Tennis and YouTube: Underrated Classics
The tennis offseason has officially begun after Spain's thumping victory over the Czech Republic.
It is hard to imagine another month and a half without tennis after witnessing an absolutely spectacular 2009 season, so I'll utilize this space to share some of the finest tennis moments that YouTube has to offer.
This will, however, not include the classic Federer or Nadal moments, or focus on any recent player, because (a) There are just too many of these moments to choose from, (b) Fans must have seen these videos ad infinitum so nothing new will be on offer, and (c) This will allow me to focus on the underrated clips from yesteryear that are worthy of attention.
So here are some of my favorite tennis moments of the past years. I will spare the agony of ranking them and just present them in chronological order.
Of course, with the rich database that YouTube has to offer, I have only put some selected clips that are my personal favorites, and I would be interested in knowing other "not-so-famous" but classic clips of yours too.
Rocket Rod Laver
The 60s and 70s was the era of wooden rackets, which hardly any of us have witnessed. Heavy frame, small racket head, and inferior strings made stroke making very difficult.
Power tennis had still not taken over until the arrival of Ivan Lendl, and hence hitting winners from the baseline was a tough job.
Players instead relied on placement and precision. Net approaches were mandatory until the time Bjorn Borg revolutionized the game with topspin, and the fast surface of grass aided such play.
Rod Laver had the perfect game to excel on this surface. Besides being equally adept at playing from the back or at the net, he had lightning-fast feet.
Unlike the modern players, he took short nimble steps to run around the court which made his movement impeccable. In addition, he had supreme reflexes on which he relied heavily at his time during the net.
His Wimbledon '69 semis against Arthur Ashe, another great grass court player, was a great exhibition of all court tennis. This clip is a must watch for the critics who complain about the lack of rallies on grass court.
The Ice-Borg Melts
He was nicknamed 'Ice-Borg' and rightly so. His cool on court demeanor could fool even the best of face readers. The natural calm that glowed through his face would not reveal anything going on between the red bandanas.
No one could tell whether he was relaxed or under pressure, nervous or confident—the same poker face would appear at all times.
Yet, even Bjorn Borg was human and even he wilted away under extreme circumstances.
John McEnroe had made life difficult for the Swede after he pushed the Swede to the limit at Wimbledon '80 and defending his U. S. Open crown in another five-set thriller. Borg's No. 1 ranking was under severe pressure, and so was the Swede himself.
And the pressure finally showed up at the Masters Cup when Borg started arguing with the chair umpire after he wrongly adjudged a close line call. The argument was long and cost him three points due to game delay and ultimately the set.
What this match also affirmed was McEnroe's respect towards Borg. Not once during this situation did McEnroe appeared impatient or frustrated, and three points later when a Borg ace was wrongly adjudged again, McEnroe deliberately hit the return outside to give away the point.
Lendl vs. Wilander, US Open '88 Finals
Ivan Lendl was never a media darling during the '80s and Mats Wilander was always overshadowed by the likes of McEnroe, Edberg and Becker.
Hence, their final at the Louis Armstrong Stadium was not something to look forward to, especially given that most of their matches on clay were endless boring baseline rallies.
Wilander of '88 was a much improved player with a better net play, a penetrative slice backhand and much better fitness and he pushed Lendl to the extreme in a five-hour thriller, considered to be among the best finals contested at the Big Apple.
Edberg vs. McEnroe, Wimbledon '89 semis
What should one do while watching arguably two of the best volleyers of all time battling it out on their home turf?
"Watch those hands!"
They possessed the same approach to the game, but had vastly different styles. One was technically perfect, a model of aesthetics and elegance, the other was an artist who did not care about technique but relied on pure instinct.
The end result was a classic match offering some unforgettable moments at the net. The following clip only presents the best moments from the match, but the complete match is also worth a watch.
Becker vs. Lendl, Australian Open '91 Finals
The charismatic redhead from Germany loved to beat his opponents at their own game. He achieved exactly that with this match.
After being outplayed by Lendl in the first set, he stopped approaching the net on his serves and beat Lendl from the baseline.
This video also makes one realize the aesthetic beauty of the Lendl backhand and Becker's skill at the back court. Of course, the passing shots are as good as you can get!
Becker captured his fifth major and grabbed the No. 1 ranking from Lendl after this victory.
Jimbo's undying passion for Tennis
At his age (39 years in '91), most players would be lazily cooling their heals in the sunny beaches of Miami. But Jimmy Connors was still battling with men half his age, still possessing the same fire and the lust for victory.
In his historic match against Aaron Kirkstein in the fourth round of U.S. Open '91, his love for competition was at display once again after he launched a severe outburst against the chair umpire over a line call.
What he did was far from ideal and were he not a 39 year old crowd favorite American, he would have been defaulted from the match right away.
His outburst would not be something you would teach to the upcoming sportsmen, but this clip is worth watching just to admire the passion that this American had for this game.
Becker vs Ivanisevic, Masters Cup '92 Semis
This match has everything one can ask for. Powerful serves and returns, amazing reflexes on the passing shots, diving volleys, ridiculous cat-and-mouse hustles and the ambience of the indoor court.
The clip gets better as it progresses and in the words of Rob York, "the match point alone is worth the price of admission."
Becker's manager, Ion Tiriac, calls this the match of the decade and for a good reason.
The Best of Michael Chang
He may be extremely undersized for a tennis player, he may have lacked power required to keep pace against the players of the 90s, and he may not have possessed a lethal weapon like a Sampras serve or an Agassi backhand.
But can anybody…repeat, ANYBODY, run as fast as Michael Chang did on the tennis court?
Not many would argue against it, but for those who have their doubts, the next clip would do enough to dispel them.
Sampras vs Agassi, Australian Open '00 Semis, 4th set Tie Breaker
Agassi ended the year '99 as the world No. 1, but Sampras got the better of him at two important matches, Wimbledon and Masters Cup finals. He had a point to prove, especially to the new lady in his box.
The perfect moment came in the semis at Melbourne in '00 where Sampras was striving to win his record setting 13th major. A night match, Sampras in white, and Agassi, his antithesis, in black. A fourth set tie-break.
Sampras had the chance to take away the match, while Agassi would have stretched this to the fifth to gain a huge advantage over the less-fit Sampras.
Sampras had just played a perfect tie-breaker a set before winning it 7-0, so it looked like he would run away with the match. Agassi had other ideas.
The onslaught that followed brought out the very best tennis from the two champions, effectively summarizing their games.
Sampras' two second serve aces, incredible hands at the net, and an impossible running forehand which evoked the reaction, "Oh my Goodness! Are you kidding me?!" from the commentator.
Agassi's on-the-rise returns on Sampras first serves, unbelievable passing shots, his powerful two handed backhand missiles, and those unthinkable angles that defies the laws of geometry, "How do you get that kind of an angle from there (mid court)?!"
There were no unforced errors, and eight clean winners, most of them exemplary. In terms of pure shot making, I doubt if a better tie-breaker has been played…ever! The only thing missing in this otherwise perfect clip is a Sampras slam dunk.
Agassi and Graf, Real Sports Interview, 2007
Opposites attract. And can there be a better example than the pair of Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf? One with a brutal game, extrovert and a media darling, while the other with a beautiful and aesthetic game, introvert nature and reluctance to face the media.
As Mary Carillo notes in this very emotional interview, "these two getting together is one of the biggest sporting upsets."
These two would beg to differ, though. Here is one question for Grafassi: Have your kids gotten their dog yet?
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