Power Shares Champions Shootout. Great event. Let me repeat – great event.
The format is brief, two one set semifinal singles followed by a one set final between the two semi winners. In this case Mac played Courier, Sampras played Blake – and then in the final the younger man beat the oldest man – that is James Blake had either more game or younger legs or both.
As regards my press pass, over the years I have been in the press room in Indian Wells, Flushing Meadows, and the SAP Open in San Jose. But somehow, perhaps because they are retired and under far less pressure, the guys were much more open and engaged than in those other venues. The interviews were long and thoughtful, and it even seemed like Pete and Mac were enjoying themselves (which in my experience has been rare).
Jim Courier was right on the mark with two excellent observations. First when asked about one of the best coaching tips he had ever received, he credited Jose Higueras with the following (which was one of the identical elements in my coursework on “The Art of Winnng.”
And following the unfortunate Davis Cup tie in San Diego where we lost to Britain, Courier also had this to say about the state of the global game and the fortunes of American tennis.
You probably know my fascination with the serve, with the commonalities between Pancho Gonzalez and Pete Sampras, and even the interview I published with one of his childhood coaches. See my podcast on Pete’s snap
I am always wondering how much of a difference coaches can or do make, and asked Pete about his experience and his own feel for the serve.
Pay special attention to his comments about the coaches picking the direction of the serve after he had tossed the ball. Wow.
Now to the tennis, and in particular the semifinal match between John McEnroe and Jim Courier.
Their games, even their techniques are a study in contrast. Where Courier is strong and muscular (his nickname for this event was “the Rock”), McEnroe whips the racquet and ball without seeming effort. No where is this more apparent than on their service motions
Pete had a bit of a sore shoulder and provided little resistance to James Blake, but equally 8 years does make a difference, Blake is 34 and Pete 42. But the real match to my eye was Courier (43 year old legs) against McEnroe (at 55 perhaps the best player at his age in the history of tennis).
The match showcased two entirely different styles of tennis. The big forehand vs the all court player. The banger against the artist. But let me digress. Ivan Lendl may have been the first player to truly dominate with the big modern forehand. In their rivalry, Mac remarked that he could rarely get his return of Ivan’s serve away from the deadly accurate forehand. But in many matches Lendl was comfortable keeping his backhand slice in play, waiting for the forehand but not always running around the backhand to hit the forehand stroke. In the next wave of players from Florida, Courier Agassi and others took this game to a new level, running around the backhand to punish opponents with forehand winners from all parts of the court.
But, and this is the key, those who run around their backhand are often giving up valuable real estate, and perhaps as one’s legs age, this tactic may be less useful.
Mac and Jim were on serve through 6 games, Mac dinking, slicing, finessing and more, and Jim stroking many forehand winners, and varying on his backhand wing with one handed underspin (rarely effective) and bold two fisted drives. At 3 all Courier surged ahead in the game, and held a break point. At this juncture McEnroe’s vile behavior (yes I said that) emerged, ranting, stalling, childish pique. Courier waited for the match to resume, and in the wink of an eye Mac held serve, broke Jim, and served out the set at love.
As regards McEnroe, Courier tweeted the following, “He’s the greatest 55 year old tennis player who has ever graced the earth” Jim Courier on John McEnroe to KUTV in Salt Lake City last week.
And Randy Becker, a good friend who has played with some of these guys had this to say about Mac’s game, “I feel the champions on the tour have a tough time playing Mac because he always covers the highest probable shot. Mac appears to fully understand the 78×27 rectangle,, especially his 50%. He gives up the lowest % shot, and often I have watched champions appear to change their shot selection based on where Mac is and what’s most open as a target.
Finally, Courier was asked about playing Mac, about the challenge Mac creates with his variety, his court positioning, and his net rushing skills. Jim said the game has changed so much with the players more and more on the baseline playing power topspin tennis, that it is unlikely that anyone again will play a version of the McEnroe style.
I for one, hope Jim is wrong on this score. What do you think?