All IN

Translated by Marc Woodward

© Daniel Deladonne

Like most of you reading these lines, I didn’t embark on a professional tennis career. The reasons? An inability to raise my game, a predisposition to defeat attributable to a faulty mindset and a taste for sauce dishes incompatible with performance. Even in an alternative world, where my rage to win would have prevailed over an attraction for Béarnaise Sauce and where my forehand stance would have been nourished by Prime Rib, nothing says that I would have succeeded in breaking through. This is because, even if you have that little extra something, places are so hard to come by in an increasingly competitive tennis world where only the top 10% benefit from adequate coaching and preparation. Tennis is a struggle for recognition. 


The Top Level, an Impossible Equation 

In the same way that it’s difficult to find a home without a job and a job without a home, the professional circuit – because of its international nature – is like an equation with fourteen unknowns for newcomers. How can they manage to earn enough money to finance a strong structure when they precisely need that structure to hopefully join the Top 100 and finally earn money? Twenty Nobel Prize winners in economics, brainstorming behind closed doors, wouldn’t be able to answer this riddle. 

The message regularly heard from tennis connoisseurs is that, at a time when the level is becoming more homogenous than ever, it’s the little streams that make the big rivers. Adequate physical preparation, access to statistics, professional advice on rackets and strings (including the presence of a professional stringer at major events), the possibility of participating in competitions via wild cards, the presence of a coach and a sparring partner during matches, media preparation: so many seemingly insignificant elements that, when put together, make it possible to gain confidence, to participate in more tournaments and, incidentally, to make oneself known and earn a better living. 

So far, only a happy few have been able to benefit from such support. This is especially true in women’s tennis, which is suffering from a lack of appeal that is felt in terms of financial manna. Admittedly, the prize money for the Grand Slams and Masters 1000 tournaments has gradually been brought into line with what the men earn, but it is the tree that hides the forest: aside from the great champions supported by federations or private projects, hunger looms. 

It was time for things to change. And the good news is… they’re changing! 

© Daniel Deladonne

 Player Incubator 

A new form of player support is emerging. As mentioned in a previous issue of this magazine, the pioneering EDGE agency was born out of an encounter between two entrepreneurial friends, Daniel-Sacha Fradkoff and Clément Ducasse, both tennis enthusiasts, and coach Rick Macci, who is now considered by the viewers who’ve seen King Richard as the greatest American coach “they had never heard of”. 

Macci has always regretted not having a real follow-up in his relationship with the players he helped shape, from the Williams sisters to Kenin, Capriati or Roddick, because he couldn’t leave his Academy to coach in tournaments. Daniel-Sacha and Clément worked with him on a new “all-inclusive” model for player support in which a limited number of young players benefit from all the tools and know-how – both sporting and extra-sporting – they need to reach their full potential. Rick Macci would take care of the tennis side of things, while Daniel-Sacha and Clément would manage the overall structure. The EDGE agency was born. 


The Best, Anywhere, Anytime 

Imagine you had to hire an agent to manage the image and sponsorship issues of your players. Imagine you wanted them to be well represented and sign profitable contracts. 2 

Imagine you knew an American lawyer who acted on behalf of the star running back of the Dallas Cowboys, for whom he negotiated a $100 million contract, as well as of Conor McGregor, Mike Tyson and various female stars from Hollywood. It’s likely that you would choose him. That’s what EDGE did when it secured Frank Salzano at the company’s inception in 2018. 

Franck Salzano’s legal expertise and US sponsorship (outside of tennis), combined with Rick Macci’s extensive technical know-how, were a prelude to the arrival as investor and partner of Luca Bassi, Managing Director at Bain Capital in London and one of the best connoisseurs of the sports, technology and media fields. To meet the growing demands of professional tennis, EDGE also on-boarded Fabrice Sbarro, a pioneer in tennis statistics who has been accompanying several ATP and WTA Top 10 players for years. Today, he heads EDGE’s analytics department, which includes two experts in physical preparation. 

The agency also called on Guillaume Ducruet, a former Global Marketing Director of Tecnifibre-Lacoste for over a decade, who brings to the players his technical expertise in rackets and strings, his knowledge of sponsorship and his network in the tennis world. The same goes for Dieter Calle, a racket specialist who adapts the tools of the trade for the players represented by the agency to optimize their racket feel and performance. 

EDGE has also set up an exclusive partnership with one of Europe’s most prestigious clubs, run by a former WTA Top 50 player and her husband (a lawyer who is also serving as Vice President of the German Tennis Federation), to offer players on the Old Continent the equivalent of what the agency proposes in Florida at Rick Macci’s Academy. Not to leave anything to chance, EDGE is even involved in the construction of real-grass courts (similar to those found at Wimbledon) so that its players can prepare for the grass season in the best possible conditions. 

It would be unimaginable for an individual player, a traditional agency or an investor to bring under the same roof all these specific skills. While women’s tennis is becoming more and more professional, it usually boils down to a player-coach hydra where the latter is often the father. But for all his qualities, a father is unlikely to know about the specific physical work involved in tennis, the intricacies of equipment and strings, player and match preparation statistics, and the potential benefits that adapting rackets can bring. Add to that horoscopic views peppered with approximations gleaned here and there, and you can be sure that the player will end up in a dead end where the chances of success are slim. 

This is precisely what makes EDGE so appealing: The agency reinforces the tailor-made package available to players by adding experts whose skills cannot be questioned. No witchcraft, just expertise. And it’s all for nothing – or almost nothing. 

© Daniel Deladonne

A New Business Model 

EDGE doesn’t charge for these services. On the contrary, the agency provides financial means for each of its players to travel to tournaments and pay their own private coaches, hoping for a potential return on investment by partnering with them. If the agency is successful in helping players get to the top level, it receives a limited share of their earnings when they reach the finals of the biggest tournaments. But not right away, and not if the prize money doesn’t cover the players’ career-related expenses. A business model that is poles apart from the classic representation contracts in which players are only worth what they bring in immediately. A deeply human philosophy. 

For the female players, whose horizons have long been marked by their families, it’s necessary to create the conditions that will allow them to progress by combining human warmth, proximity and excellence. This is another feature of the agency: the managers and experts are dedicated to the players, they know them and take good care of them. 3 

During a tournament where a girl was wearing the wrong shoes because the surface looked to her more like grass than clay, one of EDGE’s founding partners didn’t hesitate to drive hours to bring her one of his own pairs (a miracle of matching sizes). This anecdote speaks volumes about the relationship between the staff and the players. It isn’t uncommon for the latter, and sometimes even their entourage, to spend a few days at the home of one of the managers when the location of a tournament lends itself to such an arrangement. 

Another sign that EDGE is like an ideal family is the absence of any conflict of interest in the players’ results. No misplaced competition, no favoritism. One player’s success benefits everyone by drawing attention to the overall structure. In selecting the players to whom it offers its services, EDGE is of course betting on the future, which is inherently uncertain. Although some players won’t reach the highest level, either because of a change in career path or due to poor results, they won’t have to pay back anything to the agency. 

Paradoxically, this risk doesn’t weaken the overall concept. On the contrary, it strengthens it by allowing each of the champions to flourish in their private and professional lives, at their own pace, without the added pressure of having to return the favor (and the money) if things don’t go as planned. 


Statistics and Customization: the Future Is Built on Hard Facts 

Fabrice Sbarro explains it best: 15 years ago, when he started his company as a tennis statistician, his proposal looked a bit like a UFO. Since 2017, things have changed. Today, nearly 25% of all Top 100 players take advantage of analytical tools, which are used both to better understand the opponent’s game and to identify one’s own strengths and weaknesses, away from preconceived notions and magical thinking. 

The strength of data lies in the fact that what they say is “true”, even if analyzing the raw numbers in detail remains essential. Although such tools aren’t yet able to measure the physical effects suffered by the opponent during repeated low-slice hits, they can tell whether these hits have won or lost points. They’re great in helping players get to know themselves better, talk about tactics and progress. Sadly, coaches often neglect this tactical approach and, worse still, base their advice on impressions which numbers could easily contradict. Hence the need to work hand in hand with them, not against them. 

At several hundred dollars for a personalized report, not to mention the cost of an annual subscription, few female players can afford such a service. Yet, EDGE’s young guard can use it for free. A definite advantage over the competition, both in the short and long term. Statistics provide valuable information about each opponent and thus increase the chances of winning; at the same time, they allow for better training and lead to improvement. Like all the other tools, statistics are made available to the players and their coaches to help them better prepare training sessions and matches. A virtuous circle. 

Similarly, the small lead circle that Dieter Calle places on the frame of the EDGE players’ rackets is also virtuous. It’s fascinating to see how a mere tweaking can change the balance of a racket, the resulting ball strike and ultimately the feel of the player. Again, this helps to improve performance and to dispel the magical thoughts that become truths when repeated often enough. 

As Guillaume Ducruet explains, you don’t get more top spin with a head-weighted racket; to get more top spin, the wrist must be able to rotate; and for the wrist to rotate, it must have enough strength to do so quickly. With a heavy frame, the maneuver is more complex. Here, elementary physics is hit hard by biomechanics. 

This customized work on the equipment isn’t just a whim, nor is it simply about optimizing rackets: it allows for physiological and biomechanical work to be done and in turn identifies areas of work that will benefit the players and improve their performance. Not to mention the self-confidence that comes with it. 


Making the Women’s Circuit Attractive Again 

Whether or not people agree on the current level of play in the WTA, the fact remains that Świątek and Sabalenka attract fewer spectators than Alcaraz and Tsitsipas, despite similar rankings. This is due to many factors that have little to do with each other, from media coverage to a style of play which often lacks fantasy and variety, latent sexism, tour leadership… and double faults. 

A global problem which is all the more heartbreaking because the average level today compares favorably with the great hours of Williams-Henin or Graf-Hingis who moved the crowds in the late 1990s, early 2000s. Recently, Sorana Cîrstea confided to a Eurosport journalist that her equipment supplier had said to her that, to “succeed” as a tennis player, it was better to be pretty and ranked #20 in the world than ugly and ranked #1… 

But let’s talk about tennis! The EDGE model is based on the idea of striking the right balance in the 360-degree support it provides. First of all, the diversity of profiles: The players who’ve joined EDGE come from all walks of life and all countries. This obviously implies working on their image, without any concealment, by emphasizing their story and background, and by providing more interesting date than those dished out during the traditional macho-plastic presentations. It’s also necessary to work on the players’ specific game, so that their personalities can express themselves on and off the court. 

With this in mind, EDGE has set up a partnership with the Tennis Legend media and Max Zamora, whose podcast is well-known to tennis fans, to allow them to follow the behind-the-scenes careers of their idols. This challenges the cliché of the successful Eastern European player who just plays hard without thinking. It’s a comprehensive effort to prepare for long-term careers, which encompasses the entire life of the player and requires both care and respect. 

To promote women’s tennis in general and its protégées in particular, EDGE has also joined forces with Noah Media, an award-winning production company specialized in sports documentaries (including 14 Peaks, Arsène Wenger: Invincible and others on Manchester United or Formula 1, produced for Netflix, Amazon, the BBC, Canal+, FIFA or the IOC). Noah Media has been following several of the agency’s players on and off the court since early 2022 as part of a documentary series for one of the biggest streaming platforms. 

While costly, all this cocooning yields undeniable results, as EDGE can attest. Elli Mandlik, the daughter of Hana Mandlíková (a Grand Slam laureate as a player and then as a coach), has progressed from WTA #500 to #120 in 2022, beating Top 25 players at major tournaments and coming within two points of victory against the world #3. Petra Marčinko, who became the world #1 junior at age 15 towards the end of 2021, was the first-ever player to win the Orange Bowl in both singles and doubles. She followed that up with an Australian Open junior title and victories against Top 100 players, before winning the Poitiers ITF in late 2022. She was the first girl to be victorious in an ITF 80k tournament in her age bracket for over four years. 

Kristina Dmitruk was the world #2 junior at the end of 2021 and won Wimbledon in the girls’ doubles, before reaching the US Open final in singles. Alycia Parks, who claimed her first WTA 500 doubles title, is now ranked in the Top 75 in singles after beating Karolina Plíšková (former world #1) and Sakkari in consecutive rounds, prior to winning two of the last three WTA tournaments of 2022 in a row. 

Although many other examples of success could be quoted here, it’s important to mention that the fifteen girls backed by EDGE (aged between 15 and 21) have all made steady progress since joining the team. 

In the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers won everything in sight during their “showtime” era. It would seem that history is repeating itself. 

© Daniel Deladonne

Machine Maintenance

© Antoine Couvercelle

To be in good health, it is necessary not only to eat 5 fruit and vegetables a day, but it is also necessary to exercise. Tennis players, used to forehands blasted into the fence netting, know it and suffer from it—gasping for breath after a rally of at least four hits; but even those who always hit the line and are not in favour of the recovery position, those who watch their ranking live from the FFT or LTA website, those who dream of the Futures tour while preventing themselves from dreaming beyond, all these also feel that sport, which is meant to keep them in shape, paradoxically erodes their machine. Any body submerged in a liquid undergoes a vertical surge towards the height equal to the weight of the volume of liquid displaced. To expand on Archimedes, I will add that a body submerged more often than its built for in a streaming sweat undergoes a surge of ageing that it could do without.

For an athlete, the first phase of preparation consists of sculpting their body by mixing proteins and vitamins which build up muscle mass. But during all their preparation, athletes, even amateurs, need to increase their nutriments for maintaining the cogs of their machine. Without health, no performance. And without performance, hello broken rackets.

Because they breathe, athletes oxidize. Because they oxidize, tennis players damage their joints, their muscles, their tendons, their ligaments. Even their intestines are harmed when the ordeal of training is prolonged.

Whether it displeases grizzled actors or not being invited to rake over their careers in tell-all interviews, no one enjoys ageing, especially when before even taking a step on court you already ache all over. To protect oneself against the dreadful effects of intensive sport, it is necessary to arm yourself with tools other than perseverance. Hence the interest in turning to dietary supplements in order to look after one’s body and improve one’s performances without stuffing oneself with fatty acids.

The Aminoscience range from NHCO Nutrition has been created with this in mind. These dietary supplements are easily worked into a tennis player’s day to day and permit them to concentrate on their backhand slice and kick serve without compromising their future. There are four supplements with differing benefits—the object is to improve the immunity of the athlete and to deliver all of the nutriments, vitamins and antioxidants required by the perpetual demands of physical intensity.

© Antoine Couvercelle

Defending oneself against oxidation

It was once custom to guarantee the quality of antioxidants by always selecting the same ones. Now when fruit and vegetables contain less antioxidants than in the past, it is advised to diversify one’s input in order to counter the oxidative stress. With its 25 active ingredients, the NucléOx brings the equivalent in primary and secondary antioxidants of more than two portions of fresh fruit and vegetables. It has the ability to help repair microlesions and to support optimal cellular protection. The NucléOx contains in addition a patented ingredient, Polyphenox, which contains numerous polyphenols.

It is recommended to consume NucléOx in courses of two months, especially during periods when the athlete is training and competing heavily.


Stockpiling energy

The image of a tennis player consuming a plate of pasta before the match and a banana when switching ends won’t disappear soon, but one can’t extrapolate a healthy regime from this picture. Slow release sugars don’t do everything in the struggle to maintain performance. Given that athletes sweat heavily, more or less, they release through their pores numerous micronutrients. One realises the importance of what one has when it is gone: a super tie break, without micronutrients, is a super tie-break that one is likely to lose.

It is here that Orthosamine intervenes. A cocktail composed of 31 active ingredients, which boasts minerals, essential amino acids and natural vitamins, all guarantee a supply of energy during the match, even when forced to battle far from the baseline. Orthosamine can be taken for a maximum of two months, including while the athlete does not compete.

© Art Seiz

Looking after the joints, tendons and ligaments

Let’s confess, if one removes the racket and the ball from a tennis player on a court, they will appear a little silly, repeatedly doing short but strenuous runs, repetitive forehands and backhands, forcing an invisible ball to rebound before serving twice. Our joints, though, hate the repetition and brutality. There are those joints which suffer the most from tennis practice, those which are the most likely to halt our play, more so than our muscles that we look after with a lot of warming up and massage, done more or less intuitively to soothe our aches.

In order to give back to our joints, our tendons, our cartilages and our ligaments, the support that they deserve, the NHCO nutrition laboratories propose Collax-Sil, a formula containing notably collagen and its precursors, which is taken over a period of up to three months to prepare for tournaments. In all likelihood, your joints will thank you. Nevertheless, if you hear your joints literally thanking you—your knee bursting into heartfelt gratitude, for example—then please consult your doctor.


After effort, comfort

Athletes tend to fall into self-soothing routines, after all their effort, which then tend to ignore the part of the system that suffers. Because the body is tired, it is more likely to fall ill just after a match. In order to avoid illness, one must support the immune system and defence cells. Endomune, created by the NHCO Nutrition Laboratories, acts in this way via four targeted effects. The first stimulates the immune system mostly thanks to echinacea. The second effect restores energy and vitality, which is down to ginseng and eleuthero. The third makes it possible to bolster the immune system through green tea. Finally the last effect of Engimune acts on tiredness through the help of vitamin C.

NHCO Nutrition Laboratories recommend taking Endomune to support one’s immune defence system 15 days a month during winter. From the first symptoms, whatever they are, Endomune will go to work by supporting health and fitness. 

In the same way that a jammed ball machine is not very useful, a body, tired by sport, will not return balls satisfactorily. Outside physical health, there is also mental health—the susceptibility to frustration—which one can protect by taking dietary supplements. This will prolong the life of rackets. In a sport where there is always a winner and a loser, here is an opportunity to win on all fronts.

Stan Smith

The Tennis Ambassador

On tour with Arthur Ashe in the 1960s, Smith advocated for tennis in Africa and beyond.
A new film highlights his role in ground-breaking social and athletic change.

A picture is worth 1,000 words, or so say most filmmakers. In this case, one particular 1968 photograph by renowned sports photojournalist John Zimmerman explains many things about the renowned tennis champion Stan Smith.

Smith and his close friend, Arthur Ashe had just arrived in Las Vegas, Nevada and while both waited by the Hertz Rental Car stand with their luggage, a porter appeared. Off to the side, the ramrod straight, towering Army-Lieutenant-turned-unlikely-activist-icon dressed in a porkpie hat and sport coat holds four or five wooden tennis racquets for Ashe. But the porter — and most  of the other people the pair came across in the countries they visited for a U.S. State Department tour — thought that Smith, by then a US Open and Wimbledon champion, had come along as Ashe’s “caddie.”

“When we went to Africa, I was the other guy who played against Ashe in all these exhibitions,” said Smith, who was ranked No. 1 in the U.S. at the time. “They would introduce him as Arthur Ashe, No. 1 player in the U.S., No. 1 in the world, one of the greatest players to ever play the game … and Stan Smith, his opponent.

“Arthur came up to me and said, ‘I’m sorry about that. If we do a tour of Alabama, I’ll carry your rackets for you,’” Smith added. “He was in tune with everything.”

Even though Horst Dassler, the founding chairman of Adidas, had a vision of Smith as the ultimate player — and less the sidekick (pardon the shoe pun) — few really know Smith, the man the classic green-and-white shoes forever bearing his face and name. A new documentary, “Who is Stan Smith?” produced by Lebron James and Maverick Carter’s Spring Hill Company, aims to delve into the long, illustrious life of the famously understated, unassuming “regular guy” from Pasadena, California, who somehow found himself on the front lines of the Civil Rights movement with Ashe, the Vietnam War through this work with the United Service Organizations (USO) and lastly, the players movement to found the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) — also known as the modern pro tour. 

“I always had an interest in trying to improve mankind,” Smith said via Zoom interview from his home near Hilton Head, South Carolina. “And it’s always been an interest of mine to get people playing — the World Cup is on right now, and many people don’t realize that tennis is right behind soccer in global popularity. 

“All you need is a court to play on and a few balls —Arthur and I did those tours as a way of proving that. But going to Africa and to China and to Vietnam was an eye-opener for me, and I really came to appreciate all people there, from the military to the civilians to the aid workers and I wanted to do more.”

Directed by Danny Lee, “Who is Stan Smith?” premiered at the IFC Center in New York in November and will turn up on ESPN sometime this spring. Interviews with Smith, along with his family and friends, as well as never-before-seen footage follow the tennis journeyman from youth to college tennis, to the Grand Slams to the International Tennis Hall of Fame — as an inductee and later president — and his “retirement” at the Smith Stearns Tennis Academy in North Carolina, which has turned out sectional, national, and international and college tennis title-holders since TK. The film also touches on Smith’s previously unknown humanitarian efforts, including his family’s adoption of Mark Mathabane, a young student and tennis player whom Smith and his wife, Marjory Gengler Smith, helped escape from apartheid in South Africa.

“During the pandemic, I had picked up tennis right away, so when I was offered the chance to direct the film, my eyes popped out of my head” says Lee, whose previous documentaries delve into subcultures, such as electronic music, skateboarding and former NBA players who become fathers to NBA players. “My take very simple: unpack the mythology — his is the name on the sneaker but what is the story behind it?

“It was initiation going to be just a sports biopic, like who is Jordan behind his shoe? But it became a story about this obsessive athlete determined to be the best in the world and in the course of that, stumbled upon his own humanity and the lesson he learned: being the best is great and but doing good leaves a more lasting legacy.” 

But first, the story of the shoe. After coaching Smith at University of Southern California and helming the U.S. Davis Cup team on which Smith played, Donald Dell became the agent of Smith and a number of his contemporaries, including Ashe, Jimmy Connors, and Ivan Lendl. Eager to expand Adidas “beyond France, especially to the United States,” according to Smith, Dassler snagged Dell during the 1971 French Open and the three men met at a Parisian nightclub, Elle et Lui in Montparnasse. Among cabaret singers and women dressed as male waiters, Dassler suggested that Smith wear the now classic shoe, only that, at the time, it carried the name of Robert Haillet, a very popular former French No. 1. “Horst suggested that I start wearing the shoe while they initiated a slow change. Robert’s name would remain on the heel while mine would be on the side.” Smith agreed, but the deal wouldn’t do for Dell. Within the year, Smith’s face and signature was added to the tongue of the shoe and Haillet’s connection to it was completely dropped. 

By the mid-1970s, the Stan Smiths had arrived on courts, in sporting goods stores around the world and on the feet of celebrities such as David Bowie, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Damon Albarn, the members of New Order and Naomi Campbell.  “One of the few disappointments in my tennis career were my big size 13 feet — yet the shoe I eventually wrapped around them enabled me to become better known than I have ever envisaged,” wrote smith in his 2018 book, Some People Think I’m a Shoe.  While for Smith, the shoe has been a definitely been a blessing, sometimes it could be a bit of a curse. Billie Jean King had a shoe — a royal blue suede Adidas flat sole — as did Arthur Ashe (as version of the Stan Smith), but none have ever been as popular or immortal as the Stan Smiths. “I had a racquet for about 10 years with my name on it, then the non-wood racquet came along…,” Smith mused. “The shoe was a great opportunity for me at the time, but first of all, when you do these things, you have to realize that whatever comes of it, you are not in control. Whatever happens, happens. Maybe people remember you, maybe they just remember your shoes.

“A few years back, I was doing a clinic for some 12- to 13-year-old kids  and used Bjorn Borg, as an example as a player. At the time ,I thought people who know who he was, but unless a young person was into tennis history, they wouldn’t necessarily know Borg was or I was or anyone else of that era. It doesn’t bother me anymore: I don’t have a huge ego. I just try to do as much as I can to help people.” 

Now the story of the first “Stan the man” (hint: not Stanislas Wawrinka). Although Smith’s father worked as a tennis coach in the LA suburb of Pasadena, he “did not take to tennis immediately,” Smith said. Rather, he played basketball. Makes sense. Smith is still six feet, four inches tall, even at age 78. But after switching gears, he volunteered as a ball boy at the LA Tennis Club for a Davis Cup match and… was rejected. “I was, apparently, too awkward and  clumsy,” he said. So smith started jumping rope for ten minutes a day and out of the blue, won a sanctioned tournament and caught the eye of the Pasadena Tennis Patrons, a community tennis organization that helped promising juniors with coaching from Pancho Segura travel fees, kits and other expenses. After winning the U.S. National Junior title in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Smith was on his way.

Wikipedia can provide the titles the details, but after four years at USC, Smith hit the tour. “I heard Ken Rosewall… saying in an interview (during the 1970 Tokyo Masters) that he considered me one of the favorites for the title,” Smith recalled in Some People Think I’m a Shoe. “That gave me a big boost and I went out and proved him right by beating him.” That, and ten thousand Japanese people singing Happy Birthday put Smith, but “less gratifying” was the notice he received to report for the draft in LA the next day. “I played a lot of tennis in the Army and was given special dispensation to represent the United States in the Davis Cup.” 

Smith beat the combustible Ilie Nastase — nicknamed “Nasty” by the U.S. coterie — for a Wimbledon singles title in 1972, and he and former USC teammate Bob Lutz dominated the storied tournament in doubles, winning in 1972, ’74, ’80 and ’81.In 1973, he came to Wimbledon as the defending champion, yet he joined 80 other men in boycotting the event to stand in solidarity with Niki Pilic, who had been banned by the Yugoslavian Tennis Association — and subsequently the AELTC — for not playing Davis Cup. And while he could play the straight man — the guy who never rumbled the status quo — Smith eventually broke with his brothers in arms to change the way tennis was played in the late 1960s.

But two seminal events changed Smith’s life: his tour of Africa with Arthur Ashe and Ashe’s death in 1994. In June 1968 at the Queens Club outside London, Arthur Ashe attended a meeting of top players to discuss the formation of the ATP. There, Cliff Drysdale mentioned that Johannesburg wanted to host a “South African Open”. He then turned to Ashe and stated, “They’d never let you play,” meaning that the apartheid government would never grant Ashe a visa. Ashe nonetheless mailed in South African visa applications for 1969 and 1970, which South African Prime Minister John Vorster promptly rejected. In response, Ashe hit the road. For 18 days in 1971, he and Smith went on a 2,500-mile tennis expedition of six African countries — Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Uganda, Nigeria and Ghana — giving tennis clinics, granting interviews and playing exhibition matches. 

On a return trip in 1977, Stan and his wife, Margie, met Mark Mathabane, a young tennis player born to a life of poverty, racism, abuse and little hope in apartheid  South Africa. At age six, Mathabane joined his first gang and by ten, he was on the brink of suicide. The Smiths took in Mathabane and helped him gain a tennis scholarship to Limestone College in South Carolina. “When I met Stan… I was filled with hatred for white people because of the life I had led under racism and oppression,” Mathabane said.  “Stan had the uncanny ability to spontaneously relate to anyone… his sneaker was the perfect metaphor for enabling those to walk in the shoes of anyone they met .” Mathabane went on to be a successful author writing his first book, Kaffir Boy, an autobiography in 1986. He and his wife had three children — the youngest one named Stanley — all of whom attended Margie’s alma mater, Princeton University. 

Losing Ashe to AIDS in 1993, however, probably had the greatest effect on Smith’s own life. “I keep thinking what would it be like if Arthur was here today. He had strong opinions and he had to walk a tightrope; he could be considered an Uncle Tom by the public, but he was always well-respected and popular with tennis players,” Smith said.  “In his last years, Arthur has a t-shirt that said “Citizen of the World” and he was campaigning until the end. 

“I think that if his heart problems ad happened just a bit later and even if he would have contracted HIV, he would be able to handle it — there would be some medicines that could have helped and he would have done some amazing things.” 

But Ashe’s death has given Smith a mandate to live to the fullest, the filmmaker said. “Stan’s storyline is chock full of events and condensing the timeline and tracking the shoe inside the career then making them converge was a challenge,” Lee said. “But his humanitarian efforts were never a checkbox or talking point, but rather an organic pillar to his story.

The shoes reflect that, as well. In 50 years, Stan Smiths have come in a LGBT version, a vegan edition, a Paul Smith—Manchester United specialty shoe, Stella McCartney and Moana (for the kids) styles. Smith is often game to go to a Ballenciaga or a Gucci or a Pharrell Williams runway show, but he doesn’t collect them like some fans.

“A friend of mine called the other day and told me he had just picked up his 350th pair,” Smith said. “I only have about 130.”

Breaking Barriers

Beyond Tennis’ Color Line

An exhibit highlights the association that helped make Arthur and Althea household names

A group of ATA players at the Springfield (Massachusetts)Tennis Club in 1922 (right) and the ATA’s seal (left).

In 1944, two Black physicians, Dr. R. Walter Johnson and Dr. Hubert Eaton, watched a street-wise Althea Gibson lose the junior Girls ATA (American Tennis Association) championship title to another young Black girl named Matilda Peters. The score was 6-4, 7-9, 6-3. Matilda, who with her sister, Margaret, were affectionately known as D.C. dynamic duo “Pete” and “Repeat” Peters, had taken Black women’s tennis to new heights from their local Georgetown courts. 

But after the match, the doctors, who would go on to train and elevate the career of Arthur Ashe, offered Gibson a chance to train in Wilmington, NC during the school year and tour the ATA tournaments in the summer. Three years later, Gibson won the ATA Women’s Singles Championship — the first of her 10 consecutive ATA National titles, which she gained alongside her Grand Slams. Meanwhile, the Peters sisters were recruited by the Tuskegee Institute to play basketball and tennis. 

After graduating with degrees in physical education, both sisters went on to New York University for graduate school. The continued to compete in ATA tournaments. But by the time Gibson integrated tennis, the Peters were considered too old to compete. Each sister contributed to the advancement of Black advancement of tennis, however, in her own way, especially Matilda, who taught physical education at Howard University in the 1950s and tennis to underprivileged children through the D.C. Department of Recreation.

“”I knew that Venus and Serena were not the first successful Black female tennis players,” said Camille Riggs Mosley. “They stand on the shoulders of great people…Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe were great because somebody enabled them to be there. They didn’t create the game; they stood on the shoulders of others.”

Although Althea Gibson officially integrated tennis at the U.S. National Championships at the West Side Tennis Club in 1950, just as every institution in post-Reconstruction/Jim Crow America, the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) — the precursor to the USTA — had a parallel Black organization: the American Tennis Association (ATA). Set up in 1916 with the union of three smaller Black tennis clubs, the ATA held its first ATA National Championships in 1917 and since then, it has been the premiere institution for promoting the sport to minorities in the U.S. The online exhibit Breaking Boundaries in Black Tennis at the International Tennis Hall of Fame (ITHF) in Newport, Rhode Island, tells the story of the ATA, as well as the worldwide effort of Blacks to play tennis, with a focus on the individual stories and successes of the first Black athletes who blazed a trail for the champions of today. 

Currier & Ives prints from 1885 that depict Black players imitating their white counterparts in both dress and attitude, but unable to play with their grace.

Battling for Acceptance

In post-Reconstruction, if freedmen and former slaves playing wasn’t lampooned, it was generally ignored. Prior to the Open Era, local and state ATA tournaments results went largely unreported in the white press. Rather, the Black newspapers, such as the Pittsburgh Courier, the New York Amsterdam News and the Chicago Defender put tennis tournament results on their front pages — a section that might place an article detailing lynchings, burnings and the activities of the Ku Klux Klan alongside such achievements.

Blacks also still took significant abuse from the white public for trying to play tennis, considered an elite spot. In 1885, Currier & Ives, a high-end printmaking business, distributed lithographs that perpetuated racial stereotypes regarding Blacks plating tennis: that Blacks possessed speed and strength, but lacked the coordination and intelligence to master the “skill” sports. 

Yet, Blacks kept coming to Black tennis clubs, such as the Chautauqua Tennis Club in Philadelphia (established in 1890), and others throughout the Northeast, and they excelled at the sport. At the inaugural ATA Tournament in Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park in 1917, 39 competitors came from thirty-three different Black clubs across the country to rally, volley, chip and charge for the title. Tally Holmes, a 1910 graduate of Dartmouth College, became the first ATA Men’s Singles Champion and teamed with Sylvester Smith to win the Men’s Doubles title. A native of Washington, D.C., Holmes would win the championship four times and claim the doubles crown eight more times. That same year, Lucy Diggs Slowe at age 32 captured the Women’s Singles event, thereby becoming the first Black woman to hold a national championship in any sport. 

The Shady Rest Country Club (above) in Scotch Plains, New Jersey — the first Black-owned and operates golf and country club in the U.S.; the Ideal Tennis Club in Harlem (below), which hosted the ATA Nationals in the 1920s.

The ATA’s Wunderkind

The first steps toward the integration of tennis took place in 1929, when Reginald Weir, the tennis captain at City College of New York, and Gerald Norman, Jr., a high school champion, paid to enter the 1929 USLTA Junior Indoor Championships at the Park Avenue Armory on New York’s Upper East Side. When they showed up, the USLTA denied them spots in the draw, giving the NAACP a chance to file a formal grievance against the USLTA. The governing body of tennis was forced to publicly defend its policy of denying Black players the opportunity to compete in its tournaments.

But that didn’t stop Black players from setting world records. One of the ATA’s early female standouts, Ora Washington, had the height and reach to tame opponents into submission, and could chip and chop at the ball until it landed where she aimed. After starting her athletic career as a center for the Philadelphia Tribunes basketball team, Washington won more than 20 ATA titles during her two-decade career on the court, even beating Althea Gibson’s record. “She was nice, but she was mean on the courts,” said fellow player Robert Ryland, the first Black man to play professional tennis and coach Arthur Ashe. He claimed that Washington was one of the best players who ever lived,

Likewise, before Arthur Ashe, there was Bob Ryland. Learning tennis at an early age from and “Mother” Seames, as the matron of  Chicago’s all-Black Prairie Tennis Club was known, Ryland won the Illinois state high school championship in 1939, beating Jimmy Evert, Chris Evert’s father. He went on to Wayne State University in Detroit where he and Delbert Russell, would become the first Black men to play in the NCAA tournament, advancing to the quarterfinals in 1945. Ryland turned pro in 1959, joining Jack March’s professional tour which included Pancho Gonzalez, Lew Hoad, Bobby Riggs, Pancho Segura and Don Budge.

Jimmie McDaniel (left) a four-time ATA singles and doubles champion who won the national Black intercollegiate singles championship while at Xavier University. On July 29, 1940, McDaniel unofficially broke tennis' color barrier in exhibition match against Don Budge, Tennis No. 1 player.

Finally, after 23 years of “separate but equal” tennis tournaments, on July 29, 1940, at Harlem’s Cosmopolitan Club — the new ATA headquarters — U.S. National and Wimbledon champion Don Budge played an exhibition singles match against Jimmie McDaniel, the ATA champion and possibly the best Black player at the time, in front of a crowd of 2,000 people. Budge ultimately won (6-1, 6-2), but the tennis world would be forever transformed. “Jimmie is a very good player. I’d say he’d rank in the first 10 of our white players,” Budge said. “And with some more practice against players like me, maybe someday he could beat all of them.”

Four years later, two Black physicians, Dr. R. Walter Johnson and Dr. Hubert Eaton, set their aim on Budge’s divination. Although they watched Gibson lose the junior Girls ATA championship title to Matilda Peters, they offered Althea Gibson a chance to train with Eaton in Wilmington, NC during the school year and tour the ATA tournaments with Johnson in the summer. Three years later, Gibson won the ATA Women’s Singles Championship — the first of her 10 consecutive ATA National titles, which she gained alongside her Grand Slams.

One of the ATA’s early female standouts, Ora Washington, had the height and reach to beat Gibson and all of her opponents, but had to choose between an athletic career in tennis or in basketball. Despite playing as center for the Philadelphia Tribunes basketball team,  Washington won more than 20 ATA titles during her two-decade career on the court. Yet, in 1956, Gibson turned up at the French National Women’s Singles Championships and made history by becoming the first Black person to win a Grand Slam. A month later, Gibson teamed with Angela Buxton to become the first Black person to win a Wimbledon Championship title in women’s doubles. She reached the U.S. National Women’s Singles Championship at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills in the fall, but fell to Shirley Fry. However, Gibson left Forest Hills, increased her training and came back the following year to dominates the U.S. National Championships, taking home both a Women’s Singles and Mixed Doubles trophy. She would ultimately win five Grand Slam singles titles and five women’s doubles titles.

Gibson, who was born in 1927, had her entire career before her, while Washington —28 years Gibson’s senior — was winding down hers. Before leaving the game, Washington reportedly challenged Helen Wills Moody to a historic exhibition match. Moody never replied. History left undone, Washington spent her post-tennis life working as a maid in Germantown, Pennsylvania, leaving Gibson to take up the Black mantle. Their memorials reflect the historic weight given to each: Gibson has a statue outside Ashe Stadium at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center in New York, while a statue inspired by Washington went up in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park in 2019.

Ora Washington (left), one of the greatest players in the American Tennis Association with her trophies. Althea Gibson clutching her first Wimbledon U.S. Open trophy in 1957.

By the early 60s, another named would dominate Black tennis: Arthur Ashe. By 1960, Ashe had climbed his way to the top of the ATA and won a scholarship to UCLA thanks to the patronage of Althea Gibson’s own benefactor, Dr. R. Walter Johnson. The “it” factor for Johnson: Ashe’s coolness in the face of defeat. Routinely trounced on “Dr. J”’s backyard court by older players, Ashe would come out of each encounter losing by a lesser margin than before. His body soon caught up with his mental game and at UCLA, Ashe became the first Black man to join the U.S. Davis Cup team. In 1965, he won both the NCAA singles and doubles titles, while leading UCLA to the NCAA team championship. Ashe would win three Grand Slam singles titles and two doubles titles in his career.

Arthur Ashe holding his first U.S. Open trophy in 1968 after defeating Tom Okker for the title.

Tennis’ Civil Rights Movement

Through the 1970s, Ashe continued to blaze a trail through the tennis world, integrating the South African Open and attempting to set up a professional tennis tour in sub-Saharan Africa. While touring on an exhibition in 1971, he also discovered 11-year-old Yannick Noah who would become a French Grand Slam champion. By then, Gibson had long left the tennis scene. In 1958, she realized that “when I looked around me, I saw that white tennis players, some of whom I had thrashed on the court, were picking up offers and invitations,” she wrote in her first memoir, I Always Wanted to Be Somebody. “Suddenly it dawned on me that my triumphs had not destroyed the racial barriers once and for all, as I had — perhaps naively — hoped. Or if I did destroy them, they had been erected behind me again,” Gibson repeatedly applied for membership in the All-England Club, based on her status as a Wimbledon champion, but was never accepted.

It would be 20 years before another Black female player to follow in Gibson’s footsteps. In 1981, Leslie Allen, an ATA champion from Cleveland, Ohio, joined the University of Southern California’s (USC) tennis team as a walk-on in her junior year and played No. 6 on its 1976 championship team. She went on to reach a career high ranking of No. 17 in the world in February 1981 and became the first Black woman to win a significant pro tennis tournament since Althea Gibson.

Leslie Allen, sponsored by Prince racquets, pictured as a 20-year-old tour rookie in Sydney in 1977.

In 1986 Lori McNeil and Zina Garrison made tennis history during the Eckerd Tennis Open when they become the first two Black players to meet in the championship match of a major professional tennis tournament. McNeil prevailed 2-6, 7-5, 6-2, but Black women in the U.S. had already become a force. Garrison and McNeil — joined by Katrina Adams and Chandra Rubin — would spend the next four years trading historical milestones on the women’s tour, with Garrison becoming the first Black woman since Gibson to reach the finals at Wimbledon. On the way, she notched wins over Monica Seles and Steffie Graf, but fell to eight-time winner Martina Navratilova in the Championship match.

On the men’s end, in 1992 Bryan Shelton, a graduate of the tennis program at Georgia Tech, won the Miller Lite Hall of Fame Tennis Championships and became the first Black man to win a professional singles title since Arthur Ashe in 1978. Shelton seemed on the verge of a significant breakthrough at the 1994 Wimbledon, where, as a qualifier, he upset Michael Stich, the 1991 Wimbledon champion, in the first round and advanced to the fourth round, his career best result.

Bryan Shelton (right) currently the head men’s tennis coach at Florida and the first Black man to win a major title since Arthur Ashe in 1978 (pictured with his son, Ben Shelton, a current tour player)

MaliVai Washington would surpass Shelton’s accomplishment in 1996 by reaching the Wimbledon men’s singles finals. In the same year, Washington, a native of Jacksonville, Florida became the first Black tennis player named to the U.S. Olympic Tennis Team. A recurrent knee injury ended his professional career in 1999, but following Ashe’s example of giving back, Washington established the Malivai Washington Youth Foundation, which provides academic assistance, mentoring and tennis instruction to low-income youth in his hometown.“What I took from Arthur (Ashe) over the years is, as human beings and certainly as athletes, we have a responsibility to do more than just hit a tennis ball,” Washington said. “In one of his books, (Ashe) said, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘If I’m just remembered as a tennis player, I failed.’”


The Future of Black Players in Tennis

During the last 20 years, the reigning surname in tennis has been Williams. But to illustrate the efforts made before Venus and Serena took over, in 2008, a group of players, coaches and supporters established the Black Tennis Hall of Fame on the grounds of the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Virginia Union. Inductees include all the aforementioned players, in addition to ATA champions throughout the past 100 years. Future inductees are sure to be James Blake, Donald Young, Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens, Frances Tiafoe, Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff, among others, if or when the organization gets funding for a permanent facility.

In 2018, the 100th ATA National Championships took place in Orlando, Florida. Rodney Carey, from the Bahamas, won the Men’s Singles title while Isabelle Porter, a native of Fairbanks, Alaska who currently plays for Division II Stonehill College, in Massachusetts, brought home the Women’s Singles title, as well as the Mixed Doubles trophy. Aysha and Azaria Hayes, high-schoolers in the tradition of Pete and Repeat Peters won the Women’s Doubles title.

The year 2020 and the global upheaval over the unfair treatment of Black people in society have the tennis world pause over the need to bring more diversity and equity to the sport. After 104 years of operation, the ATA now works hand-in-hand with the USTA and other governing bodies of tennis and has called 4,700 people members and hosted 95,000 players in its various tournaments. Boundaries still exist — mainly financial — but tennis is well-poised to enter the next decade with fewer milestones to reach. 

The 2022 ATA Tennis Championships at the USTA Training Center in Orlando, Florida.

Roger Federer and the Modern Crisis of Masculinity

Roger Federer, Open d'Australie 2017 (© Ray Giubilo)

My earliest memory of crying—sad tears, not just a reaction to a stubbed toe or twisted ankle—is July 6th, 2008. It starts like many of my painful memories: a netted Roger Federer forehand.

Federer’s opponent that day, the young, capri-donned Rafael Nadal, walked towards the baseline of Wimbledon’s Centre Court at 9:16 PM London time. From my couch in Oregon, I inhaled sharply, then caught my breath. Eight time zones away, I couldn’t risk derailing Federer’s focus.

Nadal wiped the sweat from his face, bounced the ball six times, and tossed it into the fading Centre Court light. Federer blocked the serve with his forehand, sending a looped return up the line to Nadal’s backhand. Nadal’s response landed short to Federer’s forehand, like an errant chess move inviting checkmate. I let my eyes drift up the screen, anticipating a crisp winner. But Federer’s forehand caught the net. The ball fell to the grass, Nadal collapsed in victory, and my nine-year-old heart broke for the first time.

I watched the entire seven-hour Wimbledon spectacle that day: two rain delays, five sets, and countless flicked passing shots. After hanging on every point, every locked rally, and every bathroom break, I surrendered to a wave of uncontrollable emotion. I laid down on my bed and cried.

My tears quickly triggered another emotion. Shame. I had just crumpled beneath an unspoken burden of my young manhood. The men around me never cried—what was I doing? I wiped the tears away and returned to the living room, just in time to see a cardigan-donned Federer lift his runner-up trophy to a crowd of cheers and camera flashes.

Slowly, my heart recovered from the Wimbledon final. I tried to be productive in my mourning, using the heartbreak as on-court fuel to train harder. Federer, like always, provided the underlying blueprint for my practice sessions and tournament matches. “Federer practicing in Hamburg 2008 – ground strokes” blanketed my YouTube watch history. I spent hours with a ball machine emulating half-volley drop shots. I even briefly transitioned to a doomed—albeit not from a lack of devotion—one-handed backhand. Grand Slam seasons wore on, and soon the 2008 Wimbledon loss marked nothing but a brief scene in the video montage of Federer’s career. I kept playing tennis, graduated college, and still never really cried.

Last September, I turned on the Laver Cup to witness Federer’s final match: doubles alongside Nadal, his closest rival throughout a 24-year career, and the man who beat him at Wimbledon 14 years earlier. Reporters billed it as a lighthearted send-off. Federer, coming off a series of right knee surgeries, wasn’t fit for anything beyond the Laver Cup’s two-out-of-three set, third-set tiebreaker format.

The match itself ultimately induced more anxiety than closure. Nadal’s grueling run at the US Open erased any hope of compensating for Federer’s knee. Neither man’s legacy hung in the balance. After a 2-hour, 12-minute struggle, time edged out the Swiss-Spanish partnership just as much as their Team World opponents, Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe. I straightened up and grabbed the remote as the teams shook hands, bracing myself for Federer’s last moments on court. I never expected the most vivid scene of the event, and to me, Federer’s career, to quietly occur off-stage on Team Europe’s changeover bench.

Waiting to give his post-match interview, Federer broke down sobbing. At first softly, and then almost uncontrollably. Nadal started crying alongside him. The two men, epochal rivals of their sport, and by all societal standards, icons of athleticism and masculinity, sat holding hands as decades of emotion washed over them. They embraced the moment together, sobbing on the bench as Elle Goulding sang Still Falling for You to clips of Federer’s greatest wins. It was an unscripted moment of vulnerability, physical affection, and positive male friendship—rare in popular culture, and virtually unthinkable in professional sports. As a young man in today’s society, it was everything.

© Antoine Couvercelle

Men don’t cry. I internalized that unspoken maxim, even at nine. And despite my personal growth—therapy, close male friendships, and positive role models—I was shocked to see Federer’s public display of vulnerability. The subconscious parameters of my masculinity still flashed red. Healthy male friendships rarely reach mainstream celebration. Physical touch or affection between two straight men? Even less so—unless it’s a punchline or homophobic trope.

Federer’s retirement tugged at the desperate need for positive masculinity in today’s society. Men, especially young men, face a barrage of toxic masculinity at work, in school, and most recently, online. I struggle to name a male TV character from my childhood, even one, whose strength—and often, implied worth—rested in emotional intelligence or sensitivity. The boundaries of traditional masculinity prohibit displays like Federer and Nadal’s embrace. But misogyny, emotional detachment, and physical violence? Just open Tiktok and wait. Today’s algorithms privilege the Andrew Tates over the Roger Federers.

Unfortunately, sports perpetuate this masculinity crisis. I played tennis competitively for almost 10 years growing up, and never questioned why throwing my racquet or screaming obscenities was tolerated over crying. If you cried, you were invariably a “pussy.” On-court outbursts, smashed racquets, even self-inflicted violence rarely elicited more than an eye roll. In a sport so characterized by emotion, full of highs and lows, loneliness and elation, suffering and solace, why do we accept so few displays of masculinity?

Here, the professional circuit bears a responsibility; the starkness of Federer’s vulnerability also serves as a grim reminder of the state of masculinity on the ATP Tour. Rage is an implicitly accepted language, spoken through on-court outbursts that often precede physical violence. Nick Kyrgios, the popular No. 21-ranked Australian, violently broke two racquets at the 2022 US Open after losing to Russia’s Karen Khachanov. The Guardian, writing about the incident, described Kyrgios as “fiery”. Not unprofessional or violent—just fiery. Two rounds early against Benjamin Bonzi, he attacked his player’s box from the court, shouting, “Go home if you’re not going to fucking support me.” His “firey” brand of masculinity works. Kyrgios is now the star of Netflix’s new tennis docu-series, Break Point. Violence, rage, and past abuse allegations (assault charge against Nick Kyrgios was dismissed February 3, 2023, after he pleaded guilty to pushing ex-girlfriend Chiara Passari) notwithstanding, he remains one of the most popular figures in professional tennis.

Commentators, often women, have voiced concern about such on-court violence. After Jenson Brooksby threw his racket at last year’s Miami Open, inadvertently crashing into the feet of a nearby ball boy, former players like Caroline Wozniacki and American legend John McEnroe called for more accountability. Similar voices criticized Alexander Zverev’s violent battering of the umpire’s chair at last year’s Mexican Open.

But why do we only speak up when on-court violence inadvertently impacts a fan or court attendant? The silence endorsement, even media romanticization, of smashing racquets, cursing umpires, and screaming at fans is a signal to young boys watching at home: as long as your violence is self-inflicted, it remains an acceptable way to express yourself—on and off-court.

Masculinity is in crisis. Boys today desperately need examples of manhood removed from traditional archetypes of violence, aggression, and social domination. We need role models who show can strength in vulnerability, men who understand the importance of physical affection and deep, emotional friendship. We need men like Roger Federer.

Break Point

© Netflix

Comme dans Drive to Survive, les caméras du docu-série Break Point sont pointées sur les athlètes et le scénario suivi explore leurs pressions quotidiennes, leurs faiblesses, mais aussi leurs motivations et leurs forces à travers certains tournois majeurs de l’année 2022.

Il ne faut pas s’attendre à du arty façon The French ou du consistant à la HBO, la série est évidemment formatée à la Netflix. Rythme filmique soutenu, séquences au ralenti façon blockbusters et mécanique bien huilée basée sur un algorithme savamment étudié. Le ton est introspectif et légèrement romancé, axé sur les joueurs/ses et leurs ressentis et non pas sur le jeu. Le docu flirte parfois avec les codes de la télé-réalité. Ce qui ne fait que confirmer que la cible principale des producteurs est le jeune public plus ou moins néophytes.

L’angle adopté est effectivement celui de l’intime et de la vulnérabilité. On est, de façon très privilégié, plongé dans les coulisses du monde tennistique. Alors que ce genre d’images se font rares, nous avons droit, ici, à des discussions et des moments très privés d’avant ou d’après-match. Des moments de doutes extrêmes très touchants, c.f. Ajla Tomljanovic qui, complètement dépitée après une lourde défaite, confie à son équipe que ce sport la fait tellement souffrir qu’elle en arrive à remettre toute sa carrière en question au point de songer à l’arrêter.

La santé mentale, longtemps tabou dans le monde du tennis, est de plus en plus ouvertement abordée. Sans être aussi doctement disséquée que dans l’excellent Breaking Point, le documentaire Netflix sur l’Américain Mardy Fish, elle est évoquée ici à plusieurs reprises. Notamment dans le premier épisode centré sur Nick Kyrgios mais aussi celui avec Paula Badosa. La joueuse espagnole, bouleversée, nous révèle au cours d’une réunion avec sa team qu’elle se bat contre des états dépressifs depuis de longues années.

L’épisode 2 est mon préféré. On en apprend davantage sur Matteo Berrettini, son histoire et sa personnalité. Son humilité, sa timidité, son charme et son naturel illuminent l’écran et émeuvent, d’autant plus lorsqu’on le voit en Italie avec sa famille. Beaucoup de tendresse.

On y suit en parallèle le parcours de sa petite amie de l’époque, Ajla Tomljanovic, lors de l’Open d’Australue. Chose intéressante puisqu’on y apprend davantage sur les avantages et les inconvénients d’une relation amoureuse entre tennisman et tenniswoman.

Le court passage sur Rafael Nadal dans le même épisode est à mon sens le moment de grâce du documentaire. Introduit par Kyrgios (lol) qui le compare à un dieu, magnifier par le choix des images, les angles avantageux et les ralentis… On croirait voir une apparition divine – chargée d’histoire et d’un fort pouvoir orgasmique. Plus globalement, le charisme et la pertinence des champions apparaissant furtivement apportent du relief, avec tout particulièrement les passages “punchlinesques” de Maria Sharapova.

© Ray Giubilo

« Même les champions qui quittent le court après une défaite se demandent s’ils sont assez bons, lâche, par exemple, la Tsarine. Mais il faut affronter ce sentiment. C’est l’intérêt de ce sport. Une recherche constante. On veut savoir qui on est, jusqu’où on peut aller. »

Les créateurs ont intelligemment utilisé les différents acteurs secondaires : Maria Sharapova et Andy Roddick, les vieux sages. Rafa Nadal, personnage mystique, mi homme, mi dieu, dans l’ombre, il finit par prendre toute la lumière et devenir un personnage central. Même l’entraîneur Patrick Mouratoglou qui n’apparaît que trente secondes dans l’épisode 5 fait mouche (en la prenant) en taclant sans vergogne tonton Toni Nadal (pour changer). Sûrement la séquence la plus piquante de la série.

Le mordant (et la polémique) est indéniablement ce qui avait le plus contribué au succès de Drive to Survive avec la mise en avant des tensions entres pilotes et leurs (parfois exagérées) rivalités. En manque-t-il généralement dans le tennis pour en jouer ou n’ont-ils pas voulu en jouer ? Ou peut-être s’agit-il simplement de paresse scénaristique ?

Il y a évidemment quelques défauts, notamment le travail de contextualisation qui est un peu fainéant : on ne parle pas de la blessure de Nadal lors de la finale d’Indian Wells, on n’explique pas les nuances essentielles sur la question de l’égalité salariale… Ou encore, dans l’épisode 2 sur Ajla Tomljanovic, quand on présente Paula Badosa, sa future adversaire, on nous informe que l’Espagnole vient de gagner le tournoi précédent sans nous préciser qu’elle a éliminé l’Australienne dans la foulée.

Autre bémol : la mauvaise traduction des sous-titres. Un fait assez symptomatique de la plateforme Netflix. Ça aurait pu être anecdotique s’il s’agissait seulement de quelques fautes de frappe, malheureusement elles sont bien plus problématiques. « Roland » écrit avec deux « l », le nom des joueurs est écorché, on confond parfois également quelques  règles du jeu essentielles du tennis. Des petits détails qui peuvent embrouiller le public peu connaisseur qu’on veut initier à ce sport – détails qu’on espère réglés dans les prochains épisodes.

Malgré ça et le caractère parfois monotone et répétitif de certaines séquences, je trouve le résultat plutôt satisfaisant mais aussi intéressant et novateur dans l’angle d’approche et dans le traitement égalitaire hommes/femmes. Conclusion : même si la série est construite et calibrée pour séduire les néophytes, je conseille aussi Break Point aux adeptes du tennis, ne serait-ce que pour découvrir un bon nombre de révélations inédites d’athlètes qui ne sont habituellement pas mis en avant.

The Kazakh Phenomenon

The Australian Open final pit a Belarusian against a Kazakh in name only, either way, Russia came out on top

Elena Rybakina, a native of Russia, embraces Bulat Utemuratov, President of the Kazakhstan Tennis Federation, after winning Wimbledon in July 2022.

The Russian Tennis Federation (Russian: Федерация тенниса России) has a long history in the storied country. Under it patron, Arthur Davidovich McPherson (1870–1919), the heir to a family of Glaswegian ship-builders who was born and raised in St. Petersburg — and who was awarded the Order of Saint Stanislaus by Tsar Nicholas II for introducing football and tennis to the country —tennis thrived. By 1903, St. Petersburg had its first tennis championship and ten years later, the Russian championship was on the international tour. 

During the Soviet era, however, the racquet  sport barely survived. A non-Olympic competition that was both expensive and branded with an affiliation to the Romanov dynasty, the Tennis Federation of the USSR boycotted all the international competitions, except for the Davis Cup. Local men’s tennis players were bullied by the other Soviet sportspersons for competing in a “girlie” sport, and about 80 percent of tennis coaches in the USSR were women. But under Mikhail Gorbachev’s “perestroika” and “glasnost (openness)”  reforms, other former-Soviet countries built economies, and Russia strengthened its athletic prowess, especially in tennis. The former Russian president Boris Yeltsin —a man who liked his tennis racquet as much as his vodka — was credited with making it acceptable to participate in tennis once more. So much so, that the national academies, already busy with the Kuznetsovas, Safins, and Kournikovas, started to fill up. 

“He is like a grandfather to us… He knows everything about tennis,” French Open champion Anastasia Myskina said to The Independent of Yeltsin. “We discussed the matches and he was telling us how to play. He told me to play more shots down the line and to improve my serve.”

Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin and Boris Nemtsov at a tennis event in Nizhny Novgorod in 1994.

But Boris died, Vladimir Putin won the presidency and over the years, Russia has encroached on the independence of Chechnya, Georgia and lastly, Ukraine. Facing a shortage of sponsorship and training, tennis players had already begun to decamp to former Soviet strongholds, such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and especially, Kazakhstan. “As hurtful as it may sound, nobody cared about me in Russia. And now people care about me. And they do everything for my career to be successful,” said ATP No. 36 Alexander Bublik, who decamped to Kazakhstan in 2016. “Tennis Federation of Kazakhstan — they really look after me. They help, work, create the conditions for me to play well. It was impossible in Russia.”

Now, many current Kazakh players, including Australian Open finalist and Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, who left for the country long before the Ukrainian invasion, not only benefit from the money, but also a conflict-free government.  In retaliation for Ukraine, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) suspended the Russian Tennis Federation, as did Tennis Europe from all international competition, including the European Junior Tennis Championships, as well as the Davis Cup and Billie Jean Cup. Moreover any Russian player who wanted to play on either the WTA or ATP tours could not compete under the Russian flag. And players that represented Russia and Belarus were banned from the 2022 Wimbledon Championships, as well as other events in the United Kingdom.

Russian players under the turquoise banner the sports a 32-ray gold sun above a soaring golden steppe eagle now play wherever they want, whenever they want without any repercussions. 

The 2022 Kazakhstan Davis Cup Team, from left to right: Alexander Bublik, Mikhail Kukushkin, captain Yuriy Schukin, Aleksandr Nedovyesov, Andrey Golubev and Dmitry Popko. The team has made it to the quarterfinals six times.

In exchange for paying a bit more money, Kazakhstan has become a tennis cluster on the rise. The small, mountainous, mostly Islamic country of 19 million people now has seven players in the ATP top 1,000 and five in the WTA Top 500. On the WTA tour, these including No. 10, Rybakina, No. 44 Yulia Putintseva and No. 543 Anna Danilina.  On the ATP tour, the country boasts No. 129 Timofey Skatov, No. 214 Mikhail Kukushkin, who has notched victories over Tommy Haas, Stan Wawrinka and Gael Monfils, and No. 384 Dmitry Popko. Bublik, who once only played moneyed events, even joined the country’s Olympic team in 2020. 

And who is the man behind the country’s campaign for tennis dominance, providing “unbelievable support,” according to Rybakina: Bulat Utemuratov, a billionaire banker who owns the Burger King franchise in Kazakhstan, as well as holdings in the hotel sector, an airport and the mobile phone companies Kar-tel and Kyrgyzstan’s Sky Mobile. Besides putting Kazakhstan on the tennis map a dozen years ago with the Astana Open, Utemuratov, who is also a Kazakh diplomat,  has essentially designed  a blueprint for other nations that want to improve their tennis on the world stage. “I liked it from the beginning,” Utemuratov, 64, said of tennis after Rybakina’s Wimbledon title? 

The 2022 Kazakhstan Billie Jean King Cup Team, which defeated Germany in the qualifying match to reach the Billie Jean King Cup Finals for the first time. Bulat Utemuratov stands at the far left, waving.

To Utemuratov, who boxed and played soccer and table tennis in his youth, tennis was a revelation — a physical version of chess that requires versatility, intellect and supreme athleticism. After the collapse of the Soviet Union — and about the time Utemuratov started playing — he was serving as both an economic envoy for Kazakhstan to Europe and the United Nations, and a special aide to then-President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was modernizing and nationalizing the country’s vast oil reserves.

By 2007, however, the country’s tennis federation was nearly bankrupt. Utemuratov, “a big fan of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer,” offered his services. The Kazakhstan Tennis Federation started building, spending roughly $200 million to construct 38 tennis centers in all 17 regions of the country. Next, the federation trained hundreds of coaches and instructors, including quite a few from Europe, while subsidizing lessons for adolescents and granting the best juniors $50,000 to pay for training and travel. In 2007, there were just 1,800 registered players in Kazakhstan; there are now 33,000. A staff of 32 at the federation’s headquarters maintain constant contact with coaches across the country to track promising juniors.

Alexander Bublik doesn’t feel the need to explain himself or his country after achieveing greater success in Kazakhstan over Russia.

But the key to Kazakhstan’s success has always been Russia. Utemuratov made a simple offer to any disgruntled Russian player whom he believed needed more support: Play for Kazakhstan, which shares a language and a history with Russia, and the country will fund your career. Yaroslava Shvedova was an early success,  reaching a career-high ranking of No. 25 in 2012. She made the quarterfinals in the singles of three Grand Slam tournaments and won doubles titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Yuri Schukin, who never cracked the Top 100, became one of the country’s top coaches. 

For Bublik, the transition was easy. After he made the quarterfinals of a second-tier tournament with barely any help from Russia, he thought about receiving funding from an individual sponsor who treats the player like an investment and takes a share of the player’s winnings. But Utemuratov  approached, and a little more than a year later, Bublik cracked the top 100.

“Yes, I was born in Russia and have lived there for most of my life… Of course, I do feel Russian with my whole family being from Russia. But being a player who represents Kazakhstan in the world arenas is a pleasure for me and I feel very proud,” said Bublik, a native of Gatchina, Russia who now lives in Monte Carlo. “I don’t know how to describe it in words. But it’s awesome. Since we have already made a decision to play for Kazakhstan, I am never going back to the Russian team.” 

Arnya Sabalenka (left) embraces Rybakina after the Australian Open final. Sabalenka, who comes from Belarus, was not able to play the 2022 Wimbledon championships, while Rybakina, who is Russian but plays for Kazakhstan, has not faced any bans.

Rybakina has a similar story. Born in Moscow and trained at the Spartak Club, she represented her home country throughout her childhood. Despite reaching a junior career high of No. 3, she did not receive help from the Russian Federation. As her family shouldered the significant costs of her career, they considered alternative paths , including college in the United States. Then Utemuratov quashed her uncertainty, making her the same offer than Bublik couldn’t refuse. In 2018, aged 19, she started playing for Kazakhstan. “I think it was very good timing because they were looking for the player. I was looking for some help,” Rybakina told The Guardian after winning Wimbledon last year, while her fellow Russians were forced to sit out the tournament. “They believed in me. So I think it was very good combination. We just find each other.

“I think I’m also bringing some results, which are very good for the sport in Kazakhstan. For me it’s tough question just to say exactly what I feel.”

For now, Utemuratov and the Kazak Tennis Federation assert they are done recruiting in Russia, but as long as the war wages on the Ukraine, Russia still has 12 WTA players in the Top 100, and six ATP players in the Top 100 — all of them playing flagless and struggling for funds that are going to an endless war. 

Magical Moment:

When Kathy Horvath Beat Martina Navratilova at 1983 Roland Garros

(Martina was published by Alfred Knopf in 1985.) Of course, there is another side to the story.

Martina Navratilova did not lose a match all year in 1983 going into the first Grand Slam event of the year, the French Open.

“The year I lost to Kathy Horvath in the French Open (1983) I’d been playing the best tennis any woman has ever played. But I messed up a match and lost. That’s not choking, that’s losing,” wrote Martina Navratilova in her autobiography “Martina” (with George Vecsey).

Martina was in fine form indeed. She had won Wimbledon and French Open in 1982 (vs Andrea Jaeger 76 61) and was thus far unbeaten in 1983 (later achieving an 86-1 mark for the year). In Paris, Navratilova won three rounds – beating Mary Lou Piatek 61 61, Katerina Skronska 61 61 and Wendy White Prausa 60 63 – before the encounter with Horvath. Navratilova rebounded like a champ though and won all three major finals in straight sets after Paris and every other match she contested in ’83. Martina also won the 1984 French Open final (her second and last singles title in Paris) vs Chris Evert 63 61.

In her book “Martina”, the Czech-born lefthander revealed more details about her devastating defeat to the American teenager.

“I had only lost seven games in my first three matches. Renee (coach Richards) got off the plane (from NY) at ten o’clock in the morning of my fourth round match against Kathy Horvath, and came to the court.”

“Without having seen how I was playing, she advised me to stay back and wait for Horvath to make the mistakes and then later in the match for me to become aggressive. She said I should just keep the ball in play, but what was the point of that? I was at the peak of my career (age 26), so far I was having a good tournament, and I’d just had a great practice with Andrea Leand. I was hitting my backhand better than my forehand. I was in great shape and the worst that could happen was that I’d come in an miss a few volleys. And if I had established a good rhythm already, why slow it down?”

“I lost the first set 6-4 but came back to take the second 6-0. In the third set I could see Nancy (Lieberman, co-coach) was no longer sitting with Renee, but had moved closer to the portal and was shouting, “C’MON Martina, stay up!” … or shrugging her shoulders to tell me to turn my shoulders more on my backhand (signals)…the usual encouragement. I kept wondering why Nancy had moved, and never did get into the flow I had felt in my first three matches. I lost the third set 6-3 and was out of the tournament.”

“After the match, I felt there was no way I should have lost and I wanted to know what was going on between Nancy and Renee. Right away, Renee accused Nancy of giving me signals and of trying to undermine her as coach. She said she had been giving me good advice until the third set and she blamed Nancy for moving up front during the third set to give me signals. Nancy said she had left the seat next to Renee to go to the bathroom and when she came back, she didn’t want to walk in front of people so she took the nearest seat to the portal.”

“I didn’t know who to believe (lack of trust of her own team?) but I did know I’d been doing fine until Renee arrived and told me to hang back against Kathy. It was the first time I had ever doubted her judgement…”

“That day, I was feeling the ball perfectly,” Horvath told ESPN’s Greg Garber in a 2013 article. “I felt confident I could keep her off the net. Maybe that’s why she was tight, because she couldn’t come in like she usually did.”

Yesterday, Horvath, who was seventeen years old at 1983 French Open, shared more thoughts on her historic triumph vs. Martina: “I was better than her that day…one of those rare days when everything feels a hundred percent and you can hit any spot you want to. That happened once before to me when I was fifteen and had two match points against Chris Evert at the Italian Open (1981). By the way, I lost that second set against Martina because I knew I could win and my hands started shaking… Another by the way is that Martina didn’t come in because she couldn’t. I was feeling the ball so well and keeping it so deep there was nothing she could come in on…she tried but was always caught too far back.”

The victor remembers match point clearly: “She hit a short low chip to my backhand…I hit an approach shot down the line to her backhand and came in. Her passing shot was down the line and floated wide. She was so tight…”

…The irony of Navratilova losing to someone using her own game against her.

Horvath was also in fine form at 1983 French Open as she cruised through the first three rounds – 61 63 vs Pam Whytcross, 63 61 vs Hana Strachnova and 64 75 vs Claudia Kohde Kilsch – before stunning the world no. 1. In the quarterfinals she lost to Mima Jausovec 61 61, Jausovec eventually lost in the final to Evert.

Horvath vs Navratilova is still discussed as one of the great upsets of Grand Slam history. Unfortunately any film or video of the match is not known to exist. And the match most of us never saw will remain only as a dream.

You could believe that Martina was distracted by her coaches’ power struggle or that she mistakenly employed the wrong strategy and this is why she lost her only match of 1983. Or it could be true that the way Kathy was playing had everything to do with provoking mighty Martina’s rare moment of confusion and self doubt.

It’s easy to forget one of the many alluring beauties of the sport… tennis magic can be created by any player on any day…

The Mysterious Case of John Arbanas,

 the 1991 Australian Open and tennis journeymen


How did a no-name, no-ranked club player sweep AO qualifying into the main draw ?And could it ever happen again?

Melbourne Park in Victoria Australia, the location of the current Australian Open. The tournament was not designated a major championship until 1924 and moved to this site in 1988 after two decades at the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club.

At age 34 years, Gregory Howe, a native Australian and English teacher in London, quit his job to chase his childhood dream: becoming a world-ranked tennis player. He gave himself a year, and if by the end of that year, he had not earned an ATP ranking point, he would give it up.

What would get under Howe’s skin so much that he would attempt this feat at such risk to his regular life? The otherworldly run of fellow Aussie John Arbanas — a local club player who had neither a major title, a world ranking, nor any sort of pro tennis career —through the 1991 Australian Open qualifying to the main draw. Arbanas came out of nowhere to notch victories over U.S. veterans Tim Wilkison and Glenn Layendecker before losing in the first round to Brazilian player Jaime Oncins.

Boris Becker holding the 1991 Australian Open trophy at age 24. He would claim the ATP No. 1 ranking that year, rising to the top of a 1,200-man field, of which 176 vied for the AO title in either qualifying or the main draw.

“The guy was a right-hander, tan wiry and very fit, with a stylish baseline game where he’d let his free hand go on his two-hander like Mats Wilander, or Bjorn Borg,” Howe said. “In those days of the Australian open, players often didn’t make the trip down to Australia, and up until the early 1990s, there were often spaces in the qualifying where unranked Australian players with decent national rankings, could try their hand and sign in.

“I’m thinking maybe he caught some of the bigger American names ( a little under-done. But still, to beat them in a grand slam as just a nationally-ranked player is unthinkable. I always kept his 1991 Aussie Open run in the back of my mind… and when I finally achieved my first ATP point, I didn’t have to think twice. I was going to try do a John Arbanas.” ”

Gregory Howe competing in qualifying for ATP Mumbai in 2007. Photo: Gregory Howe.

However, Howe, Arbanas and Marcus Willis — the come-from-nowhere teaching pro who came through Wimbledon qualifying to face Roger Federer on Centre Court —seem the last of a dying breed: the tennis journeyman, the players who carry a racquet bag and not much else on the road, sometimes giving lessons or stringing to earn money to keep playing. Recent changes made by International Tennis Federation (ITF), which runs Grand Slams, and moreover, to the ATP tour rule books have cut back the draw sizes and made ranking points harder to come by in the minor leagues of tennis. A romantic tale the likes of John Arbanas — and even a Marcus Willis situation — might not come about today.

To begin with, qualifying draws. The ITF qualifying rounds for Grand Slams still have a cut-off of around 220 to 250 to accommodate ambitious players, but in the early 1990s players didn’t want to travel to Australia so early in the seaons. This allowed more byes… and, according to Howe, the author of the 2018 revealing and entertaining tennis travelogue, Chasing Points: A Season on the Pro Tennis Circuit., the tournament director had the discretion to allow unranked, local players in as wildcards. “Arbanas managed to play the qualifying 2 or 3 times without any ranking. He was from Melbourne, so it made sense. Also, the local players would be coming off months of open tournaments over Australia’s summer holidays and come in very match tight, whereas the big overseas pros would often fly in after their 6-week break.

British qualifier Marcus Willis walks on Centre Court to take on Roger Federer during the second round after blowing through qualifying in a fairytale season.

But much more significantly, unranked players are strictly not allowed to try to sign-in for any ATP qualifying tournaments, including Grand Slam events and ATP Challenger qualifying. All ATP 250, and ATP 500 events — with some of the lowest ranking points on offer — also did away with old-school sign-ins at tournament directors’ discretion. These were replaced by an alternative list on which ATP-ranked players could put their names in case of a last-minute pull out. In the 2000s, events such as the pre-Wimbledon Queens Club Cinch Championships (formerly the London Championships) had a 64-man qualifying event, where many lower-ranked British players could play each year. Now, Queens Club has only a 16-man qualifying round with cut-offs close to the No. 200 ranking mark.

Similarly, the Kingfisher Airlines Tennis Open in Asia, the China Open in Beijing, and the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha, all ran 32-man qualifying rounds a week before the main event — Howe managed to enter all of them in Autumn 2007. At an annual ATP board meeting a few years back, the administration decided to increase the quality of play and implemented 16-man draws across the board. Two events asked to keep 32 draws to help the local players and were denied. The reason, according to Howe: money. “Qualies cost money to run and earn nothing,” Howe said. “And it’s just a pain in the arse to run, so smaller is better for them. But of course now the bottleneck to get into ATP qualifying events is choking players movement up, so most are just trying to accumulate points in challengers and jump into the top 100.”

Former ATP World No. 28 Sergiy Stakhovsky, a Ukrainian player and Greg Howe opponent, left the tour last year to join the Ukrainian Army after the Russian invasion.

A 24-year-old Boris Becker ultimately won the 1991 Australian Open, defeating Ivan Lendl 1-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. The match marked the last time the former World No. 1 Lendl made a major final in his career, and it handed Becker the No. 1 ranking.

As for Arbanas he never repeated his qualifying success. Once noted as “talented and temperamental,” Arbanas at one point received a five-month suspension from the Victoria Tennis Association for “breaches of the code of conduct rules” — likely choosing to wear t-shirts over collared ones, as was the fashion of the day. In fact, despite his feat, little has been reported of Arbanas since his ‘91 run, aside from a short stint as a warm-up for Wimbledon finalist and former No. 35 John Frawley, who was coming back from a deadly virus and a wrist injury in 1990. “The gritty 7-6, 6-7, 6-4 win after a 160-minutes baseline duel with Melbourne pennant player John Arbanas was Frawley’s first tournament success since February,” the Melbourne Herald-Sun reported. “I need match play, and a tough match like that will do me the world of good,” Frawley said.

British player Marcus Willis (right) with doubles partner Scott Duncan at the All-British champtions M25 Sheffield event. The pair won its fourth ITF title.

Six years and change after his Wimbledon debut, Willis, now 32, is eyeing up a return to Wimbledon in the men’s doubles tournament. Like Howe, he started in the ITF Futures last summer and made the Top 500 within a year. “Playing at Wimbleodn was everything I wanted to do as a kid and it’s something I think I can do again,” Willis recently said. “Then I’d love to play the US Open and play every Grand Slam. That’s my real goal. I’ve only ever played the junior events in the Slams so I’d like to do that now.

“I don’t see a reason why I can’t do it. My goal was to get back to Wimbledon in two years and now it could potentially be one.” Once ballooning to SouthPark’s Cartman-size, Willis has certainly slimmed down to fighting weight and is aiming for Challengers around March or April and pushing into the 250-mark by June.

Gregory Howe, now 51, with his wife, Sylvie, after winning a 2020 local tournament in Guadeloupe, the French overseas region from which his wife comes.

Eventually, Howe managed to climb the rankings to No. 1,222 and for a year, he juggled competing on the ATP tour with holding down a nine-to-five job and a marriage after moving to Dubai. Along the way he encountered almost everything the tennis world has to offer, from players whose hopes were slowly shattering, to rising stars racing to the top, from war zones with UN staffers in sparse hotels to ATP-sponsored digs and tournament cars. 

With the aim to keep hold of his ATP ranking for as long as possible, Howe played one more ATP event in Doha in 2009, and reached the quarter-finals at a Futures event in Tehran in 2008. Out with injuries for two years, he had two children, wrote his book and started on a novel. Now living in Guadeloupe, Howe is thoughtful, but not overly so, about his unlikely run — a very fit sage for the younger up-and-comers. But don’t mistake that for him hanging up his racquet anytime soon. “One day I’d love to come back and play the grass court tournaments in the UK in the summer — this is heaven on earth for me.” 

Chasing Points: A season on the pro season circuit is available at Amazon, Waterstones and many other bookstores.

Entretenir la machine

© Antoine Couvercelle

Pour être en bonne santé, il faut non seulement manger 5 fruits et légumes frais par jour, mais il faut aussi faire du sport. Les tennismen habitués aux coups droits dans les bâches le savent et en souffrent, l’haleine suffocante après un rallye d’au moins quatre frappes ; mais même ceux qui touchent toujours les lignes et ne rechignent pas à la reprise d’appui, ceux qui regardent leur classement en direct sur le site de la FFT, ceux qui rêvent de circuit Future en s’empêchant de rêver plus fort, ceux-là aussi sentent que le sport qui doit les maintenir en forme érode paradoxalement leur machine. « Tout corps plongé dans un liquide subit une poussée verticale vers le haut égale au poids du volume de liquide déplacé. » Pour compléter Archimède, j’ajouterai qu’un corps plongé plus souvent qu’à son tour dans un ruissellement transpirant subit une poussée de vieillissement dont il se passerait bien.

Pour un sportif, la première phase de préparation consiste à sculpter son corps en mélangeant les protéines et les vitamines pour se bâtir une masse musculaire. Mais tout au long de son activité, le sportif, même amateur, a un besoin accru en nutriments pour entretenir les rouages de sa machine. Sans santé, pas de performance. Et sans performance, bonjour les raquettes cassées. 

Parce qu’il respire, le sportif s’oxyde. Parce qu’il s’oxyde, le tennisman abîme ses articulations, ses muscles, ses tendons, ses ligaments. Même ses intestins sont touchés lorsque l’épreuve traîne en longueur. 

N’en déplaise aux acteurs grisonnants invités à retracer leur parcours dans des émissions confessions, vieillir ne réjouit personne, d’autant moins quand on a déjà mal partout avant même de fouler un court en dur. Pour se prémunir contre ces effets pervers du sport intensif, il faut s’armer d’autre chose que de patience. D’où l’intérêt de se tourner vers des compléments alimentaires pour entretenir son corps, améliorer ses performances sans pour autant se gaver de lipides.

La gamme Aminoscience des Laboratoires NHCO Nutrition a été pensée en ce sens. Ces compléments alimentaires s’insèrent facilement dans la routine du tennisman et lui permettent de se concentrer sur son slice de revers et son service kické sans hypothéquer son avenir. Quatre compléments aux vertus différentes dont l’objectif est d’améliorer l’immunité du sportif et d’apporter à son corps l’ensemble des nutriments, des vitamines et des antioxydants requis par l’intensité physique sur la durée.

© Antoine Couvercelle

Se prémunir contre l’oxydation

Autrefois, il était de coutume de concentrer sa consommation d’antioxydants en privilégiant toujours les mêmes. À l’heure où les fruits et légumes contiennent moins d’antioxydants que par le passé, pour contrer le stress oxydatif, il est conseillé de diversifier ses apports. Avec ses 25 actifs, le NucléOx apporte l’équivalent en antioxydants primaires et secondaires de plus de deux portions de fruits et légumes frais. De quoi aider à la réparation des microlésions et apporter une protection cellulaire optimale. Le NucléOx contient par ailleurs un ingrédient breveté, le Polyphénox, qui contient de nombreux polyphénols. 

Il est recommandé de consommer NucléOx sur des programmes de deux mois, notamment dans les périodes où le sportif est fortement sollicité.


Faire le plein d’énergie

L’image du tennisman consommant son plat de pâtes avant le match et sa banane au changement de côté n’est pas près de disparaître, mais elle a tout de l’arbre qui cache la forêt. Les sucres lents ne font pas tout quand il s’agit d’assurer la performance sur la durée. Le propre du sportif étant de transpirer à plus ou moins grosses gouttes, il évacue par ses pores de nombreux micronutriments. On réalise l’importance de ce qu’on a quand on le perd : un super tie-break à plat, sans micronutriments, c’est un super tie-break que l’on a toutes les chances de perdre. 

C’est là qu’intervient l’Orthosamine, un cocktail composé de 31 actifs qui convoque tout à la fois : des minéraux, des acides aminés essentiels et des vitamines d’origine naturelle afin d’assurer l’apport en énergie du tennisman, même quand il est obligé de jouer loin de sa ligne. L’Orthosamine peut se prendre sur une durée de deux mois maximum, y compris lors des phases où l’on ne joue pas.

© Art Seiz

Soigner ses articulations, ses tendons et ses ligaments

Reconnaissons-le : si l’on enlève la raquette et la balle à un tennisman sur un court, il aura l’air un peu tarte à enchaîner ses courses courtes mais brutales, ses mouvements répétitifs en coup droit et en revers, à faire rebondir une balle invisible avant de servir parfois deux fois de suite. De la répétition et de la brutalité, tout ce que nos articulations détestent. Ce sont elles qui souffrent le plus de la pratique du tennis, elles qui sont les plus à même de nous mettre au repos forcé, plus encore que nos muscles que nous soignons à grand renfort d’échauffements et de massages plus ou moins improvisés pour apaiser nos courbatures. 

Afin de redonner aux articulations, aux tendons, aux cartilages et aux ligaments le soutien qu’ils méritent, les laboratoires NHCO Nutrition proposent Collax-Sil, une formule contenant notamment du collagène et ses précurseurs qui se prend sur une durée pouvant aller jusqu’à trois mois pour préparer des tournois. Il est très probable que vos articulations vous remercient. Néanmoins, si vous entendez vraiment vos articulations vous remercier, par exemple votre genou se lancer dans un discours de remerciements émus, n’hésitez pas à consulter votre médecin. 


Après l’effort, le réconfort

Après l’effort, le sportif a tendance à s’adonner à des routines apaisantes qui délaissent une partie de ses organes qui souffrent. Parce que le corps est fatigué, il est plus à même de tomber malade juste après un match. Pour l’éviter, il faut soutenir son système immunitaire, et notamment ses cellules de défense. Endomune, élaboré par les Laboratoires NHCO Nutrition, agit en ce sens via quatre actions ciblées. La première permet de stimuler le système immunitaire notamment grâce à la présence d’échinacée. La deuxième action favorise le regain d’énergie et la vitalité grâce au ginseng et à l’éleuthérocoque.
La troisième permet de renforcer le système immunitaire par la présence de thé vert. Enfin, la dernière action d’Endomune est d’agir sur la fatigue à l’aide de la vitamine C. 

Les Laboratoires NHCO Nutrition recommandent de prendre Endomune pour soutenir ses défenses immunitaires, 15 jours par mois pendant tout l’hiver. Dès les premiers symptômes, quels qu’ils soient, Endomune agira pour renforcer la santé et l’énergie du sportif. 

De la même manière qu’une machine à balles enrayée n’est pas d’une grande utilité, un corps fatigué par le sport ne renverra pas les balles de manière satisfaisante. Outre sa santé physique, c’est donc aussi sa santé mentale, bien poreuse à la frustration, que l’on protège en prenant des compléments alimentaires. De quoi prolonger la durée de vie de ses raquettes. Dans un sport où il y a toujours un gagnant et un perdant, voilà une opportunité de gagner sur tous les tableaux. 


Article publié dans COURTS n° 13, automne 2022.