Those were better than the first set against Henin in Australia ?) Yeah, this one was good too. Yeah, I have a few good examples. It’s tough right now to remind of all these matches.”

Serena Williams: “I hate that question. (Sorry.) I have to think back in the (memory) banks. I have to go down the shelves and look. I played really good a few times at Wimbledon. Played really good one year at the U.S. Open. I think … I don’t know.”

Andres Gomez: “I say playing Muster in the semifinals of the French Open. The year I won, in 1990. Because I beat him 5-1-5. So it was because I could not miss a ball. And he was supposed to be the best player on clay at the time. That one comes to mind. And then I played a couple of matches in Davis Cup, playing Clerc in Argentina. I felt really good then. And we played four sets, like five hours and something. And playing Davis Cup against Argentina in Ecuador too. I always played well in Davis Cup. That’s when I felt the best on the court. Even if I didn’t play well, that’s when I felt the best.”

Mikhail Youzhny: “I think the best match was against Nadal (U.S. Open 2006). Now in my career I think it was the best match because it was very high level from first ball until the last.”

Rafael Nadal: “Against Federer six years ago in Miami. The first time I ever played him. (17-year-old Nadal won 63 63 when Federer was ranked #1 in the world.)”

Guillermo Vilas: “When I was playing well I never enjoyed it. What I wanted is, I didn’t want it to finish. I wanted not to lose that touch. So when I was playing well I was so into it that I never thought, I’m playing great. This is amazing. What a great match. Never. If you ask me any of my results I don’t remember them. The bad results I can tell you well [smiles]. The good ones I don’t remember what happened. It’s like, when you play well, you really want not to lose it. to be like this, to stay like that, to finish the match. You know you have it. And you know the match is your’s if you don’t make any mistakes. Try not to make any mistakes. I’m so worried about that, that I cannot enjoy it. I cannot tell you what I did. I just try not to go crazy and keep everything under control.”

Jim Courier: “It was one specific tournament I can tell you it was the Australian Open in 1993. I had a run from the round of 16 to the finals where I was barely losing games. And I felt like I was just crushing guys and they were all really good players. (Who?) I beat Marc Rosset in the 16s (actually it was Bruguera 61 63 76, Rosset was in 1992). I beat Michael Stich in the semis (76 64 62). I beat Petr Korda in the quarterfinals (61 60 64). And Edberg in the finals in four sets (62 61 26 75). But I beat Edberg in the first two sets in less than an hour on a smoking hot day. That was unbelievable. That was as good as it’s been for me. (Surprised how well you played?) I just was trying not to think about it. Try not to think about it. Because it was one of those full weeks where I felt like I was in the zone. And it’s usually, you get in the zone it’s for maybe a match. So that was a full week of playing on and off every other day and taking two days off at one stage. So that was sweet, that was fun.”

Pete Sampras: “Probably the 1999 Wimbledon against Andre. Where I just got in the zone. And beat him in straight sets (63 64 75). The year he won the French. I think that’s the best I ever played. Kind of got in the zone.”

Sania Mirza: “In Dubai I played Kuznetsova. I was down. I twisted my ankle at 0-2 in the first set. I probably got a point till then. I was in tears. I wanted to retire. Because I couldn’t go through any more. I was down Love-4, 15-40. I won 4 and 2 from there [laughs]. So, yes. That was one match where I was seeing the ball as big as a basketball.”

Andy Roddick: “I don’t know. To be honest with you, I don’t know if you ever feel like you’re just flawless. You’re always worried about, like, trying to keep it going. I don’t know if you ever feel like, Oh, wow, I just can’t miss. You’re literally thinking, Okay, I haven’t missed thus far, but if I get down Love-30 in this next service game, you’re always guarding against it. There’s different times. The first time I beat Pete (Miami in 2001), that was better than I had ever played before. I was 18. I played well in the final here (2003). I played well in the final in Wimbledon against Roger in 2004. I don’t know. I don’t know if I can pick one or two though.”

Maria Sharapova: “There was never a match where you feel you did everything right. I mean, I’ve had matches where I felt like I played really good tennis and still lost them. So it’s hard to say. I mean, on grass probably I feel like I play more the perfect match, in a way. The court is fast. You don’t get to play that long of a point. If you’re serving and returning well, you know the points are short and you feel like, yeah, you get the job done.”

Lleyton Hewitt: “Probably the semifinal (d. Kafelnikov 61 62 61) and final (d. Sampras 76 61 61) here in 2001. Everything pretty much went to plan. Yeah, I did everything possible. Yeah, I did everything well those two days. And probably when I played Kuerten in Davis Cup down in (Florianopolis) Brazil I didn’t do too much wrong down there either [smiles]. The best set I ever played was against Nadal in Hamburg (won it 62).”

Roger Federer: “Probably had a few matches like the finals in Wimbledon against Andy. Finals at the U.S. Open against Hewitt. They were moments where I really felt like I was playing unbelievable and everything I wanted to do kind of worked.”

Jimmy Connors: “I think when I won Wimbledon for the first time (1974 d. Rosewall 61 61 64). And the U.S. Open when I beat Rosewall (61 60 61 also in 1974). I went out and played almost perfect tennis both times. You dream of matches like that, where anything you hit, it just turns to gold [smiles]. Those two matches are the ones that really stick out in my mind for that.”

Carlos Moya: “When I beat Rios in French Open in 1998, quarterfinals. I beat him in four sets. That’s one of my best memories. He was the favorite, not number one but biggest favorite to play. And I never won a Slam before. So I think after I win that match I realized that I was gonna have a good chance to win the French. (Everything was on for you that day?) Yeah, it was a very tight match. And it was very exciting. I never beat him before.”

Ivan Ljubicic: “I played some I would call perfect matches and most of them were in Davis Cup. I don’t know why but I feel much more comfortable playing Davis Cup than maybe normal tournaments. (You beat Agassi, who else in Davis Cup?) Agassi, Roddick, Pavel in Split, Davydenko, Youzhny, so many good matches. (Why does Davis Cup bring the best out of you?) Maybe the crowd. Because usually I play on small courts in normal tournaments. Could be that.”

Mary Pierce: “That’s very rare that it happens. Probably I have a few moments …1994 French Open, the year I made the finals. Up until I made the finals, that whole tournament I was playing unbelievable. 2000 French Open. It just seemed like everything came together. Yeah.”

Arnaud Clement: “The one against Moya here, about seven years ago. I think my forehand was like I never feel it (like that) before. And never after. It was really special. I remember in this match I feel like Sebastien Grosjean when he’s playing his huge forehands [smiles]. I wish it was every day for me. But only one time in my life. I had lost two times against him before that, that was the first time I ever beat him.”

Nicolas Massu: “Roddick in Madrid (2003). I play really good. I play with a lot of confidence and I hit the ball well. Maybe I feel better in other matches but in the moment now I remember that match.”

Patrick McEnroe: “The best I ever felt was probably the best match I ever played was a loss to Becker. At the Open. When I lost to him in the quarterfinals in four sets, in like four hours. I remember thinking to myself after two sets, I’ve played as about as well as I could play and I’m down two sets to love. And then I just started to go for bigger shots. And I made some of them, won the third and very nearly won the fourth. That’s probably the best I felt. Even though I actually beat Becker on a couple of occasions …I beat him at the Australian Open one year. That loss was probably the best I felt. Other than beating me that same year at the Open I played Brett Steven from New Zealand, a pretty solid player. He had beaten Ivanisevic and I played him in the second round and beat him 2, 2 and 2.”

Jimmy Arias: “Yannick Noah, here at night, quarterfinals 1983 would be the best, my favorite because it was 7-5 in the fifth. New York crowd. And also 1982 night match against Connors, third round, I was 17. No one knew who I was yet. And the fun part of that match was everyone in New York loves Connors and my name’s Jimmy, his name’s Jimmy. We walked on the court and everybody is yelling, COME ON JIMMY! And I know it’s not for me, so I start yelling, OKAY, I’LL TRY! And then the New Yorkers start yelling, NOT YOU! Which I really enjoyed that whole scene. And I played great in that match.”

Xavier Malisse: “I had one match actually here on Armstrong against Henman. I played one of the best matches I’ve played. Of course I missed shots I was just feeling it and it was an awesome match and also the crowd was into it. I think that was just one match that sticks out. Because it was so much fun and just played some unbelievable tennis.”

Jose Acasuso: “Roland Garros against Roddick. I won the match 8-6 in the fifth. And when I beat Safin in Barcelona (2005). I think those two I feel very good.”

Vince Spadea: “I won a match 0-0. Can’t say I felt bad during that match, right? David Sanchez, it was in New Zealand. Everything went in. And I had a two mile grin. Didn’t even commit a sin that day. I guess that was the best I ever felt, unless when I beat Agassi in Australia (1999). Won the first set 6-1, felt like I was playing dumb, but I still won [smiles].”

Paradorn Srichiphan: “Agassi Wimbledon 2002. Center court, playing great, great atmosphere, and playing one of the best players in the world of all time. After I won the first set I feel I could win. I pulled it out.”

Greg Rusedski: “Sampras 1998 (Paris indoor). Just couldn’t miss a ball, simple as that. I knew I was gonna win before the match even started. Just woke up and some days everything goes well and you know nothing’s gonna go wrong. Simple as that.”

Juan Carlos Ferrero: “2003 semifinal here against Agassi. I play one of the best matches that I play because that match was very important to me. If I win the match I get number one in the world. And the stadium was full, 23,000 people and also against Agassi, I think was probably the best memory that I have on the court. It was the first time I beat him on hard court.”

Wayne Arthurs: “I would have to say one time here when I played Guga on Center Court, first round. Felt like I couldn’t miss any of my serves. Also I think one of the best times was in Davis Cup when I played Kafelnikov in 1999. Everything felt right. Everything felt good walking on the court and you know you’re gonna play well. I don’t know what it is. Comes from somewhere. Wish I could bottle it up and bring it with me every week [smiles]. It doesn’t happen very often but for someone like Federer it does. Not for the lame guy [smiles].”

Peter Korda: “Wimbledon junior finals doubles (1986). I played with Tomas Carbonell and we played a guy from Canada and a guy from Australia. I lost one return and I felt the best on the court. You thought I was going to come with the Australian Open final (vs. Rios) or Pete Sampras at Wimbledon. Those were good matches, but you asked me the match when I felt the best. And that was the best. I lost one return in the final of Wimbledon 6-1, 6-0. And maybe Czech championship under 18, which was at the time the prime tournament for us. With the guy, I lost the first game then I won 12 games in a row. That’s one of my top tennis times. Always starting point which means more than the ending point.”

Jonas Bjorkman: “Tough question. Probably would pick when I beat Edberg here 1994, third round. That would probably be the best I felt. Whatever I did, I did well, more or less. I bageled him in the third set which almost says everything. (Surprised?) Yeah. I was his hitting partner for like two, three years. We probably played 50 practice sets and I never took a set. And then I started to play professional and we didn’t practice that much because he was out playing. Then two or three years later all of a sudden we played and I beat him 4, 4 and love which I think he was top 5 at the time so I was kind of surprised as well. Because I looked up to him. He was a big idol for me. Because of the way he played and how professional he was on and off the court. I was always trying to sort of do what he did well. So to make it that perfect for one night was probably the match. (Do you remember what he said to you after?) He actually gave me a pretty surprising comment after the match. He said, Christmas came early [smiles]. I don’t know if he was that disappointed or he just tried to be funny. I guess that sort of showed how disappointed he was that that actually could happen.”

Patty Schnyder: “I like against Capriati when she was number one in semifinal in Charleston. At that time I was not as good as a player as I am now. And the other one was probably against Kuznetsova in Berlin (2005). I could place the ball very well, where I wanted basically. I felt like all the shots I was hitting them on the sweet spot and not missing. (When did you sense you were in the zone, before it started?) No, no, it can only be in the match. Before the match it doesn’t come. You can feel perfectly in the practice and can be all over in the match.”

Ai Sugiyama: “Probably the day in Scottsdale (2003). It was a lot of tennis. I spend six hours and 18 minutes on the court that day (she won two singles and two doubles matches on Sunday and saved 3 match points vs. Stevenson in semifinal and Clijsters in final. Later won doubles with Clijsters.) I just felt so good because I was loose and relaxed and really good tension. Also the day I beat Steffi Graf my hero. When I beat somebody like her it’s an incredible feeling. It was in San Diego (1998). San Diego is lucky place. I really felt joy on the courts when I play in San Diego.”

Todd Martin: “One match that comes to mind is against Rusedski in Davis Cup in Birmingham, England. Played awfully well. And I just sort of got off to a good start and went. Francisco Clavet in I think 1993 maybe at the French Open, I was up 6-0, 6-0, 3-0 and I was hard-pressed to play much better than that. (That’s a Spaniard on clay, what happened?) Well, it was a bad match-up for him in the first place, and then I was on and he was off. And I also played well against especially in a big situation against Pioline here in the semifinals in 1999. I won in straight sets. Again, a little bit of it has to do with how well the guy on the other side, it’s hard to be in the zone and have the other guy on the other side of the court playing well. A little bit of it is dictated by the opponent. But all three of those matches were easier than it should have been.”

Fabrice Santoro: “There’s a couple of matches over the years. I remember the first time I won the Grand Prix (Lyon over Haas in 1997) was big for me. Also when I beat Marat at the French Open 2001. That was a big victory for me because it was on Court Central in the French, crowded and great atmosphere. But yeah, would say these two. To remember a special victory, you have to play well, but you have to have a tight match too. I think you need to play well, but you need to have tension at the end…you don’t know if you’re going to win, if you’re going to lose, you don’t know what’s going to happen. And it was all these points to decide if it was a big match.”

Jeff Tarango: “When I beat Rios in the Grandstand here (U.S. Open). That’s where I felt everything was perfect that night. I just felt like any shot I tried to make, I made. And it was just a great feeling. And to be able to play someone who was number one in the world and beat him felt really good. Because everyone knew how the rankings worked and everyone knew he was going to be number one some day real soon. So it was a lot of fun to win that. (When did you sense you were in the zone?) I was actually down. I won a set and it was one set-all. I think I was down 4-1 in the third, serving down break point. And I said, There’s no way I’m going to win this unless I start hitting second serve aces. And I went for it right then and there. Started going in. And I said, If these things keep going in, I’m gonna win. And they did [laughs]. And that’s why I said it was the best feeling, to be able to go for two first serve aces every point and one of the two would go in. Rios just sort of faded off into the sunset didn’t he? He was a great player.”

Olivier Rochus: “In the first two sets against Sebastien Grosjean, Davis Cup five or six years ago. I was losing 4-1, then I won 6-4. 6-1. And then I got cramps and I couldn’t play. But since the 4-1 till the 6-4, 6-1, I never played such a good tennis. I was playing winners on every ball and everything went in. Was amazing. But I couldn’t finish the match [laughs].”

Justin Gimelstob: “Patrick Rafter in L.A., quarterfinals at night. Just felt like I knew where the ball was going and just felt like I could just hit it as hard as I wanted and it wouldn’t go out. I beat him 6-3, 6-4, I think he was number two in the world.”

Mario Ancic: “I think the one the best was against Federer on Centre Court at Wimbledon. That was a match I felt I cannot miss a ball. Everything was going my way. And it was unbelievable playing on that kind of court and everything is going your way. Couldn’t be better.”

Paul Goldstein: “Copenhagen 2001. I beat Christian Vinck 6-0, 6-1. Played awesome. It was an indoor tournament so there’s no elements and everything was absolutely clicking.”

Eugene L. Scott: “It was 100 years ago it seems like, when I got to the semifinals of the U.S. Championships, Forest Hills. I mean, I actually was silly enough and felt good enough that I felt I was going to win the tournament. Didn’t happen, but that is how I felt, it was 1967 or was it 1867 [smiles]. And I lost to John Newcombe in the semifinals and he won the tournament. I beat Ron Holmberg. I guess the thing that told me I was doing something okay is I’d never beaten Owen Davidson before. And I was up two sets to love. And he hit a shot over my head and I went back and hit one of these things – not between my legs but bad bounce on grass and I just whipped the ball behind my back and it passed him. And he dropped his racquet and he virtually quit then. That was on a break point on my serve at the end of the third set. I beat him in straights.”

Sebastien Grosjean: “Unfortunately it was a very long time ago [laughs]. It was the Australian Open when I played Moya. I won in three sets. And I won in three, easy. But I was feeling amazing. Didn’t miss a shot and you hope that kind of match happens more often [smiles].”

Fred Stolle: “Davis Cup (final) 1964 against Dennis Ralston (in Cleveland, after losing first match to Chuck McKinley). I was playing for my country. And it all worked out. Just to play Davis Cup was a highlight of anybody’s career. I think that was it.”

James Blake: “Beating Andre Agassi semifinals of Legg Mason, the year I won 2002 I think. When I won that semifinal against Andre, I beat him 4 and 3. And that’s about as best as I ever played. Everything was going well, serving great, returning well, forehand was coming in huge, just everything clicked that day.”

Andrea Jaeger: “In finals of French Open, mixed doubles with Jimmy Arias (1981). We were both so young and it was a great time to be able to appreciate just having fun. It was kind of the purity of tennis. So a lot of people think, Oh, you’re in the zone, you’re playing great…that was more, you grow up playing for fun and then you’re out on Court Central French Open. And then we won the match. But that was probably the purest joy in playing that I’ve ever encountered. And I think that was something I tried to achieve in every one of my matches. Because when you go out it might be a line call that might frustrate you, or you might not be playing your best, or you’re trying to get a certain ranking …but that was just for the purest love of playing with someone you really respect and have fun with. It didn’t even matter if we won or lost. It was the love of the game, the whole match was. We played Betty Stove and I forgot his name – they were about three-feet taller cause we were about 16 years old. Jimmy didn’t care if I hit a winner or I made a mistake, he was just very supportive. And so it was one of those moments where it couldn’t have been better in terms of the support and purity and the love of the game, and it all came together. And then we won the match which was kind of a bonus, and the tournament. I think we were the youngest champions since McEnroe and Carillo.”

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  • @Tennis_Tipster · June 16, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Great post.

    Interesting that Nadal thought he played his best against Federer 6 years ago! What’s he doing now, playing within himself?!

    Poor Gaudio, his lack of self-belief is now legendary.

    Props to Tarango for tagging Rios, he lost next 4 matches against El Chino, but a win’s a win.

    Clement is right about Grosjean’s forehand, it was a thing of beauty when it was on.

  • Scoop Malinowski · June 16, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    Thanks TT, but that reply by Rafa could be misleading. I got it from him at the US Open 3-4 years ago. He did not mean it as a slight to Federer at all. Say what you want about Gaudio and his inconsistency but he sure was brilliant for three sets of that French Open final, not the first two though ) Grosjean had a crushing forehand, for a middleweight type guy he had a very good career. Quick as a cat on the court too, his quickness didn’t get the recognition it deserved.

  • TC · August 23, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    Hey folks,

    Jeff Tarango is coming to my local club to play in a wooden racket tournament.

    Weird huh?

    Any advice on approaching Jeff for a chat? Is he a douche or a gentleman?

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 23, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    Thomas; Jeff is a really nice guy actually, spoke with him several times for biofile and the Rios book, you will like him. I’d say with quick witted intense guys like Tarango it’s always good to get right to the point. Ask him about his match with Rios at the US Open on grandstand, that’s the best match he ever played he said. Cool story. Where is the wood racquet event and when is it? Sounds pretty interesting. Who else is in it?

  • TC · August 23, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    It’s this

    no one else, so I think he mus be a friend/connection of Mark Bonfigli, a local businessman and tennis player.

    If I get anything good from Jeff, I’ll post.



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