BEST OF THE BEST: Inside Tennis asked a quartet of stars what players had the best strokes they’ve ever faced. Here’s what they said:
Serve: John Inser
Forehand: Juan Martin del Potro
Backhand: Novak Djokovic
Volley: Stefan Edberg
Speed/anticipation: Bjorn Borg
Mental toughness: Rafa Nadal
First Serve – Venus and Serena Williams and Lindsay Davenport
Second Serve – Serena
Forehand – Stephanie Graf
Backhand – Martina Hingis and Chrissie Evert
Return of Serve – Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, Serena Williams
Volley – Martina Navratilova
Anticipation – “Anticipation, absolutely Martina Hingis. She could just feel where you were going to hit the ball.”
Speed – “I would have to say it’s between Martina Navratilova and Serena Williams.”
Mental Toughness – Serena Williams
Best player you ever played – “Any of them who have won multiple Grand Slam titles fit into that category because they all have that It Factor.”
Serve: Reilly Opelka – “He’s very tough.”
Forehand: Roger Federer
Backhand: Novak Djokovic
Volley: “Rafa has really good volleys.”
Speed and anticipation: Novak Djokovic
Mental toughness: Rafa. “He’s got that in spades.”
Serve: Reilly Opelka
Forehand: Matteo Berrettini
Backhand: Nikoloz Basilashvili
Return: Davide Goffin
Speed and anticipation: Alex De Minaur
Mental toughness: Rafa
KYRGIOS TO FANS – JUST SIT IN YOUR SEAT AND WATCH ME: When asked how fans should act during matches, Nick Krygios replied, “I just want people to know that they’re spectators. They have bought tickets to watch us play. At least don’t scream out before the first and second serve….I think it’s just this generation. Everyone feels like their opinion is valid. Like, when you’re a spectator…you should just be quiet…Don’t tell me how to play…Just sit in your seat and watch me play tennis. That’s it. Period…[Fans] think that they have some sort of right to scream out to players like they did with Osaka the other night. It affects people. We’re only human. We’re not some sort of super human with armor…I’m just asking for a little bit of respect.”
GO FIGURE: American favorites John Isner and Jack Sock are through to the men’s doubles final…No woman has defended the Indian Wells title since Martina Navratilova in 1991…An American woman hasn’t won Indian Wells since Serena in 2001…Nadal will play his fellow Spaniard, 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz, in their first hard court meeting ever. Carlos is the youngest Indian Wells semi-finalist since Andre Agassi in 1989, and it will be the first all-Spanish semi in Indian Wells history…French Open tournament director Amelie Mauresmo said she saw no reason that Novak Djokovic wouldn’t play Roland Garros…Benoit Paire hit three tweeners and a drop shot that bounced back on his side of the net in a win over Emilio Nava at the AZ Tennis Classic…Canada will replace Russia in the Davis Cup finals…Asia Muhammad, who was born in Long Beach and moved to Las Vegas as a youngster, and her partner Ena Shibahara are through to the women’s doubles final. Shibahara is from Rancho Palos Verdes. She starred at UCLA, represents Japan and lives in Mountain View…When he was a kid, Taylor Fritz got autographs from Andy Murray and Bernie Tomic.
MAKE SEMIS, NOT WAR: Andrey Rublev downed Grigor Dimitrov to win his 13th straight match and fourth Masters 1000 semi in a year. But he gained worldwide attention when he wrote “No War” on a camera lens just after Russia invaded Ukraine. It was a gutsy move for a 24-year-old who sort of comes across as a jock. When asked about the impact his gesture had had, he confided, “Before I wrote this on camera, I was receiving many bad messages…I was not even thinking how many people will see this or where it will go. I just wrote what I felt in that moment…Somehow it got over 22 million views. I think I was one of the first sportsmen in the world who said this. All the messages I started to receive, almost 100% of them were positive, ‘Thank you,’ stuff like that.”
Rublev was then asked about Britain’s government possibly requiring tennis players to repudiate the war in order to play Wimbledon. The Russian said that tennis and sports “should show a great example…[to] be outside of politics…We’re athletes. We want to compete. We were sacrificing so many things. We don’t see our family…We want to do our job, that’s it…I hope sports will show there’s no politics and we will be a good example.”
Andrey said it’s “terrible that’s what’s happening,” and added that he only watches a bit of the news: “I feel really bad for everyone.” While Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk said you don’t have to be into politics to know who invaded who, Rublev echoed Daniil Medvedev’s view that when you ask ten different people, you will get ten different views. Andrey noted, “You never know if [the news] is true or not.”
COURIER ON NADAL: About Nadal’s forehand, Jim Courier said, “We are in the perfect place to see that banana hook – there were vapors coming out of that one.” He said, “Part of Rafa’s genius is that he’s able to withstand the arhythmic parts…and then brings the rhythm when he has to.” Jim added, “Let’s enjoy this genius at work while we have him.”
FRITZ STILL FLYING: Fritz Taylor, who again this year is the last American left in the Indian Wells singles draw, prevailed today over Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic 7-6, 3-6, 6-1 to reach the semis, as he did here in October. He’s the first American to make the semis back to back since Andy Roddick in 2009. This was despite faltering in the first set tie-break and hitting an incredible three double faults midway through the second set. Fritz easily could have gone into a tailspin. When asked about the wretched game, Taylor joked, “What are you talking about? I don’t know what situation you’re talking about, honestly.” He added, “I’ve never done that in my life…I literally forgot how to play tennis for a game. I really could have easily let that bother me a lot…[but] I just tried to laugh it off and forget about it – kind of embarrassing.” Taylor faces Rublev in the semis. He’s played the Russian since they were juniors, and won their last meeting in Paris.
OF GYPSIES, SERENA AND PICKLEBALL – CATCHING UP WITH MONICA SELES: Eight-time Slam champion Monica Seles, who has been in Indian Wells for the tourney, said the player she most likes to watch is Serena, and she hopes Serena plays again. Currently, Maria Sakkari is a favorite, “because she grinds down on every ball…[And] Leylah Fernandez is one of my all-time favorites. She is so fabulous and goes for every ball. I’ve been rooting for her, as a lefty. She has a little bit of a Nadal style, so I hope she watches more of Nadal. As for the men, I would say the closest to my style is Nadal…I love to watch Novak play. He makes tennis look so easy – how he’s able to get back balls and counterattack…And obviously Roger – we can’t forget him. He’s a chess master. I truly hope all three will be back this year because what they are chasing is unreal.”
Monica told BNP Paribas radio, “I still enjoy hitting that yellow fuzzy ball,” and shared that she has also taken up pickleball. Of Hungarian heritage, Monica observed, “As a tennis player, you always have a little bit of a gypsy personality.” She added that she would love to play now because the season is shorter and the tour is more player oriented.
TENNIS CONTINUES TO GROW: In 2021, for the second straight year, tennis saw significant growth in both participation and equipment sales, according to a study by the Physical Activity Council (PAC). The study showed that more than 22.6 million people took to the courts last year, up one million players and up 4.5% from 2020. The Tennis Industry Association reported that last year racket sales were up 23% in total units and 46% in total dollars.
Craig Morris, the USTA’s Chief Executive for Community Tennis, said, “Many individuals turned to tennis during the pandemic, and it is incredibly encouraging to see that the sport was able to capitalize on this momentum.”
NO WTA SHOCK WINNER THIS YEAR: The Indian Wells women’s tourney has been won by breakout players three straight times recently. A young, shy Naomi Osaka won in 2018. Canadian Bianca Andreescu won in 2019, and Spaniard Paula Bedosa was the surprise winner just five months ago. But with only veterans Maria Sakkari and Iga Swiatek through to the finals, there will be no shock WTA winner this year.