Tag Archives: Boris Becker

Wrapping up a fabulous and weird U.S. Open, where Stephens and Rafa shone and I peed next to a Hall of Famer. Remembering 9/11 on this day, always. And Week 1 in the NFL, when both NY teams stunk

So much to get to you today, I hope this blog doesn’t go 2,000 words or something. Of course I, like most of you, have loved ones living in Florida in the path of this hellacious Hurricane Irma, and I’ve been worried about them most of the weekend. Thank God so far my friends in Tampa, Miami and Orlando seem to be doing OK. But the videos and photos from the weekend were just awful. The ocean receding in Tampa? Roofs being blown off in Miami? Godspeed to all down there.

Want to write more today about the terror of hurricanes, and about my son’s 3-year-old birthday party Saturday and why it eerily felt like my wedding.

But I’ll get to that Wednesday. Today, I want to start with the U.S. Open, which was wacky, wild and wonderful. So many top players were missing this year (Serena, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka) that you knew some different names would show up in the late rounds. But Sloane Stephens? Kevin Anderson? If you had both of them playing after Labor Day, you were in the distinct minority.

Stephens was once a rising phenom in the tennis world, beating Serena at the Aussie Open three years ago and seemingly destined for the Top 5. And then… not so much. Her dedication to tennis was questioned. Stories about how she just wanted to be famous, and her attitude, were abundant. Then her results suffered, she was injured and didn’t play for nearly a year, from summer 2016 to this summer, and her ranking fell to 957.

And today she is the U.S. Open women’s champion. She was flawless on Saturday in the women’s final, pummeling Madison Keys all over the court, smiling and consoling and acting stunned at the amount of the winner’s check she earned (hey, $3.7 million IS a lot of money.)

I have no idea if this will propel Stephens into being a consistent force at Slams, or if Keys will learn from this experience of being overwhelmed on the big stage after playing so brilliantly in the semis. But I do know that both Stephens and Keys are worthy of praise and admiration today.

— I’ve seen a lot of beautiful displays of sportsmanship after a match is over, because tennis players almost always comport themselves as sportsmen (or women.) But this one, this one I’ll never forget, and will pretty hard to top. Sloane Stephens, the champion, moments after winning a Grand Slam, stands at the net consoling her sobbing good friend, Madison Keys, on the loss. Really sweet moment.

— And on the men’s side, to quote my friend Jon Wertheim, how about on Jan. 1, 2017 I told you Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal would combine to win all four Slams this year? You’d have laughed so hard and then recommended a good psychiatrist.
But it happened. Sunday Nadal put on a clinic in the final against Anderson, a 31-year-old South African who’d never gotten this far. As disappointed as I was that Federer and Nadal didn’t finally play in New York this year, in the semis, the Federer fan in me is glad they didn’t. Because Roger was shaky the whole tournament before losing, and Nadal was playing extraordinarily well, I think Rafa would’ve beaten Fed easily.

As it was, Nadal had the easiest road to a Slam, maybe ever, not having to beat even one Top 25 player. But that doesn’t matter; he was on his game and is such a worthy champ.

— So as I’ve mentioned a few times in the past few weeks I was once again fortunate enough to be credentialed as a reporter during the U.S. Open, and it was once again the best gig ever. I wrote 14 stories, for seven different newspapers, covering men’s, women’s and juniors players.
The USTA and tournament organizers make it ridiculously easy for us journalists, giving everything we could want, and you will never ever hear me complain about getting into the U.S. Open for free, receiving a meal per diem that actually goes pretty far, and getting sweet seats on every court (for a few non-marquee matches on Ashe Stadium I actually was sitting ninth row, baseline, where all the fancy people usually sit.

A couple of behind-the-scenes memories from my third straight year covering the Open:

— I peed next to NBA legend David Robinson. Not something that happens every day. I wandered into the closest bathroom near the afore-mentioned sweet Ashe Stadium seats last Tuesday, and a second after I approached the urinal I heard large footsteps, and a very large African-American male peeing to my left. He finished before me (hey, he was a Navy officer, I’m guessing he does everything fast) and as he turned away from the urinal I caught a glimpse of his face. Me and David Robinson, emptying our bladders together. Good times. (No I didn’t ask to shake his hand).

— Definite journalistic highlight was getting to ask Roger Federer a question in his pre-U.S. Open press conference. I really, really don’t get excited about talking to athletes anymore, I’m way too jaded/experienced for that. But this was Roger freaking Federer, maybe my favorite athlete of all time. So it was pretty cool.

— Got to see wheelchair tennis up close for the first time. Truly extraordinary watching what these athletes can do. Except for being allowed two bounces to return the ball, the rules are almost all the same. Watching these players spin and push themselves all around the court was inspiring.

— Finally, when I was 9 years old I watched Boris Becker win Wimbledon at 17 and I went outside my house right after the match and started hitting tennis balls against a brick wall on the side of our house. To say Becker inspired my love of this sport is an understatement.

I saw him several times walking around the Open this year, and spoke to him for 20 seconds about a match we were both watching on a TV monitor. The little kid in me was very excited about that.

**Next up, today is of course September 11, which means we should all stop and take a few minutes to think about the events of that horrible day in 2001. It’s been 16 years now, and it doesn’t seem any more real.

I watch this video (above) and a few others like it every year, and as I type this thousands and thousands of motorcycles are roaring into Manhattan as they do every year for the 9/11 ceremony, and this anniversary will never, ever be forgotten.

Sixteen years. Wow.

**Finally today, because I’ve rambled long enough in this space, I’m going to cover Week 1 of the NFL very very quickly, and briefly. Here goes:

— The Jets stink, as we expected. Fifteen more losses to go, and we get the No. 1 pick in the draft!
— The Giants might stink, which is unexpected.
— The Houston Texans hosting a home game two weeks after the worst storm in the history of the city seems crazy to me. Although this story makes me think maybe it was a necessary distraction for the city.
— Tom Brady lost at home. Always noteworthy and always puts a smile on my face.
— I can’t remember an NFL season where I was less excited for opening day. Lot of possible reasons why, but I was really just not into it.
— There are a lot of shitty, shitty quarterbacks in the NFL. Methinks Colin Kaepernick won’t be unemployed all season.

The match that made me become a tennis player. And finally, a magazine for terrorists!

There are only a few moments in your life that you can absolutely, positively point to and say “That’s the moment I decided to do something.”

For me, July 7, 1985 was the day I decided I wanted to be a professional tennis player. So I didn’t make it. That’s not the point of the story (at least, I’m pretty sure there’s a point here. My mind is still kind of boggled tonight after LeBron James said he’s going to have a one-hour ESPN special Thursday night to announce where he’s going to sign. I’ve defended LeBron and admired him for years, but this is just ridiculously arrogant and stupid.)

OK, where was I? Oh yeah, 7/7/85. I was 9 years old, and up to that point I’d really not cared too much about tennis. I watched it with my Mom, took a lesson or two here or there, but it didn’t inspire any real feelings in me.

Then a 17-year-old red-haired German kid named Boris Becker played in the Wimbledon final. There had never been, nor has there been sense, a player like he was at 17. Diving all over the court, scraping his knees and making incredible shots, Becker was an incredible mix of power, touch and poise.

I was totally transfixed that day. I saw a guy only a few years older than me, winning Wimbledon and having so much fun doing it.

As soon as the match ended, I grabbed my wooden Roddy racket and an old can of balls. I went outside and started smacking the ball against the little brick wall we had outside; I did that for hours. It was then I decided I was going to win Wimbledon like my new hero, Boris Becker.

It didn’t happen, of course. But my passion for tennis has not waned at all in the intervening 25 years. Tennis has given me so much, from friendships in high school and college, to new friends I make today through my adult league. It’s made me angry, it’s me happy, and usually, it makes me exhausted.

It’s a wonderful sport that I hope to be playing until my late 80s or so, a gift that keeps on giving.

So on the golden anniversary of Becker’s first Wimbledon triumph, I say thank you, Boris Becker, for inspiring me to play a sport without which my life would be much emptier.

Here’s a great New York Times story on Becker’s famous win.

**One more sign that the war on terror has dragged on for quite a while: A story like this isn’t as shocking as it should be.

A New Mexico-born jihadist named Anwar al-Awlaki has started the world’s first English-language magazine, strictly for terrorists. Yep, right next to U.S. News and World Report, Sports Illustrated, and Better Homes & Gardens, comes Inspire, a publication that only lunatics intent on blowing up the country can enjoy.

I’m wondering if wanna-be bombers will sit around perusing the articles, then leave the magazine around and getting mad when their mom throws them out.

Or perhaps Inspire can, in some twisted way, help us explain why terrorists think the way they do.
Either way, I highly doubt it’ll be on my latest NEA magazine subscription list. But maybe kids will sell it to win contests.

Agassi’s book blows me away, SI again snubs Federer, and a holiday gift you must own

When I read Lance Allred’s brilliant autobiography a few months ago, I thought that would be the sports book I measured all others against for a while.

Lance, I love ya. But move over. The Andre Agassi book I’ve just finished, “Open” blows you and everything else out of the water.

Let me state right off that I was never an Andre Agassi fan as a tennis player. I thought he was cocky, obnoxious, and didn’t respect the game. I thought he floated by on natural talent, never worked that hard, until the middle of his career, and didn’t really love the game that much.

In this brutally honest memoir (ghost-written, it should be said, with Pulitzer Prize winner J.R. Moehringer), Agassi revealed that, well, he hated tennis his whole life.  Reading the book, I can understand why. He was basically a tennis slave for his father, Mike, for most of his childhood, and never had the chance to do anything else he might like.

I was pretty pumped up a few weeks ago when I wrote about reading the excerpts from the book, but let me tell you, the crystal meth admission, which got so much attention early on, is about the 28th most interesting thing in this book.

We learn about Mike Agassi’s dreaded ball machine that tortured Andre, and the great match with NFL legend Jim Brown when Andre was 8. We learn how shy Agassi was around girls, and about how lonely and tortured he felt at the boot-camp style Nick Bollettieri tennis academy, where he was shipped once hit double-digits in age.

There’s plenty of “inside tennis” stuff for fans like me: Agassi tells a great story about notorious player Jeff Tarango cheating when both were in a junior tournament and both were under 10. There’s an “in hindsight” hilarious dismissal of Pete Sampras’ career prospects, and some serious anger Agassi felt toward Sampras (a bad tipper, we learn), Boris Becker, Jimmy Connors (a jerk to Agassi several times in his life) and Michael Chang. The book opens with an incredible passage describing Agassi’s last U.S. Open win, a 5-set thriller against Marcos Baghdatis (a match yours truly has on tape, it was so good).

But this is so much more than a tennis book. There are fabulous stories about Agassi basically stalking Steffi Graf to go out with him; about Brooke Shields’ odd behavior, and about Agassi’s remarkably devoted friend/mentor/trainer, Gil Reyes (How dedicated is Reyes? He doesn’t ever get up to go the bathroom during Agassi’s matches, lest Andre look for him in the stands and not see him).

Most of all, it’s about the maturation of a spoiled kid who hated life into a remarkable man who now runs a school that helps poor kids get to college.

I urge you, for any person in your life who likes to read, to buy the Agassi book for them. It will stay with me for a long, long time.

***So Sports Illustrated named its Sportsman of the Year Monday, and as I sadly expected, it wasn’t Roger Federer.

They went with a nice, safe, American choice, the Yankees’ Derek Jeter. Can’t say No. 2 doesn’t deserve it; he’s been a classy Yankee for 14 years, doesn’t get caught doing drugs or steroids, or beating his wife. He’s a class act and a pretty humble guy considering he’s a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. Like with so many things in life, it all goes back to good parenting.

Still, I wish SI had given Fed the nod. It is a pretty cool cover, though.

**Finally, I know most of you have probably started your holiday shopping, but look no further for the person in your life who loves pajamas, and presidential politics.

Presenting … the Ojamas! PJ’s with the president’s face all over them. Who doesn’t want this as a holiday gift, anybody???