Monthly Archives: August 2008

Old Surprises, New Surprises, and a Few Questions at the US Open

Andy Roddick and Sam Querrey are looking good, Andy Murray looks transformed – for better or worse, and I don’t know what’s up with David Nalbandian.,

The planned shutdown of has been delayed due to software problems. I’ll keep you up to date, meanwhile keep tuning in because the US Open is smokin’.

I had Andy Roddick on the downside for the US Open because he’s had all kinds of injury problems this summer. He only got to the second round in Toronto and failed to win either of the small hard court events he entered but, he’s looked strong so far. He took out the talented young Latvian Ernests Gulbis to reach the third round and there’s no sign of injury anywhere on him so. Of course, I also ignored Sam Querrey and wrote off Jo-Wilfried Tsonga but they’re still around too.

When I first saw Querrey play in Los Angeles two years ago, I figured we had another Roddick on our hands but with slightly worse movement and that’s not good. He might not be a smooth mover but I did see him lunge for a sweet half-volley crosscourt winner in his third round victory over Ivo Karlovic. After Querrey hit the shot, his legs were churning and his body lurched out over those long legs, but he made the shot and he also came through on the big points.

Querrey hit a fantastic flick lob over his 6’10”(208cm) counterpart in the first set tiebreaker. And Karlovic gave Querrey a set point in the second set tiebreaker with a double fault while Querrey closed the set out with an ace. Querrey won the match in straight sets and is now into the fourth round at a slam for the first time.

Tsonga is the stuff of dreams. He’s everything many players are not: lithe, smooth, aggressive, strong, charismatic – in short, one of those artist types we’ve been arguing about with regard to the Roger FedererRafael Nadal divide. Leaving charisma out of it for the moment, Federer is the artist and Nadal is the grinder. Some people view this as a slap at Nadal and an unwarranted appreciation of Mr. Federer but I can’t help it, I’m an unabashed artistry lover and it pained me to see Roger unable to pull the trigger on a simple forehand passing shot against Thiago Alves in the third round because there isn’t a lot of artistry to take his place. A magician is not the same thing. I cringe when I watch Fabrice Santoro hit slice two-handers off both sides. I get mad when he beats more stylish players. I’m superficial, what can I say.

But it’s not quite that simple. I love stylish players but only when they come with transcendent power. Federer’s looseness allows him to unload that fearsome forehand and Tsonga just slams the ball. That could be part of Tsonga’s problem. As stylish as he is, if you watch his forehand you can see a possible cause of the disc problem he suffered and, by extension, his recent knee injury. Tsonga’s arm looks like it’s stuck to his body when he hits his forehand.

Think of it like this: some players hit with too much arm and not enough trunk rotation (Filippo Volandri is the best example of that, he’s all arm), and others twist their trunk but fail to let the racket fly freely on the follow-through. If you’re arm doesn’t fly freely at the end of the shot, your spine will over-rotate and you’ll get disc problems. Further down the kinetic chain, the extra trunk rotation will put pressure on your knees. Tsonga’s got style and artistry, especially around the net, but that style might be causing his recurring injury problems.

I haven’t made the mistake of discounting Andy Murray but I’m also expecting him to take a bit longer to develop. His conditioning has improved but he’s still behind other players. He didn’t pop out of the womb running as I’m sure Rafael Nadal did. Murray was probably a couch potato baby and even now he’s a video game addict – Brad Gilbert recently claimed that Murray plays video games seven hours a day but maybe he was exaggerating. Anyway, Murray’s conditioning almost cost him his place in the fourth round.

Jurgen Melzer was up two sets to none and leading in the third set tiebreaker, 5-4, and Murray looked tired. Murray managed to win the next two points – the second with a 138mph(222kph) ace, wow, where’d that come from? – then played the following magnificent point to close out the set.

Melzer hit a sharp crosscourt shot to run Murray wide to one direction then hit another to the opposite corner. Melzer followed the second shot to the net and hit a sweet drop shot. And this is what makes the slouchy Murray so interesting: most players would have been spinning their wheels like mad to get to that shot, but Murray’s length and anticipation got him there in time to decelerate and hit a pretty easy winner down the line. Melzer took the fourth set off and finally ran out of gas at the end of the fifth, and in that sense Murray was lucky. But even if Murray does well here – and he could end next week at number four in the world – his conditioning still has to improve.

On another note, while I’m happy to see fewer self-lacerating outbursts from Murray, I’m not so sure about the alternative that has emerged in its place. Melzer stayed even with Murray in the fifth set until Murray broke him to go up 4-3. In the next game, Murray made a great lunge save of a hard Melzer backhand down the line then followed it up with a passing shot to win the point. Murray immediately put his hands on his hips, turned to his box, and mouthed what I think were the following words to his box: “It’s too strong! You’re too strong!” No doubt he was referring to himself.

I loved Murray’s crowd stirring antics at Wimbledon against Gasquet as he came back from two sets down to win the match because that was designed to pump up the crowd. But here, Murray was belittling Melzer’s game and I don’t like that. A few points later, Murray hit a fantastic return winner off a wide serve and he posed again, this time throwing up his hands as if he could barely stand his own greatness

I exaggerate slightly but Melzer deserved better because he played great tennis to get up two sets in the match. It looks like Murray is overcompensating for his inner hater. Instead of trashing himself verbally he’s now clowning his opponents. I hope Murray keeps developing until he can find a balance between those two parts of himself. I’m assuming it’ll come with the years.

One quick comment about David Nalbandian. I was surprised to see that he’s still ranked number seven given his mediocre results this year and he looked awful against Gael Monfils. He lost his second match in a row to Monfils on Saturday and he looked like he didn’t want to be out there. He was down 4-1 in the third set when he sauntered casually to the net and let a soft passing shot float over him and land at least a foot inside the baseline. Nalbandian looked all the worse given the number of times Monfils slipped and dove and tumbled to get to wide and short balls.

The journalists at the US Open are holding up release of player interviews for 24 hours to keep us bloggers from advertising the sport too heavily, but soon as it comes out, I’d be very interested to know what Nalbandian has to say for himself. Stay tuned, lots more to come.

Courier, The Quiet Guy in the Booth, and the Coaching Drought in the ATP

Jim Courier may be the soft-spoken guy in the USA broadcast booth, but he has lots to say. And where are all the good coaches?

[Please note that will be down from 9am ET/3pm CET, Saturday, August 30, to 6am ET/noon CET, Monday, September 1, while we install our new platform. It’s a pain in the butt at a bad time but you’ll like the results.]

I sat in a media session with Jim Courier and John McEnroe at the Countrywide Classic in Los Angeles last month and Courier had a hard time getting a word in. That’s too bad because he has lots of good things to say. Courier and McEnroe were covering the first round US Open match between Richard Gasquet and Tommy Haas. McEnroe had the usual take on Gasquet, to whit, someone should take him aside and read him the riot act about his mental timidity – particularly his Davis Cup no show against the US earlier this year when he declined to face Andy Roddick in the deciding match of a Davis Cup tie between the US and France. And especially as McEnroe was a Davis Cup warrior during his playing days. But Courier dissected Gasquet’s strokes and correctly pointed out that his forehand will break down over a long match because he needs so much time to wind up and hit it. That comment isn’t all that astute but Courier also pointed out that Gasquet hits high to low in a way that requires perfect timing to hit a solid forehand.

That turned out to be a prophetic analysis. Gasquet and Haas traded sets and when Haas broke Gasquet at 5-5 in the fourth set to win it, Gasquet threw in the towel and lost the match, 7-6(3), 4-6, 7-5, 5-7, 2-6. Okay, this is that mental timidity thing McEnroe was talking about above, but many things go into one’s mental makeup and consistency is a huge part of it. Consistency breeds confidence and a stroke that has very little leeway for error is not a stroke you can carry into a five set match and go to war with. What can break down will break down in a five set match.

Courier was at it again in the second round match between Stanislas Wawrinka and Wayne Odesnik. This time it was Wawrinka’s forehand that had an extra motion in it. Sometimes it makes him hit the ball late and when he does that, he pushes the ball wide.

It didn’t matter against Odesnik, Wawrinka beat him handily, 6-4, 7-6(6), 6-2, but it does make me pine after Courier for coaching material and Andy Roddick might take notice. Roddick either is or is not working with his brother John as his coach. I’m not exactly sure. Patrick McEnroe is helping Roddick during this tournament and McEnroe sat next to John in the stands during Roddick’s first round match against Fabrice Santoro – more on that later. At the end of the match, Roddick made a point of including his brother John as an important part of his team, but it was Dean Goldfine – Roddick’s trainer – who was communing with McEnroe during the match.

It can’t be easy to fire your brother and McEnroe already has enough to do. He’s the Davis Cup captain, a tennis commentator, and he’s also the General Manager of the USTA Elite Player Development program, a tough job considering the vague connection between national tennis programs and the number of elite players that nation develops. Look at Serbia for instance. Serbia has produced two number one players and a number three player in the past year but not one of those players trained in Serbia.

Roddick needs a coach and he needs someone who’ll lean on him heavier than his brother. That probably doesn’t describe Courier and Courier is also the CEO of the Outback Champions Series senior tour so he also has more than enough to do, but if Roddick did the coaching by committee thing currently popularized by Andy Murray, he could do worse than getting some help from Courier.

Roddick looked strong against Fabrice Santoro. You can tell it’s time for Santoro to retire if Roddick is out-tricking him. For each drop shot or two-handed forehand slice Santoro came up with, Roddick had a drop volley or slice passing shot. Then there was that 140mph(225kph) serve to Santoro’s body. Santoro had to duck to keep from getting his noggin banged up. He didn’t appreciate it considering that Roddick was one serve away from winning the match 6-2, 6-2, 6-2. Santoro spit on the court and sarcastically applauded the serve with his racket. Then he stood with his hands on his hips and motioned Roddick to serve – which Roddick did as Santoro stood motionless.

Roddick apologized for the serve when he got to the net – afterwards he said that he was trying to go up the tee and he missed (doubtful by the way, but possible) – but Santoro didn’t have much of a beef. He’d stopped trying and you can’t stand in against a guy who serves that hard and not mean it.

France, by the way, might be the counterexample to Serbia. Their national tennis program has turned out a bunch of great players. Speaking of coaches, though, Mats Wilander has been coaching French player Paul-Henri Mathieu since April ’07 and it’s not going so well.

First of all, Mathieu gave up at the end of the first set of his match against Mardy Fish before rebounding to take the second set. Fish ended up winning the match, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, and that shouldn’t happen because Mathieu is the stronger player. Wilander should bring some resiliency to Mathieu’s game but, instead, Mathieu is having a Jekyll and Hyde year.

Mathieu lost in the first round at five of the seven Masters events he’s entered – three on clay and two on hard court – sprinkled in with two fourth round results at slams. What can you make of that? He made his way up to number 12 in April and now he’s back down to number 25. It looks as if he wants to find his comfort level – “Number 12, eek, that’s way too close to top ten, let me get back down here where I feel more comfortable. Somewhere in the 20’s, ahhh, that feels good.” Mathieu’s ranking has been halved during Wilander’s tenure but I am definitely seeing a drought in the supercoaching league right about now.

During Murray’s second round win over Michael Llodra, Courier and (John) McEnroe were criticizing Llodra’s tactics. Llodra was a few points away from losing the match and he was hitting to Murray’s strength – his backhand – even though Murray was missing forehands. Courier was sufficiently impressed with McEnroe’s analysis to make the following suggestion: “If this broadcasting thing doesn’t work out for you, Mac, you might coach.”

Yes, we’re going through a coaching drought, but that is a truly terrible idea.

Donald Young Gets an Upgrade, Mishegoss, and Mac Daddy Wants To Be the CEO

Donald Young is better than I thought, the women are all mixed up, and McEnroe Senior applies for de Villiers’ job.

I am officially upgrading my expectations for Donald Young. I had him reaching a high ranking somewhere in the 30’s and compared him to Marc Giquel: big game no power. Then I saw him rip off forehand winners and come up with Tsonga-like net retrievals and throw in a few 124mph(200kmh) serves while pushing James Blake to five sets on opening night at the US Open. Now I have Young somewhere close to, say, Mikhail Youzhny. Not in game but ranking. Youzhny bounced back and forth between the teens and twenties for the past two years and I can see Young doing that.

By the way, help me out here. Who’s a better comparison to express Young’s style of play? We have Blake for speed, Tsonga for nimbleness. Who else?

As I write this, Sam Querrey has just smashed Tomas Berdych, 6-3, 6-1, 6-2. Wow, that’s a bit shocking. Young and Querrey are clearly the frontrunners to take over for Blake and Andy Roddick. They don’t have the game of Marin Cilic or Ernests Gulbis so I think the US is in for another era of not-quite-the-best, and that directly affects me because the game of tennis in the US goes as the top players go. Especially as online tennis gambling is illegal and don’t underestimate the power of gambling to sports popularity in the US, it’s a huge part of the interest in the National Football League.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep praying for more upgrades.

Mishegoss on the Women’s Side

mish•e•goss: Crazy or senseless activity or behavior; craziness.

Imagine this:
Roger Federer retires today and all of his points erased from the rankings table.
Rafael Nadal out for two months with a shoulder injury.
Novak Djokovic retires upon the birth of his first child.

That is roughly the situation on the women’s tour at the moment. Justine Henin disappeared, Maria Sharapova has a tear in her labrum, and Kim Clijsters is on the mommy track. And the next level of players isn’t quite ready to take over.

Here’s what we have. Ana Ivanovic won the French Open this year and she’s the obvious choice to stay at number one for a while. Dementieva has two slam finals – also in 2004 though she won the Olympic gold medal in Beijing and she’s all the way up to number six (isn’t it amazing what an adequate serve can do for your game?). Dinara Safina is almost ready and she has one slam final.

And here’s the second level. Svetlana Kuznetsova has one slam but that was four years ago and if the WTA still used bonus points (additional points for beating higher ranked players), her ranking would be lower because she loses to higher ranked players so often. Jelena Jankovic is here for the same reason. She has a losing record against all of the women I’ll mention today except Venus Williams. Jankovic has yet to reach a slam final.

Serena Williams and her sister Venus are in their own category. They have 15 slams between them but I doubt that either player will reach number one again and the last time either player won the US Open was 2002.

I’m assuming Sharapova will return to good health unless she develops Tommy Haas-like shoulder problems and Safina is likely to continue to improve, so hold on until next year when we should have three women at the top just like the men’s tour. By the way, if the top three men did depart for some reason or other, who’d take over?

Mac Daddy Wants de Villiers’ Job

In concert with this week’s coronation of Barack Obama – otherwise known as the Democratic Convention, the tennis world is in the middle of its own political shift. The CEO of the ATP, Etienne de Villiers, will step down at the end of the year because, in short, he was hired to make sweeping changes to the ATP and the players resisted. Who’ll replace de Villiers? Jim Courier and a few other retired players have been named but the most interesting self-proclaimed candidate is one John Patrick McEnroe. Senior.

Yes, Mac Daddy wants the job and if you read the letter below, you’ll understand why Johnny Mac Junior credited that tempestuous nature to his upbringing during his induction ceremony at the Tennis Hall of Fame. Mac Senior trashes de Villiers, screams out the stupidity of required tournaments in capital letters, and blows his own horn. I don’t think it’ll go anywhere. Mac Junior didn’t do him any favors with his mishandling of the Davis Cup team and while Patrick captained the squad to a Davis Cup title, Mac Senior’s letter is much too reminiscent of Junior’s state of mind for comfort.

And don’t expect either Johnny to mellow with age. A few weeks ago Junior was defaulted from a seniors event for verbally abusing an umpire. Would you hire Senior? I wouldn’t but I’d pay attention to his ideas. He’s got a few good ones. Here’s Senior’s letter:


As you all probably know, I am the father of John, Mark (my “normal son,” the lawyer) and Patrick McEnroe. I have met some of you at various tournaments, Davis Cup ties, etc.

To get promptly to the point, I am interested in succeeding Etienne de Villiers as Chairman of ATP Tour, Inc. I am strongly of the view that the best interests of men players, particularly the top ranked players, have been very badly served by Mr. de Villiers, to put it mildly, and by his predecessors.

The rules for participation on the Tour are an abomination. My own view is that NO player should be required to play in ANY TOURNAMENT if he doesn’t wish so to do. Also, as long as a player’s ranking entitles him to entry, he should be able to enter any tournament without requiring a minimum of tournaments each year. This is a position I have held for over thirty years.

You are all too young to remember that, in the early 1980s, I represented the “quintessential quintet (QQ)” (Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, Vitas Gerulaitis, McEnroe (John) and Guillermo Vilas), in negotiations with the Men’s International Professional Tennis Council (“MIPTC”) over newly proposed rules. Those rules included proposed “hard designations” by the MIPTC for the top hundred players on the ATP computer. You will not be surprised that the QQ were not happy with that proposal. We were able to negotiate an arrangement whereby the QQ and the Council agreed in advance what the “designations” would be.

I am aware that the Mercedes-Benz international sponsorship of the Tour ends at the end of this year and will not be renewed. As your new Chairman, it would be a major priority of mine zealously to work to find a new sponsor. Also, I would work diligently to find opportunities to monetize various aspects of the Tour in order to ensure its financial foundation is solid.

Additionally, I have represented John and Patrick in connection with all of their legal needs. This includes all of their broadcasting contracts with BBC, NBC, CBS, ESPN, Tennis Channel and Australia’s Channel 7, agreements with respect to special events, endorsement agreements with Nike, Dunlop, Wilson, Snauwaert, Sergio Tacchini, etc., not to mention a myriad of endorsements for companies not directly involved with tennis, book contracts and so on. I know and have interfaced with all the constituencies in professional tennis for many years.

Finally, I am currently Of Counsel to the internationally recognized law firm, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison LLP, where I practiced commercial law since 1967. From 1974 through 2000, I was a partner in the Corporate Department.

I would be most pleased to meet in person at a convenient time and venue (the US Open site?) with any or all of you, your agents and anyone else you deem appropriate. Please feel free to call or e-mail me with any questions, comments or suggestions you may have. Thank you all in advance for your consideration of this proposal.

John P. McEnroe

ATP Fantasy Tennis Picks for the US Open

It’s time for the ATP Fantasy Tennis Season so check out our Fantasy Tennis Guide. You’ll find Fast Facts, Strategies, and Statistics to help you play the game.

Sign up and join our subleague! It’s called We send weekly email updates to all subleague members before the submission deadline.

This week’s submission deadline is Monday, August 25th, 10am (EST) in the U.S./4pm (CET) in Europe.

For the first time since I’ve been doing fantasy tennis picks, Rafael Nadal’s name is at the top of the draw and Roger Federer’s is at the bottom. Yes, Rafael Nadal has finally taken over the number one spot. Now it’s time to see if Nadal can add the US Open title and turn the table on Federer by winning his third slam this year.

Pay close attention this week because it’s the last slam of the year and you can make up a lot of ground – or lose a lot of ground – with your picks. We need eight players for our fantasy team so let’s pick the quarterfinalists.

US Open draw (hard court, first prize: $1.5 million)

There is very little between Nadal and the quarterfinals. Tomas Berdych beat Nadal the first three times they met on hard court but Nadal beat him easily in Miami this year and on grass last year. Ivo Karlovic has lost here in the first round for the past two years and Philipp Kohlschreiber is 0-4 against Nadal. Nadal is our obvious first pick.

James Blake is having a solid but unspectacular year. He doesn’t have a title yet but he did reach the quarterfinals at three of the four hard court Masters Series events and the Australian Open, and he just reached the semifinals at the Olympics with a win over Federer. He has a pretty easy quarter too. David Nalbandian is in this quarter but Nalbandian hasn’t gone past the third round since 2005 and Gael Monfils, his possible fourth round opponent, just beat him at the Olympics. James Blake it is.

There are four people to watch in David Ferrer’s section. Ferrer reached the semifinals last year but he didn’t make it past the third round in Toronto or Cincinnati and he lost to Janko Tipsarevic in the first round at the Olympics. Juan Martin Del Potro is on a tear. He’s on a four tournament winning streak, two on clay and two on hard court, and he’s the first player in the Open Era to win his first four tournaments consecutively. Juan Monaco reached the fourth round here last year but he lost in the first round at the Olympics and New Haven. It doesn’t look like he’s recovered from the injury that kept him out for seven weeks. Gilles Simon won the title in Indianapolis, reached the semifinals in Toronto where he beat Federer, then lost to James Blake in Cincinnati and at the Olympics. I’m picking between Del Potro and Simon. Simon has performed best against higher ranked competition – Del Potro’s titles were in smaller tournaments – so I’m going with Simon.

Andy Murray reached the semifinals in Toronto and beat Novak Djokovic to take the title in Cincinnati. I’m still not convinced he can perform consistently in big events – he lost his first round match at the Olympics, but he has a 3-0 record over Stanislas Wawrinka on hard court this year alone and he’s 2-0 lifetime over Feliciano Lopez. Mikhail Youzhny is probably his biggest hurdle but Youzhny hasn’t gone past the third round this summer in a hard court event. Murray it is.

I’m not feeling very positive about Andy Roddick’s chances here. He’s had a lot of injuries lately, he lost his second match at both Wimbledon and Toronto, and he lost to Viktor Troicki – ranked number 71 – in the quarterfinals in Washington. And his second round opponent could be Ernests Gulbis who reached the fourth round here last year. Meanwhile, Nicolas Kiefer is 3-0 over Fernando Gonzalez lifetime. Gonzalez did get to the semifinals at the Olympics, but he failed to get past the second round at Toronto or Cincinnati and he hasn’t been past the third round here since 2002. Gulbis is too inconsistent, he gets to the quarterfinals one week then loses in the first round the next, so I’m picking Kiefer.

It’s would be very hard to pick anyone but Novak Djokovic in his section. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is back after a three month injury break – he lost in the first round at the Olympics. Marin Cilic is dangerous but he’s also like Gulbis: young and inconsistent. Tommy Robredo and Marat Safin are both 4-8 on hard court this year. Djokovic it is.

Nikolay Davydenko’s section is hard to call. Davydenko is in a funk. He hasn’t won more than two matches in a tournament since the end of the clay court season. Dmitry Tursunov has never been past the third round here. Richard Gasquet gets Tommy Haas in the first round and Haas has reached the quarterfinals for the past two years. Gasquet reached the fourth round two straight years before withdrawing after his second round match last year. He skipped the Olympics to prepare for the US Open so I’m going to say that this is the year he reaches the quarterfinals.

Here’s the toughest part of the process today: figuring out who might beat Federer. There are three candidates in his section: Fernando Verdasco who reached a career high number 11 in July, Igor Andreev is also at a career high ranking of 23, and Radek Stepanek who beat Federer on clay this year. The problem is that none of them has done well here. Stepanek reached the third round once, in 2003, Verdasco reached the fourth round in 2005, Andreev has never been past the second round. Say what you will about the state of Federer’s game, but he’s reached the final at the last two slams so he’s my pick in this section.


Here are my picks: Nadal, Blake, Simon, Murray, Kiefer, Djokovic, Gasquet, Federer.

Happy fantasies!

Pete Sampras’ Book Delivers a Fascinating Look at a Champion’s Mind

If you want to know what was going through Pete Sampras’ mind when he played, read his book.

Thank heavens for Peter Bodo, the best writer in tennis today. He’s taken what could have been a boring record of greatness and turned it into a fascinating look at the mind of a champion. Bodo is the “written with” guy for Pete Sampras’ book, A Champion’s Mind: Lessons from a Life in Tennis.

Let’s start with the two year process that turned Sampras into a winner. He’d won his first slam at age 19, the 1990 US Open, with no pressure because no one expected him to win. By the time the US Open rolled around again, he was resentful of the pressure that came with the title and when he lost to Jim Courier in the quarterfinals, he made the fateful comment: “I feel like a ton of bricks has been lifted off my shoulders.” A comment, Sampras’ writes, that “…exposed a deep fault in my competitive makeup.”

At the end of 1991, Sampra was thrown into his first Davis Cup match as the number one singles player in the championship final against France and lost both of his matches as the US lost the tie. The 1992 Wimbledon didn’t go too well either, but Sampras reached the final at the US Open against Stefan Edberg where he double faulted to give Edberg a set point then folded to lose the match. He’d played without heart.

By the end of the year, Sampras had figured it out and he summed it up like this: “The truth is that when you’re anywhere but at number one, you can hide.” Players sometimes get to number one and drop back down because they’re not good enough, but there are plenty of talented players who reach number one and decide it’s not worth the ton of bricks. Sampras knew he had exceptional talent but the true test of a competitor was whether he wanted to be number one and take on the pressure of holding on to it once he got there.

In 1992, Sampras won Wimbledon and took the title at the US Open, and, of course, ended up with a record 14 slam titles.

Roger Federer is the closest heir to Sampras and I found myself looking for anything in the book that would help me figure out what’s happening to Federer because that’s what we want to know: Will he figure out how to resurrect his game and get the three slams he needs to pass Sampras’ record? Or will he limp to the end of his career with one or two more slams and go down as Sampras’ equal at best?

For starters, Sampras describes what happens when things start to break down. He had 11 slams in 1998 and needed two more to pass Roy Emerson’s record. He had the energy but he was getting injuries and, worst of all, as he puts it: “the mind just snaps and fails to focus in the correct, relaxed way that helps you win tennis matches.” That’s what you’re seeing with Federer: he doesn’t come through on the big points.

At the end of 1998, Sampras set up a conflict between being number one and winning slams. He had a chance to end the year at number one for the sixth consecutive year to break Jimmy Connors record and he succeeded, but he ran himself ragged in the fall season to do it and it wasn’t just physical. As he got close to the year end championships with number one still undecided, Sampras felt the pressure so acutely that his hair was falling out and, for the first time in his career, he was so frazzled that he unburdened himself to his coach, Paul Annacone.

I’ll get back to that in a minute because it says a lot about the way Sampras dealt with pressure that he’d never expressed vulnerability to his coach before, but Federer had a similar pressure – possibly greater. Sampras was in and out of the number one ranking during that six year period, he reached number one 11 times in his career. Federer, in contrast, held the number one ranking for 237 consecutive weeks with no breaks to relieve the pressure and that had to take a huge toll. There might be some good news, though. After Sampras got his record sixth year number one ranking, he was free to chase his remaining slams and not worry about rankings anymore.

Back to internalizing pressure. Federer is also Sampras’ heir in on court behavior. No showy celebrations, just bat the ball to the side of the court and get on to the next point without showing much displeasure or, worse, disappointment. Sampras wonders whether he should have seen a therapist or been more willing to express his vulnerability to relieve the pressure. I’m assuming Federer has such conversations with his girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec, but he’s also gone long stretches without a coach and it’s a point of pride with him. It might be time to put the pride and his ego aside as Sampras did when he called up Annacone for a last push at a slam after having fired him the year before.

I had some frustrations with the book. Sampras says that his serve just clicked one year, “don’t ask me how.” That’s not good enough. It’s possibly the best serve the game’s ever seen and obviously we want to know how.

There’s also the issue of repaying early mentors. Pete Fischer guided much of Sampras’ early training and though Sampras doesn’t describe their financial arrangement, Fischer did turn up at the Sampras family’s house one day after Sampras starting making money, threw a fit, and made what Sampras thought were absurd demands for compensation. Do you owe mentors a chunk of your earnings after you’ve moved on to work with others? I’d love to hear Bodo’s take on that.

But it’s not Bodo’s book, it’s Sampras’ book, and as much as we spend entire media sessions trying to pick apart the minds of players who do everything in their power to keep the contents of those minds hidden – mostly from other players, we often don’t get very far and we have to wait until the player feels like telling us.