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  • Resurfaced: The Best Job In Tennis?

    Editor's Note: But for the COVID-19 pandemic, Wimbledon would now be underway. During the next two weeks ATPTour.com will look back on memorable matches and happenings at the grass-court Grand Slam. This story was originally published on 29 June 2014.

    One visitor to the All England Club has occupied seat number seven in the players’ box for every match on Centre Court at The Championships over the past 16 years.

    He isn’t a player, a coach or a friend of a competitor, yet he is warmly greeted by family members of the great champions upon entering the sport’s cathedral.

    You may have seen David Spearing sat behind the likes of Mirka Federer, Toni Nadal and Kim Sears [Andy Murray's girlfriend] on television. Though his name may not be familiar to many fans, he wears a distinctive black panama hat.

    Ah… now you know him. He has, arguably, the best job in tennis.

    His cult status developed in 2003 as a result of a popular Irish broadcaster, Terry Wogan, giving him the nickname General Custer, Colonel ‘KFC’ Sanders or the British gangster Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie.

    “Terry Wogan asked his radio listeners, ‘Who is the man in the black hat on Centre Court every day?’” Spearing told ATPWorldTour.com. “Within minutes, Terry had his answer and subsequently proposed a few nicknames… and, somehow, a fan base grew out of it.”

    For the past 40 years, Spearing has dusted off his suitcase at his home in Abu Dhabi – his base since 1968, where he has been a construction-industry leader – and undertaken an annual pilgrimage to the All England Club, where he stays locally with friends.

    Spearing first became one of 35 Honorary Stewards at Wimbledon in 1974. “A friend invited me to try out as a steward and I was told to shadow a lovely old man called Norman, for the fortnight.

    “The buttery never opened until 11:30 a.m., so the stewards did not arrive until then. We’ve gotten a lot busier as so much has changed over the past 40 years.

    “Eventually, I found my way onto Centre Court.” Today, Spearing is one of 200 Honorary Stewards at Wimbledon.

    Mirka FedererAt first the Cambridge University-educated Spearing did not wear a hat. “When the sun reflected up off the tin roof on the old scoreboard, it was sometimes difficult to watch the matches from the players’ box,” he admitted. “So I needed a hat. I thought it would be a bit of fun.”

    Initially, he experimented by wearing a wide-brimmed hat. But shortly prior to his third year in the players’ box, Spearing asked one of his friends at The Club in Abu Dhabi – where he has been a former chairman and long-time member – to look out for a hat.

    “I thought it would take a few days, but my friend said he had a spare hat in the pro shop. It was black, not cream. I said, ‘I can’t wear black!’ He joked about me having to pay for it. I packed it in my bag and with the help of Terry Wogan, I became known to tennis fans.”

    As the longest-serving Honorary Steward, the 78-year-old expat can be found on Church Road from 7:30 a.m. each morning making announcements to ‘The Queue’ or directing thousands of ticket holders to locate their entrance gate, or, as a distributor of wrist bands to the members’ enclosure.

    “Many fans walk past and glance at me,” said Spearing. “A few seconds later, they return and ask me to pose for a photograph.

    “Once I am finished outside the grounds, I have time for a quick cup of coffee and then I have to be on the main concourse at 10:30, prior to heading to the players’ area, lunch and then onto Centre Court for the first match of the day.

    “Now Centre Court has a roof, it can make for long days. But I love my role.”

    Today, each competitor is permitted 19 guest spaces in the players’ box. “Kim [Andy’s girlfriend] often arrives early to get her spot in the players’ box,” he said.

    Over the years, Spearing has got to know the wives, girlfriends and coaches of many of the sport’s serial titlists at The Championships. “I always liked the artistry of John McEnroe, but not his tantrums.

    “When Barbra Streisand was the girlfriend of Andre Agassi, she came one year in 1993. I have always been a big fan of her as a singer and an actress, and I admit to being star-struck that day. I wanted Agassi to win all his matches so that she would keep coming back.

    “Once, when Agassi was sat in the players’ box, I asked him why everyone called Jim Courier, ‘The Rock’? He turned round, looked me directly in the eyes and said, ‘Because he is so consistent and always delivers.’ I always liked him as he grew older.

    “When Pete Sampras was engaged to his future wife, Bridgette Wilson, I could not take my eyes off her big diamond engagement ring.

    “Roger Federer’s parents are wonderful and Andy Murray’s team is always kind. Of course, the more each player competes on Centre Court, the more you get to know who they are with.”

    In the 2013 New Year’s Honours Lists, Spearing became a 'Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire' for his services to British business and the British community in Abu Dhabi.

    He insists that he will keep making his journey from the United Arab Emirates to the All England Club for years to come.

  • 17-Year-Old Becker Came This Close To Losing At 1985 Wimbledon...

    Boris Becker won Wimbledon in 1985 aged 17, becoming the youngest champion in tournament history. That record still stands today. But the teenager’s breakthrough nearly came to a screeching halt well before he lifted the trophy.

    Entering the tournament, World No. 20 Becker was unseeded, as there were only 16 seeds until 2001. He was a hot prospect, though. The German teen arrived at the All England Club fresh off his first ATP Tour title run at Queen’s Club, where he upset Pat Cash and Johan Kriek among others. Could Becker translate that success to the grandest grass-court stage in tennis? For a time, it looked like the answer was “no”.

    "I got a lot of luck on the way to the final," Becker told ATPTour.com.

    The German was on the brink of elimination in the third round against seventh seed Joakim Nystrom, who had recently made the Roland Garros quarter-finals. It was the 22-year-old’s fourth appearance in The Championships, and he rallied from two sets to one down against Becker to serve for the match at 5-4 in the fifth.

    Becker crushed a cross-court backhand return winner to get back on serve, but Nystrom again earned a chance to serve out the match at 6-5. Becker just missed in the first point of the game, but he showed great resiliency to win the next four points to again stave off elimination.

    Eventually, the teen battled past Nystrom, clinching a 3-6, 7-6, 6-1, 4-6, 9-7 victory with a backhand chip-and-charge approach on match point. Becker was into his first Wimbledon quarter-final in only his second appearance.

    “There are a lot of good guys who could win this tournament,” Becker said. “Maybe I am one of them. I don’t know.”

    “He won’t win Wimbledon, not this year,” Nystrom said.

    [ATP HERITAGE]

    Becker survived a dance with defeat in the fourth round, overcoming a fourth-set ankle injury — which almost forced him to retire — to squeak past Tim Mayotte in five sets. The German then went on to beat Henri Leconte, Anders Jarryd and Kevin Curren in four sets apiece for a career-launching victory.

    The dream run could have come to an end more than a week earlier in the third round. But Becker found a way to survive against Nystrom, never looking back.

    "At Wimbledon, I played the best grass court match of my life,” Nystrom said. “He still beat me.”

    Wimbledon was not only where he broke through, but where he enjoyed the most success. The German reached the final in six of seven years from 1985-1991, and also in 1995, winning the title three times. Perhaps most famously, Becker played Stefan Edberg in three consecutive finals at The Championships from 1988-1990, triumphing in 1989.

  • Flashback: A 19-Year-Old Murray's Stunner Against Roddick

    Andy Murray is a Wimbledon legend. In 2013, he became the first British man to win The Championships since Fred Perry in 1936. But Murray’s first breakthrough at the The All England Club came in a 2006 match he didn’t expect to win.

    Murray, who was competing in the main draw without a wild card for the first time, advanced to the third round on the hallowed grass. But he admitted his next opponent, third seed Andy Roddick, would be difficult to beat.

    “He's definitely a big favourite to win,” Murray said.

    The Brit defeated Roddick earlier that year in the San Jose semi-finals. But this was different, competing against a former Grand Slam champion on one of tennis’ grandest stages in best-of-five sets. Roddick had reached back-to-back finals at Wimbledon in 2004 and 2005.

    “I think grass is definitely his best surface,” Murray said. “I don't know if there is a good time to play Roddick on grass.”

    From 2003-05, Roddick didn’t lose a set in the third round at The Championships. But Murray put on a stunning counter-punching display to oust the favourite 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-4.

    "I think that's got to be my best win," Murray told the BBC after the match. "Beating a two-time Wimbledon finalist, former world number one and Grand Slam champion on Centre Court in three sets.

    "I feel bad for Andy, he's such a great guy and a really good champion, and it's a shame I had to win against him."

    Murray earned a spot in the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time, saving 11 of the 12 break points he faced in a two-hour, 31-minute victory.

    “I don't know if he had a lot to lose,” Roddick said. “The way I see it, it was pretty much all gravy for him.”

    The World No. 44 had an answer for everything Roddick threw at him except for the American’s 21 aces. If the big-serving righty didn’t paint the lines, Murray managed to push returns deep into the court. Roddick punished forehand after forehand to force the teen well behind the baseline, but he struggled to put the home favourite away.

    “Are my spirits dampened? Hell yeah, they're dampened. I just lost [in the] third round of Wimbledon after making it to the semis, final [and] final the past three years,” Roddick said. “I'm very disappointed. I'm not happy. I'm mad. Disappointed, whatever other adjectives you want to throw out there.”

    Murray lost in the next round against Marcos Baghdatis, but he proved his ability to compete against top opposition on a big stage. He claimed his first Grand Slam title at the 2012 US Open, before emerging victorious at Wimbledon in 2013 and 2016.

  • Was Diego Desperate For Help From 'Despacito'?

    Would you let Luis Fonsi, who is known for hit song ‘Despacito’, write a tweet for you?

    Diego Schwartzman had no problem with that, and the hilarious results are shown in this week’s episode of Tennis United.

    “I just lost a tennis match against Luis Fonsi!” the singer wanted Schwartzman to tweet.

    “I can add to that, ‘The comeback is not going to be easy!’” the Argentine replied.

    WTA star Monica Puig joined Fonsi and Schwartzman for a group chat with co-hosts Vasek Pospisil and Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Everyone raved about the experience of playing in front of Latin American fans.

    “It’s crazy. It's like they are playing the matches [with you],” Schwartzman said. “They are playing the break points, deuce [points]. It’s totally different. You can find [inspiration] in the people’s [cheering] to [win] games, make good tennis happen.”

    Fonsi added that it is similar when he performs concerts.

    “They’re so passionate, they’re so awesome. They’re always on point,” Fonsi said. “They’re so respectful, but when the show starts, they’re just on. It makes my job a lot easier, because I feed off of them.”

    Some of the world's best doubles players competed virtually in a team quiz. Follow along to see who wins: Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah or Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares.

  • ATP Issues Updated ATP Challenger Tour Schedule

    The ATP has issued a provisional 4-week schedule for the resumption of the Challenger Tour, as professional tennis returns for the first time since its suspension in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Challenger Tour intends to resume on Monday 17 August, aligning with the resumption of the ATP Tour three days earlier in Washington, D.C.

    Download Revised 2020 ATP & Challenger Tour Calendars (PDF)

    The first week of the revised calendar consists of clay-court events in Prague, Czech Republic and Todi, Italy. The first of back-to-back Challenger 125 events in Orlando, Florida, will highlight the week of 24 August, along with another 125-level tournament in Prague and the inaugural stop in the Italian coastal city of Trieste. Clay-court events in Cordenons, Italy and Ostrava, Czech Republic, join Orlando in the week of 31 August.

    September kicks off with the seventh edition of the prestigious Challenger 125 event held in Aix-en-Provence, France, under the direction of former World No. 10 Arnaud Clement. The week of 7 September will also feature the 27th edition of the Czech Open, in Prostejov, as well as the second edition of the Parma Challenger in Italy. Both Ostrava and Prostejov are also Challenger 125 tournaments.

    SCHEDULE & DRAW SIZES
    As part of a number of measures related to COVID-19, a majority of events at Challenger level will now span nine days and feature 32-player singles and 16-player qualifying draws.

    A further update on the intended schedule beyond the first four weeks will be provided in due course.


  • Flashback: Federer Survives In Five Against Benneteau

    Editor's Note: But for the COVID-19 pandemic, Wimbledon would now be underway. During the next two weeks, ATPTour.com will look back on memorable matches and happenings at the grass-court Grand Slam.

    “My God, that was brutal!”

    Roger Federer’s relief was palpable to everyone in his press conference after surviving an epic third-round tussle with Julien Benneteau at 2012 Wimbledon. The six-time champion came within two points of losing to the Frenchman on five different occasions, but rallied from two sets down to score a 4-6, 6-7(2), 6-3, 7-6(6), 6-1 win over his inspired opponent.

    “When you're down two-sets-to-love, stay calm,” Federer said. “Obviously your friends and family are freaking out. You just play point for point. It sounds boring, but it's the only thing to do… Tonight, it was special.”

    Benneteau had four previous wins against players inside the Top 5 of the FedEx ATP Rankings, including a victory on home soil against Federer at the 2009 Rolex Paris Masters. With the roof closed, the Frenchman thrived in the quicker conditions. Although the Swiss was not at his best in the early stages of their match, Benneteau consistently anticipated where his opponent would put the ball due to having seen it countless times from competing in their junior days.

    As Federer so often does, he found a way to raise his level as the match wore on. The match was eventually leveled not because of Benneteau’s nerves or errors, but due to well-timed winners from the top seed at crucial moments. He increased his first-serve percentage and cut the errors out of his net game, taking close games or break point opportunities away from his opponent with one-two punches.

    Benneteau’s body ultimately betrayed him in the fifth set and removed any further chance of an upset. The effort required to hang with Federer resulted in cramps in his left hamstring that twice required medical treatment. Sensing his opportunity, the Swiss raced through the closing stage of the match to advance after three hours and 34 minutes.

    "He's like a rock," Benneteau said. "If your level is a little bit lower, he takes the opportunity. Every point against him, you cannot make a mistake. If you do not put the ball in the right place, you lose the point nearly every time.”

    Federer used his scare as fuel for the remainder of the tournament, eventually defeating Andy Murray to lift his seventh Wimbledon crown and regain the No. 1 ranking.

  • How Rafa Separates Himself From All Other Winners

    Thirteen million tennis points can be boiled down to one core principle: Just 10 points from every 100 are the difference-makers between winning and losing.

    An Infosys ATP Insights deep dive into 13,536,026 points of ATP Tour and Grand Slam matches from 1991 to 2020 identifies that match victors average winning 55 per cent of points while match losers still collect a healthy 45 per cent of points. The secret sauce of winning and losing is the 10 percentage-point gap that separates the two.

    No match winner creates more separation over their defeated opponent than Rafael Nadal, who wins 56.4 per cent (79,529/140,987) of points on average when he claims victory.

    The following list contains the leading 10 players from 1991-2020 with the highest points won percentage when winning their matches (minimum 50 matches won).

    1991-2020 Grand Slam/ATP Tour Results
    Highest Percentage Points Won When Winning The Match

    #

    Player

    Matches Won

    Points Won %

    1

    Rafael Nadal

    961

    56.41%

    2

    Anders Jarryd

    78

    56.35%

    3

    Novak Djokovic

    877

    56.10%

    4

    Roger Federer

    1195

    55.93%

    5

    Andre Agassi

    651

    55.81%

    6

    Filippo Volandri

    168

    55.78%

    7

    Nikolay Davydenko

    468

    55.69%

    8

    Guillermo Coria

    213

    55.66%

    9

    Tomas Berdych

    608

    55.65%

    10

    Markus Hipfl

    55

    55.60%

    Rafa has inflicted the most pain on his defeated opponents in Barcelona. Nadal has won the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell 11 times, boasting a 61-4 record. The Spaniard first played the tournament in 2003, losing to Alex Corretja 6-3, 2-6, 1-6 in the Round of 32. He then went on a 42 match winning streak there, claiming eight titles before losing to Nicolas Almagro 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 in 2014.

    The following table highlights Rafa’s points-won percentage at events where he has won at least 30 matches.

    Nadal Points Won Percentage When Winning Matches (Minimum 30 matches won at the event)

    #

    Player

    Matches Won

    Points Won %

    1

    Barcelona

    61

    58.18%

    2

    Monte Carlo

    71

    57.97%

    3

    Roland Garros

    93

    57.89%

    4

    Rome

    61

    56.60%

    5

    Miami

    40

    56.56%

    6

    Australian Open

    65

    56.38%

    7

    US Open

    64

    56.34%

    8

    Indian Wells

    54

    56.08%

    9

    Madrid

    52

    55.97%

    10

    Canada

    38

    55.57%

    11

    Wimbledon

    53

    55.52%

    This analysis helps mentally reframe our perception about the real difference between winning and losing. Imagine two players walking out on court to compete. They don’t yet know who will win, but they do know that regardless if they play a great match or not, they will still probably win at least 45 per cent of points played.

    This way of thinking can help players respond more positively when losing points in a match. Instead of reacting with disappointment or anger when losing a point, just remind yourself that you are giving your opponent a quota of 45 per cent of all points anyway. That last point you lost was just one of them.

    Editor's Note: Davis Cup data is not available and is not part of the data set used for this story.