Tennis Prose



Facing Tennis Greatness: New Series

This will be a new feature – where I interview former and current pro players and they discuss the two best tennis performances they ever faced during their professional tennis careers.

The first subject will be former Chilean Davis Cup player Jose Antonio Fernandez, former coach of Steffi Graf, current coach at Tennium in Boca Raton and author of the book “Evolution On Clay”…

“It’s an interesting question…the two guys I played against who played the best tennis against me…one was Marcelo Rios for sure, and he tanked against me. He was relatively young, 18 or 19, I had stopped already (because of a torn labrum hip injury at 29). I was still playing some money tournaments. I played Marcelo in the final. He was my sparring partner for years earlier so we were both familiar with each other’s games. He won the first set 6-2. But nobody in my whole career ever toyed with me like he did. He served me wide and controlled the point so easily. It was way too fast the way he recognized the game. The score was 2-6 6-2 6-2 because he tanked after he made an error on an overhead at 2-2. Very easy overhead, then he tanked.”

“The third set was also 2-2 and then he missed an overhead and tanked again! I mean, really tanked. I knew 100% he wasn’t trying. Two missed overheads at 2-2 in both sets, exact situation. He was lefty, he hit those overheads down the line in the alley twice. Maybe that’s why he got so pissed off. He was my sparring partner for years so I knew his game. I remember he suddenly made a big jump when he was 18 or 19. I never expected him to become as good as he did. He’s my size approximately, he was same weight. In 12 months he gained like 20 pounds. The moment he gained that extra weight he began playing at a different level. His ball got much faster. When we played together I was 27 and he was 17, mostly I rolled over him because I was too strong physically. But in two years it went the other way.”

“The other guy who surprised me – I didn’t think he’d be so good – I played him two times. It was Richard Krajicek. I played him in a Satellite in Holland. I won the Satellite. The first time I played him was the semifinal of the third tournament. I was playing really well. I didn’t know anything about him when we got to the court. I learned his serve was very natural, very good, his forehand was very good, his slice was very good. I won the first set 6-3. And was a break up in the second set. Then suddenly the kid started to play at a different category. I couldn’t pass him anymore. He began serving much deeper in the service box. And I was playing amazing. I lost 6-3 4-6 6-7. I just played my best. I said to myself, he is a very good player. I had also played Michael Stich and Thomas Enqvist and they did not make the impression on me that Krajicek did.”

“A week later we played again. The final of a Masters. I think it was his first match on TV. I won 6-0 6-2 or 6-2 6-0. I played amazing. He couldn’t put two balls in the court. I played probably one of the best matches I felt. It had been three weeks of winning matches. That fourth week I was confident, winning every important point. To illustrate how well we were playing at this Masters, one of the guys who didn’t make the final, Eduardo Masso of Germany, then qualified at Hilversum the next week and made it to the final (in 1990), he beat Emilio Sanchez and a few other big players (Juan Aguilera, Sergi Brugeura, Goran Prpic).”

Next week: Hans Gildemeister

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  • Todd Shea Robinson · October 21, 2020 at 6:22 pm

    Great idea!! Enjoyed the tales from the your first one, look forward to more…

  • Scoop Malinowski · October 21, 2020 at 6:26 pm

    Thanks Todd, you may not have heard of Jose Antonio, but I’ve known him for years and he’s always always an excellent interview, awesome insights. Was one of the best parts of Facing Steffi Graf, as he coached her in her early years in Germany. I could write a part 2 Rios book just on his stories alone )



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