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Frankfurt Firepower: How Stich Turned Tables On Sampras

  • Posted: Nov 11, 2020

Watching a pair of teenage German wunderkinds emphatically burst onto the scene in the mid-’80s, Michael Stich could not help but draw inspiration. Boris Becker and Steffi Graf were at the helm and this golden era of German tennis was just getting started. 

Stich, too, was about to become swept up in it and with that came expectation. Only 11 months younger than Becker and as his nation’s former top junior it was unavoidable. 

So the stage seemed fitting after Graf had won her third women’s final at Wimbledon in 1991 that Stich upstaged his more accomplished compatriot, Becker, a day later for what ended up his sole Grand Slam trophy. It completed a German sweep of the singles trophies that year – the last time it has happened to date.

While it stood as Stich’s most defining career moment, there was another “bucket list” item he ticked off two years later, which held a hugely sentimental piece of his heart. Victory in the ATP World Championships was his statement triumph on home soil, proof his Wimbledon breakthrough was no fluke, and against world No. 1 Pete Sampras in the final, no less.

“Coming back to Frankfurt was a big goal,” Stich told “I had my bucket list and winning the Masters was one of the biggest things you can achieve in the sport. 

“There was a lot of pressure, it was my best year. I won five titles coming in, but I didn’t do well at the Grand Slams. So the year-end championships was my chance to shine.”

In 1992, it was Becker who shone to land the trophy in Frankfurt but as defending champion he had failed to qualify a year on. Stich, though, gave the home fans plenty of cause for excitement when he saw off Andrei Medvedev, Michael Chang and Jim Courier in the round-robin stage, before he eked out two tie-breaks against Goran Ivanisevic to reach the final against Sampras.

“I didn’t play my best tennis up to the final, but it seemed like I was mentally really focused as I knew what I wanted to achieve,” Stich said. “Playing Goran was always tough, as you never got a lot of chances, although I had a good record against him.

“Michael [Chang] was always a great competitor, Jim [Courier] was reading his book at the change of ends, so that was a strange atmosphere. Against Pete, the top guy, that was the showdown I was looking for and I played a really great match.”

The win elevated Stich to a career-best World No. 2 and he ended up the only player in the 1990s to win the ATP World Championships undefeated. His 7-6(3), 2-6, 7-6(7), 6-2 triumph over Sampras was his third from six showdowns between the pair, a head-to-head ledger which ultimately finished 5-4 in the German’s favour. 

It was, however, the last time he would qualify for the event. Despite having reached the second of his three Grand Slam finals in New York only months before, Stich followed in Becker’s footsteps when as defending champion he failed to qualify for the subsequent ATP World Championships in 1994.

Six of Stich’s 18 tour-level titles, plus the Grand Slam Cup, came on home soil and at every German event at the time, on every surface. He clearly relished playing at home. 

His debut appearance in the ATP World Championships, however, painted a vastly different picture. As the reigning Wimbledon champion, Stich experienced a baptism of fire playing at home on a big stage in 1991 as he failed to win a set against Sampras, his Wimbledon final victim Becker, or Andre Agassi.

“Obviously for me winning at Wimbledon and winning on all four surfaces, I was so looking forward to playing in this great arena in Frankfurt, but it turned out to be a disaster from my point of view,” Stich said. “It wasn’t a good first Masters that I played. It was an experience that made me understand how to play in my home country and react to the German fans. It was not a good experience sporting wise, but it developed my personality.”

There would be ample opportunity through the late 1980s and 1990s to compete on home soil. But it took those three convincing defeats in Frankfurt on debut to learn how to cope with such expectations of a tennis-mad nation as Germany, so used to a wealth of success.

Frankfurt, 1993

“I learned to understand that everyone in Germany wanted me to do well, but when [I wasn’t] so emotionally involved and I didn’t play well, they were frustrated on my behalf as they wanted to me to do well,” Stich said. “Once I learned that… I really understood how the German crowd works and I used it to my advantage, but it took the 1991 year-end championships for me to realise.”

For 10 years Germany hosted the ATP World Championships – now the Nitto ATP Finals – as both Becker (twice) and Stich channelled this pressure at home into success in Frankfurt before the event moved to Hanover after six years. While competing in such heady days for German tennis, Stich admitted it was not always an easy relationship with such expectant fans.

“Boris and I had different kinds of fan bases, from different backgrounds,” Stich said of playing in Germany. “I think that I had great fans and I had a lot of appreciation within the fan base and media, but it’s always the same. 

“If there is someone who was the first, who had great success before, like Steffi or Boris, or Michael Schumacher in Formula One, even with Sebastian Vettel as a four-time F1 champion, there is always Michael Schumacher. I won all the tournaments in Germany, I felt comfortable playing at home. Maybe I could have had more respect, but I was very lucky to play at that time and be a part of a great German tennis era.”

Nitto ATP Finals 50th Anniversary Content

  • The Other Rock Stars Of Madison Square Garden
  • Tom Gorman’s Remarkable Sportsmanship Resonates 48 Years On
  • Djokovic’s Shanghai Reality Check Fuelled His Finale Success
  • Stan Smith: From First Masters Champ To Boot Camp…
  • At Madison Square Garden, ‘Ivan Was The Truth’
  • Two Years To Rule Them All: Hewitt Soars In Sydney And Shanghai

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Caruso Ends Felix's Season In Sofia

  • Posted: Nov 11, 2020

Salvatore Caruso earned one of the biggest wins of his career on Wednesday, upsetting second seed Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4, 6-4 to reach the Sofia Open quarter-finals.

“Felix is a great champion,” Caruso said of the World No. 21. “For me it’s a really good win and it’s just something I will bring with me. This season is almost over, but of course for the next one as well.”

The 27-year-old Italian is into his second ATP Tour quarter-final. His first came in Umag last year. At that event, he defeated then-World No. 14 Borna Coric. In Sofia, he saved all six break points he faced to beat Canadian star Auger-Aliassime.

“I think I played a really solid match. My serve was very solid today, I got a lot of points when my first serve was in. I was feeling very confident with my serve, but also with my strokes from the baseline. I think that was the difference,” Caruso said. “I didn’t make many mistakes on the court.”

Auger-Aliassime’s season ends with a 23-19 record. He reached three ATP Tour finals (Rotterdam, Marseille, Cologne).

Caruso will next play former World No. 7 Richard Gasquet, who eased past #NextGenATP Czech Jonas Forejtek 6-4, 6-2. The Frenchman is pursuing his first ATP Tour title since ‘s-Hertogenbosch in 2018.

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Melzer/Roger-Vasselin One Win From Qualifying For London

  • Posted: Nov 11, 2020

Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin defeated Jonny O’Mara and Ken Skupski 6-4, 6-2 on Wednesday at the Sofia Open to move within one win of qualifying for the Nitto ATP Finals.

The top seeds knew at the beginning of the week they could guarantee their spot at the season finale by reaching the final, and now they are into the Sofia semi-finals without losing a set.


The other team competing for the final doubles spot at The O2 is Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski, the second seeds. For the Brits to qualify for London, they must win the title and Melzer/Roger Vasselin must lose in the semi-finals. Murray and Skupski defeated Radu Albot and Artem Sitak 6-4, 6-2 in their quarter-final.

Melzer and Roger-Vasselin will next play Tomislav Brkic and Marin Cilic, who eliminated Nikola Cacic and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi 7-6(4), 7-6(3).

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Musetti Magic, Alcaraz's Ascent Top #NextGenATP Stories Of 2020

  • Posted: Nov 11, 2020

It has been another impressive year for the #NextGenATP, who made their mark both before and after the COVID-19 pandemic suspended play for more than five months. looks back at some of the #NextGenATP highlights of 2020.

Musetti’s Magic In Rome
Jannik Sinner seized the #NextGenATP spotlight by triumphing in Milan one year ago. The teen continued on his upwards trajectory this year, cracking the Top 50 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. But another #NextGenATP Italian made a big splash in 2020, too.

Lorenzo Musetti entered the Internazionali BNL d’Italia as the World No. 249, and he lost a set in two of his three qualifying matches. But once in the main draw, the 18-year-old showed why he is a star in the making.

Musetti upset former Top 5 stars Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori in back-to-back matches to reach the third round. It wasn’t just that he won, but he only lost 13 total games across the two matches.

“This kid’s backhand is incredible!” former World No. 1 Jim Courier, who broadcasted the Wawrinka match for Tennis Channel, said of Musetti.

The Italian lost in the third round against Dominik Koepfer, but he used the Rome ATP Masters 1000 event to step into the spotlight, and he has carried that momentum ever since, winning his first ATP Challenger Tour title in Forli and reaching his maiden ATP Tour semi-final in Sardinia.

Alcaraz’s Rio Marathon & More
Carlos Alcaraz first announced himself in February before his 17th birthday, defeating Albert Ramos-Vinolas 7-6(2), 4-6, 7-6(2) in a three-hour, 37-minute marathon at the Rio Open presented by Claro.

“I will remember Rio forever,” Alcaraz said. “I am very happy to win my first ATP Tour match. This has been the longest and most intense match I’ve played so far. There were quite difficult conditions, but if you have the right attitude, the conditions don’t matter. You can achieve anything.”

The Spaniard’s win against Ramos-Vinolas came in his tour-level debut, which finished at 3:00 a.m. That match showed fans Alcaraz’s potential, and he has continued to improve under the tutelage of former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero.

In October, at the age of 17 years and five months, Alcaraz became the youngest player to lift ATP Challenger Tour trophies in consecutive weeks and the second-youngest to claim three titles in Challenger history. Only Richard Gasquet was younger (16 years, 10 months) when he triumphed for the third time in Napoli in 2003.

Seyboth Wild Breaks Through
Thiago Seyboth Wild will forever remember 2020. The Brazilian captured his first ATP Tour title at the Chile Dove Men+Care Open. He battled past established clay-courter Casper Ruud 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 in the final.

“It’s an incredible achievement,” Seyboth Wild said. “It’s something I’ve always dreamed about.”

Seyboth Wild, who was 19 at the time, became the youngest Brazilian titlist in ATP Tour history and the youngest champion during the Golden Swing since an 18-year-old Rafael Nadal prevailed in Acapulco in 2005. 

Seyboth Wild was the season’s lowest-ranked winner at World No. 182 as well as the youngest tour-level champion at 19 years, 11 months.

Gaston’s Moment In The Paris Sun
#NextGenATP Hugo Gaston arrived at Roland Garros without a tour-level win and his best result on the ATP Challenger Tour was reaching a semi-final. But the Frenchman, who turned 20 just before the tournament, went on a memorable run on the terre battue.

Gaston beat countryman Maxime Janvier and Japanese lefty Yoshihito Nishioka to reach the third round. It was there that his creative, drop shot-heavy game came to the forefront against Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss star won Roland Garros in 2015, but it was the young Frenchman who stormed through the fifth set to reach the fourth round.

World No. 239, Gaston became the lowest-ranked player in the last 16 at the clay-court major since World No. 283 Arnaud Di Pasquale in 2002. He also was the last Frenchman remaining. Gaston fell just short in the fourth round in a memorable five-setter against two-time finalist Dominic Thiem. But the 20-year-old showed that he plays an entertaining brand of tennis that fans will want to watch for years to come.


Korda Catches Fire
The surname ‘Korda’ re-entered the tennis dialogue after the ATP Tour’s restart as Sebastian Korda, son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda, made his mark. ‘Sebi’ qualified for the Western & Southern Open and pushed Denis Shapovalov in a fun four-setter in the first round of the US Open.

But the American kicked it up a notch at Roland Garros, where he qualified. Korda beat veterans Andreas Seppi and John Isner to reach the third round of the main draw, in which he defeated Spaniard Pedro Martinez. The 20-year-old, who had never won a tour-level match before the tournament, became the first qualifier to reach the Round of 16 at Roland Garros in nine years.

Next up was Korda’s idol: Rafael Nadal. The legendary lefty means so much to Korda that he has a cat named Rafa. Nadal only lost four games against the American, but it was a match Korda will never forget.

“It was definitely the best moment of my life,” said Korda, who asked Nadal for a signed shirt. “It was super awesome.”

Korda maintained his momentum by winning his first ATP Challenger Tour title in Eckental, Germany.

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Sinner Moves Safely Into Sofia Quarter-finals

  • Posted: Nov 11, 2020

Jannik Sinner powered his way into his fourth tour-level quarter-final of the season on Wednesday by defeating lucky loser Marc-Andrea Huesler of Switzerland 6-3, 6-4 in 78 minutes at the Sofia Open.

The 19-year-old Italian broke once in each set — at 4-3 in the first set and at 3-3 in the second set — for his 16th match win of the season. He lost just five of his first-service points (32/37) and now takes on sixth-seeded Australian Alex de Minaur. It will be a repeat of the 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals, which Sinner won 12 months ago.


“He’s a very solid player, moving very fast,” said Sinner, looking ahead to the De Minaur quarter-final. “I think he, for sure, improved a lot. He improved and I improved. It’s going to be a completely different match from last year at the Next Gen [ATP Finals].

“He’s going to change something for sure, maybe me as well. I still have to prepare how to play against him. But the basic plan is always the same: try to serve well, try to [make] him move, playing deep. Those are the basics and then you have a little bit it depends which opponent you play. For sure it’s the toughest match so far here for me. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

Sinner reached his first Grand Sam championship quarter-final last month at Roland Garros, where he became the youngest major quarter-finalist since 18-year-old Bernard Tomic at 2011 Wimbledon.

De Minaur

De Minaur saved six of eight break points to beat qualifier Aslan Karatsev of Russia 6-4, 7-6(5) in one hour and 51 minutes. The 21-year-old, who reached the European Open final in Antwerp (l. to Humbert) last month, recovered from 3-5 down in the second set and saved two set points at 4-5, 15/40.

“I’m obviously very happy with the win today against a very, very tough opponent,” said De Minaur. “It was an incredibly tricky match and I’m very happy I was able to get the win and have a good, positive start to my Sofia Open.”

Fifth-seeded Frenchman Adrian Mannarino recorded his 13th match win of the season to overcome Egor Gerasimov of Belarus 6-4, 7-6(6) in one hour and 47 minutes and now challenges Moldovan Radu Albot, who beat top-seeded Canadian Denis Shapovalov in the second round on Tuesday.

Sixth-seeded Australian John Millman dug deep to beat Gilles Simon of France 7-5, 6-7(3), 6-2 in three hours and 15 minutes. Millman recovered from 2-4 down in the first set and could not convert two match points at 6-5 in in the second set. The 31-year-old captured his first ATP Tour title at the Astana Open in Nur-Sultan (d. Mannarino) on 1 November. He now faces Canada’s Vasek Pospisil.

“I feel tired now,” said Millman. “I’ve played with Gilles in Sydney before and hit with him a lot. He is so physical and hard to hit winners against. You know you’re going to be in a bit of a war against him. Gilles uses pace so well and you need to be patient. He feeds off people overplaying and he is so good at closing the court up.”

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Want Serving Advice From John Isner?

  • Posted: Nov 11, 2020

Have you ever dreamed of having a serve like John Isner’s? Now’s your chance to learn from the man himself.

The Nitto ATP Finals is conducting an Ultimate Prize Draw in support of Cancer Research UK, the tournament’s official charity partner. One of the four prize packages is ‘Acing Cancer’, featuring a one-on-one ZOOM serving Masterclass with Isner, a former Nitto ATP Finals competitor and winner of 15 ATP Tour titles.


Isner will review your personal serving footage and provide individualised advice to take your serve to the next level. According to the Infosys ATP Stats Leaderboard, Isner currently sits atop the all-time Serve Leaders list. The American is second in the career aces standings with 12,365.

The 35-year-old will also answer any questions you have in an open question-and-answer session, providing insight into a champion’s mindset and training routines.

The Ultimate Prize Draw concludes on 12 November. Priced at £10 per entry, all proceeds will go towards supporting the critical work of Cancer Research UK, which has seen fundraising heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Nitto ATP Finals Draw Set For Thursday

  • Posted: Nov 11, 2020

The Nitto ATP Finals draw will take place Thursday at 4:45 p.m. GMT on BBC Radio 5 Live’s ‘5 Live Drive’ featuring ATP Supervisor Gerry Armstrong and 1970 tournament champion Stan Smith.

The eight singles players will be drawn into Group Tokyo 1970 and Group London 2020. The singles field is set, featuring Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Andrey Rublev and Diego Schwartzman.

Seven of the eight doubles teams have qualified: Mate Pavic/Bruno Soares, Rajeev Ram/Joe Salisbury, Kevin Krawietz/Andreas Mies, Marcel Granollers/Horacio Zeballos, Wesley Koolhof/Nikola Mektic, John Peers/Michael Venus and Lukasz Kubot/Marcelo Melo. Either Jurgen Melzer/Edouard Roger-Vasselin or Jamie Murray/Neal Skupski will take the final spot this week.

The doubles draw will not be done until the final team is known. The eight tandems will be divided into Group Bob Bryan and Group Mike Bryan.

Play at The O2 will take place from 15-22 November. This is the 12th and final year that the Nitto ATP Finals will be played in London.

Here’s all you need to know about the Nitto ATP Finals: what is the schedule, where to watch, who has won and more. 

Established: 1970

Tournament Dates: 15-22 November 2020

Event Director: Adam Hogg

Official Draw: Thursday, 12 November at 4:45pm

Are You In? Subscribe To Get Tournament Updates In Your Inbox

* Group stages: Sunday 15 November – Friday 20 November, Semi-finals: Saturday, 21 November
  – Afternoon session: doubles at 12:00pm, singles not before 2:00pm
  – Evening session: doubles not before 6:00pm (5:45pm on Friday), singles not before 8:00pm
* Doubles final: Sunday, 22 November at 3:30pm
* Singles final: Sunday, 22 November not before 6:00pm

How To Watch
Watch Live On Tennis TV 
TV Schedule

Venue: The O2

Prize Money: US $5,700,000 

View Who Is Playing, Past Champions, Seeds, Points & Prize Money Breakdown

Honour Roll (Open Era)
Most Titles, Singles: Roger Federer (6)
Most Titles, Doubles: Peter Fleming, John McEnroe (7)
Last Home Champion: Andy Murray in 2016
Oldest Champion: Roger Federer, 30, in 2011
Youngest Champion: John McEnroe, 19, in 1978
Higest-Ranked Champion: No. 1 Ilie Nastase in 1973, Jimmy Connors in 1977, Bjorn Borg in 1979-80, John McEnroe in 1984, Ivan Lendl in 1985-87, Pete Sampras in 1994 & 1996-97, Lleyton Hewitt in 2002, Roger Federer in 2004 & 2006-07, Novak Djokovic in 2012 & 2014-15, Andy Murray in 2016
Lowest-Ranked Champion: No. 12 David Nalbandian in 2005
Most Match Wins: Roger Federer (59)

2019 Finals
Singles: [6] Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) d [5] Dominic Thiem (AUT) 67(6) 62 76(4)   Read & Watch
Doubles: [7] Pierre-Hugues Herbert / Nicolas Mahut d [5] Raven Klaasen (RSA) / Michael Venus (NZL) 63 64  Read & Watch 

Hashtag: #NittoATPFinals

Facebook: @ATPTour
Twitter: @atptour
Instagram: @atptour

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When McEnroe, Lendl, Connors & Borg Were The Rock Stars Of Madison Square Garden

  • Posted: Nov 11, 2020

The first Thursday of January 1978 forever shaped the future of the Masters, now called the Nitto ATP Finals. The 1977 year-end championships, taking place at the start of the following year, was at a new home: Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Ray Benton was the tournament director of the event, which was sponsored by Colgate at the time. There were two round-robin matches during the afternoon session, but those clashes lasted longer than expected. They did not finish until the widely anticipated evening session — slated for 7 p.m. — was supposed to begin. Guillermo Vilas, the 1977 US Open champion, was scheduled to play Jimmy Connors, whom he beat in that Forest Hills final, in the last match of the night.

“I remember going to the top floor of Madison Square Garden and looking out on Seventh Avenue and it was about 8 o’clock,” Benton recalled. “There were lines three blocks down the street because they were trying to get in.”

The Masters was not just a tennis tournament, but a spectacle. In its first year at ‘The World’s Most Famous Arena’, fans were already flocking to the action. Tickets were sold out well in advance, and a crowd of more than 18,500 packed the stands at the home of the NBA’s New York Knicks and the NHL’s New York Rangers. Fans roared as if they were at one of the rock concerts held at the same venue. Sports Illustrated’s Curry Kirkpatrick wrote: “It was one of those remarkable moments the sporting world comes up with every now and then when whatever game is being played is transcended by the emotion and suspense of the event.”

Who knew a tennis tournament could prove New York’s nickname — ‘The City That Never Sleeps’ — to be true. Newspaper reports from the time noted that Vilas’ 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 victory against Connors that evening didn’t come to a conclusion until 12:42 a.m. It was the moment the event needed to grab fans’ attention.

The Madison Square Garden era had begun.

* * *
Benton, who ran the Masters at MSG for eight years, was convinced that the tournament had to be moved from December to January to avoid losing viewership because of American football. There was a gap in the playoffs before the Super Bowl, allowing for an event like the Masters to take centre stage. “We were literally the biggest show that week,” he said. The other vital move was to give the event a permanent home to establish a presence.

Benton remembers visiting Madison Square Garden in the summer of 1977.

“They really wanted the event because they realised having it the week we planned it was a big deal,” Benton said. “We went in an elevator downstairs and they said, ‘This is where we do our corporate entertaining’ right before the elevator door opened. They opened the door and I was looking into the butts of three elephants. They were having the circus there at the time.”

Ivan Lendl
Photo Credit: Jacqueline Duvoisin/Sports Illustrated
In some ways, the Masters became an athletic circus with a wide cast of characters competing, from John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors to Vitas Gerulaitis and Bjorn Borg. Ivan Lendl dominated the event in New York City, reaching the final in nine consecutive year.

“Playing in front of close to 19,000 spectators in New York City each winter, and some of the most influential people in various industries, made for an electric atmosphere. The enormous scoreboard hung over the court and reduced the maximum height that you could hit a lob,” Lendl once wrote for “Cigarette smoke, at times, clouded the air. Fans were right on top of the court, cheering on their favourites, such as Connors, who had a terrific following at the Masters, or ‘Mr New York’, Gerulaitis, who was a massive personality. It was a daunting and intimidating arena with all its sporting history.

“Players came alive in that arena. Competing at the Masters was a very big deal. Along with your titles and your ranking, it was another benchmark achievement. It was never easy and you could never be confident of getting the win. Even today, when I visit the Garden, I can see people’s eyes are wide open.”

Lendl lifted the title five times during that span, dominating on the indoor hard court. There were plenty of memorable matches, but the moments were what made the event magical. Some were expected, some not so much.

John McEnroe
Photo Credit: Dan Farrell/NY Daily News Archive
Two-time Australian Open champion Johan Kriek remembers playing John McEnroe at Madison Square Garden in January 1984.

“He got so mad in that match that he swiped at the ground on the baseline really hard and he clipped [the court]. His racquet went flying out of his hands, and it happened to fly out of his hands when he was swiping towards the people behind him and the racquet started doing these catapults and was running up the stairs between the people for like 25 yards,” Kriek said, cracking a laugh. “It was hilarious. He was just looking in stunned disbelief that it happened. It was just the stupid stuff that happened [at Madison Square Garden that made it special].”

McEnroe won the match 6-4, 6-2, a straightforward score. But the entertainment was never lacking. In the American’s book, But Seriously, McEnroe recalled playing Guillermo Vilas in the semi-finals of the 1982 Masters, which was played in January 1983.

“I was at the changeover and someone started tapping me on my shoulder. I’m trying to ignore it, because that’s how you are in a match, but this guy’s going, ‘John, John.’ I’m about to tell him to get lost, but when I turn round, it’s Ronnie!”

Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones were there sitting in leather pants watching the match.

Another element that made the MSG era special was the number of players who were at home. New York crowds are raucous enough. With locals shining under the spotlight, that became even more apparent. McEnroe and close friend Gerulaitis were New Yorkers. Ivan Lendl, who bought a house in Connecticut — where he still lives today — would commute.

“I liked my own bed,” Lendl recently told Tim Henman in an interview for this year. “I liked my own cooking. I just didn’t like staying in New York City; it’s just too noisy for me.”

That atmosphere was normal for McEnroe. Those watching from afar might not know that Madison Square Garden sits atop Penn Station, New York City’s main public transportation hub. Passing through there was an everyday occurrence for the lefty according to his younger brother, 1989 Masters doubles champion Patrick McEnroe. John commuted to Trinity High School from their home in Douglaston, Queens.

“He used to get a hot dog at Nathan’s all the time,” Patrick said, referencing the fast food restaurant located across the street from MSG. “He had his regular stops for four years of high school.”

John McEnroe
Photo Credit: Getty Images
New Yorkers call MSG ‘The Mecca’. That’s where people of all ages have long congregated to watch their favourite local sports team or concert.

“Tennis was our life and tennis was our sport, but we grew up going to Rangers games and play-off games,” Patrick said. “Going there was a big deal. Obviously, we wanted those teams to be good, but as kids just going there and being part of it was a big part of our childhood.”

That made it even more special for John to be the focus of all the fans’ attention. McEnroe made a splash by defeating Arthur Ashe in a three-set epic to triumph at the 1978 Masters when he was only 19. The inimitable icon was a fixture at the event when it was held at MSG from then on, competing there nine times.

“It was pretty damn cool,” Patrick said. “At that time in tennis history, tennis was really a happening, and that event was a happening. It felt like a major.”

Bjorn Borg
Photo Credit: Walter Iooss Jr./Sports Illustrated
Some of McEnroe’s most memorable matches at Madison Square Garden came against Bjorn Borg, who defeated him in a final-set tie-break two years in a row en route to the trophy. In a stunning turn of events at the 1980 Masters, Borg was the one who had a meltdown on court, not McEnroe. Borg was disappointed in calls on the court. The stoic Swede admitted he was “very mad”. There were tonnes of pressure on players to succeed at MSG. They were not only playing tennis; they were performing with everyone watching.

Not everyone enjoyed success at the event, but simply getting to be part of it to soak in the atmosphere became a career goal for some. Former World No. 6 Jose Higueras remembers being motivated to dig deep because of the historic venue.

“I think it’s a highlight for any athlete because of the city and the history of Madison Square Garden. There were so many great events held there. Not only sports events, but concerts, it was the mecca to perform there in whatever you were doing,” said Higueras, who competed in the Masters at MSG three times. “When you hear Madison Square Garden, you feel something inside you because it has so much history. For me it was a great feeling and it doesn’t matter how much time goes by, it will always be one of my best feelings.”

Not everyone in the sports world will be familiar with Gerulaitis, but everyone has probably used some iteration of the phrase he coined off the cuff at Madison Square Garden after snapping a 16-match losing streak against Jimmy Connors at the 1979 Masters: “Let that be a lesson to you all. Nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row!”

Following the 1989 Masters, the event moved to Germany, with Boris Becker, Michael Stich and others making the country a tennis superpower. But many Madison Square Garden moments still resonate. Events from basketball and hockey to concerts and the circus have long been held at ‘The World’s Most Famous Arena’. In a way, the Masters, with the players who competed at the venue during that period, was all of those wrapped into one.

“It was a perfect storm,” Benton said. “In a good way.”

Nitto ATP Finals 50th Anniversary Content

  • Djokovic’s Shanghai Reality Check Fuelled His Finale Success
  • Stan Smith: From First Masters Champ To Boot Camp…
  • At Madison Square Garden, ‘Ivan Was The Truth’
  • Two Years To Rule Them All: Hewitt Soars In Sydney And Shanghai


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