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I SSUE 147 • APR/MAY 2010 • £3.50
Battling Brits
at the Fed Cup
Grass co...
A luxury
alpine break
ISSUE 145 • DEC/JAN 2010 • £3.50
Tennis girl COURT ETIQUETTE top tantrums Ben Ainslie schools coaching
why ...
s Rafael Nadal returns to the red courts
of Europe – a s...
‘I loved Steffi Graf when I was growing
up… I watched...
hen Serena Williams forfeited
her US Open semi-final to Kim
Clijsters following...
In Serena’s
n 14 May 2008 women’s...
Kim Clijsters
returned to the
tour to fi...
1n 3010, tennis fans who aren’t enjoying
the outcome of a...
tennis code
t he Modern guide to t he
When is it OK to ca...
ompetitive tennis has changed
beyond recognitio...
Most fearsome of all, he clutches a
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Ace Tennis magazine


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Ace Tennis magazine

  1. 1. NavalPaintFeetACETENNISISSUE147APR/MAY2010 I SSUE 147 • APR/MAY 2010 • £3.50 TENNIS Battling Brits at the Fed Cup Grass court preview Doubles masterclass Peter fleming shaky comebacks gavin rossdale tennis injuries Anne keothavong wonder women Stars of tennis, football and cricket swap sportstories Fighting spirit ‘Everything is getting better’ The rise and rise of Marin Cilic Rafael Nadal on pain, heartbreakand coming back from the brink Club Rackets tested WIN A week at a top coaching academy get the murray look T h e o ff i c i a l m a g a z i n e o f B r i t i s h T e n n i s Exclusive
  2. 2. LimeadeUnionACETENNIS 2009IN REVIEW WIN A luxury alpine break ISSUE145DEC/JAN2010 ISSUE 145 • DEC/JAN 2010 • £3.50 TENNIS Exclusive Ana Ivanovic on the pressure of performance Recession-proof your game In the kitchen with Keothavong Top rivalries Christmas cards Players’ homes Mats Wilander Orange Bowl Where it’s @ How Twitter is taking over tennis The PowerAnd the Glory ‘Quiet please!’ The great grunting debate The year’s greatest moments revealed
  3. 3. Tennis girl COURT ETIQUETTE top tantrums Ben Ainslie schools coaching LosingSmileACETENNIS SUPER WOMAN 108TENNIS TIPS why women’s tennis is still in serena’s shadow ‘Nice flannels, old chap’ Fleming and Skupski turn back the clock WIN A luxury tennis weekend ISSUE144OCT/NOV2009 ISSUE 144 • OCT/NOV 2009 • £3.50 TENNIS Tennis goes hip-hop Keothavong’s road to recovery Behind the scenes at the US Open Roddick’s return How the A-Rod got his groove back
  4. 4. ACE TENNIS APR/MAY 2010 APR/MAY 2010 ACE TENNIS 3534 RAFAEL NADAL s Rafael Nadal returns to the red courts of Europe – a sporting theatre which he’s dominated for much of his professional life – his continuing struggle with injury leaves many question marks hanging over his future. Much of his conversation is, understandably, dominated by reflections on how his surging tilt at supremacy had stuttered and then ground to a halt during a very difficult 2009. Now, with the same problems continuing into this year, many doubt that his battered body can ever regain the power and ferocity he could After the most difficult year of his life, Rafael Nadal speaks to ACE Tennis with the honesty and fighting spirit that could help him regain his supremacy WORDS DONALD MCRAE Illustration Hellovon HURTL O C K E R T H E
  5. 5. ACE TENNIS APR/MAY 2010 APR/MAY 2010 ACE TENNIS 4140 WOMEN IN SPORT ‘I loved Steffi Graf when I was growing up… I watched her all the time.’ There’s nothing unusual about that sentiment — except, perhaps, that this time it’s not being expressed by a tennis player. Steffi Graf, it turns out, was the childhood hero of Charlotte Edwards, captain of the England women’s cricket team. ‘Me too!’ says Faye White, Arsenal captain (and former captain of England). ‘Uh oh,’ says Anne Keothavong, the former British No.1 who has recently returned to tennis after six months off with injury. ‘Surely it’s Monica Seles every time?’ They may disagree over one of tennis’ greatest rivalries, but these three have more in common than you might expect from people involved in such different sports. When Charlotte, Faye and Anne embarked on their respective careers, most women’s sport (with the exception of tennis) was amateur and considered insignificant. Now, however, while women’s sports still lag behind their male the professionals They ply their trades in vastly different arenas, but these three women have one thing in common — they’re the first of a new breed of professional sportswomen. ACE Tennis listens in as they compare notes on their sporting lives WORDS Alexandra Willis Photography Hamish Brown
  6. 6. NETWORKING 45 DEC 2009/JAN 2010 ACE TENNIS hen Serena Williams forfeited her US Open semi-final to Kim Clijsters following a spectacular match-point meltdown, fans and journalists reached for their mobiles in anticipation. Were they expecting the then No.2 to call and explain her outburst? No, they were furiously logging on to the social networking site Twitter. Serena’s followers knew that the WTA Tour’s top tweeter would eventually surface to explain her actions in her own words, without the pressure of an assembly of journalists or the rigidity of a prepared statement. More than most sports, tennis has embraced the new frontier of social networking, giving fans unprecedented access to their heroes and providing players with a whole new way to get their point across. ACE Tennis joins the conversation... words charlotte james Illustration Army of Trolls
  7. 7. ACE TENNIS OCT/NOV 2009 4746 WOMEN’S TENNIS >> THE OTHERS OCT/NOV 2009 ACE TENNIS SHADOW In Serena’s n 14 May 2008 women’s tennis was hit by a bombshell. Without warning, the reigning No.1 and seven-time Grand Slam winner Justine Henin announced her immediate retirement from the sport. The real reasons for Henin’s withdrawal may never come to light, but her departure caused a rip in the fabric of the game from which it’s never fully recovered. When Henin went, women’s tennis didn’t just lose a champion, it also lost a player who used grace, elegant strokes and guile alongside sheer stroke power. As former great Billie Jean King put it: ‘Pound for pound [Henin was] the best tennis player of her generation.’ When she left it was as if the women’s game immediately lost a dimension. The return of Kim Clijsters to the tour in August was significant. After a two-year absence (during which time she gave birth to her daughter, Jada) the former world No.1 began her comeback in Cincinnati, beating three players ranked in the top 20 (including the French Open champion, Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova). Good as it was to have someone There are few players, with the exception of Kim Clijsters, who have challenged the dominance of Serena Williams. ACE Tennis investigates how a crisis has developed in the women’s game Words Simon Cambers Illustration Kat Heyes of Clijsters’s ability back on the courts, the fact that she defeated some of the world’s best players immediately upon her return seemed to be further confirmation of a serious underlying problem in the women’s game. Clijsters had been ranked No.4 when she left, so it was no disgrace for Marion Bartoli, Patty Schnyder and Kuznetsova to have been beaten by her. But it’s usual for a player to find that the game has moved on when they return after a significant break. This clearly wasn’t the case this time, as the game appeared to have been standing still in Clijsters’s absence. Tracy Austin, the former world No.1 and now a respected TV commentator, agrees. ‘There’s been almost no progression in two years,’ she says. ‘I’d like to know if the fact that there was no dominant No.1 played a part in Clijsters coming back. She must have looked at them and thought, “There’s no one I can’t beat.”’ And so it proved, when Clijsters sealed her comeback by snapping up the US Open title. Between Henin’s departure and Clijsters’s triumphant return, though, the women’s
  8. 8. ACE TENNIS OCT/NOV 2009 OCT/NOV 2009 ACE TENNIS 4948 WOMEN’S TENNIS >> THE OTHERS Kim Clijsters returned to the tour to find that little had changed game has been dominated by a single, towering figure: that of Serena Williams. This domination isn’t solely due to her near monopolisation of the Grand Slams, either. It’s also down to every pretender to her throne trying to emulate her playing style. When Serena and her big sister Venus first burst on the scene in the late 1990s, their brand of hard-hitting, fast-running ‘power tennis’ was a revelation. However, too many of the world’s coaches decided that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery and, as a result, the world of women’s tennis is now populated by double-fisted, screeching baseline bombers. The trouble is, none of them can pull this off with anything like the success of a Williams, so the game finds itself overrun with a field of also-rans who share an identical playing style. For contrast, look no further than the men’s game, where it seems that just about every player in the top 10 has an individual, recognisable style, making their matches and tournaments varied and exciting. The problem with women’s tennis goes deeper than just a lack of variety in playing styles, though. Where are the rivalries, the one thing that always brings in the fans? Brilliant players though the Williams sisters are, does anyone really care who wins when they play each other in a final? Steffi Graf, whose rivalries with Martina Navratilova, Monica Seles and Martina Hingis lit up the sport in the 1980s and 1990s, suggested at this year’s French Open that fans have to be able to identify with the players, know their history and their stories. ‘It always helps if you have a few names that people get used to,’ she said. ‘Fans enjoy their rivalries and like to live some of their dramas and their difficulties.’ But Stacey Allaster, the new CEO of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, believes the sisters are an asset. ‘They are incredible athletes, incredible people off the court and, as a brand, they are incredibly powerful in driving women’s tennis,’ she told ACE Tennis. ‘I know first hand that when they are in the house there is a different level of buzz and they are driving ticket sales. Their dominance in the game is a great story and they themselves are a fearsome rivalry. If Venus and Serena had different last names, what would be the difference between Venus v Serena and Roger v Rafa?’ Sony Ericsson injected $88 million into the WTA Tour when it came on board in 2005, and negotiations are under way to extend the deal which expires at the end of next year. It’s been suggested that, with the men’s game as strong as it’s been for a generation, women’s tennis is suffering by comparison. But Allaster believes that, overall, it’s in good shape. ‘We just go from strength to strength,’ she stated, ‘in particular in a challenging economic environment. Out of 51 tournaments, only one event lost a title sponsor. We continue to have a lot of interest from new promoters who want to invest in women’s tennis. We’ve actually added sponsors this year, which is a correlation with the product that is on the court.’ Despite Allaster’s protestations, though, no women’s Grand Slam final has gone to a deciding third set in three years. Surely this alone suggests a lack of competition in the women’s game? Although Clijsters says she doesn’t feel like a saviour, her return is a boost. A big loss, though, has been that of Maria Sharapova, who only now is regaining full fitness and match sharpness after serious injury. The Russian, who has won three Grand Slams, also adds an extra bit of glamour to the sport. ‘I think obviously the sport has missed Maria,’ Allaster admits. ‘We’re all excited to have her back. She is another great champion and adds a lot more to the depth of the product.’ So what has become of those players that many felt would take the game to a new level? The two Serbian contenders, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, have both suffered a startling loss of form in the past 12 months, while Dinara Safina sits somewhat uncomfortably at the top of the tree (despite the fact that she has yet to win a Grand Slam). As the Observer’s tennis correspondent Jon Henderson wrote before this year’s Wimbledon (prior to Clijsters’s comeback): ‘Serena and Venus are now surrounded in the top 10 by a bunch of east Europeans who are more front office than box office.’ The controversy that has been caused by Safina’s No.1 ranking hasn’t done the tour any favours. When Henin’s name and points were removed from the rankings (at her own request) the top position passed to Maria Sharapova, who occupied it for a mere three weeks before relinquishing it to the then 20-year-old Ana Ivanovic. This, it turned out, was just the beginning of a period of turmoil that has seen the women’s No.1 slot change hands eight times in less than two years. Safina may have lost three Grand Slam finals, tightening up horribly when close to the finishing line, but it’s hardly the Russian’s fault that the system rewards consistency, and has kept her in front of Serena Williams despite the American having won two of this year’s Grand Slams (taking her total to 11). If Serena played a full schedule, she would surely top the rankings; as she said in Rome this year: ‘We all know who the real No.1 is. Quite frankly, I’m the best in the world.’ There are young players coming through, though, such as recent US Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki and Melanie Oudin – fine players, with, apparently, character. But what none of them seem to have, though, is a unique way of playing. As the world-renowned coach Nick Bollettieri recently said, when asked about instilling different styles in his students: ‘To use different shots or come to the net, a girl has to be unusual. But the results would be slower and you’d have to get the parents to believe in it. She’d probably have to lose some before she could win… And who has time for that?’ And time, it would seem, is the problem. The longer that Serena dominates, the more that those who follow in her wake will attempt to emulate her methods which, in turn, will lead to more and more identikit players. Although the possibility of Henin making a Clijsters-style comeback seems remote, it’s clear that women’s tennis needs some new superheroes to make it the gripping edge-of-seat spectacle it once was. 14 May 2008 Justine Henin announces retirement 20 April 2009 Having had the mathematical opportunity to become No.1 on several occasions, Dinara Safina becomes the second Russian woman to be ranked No.1 in the world, and the third, after Kim Clijsters and Jankovic, to hold it without winning a Grand Slam title 8 June 2009 Maria Sharapova returns to the tour, reaching the semi-finals of the AEGON International in Edgbaston 10 August 2009 Kim Clijsters returns to the tour after a two-year absence. She reaches the quarter-finals at her first event back in Cincinnati 19 May 2008 Maria Sharapova takes over as world No.1, holding the top spot for three weeks 11 August 2008 Jelena Jankovic overtakes her compatriot on her third opportunity to reach No.1, but only manages to hold it for a week 13 September 2009 Clijsters wins the US Open, the first female wild card to win a Grand Slam singles title 18 August 2008 Despite being knocked out of Wimbledon early and missing the Olympics, Ivanovic regains the No.1 ranking 6 October 2008 Jankovic fights her way back to No.1 due to Serena’s inconsistent form post-Flushing Meadows and becomes the first woman to end the year as No.1 without having won a Grand Slam title 9 June 2008 Ana Ivanovic wins her maiden Grand Slam title at Roland Garros, and becomes the first Serb to hold the top spot 13 August 2008 After a poor summer, Maria Sharapova announces her enforced absence from the game due to a severe shoulder injury 8 September 2008 Serena Williams becomes No.1 in the world for the first time in five years after winning the US Open title. It’s the longest gap between spells at the top in the history of the game Ups and downs in the women’s game 2 February 2009 After winning her 10th Grand Slam title in Melbourne Park, Serena takes the No.1 ranking back 6 June 2009 Svetlana Kuznetsova wins the French Open 4 July 2009 Serena Williams wins Wimbledon We all know who the real No.1 is. Quite frankly, I’m the best in the world Ladies in waiting... Not a single Russian or Serb reached the quarter-finals in New York. So who are the youngsters threatening to turn things around in women’s tennis? Name Victoria Azarenka Nationality Belarussian Ranking 9 Strengths Few players have the strength to beat Serena Williams in a final, but Azarenka did just that in Miami this year. She has an ‘edge’ to her that could set her above the rest of the chasing pack. Name Caroline Wozniacki Nationality Danish Ranking 6 Strengths While her looks have grabbed the headlines, her game has improved at a lightning pace. Has already won numerous titles and reached her first Grand Slam final in New York. Name Michelle Larcher de Brito NationalityPortuguese Ranking 102 Strengths Could have an alternative career as an opera singer, given the power of her screech. Beyond the screaming, though, she can play and, still only 16, she is a big hope for the future. Name Sabine Lisicki Nationality German Ranking 28 Strengths Anyone who tries to play like Steffi Graf is OK with us. And, although Lisicki isn’t quite in Graf’s league as yet, she may just have the talent and mental strength to see off the big guns. Name Melanie Oudin Nationality American Ranking 44 Strengths The plucky youngster from Marietta, Georgia, has gathered quite a collection of top 10 scalps, among them Jankovic, Dementieva and Sharapova. Watch this space… VictoriaAzarenka MichelleLarcherdebrito SabineLisicki Carolinewozniacki Melanieoudin GettyImages
  9. 9. 58 THE FUTURE? 59 FEB/MAR 2010 ACE TENNISACE TENNIS FEB/MAR 2010 1n 3010, tennis fans who aren’t enjoying the outcome of a match they’re watching simply put on their virtual reality eyewear. This enables them to see the result they want. Even at this point, though, the computers aren’t quite powerful enough to get Tim Henman past the Wimbledon semi-final. Wimbledon itself has fallen victim to Britain’s ever-growing health and safety legislation, which has seen to it that the balls have been removed from all professional sports (to prevent players and fans from getting hurt). Now, players are simply asked to describe in some detail the shots they would have played. Attendance at the All England Club suffers, but only slightly. Thanks to a mixture of advanced cryogenics, cloning technology and a sensible diet in later life, Andre Agassi makes a comeback in the 3010 US Open. However, he is knocked out in the first round by a player grown from one of Laura Robson’s toenail clippings. Almost everything involved in the 31st- century tennis scene is robotised. This means, predictably, an influx of robot umpires with incomprehensibly thick French accents, robot line judges, robot ball boys and even robotic pigeons that flap down onto the court during the Wimbledon final, making everybody laugh (robotically). Thanks to shifts in the global economy, megabucks tournaments in the oil- producing Arab states are a thing of the past. The biggest non-Slam tournament in 3010 is the Welsh Open, which takes place in the new metropolis of Caerphilly, where, in 2867, it was discovered that its eponymous cheese is a fully sustainable biofuel. The early, less interesting rounds of the US Open are shortened by the novel technique of having the net fire out laser bolts at random. ‘It seems a little harsh to me,’ says one leading player. ‘Roger Federer never had to worry about being blasted into atoms… except when he was facing Andy Roddick, of course.’ In the year 3010, all but one of Earth’s strawberries has been consumed. The last remaining berry is permanently on display at the All England Club, preserved on ice in a solid gold punnet. Visitors pay £200,000 for a sniff. Prize money and trophies become increasingly ostentatious as time progresses. By 3010, the French Open trophy is actually twice the height of the Roland Garros stand. Instead of lifting the trophy, the winner gets to live in it for a year. Queen’s 3010 is the first tournament to admit extra-terrestrial players. The Martian ‘greys’ prove to have little or no aptitude for tennis, nor a basic understanding of the rules. They are immediately drafted into the Armenian Davis Cup team. The nuclear apocalypse that devastated the world in 2927 produced some fascinating mutations, which make tennis a little more interesting. Some players have extra arms growing from between their shoulder blades, while others have arms with arms of their own. And then there’s Jerzy Boravcik of the Czech Republic, a man who can make his opponent explode just by looking at him. Wimbledon has a problem with showers, but not like the ones we have now. These are meteor showers. When a shower disrupts play, the players go in and the reanimated head of Sir Cliff Richard leads the crowd in a singalong. Ever wonder what tennis might be like in 1,000 years’ time? We take a look into our special sporting crystal ball to bring you a glimpse of the future Words Pete Cashmore Illustration Peskimo 3010: A TENNIS ODYSSEY
  10. 10. ACE TENNIS OCT/NOV 2009 OCT/NOV 2009 ACE TENNIS 6766 TENNIS CODE tennis code t he Modern guide to t he When is it OK to call for a let? What should you do if your opponent grunts like a warthog? There may not be a written rulebook to cover all eventualities, but tennis has developed its own code of conduct which should serve to keep even the most keenly contested match on the right side of cordial. ACE Tennis explains… Words Charlie Norton Illustration David Tazzyman If there is any doubt on a line call, you must give your opponent the benefit of the doubt. In an ideal world, the only argument here would see both players politely trying to lose the point (though it’s probably best not to turn your match into a Monty Python sketch). N9n Do not question line calls made on the other side of the net, except in extreme circumstances. Never, ever try to make a baseline call when the ball lands at the other end while you are lying on the ground behind your own baseline. That makes you a cheating, fallen idiot. N9n Catching an airborne ball anywhere on the court during discarded banana skins, you must be prepared for the consequences. N9n Surprisingly, if your opponent accidentally throws his or her racket and injures you to such an extent that you cannot continue, you must be the one to forfeit. If, on the other hand, the throw was clearly deliberate, then winning the match may be the least of your problems. In that case, it may be best to run or call the police (or both). N9n Unless it is completely unavoidable, do not return a service that is out. Practising your forehand return and admiring your own handiwork while your opponent waits to make his second serve is little short of gamesmanship. If, when receiving, you decide to open a bag of Monster Munch, change your racket or chase a rainbow between your opponent’s two serves, the server has the right to two more serves. If lightning strikes the server’s racket, then he or she also has the right to two more serves. If, on the other hand, the server trips over his or her own feet after striking a shin with the follow-through from the first serve, then only one serve remains. N9n Talking while the ball is in play is generally taboo. You may occasionally feel like shouting sarcastically to heap pressure on your opponent (especially if you have patted the ball back with a pansy lob), but if you do, then he or she can claim the point without making a shot. N9n Do not try to distract your opponent when they are in the act of serving (although you are entitled to feint or change position while the ball is being tossed). Frantically waving your arms, playing racket-assisted air guitar or dancing and singing like a loon are not in the spirit of things. N9n When play is in progress don’t go behind another court to hide from your game or retrieve a ball. Also, don’t ask for your ball to be returned until the point on the adjoining court has been played out. N9n Wear distinguishable tennis clothing; no leather trousers, loud Hawaiian shirts or stilettos. If in doubt, wear all white (but not all tight Lycra). Bring a spare racket if you have one. N9n If it is unintentional and done with one continuous movement, a double hit is actually a legal shot. A deliberate double shot (which should be very obvious) is not. N9n Ensure you begin your game with an acceptable supply of balls. Casually serving with one ball (after you’ve hit another three out of the court) and then demanding it back for your second serve is among the worst forms of amateurism. N9n Don’t lose your temper over the score. Wagging your finger and screaming blue murder that it’s deuce and not 30-40 will upset any game’s atmosphere. Settle any dispute by tossing a racket. N9n Avoid procrastination. In this context, this includes arriving late, taking unnecessary loo visits or injury breaks, collecting extra towelling, eating giant club sandwiches or having a long, sensual massage. orse Code, the Da Vinci Code and even the Highway Code may be easier to demystify than the baffling set of unwritten rules and traditions that allow the glorious game of tennis to run smoothly. The Tennis Code is a distinctly non-confrontational combination of common sense, etiquette and impeccable manners that’s very much in keeping with British culture. It’s also the very antithesis of the Pro Tour, where winning is everything. Tennis is a very different game when it’s played against a backdrop of umpires, linesman, ball boys and technology (not to mention millions of dollars in prize money), all of which combine to remove the variables, decisions and practicalities of the average game. It is left to the rest of the tennis world – that is, us mere mortals – to maintain the Corinthian ethos of lawn tennis. The following is not intended as an exhaustive list, nor are its rules intended to be taken as compulsory. Think of it as a menu of suggestions, which can be used to form the basis of your own, personal code of on-court conduct... a match loses you the point, no matter how impressive your instinctive slip- fielding skills (or no matter how effective your interception of a ball destined for a far-flung hedge). N9n Requesting a let because your mobile rang or you saw someone you know walk past the court is unacceptable. Requesting a let when you cannot even reach a shot and, say, citing the movement of a distant crow in your eye-line, is the height of bad manners. N9n You are responsible for ‘housekeeping’ on your own side of the court. If you fail to remove stray balls, pop socks, bottles of Robinsons or Grunting (or making other loud noises) can be the basis for a let or loss of point and should therefore be avoided. However, in these competitive modern times, when even demure young women seem to snort like libidinous warthogs, you may have to adjust what you deem to be acceptable noise. N9n Don’t enter a tournament and then withdraw like a speeding thunderbolt when you discover that some tough opponents have also signed up. It’s equally gauche to be a trophy hunter, though this probably doesn’t apply if you are Roger Federer. N9n Should you bring along boisterous supporters (as is more common in tennis these days), try to ensure they remain clothed and sober and avoid using them to make favourable line calls. N9n If your opponent appears to be a shameless cheat, calmly ask for an umpire and refuse to continue until he or she turns up. If there is no possibility of an umpire, take a long hard look at yourself and pick your friends and tennis partners more carefully. N9n Most importantly, remember that tennis is meant to be enjoyed. Don’t beat yourself with your racket or pull your hair out, as behaviour of this type is beyond the pale. Tennis can be turned into excoriating mental torture if you let it, but, played in the right spirit, it’s usually great fun. Have you got any suggestions to add to our code? Maybe it’s a heinous crime at your local club if you don’t add your opponent’s name to the visitors’ book. Or perhaps placing a towel in the wrong place earns you a severe talking to? Let us know at GettyImages
  11. 11. 63 OCT/NOV 2009 ACE TENNISACE TENNIS OCT/NOV 2009 62 OLD SCHOOL/NEW SCHOOL ompetitive tennis has changed beyond recognition over the past century. Once a genteel pursuit for the upper class to enjoy between cucumber sarnies, it’s now an unstoppable multi-million pound sports juggernaut contested by some of the most finely tuned physical specimens on the planet. Where we used to have svelte and dapper competitors such as Fred Perry, today we marvel at testosterone-pumped, sushi-fuelled ball-walloping machines. And as the physiques of competitors have evolved, so inevitably has the associated apparel. Tennis equipment has come a long way since the days of flannels and flappers, but have these technological advances made a real difference to how the game is played? ACE Tennis invited the UK’s top doubles pair to play a generation game to find out… Words Nick Moore Photography Glen Burrows the way we wore The pre-war player trotted around clad in flannel trousers, wool jumpers, unpadded shoes and a natty boater hat. He wafted a laminated wood racket, its 65-square-inch head strung with catgut. The modern warrior, on the other hand, is equipped with clothing that weighs roughly the same as air and locks away perspiration. His ergonomic sports shoes maximise speed while minimising injury. Even his socks are super-powered: they’re anatomically correct, strategically padded, air-conditioned über-socks.
  12. 12. 64 OCT/NOV 2009 ACE TENNISACE TENNIS OCT/NOV 2009 65OLD SCHOOL/NEW SCHOOL Most fearsome of all, he clutches a scientifically engineered weapon of mass destruction: the modern racket. It boasts a 100-square-inch head, carbon-fibre body and nylon strings. Its enormous sweet spot produces serves of 155mph – at least in the hands of Andy Roddick. You can almost imagine it kicking sand in the wooden racket’s face and stealing its girlfriend. topspinner swishes by, he might as well be holding a toothpick – it’s like watching Mike Tyson take on Hannah Montana in a cage fight. Skupski wins the first game (to love) and Fleming is already perspiring. Heavily. The second exchange is an improvement. While he’s getting little pace, Fleming pulls off some deft lobs and drop shots. It’s to no avail, mind. Brute force prevails, as Skupski once again wins every point. Everything changes in game three, though. Skupski’s shoes may give him a mobility advantage, but he’s getting complacent. At 0-30 down, Fleming somehow produces a deep backhand. Skupski’s return is puny and Fleming volleys home a fine winner. It’s 15-30, and a breakthrough for Team Vintage. With a glint in his eye, Fleming takes the next two points (a superb flat shot down the line and a volley) before a crafty backhand clinches the game. ‘I’m going to win this now!’ he booms. Galvanised by the possibility of losing to a bloke who looks like Dickie Bird, Skupski throws everything into game four. He breezes around effortlessly, while Fleming suddenly looks like he’s run a marathon in his pullover. And while Fleming still bags points (he gets to deuce) Skupski’s gargantuan smashes and serves are too much for him to deal with. It’s game, set and match to Skupski, 3-1. To the locker room, for post-game thoughts. ‘I couldn’t be sweating any more,’ says Fleming. ‘I improved as the match went on and realised there was no chance of competing from the baseline. Ken was lucky! But using the old racket was tough. I couldn’t control the depth and the ball just flew off the frame.’ Skupski agrees that his technological edge was insurmountable. ‘The pace of the ball off my racket was too much, so I was comfortable. I’d like to see Colin play a five-setter at the US Open in that gear. He’d melt!’ So is tennis today an utterly different ball game? ‘Totally,’ offers Skupski. ‘I remember Bjorn Borg tried to make a comeback with his old wooden rackets, but he couldn’t compete. If you gave the current tour wooden rackets, the rankings would change overnight. I think Nadal would struggle because he’s so reliant on strength, but Federer would be brilliant, because he has all the classical strokes.’ Fleming agrees. ‘The basics are the same, but that game puts things into perspective. I had to think constantly about where I was going to put the ball, because I had no power.’ So what have we learned? Well, for one, wool makes you sweat a lot and, secondly, that Colin Fleming looks pretty slick with Brylcreemed hair. But, perhaps more importantly, we’ve realised that while the old rackets may not be a patch on the new ones in terms of delivering power and winning points, they do encourage a more cerebral style of play – and that, perhaps, is no bad thing. Modernity has prevailed over antiquity, but not without being given a poke in the eye with an old wooden bat first. But how much difference has technology really made? The game is, after all, still just two people hitting a ball. What would happen if we kitted out two equally skilled players – one in the antiquated clobber of the 1930s dandy, another in the best gear available – and made them play a few games? As Harry Hill might say, there’s only one way to find out. To conduct our experiment, ACE Tennis adjourned to the National Tennis Centre with up-and-coming doubles duo Colin Fleming (from Linlithgow, near Edinburgh) and Ken Skupski (from Liverpool), a pairing which goes by the collective nickname of ‘Flemski’. The likeable Scot-and-Scouse combo, who have been playing together for just over a year, caused a sensation at Queen’s by defeating the world’s number one pair, the Bryans. ‘It was a great moment,’ says Fleming. ‘We’ve done very well together and want to push into the top 100 and play ATP.’ ‘We complement each other on court,’ adds Skupski. ‘People have picked up on the Flemski thing – there’s even a range of branded caps – so we want to do well.’ Fleming has drawn the short straw for today’s event. Skupski (wearing everyday gear) collapses with mirth as his partner emerges from the stylist’s chamber, resplendent in wool, flannel and slicked-back hair. ‘This is comedy. The Ashes have finished you know, Colin!’ he roars. ‘He always takes the mick out of me, so I’m going to get months of fun from this.’ The Scot takes the abuse with good grace. ‘I feel like I should be smoking a pipe,’ he mutters. ‘You owe me one, Skup.’ They discuss the game ahead. Skupski is bullish. ‘Colin is usually better than me at singles, but he’ll have no chance today,’ he says. ‘The key is the rackets. I could beat anybody if they used a wood frame. OK… maybe not Roger Federer.’ Fleming agrees. ‘He’ll probably win. I look smart, but it’s hardly practical getting around in a belt and flat shoes. I’ll be sweating, so the ’kerchief will be handy to mop my brow with. And this thing is more like a banjo than a tennis racket. It’s got no grip and you can’t use it to apply proper spin. There’ll be no power, so I’m going to hit the ball very flat and outwit Ken with my touch and feel.’ With the baiting over, it’s time to hit the NTC’s courts for the game itself. We begin our best-of-five mini-match and, to begin with at least, it’s embarrassing. Skupski’s monstrous forehands ricochet wildly off poor Fleming’s racket. As one I could beat anybody if they used a wood frame. OK… maybe not Federer I’d like to see Colin play a five setter at the US Open in that gear. He’d melt!’ Born 13 August 1984 Lives Linlithgow, Scotland Height 6ft 2in Highest world ranking No.108 (doubles), No.365 (singles) Career ITF titles 15 doubles, 3 singles Recent highlights A five-title streak on his return to the tour in late 2008, impressed on his Davis Cup debut in Glasgow in March 2009, and beat the Bryan brothers with Skupski at Queen’s. Born 9 April 1983 Lives Liverpool Height 6ft 1in Highest world ranking No.106 (doubles), No. 527 (singles) Career ITF titles 16 doubles, 1 singles Recent highlights The big lefty has won five doubles titles this year, four with Fleming, and finished runner-up at a further four. Made his Davis Cup squad debut in Liverpool in September. Colin Fleming In brief Ken Skupski In brief TROUSERS: Vintage flannels with canvas belt and ‘kerchief SHIRT: Cotton JUMPER: Wool tank top SHOES: Canvas pumps RACKET: Vintage 1930s model SHORTS: Fila SHIRT: Fila SHOES: Fila RACKET: Head Microgel Prestige Pro stylist:suzielloyd