The Top Tennis "Nevers" of the Decade
Everywhere I look, I see decade countdowns. Tennis being my primary interest, every tennis countdown I see says the same generic stuff about how Roger is the greatest and Rafa's Wimbledon '08 win was phenomenal...well yeah, we all know that...and I was sick of reading articles that tell us what we already know...so I figured I'd put a twist on it and jot down what I view as being the top "never woulda thoughts" in men's tennis for the "noughties." Here goes.
7. Never woulda thought he'd be on Court Two
In 2002, a not-so-well-known dude named George Bastl upset a stalwart of the game/poster-child-for-tennis type dude named Pete Sampras in the second round at Wimbledon.
While the upset itself is worthy of being a part of this list, people who were into tennis at the time knew that the "pistol" wasn't firing on all cylinders. Upsets are part of the game, and even legends have bad days.
What was more shocking though is that the organizers at Wimbledon scheduled a seven-time Wimbledon champion, the last of his Wimby titles naught but two years recent, to play on Court Two!!
What were they thinking? Incidentally, who was scheduled on center court the day? Agassi (one Wimbledon crown in '92) and Safin (never won Wimbledon).
6. Never woulda thought he'd admit it!
Agassi came out with all sorts of startling revelations in '09 to promote his book.
While all of us masses were clueless about the meth, and it came as a shock to everybody, what several of us had surely suspected for a while was that Andre wasn't born with those golden brown wavy locks he sported back in the early 90s.
In fact there are several close-up shots of him from back in the day where the W_ _ is slightly off-balance.
Forget about the meth, it takes a real man to come clean about a WIG after all those years of bandannas, ball caps, and headbands!
5. Never woulda thought he'd stop
At the start of the decade, tennis enthusiasts were getting pretty excited about a Russian kid named Marat Safin. McEnroe, after watching Safin's debut Grand Slam heroics at the French Open in '98, said of him that he had never watched a ball being hit cleaner or harder on such a consistent basis.
We all saw and still talk about the majesty with which he dethroned Sampras at the '00 Open. Sampras called Safin "the future of tennis" after that match. Although he skipped much of '01 through injury, everything seemed to be returning to "normal" when he made a strong finish to the '01 season and was dominating the Aussie Open '02.
A shock loss to Thomas Johansson in the finals was merely a blip in an otherwise still unquestionable rise to tennis supremacy.
But what the heck happened after that?? Soon the term "headcase" was being included with the usual "party animal" tag. Safin played a beautiful Aussie Open in '04, playing marathon matches against Roddick and Agassi en route to an "out-of-steam" straight set loss to the Fed in the finals.
And of course we all still refer to his '05 Aussie Open semifinal victory over the Fed as one of the best matches ever played, but besides that, for a guy once considered to be the future of tennis and the dominant "alpha dog" on tour, Safin's career pff pff fizzled out like a lighting bolt.
Mercurial talent, innate charisma, and movie star looks sure won Marat a lot of fans...but what happened to all those Slams??
4. Never woulda thought he'd go all the way in Paris
So this one's already pretty well documented, yet has to be mentioned. The Fed, after losing to Nadal four times on the Paris clay, losing his Wimbledon throne to the Spaniard, and being subjected to tears after their Aussie Open '09 final, looked like a shadow of the well-oiled machine that held aloft trophies with the level of elation that OctoMom would feel at conceiving another kid.
Forward to the French of '09: Soderling powers his way through a partially unfit Nadal, del Potro throws away a fifth set advantage in the semis, and voila, the Sampras curse is lifted.
In one tournament Fed equals Pete's record for number of Grand Slams won and, furthermore, becomes only the second man since Agassi to win the career slam on four different surfaces.
While we all expected the Fed to match and surpass that 14-Slam record, given Nadal's dominance on the red, and the whitewash he handed Rog at the French in '08, we all thought Fed was gonna have to "c'est la vie" Roland Garros.
3. Never woulda thought he'd come back
The real tennis hero for this decade is James Blake. To sustain severe head injuries, lose your dad, and then develop shingles all within a few months time is the epitome of trauma.
For Blake to recover from all of that, pick up a tennis racket again, and fight through challenger tourneys to make his way back into tennis' elite speaks volumes about the man's character, not to mention the professionalism, grace, and optimism with which he conducts himself on and off the court. You couldn't root for a nicer guy. Take a bow, James.
2. Never woulda looked to Gaston
At the start of the French Open in 2004, even Gaston Gaudio's mother was probably expecting to see him home for breakfast by the end of the first week. A good draw, however, saw Gaston progress to the semis where he played some phenomenal tennis to see the back of compatriot Nalbandian and make it to the final.
Awaiting him there was the much favored Guillermo Coria, holder of the "king of clay" tag prior to Nadal's arrival. Coria was the pre-tournament favorite to win the title, and it looked like he had the Championship in the bag after 2.5 sets.
Poof, Bang, Wallop, a Mexican wave, some foot cramps and two sets later, the Roland Garros crowd was watching an enthralling final go deep into a fifth set. Gaudio saved two Championship points against a fast ailing Coria and went on to clinch the tourney in an enthralling, heartbreaking finish. Needless to say he never won a slam after that.
This was the biggest fluke of the decade.
1. Never count out a fourth time lucky!
The much loved Goran Ivanisevic had been through several roller coasters at Wimbledon in the 90's. In the '92 final, he played a Goliath to Agassi's David, in '94, Sampras tamed his booming serves and pounced on his nerves, leaving the gentle giant in tears at the awards ceremony, and in '98 a born-again, superstitious Ivanisevic refused to shave all the way to the final, where he pushed Sampras to an enthralling five-setter before suffering his most heartbreaking Wimbledon loss.
So in 2001, when he entered as a wildcard, ranked at a paltry 127, not even the most ardent Goran fan or the most ingenuous pundit could have predicted what was to ensue. Two weeks later, in one of tennis' best "feel good" moments, an understandably elated and super emotional Goran stood tall on center court, holding aloft his much coveted Wimbledon title.
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