2014/11/24

James Blake Hosts Foundation Event at Brooks Brothers; Discusses His Own Tennis Future

James Blake and Brooks Brothers CEO Claudio Del Vecchio

James Blake and Brooks Brothers CEO Claudio Del Vecchio

(November 13, 2014) NEW YORK, NY – Former top American tennis player and world No. 4 James Blake played host to a kick-off “Serving for a Cure” shopping event at the Brooks Brothers flagship store on Madison Avenue in New York City on Thursday night to benefit his foundation.

Blake’s foundation raises funds for the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, specifically the Thomas Blake Sr. Memorial Research Fund, which supports early detection cancer research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Blake began “Serving for a Cure” in 2005 a year after he lost his father Thomas to cancer. The fund is named after his father.

Blake talked about the beginning of his foundation: “I wanted to do something one time as a memorial for him, and it turned out that the support I had that first year made me feel that I couldn’t stop at one. It’s been going strong ever since and now it feels like it’s never going to stop which is a really good thing and I’m proud of it. We passed the million dollar donation mark to Memorial Sloane Kettering.

“My father unfortunately was detected so late, but once he was a patient at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, he said it was like night and day. The treatment there was great, the research was unbelievable. They tried everything they could and we just want to give everyone a fighting chance. That’s why our research for early detection, we want give people a chance to beat the disease.”

In addition to his own philanthropic endeavors, the current Westport, Connecticut resident, commented on how dedicated players on the ATP Tour are to charity.

James Blake

“It’s kind of like the spirit of community,” said Blake. “We’re all in the same locker room together. We’re all not really part of the same team, like in team sports but it feels like it. We see what the others are doing and we see the example set at the top especially. Some of the older guys when I was growing up. -I saw (Andre) Agassi, I saw (Pete) Sampras, a lot of guys who were doing right by the rest of the world. It made me think that I’d want to do the same.

“Once something so personal hit my family, it made me realize I can make a difference in a positive way, because most of our lives as a tennis player are selfish. We’re playing tennis and doing it for ourselves.”

“I hope the young guys – the Sam Querrey’s , the John Isner’s, the Jack Sock’s, the Donald Young’s, they want to make difference too whatever way they can,” Blake continued.

Since Blake’s retirement from the tennis tour in 2013, he still is active in tennis in one form or another.

“Well I helped Jack sock a little bit,” he said. “I also have stayed close with the USTA and with Katrina Adams becoming the new president. I’m proud of her and hopefully I’ll be able to be part of the staff soon if that comes to be we’ll see. But right now I’m mainly focusing on my family, being at home and spending a lot of time with two little girls, that definitely keeps me pretty busy.”

Blake admitted that he likes coaching but there are some drawbacks.

“I like it but I don’t like to travel, I don’t like being on the road 30 weeks out of the year like I was when I was playing,” he said.

“So in terms of Jack (Sock) I just helped him with some of the bigger picture stuff- to be able to talk to him on the phone and helping keep his mind set the right way, because he’s got a full time coach, I don’t want to interfere with that, I’m not dealing with the X’s and O’s, strokes and stuff. I’m more of a mentor and a friend, someone that’s going to be a sounding board for him.

“He’s going through a lot of stuff I was going through at his age, so I just want to be that resource that can help him. If I can do that for others, that would be something in the future that I’d be proud to be a part of. I went through it all and hopefully have others have that knowledge as well.”

Blake who was a member of the 2007 Davis Cup championship team told Tennis Panorama News that down the line he’d like to be the U. S. Davis Cup Captain. “I thought about it the first time I played Davis Cup,” he said. “I would love to have that opportunity and it’s something that’s such an honor. Jim’s (Courier) doing a great job. I know it won’t be for a long time to get a chance because I know Jim’s got a pretty good handle on it. There would be no reason to make a change anytime soon. Hopefully I have plenty more years to have that opportunity and if it ever comes my way, I won’t pass it up, that’s for sure.”

Blake had the opportunity to be in the broadcast booth for Tennis Channel as an analyst in February 2013 when the U. S. played a first round Davis Cup tie against Brazil in Jacksonville, Florida.

“I thought it was going to be much more natural than it was,” said of the transition to working on television.

“I worked with Brett Haber, who is a true professional ad he really helped me. I got better through the weekend.”

“The biggest thing was when to talk and when not to talk, because I felt like I needed to say more and he said it was ok to let the tennis do the talking, that actually made it easy for me to get better and just let the players do the talking on the court. I was getting better. It still feels there is a lot more work for me to get to anyone’s level like Bret Haber, John McEnroe and the people who have been doing it for years, but it’s something that’s fun and I think it helps me that I played again most of the guys I’m commentating on, so I don’t need to do as much work on the scouting reports I’ve already done that.”

 

Blake entertains doing more television work in the future. “It’s something that was fun the first few times I did it. I think it would be great to stay close to the sport. It may give me an opportunity to stay involved as it gets closer to a time if I have the opportunity to be Davis cup captain butt it is a good way to stay involved. It may be tough for me to stay objective. I maybe have a few favorites especially with the Americans. I like to see them doing well but I have to do my best to stay objective, just commentate on the facts.”

 

Brooks Brothers is a new sponsor for “Serving for a Cure.” “I’m really happy to be affiliated with a company with such a great tradition as Brooks Brothers. You see them at a lot of classic events, I know tennis and golf are known for that kind of classic feel and Brooks Brothers really brings that to the table.”

“When we met with James we were quite impressed with all that he’s accomplished,” said Claudio Del Vecchio, Chairman & CEO of Brooks Brothers. “It’s the same passion and dedication he shows on court that he brings to a cause that is so near to his heart.  Together we are helping to make a difference in the fight against cancer.”
Click here for more information on the James Blake Foundation.

Karen Pestaina for Tennis Panorama News

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DAVIS CUP: U.S. IN CONTROL OVER SLOVAKIA Isner, Querrey lead Americans to 2-0 lead in World Group Play-off

john isner and sam querrey(courtesy of the USTA)
DAVIS CUP: U.S. IN CONTROL OVER SLOVAKIA
Isner, Querrey lead Americans to 2-0 lead in World Group Play-off
By Junior Williams

(September 12, 2014) HOFFMAN ESTATES, Illinois – Hours before the United States took on Slovakia at the Davis Cup World Group Play-off, U.S. captain Jim Courier was upbeat about his team’s prospects – telling a fan, “We’re ready for battle.”

Courier’s confidence in John Isner and Sam Querrey paid off, as both players achieved straight sets victories at Sears Centre Arena – giving the Americans a commanding 2-0 lead, putting them one win away from securing another year in the World Group.

Isner defeated Norbert Gombos – the 126th-ranked player in the world – 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-2. Many were surprised Slovakian captain Miloslav Mecir went with Gombos in the first match instead of 86th-ranked Lukas Lacko. Gombos battled Isner early in the first set, returning the American’s powerful serves and taking him to a tiebreak. But a Gombos volley at the net came up short, giving Isner a mini-break at 6-4. The former University of Georgia Bulldog won the set after Gombos’ return of serve went long.

Isner’s serve became a more potent weapon in the second set – including a “perfect game” with four aces that put him up 5-3. The world No. 16 finished the match with 29 aces.

“Going into a match like this three-out-of-five set match, it’s not surprising that I didn’t lose my serve,” said Isner. “I’ve done that before, for sure. Always going to be the biggest part of my game and it’s going to be the part of my game that I lean on the most.”

Gombos said of the 6-foot-9 Isner, “I know that he’s serving perfect from the Eiffel Tower, you know … I never returned a serve like his because it’s quite different from like the other players because he’s really tall. The ball is bouncing so high. It’s totally different like from the other players.”

The second match between Querrey and Slovakian Martin Klizan – ranked 51st and 57th in the world, respectively — started off as quite a battle. The first set lasted 66 minutes. It was Querrey’s serve versus Klizan’s powerful groundstrokes, which were low enough to cause problems for the 6-foot-6 American.

But it was Klizan’s serve that would prove to be the Slovakian’s undoing, with eleven double faults in the match. Serving for the first set up 5-4, he was broken after double faulting to end the game. Querrey won the first set tiebreak 8-6 after staving off a set point — and winning the final three points with the help of two aces.

“It was tough,” said Querrey. “But my serve is my biggest weapon. I just buckled down and I think I hit an ace at that 5-6 point. Just put the pressure right back on (Klizan).”

The American won the match 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-3, hitting 20 aces in the process.

When asked about failing to serve out the first set up 5-4, Klizan replied: “I wasn’t nervous. I was just pissed off of the line umpire because was a huge mistake from him the first point. Could be different story then, the game. But anyway, Sam was the better player on the court and I think he was better, so he won.”

In Saturday’s doubles match, the Americans will be counting on world number ones Bob and Mike Bryan to deliver the clincher. Fresh from winning the 2014 U.S Open Championship – their 100th – title. the twins are scheduled to face Lukas Lacko and Michal Mertinak, but there’s always the possibility that captain Mecir could alter his lineup.

Junior Williams is a long-time journalist and tennis fan.  At a moment’s notice he can give you a list of all the Davis Cup match-ups that would give the US home ties. He is in Illinois covering the Davis Cup first round World Group Play-off tie between the United States and Slovakia for Tennis Panorama News.

 

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Isner, Querrey and Bryan Brothers Named to US Davis Cup Team

USDavisCup

(September 2, 2014) U.S. Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier named the team to take on the Slovak Republic in the World Group Playoff – top-ranked American and world No. 15 John Isner, world No. 57 Sam Querrey and the world’s No. 1 doubles team of Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan.

Additionally, Captain Courier announced the practice partners for the U.S. Davis Cup team – 2014 NCAA singles champion for UCLA Marcos Giron and three-time University of Michigan All-American and Chicago native Evan King. Giron, 21, won the 2014 NCAA singles title as a junior at UCLA, finishing the year as the No. 1 college tennis player.

 

Slovakia Captain Miloslav Mecir named world No. 65 Martin Klizan, No. 84 Lukas Lacko, No. 129 Norbert Gombos, and former Top 20 doubles player Michal Mertinak to his team.

 

The best-of-five match series will be played on an indoor hard court at Sears Centre Arena, Sept. 12-14, in Hoffman Estates, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.

 

Play begins on Friday, Sept. 12, at 4:00 p.m. CT, with two singles matches featuring each country’s No. 1 player against the other country’s No. 2 player. Saturday’s schedule features the pivotal doubles match at 2:00 p.m. CT. The final day of play on Sunday, beginning at 12:30 p.m. CT, will feature two “reverse singles” matches, when the No. 1 players square off followed by the No. 2 players meeting each other in the final match. All matches are best-of-five sets until one nation clinches the tie. A revised schedule for Sunday may take place if a team clinches in the third or fourth match.

 

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James Blake on a Roll as the Champions Shootout Comes to Sacramento

(L-R Andy Roddick, James Blake and John Isner)

(L-R Andy Roddick, James Blake and John Isner)

By Kevin Ware

(February 26, 2014) World-class men’s tennis returns to Northern California tonight with the Champions Shootout: the next stop on the PowerShares Series 12-city tour.  Featuring a roster of tennis icons and legends, the PowerShares Series combines the best of competitive tennis and fan appreciation in a condensed format that’s fun for both the players and fans alike.

The last PowerShares visit to the Bay Area saw Jim Courier, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, and Todd Martin battling it out for supremacy (and rankings points) in San Jose. This time around, Sacramento is the battleground. And stalwarts Courier and McEnroe are joined by Pete Sampras and series newcomer, James Blake.

McEnroe currently leads the rankings, followed by Courier and PowerShares newcomer Andy Roddick. Blake, however, is quietly making a run for the top spot after picking up his first PowerShares title with a 7-6 (5) win over McEnroe in Salt Lake City.

It’s hard to believe that Blake only just retired from the pro ranks this past fall at the ripe old age of 28. Hard to believe, maybe, but understandable given the toll that injuries have taken on his body over the years.

After struggling in qualifying rounds through most of the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Blake made his official retirement announcement at the 2013 US Open, after a first-round loss to Ivo Karlovic.

With pro tennis seemingly behind him, Blake looked ready finally enjoy some quality time with his wife and young daughter. But the lure of competition proved too strong, so five months later he’s back on the courts: hitting blistering forehands as though he never left, and having a good time with his old friends.

Blake’s first outing in Denver ended in a finals loss to Andre Agassi. His second was another finals loss to his good buddy Roddick in Houston. The third time definitely proved to be the charm, however, with his win in Salt Lake City. At this rate, McEnroe had better watch his back in Sacramento!

The Champions Shootout begins at 3PM with a special “Play with the Pros” on-court hitting session with Sampras and Blake, followed by a second session featuring McEnroe and Courier at 4PM. Semifinal match play begins at 6PM, with the winners advancing to the finals immediately afterward.

Kevin Ware is in Sacramento covering the Powershares event, The Champions Shootout as media for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his live updates on twitter @TennisNewsTPN.  Follow his personal twitter @SFTennisFreak.

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Tennis Legends Gather At ‘No. 1 Celebration’ To Commemorate 40 Years Of Emirates ATP Rankings

 

From the ATP World Tour – AUGUST 24, 2013 -NEW YORK — ATP World Tour No. 1s past and present gathered to mark the 40th anniversary of the Emirates ATP Rankings at the ‘No. 1 Celebration’, Friday night at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.

Ilie Nastase, who became the first ATP World No. 1 on 23 August 1973, was present to be honoured on the night, along with successors John Newcombe, Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg, Jim Courier, Marcelo Rios, Carlos Moya, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Gustavo Kuerten, Lleyton Hewitt, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Andy Roddick, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

The legends each took part in an on-stage Q&A with Justin Gimelstob and Guy Forget, sharing their experiences of reaching the summit of world tennis, before posing for a group photo with the ATP World Tour No. 1 trophy. Each year-end No. 1 received an engraved replica of the trophy.

No. 1 Celebration  Nadal, Federer

“It’s definitely an ultimate goal for any athlete, not just tennis players,” said current World No. 1 Djokovic. “Growing up, in early childhood, you are inspired to show that love and appreciation and passion towards the sport, and of course there is this big drive – waking up every morning, working so hard, developing skills to be No. 1 in the world. Not many players have achieved that and to sit with fellow champions, it’s an incredible feeling… I’m really honoured to be here.”

Watch Highlights Of No. 1 Celebration

Federer, who held the No. 1 ranking for a record 302 weeks, spoke about sharing the stage with the players who inspired him. “It was very important for me to have someone to look up to. Stefan was one of them, so it’s nice to see you here tonight and all the others players… We’ve put such huge effort in the game, and that’s a platform we can enjoy today. So it’s unbelievable. Thanks for being an inspiration Stefan, all of you here today.”

On a lighter note, a self-deprecating Roddick said, “It is an honour to be the worst player in the room.” Fellow American Courier added, “It’s a great honour to be here among friends. I dreamed of being in this arena, and to be part of this group is mind-blowing.”

Year-End No. 1s  McEnroe, Djokovic

The evening, part of the broader ATP Heritage programme, also included a tribute to former ATP Executive Chairman and President Brad Drewett, who passed away in May following a battle with Motor Neurone Disease. Drewett founded the ATP Heritage programme earlier this year.

“Brad cherished the history of the ATP and men’s professional tennis in general,” said Mark Young, CEO ATP Americas. “Tonight’s celebration is a reflection of that. It was his vision to see all the No. 1 players gathered together as we honoured their achievements.”

The ATP Heritage programme, with the support of its founding partner Rolex, will continue to serve as a platform to celebrate the rich history of the ATP and the remarkable achievements of the world’s greatest players throughout history.

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Milos Raonic Launches New Balance Line at Ping-Pong Club

(August 21, 2013) NEW YORK, NY. World No. 10 Milos Raonic took on all comers in a game of ping-pong as New Balance launched their new NB Tennis line at SPiN, a Ping-Pong club in Manhattan. One of the Canadian’s opponents was Jim Courier.

Video by Josh Meiseles.

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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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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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