In the closer of this 2-part series, TTI looks back at some prime ATP smackdowns to finish its excursion into the realms of trash talk tennis.
You think we cannot be serious? You bet we are:
Just a step and a half
Nearing the winter of his career in 2002, Pete Sampras arrived in New York after a string of disappointing results in preparation for a major title he’d first won as a teenager in 1990. By round three, Sampras was pitted against 1997 Open finalist, Greg Rusedski. The veteran American won the match in five sets, but Rusedski was quick to chalk up the result to his own mistakes. The Canadian-born Brit quipped that Sampras was half a step slower than he had been at his peak, and simply wasn’t the player he once was. The American didn’t hesitate to fire back at his opponent, claiming he doesn’t have to be a step and a half quicker against Rusedski. Sampras would retire not long after the match, but not before winning the tournament. Oops.
Y U SAY C’MON..? Part 1 (aka Spit-Spat)
Lleyton Hewitt was quite expressive in his hey-day, and his antics quickly made him the arch-nemesis of Argentina in 2005. During his third round match at the Australian Open, things took a disgusting turn. Hewitt let out one of his infamous “C’MON”s after Chela’s drive-volley clipped the net and went into the tramlines. Down two sets, a break, and rattled by the Australian’s many vocal celebrations, the Argentine attempted to drive a serve into his opponent and ended up being broken to love. At the change of ends, Chela vented his frustrations, drawing inspiration from an inhabitant of the Andes, but later claimed he didn’t mean to aim at his opponent.
Peak #men this one:
Y U SAY C’MON..? Part 2 (aka Hewitt vs Argentina once more)
Later that year in the Davis Cup quarter-finals, Australia hosted Argentina in Sydney. Hewitt faced Guillermo Coria in the first match of the day and all sorts of trash-talk occurred during – and after – the encounter. Hewitt let out a barrage of “C’MON”s, be it on winner or unforced error. Coria hit a smash into the two-time Grand Slam champion’s body, whined about the grass court conditions, spat in the direction of several Australian fans and grabbed his junk on multiple occasions. Hewitt proceeded to ask Coria whether his private parts were still there and both hurled insults across the court. In the press room Hewitt branded Coria a sore loser while the 2004 French Open runner-up said he’d rather never win a tournament again than be like his opponent.
In the end Argentina upset Australia and prevailed in the poisonous atmosphere created after the first match of the tie, winning the next four rubbers. Afterward, the men from South America took no prisoners when it came to celebrating their victory as much as Hewitt’s loss.
Wait, let me fix my pants..
Robin Söderling and Rafael Nadal certainly have a bit of history. In their second career meeting, the Spaniard and the Swede met in the third round of Wimbledon in 2007. The match was a rain-delayed affair and Söderling managed to take the match into a fifth set after being down 2-0 sets. Before the final set began, the future Top 5 player mimicked the King of Clay’s habit of pulling his pants and his sometimes glacial pace between points. Söderling himself claimed it was light-hearted fun and most of the crowd perceived it as such. But Nadal wasn’t impressed and let out an uncharacteristic ‘come on’ after an error from his opponent. In his post-match conference the eventual finalist noted how the Swede wasn’t popular in the locker room and never greeted other player. Oh, you guys.
Beyond the sidelines
Trash talk is hardly limited to the players on-court – the people on the sidelines can also play their part. Just ask Roger Federer or Andy Murray. The Swiss, for example, was annoyed when the Djokovic family when they questioned a call that went against their son at the 2008 Monte Carlo Masters.
Meanwhile, Murray had it out with Juan Martin Del Potro. First believing the Argentine tried to hit him at net, the Scot saw red when he interpreted Del Potro’s courtside mutterings to be jabs at his mother, Judy.
Both of the ankles, and the back, SARS…
In advance of his 2008 US Open quarterfinal against Djokovic, Andy Roddick had some thoughts on his opponent’s many ailments and MTOs early in his career and voiced them in typical Roddick fashion.
The Serb eventually defeated the American in four sets and during his on-court interview, Djokovic took the opportunity to fire back at Roddick’s insinuations in the presence of a boo-happy late night US Open crowd:
“What did I say??”[/Pam Shriver]
“This is the worst crowd in the world!”
Like so many times in his career, Fernando Verdasco managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The setting? The finals of an ATP 250 in Nice. The opponent? Hometown favorite Richard Gasquet. After a few calls didn’t go Verdasco’s way, he ruffled a few feathers in front of an already partisan crowd by celebrating Gasquet’s double-faults and cursing France as a country. Needless to say, Gasquet ended up winning the match in the third set tie-breaker.
Rule of thumb: Employing trash-talk against a partisan crowd is rarely a good idea.
“NEEDLE! NEEDLE! NEEDLE!”
Leander Paes has a bit of a reputation for exploiting the mental aspect of tennis. In a doubles match at the 2011 Australian Open, Juan Monaco and Feliciano Lopez were almost moved to fight Paes after repeated attempts at antagonism.
A smirking Aunt Pammy was living for this and had some good insight here.
“I DON’T SPEAK FRENCH…. “
Or – …in which Mardy Fish called Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, “dumbass.” Both players had complained about noise from the other’s box, but Fish resorted to name-calling early in the fifth set of this heated Round of 16 match at the 2011 US Open. It didn’t help the American, who ended up losing 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-3, 4-6, 2-6; in any case, he should be lucky Kader Nouni didn’t seem to hear it, which was surprising, given how close to the chair the two of them were standing.
“(Federer’s) gotta get there as well!”
Fresh off an eight-match winning streak where the young Aussie beat Tommy Haas and Novak Djokovic, Bernard Tomic decided to bring his pre-tournament swag to the 2013 Australian Open. When asked how he felt about playing Federer in round three, the Sydney champ made sure to point out that anything can happen in a Slam – in his own way:
Not so Nice again
This list wouldn’t be complete without resident trash-talker Fabio Fognini. In this encounter with Monfils in Nice, the Italian clearly hit a backhand into the tramlines, but asked the chair to check the mark in an attempt to stall. Fognini succeeded in slowing down the game but ultimately lost the second set and the match after being break up when the incident occurred.
It doesn’t have to make sense.
Fognini has since gone on and trascended mere trash-talking. In so many ways.
In one of the biggest upsets of the decade, Lukas Rosol famously ousted Rafael Nadal in the second round of Wimbledon in 2012. Two years later, the pair met – once again – in the 2nd round. Both men still seemed to have the memories on their minds, thus the match didn’t go without a pin here and a needle there.
Trash talk and trashy behavior have been integral parts of tennis for the past 50 years. Remember Nastase flipping off, well, everyone? Or Jimmy Connors being.. Jimmy Connors? McEnroe’s tantrums? Many might be too young to have experienced the first wave of gamesmanship, but it takes more than booming serves to influence the outcome of a match. All three men understood and played mind games better than anyone else – not without crossing the borders of fairness , of course.
Tennis has witnessed a plethora of ways to disrupt the flow of a match without aiming for the line. But from many of the aforementioned cases, it’s clear that trash-talk can backfire fast. Luckily, it barely ever takes over a match; the tennis typically comes first. But if we’re being honest here – when it doesn’t, it makes for pretty good entertainment as well.
Just don’t tell that a couple of tennis playing people from Switzerland right now.
Injury time outs, toilet breaks, trash talk in all its forms, body shots, arguments with officials, egregious stalling or fistpumping…it’s all part of the game, and most of it is within the realm of the rules.
By the way – have you always been able to hit a drop shot or was that just a fluke?