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Memory Lane: Rafael Nadal beats Roger Federer to launch historic rivalry

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Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer

Rafael Nadal (left) sent Roger Federer packing in their first career match. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

On March 28, 2004, a 17-year-old Spaniard named Rafael Nadal introduced himself to the world by defeating No. 1 Roger Federer 6-3, 6-3 in the third round of the NASDAQ-100 Open. The surprising 70-minute victory for the 34th-ranked player in the world kick-started a 10-year rivalry that has spanned 33 meetings, including eight Grand Slam finals and perhaps the greatest match of all time, the 2008 Wimbledon final.

Nadal, the youngest player in the tournament (which is now called the Sony Open), was a highly touted prospect but had yet to win a tour-level title. Federer was the reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open champion and had become No. 1 for the first time seven weeks earlier. Federer entered with a 23-1 record for the year, including a 12-match winning streak after back-to-back titles in Dubai and Indian Wells.

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  • Published On Mar 28, 2014
  • Memory Lane: Roger Federer, Pete Sampras clash in MSG exhibition

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    Roger Federer and Pete Sampras

    Roger Federer (left) and Pete Sampras played a tight exhibition six years ago at Madison Square Garden. (Robert Caplin/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

    On March 10, 2008, Roger Federer beat Pete Sampras 6-3, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (6) in an entertaining exhibition before a capacity crowd of nearly 20,000 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

    The fourth exhibition match between the two stars took place when Federer had 12 Grand Slam titles, two behind Sampras’ record. Federer was 26 and ranked No. 1, but he had started the year sluggishly amid his revelation that he had contracted mononucleosis. Sampras was 36, nearly six years removed from winning the last tournament he played (and won) as a tour pro, the 2002 U.S. Open.

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  • Published On Mar 10, 2014
  • Memory Lane: John McEnroe becomes No. 1 during memorable 1980 season

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    John McEnroe

    John McEnroe became No. 1 for the first time in 1980. (Anthony Casale/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

    On March 3, 1980, John McEnroe overtook Bjorn Borg to become the ATP Tour’s top-ranked singles player for the first time. In just his fourth year on the pro circuit, McEnroe, 21, caught his rival on the heels of winning the 1979 U.S. Open, the first of his seven Grand Slam titles.

    “There was suddenly more pressure, everywhere,” McEnroe told the ATP last year of taking over the top spot, which he owned in doubles at the time, too. “I got goose bumps thinking that I was ranked ahead of Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors. It was inspiring to hit that mark, but it made me want to improve myself.”

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  • Published On Mar 03, 2014
  • Memory Lane: Venus Williams takes over No. 1 ranking in historic achievement

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    Venus Williams

    Venus Williams celebrates her rise to No. 1 in February 2002. (Ron C. Angle/Getty Images)

    Twelve years ago today, Venus Williams became the first black female player to ascend to No. 1 since the introduction of the WTA Tour computer rankings in 1975. When she seized the top spot in 2002, Williams also saluted Althea Gibson, a 1950s star who was the first black player to win Wimbledon and the U.S. National Championship (now the U.S. Open).

    “When you’re on a professional tour, you don’t aspire to be No. 3 or No. 2,” Venus said of her milestone. “Normally you do your best to become the best. At this point, I am the best player in the world, so that’s exciting and it’s going to be mine at least a week.”

    Venus added: “I think the best part is that I’ve enjoyed myself along the way and that I have not limited myself just to playing tennis or made myself believe that that’s the only thing in life. I’ve always been doing things at the same time and having a career. For me, that’s the best part.”

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  • Published On Feb 25, 2014
  • Memory Lane: Jimmy Connors defaults match after tirade over line call

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    Jimmy Connors threw a fit at the 1986 Lipton tournament.

    Jimmy Connors threw a fit at the 1986 Lipton tournament. (Robert Riger/Getty Images)

    In this modern age of collegiality and sportsmanship — call it the Roger Federer effect — it’s insane to even consider a top-ranked player defaulting a match just because he felt like it. Yet that’s precisely what happened 28 years ago today when the one and only Jimmy Connors stormed off the court late in the fifth set of a semifinal against Ivan Lendl at the 1986 Lipton International Players Championships in Boca Raton, Fla. The source of Connors’ ire? The umpiring, of course.

    In a testy match that included code violations for both players, the fourth-ranked Connors lashed out at chair umpire Jeremy Shales during a dispute over a line call with No. 1 Lendl leading 3-2, 30-love in the fifth set.

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  • Published On Feb 21, 2014
  • Memory Lane: Roger Federer’s first final

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    Roger Federer is shown here a week before playing his first ATP final, in February 2000. (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

    Roger Federer is shown here a week before playing his first ATP final, in February 2000. (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

    Fourteen years ago today, a teenage wild card named Roger Federer made his first ATP final. Across the net at the 2000 Marseille Open was friend Marc Rosset, the first all-Swiss singles final in tour history.

    Federer is now a 17-time Grand Slam champion, and countryman Stanislas Wawrinka won the Australian Open last month for his first major title. Federer joined Wawrinka in the semifinals in Melbourne, a milestone for Switzerland at a Slam.

    You’ve come a long way, Switzerland.

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  • Published On Feb 13, 2014
  • Billie Jean King says claims that Battle of the Sexes was fixed are ‘ridiculous’

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    Billie Jean King strongly refuted a report that suggested Bobby Riggs lost his "Battle of the Sexes" match with her on purpose. (AP)

    Billie Jean King strongly refuted a report that suggested Bobby Riggs lost his “Battle of the Sexes” match with her on purpose. (AP)

    NEW YORK — Billie Jean King has hit back at claims made in an ESPN report that her historic 1973 match against Bobby Riggs, known as “The Battle of the Sexes,” was fixed.

    In the report, which aired Sunday on Outside the Lines, Hank Shaw, who served as an assistant golf pro in Tampa, Fla., 40 years ago, told ESPN that he overheard well-connected members of the mafia discussing a plan for Riggs to tank the match in order to satisfy a gambling debt. Shaw said he’s decided to come forward to get the story off his chest.

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  • Published On Aug 26, 2013
  • Memory Lane: Venus Williams wins first career title … and raises the roof

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    Venus Williams

    Venus Williams won the first of her 44 singles titles as a 17-year-old in 1998. (Jerry Laizure/AP)

    Memory Lane is a recurring feature in which we dig through photo and video archives for classic moments.

    Fifteen years ago Friday, a 17-year-old Venus Williams won the 1998 IGA Tennis Classic in Oklahoma City for her first WTA title. Wearing a white Reebok dress and beads in her hair, Venus broke through in her third career final by defeating South Africa’s Joannette Kruger 6-3, 6-2.

    Ranked No. 14 at the time, Venus earned her spot in the final with a 6-7 (7), 6-2, 6-3 victory against top seed and world No. 2 Lindsay Davenport in the semifinals.

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  • Published On Feb 28, 2013
  • Memory Lane: McEnroe-Connors dust-up

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    Memory Lane is a recurring feature in which we dig through photo and video archives for classic moments.

    On Jan. 10, 1982, top-ranked John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, then No. 3, almost came to blows during the final of the Michelob Light Challenge in Rosemont, Ill. The match had everything fans had come to expect from the Connors-McEnroe rivalry. It turned into a tense five-set affair full of code violations, point penalties and more arguments than you’d see at the Supreme Court.

    In the fifth set, Connors grew tired of McEnroe’s delay tactics and crossed over the net to give him a piece of his mind. And to stick a finger in his face, which McEnroe swatted away before officials finally stepped in to separate the two.

    Rewatching that clip, what strikes me most is how nonchalant the announcers are about the confrontation. Nowadays, Serena Williams yells at a linesperson from 15 feet away, and it’s front-page news. Marcos Baghdatis smacks four rackets into the ground and the Internet is all “Oh, my gosh! Can you believe what this crazy guy just did???” Here, Connors crosses the net, verbally abuses McEnroe, the two get physical and the commentators sound like they’re bored. Oh, how times have changed.

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  • Published On Jan 10, 2013
  • Memory Lane: Happy Thanksgiving!

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    Chef David Zappala and the 1997 U.S. Davis Cup team (from left: Jonathan Stark, Pete Sampras, captain Tom Gullikson, Michael Chang and Todd Martin) spent Thanksgiving in Sweden ahead of the finals against the Swedes. (Cicci Jonson/AP)

    Memory Lane is a recurring feature in which we dig through photo and video archives for classic moments.

    I have been asked repeatedly by a number of Brits in London about Thanksgiving. They don’t seem to understand how Americans can possibly eat turkey both on Thanksgiving and Christmas, to which I respond: A) Never underestimate our gluttonous abilities and, B) Last time I checked, America was all about freedom and part of that freedom is being able to eat turkey more than once a year.

    So go nuts, America. Eat your turkey. Your 1997 Davis Cup team implores you.

    Would this be a good time to mention that Sweden won that Davis Cup final 5-0? Tryptophan: The gluten of the ’90s.


  • Published On Nov 24, 2011


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