To kick off a “Never Forget” week in which we look back on classic tennis matches and players who aren’t active anymore, we discuss some of our fondest tennis memories in a Changeover Chat, a quick back and forth between the writing staff at The Changeover.
Lindsay: Amy and Juan José…what are some of your first memories of tennis?
Amy: My first tennis-related memory is from when I decided to join my middle school tennis team because all my friends were doing it. I was in 6th grade, and I’d never even picked up a racquet before, but I enjoyed it so much more than I expected.
I played on-and-off throughout my middle school and high school years, never very seriously. But a couple years later, I got sucked into just watching some tennis matches on TV. Even my limited experience playing tennis helped me understand and appreciate the things I saw professional tennis players doing.
Lindsay: That’s funny. My mom gave me some tennis lessons when we were members of a country club in my youth, and I played some at a middle school camp, but that’s the extent of my playing days. I actually remember at camp the summer before 8th grade, the tennis instructor quizzed us on the three tennis surfaces that majors were played on and I didn’t know!
But as far as the professional sport, I remember my mom watching a 60 Minutes piece on the Williams Sisters when they were first breaking through, I think right before Serena won her first Major. I was very inspired by them and interested in the story. I also remember always knowing and loving Lindsay Davenport (same name!) and Jennifer Capriati, though I don’t have any specific memories of watching them play tennis until later on–after I developed a schoolgirl crush on Andy Roddick. I followed that US Open in 2001 when he made the quarterfinals, and I was just hooked on the sport.
Juan José: I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I think I have two early memories. The first one that pops into my mind is watching Seles and Graf play at the French Open in the late eighties, early nineties. I remember being hypnotized by the long rallies. The other day, the Tennis Channel was showing their 1992 French Open final (Seles wins 10-8 in the third), and that seemed very familiar to me. Later in the 90s, as men’s tennis became all about the serve and extremely short points, I remember thinking that I much preferred women’s tennis to men’s tennis.
My other memory is about watching match point of the 1990 French open final between my compatriot Andrés Gómez and Andre Agassi over and over again. I didn’t watch that specific French Open – I lived in Los Angeles with my family back then, so I missed it. But we moved back to Ecuador in the summer, and I remember that last point being replayed on TV over and over again.
Lindsay: I’m always amused by how much I roll my eyes at mainstream media coverage of tennis most of the time, but then I realize that without it I wouldn’t have ever found the sport, because my parents aren’t tennis fans at all.
Amy: Good point, Lindsay. As much as the Internet has allowed us to access the sport in other ways, it’s now strange to remember back to when TV used to be the only way to watch these matches.
Another more recent tennis memory for me comes from the beginning of 2011. I had been working on political campaigns for a couple of years after college, and that’s a profession where you work for 14 hours a day, seven days a week, so I wasn’t watching any sports during that time in my life. But then Election Day was over, and I was looking for a new job.
During my many hours of free time, I happened to turn on the TV at the gym to try and distract myself during a painful run on the treadmill, and I got hooked back into tennis just watching a match between Federer and Robredo at the Aussie Open. I was sucked into the day-to-day obsessive tennis lifestyle once I discovered the many amazing resources to follow the smaller tournaments on the Internet. And thanks to YouTube, I’ve been able to catch up on a lot of tennis I missed during college and during my busy campaign days.
Lindsay: Even after I became a huge tennis fan in 2001, I still basically only watched the US Open and Wimbledon. It wasn’t until I read about John Isner’s Legg Mason run in 2007 that I began actively searching for other ways to follow the sport’s smaller tournaments. It turned out the Internet was very good for that.
Amy: It helps if you have a lot of free time to get into it at first.
Lindsay: Indeed it does, Amy. When I was unemployed after graduation in 2008, my tennis obsession kicked to another level – though it actually wasn’t too hard to keep up with things in college. I mainly just lurked on posts on the TennisWorld blog. I didn’t even stream in those days. I was so innocent.
Funny story – I can tell you the exact date of Justine’s retirement announcement in 2008 … May 15th. Why? Because that was NYU graduation day and I checked Tennis.com on my blackberry in Yankee Stadium, listening to some speaker go on and on. I was so shocked to read the news I wanted to talk to someone about it, but I was in a sea of thousands of people decked out in purple caps and gowns and nobody cared about Justine.
Juan José: Before I caught the tennis bug for good, I remember being an Agassi fan, but missing most of his 90’s achievements. I actually remember his over-30 career a lot better. However, two random events come up to mind, for some reason: the 1998 ATP World Championships (that was the name of the World Tour Finals back then) final between Moya and Corretja (it was a fantastic match – both had met in the French Open final that year, with Moya winning, but then Corretja came back from 2 sets down to win 7-5 in the 5th.
The other random event was the 2000 Tennis Masters Cup (that was another old name for the World Tour Finals). I wonder if this event was huge in Latin America because of Guga, but his run to the title there (coupled with clinching the year-end #1) was beyond exciting. He dismantled Agassi in the final.
Lindsay: What was it about tennis that really captivated you guys? Beyond the first memories, can you remember when you knew you were hooked?
Amy: Since everything was so on-and-off for me, I’ll go with something more recent. Last year, after getting hooked on all the smaller ATP and WTA events, I got so excited about Wimbledon, which was a few weeks away, that I decided to start my own tennis website. Those first few days of the site’s existence, watching the grass Wimbledon warmup tournaments and writing up match recaps of Serena and Venus’ first matches back at Eastbourne, were so much fun.
Juan José: I was hooked at some point in 2005. I was a huge Federer fan then, and I remember the Miami final against Nadal, and thinking that he was going to win the French Open. I remember being involved in a short film shoot during that semifinal between Nadal and Federer, and running away from the set to catch the end of the match. It wasn’t worth it, obviously.
I was in Argentina then, and since I went to school at night, I had plenty of free time during the day. I watched more and more tennis, and went online to try and learn more about the sport. That’s where I found Pete Bodo’s blog, and when he allowed comments on his posts at the end of 2005, I was one of the few people who would post there. It was fun – a post would be “blowing up” if it got 25 comments back then.
I still remember getting in my first online argument: I thought Federer openly tanked the second set of his round-robin match with Coria at the 2005 Masters Cup, because he was coming back from injury and needed the matches to improve his fitness. Coria got bageled in the first set, and was acting exactly like someone who is about to retire would: clutching various body parts, wincing, etc.. Federer looked annoyed, and started spraying balls all over the place. Lost the set easily, and then killed Coria in the third, 6-2. People did not take kindly to the idea that Federer would tank a set. And I was a Federer fan! I thought it was a smart idea, actually.
More free mornings and afternoons plus TennisWorld definitely made 2006 the first year I was obsessed about tennis. I started a blog around that time, but it was a mess, so I won’t link it here. It was about all sorts of things, but tennis was included.
It was fun to follow along that specific year – the Federer-Nadal thing was blowing up after their matches in Monte Carlo and Rome, and their inevitable final at the French was HUGE – Federer had a chance to clinch the career Grand Slam for the first time. And in that French Open, Novak Djokovic had his coming out party, making it all the way to the quarterfinals, and that’s when I started following him. I was encouraged by Argentina’s great coverage of men’s tennis: they showed Amersfoort AND Umag that year!
Lindsay: The match that sealed my destiny as a tennis fan was the Hewitt/Roddick US Open quarterfinal in 2001. I remember watching it in my mom’s bedroom for some reason, and just being enamored. Five sets. Powerful tennis. New York crowd. Lights. Tantrums. I stayed up way past my bedtime to experience my first tennis heartache.
But as I mentioned earlier, when I was back in Greensboro in the summer of 2007 I read this article about a local guy beating Tommy Haas at Legg Mason. I began frantically searching for any information I could find on John Isner, and followed his run by live-scores. I found Tennis.com then, and the blogs, and really began following the sport on a daily basis. I was already familiar with most of the names from my obsessive US Open/Wimbledon watching, and I was an Internet addict so it was an easy transition.
Juan José: I find it funny how “free time” is an essential component to all of our stories.
Amy: Well, let’s face it, most people don’t have hours on end to watch every match at a Slam. It can be an all-consuming sport. It’s easy to plan your schedule to watch the top players at the big events, but it can be tough to follow all the lower profile players unless you have an inordinate amount of time on your hands.
Lindsay: Absolutely. Free time is a must, though once you’re familiar with everyone and dialed in it makes it easier to keep up on the go.
Amy: Yeah, you can learn how to squeeze it into a busier schedule.
Juan José: I think the cool thing about tennis is that you inevitably do have some sort of affection for the player as a person. That’s not what happens in soccer, for example. But in tennis, because it’s an individual sport, you inevitably become disappointed by the dumb things these guys/gals do, as if they were some sort of friend you have. And on the other hand, you can’t avoid getting happy for them as individuals when they achieve something big.
Lindsay: I agree, which I think is what drew me to the sport. I was a huge football and basketball fan, but those are such team sports. The individual nature of tennis was like combining the teen dramas I loved with the unpredictability of sports, and it just became addicting.
Juan José: There’s also something interesting about tennis in that while it’s individual-driven, at some point you just become addicted to watching people hitting a tennis ball. You end up loving the sport more than the individuals. That’s how you end up watching horrible early round matches between people who wouldn’t be recognized as professional athletes outside of their family circles or their hometowns. You also become fascinated with trying to figure out who will be the next big thing, or just following the career of some incredibly talented slacker who will probably never get it together.
Amy: As someone who’s stats-obsessed, I appreciate tennis because the stats are more revealing for individuals than for team sports. Then aside from the numbers, you have the added drama of watching mental battles on court. All sports are mental, but tennis puts additional emphasis on that.
Juan José: Yeah – there’s just that fascinating feeling of watching an evolved version of boxing: the ultimate test of wills, the ultimate one-on-one combat.
Amy: There’s no timer, any match can theoretically go on forever. It’s not over until the last point. That’s why I sometimes find it more compelling than football or hockey, though I enjoy both of those sports. It’s never too late to come back. In theory, a player can be down 6-0, 6-0, 5-0, 40-0, and win the match.
Lindsay: Agreed, Amy. So much drama. So, many of our tennis memories have come recently in the grand scheme of the sport. What one player or match or tournament do you wish you could have watched live? What memory do you wish you had?
Amy: I wish I’d been able to watch more tennis before the Big Four era, but I was just too young and not following the sport, so I didn’t get to watch great matches with Agassi and Sampras at the time. Also, I wish I would’ve been able to see Lendl play live. I enjoy his game, having watched a lot of old videos of him playing.
Lindsay: I wish I could have really experienced Steffi Graf.
Juan José: Naturally, I wish I had been able to see an Ecuadorian with the French Open. That would’ve been awesome. I wish I had been able to follow Gómez’ career. I barely caught any of him, and I never really liked Lapentti. Although I did enjoy it when Lapentti made the AO SF in 1999.
Lindsay: I wish I had watched the Federer/Safin Australian Open semi. I’ve since watched it on YouTube, but that would have been phenomenal to watch in real time.
And to go back in time, it would have been fun to see the emergence of the WTA and to watch Billie Jean King do her thing. And a non-exo Johnny Mac would have been a blast to watch.
Amy: And Rod Laver, of course.
Lindsay: Yes. Any closing thoughts?
Amy: I’m happy I turned to ESPN2 when I was running on that treadmill two years ago. If not, I might never have gotten into the sport as I am. I could’ve turned on college football instead!
Juan José: I think it’s interesting how tennis gets to you. Most things in life work in the same way: right place at the right time, but tennis sure has a way of keeping you hooked in different ways. It grabs you with the individuals, but it keeps you as a fan by altering your brain so that you can’t function properly without watching two random people hit a yellow ball across a net. It doesn’t matter who those people are, or where they’re playing. You just feel the need to watch this odd dynamic play out.
I wish I could remember more details about how I was able to watch tennis when I was younger, or how it was that I became a big Agassi fan. And certainly how I ended up watching the 1998 Masters Cup. I guess I was just curious, had free time, and loved sports.
Lindsay: It’s just the cyclical nature of it that makes it so engaging. The sport itself is so mental and physical and fascinating, but when you know the personalities it takes it to another level. And every week there’s a new draw, new stories, often a whole new country or surface. It keeps things fresh even when that concept seems impossible. It’s just too much fun.
What are your first tennis memories, Changeover readers? Feel free to continue the chat in the comments below!