Steve Flink Wrapup

Dave “KOZ” Kozlowski caught up with pre-eminent tennis journalist STEVE FLINK to review the women’s & men’s US OPEN singles finals.

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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.

The Koz with Filip Peliwo

18 year old No. 2 seed Canadian Filip Peliwo won his second Slam title of the year defeating Great Britain’s Liam Broady,  the No. 13 seed  6-2, 2-6, 7-5 to capture the 2012 US Open Jr. Boys Championships.

Peliwo is the first player since Australian Mark Kratzmann in 1984 to reach the final of all four junior slams. Dave “KOZ” Kozlowski caught up with the champion at the National Billie Jean King USTA Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, NY.

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Serena Wins Fourth US Open

Serena Williams collapsed to the tennis court and then jumped for joy after she won her fourth US Open of her career yesterday. The 15th Grand Slam victory of her career wasn’t as easy as it seemed at the beginning, and Williams was actually two points away from losing her second-straight US Open final.

Serena dominated the first set of the matchup, winning 6-2, and breaking the serve of her opponent, 23-year old Victoria Azarenka, ranked #1 in the world, three times. It appeared that the 30-year old Williams would win the final easily, without losing a set to any opponent, something she also accomplished in 2002 on her way to the US Open title. But Azarenka stormed back to take the second set 6-2, to create the first US Open Women’s final to go to a third set in 17 years.

Williams and Azarenka traded breaks in the third and final set, and Azarenka was in control, up 5-3 and a break. At 30-30, Williams took over, holding serve, then breaking Azarenka to tie the set at five, then held serve again before converting a final break that crowned her the champion.

Serena talked about her opponent being two points away from handing her defeat after the match. “At 30-all I figured I could serve out and just make her serve for it…after that, I thought I could just force another game and obviously never give up. I never, never quit. I have come back so many times in so many matches.”

With her win, Williams becomes the first woman ever to win a Grand Slam title in three different decades. “That’s kinda cool” she responded, when asked about the accomplishment. Serena praised the play of her opponent. “You can tell by the score line that she really worked hard and she pushed me.”

Azarenka also had positive things to say about Williams. “She never gives up…she’s definitely the toughest player mentally there is. She continued, with an upbeat attitude. “I have to be positive, you know, because I feel like these kind of matches, every time I play Serena, it really pushes (me) to be better, to improve, to move forward. I have to be thankful to her for that.”

There were numerous entertainers in the star-studded crowd of 23,771, including tennis legends Billie Jean King and Boris Becker, New York Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire, New York Mets pitcher RA Dickey, actors Will Ferrell, Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci, Judd Hirsch, and James Caviezel, actresses Jennifer Connelly, Minka Kelly,and Vivica Fox, musicians Redfoo of LMFAO and Mandy Moore, supermodel Tyra Banks, and Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

The Koz with Samantha Crawford

Seventeen year old Samantha Crawford of Atlanta, GA captured the 2012 US Open Girls’ Junior Championship with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over No. 12 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia.

Crawford, who currently trains at the USTA National Training Center in Boca Raton, Fla., is the second consecutive American to win the US Open Junior Girls’ title, and the third in the past five years.

The Georgia resident has played in two USTA Pro Circuit $50,000 events in 2012, reaching a final and a semifinal.  Dave “KOZ” Kozlowski spoke with the new US Open Junior Girls Champion.

 

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Murray’s Biggest Challenge Comes Next

Some players may feel there’s a higher power helping them.

And it very well could be the case.

But if God is too busy, Andy Murray can rest assured he has Sean Connery on his side.

The Oscar winning actor had an unexpected cameo during his post match presser after the Scotsman beat Tomas Berdych in four sets 5-7, 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 to reach the Open Finals for the second time of his career.

The match was marred by high winds which made play very difficult for both sides.

You can’t really sort of allow yourself to enjoy it because anything can happen,” he said. “The match turns around so quickly.  He serve‑volleyed a couple times, came to the net more, and played a couple of good points.

“All of a sudden, you know, you’re back tied at 3‑All when you’ve been in total control for two hours of the match.  You can’t allow yourself to lose focus.  If you do, it can get away from you quickly.”

But Murray survived and he will face the winner of the David Ferrer and Novak Djokovic match with Ferrer up 5-2 in the first set before it was called due to a pending storm.

Murray, though, may have a good chance to win it all. He has been playing his best tennis this year, going to the Wimbledon final and then winning the London Olympics.  He lost to Djokovic in the 2011 Australian Open finals, but the other three Slams he went to, Roger Federer was standing in his way and the Maestro was sent home by Berdych earlier this week.

“I think, you know, my results in the slams over the last couple of years have been very good,” he said. “And obviously this year in the major tournaments, you know, along with the Olympics, it’s been my best year.  Never made two Grand Slam finals in a year, so that’s obviously a good sign that I’m playing better and still learning.

“And the Olympics was the biggest win of my career by far.  You know, it meant a lot to me, too.  Whatever happens in the final, it’s been a great year.  But, you know, all I want to make sure I do in the final is that I give 110%.

I know how hard these opportunities are to come by, and, you know, I will give it everything.”

And he knows the road will be hard no matter who is facing on Monday. Both Djokovic and Ferrer are very tough competitors.

But neither are lopsided with Djokovic holding a 8-6 edge over Murray, while the Scotsman is leading 6-5 over Ferrer.

David makes it very, very hard.  He makes it very physical.  He’s in great shape.  He’s playing the best tennis of his career this year,” he said. “I have played him many times, and, you know, unbelievably tough match with him at Wimbledon.  I lost to him at the French Open; the previous year I played him in the Aussie Open, as well.  That was also a brutal match.  It was very, very tough.”

I handled a big match against (Djokovic) well in Australia this year,” he said of his other possible opponent. “ It was a great match.  I think both of us played very well.  It came down to a couple of points. I know how much the Olympics meant to all of the players, and winning against him in the Olympic semifinal, you know, was a big win for me.  I know how tough it is to beat the top, top players in big matches.”

But Murray will have the rest as he the Men’s Final was moved to Monday. And with the momentum, the Scotsman certainly has a chance to get the monkey off his back and win a Slam.

So hopes Sir Sean Connery.  

 

The KOZ With The Bryans

Americans Mike Bryan & Bob Bryan created more tennis history capturing their 4th US Open Men’s Doubles crown & 12th slam title. Dave “Koz” Kozlowski caught up with the champion twins after their victory.

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Roddick Still Goes Out On Top

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – After his loss to Juan Martin Del Potro, Andy Roddick was asked to say a few words.

For the first time in a long time, his mouth was at a loss.

“I mean, I don’t know that I had a plan,” Roddick said.  “You know, I was just going to try to win.  It was perfect.  This whole week has been perfect, you know.

“Rain‑delayed match, come back the next day.  It’s like typical US Open.  Played with me in the end, so I guess it was right.”

It wasn’t the storybook ending for Roddick, but it was his ending, as the No. 7 seed took him out of the Open with a 6-7, 7-6, 6-2, 6-4 win today in a match that was restarted after postponed last night.

But it didn’t matter for Roddick. He didn’t think he would have lasted to the final with some younger and better players in front of him. Rather, he wanted to go out on his terms. And today, he did.

Even in his final press conference.

“I was walking out of the locker room, and I said, Man, I think I have more expectation of this press conference than I did the match today,” he said.

“So, you know, like you said, I think it’s at the point now where I look back on rough moments fondly, you know, in these rooms.  I hope you all do, too.  There has certainly been some good ones; there have been some fun I ones.

“There has been some horrible ones both ways, but it wasn’t boring.”

Maybe that’s Roddick’s legacy. He wasn’t boring. Much like John McEnroe and Andre Agassi before him, he knows tennis is entertainment and besides being an athlete, he is there to entertain the crowd. He is always witty and funny and of course never a snoozer.

His matches with Federer were epic at times, even though he could never break through, and he played to the crowd in exhibitions, such as last March when he imitated Rafa Nadal on his serve much to the laughter of those in attendance.

He was no clown prince, though. Tennis was a serious business to him and he never gave up, which is why the Arthur Ashe crowd was chanting, “Let’s Go Andy!” throughout the match.

“I know the thing that is certain is I didn’t take any of it for granted,” he said.  “ I think I went about things the right way.  The umpires might disagree with me.  (Laughter.)

“I was consistent, and I don’t feel like I left a lot on the table on a daily basis.  When I look back, that’s probably what I’m proud of.”

What’s next for him, well that’s anyone’s guess, but Roddick will be humbled when the accolades come down, especially if he gets the call from Newport.

“That’s not for me to say,” he said.  “That’s not my choice.  Obviously it’s the ultimate honor of any tennis player, and that’s something I’d be extremely humbled by. But I’m certainly not going to be presumptuous about anything.  If it happens, I’ll be thrilled and amazed.  If it doesn’t, I’ll probably still be thrilled and amazed with what I was able to see.”

Because deep down inside, Roddick is still that 12 year-old kid who dreamed about playing Ivan Lendl or Stefan Edberg and now that they are his contemporaries, he is definitely satisfied.

“Yeah, it’s funny, because if you tell a 12‑ or 13‑year‑old kid that he’s going to win 30‑some odd titles and become one of 20 for this and 20 for that and be No. 1 and have a slam, you’d take that in a heartbeat,” he said.  “Going back, I would have taken that in a heartbeat.

“There were a lot of tough moments but unbelievable moments.  I mean, who gets to play in Wimbledon finals and who gets to play in an Open and who gets to be part of a winning team?  Most people don’t get to experience that.”

Roddick did and today he closed that chapter in his life on his terms.

 

 

 

 

Serena Williams Steamrolls the Competition

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Serena Williams has been playing some of the best tennis of her career over the last three months. Williams won Wimbledon in July and a few weeks later won the gold medal in Women’s Singles at the 2012 London Olympics. She also added Women’s Double’s gold with her older sister Venus. Next up for Serena was the US Open.

Through the first four rounds of the 2012 US Open, Williams has defeated Coco Vandeweghe, 6-1, 6-1, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, 6-2, 6-4, Ekaterina Makarova, 6-4, 6-0, and Andrea Hlavackova, 6-0, 6-0. Serena has won an incredible 20 straight games, and is the favorite going into the round of eight.

When asked what her play through the first four rounds means, Serena responded “it says I’m focused.” Serena, always critical of her game, said “I feel like today I am getting more comfortable with the court and comfortable with the conditions…I like to play better during the second week.” Fitting, because the best players are the only ones playing in the second week and Serena is not only one of the best of this era, but of all time.

Not everything has gone perfect for Serena, as she and older sister Venus were defeated Monday night in Doubles by Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova in straight sets, 6-1, 6-4. Venus also lost in the second round to Angelique Kerber in front of a boisterous crowd that included actress Vivica Fox. With the singles and doubles losses, Venus Williams is now done for the 2012 US Open, but don’t be surprised if she hangs around to see her younger sister play.

Serena, who is 30-years old, and Sloane Stephens, 19, who has been compared to Serena on the court, have forged a friendship recently that is somewhat of a mentor/mentee relationship. But you would be surprised at who plays what role. “I think she’s more my mentor than anything,” Williams said in an interview after her win over Vandeweghe in the first round. Serena had some more compliments of Stephens on and off the court. “I think she’s an amazing player. She’s playing so smooth. She looks like she gives no effort when she plays.”

Serena continued to talk about Sloane’s on-court performance, adding “I hope I can teach her some things, and hopefully she’s able to do it. I think that we can kind of feed off each other. She can teach me some things, maybe how to be calm on the court.”

Off the court, Serena had even more praise. “I think she’s a great person. She’s always encouraging me not to be single,” Serena said with a smile. Williams was later asked if she thinks Sloane has the potential to be the next superstar on and off the tennis court. “I think she has a great smile, a beautiful face. I think she has such a wonderful personality and attitude. So yeah, I think it’s totally possible.”

Earlier in the day, after her first-round, upset win over Francesca Schiavone, Stephens was asked some questions about Serena as well. “We’re really good friends. We just have a really good relationship. I felt like I knew her in a past life or something, I don’t know. It’s so strange” Sloane said.

One thing that makes Serena Williams so great is her confidence. When asked if she believes in her heart if she is the best player in the game, she responded “Of course I believe that. I think there are a number of players on this tour, a few players who believe that. I don’t think we would be playing if we didn’t believe that.”

Perhaps some of Serena’s confidence has rubbed off on Sloane. When asked if Sloane Stephens will be to be the next superstar in tennis, she simply, and confidently, replied “She is.” With a winning smile, a great personality and confidence to match, many are hoping that Sloane Stephens is the next superstar in the tennis world, and with a mentor like Serena Williams, she is well on her way.

Serena Williams will face Ana Ivanovic Wednesday (rain permitting) for a chance to go to the semifinals of the US Open Wednesday. Ivanovic defeated Stephens in the third round for the second year in a row, 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-2, and Stephens will definitely be cheering her mentor on.

Sportsbeat – 9/3/12

No matter who wins the 2012 US Open on the men’s and women’s side, the biggest story of the tournament was Andy Roddick’s surprise announcement that he would be calling it a career at a hastily called press conference at Arthur Ashe Stadium last Thursday.

Roddick kept his composure as he explained that he no longer felt that he had the energy and desire to compete on the pro tour any longer. He will now use the time to concentrate running his foundation and youth tennis center in Austin, Texas where he now makes his home.

When asked what he will miss the most about competing, Andy quickly replied, “All of you!” The media quickly laughed at the joke because it’s no secret that he has never been fond of the fourth estate. More often than not, he has acted peevish when asked legitimate questions that he would have preferred not been raised.

I remember asking him after he won his first round match in 2008 if he felt any regrets about taking part in American Express’s bizarre “Who stole Andy’s mojo?”ad campaign three years earlier. In 2005 Roddick lost his first match at the Open to the little-known Gilles Muller of Luxembourg in straight sets creating instant embarrassment for both himself and AmEx. “I never think about that!” snapped Roddick. I doubted the veracity of that statement then and my opinion hasn’t changed now.

It was hard not feel a bit sorry for France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who got bounced after losing his second round match despite being seeded fifth on the men’s side. I asked him if there is a big talent gap between the top four male players (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray) and himself. “I would have to be say that there is,” Tsonga candidly replied. He then gave a variation on the late Rodney Dangerfield’s “I get no respect” line by saying that no matter how hard he works on the court, “he never gets rewarded” at the Grand Slam tournaments.

I asked James Blake, who made it to the third round at this year’s Open before being eliminated, if it was good for his sport that one per cent of the male tennis players win 99% of the big tournaments. “Actually, it is. When I first became a professional, the prize and endorsement money for golf and tennis was pretty much the same. Then Tiger came along and the interest in golf skyrocketed at our expense. “Novak, Roger, and Rafa do a great job of marketing our sport to everyone,” he said.

Starwood Hotels, whose lodging portfolio includes Sheraton, Westin, Le Meridien Four Points and W Hotels, made fans at the Open by offering complimentary pedicab rides along the boardwalk between the Willets Point #7 train stop and the Billie Jean King Tennis Center.

Bravo to the Queens Economic Development Corporation for having a kiosk at the Open promoting all that our borough has to offer.

Tennis players are always aware of their corporate benefactors and they love it when the press queries them about their endorsement deals. Up and coming American tennis star Sloane Stephens was gushing over the fact that her likeness was plastered all over the boardwalk linking the #7 train and Flushing Meadows Park. James Blake, who normally, wears a Mets cap to his press conferences, sported instead a short and hat that read “Travis Mathew.” Blake informed us that Travis Mathew is an L.A.-based sportswear company that has signed him and golfer Bubba Watson to be their spokesmen.

Roger Federer has long been one of the more accessible superstars. When I passed him in the back hallways of Arthur Ashe Stadium last week I told him that I enjoyed his television commercial for Mercedes-Benz. The money shot has one of his young twin daughters throwing a stuffed toy at him right after he fastens his seat belt in the ad. Of course not a hair ever gets out of place and the smile is perfect since this is, after all,  suave and debonair Roger. He beamed and thanked me for saying that I thought that it was worthy of Clio consideration. (The Clios are advertising’s answer to the Oscars.)

Every year American Express hires MSG sports anchor Al Trautwig to interview current and former players at the Open. The nice part is that patrons get a chance to ask questions. Last Friday Al was talking with the recently retired Taylor Dent. The handsome and articulate Dent has always looked as if he came from Hollywood central casting. It’s a shame that he, like his good friend Robby Ginepri who is still playing, could always be counted on to lose at Flushing Meadows by  the fourth day of the Open. Of course back then nobody around here cared if Dent was eliminated early since we could always depend on either Andre Agassi or Pete Sampras, both Americans of course, to win the big trophy.

I asked Dent whether tennis will be in trouble if an American doesn’t start winning a US Open sometime soon. “That’s a good question. My feeling is that it’s not as crucial as it might have been a few years ago,” he stated.

The Tennis Channel, which is available on Time Warner Cable only as part of an extra-costing sports tier package, once again missed a golden opportunity at the US Open. As per their nickel-and-dime tradition, they neither took out a kiosk to promote their outlet to the general public, nor did they have a press event to let media get to know either their executives or broadcasters such as witty former player Justin Gimelstob.

The Golf Channel, which has obviously a similar niche appeal as the Tennis Channel, is available as part of basic packages on most cable and satellite providers. What separates the two is that the Golf Channel is owned by Philadelphia-based media behemoth, Comcast. The Tennis Channel is independently owned and thus lacks muscle with television operators which is why they should promote themselves where they can such as at American tennis’s marquee event.

The United States Tennis Association held a kick-off event for National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month this past Saturday. Fighting childhood obesity has been a pet project of First Lady Michelle Obama. Coming out to the Billie Jean King Tennis Center to lend their support were gold medal-winning Olympic swimmers Dara Torres and Cullen Bryant, personal trainer and consultant to NBC’s popular reality series, “The Biggest Loser,” Bob Harper, and actress Christine Taylor (who is perhaps better known for being married to Ben Stiller.)

It’s hard to believe that the Baltimore Orioles have emerged to be the Yankees’ biggest threat in the American League. I had to check the box score in the papers to make sure that Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray weren’t still playing for them. OK, call me Rip Van Winkle.

After watching the Mets win five out of six against the Phillies and the Marlins on the road last week, it’s clear that our Flushing heroes are, to use a favorite term from team owner Fred Wilpon, playing meaning September games. Our guys are going all out to finish in third place in the National League East.

I was saddened to learn of the passing of veteran character actor and Forest Hills High School alumnus Stephen Franken. He was best known for succeeding Warren Beatty in the role of the foppish and wealthy high school rival of Dwayne Hickman’s Dobie Gillis on television’s “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” in the early 1960s.