Annacone

Excerpt from Roger Federer: Back On Top due out Oct. 31,2012.

Roger Federer went through a few coaches for a bunch of different reasons, before locating Paul Annacone, including Peter Carter, Darren Cahill, Jose Higueras and Tony Roche.

But perhaps it was out of necessity – or a bit of desperation – that Federer and Annacone attempted a relationship.

Of course, people might define “desperation” differently. At the time Annacone was hired in a “test period,” as Federer said, Federer had won Wimbledon six times, the US Open five times, the French Open once and four Australian titles.

But in 2010, he lost at Wimbledon in the quarterfinals to Tomas Berdych and to Robin Soderling in the French quarters, dropping Federer to – gasp – No. 3 in the world. It was his lowest ranking in seven years.

And so on came Annacone, 47 at the time as Annacone worked out the remainder of his contract as men’s head coach at the Lawn Tennis Association in Great Britain.

Annacone was no stranger to coaching. He was the former coach to Pete Sampras and British great, Tim Henman. In the days that followed Annacone’s hiring, let’s just say Annacone seemed more excited about the opportunity.

“I’ve been looking to add someone to my team and I’ve decided to spend some days with Paul Annacone,” Federer told his website.

Annacone, meanwhile, told the New York Times, “Sometimes, I wake up and go ‘Wow’, and I do feel kind of blessed to have had this opportunity. But I think part of my good fortune, I hope, is because of my work ethic and personality and the perspective that I view the game with and the history I have soaked up as a bit of a sponge in the last 25 years.”

Annacone was ranked as high as No. 12 in the world during his playing days and was subsequently put in charge of player development for both the United States Tennis Association and the British Lawn Tennis Association. Big jobs.

Yet Annacone’s hiring on the Federer team was historic. It made him the deli meat in the sandwich of two of the most significant eras of tennis in the history of the game. He got to work with Sampras and Federer, after all, who won Grand Slam events like the Yankees win the World Series.

Annacone was a net-rushing player before a herniated disk in his back cut short his career. One of the characteristics in both Sampras‘ game and Henman‘s game was the ability to move forward, thereby giving him an appeal to Federer at the time. Clearly, Federer wanted to end points sooner as he pushed past 30. That was never more evident than at Wimbledon this year and especially in the final against Murray.

“It’s important to question yourself, and that’s what I’ve always been doing since I got to world No. 1 in 2004,” Federer said after losing in the French Open in 2010.

It was nothing new to Annacone to prove himself. He took over as Sampras’s coach on an interim basis in March 1995, when Sampras’ coach Tim Gullickson became ill. Sampras was already No. 1, but with Annacone’s support won eight more Grand Slam titles.

Annacone told the author that Federer and Sampras have more in common than not. He called both, “immense talents and objective evaluators of winning and losing.”

So far, so good for the relationship.

Will Annacone be his most influential coach? Maybe. He will have to go far to outdo Carter, originally from Australia. Carter coached Federer in his formative tenn years and worked with him on his serve volley and slice. He also served as Swiss Davis Cup coach before dying much too young in 2002 at 37 in a car crash. his loss had an enormous impact on Federer.

Federer Match A Shocker

It almost seemed like an imposter was playing at the Open under the name of Roger Federer last night.

Fedrer lost in the quarter-finals to Czech Tomas Berdych 7-6,6-4,3-6,6-3, making his earliest exit at the Open since 2003.

Federer curiously won the opening toss and chose to receive. Things got worse from there.

Berdych hit winners from every angle on the court, seemingly leaving Federer defenseless. Berdych also had 14 aces.

Federer and the No. 6 seed had split their last 6 matches.

Federer had 40 unforced errors to only 21 by Berdych. Many of the unforced errors were forced by Berdych.

The crowd, very vocal earlier in the day when Andy Roddick played and lost his last competitive match seemed to sit on its hands during most of the match in stunned silence.

Berdych, never a winner in a Grand Slam will play Andy Murray on Saturday in the semis.

Hold The Retirement For Another Day

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – And he lives on. Andy Roddick delayed his retirement by at least another two days by beating Fabio Fognini of Italy in a hard fought 7-5, 7-6, 4-6 and 6-4 match before a very highly partisan Roddick crowd.

The match featured many entertaining rallies and a between the legs shot by Fognini which almost passed Roddick at net.

There is no doubt that Roddick is suffering from a hurt right shoulder, but he is deriving energy from the crowd. He noted that, “it was loud out there, about as loud as I remember.”

Roddick will have a much harder time Tuesday night as a decided underdog against Juan Martin Del Potro, like Roddick also a US Open winner and the only player besides Federer, Djokovic and Nadal to win a major in the last 30.

Roddick is 1-3 all-time against Del Potro, winning their last contest in Memphis in 2011. All of Roddick’s losses have been close.

Fognini called Del Potro a slight favorite but would not be surprised with a win by Roddick.

Roddick feels that he has an edge in serve but that Del Potro has an edge in his return game.

Federer is Proving He’s Still the Best

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Fernando Verdasco is no slouch. He is ranked no. 25 at the Open. That is the good news. The bad news is that he had to play a very hot Roger Federer today.

Game over quickly.

Federer won 6-3,6-4,6-4.

And the match had am amazing statistic. Federer was 26 of 27 in net points won. And it could have been worse if he had come in more. It was a bit too windy for that.

In the post-match press conference he seemed stunned by the stat.

He also would not admit that playing doubles in the Olympics helped his net play.

This came a day after his double partner, Stan Wawrinka said that Federer would be the best doubles player in the world if he played more doubles.

No one is better than Federer, but when in an age that he is trying to close out points earlier, some more serve and volley in his game would help appreciably.

There is no doubt that coach Paul Annacone is trying to incorporate that aspect more into his game.

Federer was effective coming in against Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final. Admittedly, the rough was closed and it was easier to do.

If Federer incorporated some more doubles into his regimen at places like Miami, Montreal and Cincinnati he could even be more effective when he plays the likes of Nadal and Djokovic.

And he could also preserve some wear and tear on his 31 year old body.

Q & A with Richard Gasquet

Richard Gasquet, the 26 year old Frenchman reached a career high no. 7 and made it to the semis at Wimbledon in 2007:

TL- What do you think about the Andy Roddick retirement?
RG: For 8 or 9 years he was on top. He was no. 1 in the world. He is a great one.

TL:Do you know that because of your game you have been called a little Federer?
RG:Yes people have said that.

TL:What do you think of Federer?
RG:He is no. 1. He is never sick. He never retires.He talks to every player and is the President of the Tennis Council. Everyone respects him.

TL:How have you done against him?
RG:I have beaten him twice on clay. I have lost many other times (10).

TL:Roland Garros is a great site,especially court no.one.
RG:Yes it is but they are tearing that one down and I don’t know why.

TL:Are the top four really that much better?
RG:Yes they are. They are very strong mentally. They have a big advantage at Slams.

BNP Paribas Showdown Returns to The Garden This February

The BNP Paribas Showdown will have a 2012 version at new and refurbished Madison Square Garden on February 27, 2012.

Maria Sharapova and world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki will make their first appearances in the event in the 7:00 pm opener. That match will be followed by Roger Federer vs. Andy Roddick.

Last year Roddick was scheduled to play Andre Agassi,but Pete Sampras ended up playing Agassi after John McEnroe was forced to default to Ivan Lendl due to injury in the first match despite leading 6-3.

Federer has played in the past and won against Sampras.

There will be an opportunity to bid on the event at the International Tennis Hall Of Fame Ball this coming Friday evening at Cipriani in Manhattan.

Tickets will go on sale at The Garden in the Fall.

The Best There Ever Was

If there is a better and more erudite interview in sports than Roger Federer then I must have missed him over the years and this comes from a writer who has interviewed Arnold Palmer, Jim Calhoun, Geno Auriemma, Coach K., Vivian Stringer, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg and a whole host of others.

Federer spends a good hour after each match answering questions in English,French and Swiss.And he answers every one thoughtfully.

One might get a few word answer from Rafael Nadal to a question and that in part is a result of his lack of command of English,but Federer is good for a full 3 paragraphs on each question,be them about his opponent,his daughters or his perspective on Tiger Woods,a friend.

Federer is very bright and has a keen perspective at the age of 30 of his place in the tennis lexicon.But there is more to his life then tennis.he is a fan of a bunch of sports,is a great family man and when he vacations tennis is the furthest thing from his mind.He made that clear in his Saturday press conference after his win over Marin Cilic.

After the match, Cilic marveled about Federer and made it clear that in his mind Federer has a few more Majors to win.

This US Open could be one of them.

Peer Moves Along In The First

There are few tennis players in New York more popular this week than Shahar Peer.And Peer is not even an American. The no. 24 seed is an Israeli.New York has a heavily Jewish population and many of them come out to Flushing Meadows on an annual basis to cheer her on.

It worked on Tuesday at beautiful new court 17 as Peer defeated Sania Mirza of India, 6-7,6-3,6-1.The large crowd was firmly behind her.

Peer recognizes that she is in part an ambassador from Israel when she plays in New York.

She reached a career high ranking of 11 this past January,which marks the highest ranking ever for an Israeli man or woman.Not bad for someone who had to do a 2-year stint in the army.

Peer will play young Sloane Stephens of the United States,most likely on Thursday.She and Stephens have played doubles together in the past.Peer recognizes that Stephens has a lot of talent,but Peer is playing with a lot of confidence right now.

The College Conundrum

Professional tennis players and especially American professional tennis players face the decision at some point in their careers. Men and women. To go to college or not go to college?

Players from outside of the United States like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal invariably choose to turn professional at an early age. There is less pressure on young tennis stars to attend college in many foreign countries than there is in the United States. There is also less precedent.

As early as 30 years ago, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors had to make the decision. Mac attended Stanford for two years and won the NCAA’s. He has never regretted his college decision.Same with Jimmy Connors at UCLA. He went for one year and also won the NCAA’s.

Three years ago, John Isner and Sam Querry burst on the scene.Isner went to the University of Georgia for four years and led his team to an NCAA crown.He finished second in singles. He wasn’t ready as a player to turn pro out of high school.Sam Querry, on the other hand turned down a full scholarship at USC. They are both about equally ranked now.

The college scene has changed dramatically over the past decade or so. More foreign players are attending colleges in the States  and that makes the competition better for Americans who continue on with their educations. Benjamin Becker is a prime example. He attended Baylor and is now No. 50 in the world.

The US Open Junior Finals this year pitted Jack Sock against Denis Kudla. Sock won the event and is torn between college and turning pro. Kudla has already turned pro. Sock and his family were approached by countless agents at the Open.

In our opinion, players should take a page from the James Blake playbook. The former Fairfield, Connecticut high school star attended Harvard for two years and then turned pro. He honed his skills at Harvard and picked up many valuable life tools in the process.He rose to as high as no. 6 in the world and was an endorsement guru. College did not hurt him a bit.

Jesse Levine turned pro after one year at the University of Florida. He stated, “You can always go back to school but not to pro tennis.” That is true but Levine has had a somewhat undistinguished pro career and probably wasn’t ready physically to turn pro when he did. Perhaps four years in college would have made Levine a better pro and a more well rounded individual.

Clearly, there is no easy answer to this conundrum facing many young tennis players.

Richard Kent is the autor of Inside the US Open and The Racket.