Tuesday, 10 January 2017

TSP's top 10 tennis players

From Christmas until just after the Australia Day fireworks give somebody the shits in the middle of their service it's time to pay close attention to a sport that we give chuff all to the other 46 weeks a year.

I could have been a tennis player, if not for the fact that I was completely shit at it. Like cricket where trying to hit every single ball for six always seemed to backfire I just wasn't made for a sport where concentration and precision was required - and wasn't going to practise a killer serve to compensate. Roped into playing some rock bottom level of junior competition I was roughly 0-20 in singles and 1-19 in doubles over two seasons - and even the doubles win was because my partner did all the work.

Eventually on a morning where health and safety regulations hadn't yet been invented we were told to keep playing in 40 degree temperatures at 10am, and finally realising that wasn't going to be the sport for me I smashed my racquet around the net pole and walked off. Surely no 15-year-old has ever enjoyed a better exit to their sporting dreams. If you double those two fruitless seasons with my competition table tennis career 15 years later my overall singles record was about 2-50. It's enough to give you a complex.

So hail then to these legends of the court, who controlled themselves long enough to win a motza in prize money.

Apologies: Michael Chang for the underarm serves in that French Open, Yannick Noah for the hair, to all of Jaime Yzaga, Anna Smashnova and Ludmilla Richterova for their names, Firey Fred Stolle for the commentary and to Pam Shriver for her epic acting in an 80s Kraft Singles ad that has regrettably been removed from YouTube.

Contemporary female winner: Andrea Petkovic
Basically these days grit and success won't do, it's a case of give me gimmicks or GTFO.

Honourable mention: Damir Dokic
Not a player, but what a titanic figure in the early 90s. Did lots of suspect things and cracked the shits over the quality of catering at Flushing Meadow but he provided a proper villain for the world to rally around - and tennis has rarely been more exciting. At least appearing on this list doesn't earn him a sweet pay day, unlike say Kia making him the face of their ads. For all the good 'social media' has provided us (e.g. the chance to instantly comment on how shit ads are) it also means the fear of backlash will stop companies from ever appointing such a wacky spokesman ever again.

10. Nick Kyrgios

Speaking of villains I was initially aghast at this guy's over the top behaviour and tantrums. Then I realised that he's not playing the tour to represent Australia and that it matters not a jot to me whether his natural talent is "wasted" or not and started to enjoy his provocative gimmick. Let's stop carrying on like we're the All England Club and are trying to protect the sanctity of tennis, his on and off tag team with Bernard Tomic has been the only thing keeping up interest in this sport outside of December. We should embrace it.

If you were writing it as a wrestling storyline (and if you think about everything that happens in the world like a sports entertainment angle your life will be enhanced) he'd have a bust up with Tomic and agree to become Lleyton Hewitt's protege. For a while things would be nice, and Bernie would seen as the bad guy while people gushed over Nick's reformation under Lleyton's wing. Then they'd both be picked for a Davis Cup tie, the other members of the team would be injured during the weekend and force them to play doubles together. Then just before the match starts they'd have a tense 'strategy' session with the coach which would lead to them both turning on him, wrapping a racquet in a flag before smashing it and walking off laughing as Australia loses by default to the Central African Republic. This inspires Hewitt to launch a comeback, and after a few months of vigorous training and taunting from the dynamic duo they play the greatest exhibition match since Bobby Riggs vs Billie Jean King in the middle of the MCG in front of 100,000 people.

Or he could just go to a sports psychologist and emerge dancing down the street like a Hare Krishna. But if he does he won't still be on this list in a year.

9. Petr Korda

As a thin, weedy, pale child there was something thrilling about watching a man of similar stature (but with the added bonus of being fit and healthy) make millions of dollars as a sportsman. There was also an element of this to Wayne Ferreria and Wayne Arthurs as well, but at least both of them looked healthy - this guy appeared as if he was battling malaria.

It was even more impressive that he'd do well in Australia given that he a) looked likely to die at any minute and b) would often wear one of those hats with a flap at the back that's mandatory for primary school children. If you believe Marcelo Rios he may have had some assistance in battling through the oppressive January heat.

8. Patty Schnyder

I was a big fan of her large, charismatic hair and she fit right into my world view of players who might make the semi final of the French Open but would need their opponent to die on court if they were any chance of going further.

She was also quite angry, cracking the shits in an email to the WTA Tour comparing the list of players given preferential treatment despite being outside the top 20 to handing wildcards to Michael Jackson and Donald Duck (neither of whom we think would have qualified for the women's tour, especially Donald and his controversial views on the wearing of pants). A further blowup came when she refused to shake Conchita Martinez's hand, and when asked about it in the press conference said:

I just wanted to look at her. I just wanted to stare into her eyes what I wanted to say to her and so I have to have the hand before and then I took it away.

What a legend. No wonder she was so angry, an 'alternative medicine practioner' who she'd fallen in love with convinced her to turn vegan and drink three litres of orange juice a day. Her parents later hired a private detective who specialised in deprogramming cult members to rescue him from Dr. Tennis. This worked so well that he not only rescued her but took his place - presumably with less orange juice. In 2011 the pair was reported to be 400,000 Euros in debt and they split in 2013 but at least she'll always her spot on this list.

7. Mats Wilander

First rose to world prominence by winning the 1982 French Open as an unseeded 18-year-old but didn't mean much to Australia until the Open moved to Flinders Park and the good players started to arrive. I first took interest in the sport in 1988, and my peak viewing years of Seven's Summer of Tennis (+ the Hopman Cup) coincided with his greatest successes on these shores. Many were distressed when he eclipsed Pat Cash 8-6 in the fifth set to win the championship, I said the best man won.

Even when I was that young he just looked like the kind of guy you'd like to hang out with. Compared to the more conservative, some may say boring Stefan Edberg, he was the rock and roll option in Swedish tennis just as their fans were riding the crest of a gigantic wave of public acclaim. Nothing says tennis in my youth more than Mats, a Ford sponsor sign and the sea green court that inspired Fremantle's 1995 playing strip.

In 1995 it was revealed that there were many splendid reasons to knock about with Mats as an adult, as he tested positive for cocaine. He had to return $290,000 worth of prize money after being busted, which makes it some of the most expensive gear ever consumed.

7. Boris Becker

Not only was he so elated at winning the 1991 Australian Open that he dashed straight through the carpark and on to Batman Avenue (risking being run over by the Route 70 tram in its pre-Citylink incarnation) before leaping in the Yarra, but years later found further fame by shagging a waitress in a broom closet. He later described the session as "just poom-bah-boom", but his luck ran out shortly after the boom and nine months later he found out by fax that there was a Boris Junior on the way. Now an email would drop and you'd know you were in trouble immediately, but imagine the look on BB's face as that piece of paper slowly made its way out of the machine while that awful clingy clangy telephone sound was adding to the confusion.

That was all good fun, but this is the real reason he's cracked the top 10. Welcome to the madhouse Boris. To top it all off he went to a game and we lost to the bottom placed side *thumbs up*.
5. Gigi Fernandez and Natasha Zvereva

This has nothing - I repeat nothing - to do with the time Zvereva celebrated victory at the Australian Open by flashing her bra to the crowd. They just seemed like an effortlessly cool combination, with Gigi playing the straight woman (as it were) to the Belarussian's wildcard antics as they pocketed 12 Grand Slam titles between 1992 and 1997. Both won slam doubles titles with other partners, but I can only induct them as a team.

Post-Gigi there was more in store for Natasha. Early in her career she narrowly kept Australia's own Nicole Provis out of a French Open final before losing 6-0, 6-0 to Steffi Graf in 34 minutes - and at the end she teamed with the significantly less interesting Anna Kournakova in a losing effort against the Williams sisters before sticking her arms in the air and flipping the crowd off.

4. Martina Hingis

A quick look through my sporting history shows that I'm unlikely to pick a winner. Of the many and varied teams that I follow the only major titles I've ever seen are the 1995 World Series and 2005 NRL. I expected that something exciting would happen in 2015, but no.

I'm not going to start claiming grand slam tennis tournaments in my collection but here's a success story I was backing right from the start. And let's not turn this into a "boo, sexism" incident where reporters are camping in my front yard but it had chuff all to do with tennis, and everything to do with being a horny 14-year-old who was madly in love. I managed to see her Grand Slam debut win against some jabroni called Jolene Watanabe, pretending to my mum that I wanted to watch for sporting reasons. Not long after she was off to centre court and off went any chance of her cracking onto some slightly younger munter from the crowd in glasses Elton John would have turned back for being too flamboyant.

What a low moment it was in my household when Switzerland were eliminated from the 1996 Hopman Cup after Marc Rosset broke his hand punching the wall. I may have cracked the shits and thrown things. By the time she started winning tournaments left, right and centre I was over tennis and onto silent teenage misery. Somehow I managed to miss the Grand Slam doubles tournament where she won in partnership with the aforementioned Natasha Zvereva, which was practically my dream combination.

In later years she turned out to be quite the party animal, becoming the third person on this list to have been nabbed for doping violations and the second who was alleged to have racked mad lines of coke. Also it seems that I may still be a chance.

3. Thomas Muster

Not only did he look like the tracksuit wearing villain in a tennis themed Die Hard movie, but the resume of my all-time second favourite male player speaks for itself:

- First Austrian to qualify for the ATP top 10
- Had to default a final in 1989 due to being run over by a pisswreck motorist shortly after the semi final
- Made a comeback courtesy of a special chair designed to let him keep practising while crocked
- Recovered to forge a grand career kicking the shit out of people on clay courts across the world
- Won the 1995 French Open
- Reached #1 in the world seven years after being run over
- Bonked the host of Australia's Funniest Home Videos
- Made a surprise comeback aged 43 and reached #847 in the world.

2. Gustavo Kuerten

How I wanted to be this guy in the mid to late 90s and early 2000s. The lady friendly looks, the zany outfits and a hometown called Florianopolis which could be the biggest shithole in South America for all I know but always sounded like the sort of place a Brazilian version of Batman would live.

The French Open of the 1990s was great for random winners that you never otherwise heard of, and Guga's surprise run to the title while ranked 66th in the world in 1997 fired my imagination. Like the obscure victories of Andres Gomez and Sergei Bruguera before him the victory went unnoticed by most clay-phobic Australian fans (too many troubling memories of having to drag that device around the court at the end of every set while playing on that shithouse fake clay stuff they love here?), but I was in an era where I'd stay up all night watching any old shit then wonder why I was no good at school so I was right across it courtesy of Channel 9. Fred Stolle was definitely involved, Ken Sutcliffe may have been as well.

He was never any good in Australia - never getting past the third round - and was only a quarter finalist elsewhere but on clay he was king. In my dreams there's a French Open final where he plays Muster at their peak.

1. Brenda Schultz

The late 80s were a great time to discover sports, and just as I got into following Melbourne I also discovered another mid-range contender who often threatened great things before winning fuck all. There's nothing on record to explain why I had such a fascination with Holland's #1 sporting export. It certainly wasn't for the same reasons as the person who uploaded the above photo to Wikifeet (!) as Brenda-Schultz-McCarthy-Feet-1764541.jpg

I think what attracted me to her (in a sporting sense you foot worshipping perve) was that in an era before Venus and Serena showed up and started blasting everyone off the court with power Brenda was the biggest server on the women's tour. It was most likely the 1989 season where she made the final in Brisbane and the fourth round of the Australian Open that hooked me in. There was little reward, she never won anything on our shores and seemed to hold out for a tournament in Quebec City where she won twice and played in the final once.

 As with most sporting choices in my life there was an element of the underdog about it. If you decided your favourite players were Steffi Graf and Ivan Lendl they'd be on TV every 10 seconds, if you were in the Brenda Schultz fan club there was genuine glee when she'd randomly show up - usually being beaten senseless by a top seed but that was enough. Patty Fendick and Amanda Coetzer fans must have felt the same way.

My childhood memories of summer mostly revolve around being in this weird religious compound my grandmother would spend her days at where I'd first watch Open All Hours on Channel 7 and then whatever tennis tournament was on. What a rush you'd get when your favourite obscure players came on, and BS (later BSM after adding -McCarthy in a Dianne Fromholtz-Ballestrat style hyphenation by marriage) was my favourite.

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