2014/04/23

Wilander Sounds Off On Big Four, Monday Finals and More in Atlanta

 

By Erik Gudris

(November 10, 2012) ATLANTA – Mats Wilander is literally getting back into the swing of things when it comes to competitive tennis. The seven-time Grand Slam singles champion made his second appearance on the PowerShares Series at the Champions Shootout in Atlanta, Georgia. Wilander joined Michael Chang, Jim Courier, and John McEnroe on the eighth stop of the 12 city tour.

“I’m getting into the swing of trying to channel my focus and concentration into two hours which you get really good at playing professional tennis,” said Wilander during a pre-match media meet with reporters. “You have to be able to switch on and off and when you are not used to the competitive element when the match is on the line you forget how to do that. It would be nice to do this 10 nights in a row because its not that easy. But it gets easier. I was better today in practice than I was yesterday. It’s more getting used to the pace that these guys play at.”

When asked about his Major titles that include three Australian Opens, three French Opens and one U.S. Open and which one was the most special to him, Wilander said, “There are all so different. I mean what’s better? A sunny day on the beach in Caribbean or a sitting near a fireplace on a snowy, cold day in Sun Valley, Idaho? It’s a matter of the big picture and how happy you are with your effort. And then on top of that you get pretty good results that make you wonder to yourself. “How the hell did that happen? Wow amazing.” I hope my best day is tomorrow.”

Wilander, who took part in a pre-match clinic with amateur players, splits half of his time teaching tennis across the U.S. with his “Wilander On Wheels” experience and the rest serving a tennis commentator for Eurosport including hosting his own “Mats Point” show. The former No. 1 is known for speaking his mind about current players and the pro tour and he didn’t hold back when it came to this week’s ATP World Tour finals in London. Though Wilander had high praise for the current “big four”, he also felt it was disappointing that someone else hasn’t shaken up the recent status quo of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal dominating the biggest events.

“It’s great to have the big four playing right now at this time. They’re unbelievable. Don’t get me wrong, they’re amazing. But sometimes you wonder why (the other players) are running around applauding Federer’s shot when they hit to him. ‘Ah great shot Roger’. Why would you do that? He’s kicking your ass. You should be angry and not just happy you are playing the greatest player of all time.”

Wilander took exception to recent statements from players like Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga that beating the ATP’s top four is nearly impossible despite the fact that they have done so in their careers. But Wilander would like to see that happen more often and from more players as he thinks it would help the sport.

“Are they not human,” Wilander says about the ‘Big Four’ so to get his point across. “We have these great players in every generation. But Sampras lost. Agassi lost. They all lost because the other guys thought that they could win. But you don’t get the feeling that the guys now don’t think they are going to win sometimes. It’s hard to be the best player in the world but its not impossible and the other guys think that it is. I think you can say that the top four that we have right now are the best top four we’ve ever had. And the next 96 out of the top 100, in relative terms, might be the worse we’ve ever had because they don’t beat the best guys and that didn’t use to happen. Obviously they (the big four) are much better and the competition is much harder, but in relative terms its very rare that they upset the big four so it’s worrying I think.”

Juan Martin Del Potro, who has now beaten Federer in their last two meetings, still could improve even more according to Wilander, but he may have more of an edge in making the leap into the ATP’s top four since he has already won a Major.

“Obviously he’s done it to Federer, I mean it’s amazing once you beat a guy in a big final you believe you have that in you. That’s it’s going to happen. So Del Potro I think has the biggest heart and he’s got a big game and loves competing and that’s why he sometimes is doing it and has won a Major.”

The ATP World Tour Finals will be played on a Monday but though that event won’t have to worry about weather and schedule delays due to being played indoors at the 02 Arena, Wilander himself is not a fan of Monday finals or even using roofs at events like Wimbledon or the U.S. Open.

“It makes sense (at Wimbledon) but I don’t think it should be used ever until the semis and the finals. I think we should stay away from Monday finals especially at the U.S. Open because I think its little unfair for the game I think. For the players and the crowd? Maybe. But I think for the sport it should be played on the day when its supposed to be played. Beginning of the tournament? I think they should wait and try and play outdoors when they can. I’m not for it but when it comes down to the end its too important for the sport to be played at the right time.”

Erik Gudris is a freelance tennis writer and frequent contributor to Tennis Panorama News. Follow him on Twitter at @ATNtennis

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Courier Wins Atlanta to Sweep Southern Swing in PowerShares Series

Jim Courier photo courtesy of PowerShares.com

By Herman Wood

(November 10, 2012) ATLANTA – The PowerShares Series came to Atlanta tonight for the second leg of its southern swing. On Friday night in Tampa, Jim Courier, in front of his hometown crowd, pulled out a narrow 8-7 (2) after being down 1-5.

It’s a very different feel at this event- definitely not a typical tour stop. The night starts with a video montage, highlights of all the PowerShares Series players in their heyday set to loud rock and roll. As the players enter via spotlight, another montage of their personal highlights plays with more raucous rock and roll. The Atlanta program featured some big names, with a total of 19 grand slams between all the participants. The format features two semifinal matches of 1 regular set, then an 8 game pro set final.

Courier had a different path in Atlanta, taking on Michael Chang in the first match rather than Mats Wilander. Before the matches, each player spoke to the media.  Chang says its a little different for him in his forties. “Our body just doesn’t respond. That’s just normal. It’s been fun, but we definitely have to work in order to compete well. I think from a strategic point of view, I’m a better player.” “It’s a lot more fun- interactions with the crowd. At the end of the day we all have egos. We want to win.” For Courier, it isn’t all that different from the tour; “I don’t worry too much about it. I just get out here and go. Get into grind mode. Head down moving forward. It’s fun!”

The match started with Chang serving- or trying to serve. As he stepped to the line, a baby began crying. It looked like he was going to try to play through it, but paused just before his toss. He looked to the child, then to Courier, remarking that ” its a dad thing” Courier said “he wouldn’t know” Play began as the baby settled in. Apparently Chang didn’t, as an early break went to Courier. On Courier’s serve he held, but with a bucket list- “successful serve & volley to Michael Chang. You saw it here first.” with laughter from the crowd. It seemed Courier caught fire until Chang asked what side of the bed he woke up on. “Center- very zen.” After a couple of errors, he finally held off Chang. Both players showed the hallmarks of their game, Chang running down balls, Courier firing from the ad corner, running around backhands. Despite the scrambling and a break back, Courier was too much, breaking again to close the match at 6-3.

A short intermission followed, with Chang out helping some kids win Prince racquets by hitting targets. He fed U10 balls to the kids and gave then an assist with hitting the target. All the kids won a racquet, mostly thanks to Chang!

John McEnroe and Mats Wilander were the second semifinal. Wilander seemed to agree more with Courier’s assessment of the demands; “You’re trying to channel your concentration and focus into two hours, which is what you’re really good at if you’re playing professional tennis.” McEnroe, who has more points than anyone else in the series, said “It’s tough to do it back to back at this point, especially against this competition. Sometimes it’s tough to get that last point at the end. The court can beat you up. Staying injury free is a constant. We’ve got a good trainer. He takes good care of me. You have to work at it all the time. One of the factors is time. You have to take some time. It’s almost more important than practicing. You have to keep with it or you have no chance.” It looked like he needed a bit of service practice early on, as he was broken in the first game. The first point went to Wilander on a net cord. He apologized , but said he was not sorry. The crowd loved that! Early on, it seemed McEnroe had forgotten what his game was, rallying from the baseline much more frequently than making forays into the net. Once he moved in, momentum swung his way. Some service aces on his part didn’t hurt either. After getting the break back, McEnroe turned up the pressure, but Wilander stiffened his resolve and the games got longer. Wilander was often corner to corner and McEnroe had quite the number of volleys and overheads. He ultimately held on, 6-3, to earn another tiff with Courier in the final for a second night in a row.

After a very short intermission, they went at it just like the clock was turned back, only the groans from the players were a bit more frequent. Courier opened serving, going big right away- 2 aces and a service winner for the hold. McEnroe had a bit of struggle to hold for 1-1, but was able with a little encouragement from the crowd. Courier kept bringing the heat off the ground and from the serve all match. McEnroe soon matched him, holding easily with service aces, winners, and his usual characteristic touch volleys. Both men went corner to corner, with few mistakes and most points earned rather than given. Courier tried a bit of McEnroe touch while up big in a service game, much to his embarrassment. He asked McEnroe for some help, which he obliged with a demo volley. He then asked Courier for help with his forehand. That would have to wait until later.

Joking aside, the match turned a bit more serious as McEnroe turned on the pressure at 6-6, forcing 6 deuces. At one point, Courier asked if they could flip for it and McEnroe surprisingly agreed. They didn’t, but Courier held for 7-6. It turned out the push was too much for McEnroe, as he was broken for the match, 8-6 Courier.

“It’s always special to win and it’s nice to take over the top spot, but we have plenty more ahead of us on this tour,” said Courier. “Andre is going to be coming on strong to compete in these last four events, and John’s been so consistent all season long. So I expect an uphill battle to try and finish in the top spot but it was great to be back on top in Atlanta.”

Herman Wood was in Atlanta covering the PowerShares Series Champions Shootout at the Gwinnett Center  for Tennis Panorama News, follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/hermanewood

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