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Down the T #1: Chris Lewis Interview

Welcome to Down The T — a new regular blog slot where we interview an assortment of people from the world of tennis.  In our first installment, we are delighted to welcome Chris Lewis, the 1983 Wimbledon runner-up. Chris was also the leading junior of his time – winning Junior Wimbledon and ranking Number One before turning pro in 1975.  A native of New Zealand, Chris and family now live in California.

Owen caught up with Chris this week, who was very generous with his time, providing a great insight into his career and the world of tennis in the 70s and 80s.

Chris, we are delighted that you agreed to an interview with Tennis Frontier. I’ll begin by going back to your roots.  At what age did you take up tennis, and what prompted you to first pick up a racquet? 

I started when I was old enough to swing a racquet. Both my parents were very keen players who spent every weekend at the tennis club. By the time I was five, I was able to rally quite well, and was playing regularly in tournaments (12′s) by the time I was seven.

Your two brothers (Mark and David) were pretty decent players.  Was there much sibling rivalry back in the day, or was the age difference just enough to take the edge of it?  

I am four years older than Mark, who, in turn, is four years older than David. The age difference was enough to take out the sibling rivalry as, growing up, we competed in different age groups.

As juniors, we did have a lot of fun together playing imaginary Wimbledon, US Open, French and Australian Open finals in the back yard.

As adults, there was one year where all three of us were in the New Zealand Davis Cup team, but even then there was no rivalry.

You had a hugely successful junior career:  making Number 1, winning Junior Wimbledon, making the US Open Final.  Could you tell us a little more?  

When I was growing up in New Zealand, the only contact I had with what was going on in the international junior tennis world was via my subscription to a US publication called World Tennis.  By the time I was travelling full time at 17, I started playing all the juniors whose results I had followed from the time I was nine or ten. Even though I had never seen them, I felt I knew them.

Many of the top juniors I played around that time went on to become the number one players in their own countries. Ricardo Ycaza became number one in Ecuador.  Jose Luis Clerc became number one in Argentina, Heinz Gunthardt became number one in Switzerland, and Shlomo Glickstein became number one in Israel. Yannick Noah became number one in France, and Leo Palin became number one in Finland. There were others like Brad Drewett (Australia) and Howard Schoenfield (US) who also went on to win pro tournaments.

As for turning pro, I had to make the choice between going straight into the pros or going to college. At 18, I was offered a full scholarship to UCLA, which was a major powerhouse in US tennis, with many of their players developing into hugely successful pros. As I was already starting to regularly beat players in the top 100, I decided to bypass college and go straight from the juniors on to the pro tour.

When you were growing up and coming through the ranks, which particular pros did you enjoy watching or following and secondly, what was the coverage like in New Zealand back in the 60s/70s? 

Because of limited TV coverage and no internet, I followed the game mainly through print. Although occasionally I did get to see a delayed telecast of a Wimbledon Final (in black and white).

In the 60′s and early 70′s, Australian and US players were ruling the tennis world, so one of the best memories I have is seeing live for the first time all the great players play in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1969 when I was 11 years old. It was one of the world’s first ever Open tournaments, and I saw Rod Laver, Tony Roche, John Newcombe, Pancho Gonzalez, Billie Jean King, Margaret Court, and many other top players. The tournament had such a profound impact on me that I made the conscious decision to make tennis my life.

In the current era, we’re seeing junior players take a little longer to make an impact on the pro circuit. You turned pro in 1975.  Could you describe how easy or difficult you found it to make the transition? 

In my era, there were far fewer lower-level pro tournaments, and, subsequently, far fewer players. Imagine if, today, 75 per cent of the futures and challengers events were discontinued. You would see an immediate drop in the number of players pursuing a pro career as there wouldn’t be enough early opportunities to support them. I cannot tell you how many ambitious junior players in my time would have liked to chase a pro career, but weren’t able to as there just weren’t enough tournaments around.

In the seventies, it would take a really promising junior player approximately two to three years to make the transition from juniors into the pros. In my case it took me a year. I won a number of what were then called satellite tournaments, and qualified for pretty much every major tournament I entered.

My first big breakthrough was when I was twenty. I beat a number of seeded players to make the final of the South Australian Championships in Adelaide, losing to Tim Gullikson in five sets in the final. Today, because of the huge number of tournaments and the far greater number of players attempting the transition, on average, the process usually takes much longer.

The late 70s and early 80s are regarded as a golden age in tennis, and you were mixing it with the likes of Borg, McEnroe, Connors, Lendl. Could you give us a few words on each of those players in respect of matches played and their general aura?

I first saw Bjorn play in Auckland in 1974. He was 17 and was already beating all the best players in the world. Aside from his age, what was extraordinary about his game is that it was unique. To see a young player revolutionizing the game with such a radically different style from the traditional serve & volley game played by virtually all the top players was astonishing. Here was a guy using a semi-western grip, staying at the baseline on grass courts, and beating the net rushers with their eastern and continental grips. The contrast in playing styles was extraordinary.

I saw John play for the first time at Wimbledon when he was 17. He was playing an early round at Wimbledon against a highly respected German pro, Karl Meiler, who was also a very competent grass court player. John tore him apart. Like Bjorn’s game, John’s game was unique. But it was unique in a very different way. Bjorn was all about zero emotion, patience, determination, predictability, heavy topspin, passing shots, defence, and counterpunching. John was all about volatility and super charged emotion, creativity, initiation, variety, unpredictability, short rallies, and an unusual combination of aggression and deft touch.

I saw Jimmy play for the first time in 1974, at Wimbledon, the same year I saw Bjorn play. He won that year beating the 39-year-old Ken Rosewall in the final. Jimmy’s game was also in a category of its own. He was an incredibly exciting slugger, who hit flat, hard, accurate, and penetrating groundstrokes that pinned his opponents in the corners. He would also come in to the net to finish points with volleys that were more like drives. This was in contrast to the traditional, compact volleys of players such as Rod Laver, John Newcombe, and Tony Roche of the previous era.

Ivan joined the tour when I was already established as a pro. He had more power than Bjorn, John, and Jimmy. His game was built upon a monstrous forehand that he hit with a reasonable amount of topspin, but at a much lower trajectory than Bjorn’s. Ivan also had a very accurate and hard first serve backed up by a deep and effective well-placed second serve. He also had a fantastic down-the-line backhand passing shot, which was underrated because of the obvious strength of his forehand. His game was that of an aggressive baseliner, who was hugely ambitious and competitive.

I played each of them at different times in my career: Bjorn in the quarterfinals in the Swedish Open; John three times — in the finals of Cincinnati, the semifinals of Queens, and the final of Wimbledon; Jimmy at Wimbledon; and Ivan a number of times, including the finals of the German Indoor Championships in Stuttgart.

At the time, all four of them were internationally recognizable superstars. In that era, the massive publicity that tennis received and the subsequent public interest in the game and the players was truly phenomenal.

It was a time when tennis players were accorded rock star status; a time where the late Vitas Gerulaitis, a charismatic, flamboyant personality, would turn heads everywhere he went, but especially in his home town of New York when driving his canary yellow, convertible Rolls Royce in the middle of Manhattan, perhaps on his way to or from the  infamous Studio 54.

It was a time when Bjorn Borg emerged as a 17-year-old superstar who required heavy police protection at Wimbledon to prevent crazed throngs of teenage girls from mobbing him. In one incident, he was attacked on his way to the Wimbledon Village by hundreds of young girls who had him pinned to the ground for a good fifteen minutes before help arrived.

It was a time when, asked about his chances of winning the US Open, Jimmy replied, “Well, put it this way: there are 127 losers here … and me.” Jimmy won. Yes, it truly was a golden era, and I loved every minute that I was a part of it.

Wimbledon 1983. You were unseeded and went all the way to the final. Before we touch on the final with McEnroe, could you give your own overview on your progression through the tournament.

My first round match was against Steve Denton, the 9th seed. Steve had a gigantic serve. In fact, it was so big, he hit 13 aces in a row in a doubles match in 1982 at the Stockholm Open against Frew McMillen and Sandy Mayer. I had just lost to him in a tight match at Queens two weeks before Wimbledon, so it wasn’t an ideal draw. He felt the same way. I ended up winning the match in a long five setter, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6, 4-6, 6-3. The turning point came in the 3rd set breaker. I was fitter than Steve so I knew that the longer the match went, the more it favored me. That turned out to be correct as I felt Steve faded a little in the fifth set.

In the second round, I beat Brod Dyke in three sets. Brod was a competent grass courter, who had beaten Guy Forget, the Frenchman, in the first round. I won 7-6, 6-1, 6-3. After a tight first set, in which we both had chances, I won the next two sets comfortably.

In the third round, I played Mike Bauer, who was a very dangerous, aggressive player. Mike had beaten Jimmy Connors earlier that year in Palm Springs. As it happened, Mike beat me in the same tournament in the next round. Obviously, I had a healthy respect for his ability. Mike, like Steve Denton, had a big serve and an aggressive game. The shape of the match was very similar to the one against Denton in the first round. I won 6-4, 3-6, 7-5, 6-7, 6-4. I had a break in the fourth but wasn’t able to close it out. Next thing, I’m down 0-2 in the fifth with Mike playing really well and things looking grim. I was told after the match that at this stage I switched gears. I can still remember the relief I felt after winning the match as it easily could have gone the other way.

At this stage of the tournament, the press starts taking a closer look at who is left in. I had started to generate much interest back in New Zealand with good luck telegrams flooding in. But I still wasn’t generating as much publicity as my next opponent, Nduka Odizor, a charismatic Nigerian with an unusual tennis background. He had beaten Guillermo Vilas on his way to the 16′s. Subsequently, he was receiving a huge amount of media attention. This suited me fine. What didn’t suit me was that I had a 100 percent sleepless night the evening before I played him. Let me tell you, the tantalizing prospect of making the Wimbledon quarters and beyond was more than exciting. So exciting, I didn’t get a wink’s sleep. Here was the dilemma: Did I stick to my one hour 10:00 A.M. warm up routine? Or did I forget about warming up and instead try and catch some morning sleep to make up for that which I didn’t get? I chose to practice. But I did manage to catch about 1 1/2 hours sleep on a bed of towels in one of the cubicles in the Wimbledon locker room.

Feeling like death, I served first and, wouldn’t you know it, “Duke” hit three clean winners on his first three returns, 0-40 in the first game. After that, whatever tiredness I felt just disappeared. I won 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 in less than 1 1/2 hours. I was now starting to see the ball like a football.

In the quarters, I had to play Mel Purcell, a very competitive American with a tricky, unpredictable game. He was extremely quick, was equally comfortable at the net as at the baseline, and he would make it difficult to get in any sort of rhythm. The first set was an up and down affair, and one which I felt I should have won had I capitalized on a couple of chances. After losing the first set 6-7, I played an almost flawless second set, winning it 6-0. I followed that by winning a tight 3rd set, 6-4, and then, after blowing a match point at 5-4 in the 4th, I won the set in a breaker for a 6-7, 6-0, 6-4, 7-6 win that put me into the semifinals.

By this time, I was not only on the front pages in New Zealand, but also in England. Everywhere I went, people recognized me. Whether it was asking for an autograph, wanting to take a picture with me, or just staring, people knew me everywhere I went. Although clearly this was not usual for me, it was not altogether unusual either as, being a recognizable figure in New Zealand, I was used to this type of attention, just not on such a scale.

Further, I was now receiving an enormous amount of fan mail and telegrams. I was literally receiving hundreds of them each day. The support was incredible. I would arrive at the courts, and my locker, which was large, would be full of mail from top to bottom. I made a point of reading every one of them. They served as motivational fuel.

By the time I had to play Kevin Curren in the semis, I was ready. I was now two matches away from winning the greatest tournament in the world. The tournament that my brothers and I, when we were growing up, would play the imaginary final of in the backyard. It was the tournament that I would stay up all night to listen to on the radio when I was a kid in New Zealand. It was the tournament where I had won the junior title eight years earlier. It was a dream two matches away from becoming a reality.

Kevin was Steve Denton’s doubles partner. They shared the same coach, Warren Jacques, a very savvy Australian who was one of the best coaches in the world. Having watched me play five sets against Steve, Warren knew my game inside out. Further, Kevin had beaten Jimmy Connors in the round of 16, so was obviously confident and in great form. I was also very confident and playing well. It was one of those matches that both of us thought he could win.

Kevin’s serve was his biggest weapon. I had trouble adjusting in the first set, in which there were no breaks, with Kevin winning the tiebreaker 7-3. As I slowly got more of a feel for his serve, I won the next two sets 6-4, 7-6. Early in the fourth, I started to get the better of him; however, he came back strongly, and, just like in the Bauer match, I quickly found myself down a break in the fifth. This time it’s 0-3 and I’m at break point to go down 0-4. Then things shifted my way. At 2-3, after five deuces, I pulled level at 3-3. We both held until 6-6. I then won four points in a row to break him to love.

But serving it out wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped. I had to fight back from 15-40 and then save another break point (with a diving forehand volley) before reaching my first match point. Before I served that point, I looked up at Tony Roche, my coach, and Jeff Simpson, my travelling coach, in the players’ box. It was to acknowledge their contribution to the role they had played in getting me to a Wimbledon final. When Kevin’s return went wide into the alley, for the first (and only) time in my career, I lifted my hands in triumph. The feeling of making a Wimbledon final was truly indescribable.

The final. Centre Court Wimbledon.  How did you prepare for the match after the gruelling Curren semi?  And also your thoughts on the match itself, and a certain JP McEnroe? 

After the semifinal, which finished around 9:00 P.M., I had just over 36 hours to prepare for the final against John. I was staying in the city, so by the time I arrived back at my hotel in Kensington, it was very late. The next morning, I headed back to Wimbledon to stick to my daily routine, which involved a 10:00 am practice and then, on days when I didn’t have a match, I would practice again in the afternoon.

Chris Lewis and John McEnroe Wimbledon

Chris Lewis and John McEnroe Wimbledon

The night before the final, I had dinner with Tony Roche and his wife, Sue, and a few friends. However, behind the scenes, there was much going on. Back in New Zealand, my making the Wimbledon final dominated the news. After the semifinal against Curren, I received a call from the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Sir Robert Muldoon, who congratulated me and wished me the best for the final. I asked him if he had any advice for me, and he said, “Yes, just keep doing what you’ve been doing, and you’ll be fine!”

Unbeknown to me, my good friend, Paul McNamee, called my parents in Auckland and offered to arrange for them to fly to London so they could watch the final live. As it turned out, they didn’t come because there was a good chance that any delay would have meant them missing the final completely. The number of congratulatory telegrams that were streaming in were of biblical flood proportions. In fact, I was told by British Telecom that I had received more cables than any other player in the history of the tournament. When I arrived back at my hotel, there were countless messages from the press, who were trying to get hold of me. Everywhere I went, there was no escape from the attention I was receiving.

On the morning of the final, I had an early breakfast at the hotel, and then headed out to the courts in a Wimbledon courtesy car. I had my regular practice at 10:00 A.M. with Jeff Simpson, my travelling coach, and then spent the next couple of hours at Jeff’s apartment in Wimbledon where I started mentally preparing for the final.

I had played John on two previous occasions: the first, two years earlier in the final of Cincinnati, and the second, a year earlier, in the semis of Queens. In Cincinnati, it was a competitive match, which I lost 6-4 6-3. The thing I remember most about the match was that I had far more breakpoints than John, but was unable to convert a single one. John had two breakpoints — one in each set — and that was all he needed. In the semis of Queens a year earlier, he had beaten me badly.

A couple of weeks before Wimbledon, I had also practiced with John at Queens. Unlike the intensely fierce competitor he was in matches, John was a notoriously casual player on the practice court. Needless to say, as part of my mental preparation for the final, I visualized the outcome of the points that we had when I was practicing with him at Queens.

After six tough matches over the previous twelve days, three of them having gone the full, five-set distance, I wasn’t in the slightest bit physically or mentally tired. The final was now only a short time away, and the reality of playing on centre court at the most famous tennis stadium in the world against one of the greatest grass court players in tennis history in front of a global audience of over 200 million people tends to get your attention.

Immediately before the match, John and I were in the center court ante-room for about five minutes. For those five minutes, there was dead silence while both of us contemplated what lay ahead. The moment then arrived. We walked out onto the court to a massive ovation. The moment was surreal. I had an acute awareness of everything that was going on. The sense of occasion and the effect it has is something that needs to be experienced to really be understood. I was fortunate to have had Tony Roche as a coach and mentor for the previous two years. Tony was a truly great player, and was — and is — one of the most successful coaches in the game. He is even more impressive as a person. Having experienced the game at every level, including winning a Grand Slam, Tony’s advice and knowledge meant that there were no surprises for me. He had experienced everything that I was now feeling, and he had prepared me for it.

Hot off winning the semifinal and the five matches before that, and having trained as hard as anybody in the game for seven or eight years, I felt that making a Wimbledon final was something that I had not only earned, but also deserved. I had always — and still do — believed that you get out of something what you put into it. It appeals to my sense of justice.

It was now time to play. Walking onto the court to a tremendous ovation, I was acutely aware of my surroundings. It was if time were standing still. In the warm up, it felt as though everything was happening in slow motion, and that there was an importance attached to every ball that was hit. Absolutely surreal.

I served the first game. I can’t remember the exact point score, but I hit a mediocre mid-court volley from which I expected a passing shot. I was wrong. John hit the ball as hard as he could straight at me. The intention was to rattle me, to set the scene for later on by impressing on me that he wasn’t necessarily going to go for passes at every opportunity. I was fully aware of this. But what was really irritating was that in the course of reflexing the ball back for a winner, my racquet came into hard contact with the ground, cracking it badly. It was the racquet with which I had played every point of the tournament. I’d made a point of stringing it after every match in preparedness for the next one. Not for superstitious reasons, but for an entirely logical one; namely, all the racquets in those days were slightly different. Racquet customization hadn’t yet become the norm, so I liked the familiarity of playing with a racquet that was identical to the one I’d played with in the previous match.

Now, I don’t bring this up to suggest that it had the slightest impact on the match — it didn’t. John was just too good. Watching John play from the stands was one thing, playing against him was another. He was a tennis genius. He had the ability to do things with the ball that no player before, during, or since has been able to do. His ability to “hold” the ball was astonishing. I was fast with good anticipation, but so many times John would have me thinking in one direction and then he would hit in the other direction. He would hit balls that appeared to be behind him for crosscourt winners, he would look as though he was serving out wide and then hit down the “T”, he would set up to play what suggested a deep, penetrating volley and then hit a feather-like drop volley with the deftest touch. He was incredibly difficult to read.

After losing the match, I was disappointed, but only to a point. In a deeper sense, I had the satisfaction of knowing that my preparation and my commitment were the maximum possible. I was able to look back on the tournament without a single regret. I felt I had extracted the maximum amount possible from my game and that I’d expended every last ounce of effort attempting to win the tournament. Thirty years later, if I had the opportunity to do the same thing all over again, attitudinally speaking, I wouldn’t change a thing. Those two weeks were an unbelievable experience, and, as John Newcombe said to me one evening over dinner, “You really get to know yourself very well playing in a Wimbledon final.” He was right.

Talking of McEnroe, Serve and Volley seems to have died a death in the modern era.  What do you think the main reasons you’d attribute this to?  

A number of factors, the main ones being:

  • Grips…The trend (started by Borg) toward the semi-western/western grips (unnatural to volley with)
  • Prevalence of two handed backhands (incompatible with backhand volley)
  • Slice backhand quite often not taught anymore, or if it is, it is taught badly (slice backhand/backhand volley go hand in hand.)
  • For juniors, lighter, far more powerful racquets make finishing a point with aggressive groundstrokes far easier and less risky than venturing to the net to close out a point (less incentive to develop approaches & volleys at a young age)
  • Strings…Luxilon and its equivalents allowing players to take giant swings, yet still able to maintain control of their shots (making it easier to pass & making it even more difficult to come to the net for fear of being passed)
  • Generally speaking, for a number of years, junior development coaches (many of whom now can’t volley themselves) have devoted far less time to teaching volley technique than in the past (far fewer junior players developing competent volleys).
  • Aside from the introduction of slower bouncing courts, there’s also been examples of the introduction of higher bouncing surfaces like Rebound Ace, a surface that was previously used at the Australian Open (far more difficult to hit a penetrating, low bouncing volley). In Australia, the impact of digging up most of the grass courts around the country had to have a massive impact on the way tennis is now played there.

Your thoughts on the modern era?  Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray, and the game in general? 

Projecting ahead, I wonder if thirty years from now the game will have changed as much as it has in the previous thirty.

In 2043, will we be looking back at today’s top players of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray in the same way we now look back at Connors, McEnroe, Borg, and Lendl? I’m sure we will. It’s always fascinating to compare players of one era with players of a previous era.

In making such comparisons, I’m always asked how yesterday’s players would measure up against today’s players. How would McEnroe do against Nadal? How would Borg do against Djokovic? How would Navratilova do against Williams?

While it’s always fun to speculate, the answer comes down to a single word — context. The conditions that existed in the seventies and eighties were so different to the conditions that prevail today. The racquets, the strings, the courts, and the balls are so dramatically different that to attempt a comparison on an absolute basis is an exercise in futility.

To do so requires that you completely drop the context of each era’s unique circumstances, which is then the equivalent of attempting to compare an apple with an orange.

Of course, it is possible to measure such things as number of Grand Slams won, but then you have to factor in such things as two-time Grand Slam winner, Rod Laver, being banned from six years worth of Grand Slams during what were the best years of his career.

Having said all that, I do think that, today, we are seeing a particularly strong generation of players.

What Federer has achieved during his career is extraordinary. His athleticism, creativity, and all-around talent are out of this world. He has that innate ability to make everything look effortless. Outwardly, he doesn’t appear to possess the type of killer instinct required to dominate for so long in a confrontational, individualistic sport like tennis, but underneath the surface, there has to be a certain amount of ruthlessness that he never lets the public see.

On the other hand, when it comes to outwardly projecting a competitive streak a mile wide, Nadal is one of the game’s pin-up boys. He exemplifies the driven, hard-working individual with a steely determination and a will of iron. A predominantly one-dimensional style of player, Nadal has been the perfect contrast to and rival of Federer in a similar way that Borg was to McEnroe. As individuals, both Federer and Nadal have been great for the game. Together, they have been even better.

I’ve always thought that tennis has the most appeal to those who have very individualistic personalities. Not in every case; however, certainly in most cases. For instance, take Andy Murray. I don’t know him, but he has an undeniably individualistic approach to the game. A unique personality with a unique game, neither of which fits the standard mold. I think getting together with Ivan Lendl was a masterful idea. My guess is that there would only be a handful of people in the world with both the tennis expertise and the strength of character to earn the respect of Andy Murray. Ivan Lendl is one of them. Murray has an immense tennis IQ. He reads the game incredibly well, but has an instinctive tendency to counter rather than initiate. I think the more that balance continues to shift towards initiation and aggression, and away from reaction and defense, the better he is going to do.

As for Djokovic, he is brilliance personified. He has a formidable game with nothing that can be exploited. An incredibly good mover, impressive serve, fantastic return, great in the middle of the rally, equally good at defending and attacking — he’s almost the complete player. He’s the sort of player that really makes you wonder where the game can go from here.

Which brings me to my next point. The skill that’s required to play at the level of Federer, Nadal, Murray, and Djokovic is beyond belief. Further, when you look closely at the skill level of any of the players in the top 100, while not at the level of the greats, it is still unbelievably high. As a general proposition, given the depth and strength of today’s game, I think that there is a marked imbalance between the demand for a rewarding career and the supply of such. Outside of the top few players, who are rewarded fairly, I think there should be more players who are able to make a really good living from the game.

Of all the thousands of talented young players who want to pursue a tennis career, the percentage who will be successful is less than minuscule. There are more players playing than ever before, and even though there are far more international junior tournaments and entry level pro events than there were in my day, I don’t think there are any more players today making a good living compared to when I was playing.

Not for a second am I suggesting that the answer is an egalitarian approach whereby prize money is taken from those ranked higher and distributed to those ranked lower. The top players deserve every cent they make. My contention is that the number 100 ranked player, who has acquired an incredibly high level of skill, should be making much more.

At the end of the day, though, tennis, like any sport or business, is market driven. But I think the market gives tennis and tennis players a raw deal. When you compare the level of skill of those in team sports with the level of skill of tennis players, and then compare the average salaries of each, I think that it amounts to a triumph for mediocrity. I put it down to the fact that the average person just doesn’t have the ability to evaluate properly the enormous achievement of a tennis player ranked 100 in the world.

To me, it’s almost as much as an injustice as the latest rap star having far greater appeal than the musical virtuoso whose genius goes virtually unnoticed by the lumpen masses. If there was anything that was in my power to change, I would love to be able to provide more careers to more players by generating more spectator interest in the sport. Imagine if tennis had as much appeal to the average Joe as mindless video games do. But given the state of the culture today, there’s about as much chance of that as today’s equivalent of a Mozart having wider appeal than Justin Bieber. In other words, none.

Chris, what are you up to these days?

I’m living in California and own Tennis-Experts, which is located in Irvine. Our store — The Woodbridge Tennis Club Pro Shop — has served the community for the last 16 years. I know what a difference equipment can make to your game. My livelihood depended on it. And it still does today.

I grew up playing with classic racquets like the wooden Wilson Jack Kramer Pro Staff. I was in the stands when Jimmy Connors used his aluminum Wilson T2000 to beat Ken Rosewall in the 1974 Wimbledon Final. I was playing the Wimbledon Junior final the following year in 1975 (I won) at the same time Arthur Ashe used his famous Head Competition composite racquet to beat Jimmy Connors in the Men’s Final.

I was right in the middle of the radical technological changes that changed the game in the early eighties. As it turned out, I was the first male player to reach a Grand Slam final with an oversize racquet, the Prince Original Graphite, a modern classic that is still made and sold today (yes, right here in this store) — and I was also one of the first players to wear custom-made grass court shoes at Wimbledon. (Bjorn Borg was the first.)

So, in many ways it’s been a natural progression.

Take a look at Chris’s shop at www.tennis-experts.com.  

The site is e-commerce enabled.  You can buy all the gear online. It’s packed with a wide range of kit: racquets, strings, bags, balls, shoes, and much much more.  With Chris’s background, you will know you are in very safe hands!

Chris, it’s been a pleasure.  Thank you for being so very generous with your time.

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About Owen Gigg

Owen Gigg was one of the original co-founders of the Tennis Frontier and is an avid follower of the sport.
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