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Ranking the Most Successful Male Clay Court Players of the Modern Era 1

Posted on May 17, 2013 by JA Allen

rafafrench2008Heading into the French Open, the second major of the season, most players prepare diligently for their final hurrah on clay. It remains as probably the least understood and least appreciated of the court surfaces players endure each year.

If the truth be told, players who learn to play on clay and who embrace the surface’s forgiving nature generally become better, more successful all-around players than those who learn the game on grass or hard courts.

The typical clay court player excels in patience by learning how to develop points as well as excellent defensive skills.

For a long time it seemed that some players segregated their careers by either avoiding clay altogether or by playing exclusively on the red dirt. But with the start of the Open Era and the necessity to play on multiple surfaces, some players built successful all-court games using clay court expertise as the foundation.

These male players achieved a top ten ATP ranking, a winning percentage in excess of 70 percent on clay throughout their careers—as well as double digit title wins on clay. Most also won at least one French Open, although not all.

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The Most Dramatic Wimbledon Upsets of the Modern Era 7

Posted on June 30, 2012 by JA Allen

Kukas Rosol upset Rafael Nadal in the 2nd Round of Wimbledon

As a society, we love upsets—when the decided underdog comes up big to knock off the reportedly sure winner. It levels the playing field for that brief moment and we all feel empowered.

So, when Lukas Rosol sent Rafael Nadal home during their second round match at the All-England Club on Thursday, it marked a true upset. One of the most startling exits at Wimbledon in recent years.

As Rosol remarked in his post-match interview, Nadal is only human.

As such, even the great Nadal has some moments when he does not play his best for whatever reason pundits can determine.

For his part, Nadal had not looked comfortable at all during his early round matches at Wimbledon in 2012; but no one suspected that the world No. 2 could be defeated at this point of the Wimbledon fortnight.

As we look back surveying previous Wimbledon tournaments, determining upsets is a matter of degrees. Whenever the unexpected happens, we call that an upset.

We will use that criteria for discussing some of the greatest Wimbledon upsets in the history of the Modern Era in tennis.

The matches discussed here are listed in chronological order.

The debate about which upset is the most shocking will be saved for a later day.

Certainly this upset of Nadal on Centre Court in 2012 ranks right up there as one of the most shocking.

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French Open Champions: Best 8 in the Modern Era 14

Posted on May 13, 2012 by JA Allen

Rafael Nadal has won 6 or the last 7 French Open titles.

More than any of the other majors, the French Open often produces a special kind of champion who loves to burrow down and blast his way through the red clay.

What is more, today, these French Open supernovas often manage to translate the skills that allow them to win on clay to other surfaces.

Winning on clay demands players excel in developing points using the brain as well as brawn—utilizing defensive skills, often as the launching pad for offense. The clay-court match requires playing with a huge measure of patience—hence, the phrase grinding it out becomes relevant in tennis.

Many professionals point to the lack of clay courts in the United States as one of the reasons for the reported failure of U.S. tennis during the past two decades.

The number of clay courts in the United States has dwindled dramatically. Today’s American youngsters learn to play almost exclusively on hard courts, foregoing the lessons imparted to their European and South American counterparts on homeland clay courts.

Of course, grass and clay courts are far more expensive to maintain which explains why these special surfaces are dying out in most places.

When you look at the ATP calendar, the clay court season lasts approximately two months—from April to the first week in June.

The grass season is even shorter—one month.  The rest of the calendar is played on artificial surfaces of various textures and rebound strength.

The French Open has been played since 1891. Starting in 1928, the tournament was played on the red clay courts of Stade Roland Garros in Paris.

Naturally, no tennis aficionado can talk about the greats of tennis history without mentioning the great Four Musketeers of French tennis: Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon, Henri Cochet and René Lacoste who were responsible for the great enthusiasm the French have for tennis.

Since the modern era began in 1968, however, there have been only a handful of multiple winners of the French Open.  The top eight French Open Champions of the Open Era have won the title more than once since 1968.

If titles are equal, then the number of finals reached is considered. If all else is equal, the winning percentage becomes the final determining factor.

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The Top Ten Champions of the ATP World Tour Finals 56

Posted on November 19, 2011 by JA Allen

Roger Federer will be looking to win Title No. 6 at the WTF in London.

For men’s tennis, the season is a long one—starting in January and ending in early December with the Davis Cup finals. The ATP, however, ends its year with the World Tour Finals which get underway on Sunday.

The tournament is the crowning event of the 2011 season where the top eight man do battle to determine the champion of the champions.

The World Tour Finals is the latest title for the ATP year-end tournament for men’s professional tennis to be held in London for the second consecutive year.

The Masters year-end tournament, first played in 1970, features the top eight players on the men’s tour selected based on accumulated calendar year ATP ranking points. The top eight men draw to create two teams with members of each four-man team competing with each other in three round-robin matches.

This year in Group A are Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych. In Group B we find Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Mardy Fish.

From each group, the two players with the best results move onto the semifinals where the top-ranked player from each group plays the second-ranked player from the other group.

The final is contested by the winners of the semifinal contests.  The winner of that match is accorded 1500 ranking points as well as the honor and prestige of winning in a field of the best eight players in the world.

Last year Roger Federer faced Rafael Nadal in the final which Federer won 6-3, 3-6, 6-1— giving the Swiss his fifth title in this event.  That ties Federer with Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl at five championship titles at the ATP year-end tournament.

So in the 41 years the championships have been held, who are the multiple winners of this event?  Who reigned as the best of the best at the end of the season?

We will count them down here.

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Review: High Strung: Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe…by Stephen Tignor 2

Posted on May 04, 2011 by JA Allen

By Stephen Tignor

Those of us who lived through the final hours of the Borg-McEnroe tennis rivalry in the early 1980s continue to embellish the mystique surrounding those epic matches relying upon imperfect memory and wish fulfillment.

This is because as the matches fade into history, our faint recollection of the events heighten the excitement of each pivotal point recalled.

Ultimately when Borg sinks to his knees on the war-ravaged lawn of Centre Court in 1980, we sink into the 3-inch shag carpeting in front of our console TVs exhilarated all over again.

There was nothing quite like their battles waged with wooden rackets during those two turbulent summers when It’s Still Rock’N’ Roll to Me, Workin’ My Way Back to You, and The Boy From New York City were topping the charts and we lip-synched and strutted along with the rest.

Author Stephen Tignor’s poignant rewind entitled High Strung––Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, And the Untold Story of Tennis’s Fiercest Rivalry details the denouement and climax of what many consider tennis’ most memorable rivalry.

The opening salvo comes as the brash, loud American teenager meets the cooly, serene Swede on the hallowed grounds of the All England Club in the summer of 1980––where Borg was a God and McEnroe the unwelcome American interloper.

Tignor, with colorful expressive language, mimics the highly rhythmic yet repetitive lyrics of the times. He paints his collage of those days with broad vibrant strokes, detailing most often the Borg-McEnroe rivalry.

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Counting Down the 15 Greatest French Open Champions of the Open Era… 1

Posted on April 29, 2011 by JA Allen

The French Open Grounds surrounding Stade Roland Garros

Thoughts now turn to the red clay of Stade Roland Garros––the next Grand Slam championship on the calendar.

The French Open begins on May 22 following the Masters 1000 tournaments in Madrid and Rome.

The French Open has often presented obstacles to many of the top players.  Pete Sampras never won on the red dirt nor did John McEnroe, although he came very lose in 1984.

Maria Sharapova could never capture this title and the Williams sisters never found the dirt to their liking, although Serena Williams did win the title in 2002 with her sister Venus as the runner-up.

In all eight men and seven women have won multiple championships since the Open Era began in 1968.

How do you measure the greatness of an athlete within their respective sport? What factors determine the degree of greatness over a period of time, be it years or decades?

Further, how do you determine who is number one in any given list or ranking?

First you must find a pattern and then you must determine the significant components of the ranking—does each factor merit being used as part of the overall equation? Sometimes it does, without question, like the score in a game. The highest or lowest score wins as in football or golf.

It is not always a simple task to determine who is the greatest because such discussions invariably have subjective components.

For this ranking, first consider the number of times a man or woman won the title.  Add in as well the number of times a player made it to the French Open finals since 1968 (Open Era) as the initial demarcation of greatness.

To be considered the player must have won the French Open more than once since 1968.

It should be noted that Rod Laver did win this tournament twice in 1962 and 1969, once in the Open Era. He also made the finals in 1968.

Roger Federer made four consecutive finals from 2006-2009, winning the title once in 2009.

That just proves how difficult it can be to win this tournament multiple times as these 15 players have done.

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