Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Tennis, anyone?

This little girl exudes confidence and happiness.
Playing good tennis should begin at young age. That's when coach discovered potential talents. Young players were trained to be outgoing, discliplined, stayed focus, healthy, strong and remained confident and competitive.
The three surfaces of tennis courts for which competitive players must acquaint with:
        The hard court, the grass court, and the clay court.
What are you waiting for? The tennis courts are so inviting and available. Let's get some fun playing the sport. For well maintained tennis courts, flood lightings are an indispensable facility.

I discovered tennis playing was such a great fun when I was already in the 30s; I found the particular sports suitable for me. Apart from sweating it out under hot sun, the game also providing me the necessary exercise I needed so badly for my better health. Since tennis is considered an out door game, (unlike more popular games of badminton and squash) one could always expose to sunlight during the early morning and later afternoon time slots. Well, if it is raining, then there is always the indoor tennis stadium to continue the player’s zest of the game. But then not all sports clubs have indoor tennis courts in my country but most of them do have night tennis playing facilities viz. the lightings. Same thing goes among the tennis courts at apartments, and public sporting complexes run by city councils; there are lightings but few indoor tennis courts. Of course there are die-hard chaps like me who play in light drizzles and under scorching sun, so long there is a partner.

Cool and steady and seldom seen to be defiant, Swedish Bjorn Borg a.k.a. Iceberg was considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time, clinging 11 grand slam singles titles with his victories from 1974 to 1981 using wooden Donay rackets. In his retirement, Borg ventured into fashion business but failed miserably due to a bad partnership. However he had turned around and the business is now extremely successful in his country with his Bjorn Borg fashion label. Nowadays TV cameras of grand slam tournaments occasionally caught glimpses of Borg when he appeared as a spectator.
 That's okay; the rackets were sponsored by sports company. On the other hand that's not very nice, John. You broke their hearts too.
McEnroe kicked the cameraman's equipments as he thought that it was overcrowded at the court. A real terror fiend he was.
The notorious John McEnroe was no doubt a brilliant player, having won 7 grand slam singles titles. He was remembered most for his on court ethics like his outburst of  fiery temperament, his fighting spirit, his argument with umpires, his perennial problem with linesman's bad calls, and his ball and racket abuse etc. Many times it turned into a farce of a one man show, that is why the media called him 'Super Brag'. The spectators were at first amused and bemused but eventually most were pissed off with his unruly behaviour. Now in his 50s McEnroe appeared in many grand slam events as TV Sports commentator. Occasionally he gave off hand tips and coaching on air to young aspiring players.
The all-American blue blood flamboyant Jimmy Connors broke many tennis playing records during the 70s. He won 8 grand slam singles titles in his illustrious professional career.  This was his typical facial expression and body language when he won a point.
Ivan Lendl with his killer instinct, would not have quit tennis until he was demolished by 17 years old Michael Chan, though he stayed on till 1994. An 8 times grand slam singles title holder, Lendl now plays golf and is busy managing development of his daughters' golfing potential. Formerly a Czech, Lendl was granted US citizenship in 1992.
Michael Chan was the One Grand Slam Wonder kid who at 17 years crushed Ivan Lendl during the French Open final back in 1989. He remained the top 10 players for several years after that and peaked at No.2 spot. Michael Chan turned pro in 1988 and retired in 2003. He was known to be a devoted Christian and a role model for young citizens.

Foul tempered Russian Tatar tennis star Marat Safin slammed his racket to the floor in frustration after missing a short. Brilliant player Safin, a former world no. 1, was well known for his on court ethics. He still retains the record of breaking rackets in a single year, all 87 of them. Even John McEnroe would have sighed at his emotional outburst.
A tennis great, Pete Sampras won 14 grand slam singles titles in his distinguished career of 15 years. He retired graciously in 2002 when he was still world No.1 after beating Andrea Agassi in the US Open.

Tennis also inculcates comradeship among players, disregarding the age difference. It is comfortable and less strenuous to play doubles among friends and folks at club level, particularly among the older enthusiasts. The courts are relatively large so seldom one runs and bumps into one another, thus avoiding injury. I have always emphasized this to my tennis sparring partner sons about this. I was very upset when my elder son broke his right arm when he was a kid playing basketball. In later part of their life neither of them wanted to venture into football when they were growing up.

Chris Evert won 18 grand slam singles titles in her shining tennis playing career. She turned pro in 1972 and retired in 1989. She appeared at grand slam events as TV commentator occasionally; she was also a contributer to tennis magazines.
Ai Sugiyama never quit tennis, though she is known to have retired officially in 2009. She is still playing competitive tennis at age 36 years. The top Japanese lady  took part in few tournaments in 2010-2011 and obtained impressive results, entering semi-finals. Nowadays she is better known as a double woman tennis player.

Tennis was a noble and respectable sport until bad boys like John McEnroe, Ilie Nastase(They nicked name him Nasty Ilie), and flamboyant Jimmy Connor appeared at the scene. Three exemplary gentlemen players before them were John Newcombe, Arthur Ash and Bjorn Borg. Haughty McEnroe a.k.a. Super Brag was well known for his on court antics when losing a point, getting a bad call or having a dispute with the empire. He used to end up earning a warning from the empire and an eventual fine. Slamming his racket on the court, breaking it with his foot or hitting the balls into the spectators’ stand had always been the brazen displays of his tantrums.   Jimmy Connors did have his share of limelight being no. 1 for more than 5 years (268 weeks). Of course he also showed his unsavory behavior sometimes when he got upset in tournament matches. Connors was engaged to tennis female sensation Chris Evert but they went apart and the later eventually married John Lloyd, another famous tennis player, in 1979. Ice cool Bjorn Borg (Iceberg as they called him) was a fine, exemplary star that shook the world of tennis with his mastery of the sport and his unfazed ethics even in defeats. Ivan Lendl of the former Czechoslovakia was tennis great as he picked up grand slam titles one after another, 8 of them in all in the 80s. Lendl portrayed as one player with killer instinct and he possessed a real life assassin look. His tennis career was cut short as he was beaten by one grand slam wonder kid, 17 years old Michael Chan of The US  during the final of Paris Open in 1989.

The two Williams sisters dicussing strategy in a double match during the 2009 Australian Open. Together they won 12 grand slam doubles titles.  
Martina Navratilova won a record of 18 singles and 31 double titles in grand slams by the time she retired in 1999. She faced strong challenges from Steffi Graf before her retirement.
Serena Williams' trade mark release of her fury by rumbling loudly. As 13  grand slam singles titles holder, she had her glorious days. Due to some injuries and therefore eratic plays, her rank had dropped out of top ten. Update: Serena Williams won the 2013 French Open Ladies' Singles Title in the Summer month of June tournament; so far she had won 16 Grand Slams Singles Title.
Venus Willaims' last grand slam singles title was the 2008 Wimbledon. With 7 singles titles to her name, she also added the 2000 Olympics Gold Medal for female singles.

In later years, Mats Wilander, Jim Courier, Mark Philippoussis, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker, Pat Cash, Patrick Rafter had left their indelible marks in the arena of tennis. Pete Sampras, another tennis great who retired in 2002 with 14 grand slam singles titles. For lady greats, there were many. Billie Jean King was undoubtedly the most profound of them all with 12 grand slam singles titles to her name, and 16 more for double titles, during those early years using wooden rackets. She was also known as the founder of WTA – Women’s Tennis Association. Her male contemporaries during the 60s - 70s were Arthur Ash, Rod Laver and John Newcombe etc. Her fame was challenged or equaled with the emergence of Martina Navratilova into the world tennis scene. Navratilova has been considered the greatest woman tennis player of all time. She had got 18 grand slam single titles to her name astride 31 double titles in her decorated career before she retired in 1999. Navratilova tried few times to return to active tennis competitions but focused mainly on doubles. She faced strong challenge from Steffi Graf since 1980s and upon her retirement, Graff became the undisputed tennis queen with many brilliant starlets trying diligently to wrestle the coveted no.1 position to their names.

British's hope focussed on Andy Murray (He is actually Scottish) for a grand slam winner in many lost years. Murray lately had beaten Nadal, Federer and even Djokovic but then a grand slam singles title is still not in sight.
The Cocky Joker-Novak Djokovic remains world No.1 as the year comes to an end. The Serbian prodigy had won 4 grand slam singles titles, 2008 & 2011 Australian Open, 2011 Wimbledon, and the 2011 US Open. He is the player spectators love to hate as he is always mimicking other players' style in serving and positioning, making fun of them.
Spanish Bull Rafael Nadal had won 10 grand slam singles titles for which 6 were gained on French Open's clay courts. That earned him the coveted title : The King of Clay. Humble and gentle, just like Federer, he fought for every chance until match point. A left-hander and a  double hand back hand player, Nadal got his No.1 place taken away by Novak Djokovic as he struggled with his knee injuries in recent matches. Federer had confessed few times: Nadal is the one to beat, and a very tough one. He is reputed to be the youngest to win all surfaces in grand slams, and the 7th players to have achieved that. Nadal had in the past diligently played for his country Spain during the Davies cup tournament. He also won the 2008 Olympics male tennis singles gold medal.
Latest update: Nadal proves once again he is the King of Clay. In Summer June 2013, he secures his 8th French Open Grand Slam Singles Title, beating compatriot David Ferrer 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. He became the first man in history to win 8th Singles on the same Grand Slam tournament. 
An ice-cooled Swiss gentleman with 16 grand slam singles titles to his name, Roger Federer is till chasing for more grand slam titles, no plan for retirement yet. Though now ranked no. 3 he was coming back to his top form during the last few ATP tours. He had been nicknamed fondly as "FedEx" for his speed, accuracy and power. He is remarkable in excecuting single hand back hands.

Romance was in the air as former flamboyant bad boy Andre Agassi courted Steffi Graf successfully to a blissful union of two tennis greats of unprecedented excellence. The matching couple has now both retired comfortably with Graf busied over care of their offsprings while Agassi keeps himself occupied with the running of “Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy”, an institution of learning for less fortunate children founded by him. He avoided painstakingly using the word synonymous with his sporting career ‘tennis’ to name the school, as it was not meant to be a tennis academy.

Sexy Russian lass Anna Kournikova has a more successful career as a sensational model than a prominent tennis player. Now retired from tennis playing, she has a long term relationship with Spanish singer heart-throb Enrique Iglesias (They denied being married).
For Maria, French Open's clay court tournament is one that's elusive from her dream to capture championships for all surfaces.
Millions of US$ earned for endorsement on exclusive commencial products would have made Maria Sharapova a super wealthy woman without raising a tennis racket.
Serbian Jelena Jonkovic was former world no.1. As for grand slam, she had not make any breakthrough yet.
                               Watch my formidable single hand back hand returns!
Belgian Justine Henin was known for her lethal weapon in back hand when she returned shots to her opponents. Though aggressive and sharp with her mental alertness, she is gentle in her disposition. She won 7 grand slam singles titles. She had since retired.

More illustrious names needed to mention for their distinguished performances: Marat Safin, David Nalbandian, Tommy Haas, James Blake, David Ferrer, Nikolay Davydenko, Marcos Baghdatis, Mardy Fish, Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, John Isner, Thomas Berdych, Fernando Verdasco, Robin Soderling, Gael Monfills, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, had all carved their names in a cache filled with stars’ rated status.

Danish sweetie Caroline Wozniacki currently is ranked as world No.1 woman player. Unfortunately she has yet to win a grand slam singles title to herself. An excellent player on courts, she's cool and did not display any arrogance nor emotional outburst like many others.
Charmer Serbian Ana Ivanovic was an aggressive player when in her best form. She was the runner-up both in French Open in 2007 and Australian Open in 2008.
Belgian Kim Clijsters has got 3 grand slam singles titles to her name. She emerged from retirement 2009 after giving birth to a baby girl.

Tim Henman was the previous British tennis hope to win a grand slam title but he retired in 2007 without winning one. Now the British people cling to their feeble hope on fast rising star Andy Murray who had beaten in some events against Federer, Djokovic, and even Nadal, all ranked higher than him. With Djokovic’s injury prone, Federer fading away (but coming back strong and affirmative), Nadal’s facing problem with his knees, Murray could have all the edge to win a grand slam or two. Then again Spanish Bull Rafael Nadal is resting and nursing his knee injury, waiting to pounce as he faces a new career year; whilst ice-cooled Swiss gentleman Roger Federer is the come back kid with new strategy and perfect in-form physique to confront any hurdle coming his way. Joker Novak Djokovic remains no. 1 as the untamed wild horse with his relentless play style to knock out any challenger, trying his best to stay at the top a little bit longer.

China's answer to world class sports - Li Na. She won the French Open Singles in 2011
Pretty Zhen Jie used to play double with her team mate Peng Shuai. Currently she ventured into singles with some success but she had a long way to go.
Russian beauty Maria Sharapova won 24 WTA singles titles including 3 grand slam singles. She had been a US resident since 1994.

For the post Martina Navratilova/Chris Evert era, many astounding tennis prodigies emerged to stun the world of sports. Martina Higgins, Lindsay Davenport, Gabriela Sabatini,  Anna Kournikova, Mary Pierce, Amelie Mauresmo, Ai Sugiyama, Jennifer Capraiti, Monica Seles, Dinara Safina, Daniela Hantuchova, Anastasia Myskina, Eleana Dementiva, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Petra Kvitova, and the boisterous Italian Francesca Schiavone who was an impressive French Open Grand Slam winner in 2010. Three stars shone for China with their brilliant display of impeccable accuracy in services and fanciful strokes were Li Na, Zheng Jie and Peng Shuai. Li Na won the precious French Open singles title in 2011. Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, both former world no 1, had retired from active tennis. The two Williams sisters were best remembered for their outrageous on court outfits, especially Venus who designed the dresses. Serena had been fined and punished for her verbal abuse, threatening a lineswoman with scathing words during the semi final of 2009 US Open, while playing against Kim Clijsters. Somehow the controversial Williams sisters were great players, with Serena winning 13 grand slam singles titles and Venus 7 singles titles.

Amelie Mauresmo of France showed some promising feat but she retired in Dec 2009. She was Wimbledon singles title holder in 2006. Though she could be feminine, at times from a distance she looked like a handsome man.
See how I won that point convincingly, don't you agree? Francesca Schiavone of Italy gestured menancingly.

Or course we could not afford not to mention Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, and Caroline Wozniaki for their achievement in pursuing their glorified dreams. Sharapova had been known as the Shriek Queen of tennis as she unleashed high pitched, loud grump at every stroke when she played; it could be disturbing sometimes to her opponent as well as the spectators. Lately Sharapova’s ranking had been dipping; but then her endorsement on exclusive personal products made her a super rich lady. Sweet Danish lass Caroline Wozniacki had been no. 1 since 2010; however she abashedly was still running short of a grand slam singles title to her name.  Other big crowd pulling names in the women’s tennis circuit since 2010 onwards were Victoria Azarenka, Petra Kvitova, Samantha Stosur, Ana Ivanovic, Vera Zvonavera, Agnieszka Radwanska,  Marion Bartoli and much other potentials. Some of them are stunning beauties apart from being highly rated tennis stars; Ana Ivanovic, Maria Sharapova and Anna Kournikova are the three rare gems among them. On the other hand some of the lady-players look like he-men on the prowl; Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova always portray as intimidating, mean machines to annihilate their opponents relentlessly. 

Husband and wife kissed during a mixed double against Tim Henman and Kim Clijsters in a Wimbledon exhibition match.
Former no.1 Andrea Agassi retired in September 2006 after collecting  8 grand slam singles titles, won on all surfaces; it was no easy feat. He also won the Gold Medal for male tennis singles during the 1996 Olympics

Getting to know the players with their unique specialty will be fun and enlightening as one picks up the sport. It is most striking to see Roger Federer releasing dynamic power in executing his single back hand; for ladies, Justine Henin had the most lethal and effective weapon in her back hand return to dispose her opponents. Matches between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal were always action packed with lots of dramatic effects, sometimes even comical that culminated the spectators’ wild excitement into maddening frenzy. Playing tennis to such international acclaim requires metal toughness, in-form readiness, perfect physique condition, perseverance, stamina, and discipline; just like any other sport. Apart from that they have the natural flair to possess the eye-ball co-ordination and the ability to respond instantly, an added advantage. Anyway there is no easy way out to reach the top; one needs to work hard, very hard.

The world's most famous tennis academy which churned out champions like Sharapova, Monica Seles, Pete Sampras, Agassi and many more. It is situated in the state of Florida, US.
Participants celebrated at the end of their training stint at the Junior Tennis Academy, Jalan Duta, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

For those non-competitive players (I am one of them), just go out under the sun to enjoy a game or two. Most importantly I will say: Have a good time while keeping youself in superb shape and good health! Tennis, anyone?

Alan CY Kok


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