Insightful Conversation Between Grand Slam Champions From Different Generations

WASHINGTON, April 26, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

While the novel coronavirus pandemic has upended the tennis calendar since mid-March – and there’s no tournament play on the immediate horizon – it has enabled for a lot of interesting off-the-court social media content. Instagram Live has been a popular platform for player interaction with each other – featuring a variety of one-on-one conversations. The biggest one of the week came last Monday when Rafael Nadal hosted Roger Federer, which drew about 50,000 viewers at its peak.

One of the most insightful Instagram Live interviews, though, brought together a couple of Grand Slam champions from different generations. It came last Wednesday when Chris Evert, who who of 18 Grand Slam singles titles, including seven French Open crowns and six US Open championships during her Hall of Fame career, got together with Stan Wawrinka, winner of three of the four majors and certain to be inducted into the Hall of Fame when hangs up his racquet for good.

Evert, 65, who has been a longtime TV tennis analyst for ESPN since retiring, was interested to find out from Wawrinka, 35, what it’s like facing the Big Three of men’s tennis – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. The Swiss star admitted that Federer, his fellow countryman, is the most difficult of the three to play.

“He’s the best player ever so far. He’s been winning everything, beating everybody,” said Wawrinka, who is 3-23 lifetime against the Swiss maestro. “He’s better than the other players and better than me. His game is a completely different style. He puts you under pressure all the time, he’s so aggressive, changes (pace) a lot. For my style of play, that’s tougher than someone who keeps (hitting) the same ball.”

Who does Wawrinka favor playing the most? Despite a 6-19 lifetime record against Djokovic, its the World No. 1 from Serbia. “Novak is the one in the Big Three that I like to play the most, even if I’ve lost to him many times,” he said. “I feel like I can keep my power with him for three, four or five hours. Those three times I beat him, I kept playing my game. 

“(But) even after beating Rafa or Novak, they’re still way better than me. They’re still n a different category than me. I beat them one time here or there, but I know it’s a different league.”

Tennis United – A Vika and Feli pop quiz

Episode Three of Tennis United, the ATP/WTA joint social media weekly, dropped Friday evening across the tennis world and among this week’s highlights was a quiz with Victoria Azarenka and Feliciano Lopez. Mind you, tennis players are great during interviews in remembering every little minute detail of their matches. However, them about their own careers and it might be a different story. Vika was asked how many times she’s faced Serena Williams (22) or Feliciano who was the first Top 10 player he faced (Tommy Haas, French Open 2002), it’s not always as easy to remember as you might think.

Elsewhere, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Johanna Konta answered fans questions, such as this one asked of Tsitsipas: “Who is cutting your hair during the lockdown?”

Behind the Racquet with Ons Jabeur

Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, World No. 39 and the No. 1-ranked Arab player, is spending the holy month of Ramadan stuck in the United States, specifically in New York City – about 4,300 miles from Tunis – with Karim Kamoun, her husband and fitness coach. Since the coronavirus outbreak shut down the pro tennis tours early last month, Jabeur has shuttled from Indian Wells, Calif., to Miami and, finally, on to New York. If it seems like it’s been ages since Jabeur reached the quarterfinals of the Australia Open, that’s because it has been. “I’m just taking it day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute,” she recently told the WTA website.

Earlier this month, Jabeur shared more of her life story with the Instagram series Behind the Racquetin which she explained what it was like leaving home at a young age to hone her learning and playing opportunities, how she’s handled racist taunts, and why she desires to give back to those who have helped her on her tennis journey.

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“I was the youngest one of my brothers and sisters, so she took me to the club with her. It was around this time, from 3-5 years old, I was actually swimming. I was born in Ksar Hellal and moved to Sousse at 5 and that’s when I chose to play tennis. Sousse was great but needed more resources to improve, which is when I had to decide if I needed to leave my home city at 13 years old. There was this school in Tunis that would allow me to train and go to school at the same time. It gave me the chance to train more hours, which is what I needed. It was 140 kilometers from my home. It was very difficult for me to leave my city, it was one of my biggest struggles. It has been a long process since then. Before I broke through there were some times where I couldn’t travel and had to choose not to play the tournament. I was lucky that my brothers and sisters helped me with money at times. It hurt to ask my loved ones for financial help. At the time I didn’t even know if I would ever be able to repay them. They would always remind me that they believe in me and didn’t want the money back but for me, in my head, I needed to return it eventually. It changed my career because it allowed me to take a coach to tournaments when I couldn’t normally afford it. Even with all the help I had to figure out a lot on my own. I made many mistakes when it came to coaching, practicing, tournament scheduling, everything. I had to figure out what worked for me. I learned a lot over the years. I learned my country has always been a part of me even when times weren’t easy. People have been against me at times, especially the gamblers, who always have something to say. I have had many of them, when they lose money on me, comment on me being a Muslim. In the beginning I didn’t know what to do when people said racist remarks, especially after the revolution, a scary time for my country. I then would figure out that it was just a lack of intelligence, not really knowing what they are talking about, so there is no need to waste my time with responding to gamblers. I just want to set the best example I can.” @onsjabeur Go to behindtheracquet.com for extended stories, podcast and merch.

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The Tennis Way Back Machine

It’s been 15 years, but way back in 2005, then-18-year-old Rafael Nadal broke into the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings for the first time, debuting at No. 7 after he won his first Barcelona title on clay. Nadal beat former Barcelona champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, 6-1, 7-6 (4), 6-3. Last year’s Barcelona title was won by Dominic Thiem over Daniil Medvedev, 6-4, 6-0.

What they’re saying

During a recent interview with The National‘s Reem Abulleil, Darren Cahill, who splits his time between coaching Simona Halep and being a tennis commentator for ESPN, says it’s time that tennis appointed its own commissioner. “Let’s say hypothetically the four Slams remain as they are, but then you have the ATP, the WTA and the ITF all rolled into one, and that means you can appoint a commissioner of tennis that oversees the men’s and women’s tours, Fed Cup, Davis Cup, the Olympics and also the smaller events that are under the ITF and also under the WTA. That person and that organization would have enormous power.

“And I think, hypothetically, it would be a pretty good position for a tennis player to be in, because you know that every single decision being made is made in the best interest of the game.”

What they’re writing

Simon Briggs, tennis correspondent, The Telegraph of London, from Instagram Live chats between athletes offer the kind of access sports fans are looking for: “Who knew that it does not take camera crews, or even professional presenters, to generate a memorable interview? Judging by last week’s flurry of Instagram Live chats, all you need is a couple of sports stars, a pair of laptops, and a steady broadband connection. 

“Far from being the dumb jocks of legend, the world’s best athletes can turn their hand to many unexpected roles, including impersonating Michael Parkinson. For those of us who make a living from sports media, it is a dangerous secret for the lockdown to have revealed.

“Racket-welders have shone particularly brightly. With their public-speaking skills honed by at least 80 press conferences in the average year, Roger Federer and his peers come across as simultaneously articulate and relaxed.”

What they’re sharing on social media

Ashleigh Barty, Australia, currently ranked No. 1 / Long walks, supporting local cafes, turning 24

Iga Swiatek, Poland, currently ranked No. 49 /  Reminding us to be kind to ourselves

Rohan Bopanna, India, currently ranked doubles No. 37 / Ripping forehands