Tennis: Achievement Is Overrated

Rob YorkSenior Writer IDecember 14, 2008

Ted Robinson: Welcome to the finals of the first ever Tennis Underachievers Open, which gives players of all eras a chance to do a little more, since they haven’t done enough already. I’m joined by Patrick McEnroe, who’s going to tell us a little bit about some of the highlights of this week’s event.

Patrick McEnroe: Well Ted, it’s been an interesting event ever since the word go. Who can forget the Fernando Gonzalez-Henri Leconte match in round one, when Gonzalez hit 47 forehand winners en route to capturing the first set in a tiebreaker, and then proceeded to lose sets two and three by scores of 6-1, 6-0?

TR: A real seesaw.

PM: Also in round one, we had Goran Ivanisevic against Marcos Baghdatis. As the third set went into a tiebreaker, the volatile Croat shattered his third racket of the match, which would have disqualified him from the competition as he had run out of back-ups. However, the always good-natured Baghdatis proceeded to lend Ivanisevic one of his, after which the Croat hit six consecutive aces and ended up winning the match.

TR: He’s a streaky one. The drama continued in round two, when Marcelo Rios took on his fellow South American baseliner David Nalbandian. Now, they split the first two sets, with both men showing off the sharp groundstrokes and impressive shotmaking both have made their careers with. In the third set, however, there was very unusual development none of us expected, though maybe we should have.

PM: Yes, it’s widely believed to be the first match in tennis history in which both players withdrew due to injury. But every tournament has to have a winner, even an event in which seems full of guys trying to give it away. This tournament came down to two semifinal matches, the first being between the Dutchman Richard Krajicek and the Russian Marat Safin.

TR: It was a contest between the hard-serving Dutchman Krajicek, who never really followed up on his dominant 1996 Wimbledon or reached No. 1, as none other than Pete Sampras said he could, against the hard-serving Russian who did temporarily reach No. 1 in 2000 and finally won his second major in 2005.

PM: But we all expected a lot more from him, especially in between those two summits. This was a match that featured two men both are capable of hitting with power from anywhere on the court. Together, on this medium-speed court, their two-set match saw them hit a combined 63 winners to seven unforced errors. In the end, the Russian’s return of serve made the difference in this tight encounter, and he took the match 7-5, 7-6.

TR: Our other semi featured the German Michael Stich against the Romanian Ilie Nastase. Both of these men were Grand Slam winners and multi-time finalists in their prime. Both had such complete games and natural-looking strokes that appeared destined to carry them to numerous majors. Neither really met those expectations, as Stich never seemed uncomfortable at the top of the men’s game, and Nastase was too busy sleeping with 2,500 women.

PM: And when he won the first set behind those splendid groundstrokes and seemingly effortless service motion, we got a good look at what all those ladies must’ve seen in him. But Stich came back in the second and third sets behind that big serve of his and his greater willingness to finish points at the net. He ended up taking the match 6-4 in the third, showing why he was the player Sampras feared the most during his reign at the top.

TR: So, we’ve got two hard-serving, all-court playing, slam-winning underachievers in our final. Tell me Patrick, what do you think the winner of this match gets to say to his peers? Are there bragging rights earned by winning an event like this?

PM: Well, it’s an indication of the measure of your talent and potential. Some players, myself included, worked pretty hard to earn the results we did but didn’t have as much to work with. The winner of this event can say that, among all the gifted players participating, they had the most to spare.

TR: A lot of people have noticed that a disproportionate number of these players come from the 1990s and thereafter. Why do you think that is?

PM: That’s a good observation Ted, because since then the game has grown more global, and there are more events, making it possible for more guys to make a comfortable living. But the number of slams has stayed the same, and most of these guys have earned underachiever status by not winning slams, or not winning as many as they could have. Because there are more events, less of an off-season, and a more physically demanding style of play more of them are getting injured and getting burned out.

TR: Another reason may be because of the dominance of certain players, namely Sampras and Roger Federer, who’ve won a combined 27 majors titles since 1990. Those kinds of results may discourage other players from trying their hardest. If you train to the best of your ability and run into Federer on his best day, you might wonder, what’s the point?

PM: That’s a good point Ted. Play should be underway any moment now, and…What’s this? Oh, we’ve just gotten some bad news, though it does seem appropriate for an event such as this: Michael Stich just suffered a shoulder injury while tying his shoe, which means that Marat Safin is the first ever Underachievers Open champion!

TR: That kind of result would be hard to script. Let’s see if we can get a word with Michael and Marat.

Stich: I’m kind of disappointed by this result. I mean, I guess I wish I could’ve won. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll come back here next year and try to win it. I’m not sure.

TR: Retirement clearly hasn’t changed a lot for him. Our champion, Marat Safin is up here in the booth with us now. Tell us Marat, how does it feel to be the Underachievers Open champion? Doesn’t this signify that among them all, you’ve not achieved the most?

Safin: No one wastes like me!

PM: Well said, Marat. We thank you for joining out telecast, and until next year, achievement is overrated!