Sep/19

22

The Lighter Side Of Tennis

Tennis is a serious business with a lot at stake but funny, light hearted moments with the best players in the world do happen…

Magnus Larsson recalled the folly of almost losing his first prize money. “My first tennis paycheck, $2500. I lost. On the way back home to Stockholm. With my wallet. I had no money. I was calling my dad on the phone to tell him what time I come home. When I make the call, I found another wallet. I turned it into the info desk. Lot of money in it. Then when I got on the plane, I realize I left my wallet at the info desk! I had to run to get it back in time. But there was a few sweaty moments.”

Elena Vesnina witnessed a player robbed by a thief – during a changeover. “I remember I was playing one time in India and next court to me, Vania King actually – she put the banana on the chair and the monkey came and took it. And ball kids were trying to run after it to get the banana. And Vania was like, No I don’t need it. Leave it, give it to the monkey.”

Vince Spadea showed tennis is a game of love as he somehow managed to set up a date…while playing in a Tour match. “One time I got a phone number during a match. I was rappin’, pretendin’ like I was talkin’ to the ballkid. Hey, how’s it going? Maybe we’ll have a drink sometime. So then later the ballkid slipped me the number. Her name was Sunshine.”

When asked about a funny tennis memory, Xavier Malisse immediately thought of a former player he used to practice with. “Mose Navarra of Italy, I’ve never known a guy as crazy as him. We used to go out a lot. And I know how he acts, every time we go out my stomach would hurt from laughing. His remarks around people, not bad, just funny.”

Thomas Muster went all the way back to his childhood days of playing in Austria. The always passionate and demonstrative Muster was never shy about expressing himself in tennis, not even as a young boy.  “When I was younger, I was trying to ask anyone and everyone to play with me. Anyone who was waiting for a friend or who just finished, I ask everyone to play. I think people were afraid to come early to the club because I was there.”

Nicolas Lapentti recalled an uncanny memory of his amazingly accurate shotmaking. “I was playing a tournament in Lima, Peru in 1995. And my coach at the time – Pablo Guzman – was sitting up, up in the corner. And I hit a serve wide and it hit something in the wall – like a wire or something – and the ball went straight up and took off his baseball hat. The ball went completely up – it didn’t touch him – just took off his hat. A hat like yours. Took it off. It was too much.”

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Nicolas Kiefer remembered how he artfully dodged having to do tedious running drills in practice. “When I was younger, 9 or 10, in practice we used to run a lot because of fitness. Once I did not want to run and I closed myself in a locker room closet. And so I didn’t run. After, they come back and pick me up.”

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Andy Roddick honed his competitive spirit as he used to play fantasy matches in his garage. “When I was growing up, we had this rebound net in our garage that I played on. And I used to pretend I was playing McEnroe, Sampras, Lendl, three out of five sets. My mom would come out and ask me the score. And I’d be like, I’m winning. She’d be like, Oh, that’s impressive. So that was my big thing when I was little, playing with that rebound net, being in my own little world.”

Arnaud DiPasquale summoned up an odd experience in South America. Unfortunately a poor bird met a violent fate. “One time, a long time ago, in Satellite in Uruguay. Just after juniors. I was practicing. There were a few birds on the baseline while we were taking a drink on the changeover. I just hit the ball to scare them away. And I killed one. I felt so bad after that. I feel like a killer. I killed the bird.”

Jim Courier reminisced about times at The Bollettieri Academy. “The times I was at Bollettieri’s Tennis Camp where we would sneak out in the middle of the night. The boys and the girls, we’d all sneak out, take our racquets with tennis balls at 2 a.m. and have like these tennis ball wars where they were building stuff. So we were like firing tennis balls at each other from close range. Of course, we all got caught and had to wash cars and pick the weeds the next day.”

I interviewed the great Don Budge at the U.S. Open a few years before he passed away. He retained a memory of a ping pong match. “We have a ping pong table at home. I took a fellow – a neighbor of mine – up there to see our game room. He said, Oh, do you play ping pong? I said, Yes. He said, You know, I’m a pretty good player. So I played him. After he said, Gee, you’re pretty good Don! I said, Oh, I play much better right-handed! I played him left-handed and beat him easily. And he was quite chagrined [smiles]!”

Richard Krajicek culled a memory of when he was only second-best in the Krajicek household.  “I was six or seven, I used to play tennis with my older sister Lenka. She used to always beat me. She was 13. Then one day she played left-handed to make it fair. And she still beat me!”

Poland’s Lukas Kubot had a bizarre moment when his serve hit his doubles partner not once but twice. “I played with Oliver Marach in doubles. And I hit him with my serve to the head. And the ball didn’t go left or right – it went 20 meters straight up. Fell down and the ball fell down and hit him again. And we were playing French guys in the Challenger. It was at the end of 2005, the Challenger in Doha. After was the ATP tournament in Doha. And the first question that I asked Oliver, Man, sorry, are you okay? And his answer was like, Man, I want to win [smiles]. So I had a second serve after and I couldn’t stop laughing. So I was laughing. I got a time violation from the referee. And I hit the second serve directly to the fans with my frame [smiles]. So that was probably the funniest. (Win?) We win the match. We won the tournament with a wildcard. And we played semifinal in Doha in the ATP tournament, which actually started the doubles career.”

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204 comments

  • Andrew Miller · October 1, 2019 at 4:03 pm

    Kerber serves like Dementieva these days. It’s no mystery why she’s having trouble holding or at least seems to falter there.

  • catherine · October 1, 2019 at 4:15 pm

    Hartt – the truth is, no one knows what’s the matter with Angie, least of all posters on social media. Possibly she doesn’t herself.

    I don’t think it’s so much that players have her number, more that many matches she’s playing lacklustre tennis, not attempting to use some of the shots she’s got – I haven’t seen many of those X court angles she used to make, few dropshots, sluggish movement, and her serve….let’s not go on. She’s just drifting rudderless toward the sleeping reefs of qualifying.

    Emotional problems ? – confused and motiveless. Posssibly she has some catching up to do with life in general. That hits some players sooner or later. It’s her business anyway – just hope the tide turns before too long.

  • catherine · October 1, 2019 at 4:24 pm

    To me the great mystery is why Angie doesn’t hire a good coach and get to work – she could afford anyone (who speaks German) – unless she’s planning on retirement which would seem a little premature at 31.

  • Scoop Malinowski · October 1, 2019 at 4:48 pm

    Dr. Catherine, we may have to appoint you clinical psychologist in residence at Tennis-prose.com. 🙂

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