Kevin Fixler
    Sport Matters

27 August 2015

How a new coach made Kei Nishikori a grand slam contender

How does one begin to measure toughness? It’s probably most akin to gauging or producing team chemistry, and about as tangible. Lucky for Kei Nishikori and his coach, American legend Michael Chang, both have seemed to arrive for them almost effortlessly, with favorable results nearly as rapidly.

Since naming Chang, the former world No. 2 and the 1989 French Open champion, to a support team that includes longtime coach Dante Bottini, Nishikori’s game and results have continued to grow. After turning pro in 2007, the top-ranked Japanese player slowly rose in the rankings up to a career-high No 11 for a handful of weeks in 2013, ending that season at No 17. But talk about impact. Since Chang began working with him, Nishikori, now 25, has won seven of his 10 ATP titles (including three this season), broken into the top five (he’s currently No. 4 in the world), and made it to his first grand slam final at last year’s U.S. Open.

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9 August 2015

Kei Nishikori up to world No. 4 after downing John Isner in Citi Open final

On Saturday, after a tight semi-final victory in Washington DC, John Isner told the crowd that he’d need them out in full force the next day to win the title. They did their part on Sunday, showing up and providing him with backing in the championship match against world No5 Kei Nishikori, but it was not enough as the top-ranked American lost in a hard-fought three-setter, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.

In a match where Nishikori was only a little better than his opponent, the final outcome was never obvious until late in the match. That’s in part because it featured just three breaks of serve. The first was for Isner, but it was the latter two for Nishikori that were ultimately the difference.

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23 June 2015

He courted Wimbledon wins and controversy

After losing the first set to the reigning Wimbledon champ on July 3, 1920, the upper-crust Pennsylvanian looked destined for defeat. But the American hadn’t devoted those many months to honing his backhand to be disgraced by his well-built Australian opponent. So instead of matching stroke for stroke to overcome his rival, this “consummate tactician” relied on his brains.

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16 January 2015

Croatia’s Borna Coric is tennis’ next great star

Borna Coric has been at the helm of some of pro tennis’s biggest upsets over the past year. But ask him who his favorite athletes were growing up, and you won’t hear only the names of your typical tennis legends. You’ll hear the name Mike Tyson.

Does it make sense? Not particularly until you hear that his early hope in life — assuming he was not a tennis player — was to be inside a ring trading punches. He’s even seen nearly all of Iron Mike’s fights on YouTube and says he likes the former heavyweight champ’s professional persona. “I just like his character when he’s in the ring,” the 18-year-old tells OZY.

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26 August 2014

Serena Williams and the Decline of American Tennis

The parking lots are full, but there’s only a sparse crowd this afternoon in Center Court of the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio, when the chair umpire of this Cincinnati Open semifinal calls time. Serena Williams, wearing a violet sleeveless top and black miniskirt, with a bright yellow headband over her flowing, highlighted hair, moseys to the right baseline, settles atop it, and begins to sway back and forth awaiting the first serve of the match.

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20 June 2014

Tennis’ erstwhile pros continue recent trend of returning as coaches

Two-time tennis Grand Slam winner and No. 5-ranked men’s player in the world Andy Murray, working toward his title defense of the Wimbledon crown, made an unorthodox choice: hiring a woman as his coach.

Toward the conclusion of the French Open a little more than a week ago, Murray, seeded third at this year’s Wimbledon and without question one of the players included in the “Big Four” who define this generation of the men’s game, named retired former top-ranked female Amélie Mauresmo as his new instructor. Why he recruited a previous winner and leading performer for several years at the unique grass-court tournament for the role would appear to be a no-brainer. Yet in doing so, Murray becomes the only player in the ATP top 100 coached by a female he is not related to (No. 49 Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan is coached by his mother, and No. 58 Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan is coached by his wife). Much of the talk surrounding the news is what his selection means for the future of coaching in tennis and whether it signals the beginning of a movement where women train men.

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24 January 2014

String Theories: Why Two Legends Switched Rackets to Supercharge Their Careers

ESPN The Magazine

Last year Serena Williams had one of the greatest of her 17 seasons: trophies at the French and U.S. Opens, 11 titles and 45 weeks in a row at No. 1. At 32, she is the oldest woman ever to top the rankings.

Williams credits a return to top form in part to a change in racket strings. Inspired by Roger Federer’s control, Williams went from all-natural gut strings to a mix of natural and synthetic in March 2012.

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28 August 2013

‘The Battle of the Sexes’ is Back: Serena vs. the Men

“If I were to play Andy Murray, I would lose 6-0, 6-0 in five to six minutes,” Serena Williams told David Letterman on the Late Show last week. “I wouldn’t do Billie Jean any justice, so Andy, stop it. I’m not gonna let you kill me.”

The No. 1-ranked women’s tennis player was responding to a challenge that Wimbledon champion Murray issued in June. Williams indicated the debate over arguably the greatest female player of all time versus the men should remain exactly that—a debate. “Yeah, maybe we can have a little bit of a showdown,” Williams joked at Wimbledon. “I get alleys. He gets no serves. I get alleys on my serves, too. He gets no legs, yeah.”

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24 June 2011

The High Five

The Mannings find a new gig during the NFL lockout, an American tennis player goes Gaga in London, and the Phillie Phanatic gets plunked. It’s your High Five!

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22 June 2011

The High Five

It’s the story of a triumvirate of role reversals, a fashion faux pas at Wimbledon, and a fiery ex. It’s your High Five!

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