Women Who Serve: An Inside Look at the WTA Players’ Council

On the Baseline Tennis News

When you think of women’s tennis, you probably think power-serves, thundering backhands, and cross-court winners, right? You probably wouldn’t think that a sport like tennis would need more than a simple book of rules to make it all happen.

In reality, professional tennis is far more complicated than meets the eye.

The game relies heavily on its governing entities to make tennis a sustainable business for all stakeholders (players, fans, tournaments, and media). Within the women’s game, a small group of big-name players are doing their part—working in relative anonymity behind the scenes, negotiating and communicating their thoughts on what is best for women’s tennis, now and in the future.

Before we take a peek inside the Players’ Council, let’s look at how women’s tennis is governed. Back in 1973, the Women’s Tennis Association was established as the governing body for women’s professional tennis worldwide. Since then, three distinct entities have been formed to make up the governance of the WTA: the Board of Directors, Players’ Council, and the Tournament Council.

The WTA Players’ Council is a sub-committee under the Board of Directors. It consists of eight members, representing players in five ranking groups. Venus Williams, Liezel Huber, and Patty Schnyder are just some of the players who have been elected to serve off the court as members of the WTA Players’ Council.

They not only serve as advocates for players in the upper echelons of the game, they are committed to offering a voice for players of all levels. With so many stakeholders involved, the WTA Players’ Council has maintained a pivotal role in the governance of women’s tennis.

Current Players’ Council members by ranking groups are as follows:

1-20 Representatives:
Patty Schnyder
Mary Pierce
Venus Williams
Open position to be filled

21+ Representative:
Liezel Huber

51-100 Representative:
Akgul Amanmuradova

101+ Representative:
Martina Muller

(Players’ Council members are allowed to nominate representatives within their designated ranking group, and elections are held annually at the U.S. Open).

Some recent issues negotiated by Players’ Council members are:

- Whether to award ranking points at the Olympic Games
- The 2009 Tournament calendar
- On-court coaching (now a permanent addition)
- The new suspension rule for top-10 players and increased withdrawal fines
- Prize money

Liezel Huber, the No. 1 ranked doubles champion for 2008 has been a member of the WTA Players’ Council for 6 years. When asked about the types of issues she hears most about from players in the 21+ ranking category, she says, “They want more tournaments, or don’t agree with the ranking point distribution or player service issues–like massages should be free or stringing is too expensive.”

In terms of working with the players to collect their feedback, Liezel has an email list of all the players she represents, but she frequently opts for a more personal approach by talking with them directly.

When it comes to her thoughts on the revamped 2009 schedule, Liezel says, “Changes are not easy. It will take time for everyone to get used to it. At the end of the day, it should bring more money into our pockets and give the tournaments a higher playing field. My concern is for the players outside the top 50 who have fewer playing opportunities. Hopefully by 2010 we can add some more events in the weeks where we only have one tournament.”

Justin Gimelstob, who retired from professional tennis in 2007, was elected to serve as an ATP Players’ Board Representative in 2008, and is equally committed to giving a voice to players who otherwise wouldn’t be heard.

Justin says, “Innately, the men’s tour faces the same types of challenges that the women’s tour faces. Tennis has such a unique dynamic, in terms of all the different entities. The challenge is not just getting players to agree, but tournaments, the ITF, Grand Slams, and management companies to all agree. To try and find unity and common ground with those is incredibly challenging. You have to put in a lot of work and you have to really communicate well. You also have to have a level of understanding of tennis that I don’t think a lot of people have. For me, it’s been a very rewarding experience…arduous, and frustrating, but rewarding.”

The WTA Players’ Council isn’t going to solve all of the tour’s problems in the near future, but small victories can add up to big ones over time.

So, the next time you see your favorite tennis player out on the court hitting those winning shots, you may have a greater appreciation for all the efforts of those who are representing them off the court.

Danish Champion on the Rise: Caroline Wozniacki

On the Baseline Tennis News
December 26, 2008

With 2008 coming to a close, it’s time once again to ask the burning question: which tennis stars will shine the brightest in 2009?

Caroline WozniackiThis year, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by an up-and-comer who has emerged from the pack. (And no, it’s not another Russian phenom.) When 2008 began, few people had heard of Caroline Wozniacki, an 18-year-old player from Denmark.

But then again, Denmark has not exactly been a hotbed of top-ranked players. With only 2 Danish players in the top 400, I’d be surprised if they had more than 5 tennis courts in the whole country (ok, it’s probably more).

Despite the odds, Caroline Wozniacki has not only become the pride of Denmark, but has quickly become a power-player with top 20 status.

Wozniacki kicked off 2008 ranked at No. 64. During the first few months of the season, she consistently cranked out third and fourth round wins in just about every tournament she entered. But almost out of nowhere, Wozniacki stepped up her game by snagging two impressive WTA victories during the summer season—one in Stockholm, the other in New Haven, and had a solid 3rd round run at the Olympics. Not bad, considering she was the only singles player to represent Denmark at the Olympics.

Wozniacki went on to play (and win) on the big stages like the US Open, making it all the way to the 4th round, losing to eventual runner-up, Jelena Jankovic. She also won her first WTA doubles title this year at the China Open, with doubles partner, Anabel Medina Garrigues, and later won the AIG Japan Open in singles, cinching her 3rd WTA singles title of 2008. Alize Cornet of France, who played (and lost) against Wozniacki at the Pilot Pen says, “If you want to win against Caroline, you have to play at 100%.”

Wozniacki’s rise to the top also coincided with the abrupt retirement of former No. 1 player, Justine Henin. It’s clear that Henin’s departure changed the dynamic of the top 20, leaving the door wide open for up-and-comers like Wozniacki to sneak in. And that she did. Coming off an impressive 2008 season, Wozniacki rose 51 points to end the season at No. 12.

At an age where most players are struggling to find their game, 18 year-old Wozniacki has already outplayed the best of the best, and her powerful, baseline-style game continues to become more of a threat every time she steps onto a court.

Despite her current status as an elite top 20 player, you may be surprised to learn that Wozniacki has never set foot inside of a tennis academy. She came up in the ranks with the guidance of her parents, and is even coached by her father, a former soccer player from Poland.

When asked about her success on the WTA tour, Wozniacki says, “I enjoy playing for a big crowd. When you’re in the finals, you don’t have anything to lose. It’s about enjoying every second.”

As she heads into 2009, Wozniacki is poised to take her game to greater heights. Her final win-loss record for the year (ITF matches included, exhibition matches not included) is 58–20 in singles.

Expect to see great things from Caroline Wozniacki in 2009.

Top 10 Wishes for the 2009 Tennis Season

I would like wish everyone a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season!

Here are my tennis wishes for 2009:

1) Having more pro tennis tournaments in Boston, although not outside in the snow. (Davis Cup, hello?)

2) Making hot chocolate a staple at all tennis tournaments.
Not everyone drinks coffee, you know.

3) Having more televised matches showing doubles and mixed doubles.

4) Roger Federer not wearing any more of those rediculous cardigans. Leave the fashion statements to the ladies.

5) Banning screeches and shrieks from players during matches. I prefer to watch tennis...not listen to it.

6) Players not throwing their sweaty towels at ball boys/girls. Would you like to have a gross, sweaty towel hurled at you?

7) John McEnroe switching careers to become an umpire, or even a linesman.

8) Dinara Safina winning a Grand Slam. C'mon...the girl deserves it.

9) Maria Sharapova staying healthy and injury-free.

10) Rafael Nadal switching to shorter shorts, instead of sporting the "just below the knee" look. Give the ladies something else to look at.

Feel free to pass along your own wishes for the 2009 tennis season.

Cash Caps Off Another Successful Outback Champions Cup Event in Newport

USTA New England Magazine
October, 2008

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NEWPORT, RI--The International Tennis Hall of Fame played host to the Champions Cup last summer, a regular stop on the Outback Champions Series tour. With eight world-class players vying for the title, only one man remained standing after Sunday’s final. Pat Cash proved that grass is still his domain, as the 1987 Wimbledon champ served and volleyed his way to the title, beating out Hall of Famer, Jim Courier.

But the biggest story of the tournament came from John McEnroe’s default during a match against MaliVai Washington. After McEnroe took the first set 6-3, Washington was able to climb back to 4-2 in the second set. After McEnroe received four code violations for multiple obscenities and unsportsmanlike conduct, he was tossed out of the match. Jim Courier chimed in on the situation. “I think the umpire has to enforce the code. If John makes some infractions, then he should be penalized appropriately,” he said. Despite the default, McEnroe remained in the tournament due to the round-robin format.

On Sunday afternoon, the pressure was on, with the Champions Cup title just one match away. Courier and Cash had previously faced off in the 2007 third place match in Newport, in which Courier took out Cash in a three-set tiebreak. But Courier was a bit uneasy going into this final. “Pat is such a natural grass-courter and a very natural serve and volleyer,” says Courier. “I’m a fish out of water here –- I’m serving and volleying in a first and second serve which I probably haven’t done since I was 18 or 19 years old at Wimbledon.” After winning the first set 6-3, Cash lost a bit of control in the tail end of the second set. Courier saw an opportunity to break Cash, and proceeded to step up his game. The two battled it out in a seemingly never-ending 22-point game in which Courier saved five match points, bringing the second set to 5-4. Courier put in a great effort, but the birthday boy didn’t get his wish to conquer Cash’s big serve-and-volley game, losing 6-3, 6-4. “He clearly outplayed me today,” said Courier. When Cash was asked if he felt guilty about beating Courier on his birthday, he laughed and said: “No…”

Sunday’s matchup also included a battle for a third place finish between Magnus Larsson and MaliVai Washington. This was Larsson’s first time playing the Hall of Fame Champions Cup, and he cinched the win 6-4, 6-4, which proved to be a very competitive match. “Larsson has one of the best serves on the tour,” says Washington, a sentiment he shares with Cash. After the match, Washington was asked how he feels overall. He said jokingly, “Well, I feel like I can beat anyone in this crowd.”

Justin Gimelstob on Life, Learning, and Tennis

On The Baseline Tennis News
October 6, 2008

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Former American player Justin Gimelstob has made his mark in the tennis world as one of the most personable, entertaining and forthright players, on or off the court.

Before retiring from the ATP tour in 2007 due to chronic back injuries, he had great success in doubles, winning mixed doubles titles at the 1998 Australian Open and French Open with partner Venus Williams. He was ranked as high as No. 18 in the world in doubles, and captured 13 career doubles titles.

But it was his quick wit and larger than life personality that landed him a new career as a tennis commentator. I recently had a candid conversation with Justin about life after tennis, his personal and professional learning curves, and his thoughts on the women’s tour.

“There’s no blueprint to life after tennis,” says Justin. As daunting as it was to think about the next chapter of his life, Justin always knew that his post-tennis career would have to involve something that would keep him close the game that he loves. These days, he is very content with his life off the court, after trading in his tennis racquet for a microphone.

“I loved my life playing, but it was never particularly easy for me. I was always dealing with a lot of injuries and tennis was very competitive,” says Justin. “I love my life now because I still get to be around tennis and play tennis. I missed it a lot during Wimbledon and the US Open, but for the most part, I really enjoy my life. I’ve been able to do some incredible things during in my first year outside of professional tennis. How many guys get to be on the Tonight Show?”

Since 2007, Justin has worked as a tennis commentator for NBC, ABC, TV Guide Channel, Extra! Fox Sports Net, Tennis.com, The Tennis Channel and more recently, Fox Sports Radio.

But like anything new, there is a learning curve, and Justin turned to the best in the business to learn the tricks of the trade. “I tried to get around people that had been in the business for a long time and just tried to pick their brain, whether it was Dick Enberg or Ted Robinson or Patrick McEnroe. I’ve worked really hard to learn the business,” he says.

Justin credits Dick Enberg for giving him a valuable piece of advice about avoiding some of the pitfalls of fame. Justin had been reading his autobiography, Dick Enberg, Oh, My! on a flight back from Australia, when ironically, they ended up sitting together. ‘Never read your critics,’ said Enberg. “I wish I had stuck to his advice more than I did.”

After getting into hot water for making flippant remarks about Anna Kournikova on a radio talk show this summer, Justin found himself being thrust into a different kind of spotlight—one that he didn’t see coming. The backlash from his comments created a storm of media criticism (both online and in print). The USTA took notice, as well as the WTA. Another learning curve in the making.

While he took full responsibility for his actions, Justin paid a price, both personally and professionally.

“It was a very painful time of my life. To see people who don’t know you or don’t understand all the information publicly malign you is a very hurtful process. Those sound bites [from the radio talk show] aren’t representative of the person that I am, and the people who know me, know that. Players that rushed to my defense (Andy Roddick and Lindsay Davenport among others) weren’t given the opportunity or the voice to be heard,” said Justin. “It was a better story to tell it the other way.”

“What hurt me the most are the people in the media who I generally have such a good relationship with because I give so much. But the second I took it too far, those same people who would call me for the sound bite, destroyed me.”

As with any career, some doors will open, while other doors close. One door in particular that slammed shut on Justin involved this year’s US Open Series ads. Justin would have been front and center as the host of these ads, but they were pulled as a result of his inappropriate comments. “There was just too much negative press around the situation,” said Justin.

In a surprising move, the USTA ended up using John McEnroe in a few of the same ads. Surprising, given “bad-boy” McEnroe’s history of volatility and inappropriate behavior.

Unfortunately, what Justin took the most pride in were those US Open Series ads. “It’s a shame, because everybody lost out–the ads lost out, I lost out and the game lost out. They [the ads] would have shown the players in a very funny, different, non-tennis light. I was the brunt of all the jokes – I was the fall guy in all of them, which I was fine with.”

But as one door closes, another one opens. The CBS Early Show came calling on Justin soon after. The original US Open Series ads can be seen online at Vimeo.com (type in Justin Gimelstob’s name).

Despite his painful experience, Justin came away with some important life lessons.

“Sometimes I give too much information. Sometimes I’m too accessible. Sometimes I should use my filter more. Sometimes I have to understand that context or sarcasm doesn’t always translate on paper like it does when people are just talking. There’s a certain place for being conditioned on a locker-room mentality that is hurtful and doesn’t belong in a public way.”

But the fact is, no one goes through life without making any mistakes. The most you can hope for is to learn from them and try to make fewer mistakes than anyone else. But don’t expect Justin to count every word that comes out of his mouth from now on. “At the end of the day, I am who I am,” says Justin. “I think there is value in that and I’m proud of that. What I’m trying to achieve is to do positive things.”

Positive is right. Earlier this summer, Justin was chosen to serve on the ATP Board of Directors as a Player Representative, and is excited about being involved in the governing of the game at such a pivotal time in men’s tennis.

In addition, Justin’s philanthropic endeavors have helped raise over 500,000 dollars for charity. He hosts the annual Justin Gimelstob Children’s Fund charity event to benefit children with cancer and blood diseases.

Justin Gimelstob on…
The state of women’s tennis

“I think that all things go through ebbs and flows. It’s great that Venus and Serena have reasserted themselves. I think they’re two huge superstars. Ana Ivanovic –you couldn’t find a better ambassador for the sport, in terms of a combination of style and substance. There are some challenges, though. With women’s tennis (on the American side) there’s a big void there, after Venus, Serena and Lindsay and that’s a concern. Maria Sharapova’s health–I mean she’s a huge, worldwide superstar. Hopefully she can be healthy and have a big year next year. Justine Henin retiring at age 25 at No. 1 in the world was [a] big blow.”

Coaching Lindsay
Lindsay Davenport was struggling with her game this summer, and turned to her old friend for guidance.

“Lindsay called me a couple of days before the US Open and asked if I could take a look at her game and try and help her out,” says Justin. “Coaching is a strong word. We’d practice and I’d watch her matches. She’s an incredible talent. She just needed a fresh pair of eyes.”

The player(s) with the best shot at being No. 1 at the end of the year
“I think Serena & Venus, when prepared and healthy, are the dominant players in the world.”


An Emotional Run For Dinara Safina at the U.S. Open

On the Baseline Tennis News

After a much needed day off on Tuesday, Dinara Safina will be squaring off in the quarterfinals today against Italy’s Flavia Pennetta, whom she defeated in Los Angeles in July.

Safina has had a phenomenal winning streak since the French Open, but continues to battle her emotional demons, on and off the court.

Luckily, she’s had relatively easy draw (so far), but will be facing some pretty heavy hitters as she moves forward. If she can get through today’s Pennetta match, she will face one of the Williams sisters in the semifinals, who have simply been on cruise control since the first round.

There are only two Russians left in the tournament: Dinara Safina and Elena Dementieva, and they are among four women with a chance to become no. 1 in the world when the US Open comes to a close.

Safina’s approach to winning: one match at a time. “Because every opponent is dangerous,” says Safina. She never looks ahead in the draw – only to the next person that she’ll be playing in the next round.

Safina’s wins at the US Open:
First round: Kristie Ahn (USA)
Second round: Roberta Vinci (Italy)
Third round: Timea Bacsinszky (Switzerland)
Fourth round: Anna-Lena Groenefeld (Germany)

At almost 6 feet tall, the 22-year old Safina has simply been moving better on the court and has finally been able to reign in her negative emotions that have plagued her performance over the years.

Finding a new coach may have been her best move yet. Her new coach, Zeljko Krajan has given her much needed support that was previously lacking.

“Some coaches don’t want to hear that you are tired. Or maybe they will not believe you that you are tired. They will say, ‘No, this is an excuse because you don’t want to lose’. Of course, if I go on court then I want to win. Maybe I didn’t have the right people next to me,” said Safina.

Her new coach, along with her fitness trainer Dejan Vojnovic, seem to be the right people to be in Safina’s corner.

When it comes to her new coach, Krajan knows how to help her channel her emotions and is also someone she can trust. “He understands me and I understand him,” says Safina. “That’s why somehow it’s easier that I can express my emotions.

But in Monday’s practice, Safina was again struggling with negative emotions and was physically drained. “After the warm-up, I just started to cry. I said, I cannot push anymore myself. (My coach) said, ‘We know that you’re not a machine. Just go out there and don’t think. If it’s 20% left from your body, just give this 20%. Don’t use another percent just throwing the balls around and shouting.’

Safina says, “Now finally I’ve found a coach that fits me, and fitness coach who is taking care of that I stay in 100% shape. So I think just paying off, all my results,” she says. “I believe much more in myself and what I’m able to do.”

A year ago, Safina was plagued with symptoms of chronic fatigue, and as a result, has been taking better care of herself, by following a strict diet.

“Now I’m taking much more care about the food. This is the most important thing for me now,” says Safina. “I know what I can eat and what I cannot eat and when and what, so I’m taking really good care of it.”

Safina also recognizes that she can’t stay up ‘til midnight and expect to be ready to tackle her competition the next day.

“I always have the same routine,” she says. “I always go early to bed. I mean, at 9:30 I’m already in the hotel room, so nobody will see me later than this.” (She also eats dinner at 7:30pm every night). Now that’s discipline.

Looking ahead, the Fed Cup final (Sept. 13-14) comes right on the heels of the US Open. Safina has confirmed that she will not be joining her Russian compatriots in the final against Spain.

“I think they’re playing on clay court, and it really doesn’t fit anywhere in my schedule,” says Safina.

“I think myself and my body is much more important than just go out there and just force yourself. I mean, when you’re having so many travels—I also flew in States to China, from China back to States. The body is very sensitive to these kinds of things, so I better take care of myself and prepare for the rest of the season. In this case, I will think a little bit more about myself.”

On another note, you simply can’t talk about Dinara Safina without mentioning her older brother, Marat.

For the first time EVER, Dinara and Marat will be seen together, playing on the same court, as they team up for the January 2009 Hopman Cup , an annual international team tennis tournament held in Perth, Australia.

Unlike other international team tennis tournaments (Fed Cup or Davis Cup for example) which are women or men only, the Hopman Cup is a mixed competition where male and female players team up together on combined teams.

The tournament is also an important lead-up to the Australian Open.

Behind-The-Scenes at the U.S. Open Media Center

On the Baseline Tennis News
August 29, 2008

FLUSHING MEADOWS, New York—Nothing makes you feel more like a US Open “insider” than having a press pass dangling around your neck.

I’m thrilled to be one of 1,655 journalists from around the globe who has such an all-access pass, covering the largest international tennis event of the year.

To be honest, I’ve always wondered what the US Open Media Center would look like…not to mention who would be there, and which players I would meet.

Let me tell you, the action in the Media Center is almost as exciting as the action on the courts, except tennis racquets are replaced by laptops and cameras. It’s sort of like rush hour, 14 hours a day, or sometimes even longer, if a night match goes on into the wee hours of the morning (Thank you, James Blake).

The heart of the Media Center is located on the ground floor of Arthur Ashe Stadium, and is divided into two sections: West Media (for print journalists) and East Media (mostly photographers and radio). The USTA Public Relations Office and Media Information Services are also located here. Basically, anything related to print, TV, radio or online media can be found underneath Arthur Ashe stadium.

At first glance, the US Open’s Media Center is what you’d expect to see: an enormous nerve center filled with journalists scrambling to meet deadlines.

The thing that catches your eye upon entering the Media Work Room is row after row of work stations (much like small cubicles), with each station equipped with a TV monitor, an outlet to plug in a laptop, and free wi-fi.

The TV monitors have about 20 stations that display tennis action on EVERY court, including all outside courts. So, when the press want to know who’s playing who, or where, or what the score is, they just change the channel on their TV. One channel includes a list of ALL current matches with up to the minute scores (like a mini-scoreboard).

Flip to the next channel and you’ll see stats for the match in progress on Arthur Ashe Stadium. Another channel offers a static page that tells you the schedule of press conferences for players and what room they’ll be in. There’s also a dedicated channel for the USA Network, so you can tune in to watch nightly commentary for matches in Ashe stadium.

Also televised exclusively for the media: press conferences in Interview Room 1 (the BIG press conference room), usually reserved for top-seeded players like Anna Ivanovic or Dinara Safina. Basically, journalists never have to leave their work stations, although it’s always nicer to be sitting courtside in Arthur Ashe Stadium to see the action live.

Journalists at the US Open have a grueling schedule, working side-by-side, 7-days/week with very little time for things like bathroom breaks, food, or sleep.

Since this is only the first week of the US Open, most journalists are showered, well fed and well-rested. But I can only imagine what week two will bring, once the clean laundry is gone, the days of the week start running together, and things like lunch become optional.

An important thing to note about journalists at the US Open—there is a massive international press corp in attendance, representing over 45 countries.

I’ve actually tried to strike up a conversation with a few different people, not knowing where they were from–once in the media dining area, and another occasion standing by the lockers helping a Russian journalist try to unsuccessfully open his locker. Both of them just looked at me like I had three heads when I tried to talk to them in English.

A good reminder that even though this tournament takes place in the United States, it really isn’t all that American.

Speaking of food, the media dining area is located just inside the main entrance to the Media Center, directly across the hall from the entrance to the main Media Work Room. The food is actually pretty good, and credentialed media get a daily allotment of $20 for meals. The dining room is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Unfortunately, my lunches tend to be in the $18 range, so sometimes dinner is just a cookie.

The hallway in between the dining area and the Media Work Room is where the players filter in and out as they head back to the locker rooms after practice, or after a match. So far, I’ve had a few encounters with the BIG players, including Roger Federer, who held the door for me (nice guy).

Other players that I’ve seen walking in and out are Alize Cornet from France, Lindsay Davenport and recent Pilot Pen winner, Caroline Wozniacki from Denmark.

Player press conferences are an essential part of the media mix. After their match players are escorted at designated times to one of the three interview rooms located down the hall from the Media Work Rooms.

I learned the hard way that you have to submit player interview requests at the Player Information Desk before the start of play each day, or at least before the player’s match has ended. Otherwise, the player has most likely left the grounds, or is unavailable. Not a fun situation when you have a deadline.

On the plus side, there are occasions when you can catch a player on a practice court, and ask for an informal interview on the spot. Getting a copy of the player practice schedule each day is key to increase your odds of getting what you need to write an article.

With so much tennis action going on, you’d assume that you can’t be everywhere, all the time, right? Well, the Media Center makes sure that you can be everywhere (at least virtually) and still get the information you need.

Within minutes after a press conference ends, you can get a printed transcript of the interview. Not bad, eh? So far, I’ve been able to sit in on press conferences for Marat Safin, Anna Ivanovic, and Amelie Mauresmo, and collect printed transcripts from all other press conferences.

Who have I met, you ask? Well, not as many players as I would like to (yet), but I’ve met Bud Collins, the man who invented tennis journalism. I’ve even spotted a few celebs in Arthur Ashe stadium, such as Alec Baldwin, and Aretha Franklin.

An unexpected, yet fabulous sighting came just before Thursday’s evening’s session while sitting courtside (media seating). Aaron Piersol, Olympic Gold Medalist, and a bonified “Athlebrity” came onto the court, proudly displaying his gold medal, and was greeted by a standing ovation.

It just doesn’t get any better than this.

Bud Collins: The Man With the Traveling Pants

On the Baseline Tennis News
Aug. 27, 2008

FLUSHING MEADOWS, New York—If you see a man at the US Open wearing pink pants, striped socks and pink sneakers, you can bet it’s Bud Collins.

For decades, his colorful, trademark trousers have brought international attention to–not only himself–but to a game that he loves.

Despite being away from tennis after having surgery on his ankle earlier in the summer, he can be seen hobbling around the US Open press room on crutches, analyzing, commentating, and writing his way through another Grand Slam.

Pants included.

When asking Bud to reflect on some of his most memorable moments in tennis history, he is always eager to talk about his favorite tennis legend: Billie Jean King.

At the time of their meeting in 1961, Bud was working in London as a sports writer, covering a boxing match, when he saw a teenager named Billie Jean Moffett win the Wimbledon doubles final for the first time with Karen Hantze. “I was very pleased to be there with these two young Americans,” he said. “So I asked somebody how I could meet the players. I had only been to Wimbledon once, but I didn’t know my way around.”

He was directed to the club-house door, where he met Billie Jean and Karen. He congratulated them, and said, “I don’t want to hold you up. I know you’re eager to get to the [Wimbledon] Ball. They looked at him and said, “What Ball? We’re not going to any Ball. We don’t have any clothes for a Ball. We’re broke,” they said. “We’re living in a rooming house.”

When Bud realized how little money they really had, he said to them, ‘Could I take you to dinner?’ “I never had two women say yes so fast in my life.” Bud and Billie Jean have been fast friends ever since. “I love women’s tennis, and have always kept them high in my mind, he says. “I probably was writing about it when no one else was.”

Two of Bud’s favorite moments from the U.S. Open come from the women’s tour.

1974 — “When Billie Jean King played against Yvonne Goolagong in the final at Forest Hills on grass. They were both attacking each other, which was exciting, because they both knew how to do it. I’ve never heard a crowd so rapturous, as they kept playing “whatever you can do, I can do better.”

1997 — “When Venus was coming along, getting to the final (unseeded) – nobody had done that before, she was ranked No. 66 (or something like that) and she’s playing in the semifinals against this big Romanian kid (Irina SpĂ®rlea), and she had to save two match points to do it, and they were tremendous backhand shots down the line.”

When asked about his picks for this year’s U.S. Open final, he said, “This is a tournament that (a) nobody can win,” although he does think Dinara Safina will be one of the finalists.

Bud also weighed in on some of the young new-comers, like Caroline Wozniacki, who just won the Pilot Pen. “It’s funny when you say ‘young new-comers’ – they’re all young!”

“But I think it’s wonderful for women’s tennis.”

Bud also sighted Asia Muhammed as having a promising future on the WTA tour. “I met her. She played well yesterday. I would love to see some of our young Americans do well, but I’m delighted by the way the game is more international – more international than when I started covering it.”

He also noted a power shift that is undeniable the tennis world. With so many Russian players competing at such high levels, Bud says, “I don’t’ know if it’s a new cold war, but it looks like the Russians are going to take over. They see the brass ring and they’re going for it.”

Just in time for the US Open’s 40th anniversary of open era tennis, Bud has crafted a new book entitled, The Bud Collins History of Tennis: An Authoritative Encyclopedia and Record Book. How much does a book like that cost, you ask? Bud says, “It’s very reasonable – only 4 cents a page.” But consider yourself forewarned—it’s heavy. But then again, it should be.

The always charismatic Bud Collins is never alone in his travels. He and his constant companion, Anita (a.k.a., his room-mate, personal assistant and always his wife) have been married for 14 years, after meeting on a blind date.

Anita, a photographer who didn’t follow tennis before they met and didn’t even know who Bud Collins was, simply glows when talking about the man who she calls “the nicest person I’ve ever met.” Bud says of his 14-year marriage: “It looks like it will stick.”

You have to admire a man who’s not afraid to wear pink.



From Ice Cream to the Pilot Pen: Caroline Wozniacki Wins New Haven

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut—Call her the “Great Dane,” or simply an 18-year-old who took on the Pilot Pen and won BIG.

Denmark’s own Caroline Wozniacki is now $600,000 richer, winning her second Sony Ericsson WTA title.

Although the match wasn’t a walk in the park for her (losing the first set 6-3 to Russia’s Anna Chakvetadze), she showed later in the match what a fighter she can be.

When asked about what went wrong in the first set, Wozniacki replied, “I was returning really well, but she replied back with a better return. And then my second serve was easier for her. She just stepped in and smashed it down the line cross-court, so I knew that I had to have my first serve percentage up.”

Chakvetadze later commented on Wozniacki’s game. “Caroline is a good player. She doesn’t hit that hard, but she plays quite consistent, so against her I should play aggressive.”

Wozniacki was up 2-1 in the second set and fell, hurting her hand, but it didn’t seem to impact her game at all. She seemed to lose some of her momentum at 4-4 in the second set, but she fought hard to stay in the match, using long, baseline/cross-court volleys. Her strategy paid off, taking a 5-4 lead. Chakvetadze also began to show signs of fatigue, double faulting on the final game of the second set, giving Wozniacki the set 6-4 and an opportunity to take home the trophy.

Chakvetadze hit a lot of unforced errors during the match and later admitted to not recovering well from Friday night’s semifinal match against Amelie Mauresmo. Unfortunately, Chakvetadze simply ran out of gas, losing the match 6-3, 4-6, 1-6.

Despite being so young, Wozniacki appears to be wise beyond her years. When asked about her sudden success on the tour, she takes it all in stride. “I am having fun. I enjoy playing for a big crowd. When you’re in the finals, you don’t have anything to lose. You can just win,” she said. “It’s about enjoying every second.”

Wozniacki comes from a very competitive family and admits that she hates losing, especially to her brother Patrik, a pro soccer player. Born in Denmark, both of her parents are Polish. Her parents moved to Denmark because her father was a professional soccer player and relocated to play for the team in Denmark.

Wozniacki is not a product of a tennis academy, a route that works for some, but she is grateful to have had a very normal childhood, and simply wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, as a kid, she and her friends used to play tennis for ice cream.

Caroline Wozniacki is a player to watch at the US Open and plans on coming back to the Pilot Pen next year to defend her title.

In other news–the doubles final, scheduled for Saturday night, will be a battle between seeded players Kveta Peschke and Lisa Raymond and the unseeded Romanian pair of Sorana Cirstea and Monica Niculescu.

Pilot Pen Live Blog: Caroline Wozniacki Advances to Saturday’s Final

On the Baseline Tennis News

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut—Friday afternoon’s semifinal match-up on Stadium Court played out in front of 5,162 fans, and proved to be a tough battle for 18-year-old Alize Cornet of France as she fought to keep up with Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki.

The two first met on a tennis court at age 11, and have grown to have similar playing styles. As the two baseliners engaged in a series of long rallies, Wozniacki seemed to push Cornet deeper into a losing position. Playing with an injured quad muscle, Cornet was trailing in the first set, and by 5-4, frustration had set in.

She tried to establish a rhythm, but it was clear that Wozniacki was in control of the ball. “I was just fighting today,” said Wozniacki. “I was serving pretty well, especially in the first set. I just took one ball at a time, and it just paid off.” Wozniacki went on to take the 1st set 7-5.

Cornet clawed her way back in the 2nd set to 3-0, but couldn’t hold onto the lead. She was serving at 4-5 and failed to win any points in the final game of the 2nd set, handing over the match to Wozniacki 7-5, 6-4. “If you want to win against Caroline, you have to play at 100%,” said Cornet.

Her quad injury was not a factor in today’s loss, but admitted to feeling jetlagged and exhausted from the Beijing Olympics.

Wozniacki is thrilled to be playing in tomorrow’s final, which could earn her a 2nd WTA title and push her into the top 20. “It’s been a really good month for me. I won my first WTA tournament in Stockholm and I went over to the Olympics and lost in the 3rd round to Dementieva. It was a great experience for me at the Olympics,” said Wozniacki. “Now, I’m in the finals again.”

Going forward, Wozniacki says “I feel confident and comfortable. I’m playing Ahsha Rolle in the first round of the US Open. She had a good US Open last year, and I know that people will support her there. She’s a tough player. She has a really good forehand and a good serve, so for me it’s about erasing her weapons and trying to play my game.”

Cornet is looking forward to taking a few days off to rest before facing another French woman (Camille Pin) in the first round of the US Open.

In doubles news, Kveta Peschke and Lisa Raymond defeated Russian duo Anastasia Rodionova and Galina Voskoboeva 6-1, 6-0 on Stadium Court. They will play Sorana Cirstea/Monica Niculescu in the final on Saturday.

In Friday evening’s semifinal match, Anna Chakvetadze defeated 29 year old Amelie Mauresmo 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, squashing Mauresmo’s hope for a chance at the title. Chakvetadze will take on Wozniacki in a much-anticipated Saturday afternoon final.

Pilot Pen Live Blog: Davenport/Hantuchova Fall in Quarterfinals

On The Baseline Tennis News
Friday, 8.22.08

NEW HAVEN, Connecticut—Things are really starting to heat up here in New Haven…some of the buzz comes from a new crop of young players making their way into the tennis spotlight.

But on Thursday, all eyes were on the veterans, Lindsay Davenport and Daniela Hantuchova, as they came painfully close to winning their quarterfinal match, only to succumb to the Russian team of Anastasia Rodionova and Galina Voskoboeva in a tight 3-set match.

Playing in front of a packed crowd on the Grandstand court, the Russians got right down to business, winning the first set easily (6-3). But Davenport and Hantuchova rebounded in the 2nd set to take it 6-1. In the midst of the 2nd set, their games proved to be a little bit too in sync, as Hantuchova setup to hit an overhead lob, while Davenport ran behind her to hit the same shot, hitting Hantuchova’s racquet in the process. One person from the crowd yelled, “Now that’s team-work!”

The 3rd set was decided in a 10-point tiebreak. After trailing for most of the set, Davenport and Hantuchova finally gained the lead at 7-6, but in the end, they were simply outplayed, losing 9-11.

One possible factor that contributed to Thursday’s loss was Hantuchova’s schedule: back-to-back matches, losing first in singles to Alize Cornet in the quarterfinals. Although she didn’t appear fatigued, coming directly from a 3-set loss with only 15 minutes to spare before her next match would be grueling for any player, both physically and mentally.

“Obviously a little bit more rest would have helped,” she said. “I really didn’t want to wake up this morning.” For Davenport, the Pilot Pen comes right on the heels of her quarterfinal finish in doubles at the Olympics. Her right knee, which has been nagging her in recent months, seems to be ok for the first time. Despite the disappointing loss here in New Haven, Davenport and Hantuchova plan on teaming up again at the US Open.

Regarding her post-U.S. Open plans, officials at the Pilot Pen say that Davenport hasn’t made any formal announcements yet.

In other matches on Thursday, Alize Cornet of France, one of the “up-and-comers” on the WTA tour, advanced to the semifinals 7-6(3) 4-6 6-2, despite an injury to her left thigh. She struggled with her serve in the 2nd set, but managed to keep her momentum going. “I couldn’t push with my leg, so it didn’t help me with my serve,” she said.

Cornet will face Caroline Wozniaki of Denmark in the semis. “She wants to be in the final for sure, and I want to be in the final, and we are the same age [18], so there is a bit of rivalry,” said Cornet. Wozniaki, the only Danish player currently ranked in the top 400 on the WTA tour (at No. 22), beat out Marion Bartoli in the 3rd round of the Pilot Pen.

If Cornet wins the semis, she could potentially face fellow French player Amelie Mauresmo in the final on Saturday. She played against Mauresmo for the first time as a 15 year old on Centre Court at Roland Garros. Cornet has had most of her success on clay-courts but is slowly adding hard courts to her skill-set.

In Thursday night’s quarterfinal, Mauresmo won a close match against last year’s finalist, Agnes Szavay 6-4, 7-5. Mauresmo will play Anna Chakvetadze in the semifinals.



Breathing in Beijing: Heat, air quality concerns linger


Even with night falling, 90°F temperatures and nearly 90% humidity made Friday’s opening ceremonies in Beijing almost as much of an endurance test for the athletes as some of the events they’ll be taking part over the next two weeks.

Hitting the courts earlier in the week, tennis players reported that the conditions were some of the toughest they’ve ever faced.

But weather itself isn’t the lone concern. For years, experts have pointed to Beijing’s notoriously poor air quality as a potentially significant health risk to the athletes, prompting the Chinese government to spend billions on a clean-up effort ahead of the Games. That’s included ordering 1 million cars off the road from July 20 onwards, shutting down nearby coal-burning plants and suspending construction projects.

Despite these efforts, no one knows exactly what to expect when the Olympic tennis event begins on Saturday. Substantial improvements have been reported, but Friday’s air-quality readings were still below World Health Organization recommendations. It’s difficult to predict whether the pollution will be bad enough to have a noticeable effect on players during matches.

”I don’t know if it was because of the humidity and everything, but it was very warm. That’s always going to make competition tougher,” reported Roger Federer on Thursday, after he had practiced in the stadium the previous day. “Now, I don’t know if I struggled maybe because of the heat or it was because of the pollution. But I don’t think it’s going to play a role in who’s going to win or how you’re going to be able to play. So I’m not scared about it in any way.

Lindsay Davenport, who has played the WTA event at Beijing in the past, recently spoke about her previous experiences competing in the city. “The couple of times I've been there it was September,” she said. “You can see how in the beginning of the day until the end of the day the dirt that kind of piles up on the hard court. All of a sudden you're getting ball marks as the day goes on.

That will represent some challenges for athletes competing outdoors. It was extremely tough to breathe when I've been there in the past. I've heard that they've tried it clean it up. We'll see.”

The Olympic Green Tennis Centre, located on the south side of the N. 5th Ring Road (northern section of the Olympic Green) is potentially at a higher risk for air pollutants from car exhaust than other sports venues.

However, Chris Nielsen, Executive Director of the China Project at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Harvard University Center for the Environment, cautioned that “the degree of risk is simply too hard to predict without knowing the effectiveness of the various traffic restrictions. A bigger concern may be stagnant episodes trapping pollution against the hills and mountains to the west and north of the city."

But, he said, hot conditions will magnify the situation. “API [the air pollution index] is directly affected by heat, which tends to make pollutant concentrations worse, and thus will raise API levels.”

Heat and humidity are common challenges at most outdoor tennis tournaments, but air pollution is not. Beijing's air quality numbers in August are traditionally on the high side (100-150 API for 2007) and can spike even higher on any given day. Throw in temperatures in the high 80s and high humidity, and the air quality can be downright unbearable.

Unlike Beijing, the air quality conditions players usually face at other tournaments during this time of year are more tolerable. The Countrywide Classic in Los Angeles has average daytime temperatures in the mid 80s in August and air quality averages remain in the moderate 51-100 range. In addition, the dry heat eliminates oppressive humidity from the equation.

Players competing in the Legg Mason Classic in Washington, D.C. and the Pilot Pen in New Haven do have humidity to contend with, but the air quality is again tolerable (51-100 range) with temperatures averaging in the 80s.

It is worth noting that an API of 100 is considered "slightly polluted" by Chinese standards while seen as "unhealthy for sensitive groups" in the U.S.

Respiratory problems or even vision problems could pose a serious challenge for players on either side of the court.

In the event that Beijing’s air quality conditions are unfavorable for competition, Jacques Rogge, president of the IOC, has announced a backup plan for those events involving outdoor endurance sports. If the air pollution on competition days poses a risk to athletes, those events will be postponed if necessary. Tennis was not mentioned in this plan.

The Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau’s web site will be providing daily updates during the Olympics using the Air Pollution Index (API). The I.O.C.’s Medical Commission will also be evaluating air quality on a daily and hourly basis during the Olympic Games.

Ironically, the best hope for clean air may in the end be rain—not usually a welcome interruption at tennis events.

The Stuff Legends Are Made Of

A Look Back at Champions Cup Boston through the Eyes of the Champs

USTA New England Magazine
July, 2008

BOSTON--Thousands of enthusiastic tennis fans came out to the Agganis Arena in May to watch eight of the greatest legends in tennis face-off at Champions Cup Boston presented by Outback. Hall of Famer John McEnroe scored his first Outback Tour Championship win, and clinched a monumental victory against Pete Sampras on his road to the finals. The tournament boasted an incredible array of former top-10 players, including Jim Courier, Wayne Ferreira, Aaron Krickstein, Malivai Washington, Mikael Pernfors, and Jimmy Arias.
With Champions Cup Boston now in the rear-view mirror, two things are clear: the players not only reignited their passion for competition, they also reconnected tennis with Boston. Now in its third year, Outback Champions Series co-founder Jim Courier is thrilled about bringing high-caliber tennis back to Boston. “I think we’ve carved out a nice niche here. We are the only significant tennis event in town, and Boston has received this tournament very well. We’re proud of that. We feel like this is something that Boston was lacking. It’s such a fantastic town culturally and sports-wise. I think it’s important that Boston has the full gamut of activities for its population, and tennis certainly belongs, so we’re glad to bring it.”

With $54,000 in prize money for a first place finish at each tournament and $150,000 awarded to the point leader at the end of the year, make no mistake about it—this is real, competitive tennis.

Some of the players took time out during the tournament to share their thoughts about returning to competition, their impressions of Boston, as well as some of their fondest memories from playing here in New England.

What Brought You Back to Competitive Tennis?

Aaron Krickstein: “Any athlete who was in the game like I was--for so long--really enjoys going out and competing. That’s the toughest thing for any athlete…when they have to stop. For me, I don’t think I picked up a racket for four years after I stopped competing. I was done with the traveling, so it was nice to get away. About 5 years later, I realized I wanted to get back into tennis, so I took a job at a country club in Boca Raton and started working there as the Tennis Director. Fortunately for me and the other guys, Jim Courier and Jon Venison had the idea of starting the Outback Champions Tour, which gave us an opportunity to come out and compete in these cities.”

Mikael Pernfors: “I love playing tennis and have a good time at these events. I felt I had to quit the regular [ATP] tour too early because of injuries. The first 4-5 years on the senior tour I felt like I still wanted to show that I can play and compete.”

Wayne Ferreira: “I enjoy the competing side of it. I don’t really enjoy the practicing side of it, but I’ve always loved playing and being competitive. I would have carried on playing [on the ATP tour] if tennis was a lot easier than it is. There’s so much work that needs to go into it. It’s still tough…I still have to work at it. I now play squash and soccer to keep fit, and play tennis for the competition. It works out well…I have a more relaxed feeling. I like it this way.”

Malivai Washington: “It’s fun watching these guys play. This is the first time I’ve played a match on hard courts in years. It will be interesting to see how my body holds up. That will determine in a big way, how to move forward in playing in the other events. Playing in Newport last year was different…the points are a lot shorter on grass and the surface was a little bit softer. It kind of throws me right into the thick of things and gets my attention as to the level and quality that these guys are playing right now.”

What Do You Think of Boston?

Aaron Krickstein: “I love Boston. It’s a great city. There are very knowledgeable tennis fans here. It’s a great venue to play in because there is no ATP tour tournament during the year, so people can come out and really enjoy themselves.”

Pete Sampras: “Boston is a great town—I was here last year. Talk about passionate fans [Red Sox]. I’ve never seen anything like it in the U.S. Being an LA guy, with the Dodgers and Lakers, you don’t have quite the same sort of passion. It’s pretty incredible. They really support their Red Sox and Celtics here.”

What are some of your memories playing here in New England?

Jim Courier: “I played my very first tour level match here at Longwood at 16 years old. I had just lost in the semi finals of Wimbledon juniors and came straight here [to Longwood], and lost in the first round in three sets. But it was my first taste of tour level tennis and that was exciting.”

Jimmy Arias: “I made the finals at Longwood back in ’83, but my favorite time here was playing in the 90s at Longwood, with a wooden racquet. I had been retired for 4-5 years, and played in the first round with Albert Chang [from Harvard] and I beat him in the first round. Unfortunately, when I had arrived at the tournament, Richie Reneberg had come up to me and said: ‘I heard you were playing with a wood racquet. How is that?’ I said to him, ‘If you hit the ball hard, I never miss with a wooden racquet. I just have trouble if someone spins it up high.’ I didn’t look at the draw, and I assumed I was losing in the first round, but then played Richie Reneberg in the 2nd round. He gave me high topspins, which wasn’t fair. I gave him the strategy!"

Venus vs. Serena

Wimbledon Final Preview

On The Baseline Tennis News

Upset was the name of the game at Wimbledon last week, opening the door to an all-Williams final—a sibling matchup that hasn’t been seen at the All England Club since 2003.

Four-time Wimbledon champ Venus Williams and two-time champ and younger sister, Serena Williams have amassed 14 Grand Slam singles titles between them – not to mention six Grand Slam double titles, and four mixed doubles titles.

Both have their eyes on the prize, with Venus looking to take home her fifth Wimbledon title, while Serena is looking to make her long-awaited comeback.

Which sister will be the last player standing?

Current Ranking:
Serena: 6
Venus: 7


Grand Slam Singles Titles: 6
Olympic gold medal in singles and doubles (2000 Sydney Olympics)

Grand Slam Wins:
Wimbledon – 2000, 2001, 2005, 2007
U.S. Open – 2000, 2001


Grand Slam Singles Titles: 8
Olympic gold medal in doubles (2000 Sydney Olympics)

Grand Slam Wins:
Australian Open - 2003, 2005, 2007
French Open - 2002
Wimbledon - 2002, 2003
US Open- 1999, 2002

Venus/Serena Grand Slam Head-to-Head Results:

1998 - Australian Open Second Round - Venus winner
2000 - Wimbledon Semifinal - Venus winner
2001 - U.S. Open Final - Venus winner
2002 - French Open Final - Serena winner
2002 - Wimbledon Final - Serena winner
2002 - U.S. Open Final - Serena winner
2003 - Australian Open Final - Serena winner
2003 - Wimbledon Final - Serena winner
2005 - U.S. Open Fourth Round - Venus winner

Other Tournament Head-to-Head Results:

1998: Italian Open - Quarterfinals - Venus winner
1999: Munich Grand Slam Cup – Final - Serena winner
1999: Lipton Championships (Miami) – Final - Venus winner
2002: NASDAQ-100 Open (Miami) - Semifinals - Serena winner
2005: NASDAQ-100 Open (Miami) – Quarterfinals - Venus winner
2008: Bangalore (India) Open – Semifinals - Serena winner

Against All Odds

Nigerian-born tennis director fulfills childhood dreams

USTA New England Magazine
May/June 2008 issue

TRUMBULL, CT — Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Segun Charles Akinloye can certainly attest to that. His one singular passion for tennis has been a catalyst for a life far beyond the shores of West Africa, taking him to places he could only dream about as a boy.

At 39, he’s now living his dream.

Growing up in Auchi, Nigeria, Akinloye was like most boys, wanting to play sports and have fun. He and his family lived near the only tennis club within miles of his hometown, but with only one outdoor tennis court and no idea how to play, he needed to find a way to make it happen.

Akinloye’s parents had very little money. He and his parents and three brothers lived in a one-bedroom house, with barely enough money for basic necessities, never mind tennis lessons. The 8-year old was determined, and eventually found his way in to the tennis club as a ball boy, to learn the game.

With no racquets to play with, he and his friends would go down to the local butcher shop and get a scapula (shoulder blade) of a cow, let it dry (to kill the germs), and then use it as a makeshift tennis racquet. “Once the members finished playing at the club, our job as ball boys was to take down the net. In its place, we would put up a rope and just play,” said Akinloye. He and his friends would argue about which balls were in/out depending on whether they went over or under the rope.

This was a great training ground for Akinloye, but he knew that his parents put education first, and always insisted that his homework was done before playing tennis. His parents didn’t have the money to buy him a racquet, so in addition to using the scapula, he made use of a piece of plywood shaped as a paddle, hitting tennis balls that were so worn down, that the skins were peeled off. But, he still managed to make use of them.

Akinloye’s tennis talent became apparent to the Captain of the tennis club, Mr. Momoh. He would stop by the club early in the morning to watch him play, before members arrived. He even offered to hit balls with the boy and was impressed with his skill. Within 10 months, after using nothing but a piece of plywood as a racquet, Momoh could see that Akinloye had great potential.

Momoh gave Akinloye (then age 10) his first tennis racquet, albeit a broken one. A club player must have left the racquet behind, and Momoh took it and gave it to Akinloye. “It was like gold to me,” he said. I cherished that racquet.” His friends would ask to borrow it, since no other kid in town had a tennis racquet. Akinloye replied:
“I wouldn’t let anyone touch it.”

The first ball he hit with his cherished tennis racquet flew out of the court, far into the open field. He had never felt so much power come from his swing before. Momoh helped Akinloye to reign in his power and develop discipline and concentration.

One day, Momoh offered to coach Akinloye, recognizing his obvious potential. He also encouraged him to enter his first local tournament. Akinloye agreed, and with his constant determination and love for the game, he managed to make it all the way to the quarterfinals.

Later, Akinloye entered a state tournament as one of the top 8 players invited to play from the local governments in Nigeria. This tournament was a new experience for him – it was a large stadium, with 4 courts. Much different from the one-court club that he grew up playing at, and even made it all the way to the quarterfinals. Later, he entered The Texaco National Junior tournament, in which he was competing against players from every state across Nigeria.
Akinloye lost to the No. 1 seed in the final in 1983. “From that point on, I knew that I could play this game,” said Akinloye. He went on to win the Texaco National Junior tournament in 1984 and became the No. 1 junior player in Nigeria that same year.

In 1985, at just 16 1/2 years old, Akinloye came to America for the first time to play in the St. Louis Junior Clay Court tournament in Missouri. “As kids growing up in Nigeria, we thought that America was a different planet,” he said. “The dream of most African kids is to come to America, go to school, to travel to see what it looks like, or to live there.” Fortunately, there was no language barrier when Akinloye arrived in America, as he grew up speaking English.

In 1986, he continued on his incredible journey by becoming the youngest player selected for the Nigerian Davis Cup team at age 17 and went on to play Davis Cup in 1989 and 1990. He later played on the ATP tour in 1988 and 1889 and was ranked as high as 638 in the world.

Always keeping in mind what his parents had taught him about the importance of education, Akinloye decided to shift his focus from tennis to school. In 1990, he entered Livingston College to earn a B.S. in Business and later earned a Masters degree in Business Administration from the University of Bridgeport. America soon became his home. “If you work hard, it’s up to you as to what you want to achieve,” he says. For the past 12 1/2 years, Akinloye has been teaching tennis to members of all ages at the Trumbull Racquet Club in CT and for the past 6 1/2 years, he has been the club’s Tennis Director.

Akinloye has fond memories from his early days at the Trumbull Racquet Club, playing a match against a young teenager named James Blake. He was in high school at the time, ranked No. 1 in the country and had already developed his blistering forehand. “I was up against him 5-3 in the third set” says Akinloye, “and James got fired up. He was hitting bombs with that big forehand, and we ended up tied 5-5, then 6-5, then 6-6. James won the match 8-6. Akinloye saw the same potential in the young James that Mr. Momoh saw in him as a boy. He gave James a valuable piece of advice: “If you are able to get into a strong University with a strong tennis program, you will do very well.” Just a few years later, Blake was playing at Harvard. Akinloye and Blake still laugh about their tennis match to this day. “When James comes here to the club to practice, he’s very humble,” says Akinloye. “It’s a blessing to know someone like that. He never forgets people that he grew up with. He is a wonderful person. He and his brother Thomas both practice at the club when they are home.”

Akinloye works long hours on the court, conducting tennis clinics and coaching from 6am-11pm, 7 days a week. That’s 80 hours a week on a tennis court. “I eat one big meal at night. I’m not here to eat and play,” he says with a laugh. Fridays are a tough day for Akinloye– no breaks, but other days he has about one hour of a reprieve. He also makes time to coach 4 junior team tennis groups: 14 advanced/14 intermediate, 18 advanced/18 intermediate.

Akinloye and his wife Tanisha have three children: son Shyheim (11) daughters, Unique (7 1/2) and Symphony (4), who all play at the Trumbull Racquet Club. “I see the potential in them,” says Akinloye. “Probably one day you’re going to hear about them.”

Charles Akinloye has come a long way from his days living in Nigeria using a scapula to play tennis. He managed to carve out a path for himself, despite the odds. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once put it:
“Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Still Going Strong: McEnroe Gets First Outback Win

May 7, 2008

John McEnroe may be winding down his career on the seniors’ tour, but he’s saving some of his best tennis for last. His victory at Boston last week was his first tournament victory on the Outback Champions Tour since he joined it in November 2005, and his first seniors’ title of any kind since August 2005.

Playing in front of a packed crowd against Pete Sampras under the Friday night lights, McEnroe admitted to being a bit nervous before his match, having never beaten the much younger Sampras. Though Sampras was struggling with a bad back, McEnroe was still thrilled after his biggest win in years. “I can tell my kids I beat Sampras once,” he observed after his 2-6, 7-5, 10-4 (champion’s tiebreak) victory.

McEnroe continued his winning ways by beating out such greats as Jim Courier, and capped off a phenomenal week against 41-year old Aaron Krickstein in the finals 5-7, 6-3, 10-5. His classic serve-and-volley style is a formula that still works for McEnroe, despite the varying playing styles of the ‘younger’ power players prowling the circuit.

“You won’t find anybody playing today like McEnroe or Connors. Those guys are a dying breed,” said Krickstein. “Players today don’t hit the ball flat – they’re all topspin, western grip, baseliners. It’s great for us that he’s still around. He puts on a great show from a talent perspective and as a player. From a spectator standpoint, it’s great to watch him because he can do so much with the ball and has so much talent.”

Through the years, McEnroe hasn’t lost his rebellious nature, and his trademark rages continue to be a feature of his competitive outings. “The crowd kind of eggs him on a little bit and John likes that,” says Krickstein. He’s one of the few players who sometimes plays better when he’s upset.”

By virtue of good genes and a bit of Irish luck, McEnroe still has the moves to stay dangerous against players a decade or more younger. And despite having a highly successful career in the commentary booth, the kid from Queens knows that he’s not cut out to just be a spectator.

At the same time, McEnroe knows his physical limits is hopeful but realistic about his current success. “It’s gratifying at this age, to show that if you put in the time, it can pay off. But it’s frustrating, because oftentimes it’s hard to bounce back.”

He continues to be undecided about his future on the seniors’ circuit (McEnroe plays events on both the US-focused Outback Tour and the European-based Blackrock Tour), but it’s likely that he’ll curtail his playing schedule significantly over the next year.

Letting go completely, however, will be difficult. “I feel like I can go out for an hour and really play well. It’s hard to beat that feeling,’ he said.

Common Ties

Junior Player Josh Rubinstein Gets a History Lesson From
Angela Buxton
USTA New England Magazine
April/May 2008 Issue

TRUMBULL, Conn. —The phone rang at Angela Buxton’s London home at 11am. It was Josh Rubinstein on the other end, a bleary-eyed, 14-year-old high school freshman from Connecticut who made the overseas phone call at 6am (US time). After being assigned to write a research paper on how anti-Semitism affected the life of a famous Jewish individual, Josh had no way of knowing that the subject of his paper would be a former tennis champion. It all came about as a result of a chance meeting between Josh’s mother, Marcy Rubinstein and Angela Buxton at the 2007 US Open. For Josh, a junior tennis player, it was a rare opportunity to have a candid, live conversation with a tennis champion from a bygone era. For Angela, it was a chance to tell her story, fifty years after making tennis history as the first Jewish doubles champion, winning both Wimbledon and the French Open doubles titles alongside another barrier-breaking champion, Althea Gibson.

In 1934, Angela Buxton was born into a world of prejudice and hatred. She learned early on about the impact of anti-Semitism, both on and off the tennis court. In the 1950’s, she was banned from tennis clubs and denied the opportunity to play with the other top ranked doubles players simply because she was Jewish.

Josh listened with astonishment as the 74-year-old Buxton recounted her struggles against bigotry throughout her amateur and professional tennis career. He learned that Buxton wasn’t the type to wear her pain or loneliness on her sleeve. She tried to fit in, but, with no other Jewish players on tour, she always felt like an outsider. In previous interviews, Buxton has said, “The anti-Semitism made me more isolated, which I shouldn't have been. It made me more determined, more detached. People didn't realize what I was going through, because I didn't bother to spell it out. I just took another route. The result of which was that I was on my own.”

In 1955, her misery took a happy turn when Buxton met Althea Gibson on a tennis tour in India. Although Buxton and Gibson were considered to be the odd balls of tennis, they not only managed to form a winning doubles team, but also became kindred souls. They were able to lean on each other, despite the lack of opportunity and the obstacles they faced…the struggle to be accepted not only as players, but also as people. Together, they battled the odds to reach the apex of acclaim in their sport.

Despite Buxton’s No. 5 ranking in the world and having reached two Wimbledon finals in the same year, Josh was saddened to learn how Buxton was excluded from the benefits that her non-Jewish peers took for granted. Even after representing her home country with such success, she was never invited to become a member of the exclusive All England Lawn Tennis Club.

Buxton had maintained her friendship with Gibson throughout her life (Gibson passed away in 2003) and helped to promote the Althea Gibson Foundation. Buxton is a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

The experience gained from interviewing Angela Buxton made Josh stop and reflect on his own path in tennis. He himself had never even thought of himself as a “Jewish tennis player”, rather simply as someone with dreams to someday be a professional tennis player. He currently competes in the USTA NE juniors tournaments and is ranked No. 40 in the 14 and under in New England. Josh says “My favorite tennis player on tour is James Blake. I like his intensity on court.” Living next to Blake’s hometown of Fairfield, CT provides additional inspiration for Josh.

When asked about Jewish players on the tour, Josh said, “One Jewish doubles team that stands out is the team of Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich. Andy lives in Jerusalem and competes as an Israeli. Jonathan lives in Haifa and also competes as an Israeli. This doubles team supports Israel and is a role model for Israelis.” Josh saw them play at the Pilot Pen tournament, where he has been a ball person for 3 years. He made it to last year’s final as a ball person for James Blake and Marty Fish.

For Josh, tennis is truly a family sport. His younger brother Jesse (age 11) also plays on the junior circuit. His mother, Marcy Rubinstein, runs a tennis business called Marcy's Tennis Academy, LLC in Trumbull, CT. Her husband, Jay is also an avid tennis player. He plays father/son doubles with Jesse and Marcy plays mother/son doubles with Josh in the Pilot Pen Family Classic. Josh and his mom even won the tournament in 2006. USTA
New England honored the Rubinstein family as the "2006 USTA New England Family of the Year" in a ceremony at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI.

Despite he and his family’s deep involvement in tennis, Josh learned from his interview of Angela Buxton that it takes more than technique and tactics to make a great tennis champion.
The lessons learned from her story have everything to do with persistence and sheer determination in the face of adversity. “Without people like Angela Buxton clearing the way”, notes Josh, “I might not be given the opportunities that I take for granted today.”