wtc World Tennis Challenge 2012
The famous names will, of course, take the headlines and we’re thrilled to welcome back John McEnroe for a third consecutive year plus a raft of other inspirational returnees and newcomers.
On behalf of Tennis SA and the directors of the World Tennis Challenge (WTC), I would like to welcome you to what promises to be two wonderful weeks of tennis across South Australia. Quite simply, the 2012 WTC, with its stable of varied, innovative and distinctive events, will be bigger and better than ever before.
The celebrations however are about more than three nights of superb tennis and entertainment on Memorial Drive, as more than 2,000 people take part in the various forms of our Be Active Challenge. I am particularly delighted to welcome the six international teams who are here to contest the final of the biannual International Club Junior Challenge. We are proud to host a tournament aimed at promoting the spirit of the game and facilitating lasting friendships through sport.
Through the WTC we hope to showcase not only tennis in our state, but the countryside, culture and welcome South Australia has to offer. The WTC directors - Darren Cahill, Ali MacDonald, Roger Rasheed and Mark Woodforde - are all highly respected names in South Australian tennis. Tennis here owes them enormously for their vision in conceiving and presenting the WTC. Of course they could not do this without the help of our outstanding sponsors and army of volunteers. Everyone involved has our heartfelt thanks. I hope you all enjoy January in South Australia.
Within just three years, the Be Active and World Tennis Challenge has become a much anticipated part of January in South Australia. It heralds the start of the festival season in our state. The vast array of tennis activities brings many thousands of visitors to South Australia and generated over $4M in visitor expenditure last year. This year again, more than 15,000 spectators will be at Memorial Drive to see the legends and current stars in action and more than 2,000 people will ‘Be Active’ as they hit the courts themselves in one of the Be Active Challenge tennis events. The WTC offers a marvelous start to a new year and I congratulate the organisers on their promotion of tennis across the board, and the tourism and well-being benefits this brings.
It’s a big week for tennis in South Australia though there’s a lot more to it than just the just the famous faces on show. In fact, the range of events is quite extraordinary. Mac may be back but this time he’s one of a myriad of attractions to get you watching, enjoying and maybe even playing.
This is what a fanzine should be. Fanzines first appeared in the UK in the late 1970s. They were rough jobs, put together by hand, a typewriter and staples. More often that not it was the work of a few friends, one of whom’s father might have a photocopier at work on which they could run off a few hundred copies. Black and white when the boss wasn’t looking, colour when dad wasn’t. It was entrepreneurial, exciting and borne of a desire to tell a tale, home publishing before its time. It was getting fact, fiction and fun about your passions into the mainstream. Fanzines were mostly musical to start with, odes to
punk, metal and soul. It was about letting people know what you knew, then they’d truly understand.
Sedgman. And if you’re looking for inspiration, wheelchair star Ben Weekes is your man.
Let’s get to the glamour stuff first. This is how it works.
Then along came soccer and the audience broadened. Fanzines were sold in the pub before the match, and if your team had won, after too.
And when you’ve read it all, the quiz gives you the chance to take home some signed mementos to accompany the memories.
Tennis is a new frontier. But it’s a passion and that’s all that counts.
The 2012 WTC fanzine. From fans, for the fans.
Four teams - the Americas, Australia, Europe and an International offering - slug it out under floodlights at Memorial Drive over three consecutive nights from Tuesday 10 January.
The WTC fanzine is more than the standard offering. It’s innovative with a lot to say, it’s that bit different, just like the tournament really. It’s also a must have. The world’s two best coaches, Brad Gilbert and Darren Cahill, have their say inside, Pat Rafter too. There’s TA president Steve Healy, grand slam winner Paul McNamee plus a chat with grand slam collector Frank
Richard Llewelyn Evans
Editor and Publisher: Richard Evans, firstname.lastname@example.org Graphic Design: Joshua Osis, email@example.com and Lauren Lepore, firstname.lastname@example.org WTC photography: Chris Oaten, insightvisuals.com.au and Jacinta Oaten, jaypics.com.au
There’s a contemporary player and a golden oldie in each team. Everyone plays one singles match every night, like against like, and then they all pair up for the doubles where the vets showcase the skills that took them to the top while their younger partners do the hard slog. And when someone needs an extra breather, a little magician appears in the form of Mansour Bahrami. His big trick is that he’s
perhaps the least known of everyone here but come the end of the night, he’ll be the crowd favourite. Remember the name. And the WTC is anything but tennis trickery. Mac took out former foe Ivan Lendl last year with relative ease and no little satisfaction and this time it’s serious again. Brad Gilbert got under his skin as a player and Mac wants to win. Brad too. All the players do. Points add up and there’ll be a winning team on the final night. The Americas won last time out, Australia odds on this year. Fancy a daytime hit and that’ll be the Be Active Challenge, an open event that has attracted around 2,000 entrants and is played across Adelaide from 1 -15 January. It’s a chance to literally join in the week. The idea is to get more people up, out and playing and doing something enjoyable and beneficial. And it doesn’t stop. Anyone looking for a promotion or the chance to put one over a business rival can enter a team in the corporate challenge. There are premier and
social divisions and it’s great fun. If you win... Moving to the top in quality and the wheelchair challenge is a world class event. It’s Paralympic year and many of the world’s best men and ladies will be oncourt to establish their place in the pecking order of what is an International Tennis Federation sanctioned event. Finally, there are the juniors with teams from every continent fighting it out in the finals of the International Club Challenge, a bi-annual event for boys and girls, 16 and under. Thirty-seven countries set out to claim the crown, there’ll be one winner only and it’ll be this week. Don’t miss out. Then there’s the hot shots, money tournaments and more. Nowhere in the world is there a better place to be for tennis this week. All details at worldtennischallenge.com
This is how it was. Television in Australia wasn’t great in 1977. Channels were few, quality equally hard to find. Channel Seven televised the VFL Grand Final live in Melbourne for the first time and, perhaps spurred on by its success, splashed out $1M to win the domestic rights to screen the upcoming Moscow Olympics. The Sullivans, 12 months old, steady and nostalgic, was emblematic of much mundanity. Then along came Roots. Arthur Haley’s generational voyage of discovery and evaluation hit the headlines and the ratings to become the most watched show of the decade. It brought a different perspective and asked questions. Who we were, who others were, how we all came together.
And nowhere was the melting pot bubbling away more than in New York City. NYC had everything. Glamour and glitz, fashion, Studio 54, Andy Warhol, punk, disco and decibels, Kojak, public strikes, violence, the summer of Sam, New York Yankees, the twin towers, Manhattan and more. And in a suburb of Queens, there was John McEnroe, amateur and an unknown. A student still, pre university even. No-one bothered with him before Wimbledon that year. Playing, and winning, on grass courts sat side by side, he surged through the tournament qualifiers and seared a hole through the main draw, his temperament first drawing public notice in the last eight dismissal of Aussie Phil Dent. Jimmy Connors saw the 18-year-old off in the semis but Mac had arrived.
Connors, from Americas mid west and a great player, left little cultural legacy, a pudding bowl haircut the lasting image.
There comes a stage when the seniors circuit replicates the happenings of the professional tour some 20 years before.
Mac meanwhile, became America’s enduring export, his personality and outlook honed by the New York of the ‘70s.
Boris Becker took away Johnny Mac’s crown at Wimbledon, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras rubber stamped it into the turf.
Sure, there were TV shows aplenty but the window into real American life, and real Americans, was minimal.
When Mac looks across the net at Patrick Rafter this week, he may reflect on such pointers and parallels.
The tennis stars heading to Wimbledon every northern summer gave us just that. We saw them recognized them, cheered for them and then forgot about them for another year.
Mac and Pat never played each other in their pro days. Sure, they’ve faced each other many times since but the age gap is 13 years, the senior statesman and the youngest legend out there, white hair v dark.
Connors was chubby and brought a sneer but nothing new. Mac was different, an original, a movie star but without the barriers and with a perceived accessibility and equity. Our perceptions of Mac have remained worryingly stable, but 35 years on, remain they do. Crucially, for an entire generation, he defined a view of America. It wasn’t entirely accurate, Mac is a New Yorker first and foremost, his relevance to St Louis, Dallas or Detroit far removed. But like Arthur Haley, he caused us to really think. I don’t know the next highest ranking program was after the award winning Roots in the 1970’s, but it would be no surprise to see the name McEnroe somewhere in the credits.
Not that Pat is counting on a withering of the American through age. “He’s certainly lost a lot of that movement but you can see how good a player he was. I would’ve hated to play him on the pro tour. “He was a very balanced player and when he got to the ball his shots were fantastic,” says the man on his way back to peak conditioning after a recent bout of shoulder reconstruction. “Of course I hope I beat him, I don’t go there to lose. I try and train a couple of times a week to stay fit.” Yet the clash of the former US Open champions, Pat a two-time winner while Mac bagged four, may not be as volatile as some might hope for. As Davis Cup captain, an explosion geared at the umpire and caught on the small screen as Australia went down to Switzerland last September, caught the headlines and, momentarily, challenged the long held acceptance of Rafter as the most decent of men. “I’m generally okay about I’m portrayed in the press. I’ve had a very good run with the media until the Davis Cup and my little outburst. “I probably overreacted in some way. Be honest and respect people, that’s what’s required.” Frustration with the responsibility as Davis Cup captain, may well have been to the fore. “It’s a very important and wide ranging role. I’d certainly love to have the players all the year round. The Davis Cup is also about helping develop those players to be as good as they can be.”
This, of course, is just a part of Pat. Family man, charity donator and, unusually for a Queenslander, an Aussie Rules fan and player. “I had one season, I’ve not done it since. I love running around and I was wanting to play a contact sport. It was less confronting than rugby and I had that competitive edge.” Then there’s the comedy, of sorts. Click on YouTube and you’ll see a suited Roger Federer, with racket and ball, hitting a can straight off the head of a crew member from 10 metres. Accompanying this William Tell moment, is a clip of Pat, in underpants, attempting the same. “I hit the guy,” he laughs. “It’s a one in 20 shot, it depends on how you are hitting that day.” However he hits this week, everyone at Memorial Drive will be all the better for it.
Glance at Mansour Bahrami on court and the comic genius of the little magician is all to the fore. You can’t take your eyes off his shots, his set ups, the fact that every ridiculous shot he’s trying is actually coming off. There’s the serve with five, six balls, or is it more, in his hand. Then the ungainly pretend miss and hit, and best of all, the straight up shot high into the night air that lands, miraculously and seamlessly into an extended and open pocket. It’s quality entertainment and it doesn’t happen by chance. The act is polished, the show almost Chaplinesque in nature. In fact, the Charlie Chaplin analogy isn’t a bad way to start. They’re both small (though Mansour at 5’10” is taller than he seems), the oversized moustache comparison clearly can’t be ignored, they’re both emigrees who found fame in a distant land and, as the consummate entertainers, they’re always up against it. The Great Depression and establishment had it in for Charlie and the cinema goers always knew whose side they were on. With Mansour there’s always the fierceness of a John McEnroe or rocket serving Ivan Lendl snarling across the net. Who to root for? Easy... And like Mac and Ivan, the ability to do what you want on court is the product of a long, hard slog for the 55-year-old Iranian. Mansour was always a fan of the game growing up in Tehran but the lack of a chance to pick up a racquet led him to practise with frying pans, sticks or even just his mitts. Anything to hand.
It worked, Mansour has credited his ability to compose and master his many moves through these early learnings. But while his game was starting to come together on court, off court the 1979 uprising in Iran put paid to his long term sporting hopes (he’d made the Davis Cup team by this stage) and Mansour upped and fled to Paris. It wasn’t the best start as he lost his lifetime’s savings in the casino but friends and a determination to make it, saw him pull through to the extent that he made the 1989 French Open doubles final. No great shakes as a singles player, he lost more than he won, but the seniors circuit was made for Mansour and his partnership with Henri Leconte, in particular, has proved eventful and enduring. If you haven’t seen him play before, you may not even know the name. When you finally leave tonight, he’s the one player you won’t forget.
Loyalty weighs highly with Ali MacDonald. Roots, friendships and a passion for the sport of his choice count for an awful lot. It was 2007 when the Tennis SA chief executive took a career changing call from the national bosses. The South Australian hardcourt championships he was told, the world’s longest running tennis tournament after Wimbledon, was no more. The gleaming new facilities of Queensland had stolen their show and the future of tennis in Adelaide was looking bleak.
Maybe it was luck or fate but the man with a doctorate in organisational psychology put his thinking cap on and, in conjunction with South Australian tennis royalty Darren Cahill, Roger Rasheed and Mark Woodforde, a fightback and future was hatched.
no more potential sponsors in town left to approach, they’d all been asked to join in, some successfully, some not.
The World Tennis Challenge (WTC), an ode to past glories and the vitality and youth of today’s game, is more than a window to the past and present. It’s a standard bearer and rallying cry for tennis players and aficionados of all degrees of interest. South Australia desperately needs a showcase and Darren, Roger, Mark and Ali, knew that.
Which is not to say he can’t step up to the plate in playing terms too. A university tennis scholarship in Texas was the potential springboard to a professional career but his world ranking peaked in July 1997, just short of the very top level.
The big name WTC directors were blue chip player recruiters, grand slam collectors galore, and glamour, glitz and hope flooded en mass to Memorial Drive. But it didn’t happen without the man in the background, the unknown director, the fifth Beatle in effect. The other directors did the travel and the talk but Ali, in Adelaide, got it off the ground through determination and persistence to a point where he almost had
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Money, mechanics, television, trivia, the team led by Ali covered the lot.
A stint with management consultants PKF followed before the vocational call to lead tennis in South Australia and the prestigious award of ‘SA Adminstrator of the Year’ in 2011. He still plays regularly, Trinity Gardens the chief beneficiary, non tennis time spent at home with wife Janie and their young children. The lesser known director still, but the one on the ground. And the one who, day in and day out, really counts.
Andy Murray was stumped. “I don’t know where he’s watching my matches, but he is watching because he’s been messaging me,” the world number three said during his Wimbledon warm-up last year. “He’s in Vegas, I know that, but I don’t know what he’s watching it on.” Which sums up Adelaide’s Darren Cahill almost perfectly. There’s a mystery about Darren, a semblance of being everywhere at once, all seeing and all doing, always hitting the spot without always being on it. The roots lie perhaps geographically, where in sporting outlook and achievement, Australia has always punched above its weight. Quite simply, its had to. To succeed in international tennis, Aussies have always had to get up and out to prove their worth. January aside, no-one really comes here. Head west young man, for fame and fortune goes the adage, and Killer as he‘s known, has done just that. Of sporting royalty - dad John coached Port Adelaide and Collingwood footy clubs Darren’s pro career was derailed by a knee injury at just 25 and curtailed finally three years later when the body couldn’t support the comeback. Ten years now in Las Vegas, as coach to Andre Agassi and latterly as part of the Adidas set-up where he has helped out the likes of Andy Murray, Fernando Verdasco and Ana Ivanovic. That’s two world number ones and two top tens in the previous sentence and a formidable cv.
Where in such analysis lies much. “Lots of Aussie coaches travel to America in October and November to learn new techniques from other sports. They can get isolated so keep doing overseas trips and theywork out the new techniques over there. “There’s a lot to be learned from jumping on a plane even to make a difference of one percent.” The outlook was there, probably always, next the luck. “I fell into coaching when I was 25. I had this young kid knocking on my door who was 11 or 12 and asked me if I could hit a few balls with him.” Darren knew a talent when he saw one and a few years on Lleyton Hewitt was world number one. Then there was Andre Agassi, an even greater talent, but on his way down. Again Killer took him to the top. Stunning achievements both but the coaching technique and modus operandi is neither apparent nor hidden.
This is as good a deconstruction as any.
Even from another outstanding coach, the iconic Brad Gilbert, a great friend and commentary colleague on ESPN television.
“I was late getting into tennis and I played football until I was 16. It’s a very difficult sport to play but over the last 30 or 40 years things have got a lot better.”
“While Brad and I think about tennis in the same way way we have different ways of expressing it,” says Darren. “Brad has a great tennis mind and tennis brain. What you
hear with us talking on ESPN is what you would hear if we were sat down chatting about it.” Insightful, but we’re still not getting the full picture. A couple of years Agassi’s brilliant autobiography ‘Open’ tailored a very upbeat and incisive silhouette of Killer. A fair depiction? “It’s not really for me to say, that’s how Andre saw me. I enjoyed the read, he could write four or five books about his experiences.” OK. What about putting Murray out of his misery then? “ESPN3.com is an online TV channel in Vegas and you get regular AFL matches on it. ESPN2 showed the Grand Final.” TV tennis is easy after that, one presumes. Finding footy on American television is no mean task. But its blend of roots and the cosmopolitan speaks volumes.
1959, Wiesbaden, Queens, Irish, self made dad, school in Manhattan, podgy, sporting, soccer, a natural, play not practice, Hopman comes to town, moving up, winning, school friends, amateur, Holden Caulfield?, achiever, unknown, brother Patrick, 18, Wimbledon qualies to semis, fame, hairband, Maxply, Stanford, individual, team player, doubles genius, US Open, out of Wimbledon, media frenzy, 1980, dad’s white sunhat, tie-break, loss, pride, 1981 finally, tabloids, serious, superbrat, superstar, more slams, Borg opts out, devastation, Tacchini, Tatum, French farce, Wimbledon, rage, perfection, unloved, unplayable, the man, slimmed down, seven slams, Fleming, guitar hero, lost, coke, taking a break, making it back, art, kids, Patty, Davis Cup, respect, television analyst, more respect, more kids, seniors, keeping it going, WTC hat-trick, 35 years in the spotlight, establishment, bloody good.
The clown prince of tennis, and former world number five player, Henri remains a perennial crowd favourite, not least in Adelaide where, with Mansour Bahrami, he is the act many fans look forward to most. Bahrami isn’t the only partner he’s had who’s that bit different. Ivan Lendl, Yannick Noah (French Open winners together) and Ilie Nastase have all shared the same side of the net. A lover of women, Henri’s had three wives (consecutive and not concurrent) and wine, the flamboyant Frenchman tells a great tale about an Adelaide InterContinental hotel incident. A glass or two of red induced, the naked Henri took an early morning trip to the loo. Mistaking the main door for the ensuite, he found himself alone in the corridor as the door locked behind him. The sole preserver of his modesty, he says, was a nearby ubiquitous ‘do not disturb’ sign, a disguise that enabled him to catch the lift down to reception whereupon his furtive whistlings caught the attention of a, male, guest who came to the rescue.
To say it’s been a tough but rewarding career path for the 32 year-old from Yonkers, NYC, would be positively libelous to one of the more remarkable people on the tennis circuit.
A double fault without doubt, but thanks to Henri’s panache, the default was never in question. A class act.
Six years ago he was the fourth best player in the world, his on court acceleration and blistering forehand testament to the energy and force he puts into his game. He’s slipped since but is now on the rise, fighting back. Again. The story of his life really.
Michael is becoming something of an institution in South Australia. The more he wins, it seems, the smaller his wardrobe gets.
Think about this. James began playing when he was five. Eight years later, he found he had severe scoliosis, the only cure a back brace to be worn every waking moment.
The winner of the last Adelaide International in 2008, the Parisian promptly honoured a bet, stripped down and took a dip in the river Torrens.
That didn’t stop him. Harvard was next, then some modeling, more tennis and a first rate pro career. A great Davis Cup competitor, he’s had more comebacks than Lazarus and has been a best selling author, player power promoter and outed as one of the ‘sexiest men alive’ by People Magazine in 2007.
And it wasn’t his first time in the drink. On clinching the doubles crown at the Australian Open in 2007, Michael and partner Fabrice Santoro did an impromptu on-court warm down literally gaving away the shoes off their feet. And everything else too, just a pair of white briefs remaining in Michael’s case.
Then there’s his charity work for cancer and upwards of $2.5M raised to-date. A top guy, James.
Last year’s WTC final night saw much the same with the 31-year-old’s ever dwindling attire picking up 100,000 YouTube hits almost instantly. Even Mac was impressed enough to follow suit. A leftie, an outstanding doubles player, a serve and volleyer, all flicks and finesse and with a growing reputation for extra curricular antics. Where’ve we heard that before?
One cool character and an undoubted star in the making. He’ll be rocking up with Rafter in the doubles but that’s not to say Pat will have more idea than anyone else at Memorial Drive as to what the man from the Ukraine will do next.
Stan who? Well, ‘the second best player in Switzerland’ may not sound the best epithet ever but it disguises much, not least that with the best player in his country, a certain Roger Federer, Stanislas took gold in the doubles at the Beijing Olympics.
Dolgopolov does everything quickly, his forehand can be venomous and his backhand is all over the place, one handed, two handed, slice or spin. He’s agile (mum was a gymnast) and rally driving, he says, would have been an alternate career of choice.
He’s also the only player in the draw here to have beaten Fed, on clay in Monte Carlo. He’s good on the red stuff, junior winner at Roland Garros in 2003.
Almost everything about him is unorthodox and always has been. He grew up traveling on the pro tour where his dad was a coach and would regularly knock up with grand slam winners like Andre Agassi and Jim Courier and Thomas Muster when he was just four-years-old. His coach is the unconventional South Australian Jack Reader.
He’s also good in Oz and the man who ended Australian Davis Cup dreams last September when he saw off Lleyton Hewitt in a two day marathon. Anyone who’d read up would have known no-one outlasts Stan. As a qualifier in the 2005 Barcelona Open, rain delays meant he started late in the week but caught up quickly, winning two qualifiers and his first round match on the same day. Brad Gilbert doesn’t debate. He knows his own mind and talks straight.
His website has a section called ‘Ou est Stan?’ A man who flies economy except on the big hauls, the site tracks his travels and matches.
‘It’s better to win ugly than lose pretty,’ is the maxim behind his life as much as his tennis.
Comfortable in the world’s top 20 and a man who’s truly starting to make his mark.
He’s 23, top 20, and looking to go much higher. His blond ponytail may be his trademark but best of all, his nickname is ’Dog’. Dog is the new black. Dog is the man.
You may not know him but you’ll recognise him straightaway.
People like Pat and for good reason.
A curriculum vitae to die for - he hit a high of four in the world rankings as a player, a feat easily surpassed as a coach when he took Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick to the top spot and multiple grand slams.
The man from outback Queensland hit the big 40 on 28 December and in that time there’s not much he hasn’t done.
He’s just turned 50-years-old, wears lots of black and wrap around shades, and is a music maniac with Metallica and Foreigner among the bands of his choice (former charge Andy Murray would talk to Brad about anything but his music...). A top TV commentator and prolific tweeter, the sports nut from Oakland brings the very best of Californian innovation and eccentricity.
Australian of the year in 2002, two US Open wins and couple of Wimbledon finals give an illustration of his competence oncourt, and for one week only, the number one ranking too in July 1999. Not forgetting the Davis Cup captaincy today. He’s cosmopolitan too. A home in Bermuda, married in Fiji and a daughter called India.
Brad was in Adelaide last year to coach Kei Nishikori and liked the WTC so much he wanted to play this year.
The seventh of nine children and from a poor background, he gave half his US Open winnings to a children’s charity and remains a regular fundraiser. He’d watched his father put money into the church collection box each week and the philosophy stuck.
If Brad thinks he likes it, it must be good.
“We’ve got to give to people who are less fortunate,” he says. Nerves though got the better of him on meeting the Pope in 1999 when instead of asking for a blessing he mistakenly blurted out ‘bless you’ to his holiness.
It’s not just the famous or the flashy who’ll be flying into town this week. A raft of youngsters from six countries, survivors from an initial 37 entrants, will be competing to make their mark against their cosmopolitan contemporaries as the International Club (IC) Compass World Junior Challenge Finals gets under way. A daytime shoot out at the Next Generation courts on Memorial Drive, teams of four, two boys and girls each per country, will be the culmination of many months practice and matchplay but the backing and history is distinctively heavyweight. Former Wimbledon winner Frank Sedgman came up with the plan 15 years back to give young players some international matchplay.
Todays’s juniors may well be the adult members of tomorrow and McNamee is aware of the significance of hosting the finals of bi-annual tournament. “I spoke to WTC director Ali MacDonald about it in January and he said they were very happy to have it as part of the tennis festival.
“Sedge was the architect of it all and it’s great he’s coming,” says IC president and serial grand slam winner Paul McNamee.
“The WTC has made a significant contribution to the travel for the kids and are paying for accommodation in Adelaide. Compass (IC sponsor) has put money into getting the kids here and IC Australia has helped too.
“The original idea was to have a tournament for the juniors, to generate goodwill and friendship for people who love tennis. It’s about the spirit of the sport.”
“We’re positioning it as the trip of a lifetime for these kids. They’re the kids who would often miss out when when hoping to play for their countries.”
“They’re not necessarily the best players, we’re not targeting the best 16-year-olds in the country. It’s the next level and it’s important,” says McNamee who took on the presidency from his fellow Victorian Sedgman, 12 months ago.
As ever there is a formidable fusion of constants and newcomers in the background.
The adult version of the International Club was born in the early part of last century and set up as a fraternity for anyone who’d ever played in a grand slam, Davis Cup or Federation Cup tie. Counting such competitors is no easy task and McNamee says the current Australian membership of around 360 covers a span of some 70 years and a finite number may never be known. “We’re looking for more members and think there may be as many again out there.”
“We couldn’t have done this without Tennis SA and many others. Kit Spencer from Bahamas and Julian Tatum (UK) from the IC family are coming here for the finals and they have put a lot of effort into it.” A Saturday final day and then the kids are off to Kooyong and followed by a day at the Australian Open. Inspiration, friendships and fun will not be in short supply this week.
It was the day after Christmas 1952 and it had a been a good year for Frank Sedgman. A very good year. He’d picked up a title at all the slams in a 12 month blitz of the world tennis circuit, the doubles in Australia and then France, the crowning glory of Wimbledon singles a few weeks later, the same again at the US Open shortly after. The global rankings weren’t really there in those post days but there was no doubt the 25-year-old from Melbourne was the best player in the world. That day after Christmas, Frank was in Adelaide. It was holiday time and seasonably hot and he had just 72 hours left as an amateur player. It was the start of the Davis Cup final, Australia the holders, against the United States. The Davis Cup meant a lot back then, pride, identity, nationality. It mattered. You could see that in the crowds that thronged to Memorial Drive. Suburban back yards and beaches were brought together, radio the king as the exploits in Adelaide were relayed across the country. It really did matter.
The game’s evil entrepreneur, American Jack Kramer, had his sights on the Australia’s golden duo and this time Frank and Ken weren’t about to say no. Frank had almost gone a year or two earlier but with big conquests now all in the bag, it was time to think ahead. Players weren’t paid in those days. Sure there were underhand offerings, deals and schemes but the power was firmly in the hands of the authorities. Soon after the Davis Cup was retained, the boys sought out Sir Norman Brookes to break the news. Brookes had spoken publicly of Frank as something of a surrogate son, his tennis heir. This time player power took a seismic leap and the Lawn Tennis Association Australia’s (LTAA) grip on the game took a severe knock. “He didn’t like it,” recalls Frank. “He never spoke to me again.” It was time to get out but the public fascination with the new professionals was intense and largely supportive, the Taylor and Burton of the moment. The public understood the need to make a living. Frank’s wife, Jean, remembers the time well.
For many of the spectators who found their way to the final, it was a knee buckling, gut wrenching, swaying experience. Not so much the on court concerns - Frank and his doubles partner Ken McGregor saw off the Americans with relative ease - but the three giant temporary stands erected to minister for the masses were a sight to behold.
“We stayed in the Royal hotel, it was the hotel for Adelaide. Two days after the Davis Cup ended we were on the plane to America, we had two new year’s eves that year.”
Almost vertical, the stands housed 15,300 fans every day. They seemed to go ever up, the wind generated by a Sedgman serve enough almost to force a sideways move of several feet, the return of shot, if his opponent got to it, guaranteed a further swing in the opposite direction.
“I won my first Australian Open here,” Frank says. “We used to say it had better grass than Wimbledon.”
But it was all safe, no-one was reported hurt, they were great days out, health and safety dogma still a thing of the future. Today the same Memorial Drive holds just 5,000 people.
“When I was number one, I was driven. There’s not really any extra pressure, when you’re playing well you just take this along with you.”
Frank and Ken had other things on their minds though. For months there has been speculation that the world’s best doubles pairing was about to ditch tennis as most people knew it.
Sixty years since he won Wimbledon, Frank has accepted an invitation from the All England Club, to return there in June.
Frank has happy memories of Memorial Drive and was in the stands last year to watch McEnroe, Cash, Lendl et al.
Frank lost just three times in 1952, a feat to rival McEnroe’s 1984 or Djokovic last year.
He may longer be number one but class and dignity will always endure.
Try and imagine how much determination, focus and skill it takes to find yourself at the summit of any world sport. Then double it. And if you’re thinking about sports stars with a disability, you still won’t even come close. Ben Weekes trains six days a week, two hours at the crack of dawn, another two after the day job. That’s just the tennis quota, weights and so on are extra. It’s his 11th year on the tour, that takes some doing. But he’s good. He’s 13th the world, he’s been higher and is looking to crack the top 10 again. He’s also the best player in a wheelchair at tennis in this country. In fact, he’s phenomenal. But Ben’s not the only star. There’ll be another 31 athletes in the Be Active men’s singles draw and the same again in the women’s event. Most will play doubles too. And the standard throughout will be world class.
John McEnroe’s playing partner Peter Fleming was once famously asked who he thought made the best doubles pair in the world.
“Adelaide is part of the summer circuit,” says the 27-year-old Sydneysider. “It’s a warm up for the Australian Open.
His response was immediate. “McEnroe plus anyone else,” he said. Adelaide’s Ken McGregor will have appreciated the quip. In tandem with Frank Sedgman, Ken picked up seven grand slam titles before seeking his fortune in America, the impression to the unknowing perhaps, that he was the requisite on-court accompaniment. The man who the rules said had to be there, a forerunner to Peter Fleming. Any such snap judgement would be unfair on the multi talented sportsman with a winning Davis Cup record, a US Open mixed doubles crown he clearly picked up without Frank, and not forgetting his 1952 Australian Open singles triumph. But at heart the much travelled, handsome, lanky South Australian was true to his roots. Tennis was one thing, but when it mattered, Ken McGregor was a footballer. Heading to America, ironically, allowed him to become one. “What he really wanted to do was go back to Adelaide and play football,” says Sedgman of the 1953, 100 match professional tour across the United States with his doubles partner. The money was good, Sedgman picked up a $100,000 advance from promoter Jack Kramer, McGregor much less, but still a significant sum.
That said, they earned it. Matches three times a week, Los Angeles to New York, Toronto and Montreal, then all the way down the east coast. Inland next and the mid west, small town America. “We travelled in a station wagon,” says Sedgman simply. “My wife Jean, Ken and me. Kramer was in the other other station wagon.” Good times though. “Ken would always sing, ‘How much is that doggie in the window’ when it came on the car radio,” recalls Jean Sedgman.
Martin, Mickey Rooney. Ginger Rogers had a tennis court there.” McGregor meanwhile was pining for home. And football.
Much, remembers Jean, was surreal.
The year ended, he packed up and headed back. Three Grand Finals for West Adelaide in the number four guernsey followed, the ability to transform from a non contact to the ultimate combative sports offering, a testament to his strength of mind as much as body.
“We noticed the biggest change in Las Vegas. The Riviera hotel in Palm Springs too, a lot of famous people went there to play at coach Charlie Farrell’s. All the Hollywood stars were there, Debbie Reynolds, Dean
Ken died in 2007. The popularity of an annual charity fund raiser in his honour during the WTC is on 12th Jan this year - the Ken McGregor Luncheon - remains a fitting tribute to one of South Australia’s great sportsmen.
Crowds were good, three or four thousand each night, Kramer, Sedgman, McGregor and Pancho Segura the same players every time, but it didn’t matter.
“The quality will be very good as this is Paralympic year. The tournaments are really full, all the players are trying to get their ranking down.” The world’s top 48 get the bus to London in July with another 16 wildcards, the rest are heading nowhere. It’s brutal but then Ben’s used to that. A blood clot on his spine at 13 put paid to more conventional sporting glory, and life, but Ben hasn’t taken part in the past two Paralympics for no reason. “Some players were born with their disability and are used to the wheelchair. It took me a lot longer to get used to the change.
“I played tennis before the injury. I had two years of rehab, my physio wanted me to play sport again.” It’s difficult to imagine any of these athletes engage in self pity - indeed Ben has immersed himself in visualization psychology in the past few years, thinking through likely on-court scenarios - but the real shame of the game is that more people don’t see it. “At the Australian Open we play on the outside courts. People are wandering around and a lot stop and get interested in it. There isn’t really a lot in the media but recognition is getting better, the people who see us really love it.” And it’s really not that different. Clay and grass are played on while the plexicushion surface at Memorial Drive, mirrored in
Melbourne, is an ideal base says Ben. “Your shoulders and forearms feel it the most, where you’re pushing down on chair. Hard courts are the easiest for that. We do grip the wheels tight as we can.” Indeed the wheelchairs are a work of art and science, the two main wheels arching outwards, a further small, triangular set facilitating an abrasive darting, stopping and starting. Tyre life is minimal. A power player with 22 tournaments under his belt in 2011, Ben is aiming to start the year with a blast in Adelaide, his coach Jaslyn Hewitt adding a local angle and support. Make the effort to catch them this week and you’ll be a fan too. Wheelchair tennis runs Tuesday to Friday. Don’t miss out.
Andre Agassi called him the best coach in the world. He was the catalyst for John McEnroe’s hiatus from the pro game in 1986. He’s an Olympic medallist and reached number four in the world singles rankings. And he’s here this week, in Adelaide.
England). The first time I came to England in 1982, unlike most Americans, I figured the game out.”
But Brad Gilbert says he hasn’t a proper game of tennis for the past 17 years.
“I got tickets from a contact so I rocked up wearing jeans.” Wrong choice. “I had to go and sit in the paddock area.”
“I’ve only played one set since 1995 when I retired. That was against Michael Chang in 2004 (he won 6-4).” Though the author of the best selling playing manual, ‘Winning Ugly’, didn’t get to the top by being anything less than rock solid psychologically. And realistic. “I hope to be competitive, not pitiful. I’m still in pretty good shape. I’m going to train in December. My son is a lefty and I’lll practise with him a bit.” This mix of the familiar and unknown will extend, unusually, to the other legends hitting the courts this week. “I’ve never played (Henri) Leconte. It’s bizarre, we hardly ever came up in same section of the draw.” There was just the one match against Pat Rafter too, a narrow win in Beijing in 1993.
Though not, perhaps, all its finer points, as he headed for the VIP lounge.
His attention to detail remains meticulous elsewhere, a snapshot of the originality and quirks that make the man and count. “You know what gets me about Adelaide? Why is it on the half hour?”
Steve Healy, the President of Tennis Australia, has a busier January than most but will be here for the WTC and the chance to see one of his heroes in action. “The WTC is the fun side of tennis ... Be Active is a fantastic participation event ... Bahrami’s a genius... what he does with a racket and ball is incredible... Leconte is fantastic... coming through juniors in the mid ‘70s, the Borg era was great and then along came Mac ... I would travel a million miles to watch Mac ... Ken McGregor lunch was fantastic last year ... great to hear Mac speak ... so interesting and articulate ... hard to bet against Djorkovic for the Open ... Nadal has always been able to play his way... now he has to do something different in his game ... Murray still needs to win a grand slam ... Sam Stosur can win the Open ... the monkey’s off her back now... to win against Serena on 9/11 in New York was immense ... so much pressure ... when Sam is in form she’s capable of winning any event ... I’m still in contact with (former Tennis Australia president) Geoff Pollard... we grew up in Sydney’s northern suburbs ... he was the best player and district champion ... I took over from him ... none of past presidents are shy of giving their views.”
McEnroe, as ever, is different. “Mac did own me,” Brad says, with a 1-13 record you wouldn’t think to be the alchemy of a long standing emnity. “”McEnroe and I have never been exactly what you’d call best friends,” said Brad nearly 20 years ago. “I guess that can happen when two people don’t like each other.” The past though is another country. “We work together at the Open. We get on fine now and went out last year for a few beers.” So why the playing comeback? “Because Killer (WTC director Darren Cahill) called and asked me. He’s one of my best mates. I thought I’d give it a whirl.” Brad was here last year as coach to Kei Nishikori, the warm and buzzing atmosphere a fond memory and pull. Though, as you’d expect from the 50-year-old Californian known to follow his own path, his stay was less formulaic than others. “Kei was sick in the hotel so I went to the 20/20 cricket at the Oval (Australia and
You’ll get about 38 strings on the standard tennis racquet. Throw in the nine WTC players and that’s around 350 wires plus. But that’s just the start. Bass, lead, rhythm and more will be adding to the strings on show this week, only this time they’re musical. It all kicks off with a dose of the blues on Tuesday with Adelaide’s Soundworks who’ll play a set, including players’ requests, at Memorial Drive before the tennis takes over. Wednesday Night will be a jazzy affair with the Lyndon Gray Trio while the WTC plans to end with a bang on rock night as Soundworks pump up the volume. Who’s tuned their strings to the best effect? Only you can tell. Memorial Drive - Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights.