Monthly Archives: August 13, 2022

Maria Sharapova, Anna Kournikova. Ultimate tennis Hot Babes. Rafael Nadal. Hot Boy Babe. Yes, boys are babes too in this sport that flashes a goodly amount of sun-tanned shapely limbs. I never quite realized this looking at television until I chanced to visit the US Open in 2001 and was amazed by how gorgeous all the players look in their shorts. And we’re talking not even shorter shorts here in the men’s case, just those baggy things. Even so. No one told me this before. Their physicality is quite stunning. I am convinced this is the best kept secret in all of tennis, for some reason.

The tennis player as Hot Babe is not a recent concept. It all goes back to that first Hot Babe in the game, Bjorn Borg, Mr. Iceman Cometh himself. The first time I ever saw Bjorn Borg was around 1972, and he was nowhere near a tennis court. He probably wished he were at the time, it might have offered him some protection. The photo that appeared in the San Francisco newspaper showed the rising young Swedish star lying on the ground, near Wimbledon, being pawed and otherwise manhandled by hordes of screaming British girls, eager to snag some part of him or his clothes as a memento. It looked rough. When did tennis turn into a rugby scrum, I wondered. It was too hard to tell if the kid even looked like he was worth mauling. But I trusted the hormones of those schoolgirls. They were clearly on to something.

His arrival would certainly change the game of tennis and the way it was played. Suddenly everyone discovered topspin, as if we’d never heard the term before. Strong aggressive shots from the baseline became the new order of things. But Mr. Borg brought along a hefty dose of sex appeal too, and this was new.

Not long after his first Wimbledon, Tennis Magazine did a story on Bjorn Borg. Complete with a pin-up photo. Yes, you heard right, it must have been the first full page pin-up photo ever of a tennis player. Bjorn was lying on his side on the grass, he only had shorts on. His grin was a little sheepish, but the effect was charming. Mentally we women were already taking trips to Sweden to see if there were more at home like him.

His physical beauty seemed heightened almost by the fact he was such a cool customer on court. When John McEnroe first saw Borg, at Wimbledon, he recalls thinking, there must be something wrong with the guy. Nothing seemed to faze him on the court. Is he crazy or what? Not only did players have to contend with a powerful forehand shot and a two-handed backhand up the line that became arguably the best backhand shot ever in men’s tennis, they had to face this wall of attitude that no one could budge. Borg was completely imperturbable. Behind those ever so cool blue eyes, he could be planning his next shot, or your death and destruction. It was disarming because you never knew how to go about getting under Borg’s skin.

It seems great tennis players invariably evolve their own personal auras; McEnroe gave us a lot of you’ll-never-know-what-to-expect from him on the court; Federer has this kind of calm happiness about him as he tends to business. Part of their greatness is that each can carve out this kind of mental space around himself and his game. Borg really was all about aura.

This carried over into the style of the man and the way he went about his life. He seemed not to care about the money, preferring to spend his new-found money on a modest Saab instead of a sportier car. “It goes forward, ” Borg said, and that was what mattered. It did what it was supposed to do without muss or fuss. In this time of overextended tennis schedules on the tour, Borg was a bit of an anomaly, a man who cherished his winter break from tennis and stretched it often up to four months long. And on one occasion he used the time to build up his upper body by playing ice hockey.

His oddly checkered love life has ebbed and flowed over the years. Your love life of course is the number one thing that goes into defining you as a Tennis Babe. Borg’s first marriage in 1980 to former tennis pro Mariana Simionescu was held on an island in the Baltic. It was probably the wedding of the year, and ended up in the pages of People Magazine. A divorce followed later, then other women came and went. His second marriage was to the Italian singer, Loredana Berte, a woman a good ten years older. This continued a long and noble tradition of Swedes and Italians boffing each other, but the differences were harder than geographical boundaries to transcend. The tabloids recounted the ending of that relationship with Borg in the hospital having his stomach pumped in what sounded like a suicide attempt.

The dust has settled in recent years, the Iceman has found a healthy dose of happiness with his marriage to a fellow Swede and the birth of a daughter.

And as we all know, once the stork visits, your babe days are over. Now you have to mind the real ones.

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Average Rating: 4.5 out of 5 based on 163 user reviews.

When Czech player Robin Vik finally succumbed in five sets at the Australian Open this year, his opponent, Aussie star Lleyton Hewitt, could raise his hands in triumph after barely escaping a difficult round. He had spent over three hours on court in his opening match, but the applause from the crowd at Rod Laver Arena seemed rather muted. They were certainly pleased to see one of their own win the match and advance into the second round. They just weren’t so sure if they wanted it to be Lleyton Hewitt.

We know the feeling. Hewitt has always been a tough tinnie to swallow. Maybe it’s due to his style of play, which we could term your basic Street Brawler. If you like seeing lots of fur fly, then you like Hewitt’s playing style. Steady as she goes, from the baseline, a lot of grinding guys down with his ground strokes. Pretty? Well, no, but does he care? It’s a rough and abrasive style of playing, and if we get our way past that, then we have Hewitt’s personality that catches up to us. Also rough and abrasive. It’s not enough that Hewitt wins the match; he seems to need to diminish his opponents as well.

When Hewitt’s antics and verbal “come-awns” got to be a bit much, I started to curse the TV set when he played. I would say to myself, “Remember, Kim Clijsters loves him.” This got me through a good several years of the animated Aussie lad. But then the pair broke up. Even Kim didn’t love him in the end, said I. So now what do we do to get past the Hewitt personality? We want to like this man, there are things to admire about him, but how do we get there?

Unfortunately for Lleyton Hewitt, he emerged into tennis fame as one of the greatest Aussie players, Patrick Rafter, was edging into retirement. Alongside Rafter, probably even a nice guy like Roger Federer would seem just an ordinary bloke. Put Hewitt alongside Rafter and you get a sense of the Aussies’ dilemma. They are day and night. It’s more than just the looks: the smaller, wirier blond Hewitt juxtaposed against the dark, dashing good looks of Rafter is a strong contrast right there. But we remember the graceful athleticism of Rafter, and the fact that he was one of the last of a dying breed, a great serve and volley player. For a long time, Australian tennis was all about guys who played serve and volley. Rafter is a natural continuation of this line. His court manners were always impeccable, and that’s a lot of what we remember of Rafter. Whenever a player tosses his service ball away and has to catch it and start again, I think of Patrick Rafter, and his cordial “sorry mate, ” to whoever he was playing against.

No one says such things these days. Certainly not a guy like Hewitt.

He has a lot going for him, though. He possesses the most ferociously competitive spirit in all of tennis by a country mile. His feistiness will never let him abandon a match. Quitting a match like Justine Henin-Hardenne did in the women’s final? Not a chance in hell, baby, that’s pussy stuff. We can almost hear Hewitt saying that. Just as he said after his match at the US Open with Dominic Hrbaty, “I could never lose to a bloke wearing a shirt like that.” The man has his own idea of a standard he will not slip below. Kudos to him for that.

No kudos though for the fact that Hewitt seems to get personal in his matches; he wants to grind his opponents’ games down and then he wants to grind them down. This is what ticks people off about Hewitt, the way he makes things so personal. When you watch Roger Federer beating up guys galore, you see his game as one that offers us something; there is generosity being displayed towards his opponents. You get none of that with Hewitt. He’s had to fight for every point and you the audience should too. Considering how Justine Henin-Hardenne’s lack of generosity played out recently at the Open, you’d think Hewitt would not want to go down that route too. Unfortunately the guy seems headed there.

This contrariness may motivate Hewitt, but it is going to ruin him for the history books. Until he addresses what we shall term his lack of generosity towards his opponents, Hewitt is not going to be well-regarded when he retires from the game. People will feel relieved to see him go, not terribly sorry as we were when Patrick Rafter retired.

Part of me likes to see Hewitt play and win; we like to see “little guys” do well in this sport of increasingly bigger male specimens. He doesn’t have big weapons, he has to put it together and hope it holds with the glue of that combative personality. At times I’ve nearly felt sorry for him on court. He has to work a ton out there just to stay even sometimes. To his credit also, he comes out each year with new things to try and bother a guy like Roger Federer. Adding more pop to his serves, getting more stick on his ground strokes, working on his net game, bulking up a bit more in the gym. The man has a serious work ethic, and when he works, he works very very hard. Roger simply tosses it back to him. Hewitt has to swallow it and try something else next year. This could get under the skin of a guy. It takes a considerable amount of mental fortitude to go back and face the wall you’ve never been able to budge before.

To his credit, Hewitt seems capable of offering genuine congratulations when he loses to his peers. It shows in his face and in his handshake at the net. For the most part. When he loses to Federer, Hewitt is positively cordial. Hewitt does not regard Juan Ignacio Chela as one of his peers, obviously, even though Chela beat Hewitt this year in the second round. Their meeting at the net was bare bones: a spare handshake and a cool look. Considering the history between these two, that was probably effusive.

To his credit too, Hewitt can acknowledge when he’s been whipped good. “This will hurt for a few days, ” he said after the loss to Chela. His ranking has slipped to eleventh. To compound his recent woes, he also decided this week not to play Davis Cup for Australia against Switzerland in February. “He has made himself unavailable” is how they put it. It seems Hewitt is still teed off by the Open’s choice of court surface, which is way too slow in Hewitt’s book. The rancor there has spilled over into his Davis Cup participation. It seems Hewitt is going to take a bit of time off to himself.

This is probably a good thing, as the media circus surrounding Hewitt now in Australia is intense and likely to get even more so. “The Brad Pitt of Australia, ” chirps one tabloid headline. Well, a small resemblance perhaps. His soap star wife uncannily recalls Angelina Jolie. Who could ask for more? It’s almost akin to what soccer star David Beckham had to endure for some years in England, until he finally got traded away to a country that wouldn’t care quite so dearly for him and his wife.

The Aussies are probably a bit weary of all the publicity too. The crowd’s tepid reaction after the match with Robin Vik is probably due to this fact. We’re all worn out one way or another with Hewitt. Will Lleyton Hewitt ever feel worn out by this publicity onslaught? My sense is that he is going to arrive at this same point too. What will happen to the marriage? A friend of mine says to me the other week, “I give them three years.”

Should tennis players get married? At the height of their careers? And have a kid so soon? This may sound somewhat uncharitable, it is not intended that way, but this is a very difficult row to hoe. As a top-flight athlete, there are some things that have to be put on hold while you gallivant about the globe, following the tournaments, leading a kind of vagabond existence from one strange hotel to an even stranger one. Pete Sampras recognized this years ago when he moved himself to Florida to focus more on his tennis. It was also closer to Europe and a state with friendly tax laws, but the point is he was ready to do whatever it took. Several girlfriends came and went, but never a trip down the aisle until the very end of his career, and certainly no trips to the nursery. You have to maintain your focus on your game, no matter what.

Whether Lleyton Hewitt can keep all these elements together, keep his game on track and continue to develop, remains to be seen. His decision to marry and father a child at such a turning point in his career suggests to me that Hewitt has already given up on trying to overtake Roger Federer. When you’ve played the world’s number one several times in big matches and he’s rung your bell decisively, then perhaps you decide to get on with your private life.

Maybe this is the choice Lleyton Hewitt has made. Privately though, I hope the Aussie in him reasserts itself, and that he fights his way back into the fray of men’s tennis. My hunch is that somewhere inside this brash and often rude young man lurks an Aussie sporting heart. It is going to reassert itself. It is going to want to play the game the way the Aussie greats of yore played it, in attitude if not in actual playing style. Kiss the publicity goodbye then, wave off the hangers-on and get back to the business of grinding out tennis balls. Hewitt is going to reach his fill of this jet-set life.

And then the guys on tour should look out.

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Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 163 user reviews.

Whoa, I’m a little taken aback at the vitriol heaping down on Justine Henin-Hardenne in the aftermatch of her default in the Australian Open final to Amelie Mauresmo. Both spectators and the tennis media feel betrayed and ripped off. Everyone is right to feel that way: Henin-Hardenne took as much joy out of Mauresmo’s first grand slam win as she possibly could.

After bumming around India trying to find a television that carried the Open matches, I ended up in Fort Cochin on the west coast and sat down on the end of my bed to watch the final between Henin-Hardenne and Mauresmo on a television I borrowed from the owners of the hotel. If the match had played out to its end, I would have been hopping around the room with great joy to see Mauresmo get her first slam win. As it was, there I stayed, sitting on my bed. Happy, but quiet happy, just like Mauresmo must have felt.

We’ve been waiting for a reason to dislike Henin-Hardenne and now we have one.

But did Henin-Hardenne intentionally give up? When she realized she couldn’t win, did she behave like a bratty child who hasn’t quite grasped the concept of winning and losing, pack up her rackets and take off for home? We’ll never know for sure but we do know what is acceptable and what is not.

If Michaela Krajicek defaulted due to heat stress, that is o.k. If Kim Clijsters defaulted because she rolled her ankle, that is o.k. But an upset stomach, that is not o.k. If you don’t have to be carried off the court, what’s yer problem? After she defaulted, Henin-Hardenne sat on the sideline for a good fifteen minutes waiting for the awards ceremony to start with absolutely no medical attention whatsoever, so how bad could it be?

Yes it’s true that Henin-Hardenne defaulted in the final unlike Clijsters who dropped out in the semis, but Clijsters would have received kinder treatment under the same circumstances. I can tell you from direct experience that I have endured far more frequent and severe pain from digestive distress than I ever did from a sprained ankle. I have rolled around on the floor in extreme pain after dinner at the local Chinese food joint while my dinner companions were right as rain. And this is part of the problem with assessing Henin-Hardenne’s motive.

I have digestive problems because I have allergies to many common foods. As a result, my digestive system suffers and I have immune system problems. Henin-Hardenne is the most willfull player on the women’s tour. Her will has pushed her body beyond its tolerance point and she is now breaking down physically. She missed most of last year with immune system problems. We can all identify with a sprained ankle, but if your immune system is compromised, you never quite know whether it’ll turn up in your joints or your toes or your tummy. And if it does turn up in your joints, inflammation in Henin-Hardenne’s shoulder in this case, medicine you take for the joint can affect somewhere else, such as your tummy.

If we liked Henin-Hardenne, we’d take all of this into consideration. But that’s the problem. We’ve been waiting for a reason to dislike Henin-Hardenne and now we have one.

It started in the 2003 French semi-finals. Henin-Hardenne put her hand up as if to call time when Serena Williams was serving. Serena served the ball long and the umpire asked Henin-Hardenne if she had called time. She didn’t answer, she just turned away. Not cool.

It continued because Henin-Hardenne has a hard outer shell. She’s not soft and cuddly or friendly and outgoing like Clijsters. Here again, I have some sympathy for her. Her mother died when she was fourteen years old and she is estranged from her father and brothers. More than enough reason to have a hard shell.

We could forgive all of this, we like nothing better than a winner and we’ll even put up with John McEnroe’s histrionics if it’s good tennis. But we won’t put up with duplicity. There was no mystery about McEnroe, he put it all out there on the court. He did anything and everything he could to win a tennis match. If Nicolas Kiefer throws his racket at Sebastian Grosjean to interfere with his volley then refuses to concede the point – yes, he actually pulled that amateur stunt last week at the Australian Open – we don’t like it but we know that’s just Kiefer, he’s an ornery cuss.

But with Henin-Hardenne, we get double-speak. Look at this quote after her semi-final win over Maria Sharapova: “… in the last two years I never felt as good as now. Even if I played well in a couple of tournaments, I wasn’t feeling physically as well as I am feeling right now. When physically you’re feeling well, when you’re feeling healthy a hundred percent, then mentally you’re feeling stronger.”

Now look at what she said after she defaulted in the final: “Two weeks now I had to take antiinflammatories for my shoulder, and that killed me a little bit. Pretty sensitive. But I had to for my shoulder.”

And, for the final evidence, look at her reason for defaulting: “It’s just that there was no reason for me to keep going, because it could get me other injuries and just getting worse. My stomach was so painful, and I just couldn’t put anything in the ball. So there was no reason I could keep playing.”

She didn’t say that she couldn’t keep going, she said there was no reason to keep going. There was no reason because she couldn’t win. Henin-Hardenne may have cried for just as long and hard as Roger Federer did on Rod Laver’s shoulder, but we’re not sympathetic to her, we’re pissed off.

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 248 user reviews.