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French Open Highlights. Tennis Couple Tomas Berdych and Lucie Safarova. Britain's Wimbledon Drought. Yannick Noah's Life On and Off the Court.

Aired June 9, 2011 - 06:30:00   ET


PAT CASH, HOST: Welcome to another edition of OPEN COURT, coming to you from Queen's Club in London, where we're marking the start of the grass court season.

On this month's show, we meet last year's Wimbledon finalist, Tomas Berdych and the woman in his wife, WTA star Lucie Safarova.

It's been 34 years since Britain had a Wimbledon singles champion. We speak to the people in the know and simply ask, why?

And we finish with a bit of rock and roll from one of the game's most charismatic figures, Yannick Noah.

But we start this show with a look back at Roland Garros. This year's French Open really had it all, drama, intrigue, upsets and, ultimately, some great triumphs.




NOVAK DJOKOVIC, WORLD NUMBER 2: He holds the Roland Garros, and he's the man to beat. I really think he's the number one favorite.

RAFAEL NADAL, WORLD NUMBER ONE: I am not the favorite, no. I lost last four times against him.

ROGER FEDERER, WORLD NUMBER THREE: I pick up Rafa. Yes. Just because of his record here.




MARTINA HINGIS, FORMER WORLD NUMBER ONE: Amazing, you know? For Chinese tennis, it's just a fairy tale story, really.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's one of these rare moments in tennis where everything is well-defined. Novak wins, he's number one. It's his lifelong dream. If Roger wins, he ends Novak's incredible streak and sort of gets his year back in motion again.


FEDERER: I knew he was going to be extremely difficult, but I thought I played really well against him. I was able to break through in the first set, and then pull away in the second set.

ANDRE AGASSI, FORMER WORLD NUMBER ONE: Even though he lost and Federer certainly got over the line and well deserved, I think Novak's standard is still the standard to go after. Novak believes he should win, he believes he should dominate, and I think we'll see him ready to go at Wimbledon.


NA LI, WORLD NUMBER FOUR: Of course it was exciting. After I was lying down on the clay court, and I was like, "Oh, this is true, not only for a dream." I know how big news now in China, because I know how many people were watching this match.


NADAL: I went to seven straight finals of the year after coming back there. Made the different strategy, so that's -- fantastic Open for me, and that's really unbelievable. I had the whole thing, and for sure today win, and nothing really matters again.

Roger was really special the way he was showing us a great first.


CASH: Well, congratulations to Na Li and to Rafa Nadal, who still remains world number one. Now, all our attention is focused on Wimbledon, and we at OPEN COURT recently had the opportunity to catch up with last year's finalist and world number seven, Tomas Berdych.


TOMAS BERDYCH, WORLD NUMBER SEVEN: The match against Roger in the quarterfinal, that was a really special one. It's really nice to go on court with him, especially in London. That's the court that almost everybody said that he owns it, and he's playing just unbelievable tennis there.

And I was able to beat him, and for me, it was just probably one of the best -- I would say best winning matches that I ever had.

The semifinal, I beat another great player, which is right now playing unbelievable tennis, as well, Novak Djokovic, and I beat him in straight sets.

I'm extremely happy that my first final was in Wimbledon, because it's -- I like traditions, and which other place could be better for that than Wimbledon?

CASH (voice-over): Tomas will be hoping he can go one better at Wimbledon this year, and cheering him on in the crowd will be Lucie Safarova, his girlfriend and a top 40 player on the WTA tour.

LUCIE SAFAROVA, WORLD NUMBER 38: Well, the good thing is that we know that we have to practice and concentrate and do the things, so we understand each other very well.

The down part a little bit is that we don't get to see each other that often, so that can be difficult in some parts of the year. The tournaments are not together.

CASH: Lucie and Tomas met when they both started playing tennis at the Prostejov club in the Czech Republic. It took Tomas six months to pluck up the courage to ask Lucie out on a date.

SAFAROVA: Yes, he was always very shy, but --

CASH: He's always.


BERDYCH: But I'm getting better in that, so everybody needs to improve, and --

SAFAROVA: We're going -- at first didn't want to tell anyone because we're both in the club and we're both shy. But then we did.

BERDYCH: It was tough to make it secret. Everybody just knew it right away. But it was nice. That was the beginning. It's always like that.

CASH: But with an 11-month playing season, down time is in short supply.

SAFAROVA: Usually after the end of the season, we try to fly somewhere to rest for holidays, and we like to be active, so we will start going into nature, biking and swimming and snorkeling underwater, fishing also, so a lot of interesting things.

This is the part we like the most, we enjoy together, and we don't think about tennis.

I think it was three or four years ago on the holidays, we played once. That didn't go so well, so we won't do that again.


BERDYCH: We did it more. We just said once because, you like --

SAFAROVA: Except for our holidays, that we played once on holiday, and that it didn't go so well.

BERDYCH: Yes. Maybe you shouldn't even say that we go on holidays and we play tennis.

SAFAROVA: It was just once.

BERDYCH: It was once on holidays. But then we play more often. We played twice -- may come together.

SAFAROVA: Yes, that's what I said.


SAFAROVA: We played mixed.

BERDYCH: So -- no, I think it's not that bad. It's better to spend with some different activity than just play tennis together.

SAFAROVA: Like biking.

BERDYCH: Yes, why not? Golf, everything.

CASH: For now, though, it's destination London and the green grass of Wimbledon.

BERDYCH: When I came first time to play on grass, it was for juniors, and I was quite struggling on it. I didn't like it, I had problems with the movement on the court.

Then one day, I came back from the match to the locker room, and the guys asked me, "What happened to you? I thought in Wimbledon we play in the white?" And I came, I was completely green. I'd fallen down like four times.

Now I can say that that's my favorite surface.


CASH: And good luck to Tomas and Lucie at Wimbledon. Now, time for a break.

On the other side, we take an in-depth look into the state of British tennis, a nation still searching for its first men's Wimbledon champion since 1936.


CASH: Welcome back to OPEN COURT, coming to you from the players' lounge at the Queen's Club championships. Now, it's that time of the year that the same question resurfaces. Where is the next British Grand Slam Champion?


CASH (voice-over): Wimbledon, a venue fit for kings, and a championship that makes the British LTA one of the richest tennis organizations in the world. But despite all the fame and money, hopes of the nation still rest on the shoulders of one man, Andy Murray.

Andy Murray will once again carry the weight of a nation's dreams and expectations at Wimbledon this year.

ANDY MURRAY, WORLD NUMBER FOUR: It's tough, because there's people following you everywhere, photographer, journalist, they're coming to your house. It's very difficult to kind of get away from that side of things.

And then, you're asked a lot of questions about -- not necessarily tennis questions. It's kind of -- sort of like an interrogation into your life.

CASH: Probably the only man who understands exactly what Andy is going through is Tim Henman, who reached four Wimbledon semifinals in his career.

CASH (on camera): Well I got the chance to witness the mayhem around you from seven years ago, and the mayhem around Murray. I got a bit in Australia, of course, but where are you going to eat, what are you doing, what's you're wife wearing, are you sitting in the box? All that stuff. Certainly that's got to --

TIM HENMAN, FORMER WORLD NUMBER FOUR: It's difficult. I think those are all things that -- they have the possibility of distracting you. But I think what you've got to do is do a really good job controlling the things that you can control and really trying to just forget everything else around it.

Because there's nothing you can do, whether it's photographers outside your house or speculation in the media, what's going on. And nothing you can do about it, and it goes with the territory.

I think this is where this tournament sort of goes outside the tennis fraternity, it really goes into the news pages. And that's great, because I think it continues to increase the interest in the sport.

But when you're in the -- sort of the center of attention, you've got to do a good job of just focusing on what you're doing.

CASH (voice-over): It's been 74 years since the last British man, Fred Perry, won Wimbledon. They do have a more recent ladies champion, Virginia Wade, who won the title in 1977.

Now a respected commentator and broadcaster, I caught up with Virginia during the recent French Open.

CASH (on camera): Hello, hello, hello.


CASH: Lovely to see you again. Thanks for spending some time with me.

WADE: No, I'm always happy to spend time with you.

CASH: Well, we have to have a chat with you. The last Wimbledon champion -- British Wimbledon champion.

WADE: I know.

CASH: What do you think?

WADE: Well, it was a long time ago, but I don't think -- some things haven't changed.

CASH: Yes?

WADE: Some things have changed --

CASH: A lot.

WADE: -- a lot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Three, two, one --


WADE: Do we make such a big fuss about anybody who does well before they've really consolidated that form. Somebody wins a round at Wimbledon, they all have a TV and their agents say, "Yes, I can't do television, because then we can do something for you."

You need to be fighting more for that exposure. The exposure -- and we said right at the beginning, some things have changed, and some things haven't changed. And even in 70 -- in the 70s, mid 70s, when I was playing, the pressure and the expectation was daunting. It took me a long time before I learned how to deal with it.

I was on -- past my shelf life, really, when I won Wimbledon, so -- but it took me that long to learn how to deal with it.

CASH: Well, Tim, when you come around that corner out of -- where the players come out of, and you hear the roaring of the crowd, that must be really something for you, because you had 15,000 people screaming for you.

HENMAN: Yes, it is. I always felt so fortunate that this was my home tournament, and I always had unbelievable support. For me, I felt like I thrived in that.

I think other players, sometimes you can feel the sort of pressure and expectation and that sort of suppresses your performance, whereas I always felt like it gave me a big lift and probably gave me more confidence, and probably put a bit of pressure on my opponents.

So, yes, for me, there was no better place to play than out here on Center Court.

CASH: Thanks to Wimbledon, the LTA is one of the richest tennis bodies in the world, but money hasn't been able to buy success.

WADE: When tennis went open, the LTA just -- and clubs and tournaments just stayed in the dark ages, and they didn't advance and make changes then. They thought they had always done so well with all these tournaments that they run where they didn't have to produce prize money and everybody had a good time and everybody came.

But I remember, around the mid 70s, late 70s, when I was really playing at my best, that we were already advocating the things that they have only now in the last five to ten years started putting into action. So --

CASH (on camera): Such as what?

WADE: Well, sort of investing money more in the coaches rather than just paying players and getting some international stuff and getting some schools together and that sort of thing.

CASH: Got you.

WADE: Yes, grass roots.


CASH (voice-over): Million-pound facilities, like this one in Newcastle, can't disguise the fact that Britain only has three men and women in the top 100.

But Roger Draper, the LTA chief executive insists the future is bright.

ROGER DRAPER, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, LAWN TENNIS ASSOCIATION: We know we've got to improve. We know we've got to do things better, because there hasn't been the depth before, and that's exactly why day in, day out, we're working extremely hard to make sure that that doesn't happen in the future.

CASH (on camera): Well he we are at -- well, they call it Henman Hill, what do you call it? What do you call Henman Hill?

HENMAN: My hill.


CASH: My hill, there you go. This is where the -- due respect to the people in Center Court, this is where the real fans come and hang out.

HENMAN: It is, yes.

CASH: Watch the big screen.

HENMAN: It's been some fantastic atmosphere. When I was playing, I obviously wasn't really aware of it, but to see some of the footage afterwards and the atmosphere. I expect they make some pretty good money out of the pimps' tents, as well, so --

CASH: What do you think these fans think about the British performances?

HENMAN: Yes, not good enough. We've got the biggest and best tournament in the world, and the profits, the surplus from the championships go to the LTA to invest in the game, and you can't deny the facts that our results are just not good enough.

That's disappointing. There's a lot of time and effort and money that's being spent to try and improve those results.

But I think the players themselves are the ones that have got to take responsibility. There's -- not just at this tournament. I think throughout the 52 weeks of the year, there's fantastic opportunities, and they've got to go out there and have that hunger and desire and determination to make it happen.


CASH: Yes, the pressure will be on Andy Murray, as he seems to be the only British player capable of winning a Wimbledon title, certainly, in the foreseeable future. So, we wish him all the best. Now, time to take a little break.

And when we come back, we'll meet a former champion who, like me, has two great passions, tennis and music.


CASH: Welcome back to OPEN COURT. Now, on this show, we like to feature past champions who have interesting lives outside of tennis. Now, this next man certainly fits that bill. It's the 1983 French Open champion Yannick Noah.


YANNICK NOAH, FRENCH OPEN CHAMPION, 1983: As a professional athlete, winning the French Open was very -- was so strong to be able to do that.

Not just winning a Grand Slam, but doing it at home was so important, because I think actually to do it in front of all of my family and all of my friends, not that some people were aware or they didn't see. Everybody was here, so I could share this moment.

I had some great time as a Davis Cup captain, also. And we won the first tennis cup, we won 1991 when we were such -- I was a young captain, and we're just friends.

Comments that Yannick's not really French, his mother is only French, but his father's from Africa, blah blah. And then you win, and then people are happy, so happy.


NOAH: When you start playing, you go out there to just have fun. And then all of a sudden, you're kind of good at it. Then the competition gets harder.

And then you start to try to hate the guy in front of you.


NOAH: You want to beat him up, you want to pass him in the rankings, you want to get his money, you want to kill him. And that's so unhealthy, but that's the reality.


NOAH: The competition's like this bad disease, and you kind of miss the -- actually, the fun of playing for a while.



NOAH: I've played tennis since I was six years old. It was just all my life, and I was so worried after my career to find a passion, something that I liked, something that I loved.

NOAH (singing): I shot the sheriff, but I swear it was in self defense.

NOAH (speaking): I didn't care about finding a way to make a certain amount of money. I wanted to do something that makes me wake up in the morning, and that was obvious that, from the day I put the racket down, that this is what I wanted to do.

Success is like being one of the best in the world, yes, I was like number three in the world. I don't think as a musician I'm top three in any --

But in terms of success, if success is the fun that you have and the love for what you do, and a quality of life that you have, by far, being a singer is so much more fun.

When I look back at the time when I was on the circuit, and some of the guys are musicians, a lot of them, actually, more than we think.

NOAH (singing): Girl, you really got me now, you got me so I don't know what I'm doing.

NOAH (speaking): Of course, it's John and Matt and there used to be other guys, like Jim Courier, who would play the drums well.

We couldn't be really friends, because the next day you're playing each other. You can't -- it's hard to be friends with someone you're going to play the next day.

And the only way we found to actually tell each other we like and we love each other was to play music together.

During the US Open, we would rent this studio and go out and take, like, hundreds of beers and just drink some and just play together.


NOAH: Even though I've been doing the music for the last almost 20 years, this is my family. This is my real family. This is the guys that I grew up with.

It's great 20 years later to come back and realize that, when all this competition's gone, the friendship is still there. And the love for the game is still there.


CASH: Well, that's all we have time for for this show. We hope you enjoyed it. When we next meet in July, we will know who the Wimbledon champions are. In the meantime, I'd better help out around here.