ROGER FEDERER, the undisputed world No.1 on all tennis surfaces except clay, is on two current publications: Time and Men’s Vogue.
In Time magazine, the 25-year-old Swiss is counted as one of “100 Most Influential People In The World.” Wow! For the winner of 10 major titles, that’s major. Guess who penned the piece on the man destined to be The Greatest Ever… of course, who else but the current Greatest Ever himself: two-time Grand Slam winner Rod Laver.
“Every time I speak to Roger,” writes Rod Laver, “I sense no ego on his part. He asks me questions about how I prepared for big matches—Roger has a clear appreciation for the history of tennis. (Plus, these days, I should be the one peppering him with questions. He’s the big star!) When you’re talking to Roger, he makes you feel important—whether you’re a fan, an opposing player or an old geezer like me.”
Laver said not to crown Federer as the best ever — not yet. But, he said, “One thing is for sure: he’s the best player of his time and one of the most admirable champions on the planet.”
Coach Butch Bacani (far right) with his Cebu students
Don’t miss this chance: One of RP’s top coaches is in town and he’s here only for a month. So, go!
Butch Bacani, with 30 years of experience tucked inside his tennis racket, is in Cebu. Dubbed the “Smart/Butch Bacani Tennis Camp,” this clinic is for free! Yes. Believe it or not in this day of commercialism, it’s for free. So, go!
Sessions are MWF. Time? Beginners (8 to 10am), Intermediate (10 to 12), Advanced (1 to 3 pm), and venue is Cebu Country Club. If you need more info, call Ging-Ging at 4161500 local 100. So, don’t delay, grab a racket, change to tennis shorts, and go!
Why not! Since Federer’s won 48 straight matches on grass and Nadal’s won 72 straight on clay, why not halve the rectangle?
Creative, unprecedented and, yes, with that $1.63 million court, it’s a very expensive idea—but it’s drawn world-wide acclaim. Sad to say it wasn’t shown on ESPN. But don’t despair… YouTube to the rescue! If you want to see footages, especially of the third-set tiebreak that ended 12-10, click on this.
He’s Tiger Woods holding a racquet, the Michael Jordan of his game, the Michael Phelps of this dry swimming pool named tennis court, and yet, when it comes down to a boxing fight between the world’s No.1 and No.2 players—he bows down, wobbles, trips, and gets KO’d.
Funny? No. Embarrassing. How can you be declared Numero Uno if you keep on losing to Numero Dos? Think about it: In the last five times they’ve met on clay, Rafael Nadal has dirtied and spat at and thrown dust into the face of Roger Federer.
Yet, if you visit the Basel, Switzerland home of Roger, he has 10 Grand Slam singles trophies that adorn his cabinet. For years, he’s been perched at the summit of tennis’ Mt. Everest. In 2006, he won three major titles and last January, snatched the Australian Open. Inside his Swiss bank account sleeps $30 million in prize money earnings and, for sure, more than double that in endorsements.
But, whenever he faces this 20-year-old Spaniard, the red color of his Swiss flag turns pink.
The other night, together with two of my closest tennis buddies—Dr. Ronnie Medalle and Macky Michael—I watched the Monte Carlo Open finals.
Was it a contest? Sure it was. It’s called a “No-contest.” Nadal bloodied Federer. He ran him left. He ran him right. He feathered a drop shot that died as the ball crossed the net. He hit to Federer’s weaker backhand, hit to Federer’s stronger forehand—it didn’t matter—Nadal hit straight at Federer’s chest. He stabbed him. With Nadal’s high-bouncing topspin, the Swiss was defensive, unsure, shaking his head, shaking the demons. The normally unflappable Federer struck 19 winners and 38 unforced errors. Yes, no misprint there: 19 winners, 38 unforced errors! The man labeled as “The Greatest” was renamed “The Weakest.”
Here’s my observation: I’ve never seen Federer defensive. Not against Andy Roddick or James Blake or Tommy Haas. Roger is Roger because he’s the aggressor. He dictates play. He’ll shoot an ace down the T, rifle a forehand crosscourt, or chip a slice backhand that’s as sharp as a Swiss knife.
But not against Rafa. And not on clay.
You see, this is why I love tennis. The surface changes. Name me a sport where, after this month or that season, they change surfaces. Basketball is always on wooden parquet. Golf, though hopping from Augusta to Dubai to the Scottish links, is on grass. Same with badminton and bowling and billiards.
In this game, there are a myriad of surfaces: clay, grass, Taraflex, indoor carpet, artificial grass, Har-Tru. And so, this is what makes tennis different—and interesting. On grass (Wimbledon arrives on our cable TV this June), it’s fast! fast! fast! On hard-court at the US Open and the Australian Open, it’s fast and not so fast—or medium-paced. On clay, it’s this….
Why? Because on grass the ball skids and slides while on clay, the ball grips the dirt and hugs it for half-a-second before flying.
And this is where Rafael Nadal was tailor-made by God to succeed. Nadal is quick, hits heavy topspin (that even a 6-foot-1 Roger has to hit above his shoulders), he never gives up a point, can sprint for 26 hours non-stop, is left-handed, and has the fighting spirit of a raging bull from Spain.
Nadal is a Spanish raging bull.
And so, after 67 straight wins on clay dating back to the Stone Age, here’s what’s next for Rafa: He’ll win Hamburg, he’ll win Rome and—against Roger in the finals on June 10—he’ll win the French Open.
Past 1 p.m. last Thursday, four good people landed at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport. They wore T-shirts and shorts, carried 11 oversize bags loaded with yellow Penn balls, and they each hand-carried a special gift for us: their big, warm smiles.
Elmer Dolera, Ted Sayrahder, Kevin Young, and Joy Riley are good. They’re so good that they flew thousands of miles from their homeland—the United States—to be with us. Here on vacation? On a business venture? Arrived to invade the dark, smoke-infested bars in search of topless girls? No. They’re good, remember?
These four good visitors landed in Cebu for a different swing: To teach tennis. Yes. Tennis. In the U.S., they’re what you call “tennis pros.” And they’re not just ordinary pros—they’re some of the best from the West to the East Coast.
Did they arrive to get paid green bucks? Thousands of dollars deposited in their bank accounts for this trip? No. They’re good, remember?
They came to Cebu on their own, without pay, leaving behind their spouses and children, losing hundreds of dollars of income during their several weeks-long stay here—to teach tennis, to share their expertise, to do good.
Isn’t that good? Yes, very good. No wonder they’re called the “Goodwill Tennis Tours.” Their objective is to promote friendship and closer ties between the U.S. and our country through tennis.
Elmer Dolera started it all back in 1999. A Filipino-American born and raised in California but whose parents originated from Tubigon, Bohol, Elmer had visited Cebu thrice before ’99 and, each time he arrived, longed for a project to help his native land.
Why not tennis? he asked. Why not import a top U.S. coach for a few weeks, find some local trainers, and mix them? Why not do good?
So Elmer contacted Ted Sayrahder, a USPTA P1 and USA High Performance Coach—one of the top in the whole of America—they flew together and, since 1999, have been back and forth several times and visited places like Boracay, Palawan, Bohol, and Iloilo.
Fast forward to last Thursday. The coaches arrived in Cebu after conducting workshops in Gingoog City, Butuan, Camuguin Island, Malaybalay, and Davao. But this time, instead of just Elmer and Ted, they invaded Cebu with two more top pros, Joy Riley and Kevin Young.
Kevin Young? Man, he’s good. He’s a good man. And, he’s a very, very good tennis coach. Back in Washington State, he runs a huge 12-court facility in Vancouver with hundreds of children and adult netters. His official title? Master RCW (Recreational Coaches Workshop) National Trainer—one of only six in the whole United States!
Good? Nah. Very, very good.
Joy Riley is a beauty. She stands over 5-foot-10 with long, flowing blonde hair and the body of a Steffi Graf. A varsity swimmer in college, she has since shifted to tennis and is an RCW National Trainer and PTR Pro.
What did the Goodwill Tennis Tours do? From Friday to Sunday last week, each morning from 8:30 to 11:30 they taught Cebu’s top coaches. Nearly 60 locals showed up wearing tennis shorts and tennis shoes and tennis rackets. They trooped to the Casino Espanol and joined the Recreational Coaches Workshop. On court, they danced, sprinted for bouncing balls, smacked forehands. They listened, laughed, learned.
In the afternoons, it was all-children. Twenty of Cebu’s best juniors participated—including names you read each week on this space: Sally Mae Siso (who, this year, is the youngest Cebu City Charter Day awardee), her brother Nino Siso, No.1 junior star Jacob Lagman, and 16-year-old champ Francis Largo. For over two hours each afternoon, they joined the Elite Juniors Program. They sprinted for drop shots, smashed lobs, and sweated enough sweat to transform the tennis court into a swimming pool.
I spent hours watching. What single lesson, in my opinion, did I learn most? Three letters: FUN.
Those three letters are the most important letters in the sports alphabet. Think about it. In golf, for example, what use is teaching a child the proper grip if she’s not having fun? In basketball, what use is teaching the behind-the-back dribble is he’s not smiling?
Fun, Fun, Fun. Coaches, remember that.
Back to Joy, Kevin, Ted and Elmer: these are good guys. Really good guys. They’re passionate. They laugh on court and dance with the children and jump for joy. They’re in love with tennis, with life, and, from what I’ve heard them say, with Cebu.
Macky Michael plays golf. He started when he was eight years old at the Cebu Country Club. On his very first tournament, at 10 years of age, he won it! That was back in 1982.
Fast forward to six months ago, an uncle of mine from Laguna arrived and I invited Macky to join us for 18 holes. His score that afternoon? A gross 71. Even par. Wow. Today, he owns an 8-handicap that would be much lower if he played more than once a week. He’s Class-A in golf.
Macky Michael plays tennis. Like golf, he started at eight years of age. Same place, the Country Club. Now, he owns a Western-grip forehand that propels the ball forward. He can slice or topspin that backhand cross-court and his serve resembles that of John McEnroe’s. He’s Class-A at tennis.
And so I asked Macky, a close friend whom I’ve played singles tennis with the past 15 years, and one of the rare few in Cebu today who play golf and tennis each week—and who’s Class-A at both—the question, “Who’s better? Tiger or Roger?”
Just by their first names, you know them.
“Tiger Woods,” says Macky, “is no doubt the greatest-ever golfer. Jack Nicklaus may have more majors (he has 18), but it’s only a question of time before Tiger wins more than 20.”
“Roger Federer,” adds Macky, “is, to me, the best tennis player ever.” Macky’s previous “best-ever” was Pete Sampras. But in head-to-head combat, Roger has more artillery. His backhand is better, he’s quicker around the court, and has a stronger baseline game.
Golf or tennis? Which is more difficult, I asked Macky.
“With tennis, you have to be very fit. If you’re playing singles and you’re Class-A, you have to be in great shape. Not so in golf. You can be out of shape but still be good in golf. Between the ages of 13 and 21, I stopped playing golf. But when I came back—and that’s eight years of not having hit a ball–it wasn’t hard at all. As long as you have the golf swing, it’s fast. With tennis, if you’re unfit, you can’t play at a high level.”
“What makes golf difficult,” Macky says, “are the obstacles. Lakes. Sand traps. You can drive the ball 300 yards but if it lands on a bad lie, then it’s bad. Tennis is easier because it’s the same court all the time. Although Wimbledon may be on grass and the French Open may be on clay, it’s still the same dimensions, the same court.”
Tiger or Roger?
“Achievement-wise,” he said, “I’d say it’s a tie. Both are the same. What Roger did last year (winning three of four Grand Slam titles and carrying a 92-5 win-loss record) can be matched by what Tiger did back in 2000 when he made the Tiger Slam. In total number of majors, they’re not so far apart. Roger has 10 Grand Slam titles while Tiger has 12.”
But herein lies the difference, said Macky: Tiger will surely win many, many more Grand Slam titles than Roger. Why? Because even if Tiger is older (he’s 31 years old versus 25 for Roger), in golf there is longevity. “Look at Vijay Singh. Two years ago, he was world no.1. He’s 43 years old today. That’s impossible for tennis. With golf, it’s very possible that 10 years from now, Tiger is still winning slams and is the world no.1. With Roger, three years from now he’ll no longer be world no.1. In golf, at 40 years old, you’re still peaking. In tennis, once you’ve reached 30 years old, you’re old. It’s the nature of golf and tennis.”
The physical aspect. The athleticism. That’s what separates tennis from golf, Macky adds. “Charles Barkley once said in an interview with Bob Costas, ‘The last guy in the worst NBA team who just sits on the bench is a far better athlete than Tiger Woods.’ And it’s true. From an athletic standpoint, you can’t compare Tiger to a very athletic Roger. The definition of an athlete is one who has superior physical skills (strength, agility, endurance). Unfortunately, golf doesn’t allow you to showcase your endurance or stamina. On athleticism, Roger definitely beats Tiger. On the physical side of sports, I’d rather compare Roger with Michael Jordan.”
“That’s why,” Macky explains, “as much as I enjoy golf, but purely on the exercise point-of-view, one hour of tennis is better than five hours of golf.”
The Masters or Wimbledon? A golf major or a tennis Grand Slam title? Which is harder to win?
“A golf major,” says Macky. “With tennis, you win seven matches to win a Grand Slam title. In golf, you have to shoot the best score for the whole event for four days! Against everybody else! That’s much tougher. Also, in tennis, you can play bad, for example, in one match but still barely escape with a five-set victory. The good thing is, you’re still in contention. Your previous day score gets erased. Not in golf. At the pro level, you can’t have a bad day. Tiger rarely has a bad day. If one shoots 8-over for the day, you can’t erase that score. It’s added up. Not like tennis.”
Hours after her Australian Open win, Serena Williams was asked: Are you in better shape than people give you credit for?
“I definitely think so,” she said. “Just because I have large bosoms, and I have a big ass (laughter), I swear, my waist is 30 inches – 29 to 30 inches, it’s really small! I have the smallest waist, but just because I have those two assets, it looks like I’m not fit. Just in the locker room staring at my body, I’m like, “Am I not fit, really not fit? Or is it just that I have all these extra assets?” You know, it just looks like I’m not fit. I don’t care if I didn’t eat for two years, I still wouldn’t be a size 2. No matter how slim I am, I always have this and that. I’m just not that way, I’m. . . bootylicious, so to say.”
Serena, no doubt, was fit. How can you claim being unfit if you win three-hour-long matches that score 8-6 in the third set? There’s also no question that Serena’s back. And so will, very soon, Venus Williams. During the years 2000-2003, when the sisters reigned over Tennisdom as the world’s top two, few doubted they’d be toppled. But after a combined 12 Grand Slam singles titles, the Williamses got bored. They published a book, appeared in The Simpsons, and designed a clothing line named Aneres (spell it backwards). They did everything else off-court to distract them on-court.
But now, Serena’s back. Good for tennis, bad for Maria.
* * *
Roger Federer has a split personality. Don’t you find him mean? Watch him play. He smiles, shakes your hand, and appears to be a nice guy then all of a sudden he runs you left and right, drills a forehand you can’t smell, makes you look like a beginner (Roddick?), and then he shakes your hand again because… you’ve lost, he’s won. What has Federer proven?
He’s proven that he’s unstoppable. Like a bullet train with a mission to tour the world and collect trophies at each station, that’s it, The Federer Express. The question today is not whether he’ll break the all-time Grand Slam singles titles record of Pete Sampras (at 14), the question is if he’ll break Steffi Graf’s all-time-mankind-record of 22 majors. At only 25 years old, why not?
The French Open. The only Grand Slam title he hasn’t won. Will he? Of course he will! And it may come as early as this May. Unlike Sampras (who never won Roland Garros), Federer is a baseliner willing to exchange 27 shots with a Spaniard like Tommy Robredo. He’s patient. And isn’t patience the prerequisite to a dance in Paris?
Here’s the scary part: Federer’s getting “betterer.” He is. He’s improving. Isn’t that scary? Just when everyone “oooh’s” and “ahhh’s” and says he’s “the best ever,” he wins. And wins. And wins the Oz Open without dropping a set.
How do you beat him? How do you wound a warrior who looks like Russell Crowe in The Gladiator? I found the answer from Rod Laver, who said, “The best way to beat him would be to hit him over the head with a racket.” (Laver, of course, was joking.)
Here’s another scary thought: The Fed has so many weapons. He can slice. He can serve-and-volley. He can drill that forehand down-the-line. He can flick that backhand cross-court. He can play defense. Offense. Ace. Lob. Drop shot. And the best part: he plays so relaxed. And this is why I think Federer will last a long, long time. He’s relaxed. And so, when we talk of injuries, he’s less prone. Compare his game with Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard uses an extreme grip where he swivels his arm and snaps the wrist to smother the ball. Nadal grinds it out. He’s physical. Federer? He’s Mikhail Baryshnikov. He’s a ballet dancer. He floats. Glides.
* * *
Was it any coincidence that a few hours after Roger won, Tiger Woods captured the Buick Open? Nah. I don’t think so. You see, these two buddies call each other often to say, “Hey! I just won. Your turn!” The other replies, “Sure!”
Both, as you’ve read, are on winning streaks. Tiger won his seventh straight PGA event, Roger his third straight Grand Slam title. At this frenetic pace, it won’t be long before “Roger” is placed alongside the names MJ, Ali, Tiger, Pele, and Lance.
* * *
Split-personality. Why did I say that? Because as “bad” as Federer is on-court, he’s such a nice guy off it. Did you see the finals against Fernando Gonzalez? You saw what Roger did after the match? This I’ve never seen before: After he fell to the ground, raised his racket and arms to the Melbourne sky, and put on his Rolex, you know what he did? He visited the wounded. He went to Gonzalez, who was seated, bent down beside him to talk. He consoled him. He laughed with him. He told him, “You played a great match…”
What a nice guy. Here’s more: During Roger’s acceptance speech, he nodded to his girlfriend and his coach, but never mentioned their names. But when he spoke of Gonzalez’s coaching staff, he lavished them with praise.
Why do opponents not mind losing to him? There’s your answer.
In tennis, like in golf, there are four grand slams. “The Majors,” they’re called. There’s the French Open, or “Roland Garros,” held every May in the world’s most romantic city. There’s Wimbledon, the tour’s undisputed “most prestigious,” every June in the land of royalty. There’s the US Open in loud New York, the last slam bang of the year, every September.
Today, we have the Australian Open.
Wimbledon? The French Open? Why, they’re in Europe. The US Open? Of course, it’s in America. Not to be outdone, we’ve got our own: the Australian Open, dubbed “The Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific.”
It all began as the Australasian Championships in 1905. That’s a long time ago. To be exact, 102 years back. By 1927, the name had changed to the Australian Championships and finally, in 1969, when amateurs and professionals competed side-by-side, it’s been the Australian Open. The venue, since 1905, has kangaroo-hopped on five different cities—Melbourne (where it is today), Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth—and was even held in New Zealand in 1906 and 1912.
Today, it’s on Melbourne Park. It owns the rare accolade as the only grand slam venue to house two courts—the Rod Laver and Vodafone arenas—with movable rooftops that close during rain or extreme heat. (By 2009, though, expect Wimbledon to have its own retractable roof on Centre Court.)
Australia, as a country, is a mighty blue shark in the ocean called sports. Swimming. Cricket. Soccer. Rugby. Track and Field. At the Olympics. At world meets. Without fail, there’s a good chance atop the winners’ “A” list is Australia.
Tennis, of course, included.
You see, through the decades, Australians have developed some of the best-ever tennis stars: Ken Rosewall, Roy Emerson, John Newcombe, Fred Stolle, Margaret Court; and, the past decade, Pat Rafter, The Woodies doubles team, Pat Cash and the in-your-face, “C’MON!!!” warrior whom everyone loves to hate, Lleyton Hewitt.
The most famous “mate” of them all?
Rod Laver. He is the only player (male or female) in history to have won the calendar grand slam twice, in 1962 and 1969. No wonder the Australian Open center court is named after him. And, if you recall 12 months ago, no wonder Roger Federer cried when he received the champion’s trophy from Laver’s hands. He was honored by the presence of The Rocket.
SURFACE. The Australian Open surface? Hard-courts. Wimbledon is on green grass (the fastest surface because the ball skids), the French Open is on brown clay (the slowest surface), while the Oz Open’s hard-courts are considered the “most fair” of all surfaces. Unlike clay, where Spaniards Rafael Nadal and Juan Carlos Ferrero dominate because of their heavy-topspin style or, on grass, where Pete Sampras and Boris Becker excelled because of their 140-mph serves, the Open’s hard-courts are neutral. Not too fast. Not too slow.
What I like about the Oz Open?
To us here in Cebu, the live cable TV coverage over Star Sports. From 8 a.m. until mid-afternoon, then from 4:30 to 8 p.m., we see the action as it unwinds in Melbourne.
As the cliche goes: “Only the Strong Survive!” Why? First, the heat. At times, temperatures reach 45 degrees and years back, players fainted. (At least they now have the roof.) Also, the Open is scheduled in early January. This means that to win, you’ve got to forgo of the Christmas holidays. Remember Andre Agassi? He won this event four times. Why so many? Because on Dec. 25, while others ate cheesecake and drank Dom Perignon, he climbed the stairs of sports stadiums. AA won.
ROGER. This ’07, RF will win. Who else can you choose? If you study the history of Open winners, you’ll see a pattern: The winner is the all-around player. RF? He’s the most complete player. Ever. Sampras was close. But Pete owned a weak backhand and never possessed the patience of a baseliner. Unlike the Swiss.
The women’s side? I like Maria. Who’s Maria? Of course you know Maria. She won the last grand slam event, wears a diamond-studded watch with the same brand as Tiger Woods, was rumored to have dated Andy Roddick, is the highest-paid female athlete in the world earning $20 million a season, stands 6-foot-2, owns green eyes, and, best of all, she’s solo.