By Bill Simons
‘TALLYHO’ FOR TIAFOE: A year ago, Frances Tiafoe was a highly-hyped US prospect at the French Open who practiced with Nadal in front of cameras and lost in junior play on a back court. Now, after reaching the finals in a Tallahassee challenger, the Junior Tennis Champions Center product won the Har-Tru Wildcard Challenge to gain entry into Roland Garros. The seventeen-year old, who has turned pro, will be the first player born in 1998 to play in a major.
Years ago, when Tiafoe’s father, who is from Sierra Leone, became the janitor at the JTCC, his son had to sleep overnight in a small, closet-like storage room at the center. Tiafoe’s tale brings to mind the backstory of Pancho Segura, whose dad was a caretaker at Ecuador’s most exclusive tennis club; Arthur Ashe, whose dad was a caretaker of the public court and park in front of their Virginia house; and David Ferrer, whose coach locked him up in a shed to discipline him as a boy.
THE BOXING CONNECTION: Boxing and tennis have long been compared. It’s you vs. me baby in the ring and on the court—by ourselves, relying on our wits. It’s international. There are no excuses. Foot speed, timing, guts, stamina and a knockout punch help. John McEnroe once wrote that tennis is “an unforgiving, sometimes brutal, sport … It is like being undressed in public and about as lonely as boxing. At least in boxing, if you freeze, some guy will … pop you and put you out of your misery. In tennis, there is no escape.” Boxer Tex Cobb was more succinct. “If you screw up in tennis,” he said, “It’s 15-love. If you screw up in boxing, it’s your ass, darlin’.”
Caroline Wozniacki used boxing as part of her training, Lennox Lewis is a big tennis fan, and Sugar Ray Leonard was a good player. Andy Murray, a huge boxing enthusiast, has said the stylish Federer is like Sugar Ray; the ferocious powerful, relentless Nadal is like Manny Pacauiao; Djokovic and Roberto Duran are “as tough and versatile as they come,” and Floyd Mayweather is like himself—and Murray’s favorite to watch.
“Thank you sir, at the top of the stands. We’re trying to play tennis here.”—The ever-intense ump Marija Čičak, in Miami.
“I didn’t want to go to Russia.”—Andrea Petkovic, on why she dug deep to fight back and win a match in Charleston.
“Why do people keep looking forward to the next event when it means you will never enjoy the now?”—Wimbledon junior champ Noah Rubin.
“It’s more about the player than the coach … I never needed a former champion to be my coach.” —Rafa Nadal
“O Rafa, Rafa! Wherefore art thou, Rafa?”—Marine Coroller, on Twitter.
“I find it very interesting to play tennis. It’s like running your own business.”—Roger Federer
“It’s too bad they can’t build a roof over Munich and collect the water and ship it to California. It would make everyone happier.”—Daily Tennis
“I can’t beat guys consistently playing like I’m 5’10.”—6’10” John Isner
“As soon as it [a loss in Charleston] was over, I definitely had a bit of anger, but also kind of this confusion-slash-quest, to find what’s wrong, like this kind of searching feeling that, ‘OK, I know something … something’s not right. So I want to find it.'”—Wimbledon finalist Genie Bouchard, currently suffering a wretched slump.
“She’s like the Daniel Nestor of the women’s tour.”—Pam Shriver, about 41-year-old veteran doubles specialist Lisa Raymond.
“April 30: one of the saddest dates in tennis history. Always think of what should have been for Monica Seles.“—Christopher Clarey, recalling the 1993 stabbing of the great star.
HINGIS’S HOT YEAR: In her day, Martina Navratilova hesitated a long time before retiring. She won the US Open mixed doubles title when she was almost 50. Amazing! The other Martina—Hingis, that is—is sort of doing the same. This year she’s on an incredible roll in doubles. Almost 20 years after her first Grand Slam, and almost a decade since her last Slam title, Hingis won a major in January when she teamed with Leander Paes to take the Aussie Open mixed doubles crown. In women’s doubles, the 34-year-old, who is now ranked No. 4, won in Indian Wells, Miami and Charleston with Sania Mirza, and in Brisbane with Sabine Lisicki.
A GOOD DEBATE: College tennis already has a great circus-like feel, with six matches sometimes going on simultaneously. Now schools are debating just how rowdy crowds are allowed to be.