2014/10/26

McEnroe, Courier, and Rafter Discuss Anti-Doping Efforts in Tennis

By Amy Fetherolf‏

(November 6, 2012) Since the release of the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s report on how Lance Armstrong gamed the system to avoid testing positive for performance enhancing drugs, many have questioned whether something similar could happen in tennis.

 

Indeed, one of the doctors implicated in the Armstrong case for orchestrating a doping regime for the entire United States Postal Service cycling team also treated tennis players, including Sara Errani and Dinara Safina.

 

When asked about doping in tennis at a PowerShares Series event in Philadelphia, John McEnroe expressed confidence in the International Tennis Federation’s anti-doping program.

 

“I think you can take any sport, but I think it’s as rigorously tested as any sport other than the Olympics that I’m aware of,” McEnroe said. “Maybe more so than any other sport, whether it’s football, basketball. I’ll bet you there’s way more testing and way more stringent testing in tennis than in any of those team sports.”

 

Jim Courier also backed the ITF’s anti-doping program.

 

“We use WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency), and we’re on the Olympic Code, which is a pretty stringent code. Players do out-of-competition testing that’s unannounced. They have to give their whereabouts for one hour of the day, every day of the year. If they’re not where they say they are, that counts as a positive test against them. We have the rules in place. We have, I think, the best drug testing system around that I’m aware of.”

 

“No idea [if it’s a problem in tennis]. I hope to think there’s not,” Patrick Rafter said. “I think there’s always a case here and there, but I don’t think it’s a big problem like cycling was. I hope there’s not an issue, but there’s always the potential.”

 

Though Courier put his support behind the ITF’s testing program, he acknowledged that there was opportunity for players to take advantage of the system.

 

“I think that given the great rewards that are out there in tennis, and given human nature, people will cut corners where you give them leeway to do so. I think you have to put your head in the sand to think that people wouldn’t try and cut corners given what’s on the line if you do well in our sport. Look at Wall Street. People cut corners there because there are great monetary rewards. Anywhere you go in the world, this is human nature. We’re not immune to that. I don’t think we have a problem, but we’re not immune to that.”

 

“Everyone wants to see a situation where there’s a level playing field,” McEnroe said. “So it continues to be something that would be an issue for all sports, I would think.”

Amy Fetherolf‏  was in Philadelphia covering the PowerShares event for Tennis Panorama. She is the founder of the tennis news site Drop Shot Dispatch and a co-founder of the new tennis site The Changeover.  Follow her on twitter at @AmyFetherolf.

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McEnroe, Courier and Rafter Weigh in on Big Four Debate

By Amy Fetherolf‏

(November 5, 2012) PHILADELPHIA – Ever since 2003 when Roger Federer burst onto the tennis scene and began an era of domination, which now extends to the so-called “Big Four” of Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, and Novak Djokovic, the tennis world has questioned how long it can go on.

As the 2012 tennis season wraps up, with just the World Tour Finals left, that question remains unanswered. Each of the Big Four captured one Slam title apiece this year.

“At some stage, things will change. It’s not a question of if, it’s when,” John McEnroe said at a Philadelphia stop on the PowerShares Series Tour. “But it’s hard to say when exactly that will be. Obviously Nadal’s health is an issue, and Roger’s not getting any younger. I suspect that you’ll see these guys hopefully around for a couple more years.”

Jim Courier expressed admiration for the way the Big Four have sustained their success, winning an astonishing 30 of the last 31 Majors.

“I think what the top four have done has been unprecedented as far as the level of consistency they’ve shown, and the level of dominance they’ve shown over the field,” Courier said.

“I just don’t know how they can keep it up. Honestly, the physical taxation that the game takes from them, the mental toll it takes, all the sponsorship requirements, all the pressure that’s on them to perform every week. I’m in awe of their consistency.”

The second tier of players stands separated from the top four by a Grand Canyon-like gulf. The three strongest contenders, Juan Martin del Potro (the only non-Big Four man to win a Slam since 2005), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Tomas Berdych, struggle to earn wins over the Big Four. In 2012 against Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, and Murray, Tsonga was 0-7, del Potro was 2-8, and Berdych was 2-7.

“You’ve got guys like del Potro, Tsonga, Berdych, Ferrer,” Patrick Rafter said. “Roger’s not playing like he was five years ago, that’s just a simple fact. He’s still putting himself in contention to win Grand Slams, but he’s not going to be as dominant as he was. And Nadal is having problems as well. You can see Djokovic and Murray certainly hanging around, but Nadal’s a big question mark, and Roger’s slowing down, but I think he’ll still be around in the mix. There’s definitely room for the new guys coming up.”

But Courier was reluctant to write off a few more years of Big Four domination.

“We haven’t seen any cracks in that façade, really,” Courier said. “It’s been again a year where the Big Four won all the Majors, and this year it’s been a true split. So I think it’s even more interesting from that standpoint. Who’s going to wrestle control the way Novak did in 2011? This year was more up for grabs, and Murray certainly has become a bigger part of the competition.”

McEnroe feels that del Potro is the most promising non-Big Four contender to win a Major in 2013.

“If I had to pick one guy that would win a Major if he remains healthy, it would probably be del Potro,” McEnroe said. “He’s won one, so it wouldn’t be a total shock. He’s put himself back in the position to do that. There’s a handful of guys who could do it, and someone’s going to do it, but he’d be the one guy I’d have to pick over anyone else.”

Courier agreed with McEnroe’s sentiment on the Argentinian.

“I love del Potro’s game,” Courier said. “I think he’s one of the few guys who really has the weaponry to stand up against those top four guys on a consistent basis. He needs some good fortune with his health, that’s been a problem for him. If he can stay healthy, I think he certainly has the tools to be in that conversation.”

Amy Fetherolf‏  was in Philadelphia covering the PowerShares event for Tennis Panorama. She is the founder of the tennis news site Drop Shot Dispatch and a co-founder of the new tennis site The Changeover.  Follow her on twitter at @AmyFetherolf.

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Patrick Rafter Tops John McEnroe in Philadelphia to Earn PowerShares Series Title

By Amy Fetherolf‏

(November 2, 2012) PHILADELPHIA – Tennis stars took over Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center on Friday night in a PowerShares Series event featuring John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Patrick Rafter, and Michael Chang. Rafter picked up the title in his first PowerShares Series appearance since 2009, defeating McEnroe, 8-4 in the final.

 

The four participating players combined for 14 Grand Slam titles during their illustrious ATP careers, and they showcased some of their old magic in a fan-friendly exhibition format.

 

To start the event, Courier took on McEnroe. The 53-year-old McEnroe, 11 years senior to his opponent, nevertheless displayed the finesse that earned him seven Grand Slam singles titles.

 

Down an early break in the set, and as shouts of encouragement, “Hey, Johnny!” and “Johnny Mac!” rang through the court, McEnroe clubbed a forehand down-the-line to break back, raising his arms in victory.

 

The crowd reveled in McEnroe’s occasional temperamental outbursts. He slapped at the net with his racquet after pushing a passing shot long, and chucked the racquet onto the tennis court so hard that it bounced off the rubbery playing surface.

 

Courier hit his trademark compact forehands with aplomb, but McEnroe outfoxed him with cleverly placed drop shots and deep returns that earned him the necessary break of serve. McEnroe took the one-set match 6-4.

 

Next, Rafter took on Chang for a chance to take on McEnroe in the final. Rafter’s serve-and-volley style against Chang’s defensive prowess made for an intriguing match-up on paper. But Rafter hardly looked like he’d missed a day on the ATP Tour. He breezed through the match, 6-2, hitting incredible volleys in the process.

 

In the final, it was mostly one-way traffic for Rafter. He and McEnroe, two of the sport’s greatest volleyers, battled each other for the edge up at the net. Rafter showed off his effortless backhand overhead volley, a shot that delighted the crowd.

Broken once, Rafter was able to break McEnroe’s iconic lefty serve three times to win the match.

 

“I’ve haven’t played too many competitive matches in awhile, but I moved really well, I’ve been doing a lot of fitness work back home, so I guess it all paid off,” Rafter said after the final. “You want to come out here and still play well. I’m still at an age where I feel like I can hit the ball okay, so I want to enjoy it while I can.”

 

“John puts me under a lot of pressure on my serve, and I felt it all the time. I always find him very difficult to play against. He’s unreal, he’s amazing.”

Amy Fetherolf‏ is the founder of the tennis news site Drop Shot Dispatch and a co-founder of the new tennis site The Changeover.  Follow her on twitter at  @AmyFetherolf.

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