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Tennis Things: Four decades of top notch nicknames

  • 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the current ATP rankings, which standardized the hierarchy of men’s tennis and in doing so provided an objective basis for everything from who played what tournament to which player could truly call themselves the best in the ever-globalizing sport of tennis. In those four decades twenty-five different players have been number one, and sixteen of them have held the coveted position until year’s end. Five who aren’t pictured here are Mats Wilander*, who finished a prodigious 1988 at #1, Marcelo Rios, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, and Carlos Moya, who along with Pat Rafter took advantage of a topsy-turvy 1998/1999 to taste #1 glory by turns, and Marat Safin, who battled with Gustavo Kuerten through the end of 2000 for the top spot.
  • One of the perks of being a renowned male tennis player (can the WTA get on this?) seems to be nicknames. Original bad boys Ilie Nastase of Romania and John McEnroe of the U.S.A. may not have felt the most flattered, but in the long run Nasty’s and Superbrat’s recognition factors show incomparable longevity. Ivan Lendl, the Czech dominator of the 1980s, had a few epithets, with Cold War hoopla probably tipping the scales for “Ivan the Terrible”. Many of the best nicknames refer to a player’s style — for example, German Boris Becker’s booming serves, American Jim Courier’s fitness-intensive crushing grind, Austrian Thomas Muster’s relentless and powerful strokes, Spaniard Juanqui Ferrero’s fleet-footed forehand attacks. While Pete Sampras banked on his precisely executed drills to take guys out in the blink of an eye, fellow Yank and chief rival Andre Agassi learned to wear his inevitably less fit opponents down by jerking their puppet strings around from the baseline. Their successors in dominance, Roger Federer of Switzerland and Rafael Nadal of Spain, also contrast, one possessing all the bewildering flair of a wizard and the other all the unstoppable power of a force of nature. Some nicknames catch on because tennis, an individual’s sport, spotlights individual personalities without much obstruction. Serbia’s pride and current world no. 1 Novak Djokovic’s infamous impressions of other players and on-court dance routines speak to his gregarious nature, while Swedish legend Bjorn Borg, sometimes called “The Robot”, epitomized the other side of the thermostat. Fellow soft-spoken Swede Stefan Edberg’s grace and elegance was surpassed only by his sportsmanship (they ended up renaming the sportsmanship award after him because he won it so often). The easiest nicknames are those that spring right out of the player’s real name — Jimbo for Jimmy Connors, every New Yorker’s favorite brawler from down the street, Guga for Gustavo Kuerten, the sunny-natured champion who hailed from sunny Brazil, A-Rod for American Andy Roddick, he of the lightning serve, or just plain Newk for pre-titanium hard server John Newcombe. Newcombe’s Aussie successors’ monikers are similarly laid back in origin; Hewitt’s supposedly comes from the National Lampoon character Rusty Griswold, while Rafter’s refers to the white streak in his hair that he was born with (and, his mates will add, to his legendary farts). It’s clear that in forty years men’s tennis has given fans a smorgasbord of styles and characters on their way to the top. Whoever’s next might want to think of a nickname or two in advance — the better to love you with, my dear.

* If anyone can tell me if Wilander had a nickname (and what it was) I will find a way to get him into this photoset. Promise.



Things the Israel/Palestine conflict is about

  • Nationalism
  • Racism
  • Colonialism
  • Economics
  • Land use
  • Water

Things the Israel/Palestine conflict is not about

  • Religion

Things the Israel/Palestine conflict is not

  • A conflict

Things it is

  • Settler colonialism
  • Military occupation
  • Genocide

(via miiasma-sky)