Aug/20

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Talking Tennis With Justin Gimelstob Part 1

Justin Gimelstob, a former Grand Slam mixed doubles champion, was a top TV tennis commentator for years, until his professional world came crashing down after a violent confrontation with a former friend in late 2018 which resulted in him losing his Tennis Channel commentating gig and resigning from the ATP Player Council.

As an avid watcher of Tennis Channel, I missed hearing Gimelstob’s views on pro tennis because of his excellent player and match analysis skills, his passion for the sport and also factoring in is we’ve always had a pretty good connection over the years – I first interviewed him at the US Open when he was a USTA junior prospect. Sure, we all have our strengths and weaknesses and we all make our mistakes in life but I like the guy, he’s accomplished a career in pro tennis many players dream about. Not so bad for a New Jersey guy.

Last week I reached out to see if Justin would like to answer some questions about current topics and his future. He graciously accepted. Here is part one of our conversation…

Tennis-prose.com:  The young American group consisting of Reilly Opelka, Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, Tommy Paul, have progressed up the rankings into the top 40 range by their early 20s. Which ones impress you the most and how high can they go?

Justin Gimelstob: Well, it’s a great group. I’m a big believer in the importance of groupings. Look at American tennis history. Groups of players – Sampras, Agassi, Courier, Chang. Next it was Roddick, Fish, Ginepri, Blake. They were all familiar with each other and they pushed each other to be better. This group now I think they will be a very good group. I think the most impressive one with the most potential is Opelka. A seven-footer who can move like that – it’s incredible. I’m a huge believer in Opelka. There’s so much potential there. The sport hasn’t seen anyone like that. If he can harness his weapons and maximize his potential there’s no reason he can’t be a Grand Slam champion. I look for people who are different, who play a little differently. Felix Auger-Aliassime, Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz are all good ball strikers, with two handed backhands, they move well. Maybe Fritz is the slightly better ball striker. Opelka, he’s just different. That excites me. He’s a very, very unique talent. I like the way he’s going for his shots, goes for big returns. I love that. He’s had great coaching, with Tom Gullikson when he was younger, now with Jay Berger who I can’t talk highly enough of. He has a great relationship with his dad (George). He’s involved but not where it’s about him. I think he has potential to do some special things.

Tennis-prose.com:  Will Novak Djokovic surpass Nadal and Federer in total majors? Why?

Justin Gimelstob: Definitely. Without Covid I wouldn’t even hesitate. I think Djokovic could be the biggest tennis player victim of Covid. Serena Williams could actually benefit because of Covid. We’ll see. It’s also possible Djokovic can benefit from Covid, because it could extend his career. We’ll see. I think Djokovic is so well balanced, so good on all surfaces. Nobody takes better care of his body than Djokovic. I see him being competitive to win major titles for a long time. I don’t think the question is if he can surpass 20, the question is where do they end up? And who is holding the most major titles at the end? I think Covid (hiatus) sets up better for Nadal who will skip US Open. Thiem and Djokovic are playing US Open and most likely will play in the second week and they will be dinged up going into the French Open. While Nadal trains on clay the whole time. If Djokovic plays US Open and goes deep he will be depleted going into Paris like Thiem was in the final last year, after playing several long matches before the final, while Nadal only lost two sets the whole tournament, one was in the final to Thiem (other was to Goffin in 3R). It will be very interesting to see how the US Open and French Open play out. I’ll be very surprised if Djokovic doesn’t end this generation with the most Grand Slams. Very surprised.

Tennis-prose.com:  Off the top of your head, what are two or three of the most impressive performances of tennis you ever saw?

Justin Gimelstob: The two tiebreakers in the Wimbledon final last year and Djokovic did not make one unforced error against Federer. Think about that, the magnitude of the moment, the pressure of the situation. Winning two tiebreakers vs. Federer, the most accomplished player on grass. After saving the two championship points in the fifth set. No unforced errors in two tiebreakers. I don’t know what could be more impressive than that.

Also the Federer-Hewitt US Open final (2004) when Federer won 60 76 60.

And the same year Agassi won the French Open (1999), Pete vs Andre in the Wimbledon final. Pete was serving at 3-All and love-40. And any ball Andre would hit, Pete just scorched the ball (Sampras ended up winning 63 64 75).

Just to see Nadal at a different level at the French, his dominance has been remarkable.

Let me think of a few female examples…I remember one year watching Lindsay Davenport playing Martina Hings in the Australian Open final (2000). I used to practice with Lindsay. When I was on the Tour I said the second best ball striker after Andre Agassi was Lindsay. In the final, Lindsay was up on Hingis 61 51 in the blink of an eye. It was stunning. Hingis ended up rallying back to 5-5 but Lindsay won 7-5.

I remember Jim Courier was on a different level at the Australian Open. He was so locked in. So physically dominant, so abusive with his forehand. Everybody knew what was coming but nobody could stop it.

I do remember when I was doing TV at the Olympics in 2012 at Wimbledon. The Serena Williams-Maria Sharapova gold medal match. 61 61. It wasn’t just the score, it was the level of tennis by Serena. On Center Court at Wimbledon for an Olympic gold medal. To see a no. 1 player beat a no. 2 player that badly, against a player who had won Wimbledon, who had previously beaten her in a Wimbledon final, was amazing to see.

I saw Roddick vs Djokovic at the Olympics on Center Court. Djokovic won 62 62. Roddick lost his serve four times.

*****

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Talking Tennis With Justin Gimelstob later this week.

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5 comments

  • Richardp · August 10, 2020 at 4:05 pm

    Gimel high praise for Oak Tree Opelka and Davenport. Good point about Djoker tiebreak also 99 percent of crowd was with Federer in that final.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 10, 2020 at 4:09 pm

    That might have been Djokovic at his very best. It was the second time in a major he saved MPS vs Federer, and let’s not forget a desperate, inspired, starving for another Wimbledon Federer. Federer did nothing wrong on those MPs but Djokovic showed he has another level that is out of Fed’s reach. Djokovic is capable of anything on a tennis court. I can see him dominating and devouring Rafa on Chatrier. Gimelstob cited some excellent forgotten examples of tennis masterpieces. His analysis is unique and missed.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 10, 2020 at 4:17 pm

    Do find it odd how such once hot prospects like Escobedo, Donaldson and Kozlov are not even mentioned anymore. And they each showed so much potential a few years ago. That’s pro tennis for you. Toughest sport in the world to succeed in.

  • Gary Armenti · August 11, 2020 at 8:09 am

    Great interview. Very insightful. I miss Justin on Tennis Channel as well.

    Gary

  • Marc Jarman · August 11, 2020 at 2:32 pm

    Loved this interview. He’s a great guy, proud to call Justin a friend. I hope he comes back to Tennis Channel. He made a mistake, he should be allowed back. It’s been long enough.

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