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A 2nd Point of View:
The 1999 Australian Open in Retrospect
(Everything that went on behind the scenes)
by Nick Bollettieri

The 1999 Australian Open is now a thing of the past. Once the least anticipated of the four Grand Slams to both players and media, it has now become one of the most popular. The facilities at Melbourne Park are spacious and tournament director Paul McNamee makes sure that the players, coaches and media receive first-class accommodations. As a tournament director, imagine how disheartening it must have been to learn that Sampras, Rios and Ivanesevic would not be playing due to injuries. This should have alerted Paul to the surprises that would follow...

Petr Korda's positive test for steroid use was the most provocative topic of the entire event. Not surprisingly, several players demanded that he not be permitted to play the tournament. Those players that do not use performance-enhancing drugs (the majority of players) are extremely unsympathetic to those that seek an illegal advantage. Some players threatened a boycott of the tournament if Petr was permitted to play. Among the players that were most vocal on the topic were Jim Courier and three-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe. Courier expressed his certainty that steroid use was not widespread throughout tennis, and McEnroe expressed his outrage that Korda was not given a one-year suspension. Not only had three of the biggest marquee names in the sport withdrawn due to injury, but now there was the potential for a boycott!

Paul McNamee's hair was already turning gray, (maybe that's why we saw a new hair color absent of any gray), but he would soon learn that this was just the beginning. Within the first few days, eight of the top 16 seeds from both the men's and women's events would be upset. The people who usually attract fans to tournaments were falling like flies. Australian hopefuls Mark Philippoussis and Patrick Rafter were upset before reaching the quarterfinals. These two towering super-stars are the objects of hero-worship down under. Each over six feet tall with rugged good looks and powerful serve & volley games, a nation of teeny boppers was devastated by their early departure from the nation's largest event.

Television coverage was abysmal. Those of us in the United States had to stay up until 1:30 AM for the live telecast of these events, taking place on the other side of the world. But, some of us had good reason to remain enthusiastic; after all, Andre Agassi was still winning. He appeared to have an unobstructed dash to the semi-finals. Then the unbelievable happened. Andre was eliminated in a five-set marathon by fellow American, Vince Spadea. There was some bad blood there, as Andre had made some disparaging remarks about Vince's father at a tournament in Cincinnati last year. Sometimes these remarks can cause distraction, but Vince was focused and determined to make Andre eat his words. And so, Andre Agassi was also out of the event before reaching the quarterfinals. Andre had a golden opportunity, with the top ranked players already out due to illness or being upset, but sometimes youth must be served.

Andre is the most charismatic player to come along in decades. He has reached the pinnacle of his sport, attaining the # 1 ranking in the world. He has more money than he can ever spend and has a wonderful, loving relationship with his wife, Brooke Shields. He lives beneath the neon lights of Las Vegas and routinely mingles with Hollywood celebrities. How much more successful can anyone be? And can he ever be motivated to put in the work required to reach the top of the game again? The answer to these questions lies hidden in his results the past year. One year ago, this wealthy, happy, incredibly successful man was ranked #142 in the world. He was accused of being out of shape and washed up. The pundits claimed that his desire to win was gone. Happily, they were wrong! Andre won 5 titles in 1998 and proved to the world that he still had the burning desire to reach the top again. He showed the world that he had the work ethic and focus required to succeed and Agassi finished the year ranked #6 in the world. Very few people have the capacity to rise from the ashes, and Andre Agassi is one of them.

Anna Kournikova surely must have set a Guinness record for double-faults. Anna's problem with double-faults did not begin during this tournament. Her problems in this area didn't begin last year either. They actually began several years ago when I tried to change her serve, but Alla (her mother) would not heed my advice. Aside from her serve, Anna is a remarkable talent. She can hit any shot in the book, but when things get tough, her groundstrokes let her down because she lacks topspin. Pressure, nervousness and flat strokes make for inconsistency. She loves to hit flat, hard drives, but that style is often unforgiving. Winning and losing big matches will always depend upon her serve. Anna is not a big woman. She needs a reliable serve that will keep her on track or she will continue to find it difficult to beat the top women. Can she repair this serve? Of course, but her coach must be firm and insist that Anna and her mother listen! I am no longer a part of "Team Kournikova." I will tell you that she has incredible talent and if she decides to challenge that best in the world and let everything else become secondary; she has a realistic chance of success. Alla should consider an honest evaluation of her role in the past and how it should be modified for the future.

Can Anna disconnect from the make-up, the clothes, the sunglass endorsements and the modeling? Can she imitate "Neon" Deion Saunders and focus on two different activities? Can she maintain a top tennis career during the day and the flamboyant life of a model after dark? The day of reckoning is coming!

WORLDLY ADVICE?

Roberto Alomar's advice and Mary Pierce's attentive ear seem to be paying dividends. His philosophy of "Love what you do, enjoy yourself and be professional regarding your practice habits," seem to be working. Hopefully, with the Golden-Glove All-Star's guidance, Mary can reach her full potential. I only hope that Anna Kournikova's significant other, Sergei Federov can get the Spice Girl going in the right direction. Maybe, using his experience, she can re-direct herself as he has done for himself so many times before.

This weekend also put on display another world champion, John Elway of the Denver Broncos. Elway, in what might have been his last game in professional football, attempted to put his attitude into words that we would understand. He explained that, since high school, he had only known one way to compete. He gives everything - every time. He has had losses, but never in his attitude or in the amount of himself that he gives to the game. Everything - every time! We could all learn from Elway's example. Even women's champion Martina Hingis defined the reason for her success. "....I won today because the mind is more important than the rest," said Hingis in explaining her victory over a bigger, stronger opponent.

Tommy Haas - Tommy has been my student for the past 8 years, since he was 12. He is now 20 years old and a glowing example of the value of long-range planning and determination. Mr. Peter Haas and I agreed to a plan in the very beginning and never deviated. We had distractions, but stayed the course:

  1. He is an exemplary student, listening and learning
  2. He has become like my son
  3. We are patient and will keep our eye on the long-term plan
  4. In spite of the impatience of the German Federation, we didn't waiver

In 1998, Boris Becker, captain of the German Davis Cup Team, selected Tommy to represent his country. This was an unbelievable dream that was finally realized. Tommy lived up to our expectations and by the end of 1998 was ranked #1 in Germany and #34 in the world. We all believed that '99 would be his year, and in my previews for the Australian Open, I predicted that Tommy would end the year ranked in the teens. Now Auckland and the Australian Open are history and he reached the finals and the semi-finals respectively. His present ranking is 22. There are very few teams that have the discipline to stay on course, but Tommy, his family and I did it. Pete Sampras changed from a 2-handed backhand at age 14. He had a plan. Six years later, he was #1 in the world. He had a vision. As Laura Berman Fortgang said, "What is a vision? It is a compelling image of an achievable future." Tommy has vision!

Mirjana Lucic - Mirjana lost in the first round, but don't be too hard on her. She has been working hard at the Bollettieri Sports Academy on, not only her tennis, but her physical conditioning as well. Mark Verstegen, her fitness coach, suggests that we not judge her too harshly because we don't know all the facts. Her day is coming.

Pete Sampras - After dominating men's tennis for the past 6 years, Pete deserves a rest. His achievements are nothing short of remarkable. Lindsay Davenport's comment after she became #1 are pure wisdom, "Pete Sampras deserves a break. To be #1 in the world for six consecutive years, is pretty amazing." Watch out Pete! Don't spend too much time in Hollywood!

Jelena Dokic - I predicted great things from this 15-year-old Australian phenom in my preview. She played in Perth where she beat 14th seed Sandrine Testud and 4th seed Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. Paul McNamee, tournament director of the Australian Open provided her with a wild card and said that he had never seen a more talented Aussie at the age of 15. Martina Hingis ended her dream run in the third round, but for sure she's gonna create nightmares for players in the coming years. Keep your eyes on her!

Marcelo Rios - Marcelo was a finalist at the '98 Australian Open. Sadly, this talented Chilean had to withdraw from this year's event due to a back injury. The injury stands in the way of Marcelo defending the points that he earned last year. Consequently, his ranking will drop and the pressure to defend his other '98 titles will increase. Marcelo must accept the fact that injuries are a part of the life of every professional athlete. Marcelo's talent is not debatable. He has been blessed with exceptional hands. Most people do not appreciate how much work Marcelo does off-the-court with his physical trainer, Manolo. He must continue to work hard on his body and keep it in tip top condition. Marcelo puts as much emphasis (if not more) on his off-court training as his does hitting tennis balls. He is not afraid of hard work and spends hours a day at the Bollettieri Sports Academy rehabilitating himself. He will be back!

THE OLD WARRIORS

Monica Seles, Mary Jo Fernandez, Jim Courier, Michael Chang, Jana Novotna, Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi and last but not least, Pete Sampras (even though he remains #1) are having to decide how long they can go on. These have been absolutely magnificent careers and what a pleasure it has been for me to know them and see them perform. How much longer can each of them participate at such a high level? Only time will answer that question. Remember too that new phenoms are on the brink of greatness that will be the old warriors ten year from now. Amelie Mauresmo, Jelena Dokic, Tommy Haas, Safin Marat, and the Williams sisters, just to name a few. These old warriors should heed the career of Stefan Edberg. He was a champion, departed a champion, and is still thought of as a champion. Don't stick around too long. Someone once said that "Time is like a circus, always packing up and moving away." These newcomers will have their day in the spotlight, then, as with all things, it will be time for them to pack up and move away. Enjoy them while they're here.

COACHES THAT EMERGED AT THIS AUSTRALIAN OPEN

Mr. Rodriguez, (Nicolas Lapentti's coach) - Congratulations! Nicolas just kept pulling those emotional 5 set victories out of a hat. He fought leaving every ounce of energy on the court.

Larry Stefanki, (Yevgeny Kafelnikov's coach and Marcelo Rios's ex-coach) - After leaving Marcelo, for whatever the reason, he's back on top again.

David "Red" Ayme, (Tommy Haas' traveling coach) - Congratulations "Red." Your hard work and dedication are to be commended. Your television airtime was plentiful. Lucky they didn't charge you for airtime!

THE MEN'S FINAL

Thomas Enqvist came out of the box swinging. 12 months ago, he would have beaten Yevgeny Kafelnikov. Enqvist won the first set 6-3 and, relying on history could not have expected a wholesale reversal of conditions. Yevgeny dug in, made a few adjustments and won 9 of the next 10 games. Down 0-3 in the third set, Enqvist now dug in himself. He flattened out his forehand and tied the score at 3-3, but this low-percentage, high-speed, flat forehand began to come apart and produce error after error. Thomas lost the third set and now both players dug in. Simply put, Kafelnikov made adjustments that I didn't believe he had in him. He won the fourth set and the Australian Open Championship using, not only his incredible talent, but also thoughtfulness and a strategic masterpiece.

My previous comments called Yevgeny a contender, without the weapons to win another Grand Slam or to become #1 in the world. I commend Yevgeny for using his God-given talent to prove me wrong. Indeed, Yevgeny, himself, confirmed this observation. "I'm not the Yevgeny that I was three years ago. I have a lot more experience, not only on the court, but in my personal life, and that's important. You cannot buy those things - to go into a pharmacy and ask for such experiences."

It is amazing what changes can occur when one accepts responsibility for one's own life.


Nick Bollettieri can also be reached at http://www.bollettieri.com/.

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