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When We Spoke To Chris

 

1. What is your funniest incident you remember from your career? 

 

During the lead up to Wimbledon, Ivan Lendl and I were playing and working out at an exclusive English Country Club. The Club provided us with a full-time assistant, an elderly gentleman who ensured that all our training needs were taken care of.  He was brilliant - whether it was making sure we had towels, drinks and balls on court, or that the court was rolled, or that we had a menu so he could order meals for us - he catered to our every whim.

 

At the end of the week, he politely asked Ivan to write a little message in his autograph book.  Unfortunately, Ivan had forgotten the gentleman’s name. To cunningly get around this, Ivan asked him to kindly spell his name.  The gent looked quite puzzled, and then very slowly began to spell his name for Ivan: “B-O-B”.

 

2 Of all your opponents:

 

Who had the best serve?

 

For any of the shots it’s impossible to single out just one player. If I look at the service and think who gave me most difficulty every time I played him, I would have to say it was McEnroe. Why? Well, he had an unusual stance - which not only made him very hard to read, he also used it really intelligently. For instance, on a break point, when you would

expect the left-hander to serve out wide, he would use it to disguise a body shot. But there are plenty of others that come to mind that had great serves: Kevin Curren had the most effective slice serve, whilst facing Steven Denton or Roscoe Tanner was like being peppered with cannonballs.

 

Who had the best backhand?

 

Probably even more than trying to say who had the best serve, this is a hard one to call. Connors’ backhand was superb: aggressive, accurate - he would hit flat and low, and use it to take control of points. But you can’t talk about backhands without mentioning Ken Rosewall, who had the best slice ever. It was so penetrating it would leave a mark on the court, and so accurate you had the sense he deliberately aimed for net cords or lines! Then there is Lendl, whose passing shots down the line were just massively underrated.

 

But you don’t have to make it to No. 1 in the world to have a world class backhand, so I have to mention a couple more guys: John Lloyd and Trey Waltke. I used to love watching Trey, his sliced backhand was just a thing of beauty. And John Lloyd was good enough to beat Borg on clay at Monte Carlo – and you have to have some exceptional weapons to be able to do that!

 

Who had the best forehand?

 

Different players used their forehands in very different ways. John Newcombe, played in the serve and volley days, and used his forehand brilliantly to get into net, and the low trajectory of his return made his passing shots exceptional. Then, when Borg came along with his heavy topspin, he used his forehand to break players down – amazing accuracy and almost

no unforced errors. And finally, Lendl came along, hitting the ball with a lower trajectory than Borg, but using the forehand as an attacking weapon to dominate from the baseline. All great forehands, and each perhaps mirrors the evolution of the game over those years.

 

Who had the strongest mentality?

 

If one were to assess today’s players in the “mental’ category, I’m sure that Rafa Nadal would be right at the top of everyone's list. In the Golden Era, there are many players that come to mind when evaluating mental toughness.  For example, how could one go past Bjorn Borg, who still has the highest win/loss percentage in the game’s history? Or Rod Laver and John Newcombe, who had a supreme ability to perform at their best when under tremendous pressure? And then there’s Jimmy Connors, who turned the court into a battlefield, and every point into a war. Or John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl - equally tough competitors who gave absolutely nothing away. 

 

Unlike the technical and fitness categories of the game, the mental side of things is timeless.  So, without any doubt, the players listed above were as mentally tough as players from any era. Who would you rather have fighting for your life: Rafa Nadal or Jimmy Connors? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

 

Who did you most dread playing?

 

That’s an easy one - nobody.  I loved the competitive challenge of playing the game’s greatest players of that time, whether it was Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe or Ivan Lendl. However, having said that, the match that was the most daunting was playing Ilie Nastase in early ’76 when I was still a junior and he was at the height of his game.  What was

daunting wasn’t so much his game, it was his unpredictable antics.  It was in front of a packed indoor stadium in Virginia and the event was the Masters of the US Indoor Circuit.  As it turned out, I lost in a relatively drama-free match, but what an experience in front of 10,000 people against one of the most difficult, unpredictable and talented players ever to

play the game.

  

3. Is there a great story you could share about a prominent player of the Golden Age?

 

In 2004 I was living in New Zealand, and a widely promoted exhibition match between John McEnroe and Pat Cash was due to take place at Auckland’s main tennis venue, the ASB Centre. A couple of months prior to the event, I was asked by a Charitable Organisation I was associated with whether I could contact John with a request on their behalf.

 

The primary objective of this organisation was to help young children with disabilities forge a future career for themselves. In this particular case, they were looking to help a young, deaf teenager to pursue a career in journalism. The boy, who was also an avid tennis fan, had told them that conducting an interview with McEnroe would be like a dream come

true. They asked me if I would contact John with a view to setting this up. I got hold of John in New York, and he said he’d do his best to make it happen on the morning after the exhibition.

 

Two months later, I’m with John and Pat in the locker room after a hugely successful evening exhibition match in front of a packed stadium. It’s already late, and John and Pat are making plans for a dinner and a visit to one of Auckland’s clubs - in other words, it was going to be a very long night for the two of them .…

 

Now, John’s schedule was very tight.  He had a flight booked back to the US for early afternoon, and the 30-minute interview with the boy was arranged for 8:30am in the hotel lobby. I arrived at the hotel thirty minutes before the interview was due to begin, and an extremely nervous teenager was waiting for his childhood hero. At exactly 8:30, after his big night out, John arrived, and stayed for a full hour-long conversation with his teenage interviewer – more than fulfilling the realisation of that young boy’s dream. If ever there was a class act, it was McEnroe that morning!

 

4. Apart from yourself, of course, who did you think was the most stylish dresser of the

Golden Age? 

 

Although stylistically all very different, Adriano Panatta, Vijay Amritraj and Vitas Gerulaitis come to mind.

 

5. Do you think tennis clothes today have the same panache and style as those in the past?

 

No, I don’t. During the Golden Age, the Italian brands of Fila, La Font, Tacchini, Maggia and Ellesse were to today’s tennis fashion what Ferrari, Bugatti and Lamborghini are to Chrysler and Ford.

  

6. Why did you want to agree to become an ambassador for GAOT?

 

Never before, or since, in the sport’s history has there been as much international interest in tennis and its players as in the Golden Age.  Having lived the game in that era, and now having an opportunity to share memories with a passionate and appreciative audience of what it was like during those extraordinary times has tremendous appeal. I couldn’t be more pleased to be a part of it.

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