Jim blogs on Li, Rafa and the President’s Box at Roland Garros
Written by Jim Courier on June 07, 2011
To spend time in the President’s Box at any of the Grand Slams is to be in the company of the history of tennis. You look to your left and there is Rod Laver talking to Martina Navratilova and then to your right Ilie Nastase, ever the jokester, is giving Billie Jean King a hard time. And there is Gustavo Kuerten chatting with Monica Seles.
I had the great honor this past Sunday of sitting in the President’s Box at Roland Garros between the 1971 winner Jan Kodes and the 2001 winner Guga. The 1961 winner, Manolo Santana, sat to Jan’s right. The order was specific to the anniversary’s of our respective wins…50, 40, 20 and 10 years ago. Only Bjorn Borg who won 30 years ago in 1981 was missing to complete the circle. I was also given the honor of presenting the trophies in the post-match ceremony to the finalist, Roger Federer and the champion, Rafael Nadal. Martina and Mary Pierce were also there in the President’s Box along with many dignitaries and celebrities. The box definitely has a buzz to it.
I don’t often think of my place in the heritage of the sport. By nature I am more forward thinking than backward gazing and definitely not known to be very sentimental. Life pushes on and there are new challenges to pursue. But being seated in the row with these great champions was a reminder that I had the good fortune to become a part of the Roland Garros history as a young man. It brought back many great memories. It was also very meaningful to be able to share those moments with my wife and mother (as well as several other important family members and friends who were in Paris with us).
Today I pause and think about what the next few weeks will be like for Na Li. She is a pioneer, being the first Asian singles winner in a Major, and her life will most likely be turned upside down with media and sponsor requests, etc. Chinese tennis will be a very interesting story to follow for the next decade. Sometimes things don’t turn out as we would expect…a prime example is the hope that Tiger Woods ascent would inspire a new generation of minority golfers which hasn’t come to pass to this point. Time will tell if Na Li has a massive impact in China. My hunch is we will see more and more Chinese players in about 10-12 yrs that will remember exactly where they were this past Saturday when Na Li broke the barrier.
And for Rafa it is remarkable that he can win a tournament playing at 65% of his potential and never be in danger of losing. Sure, he was down 2 sets to 1 to John Isner but nobody, not even John, would have considered Rafa in serious danger of losing at any point in that match or the tournament. Rafa didn’t have his timing down during the fortnight. He was hitting very short in the court for his standard. But he had his biggest weapons, his heart and competitive spirit, which were more than enough.
10 Slams and counting for Rafa. 16 for Roger. Who would have thought with the increasing depth in the top 100 that players in this era would assault longstanding records? Certainly not me but when you see these great champions I hope you appreciate them as much as I do and understand that not only is the game lucky to have them on the honor role but we have probably never had better ambassadors for the sport. And they’re still going…Wimby is less than 2 weeks away.