New balls please?
Or shall I say – old balls?
The withdrawal of Nadal from Wimbledon had an unexpected side effect on me. I suddenly found myself reminiscing over the early naughties when the “new balls brigade” looked like they were ready to take over the baton from Sampragassi.
Seems like no one else misses those days, because the best image I could find of the campaign on google was teeeeeny. You can’t see their faces, but there were 12 of them. Apart from the obvious ones like Safin and Hewitt, have fun guessing the rest. Answers at the bottom.
So with Rafa out of the picture, Murray overhyped and Djokovic lurking quietly but ominously in his hole/quarter, through a process of elimination I’ve found myself rooting for old dogs. All of them, in their own ways, are fighting their way back from injuries and the outer-space.
Marat Safin‘s prematurely out of the picture. Given that it’s grass, I suppose it comes as no surprise to anyone. Move along now, nothing but heartbreak here for you.
Lleyton Hewitt – one of the early successes of the “New Balls” guys. Had Roger Federer never existed, Hewitt might’ve ended up with 4 or 5 slams and in retrospect, a much better player than he is generally regarded today. But of course, that’s the story of Andy Roddick’s career too.
I really don’t know how to call Hewitt’s next match against del Potro. Unibrow’s match against Clement was a perfect illustration of the sad truth that in tennis that size does matter, and Hewitt is like a Clement on rabbit legs. However you can’t ignore the fact that those rabbits legs got him 2 grand slams titles, two runner-up cookie trays and half a dozen semifinals. Despite not having the sort of monstrous serve like the Karlovics and del Potros of the tour, Lleyton Hewitt knows grass courts, he knows how to move on this surface, and treats five set tussles like his bread and butter. If he gets past Unibrow, his chances of making a decent run are very, very good.
Juan Carlos Ferrero – incidentally JCF was the last man not named Nadal to take a set off Roger Federer on grass. Seriously.
He had a fabulous straight sets victory over Youzhny, which, given that it’s on grass against a big flat hitting opponent, is a fantastic result. He claimed to be more motivated now than at the beginning of the year in his presser, hell – the guy’s aiming for the top 10 by the end of the year. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, because Ferrero’s next round opponent – Fabrice Santoro – has something in common with Rafael Nadal too. They both won a title on grass last year.
Andy Roddick – I’ve said before that I think ARod will be in the final again this year and I’m still sticking to that prediction.
There was a time when I really didn’t like Andy Roddick. I found his game one-dimensional, his attitude towards the linesmen and umpires on court a little off-putting; not to mention he gets mildly but infectiously cross-eyed at times, especially when you’re watching him past midnight in a sleep deprived daze.
But I’ve grown to like Andy over the years for his excellent work ethic. It can’t be easy to be this talented, yet living in an era of two absolute geniuses – Federer and Nadal, yet Roddick has handled it well. Whenever he’s looked like he was running out of gas, he has gone away, found himself a new coach, worked his butt off, and come burning back with shiploads of positive energy. I wish him luck.
But not too much luck.
Tommy Haas – another player I never liked much in his early years for reasons entirely unrelated to his tennis. At his best, Tommy Haas was (and still can be) dynamic, powerful and spectacular to watch. But he was plagued by the same problems as many others in the “new balls generation” – injuries, missed chances, Roger Federer, and a Safin-styled self-destructivism. Only in Haas’s case, Federer was less of a problem for him than say – Andy Roddick. Tommy Haas sees to have a unique ability to trouble the Fed, this much was clear from their matches right up to AO 2006. I had forgotten about this until the French Open, when he took two sets from Federer and a few years from my life expectancy.
His victory in Halle over Djokovic has added to people’s expectations of him at Wimbledon, which generally signals the oncoming of a Haas implosion. I hope I’m wrong. I do enjoy watching him play and admire his efforts to stay in the sport at the age of 31.
Roger Federer – it goes without saying, yet I say it anyway. DON’T YOU DARE LOSE AND DROP TO NO 3. DON’T YOU DARE! ARGH.
(I am so zen. Aren’t I?)
Answers: Stars of the “New balls please” campaign
- Gustavo Kuerten
- Lleyton Hewitt
- Jan-Michael Gambill
- Tommy Haas
- Juan Carlos Ferrero
- Nicolas Lapentti
- Mariano Zabaleta (WHO?)
- Roger Federer
- Marat Safin
- Andy Roddick
- Mark Philippoussis
- Magnus Norman
Where are they now? Kuerten and Gambill have both retired. Safin soon to follow. Magnus Norman is currently coaching Robin Soderling.
Mariano Zabaleta, according to Google Images, is HOT. But according Wiki, he’s a flop – now ranked outside the Top 1000 (yes, 1-0-0-0) and playing challengers. And Mark the Poo, I don’t even want to start on him.
But the rest are still hanging around, and endearingly so. I wish them luck, particularly at this Wimbledon. Go show’em, I say! New balls, old balls, it’s the size of the balls that counts.
A few more tidbits on my sudden trip down memory lane.
While I was trying to get a half decent image of the New Balls ads, I came across a few articles comparing the inadequacy of the ATP tour to the WTA at the time. Definitely made me feel a lot better about the state of women’s tennis right now. If men’s tennis could produce another leader out of the pack in a few short years, surely the next next big thing in women’s tennis is just around the corner?
Hidden insecurities, poor self-image: Freud wouldn’t have had much trouble with this one. Yes, sometimes an ad is just an ad, until you consider that ATP officials spent the last few years pooh-poohing the WTA’s preoccupation with form-fitting glamour and insisting that the men’s tour wanted nothing to do with such nonsense. NEW BALLS PLEASE is the ATP’s flag of surrender, an admission that the women’s healthy television ratings and buzz-creating magazine covers had created a classic case of Venus envy. Further, it’s not the only sign that the men are battling feelings of inadequacy.
Source: SI Vault
Pete Sampras circa 2000, on the future of ATP tennis
Asked to name a young player who might win several Grand Slam events and become a consistent No. 1, Sampras couldn’t. “I don’t see one guy dominating,” he said. Finally he said perhaps Kuerten, a two-time French Open winner who came to Flushing Meadows seemingly poised to win his first Grand Slam tournament on hard courts, could. “He’s maybe the one that stands out a little” Sampras said.
Overall, pro tennis is on an upswing. Both the men’s and women’s tours reported double-digit attendance increases at last year’s tournaments, and heartened by its Davis Cup coup, ESPN has added another 20 hours of tennis coverage to its 2000 schedule. But the men have been somewhat out-flashed by women players in recent years, with the Sanex WTA Tour successfully promoting players like Venus and Serena Williams, Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova. Not only have these young divas made the covers of major magazines like Sports Illustrated, GQ and Forbes, but they’re drawing droves of new fans to come watch them play.
“The men’s tour is mimicking what the women did to get attention,” says Joe Favorito, a spokesman for the United States Tennis Association. “People in the industry have liked the new campaign, but it has gotten some criticism, too. If anything, it has people talking, and that’s good for the game.”
Source: Tennis World’s New Cover Boys, from Salon
Golly, this is making me feel old and nostalgic.