Champions' Trait: Resisting the Storm, Diverting the Wind

Rajat JainSenior Analyst IDecember 25, 2009

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - NOVEMBER 20:  Roger Federer of Switzerland (L) and Pete Sampras of USA talk at the end of their invitational exhibition Super Match VI on November 20, 2007 in Seoul, South Korea. Federer won 6-4, 6-3. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Christmas Greetings to all!

The buzz around this time is there to see. The cubicles in offices start to vacate, sale of Christmas trees and Santa’s costumes begin to soar, and the holiday parties occupy your calendar slots.

Holiday parties form a big part of this season. My friends and I do not celebrate Christmas, so we have been spending most of our time by watching back to back movies, trying our hands at poker and several other card games, and relaxing. New Year plans would be more interesting, but lazing around and doing absolutely nothing forms a very important part of our holidays.

YouTube occupies a significant part of killing time. And tennis usually takes the precedence when I run out of ideas to kill its bandwidth. The quality of highlights is first rate, and it is amazing how a ten minute clip can be used to analyze a four hour match.

The same goes for tie-breakers too. They may not be the fairest way to judge a set—at least antiMatter thinks so—but it does bring out the best in the players. The fourth set tie-breakers at Wimbledon ‘80 and ‘08 finals, another one between Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi at AO ‘00 are classic examples.

—The first part of the tie-breaker shows exactly why Richard Krajicek had a winning record against Sampras—in fact, he was one of the very few to boast that.

Sampras often said that while his serve gave him the insurance, his returns were what won him matches. One spectacular return game was enough for him to win a set, three of them would win him the match.

Against this Dutch, his return game usually broke down. Krajicek could serve at any part of the court with the same ball toss which made him difficult to read, and his 6'5" frame allowed him to get acute angles at fierce pace—something which Ivo Karlovic does to an even better degree. A high serve with fast pace directed at Sampras’ backhand would always win you easy points and Krajicek did exactly that.

—Krajicek’s baseline game never complemented his serve, but on days like this when his backhand was on fire, he would become unstoppable. His backhand in full flow is one of the more beautiful shots to watch.

—Sampras was no more a tennis machine by this time (he had won more majors than anyone by this time). He revealed his emotions far more frequently, and with much intensity.

—The breaker effectively summarizes most of the meetings between the two. Both players approached the net on both serves, hence rallies greater than four shots were rare.

Due to the lack of rallies, things happened at lightening pace. While Sampras was busy hitting one backhand error after other, Krajicek was up 6-2 through his powerful serve and serving for the set in almost no time.

—Starring at four set points for a two set deficit, Sampras turned the match which reminded me of the finals of Wimbledon ‘09.

Sampras hit a crunch volley at 2-6 that was aimed right at his feet and then won two straight points on Krajicek’s serve and leveled the game with a huge backhand winner that barely clipped the line. And this was when he spraying his backhands everywhere till then.

Roger Federer did something similar against Andy Roddick. We always bring out Roddick’s missed volley at 6-5 as the turning point of the match, but it was Federer’s nonchalant half volley winner down at 2-6 which was of equal importance. Roddick couldn’t have hit that return any better, and yet he lost the point.

Great champions may not always play their best, but they are best at getting out of deep holes. Sampras did in this match, and Federer did at Wimbledon.

They know how to change the direction of wind in their favor. They know how to make things happen.

Federer is accused for the lack of mental toughness (even after he showed them in plenty this year), but just because he gets out his holes in a ‘what is the big deal?’ way does not mean he lacks the same.

—The media is either a champion in making assumptions, or it likes to create controversies…or both. The clip shows Sampras’ wife Bridgette Wilson supporting her crazily, and this was despite the fact that she had least interest in this game.

The media went berserk in citing her responsible for Sampras’ poor results towards the end of his career. If anything, she was a great support to the man during his tough times.


Happy Holidays!