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Ashe's Wimbledon Win Over Connors, 45 Years On

  • Posted: Jul 05, 2020

Ashe’s Wimbledon Win Over Connors, 45 Years On

On Saturday, 5 July 1975, Arthur Ashe recorded his greatest triumph on a tennis court. With exclusive insight from Ashe’s closest friends, James Buddell of ATPWorldTour.com recounts how the American lifted the Wimbledon trophy — one of the most significant wins in the sport’s history.

Editor’s Note: But for the COVID-19 pandemic, Wimbledon would now be underway. During the next two weeks ATPTour.com will look back on memorable matches and happenings at the grass-court Grand Slam. This story was originally published on 5 July 2015.

On the walls of Le Negresco hangs a portrait of Louis XIV, by Hyacinthe Rigaud; there’s a chandelier designed by Gustav Eiffel; glass work by Baccarrat, one of two commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II, in the Grand Salon that features a glass ceiling. Here, in the palatial art-encrusted surrounds of one of Europe’s finest hotels, owned by Jean-Baptiste Mesnage, on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, Arthur Ashe checks in to a hotel, exclusive to the rich, famous, and their pets. He’s just shared a 311-mile drive from Bologna, via Genoa and Ventimiglia, with Fred McNair and Dickie Dell, during a week off from the busy WCT (World Championship Tennis) circuit.

It’s February 1975 and Ashe, days earlier, has just lost to Bjorn Borg 7-6, 4-6, 7-6 in the final of the WCT Bologna tournament. Their stay, in rooms overlooking the Mediterranean, is temporary. The next stop beckons: Barcelona. That night Ashe, McNair and Dell arrange to head to the Nice Lawn Tennis Club in the morning, for a hit. Afterwards, showered, changed and packed up, they head to the Nice train station, where they pick up an International Herald Tribune newspaper to read up on politics and sport. “We spotted one report,” recalls McNair. “It said that actor Richard Burton, who would re-marry Elizabeth Taylor later in the year, had been seen with Suzy Hunt, the model, newly married to Formula One racing driver James Hunt, on the French Riviera.”   

Returning to Le Negresco, they pass through the marble-floored 50-metre entrance hall, en route to the lifts wide enough to carry beds, for their suitcases ready for check out. Ashe, McNair and Dell pass by a glamourous couple, who have entered. Taking up the story, 40 years on, McNair recalls, “The lady was wearing a red fox fur coat, with a white poodle dog under her right arm. The man was walking with another white poodle.” Seconds pass.

‘Mr Ashe…’

“We all turned around, and took an appropriate pause. It was Burton and Hunt…

“After introductions, Burton asks, ‘What brings you here?’

‘We’re heading on to an event in Spain,’ explains Ashe. 

‘Have you played that impish young American?’

‘You mean, [Jimmy] Connors? Yes, yes, recently. It wasn’t a very good result.’”

On 25 November 1974, Connors had retained the South African Open title with a 7-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory over Ashe in Johannesburg’s Ellis Park stadium. It was his 17th crown of an extraordinary season. He’d lost just two of 11 sets to Ashe in their three matches to date.

“‘I tell you what,’ says Burton. ‘Next time you play, you will beat him. If you do, I’ll wager you £100.

‘It will be the best £100 that I have lost.’”

Burton’s words stick.

Over the course of the next three months, Ashe re-dedicates himself to practice. Getting super fit, he picks up five WCT titles, beating 18-year-old Borg on three occasions, including at the Dallas WCT Finals, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-0.

With one of his goals for 1975 out the way, Ashe sets his sights on another.

Ashe checks into room 234 at the Westbury Hotel, in the first week of June, more than two weeks before the start of The Championships at Wimbledon. McNair, who has travelled with Ashe for the past five months, is staying directly below in room 134, a walk up a staircase from the understated hotel lobby. A 50-room enterprise, the five-star American hotel in Bond Street is used by clients of Donald Dell, Frank Craighill, Lee Fentress and Ray Benton, a sports management firm, later called ProServ. It’s not the official player hotel, but an occasional meeting point for the two-year-old Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP).

Twelve months ago, on the night of Sunday, 23 June 1974, Ashe had been elected president of the ATP, after Cliff Drysdale stepped down. But, at a time of enormous political struggle, it was also the day that World TeamTennis, together with the reigning Australian Open champions Jimmy Connors and Evonne Goolagong, announced their decision to sue the French and Italian championships for $10 million for banning WTT players. They were also suing Jack Kramer, the executive director of the ATP; Dell, its General Counsel, and the Grand Prix circuit sponsor, Commercial Union Assurance Company, for conspiring with the national associations to bar WTT players from tournaments. Thirty one of the now 145-strong ATP are involved in WTT. Effectively, every player is being sued. Connors was not an ATP member. It’s quite the baptism by fire for Ashe, who would soon be responsible for writing the code of conduct.

During the first week of their stay in 1975, Ashe, McNair and Sherwood Stewart travel by train to Beckenham, for their first tournament matches on grass in England. At night, they return together in order to dine at the Playboy Club in Mayfair, a 15-minute walk from their hotel and “seemingly the only restaurant open in London after 9:30 p.m.” admits McNair. Ashe goes on to capture the Kent Championships title, beating Roscoe Tanner 7-5, 6-4 in the final. Some of the WCT members head to Nottingham, a two-and-a-hour drive north of London, the following week. Despite losing to Tony Roche 6-3, 6-4 in the quarter-finals, Ashe’s confidence remains high on his return to the Westbury Hotel.

But his mood will quickly change.

Two days before the start of Connors’ title defence at 1975 Wimbledon, the back pages of London’s Saturday editions headline: CONNORS SUES ASHE.  

Connors’ manager, Bill Riordan, has filed two lawsuits in Indianapolis, claiming damages of $5 million for libellous comments against them in letters written by Ashe, and an article by Bob Briner, the ATP secretary. The crux is that Ashe has criticised Connors as “seemingly unpatriotic” for playing lucrative ‘challenge’ matches, rather than joining the U.S. Davis Cup team. Briner had called Riordan, a “nihilist”. The news breaks as Connors begins a practice at The Queen’s Club.  Richard Evans, the European Director of the ATP, is quoted by AP, saying, “Personally, I’m getting very tired of these shabby tactics of throwing out law suits just before Wimbledon.”

Incredibly, Ashe and Connors will meet in 14 days’ time, for the sport’s greatest prize.

Connors is considered invincible in the locker room. In 1974, he has compiled a 99-4 record and won three major championships. “Using his Wilson T2000 like a rapier, he had cut the 39-year-old Ken Rosewall to pieces in the Wimbledon final and had then beaten him even more severely in the US Open final, which was being played on grass for the last time,” remembers John Barrett, the former player and broadcaster. “Connors seemed to be invincible on fast grass.”

The top seed has not dropped a set en route to the 1975 Wimbledon final. “He had simply annihilated Roscoe Tanner in the semi-finals,” recalls Sports Illustrated’s Frank Deford, of the 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 victory.

By contrast, sixth seed Ashe – using a Head Arthur Ashe Comp 2 racquet – has come through a four-set quarter-final against Borg, who picked up a groin injury, and a 5-7, 6-4, 7-5, 8-9, 6-4 last four epic over left-hander Tony Roche, when tie-breaks were played at eight games all. On Saturday, he’ll contest his seventh major championship final – his first since the 1972 US Open, when he lost to Ilie Nastase in five sets.

Connors is an 11/2 favourite at the London bookmakers’ going into his second Wimbledon final; an overwhelming favourite. Ashe is expected to be swallowed up. “On the eve of the final, I remember discussing Arthur’s prospects with Donald Dell as we stood on the steps of the competitors’ restaurant,” recalls Barrett. “We agreed that he could not expect to outhit Jimmy, who thrived on pace.”

Few know that Connors is nursing an injury, the result of slipping and hyper-extending a knee during his first-round win over John Lloyd. It has required secret daily visits to a Chelsea Football Club physiotherapist. Doctors are suggesting he rest. No chance!

Go To Part II: Continue Reading…

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Five Things To Know About Corentin Moutet

  • Posted: Jul 05, 2020

Five Things To Know About Corentin Moutet

Learn about the 21-year-old’s career highlights, musical talents and more

Corentin Moutet is the No. 75 player in the FedEx ATP Rankings and the youngest Frenchman in the Top 100.

ATPTour.com looks at five things you should know about the #NextGenATP Frenchman.

1) He Entered The ATP Challenger Tour History Books In 2019
Last season, Moutet became the first teenager in 12 years to lift ATP Challenger Tour trophies in three consecutive seasons. Following in the footsteps of Evgeny Korolev, who achieved the feat from 2005 to 2007, the Paris native added the Chennai trophy to his 2017 Brest title and 2018 Istanbul crown.

Four months after his title run in India, Moutet claimed his fourth Challenger trophy in front of a boisterous home crowd in Lyon. With his run to the title, the Frenchman cracked the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings for the first time.

Moutet

2) He Finished 2019 In Style
At last year’s Rolex Paris Masters, Moutet impressed the home crowd in his final match of the year against Novak Djokovic. The 5’9” left-hander earned two set points in the first set and landed a tweener lob against the Serbian, ultimately losing 6-7(2), 4-6.

“[Moutet] is talented, very quick,” said Djokovic. “[He] returns a lot of balls back that usually other guys wouldn’t get. He gets it, and he was pumped. I respect his fighting spirit.”

3) He Makes Rap Music
In his time off the court, you may find Moutet writing lyrics for his latest rap song. The Parisian recently created a YouTube channel to showcase his music following a positive reaction from fellow players and coaches.

“The days can be long on site at tournaments, so I wanted to do something else,” said Moutet. “I’m usually writing, singing or rapping most of the time now. I try to write every day about my feelings or anything else that comes to mind.”

 

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4) He Started 2020 In Peak Form
In his first event of 2020, Moutet made a breakthrough in Doha. The Next Gen ATP Finals contender won six straight matches from qualifying to advance to his maiden ATP Tour final.

In the main draw, Moutet overcame Tennys Sandgren, former World No. 3 Milos Raonic, 2017 semi-finalist Fernando Verdasco and three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka to book a championship clash against Andrey Rublev. Despite losing to the Russian in the final, the Frenchman climbed 11 spots to a career-high World No. 70 after the tournament.

“Unfortunately, I couldn’t win tonight because the opponent was too good. But I will remember this all my life,” said Moutet.

ATP Heritage: Milestones. Records. Legends.

5) Moutet Aims To Inspire
Alongside ambitions of rising in the FedEx ATP Rankings and lifting ATP Tour titles, Moutet is also keen to use his platform to inspire tennis fans through his hard-working attitude. The Doha runner-up, who received his first tennis racquet aged two, prides himself on playing until the last point in every match.

“I want to try to inspire many people around the world when they are watching tennis, just to make them like this sport,” Moutet said. “I want to be remembered as a fighter, as a player who never gives up and gives everything on the court.”

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Philippoussis On Agassi Stunner: 'Serving Big Wasn't Good Enough'

  • Posted: Jul 05, 2020

Philippoussis On Agassi Stunner: ‘Serving Big Wasn’t Good Enough’

Philippoussis provides exclusive insight into his win against Agassi at 2003 Wimbledon

Wimbledon was always Mark Philippoussis’ dream tournament. He fondly remembers staying up late to watch the final as a kid, especially when Boris Becker won the title in 1985 and Pat Cash triumphed in 1987.

That made it even more special when the Aussie reached the quarter-finals at The Championships each year from 1998-2000. Philippoussis’ big serve-and-volley game meshed perfectly with the London grass. But as his career wore on, Philippoussis’ left knee wreaked havoc on his career, leading to multiple surgeries. In 2002, the 1998 US Open finalist dropped as low as No. 148 in the FedEx ATP Rankings.

But one match at 2003 Wimbledon helped remind the world what ‘The Scud’ was capable of. The Aussie reached his fifth Round of 16 at the All England Club, setting a clash against World No. 1 and second seed Andre Agassi. The American, one of the best returners in history, had long proven a foil for Philippoussis’ powerful game.

“With him, there’s no such thing as holding serve comfortably. No matter how big I was serving, if he had a chance to hit the ball, I was going to find it at my toes most of the time,” Philippoussis told ATPTour.com. “Not only did I have to serve as good as I can, but I knew I had to serve aces. It wasn’t good enough just to serve big.”

<a href=Mark Philippoussis” />

Aces proved vital for the Aussie that day at SW19. The World No. 48 hit a career-best 46 of them to battle past his rival 6-3, 2-6, 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-4, earning one of the biggest wins of his career. The American had defeated Philippoussis in their past six ATP Head2Head meetings, including twice earlier that year, but the underdog’s confidence wasn’t shaken.

“It’s quite comfortable for me to say that when I walked on the court, I never felt like it was about my opponent. I knew it was about me with the tennis I played. I just knew that I had to focus on me,” Philippoussis said. “Especially when you’re playing someone like Andre, it’s even more important to focus on you, because you can’t focus on what your opponent does or what he’s going to do. It’s just losing energy thinking about that.”

That’s why the Aussie didn’t panic when Agassi won a third-set tie-break to take a two-sets-to-one lead. Philippoussis knew if he played his best, the match was still on his racquet.

“It’s just [about] staying in there [and] applying pressure,” Philippoussis said. “I kept playing my game and just hoped that over the match that as pressure built and [I] stayed on him, I’d end up with a little piece of that door opening up and I can kind of get through.”

ATP Heritage: Milestones. Records. Legends.

Philippoussis, who broke in his first return game of the fourth set, believes that was the turning point. The Aussie saved two break points at 2-3 in the fifth set, then earned the decisive break in the next game.

Philippoussis crushed five aces in the following game to help stave off Agassi’s final two break points, eventually triumphing after three hours and 13 minutes.

“We both were doing well to sort of give ourselves the chances,” Agassi said. “He ended up being the one to take them in the end.”

Philippoussis nearly suffered a stunning defeat in the quarter-finals, overcoming a two-set deficit against fellow big-server Alexander Popp, the World No. 198.

“Thank goodness I actually had a rain delay and was able to go back in and just get myself together,” Philippoussis said. “I came out flat. After a match like Andre, beating a champion like that, I came out flat and almost paid the price. I wasn’t ready. At the top level, anyone could beat anyone.”

After defeating Sebastien Grosjean to reach his second Grand Slam final, only one man could end Philippoussis’ dream run: 21-year-old Roger Federer, who had yet to win a major.

“Walking into that match, I felt like I was the favourite. We were playing on grass. I don’t care who the person is or what he’s ranked. A couple months earlier I’d actually beaten him in Hamburg where he was defending champion on clay,” Philippoussis said. “I felt confident. I was living my dream.”

Federer defeated Philippoussis 7-6(5), 6-2, 7-6(3) to lift his first of a record eight Wimbledon trophies. Philippoussis was left disappointed, despite a magical run highlighted by his victory against Agassi.

“I’m not going to lie, it hurt,” Philippoussis said. “I got to the final. No one remembers the runners-up. Of course you don’t want to go all that way and lose. It was my second Grand Slam final loss and it hurt, especially this one. This one really, really hurt. I came back from some surgeries, they said my tennis career was over. I worked very hard. It was a beautiful two weeks, but I fell short.”

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Melzer Reveals 'The One Memory I Will Never Forget'

  • Posted: Jul 05, 2020

Melzer Reveals ‘The One Memory I Will Never Forget’

Relive Melzer and Petzschner’s 2010 Wimbledon win

Ten years ago, Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschner lost against Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, respectively, in the Wimbledon singles draw. The good friends did not go home empty-handed, though.

They left the All England Club with the doubles title despite neither man previously reaching a Grand Slam final.

“Sometimes it feels like yesterday, sometimes it feels like 10 years ago, but it is one memory I will never forget,” Melzer told ATPTour.com. “I remember championship point. Philipp made a down-the-line passing shot and we just hugged each other all over the grass. Winning it with such a good friend makes it even more special. That’s why I will always cherish that moment we had, especially at the All England Club.”

Melzer lost in the fourth round of the singles draw against Federer, and Petzschner let slip a two-sets-to-one lead against Nadal in the third round. But they regrouped for a memorable doubles run. They had only played six tournaments together before that Wimbledon, all earlier in 2010. The unseeded Austrian-German duo did not lose a set in their first three matches.

“I think what helped us a lot that year, we only played one doubles match in the first week,” Melzer said. “That was very good for us and we could focus on doubles and didn’t lose too much energy.”

ATP Heritage: Milestones. Records. Legends.

The team’s toughest test came in the semi-finals against seventh seeds Wesley Moodie and Dick Norman. Melzer and Petzschner led by a set and a break, but in a flash they were into a fifth set.

“Thank God we broke early in the fifth and we held serve. I will never forget, Philipp was one of those guys who never got tight. He was a clutch player when it mattered, and at 5-4 serving in the fifth, 15/30, he said, ‘Okay, I’m a little tight. I’m going to go for a little more on the serve,’” Melzer recalled. “I think he served ace, ace, service winner. He was serving more than 225 kilometres per hour all three serves. I was pretty happy with him being tight and serving that way.”

Melzer and Petzschner eliminated Moodie and Norman 7-6(3), 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3. The final was less complicated. They beat 16th seeds Robert Lindstedt and Horia Tecau 6-1, 7-5, 7-5 for the trophy. Both men still have a ball from that championship, and Petzschner has their nameplates from the All England Club.

“It was incredible, especially with a close friend, whom you share a lot of memories with the whole year. Putting yourself into the position of winning a Grand Slam at Wimbledon, our favourite tournament, I think we played well,” Melzer said. “We deserved to win after those two weeks, because we had just been the best team. I will never forget it and will always cherish it.”

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When Kyrgios Stunned No. 1 Nadal On His Centre Court Debut

  • Posted: Jul 05, 2020

When Kyrgios Stunned No. 1 Nadal On His Centre Court Debut

Aussie advanced to first Grand Slam quarter-final at SW19

After saving nine match points against Richard Gasquet earlier in the tournament, Nick Kyrgios made even greater headlines at the All England Club on his Centre Court debut against World No. 1 Rafael Nadal in 2014.

The World No. 144, who entered the contest on an 11-match winning streak at all levels, was aiming to become the first man outside the Top 100 in the FedEx ATP Rankings to beat a World No. 1 at a Grand Slam in 22 years. The last man to achieve that feat was No. 193 Andrei Olhovskiy, who stunned Jim Courier at the same event in 1992.

On the other side of the net, Nadal was bidding to reach his first quarter-final at SW19 since 2011. The two-time champion entered the contest after three consecutive comeback victories, rallying from a set down to beat Martin Klizan, 2012 conqueror Lukas Rosol and Mikhail Kukushkin to reach the Round of 16.

ATP Heritage: Milestones. Records. Legends.

If Nadal wanted to reach the last eight, he would have to continue that trend. Kyrgios edged a tight opening set in a tie-break, landing an ace out wide to take a one-set lead. While the Aussie wild card continued to hit winners — including a forward-facing tweener — in the second set, another Nadal comeback win appeared a real possibility after the Spaniard secured the first break of the match to snatch the second set.

But Kyrgios continued to trust his game in the important moments, edging another tie-break with a huge cross-court forehand return to move one set from victory. Early in the fourth set, the Aussie broke Nadal’s serve for the first time with another powerful forehand and held his advantage to complete a memorable 7-6(5), 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-3 victory after two hours and 58 minutes. The 19-year-old quickly turned to his box in celebration, after reaching his maiden Grand Slam quarter-final on his Wimbledon debut.

“You’ve got to believe you can win the match from the start… I didn’t know what to do when I won,” said Kyrgios. “I just turned to everyone who has been supporting me my whole life. I love every single one of them. They get me over the line.”

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The 6’4” right-hander carried his momentum through to the quarter-finals, taking the opening set against World No. 9 Milos Raonic. From there, the Canadian recovered well to take the next three sets and end Kyrgios’ dream debut at the All England Club.

Last year, Nadal gained his revenge against Kyrgios in the second round at Wimbledon. Across three hours and four minutes, the Spaniard earned a four-set win of his own en route to his second straight semi-final at SW19.

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