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Serena Williams' Inner Circle; Verdasco's Rise to Success; Is Murray ready for the Australian Open?; Marion Bartoli: Why I Left the Game

Aired November 21, 2013 - 05:30:00   ET


PAT CASH, CNN HOST: We're in London, shining a spotlight on the greatest tennis players in the world.

CASH (voice-over): Coming up on the show, a rare glimpse of Serena Williams and her inner circle.

Plus Andy Murray accepts an invitation from Buckingham Palace.

ANDY MURRAY, TENNIS PRO: My girlfriend is massively into anything royal.

CASH (voice-over): Plus Fernando Verdasco gives me a serious taste of the power game.

And Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli retires from the game just weeks after the biggest win of her life.

CASH: We begin at the top of the women's game, World number one Serena Williams won the French Open, the U.S. Open and finished the year winning the season-ending WTA Championships. Along the way, she amassed over $12 million in prize money.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Driven, determined and focused on becoming the greatest woman to ever play the game.

SERENA WILLIAMS, TENNIS PRO: When you go on a tournament and it's number one seed, especially, like for me, you really didn't want to lose.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): The story of Serena Williams' 2013 season is best told by the numbers and by her opponents, 11 tournament wins.

VICTORIA AZARENKA, TENNIS PRO: To play against Serena is always definitely the biggest challenge there is. It's not just a two-hour, 2.5- hour match. It feels like the whole day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Two Grand Slam trophies.

AGA RADWANSKA, TENNIS PRO: (INAUDIBLE) everything from the beginning of the match and sometimes she's having a good day, you can just try, but you know, it's very tough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): -- $12.3 million in prize money.

ANGELIQUE KARBER, TENNIS PRO: She's a great player and she won everything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): -- World number one.

SERENA WILLIAMS: This year becoming number one, I really took it upon myself to do the best that I really could.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): -- she won her first tournament of the year in Brisbane and never looked back.

JELENA JANKOVIC, TENNIS PRO: She was able to do it in a week in, week out, which I think was not the case in the past.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Serena won 78 matches and lost only four. That's 20 matches more than she usually plays in a single year.

SERENA WILLIAMS: (INAUDIBLE) to my success or the secret to my demise. And it's fortunately enough it's been to my success.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): So how do you top a season like that? You shape history.

Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova each have 18 Grand Slam singles titles. Serena has 17.

SERENA WILLIAMS: I have four Grand Slams next year to try to catch up at least with Martina and Chrissie. So that'll be really, really exciting. And hopefully I can do it.

MARTINA NAVRATILOVA, TENNIS PRO: The way she's going, if she stays healthy, I think she could break all the records.

CHRIS EVERT, TENNIS PRO: You have to give Serena and Venus a lot of credit for the last 10 years. They've dominated women's tennis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): From an early age, Serena's father taught her to play tennis and even at the age of 32, she still turns to her parents for advice.

SERENA WILLIAMS: I called my dad every match from the U.S. Open, (INAUDIBLE) really helped me in that tournament. He really, really was -- helped me behind the scenes to win the matches there, so I was really happy to have his support and have his help. And, yes, so I definitely rely on my dad and my mom for a lot (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): As Serena's career has progressed, she's hired a team of experts to travel with her.

SERENA WILLIAMS: Well, everyone on my team is just -- has played such a key role, each person from my agent to my coach to my hitter to my physio, they all really -- they're part of the team. And one person isn't -- doesn't achieve anything without (INAUDIBLE) business. It's not just one person that (INAUDIBLE) behind that company. So -- and that's kind of how I look at it. It's a business and we need a lot of moving parts to make it work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): One of the mainstays of the group is Sascha Bajin. He's Serena's hitting partner and self-titled little brother. They've worked together for seven years.

SASCHA BAJIN, SERENA'S HITTING PARTNER: I'm taking every single second out of this and I'm having the time of my life right now.

It's more than just hitting. By now, since I've been with her for so long, I can see what kind of state of mind she's in, what do I have to do on the court, do I have to push her a little bit, do I have to be quiet, do I have to be aggressive or funny in order to get the best results out of her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Sascha takes care of all of the details so Serena doesn't have to.

BAJIN: I book all the courts. I book all the practice sessions, the cars, (INAUDIBLE) Serena's racquets, warm her up before the match, everything you can possibly think of that goes on at a tennis tournament, I have to do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): You also have to be strong enough to (INAUDIBLE) direct hit from Serena's overhead smash.

SERENA WILLIAMS (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) get along with when you travel because you see them all the time. And we get along just fine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): While Sascha keeps order on the practice court, Patrick Mouratoglou strategizes from the baseline.

Serena started working with the French tennis coach just days after crashing out at Roland Garros in 2012.

SERENA WILLIAMS: For me to lose in Paris was completely disappointing. I was really shattered. I was really sad. I didn't leave my house for two days. And I was really disappointed. I was just in a bad place. And it just -- the place got smaller and it got darker and worse and worse.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Shortly after that painful loss, Serena traveled to the Mouratoglou Academy for her first training session with Patrick.

PATRICK MOURATOGLOU, SERENA'S COACH: She came here; she said, "I want to practice, because I don't want to stay on that. I just lost first round in the Grand Slam for the first time in my career."

Then we went on the tennis court and she was hitting and I watched her hit for 45 minutes. When she sat down, she turned to me and she said, "Talk to me." I think it's the thing that we need to work and I explained what it was.

She said, "OK. Let's do it then."

And then we started working like that.

What surprised me at that point was the motivation she had. And she really, really, really wanted to come back to the top of the game.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Serena and Patrick have been working together ever since. And he has the trophy cabinets to prove it. Serena agreed to store all of the trophies that they won together inside his academy.

MOURATOGLOU: We have the Wimbledon trophy, the U.S. Open trophy, the Roland Garros trophy and all the other tournaments that she won. So that's how many tournaments? Eleven this year? And maybe five last year, so 16 trophies here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): He's pleased to be buying new trophy cabinets, but he hasn't forgotten about the two Slams that got away.

MOURATOGLOU: I cannot say that I'm happy that she lost those, special two matches, because it was Grand Slams and of course Grand Slams are our main goal. So I was disappointed and she was very disappointed. It's a failure we have to accept it also. And it's good that we have some failures because when you have failure, then you can work to be better.

SERENA WILLIAMS: It wasn't good that I lost, but it was good that I was able to learn from that loss. And I was able to do better. And I won some matches because of that loss.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Now Patrick is focused on taking Serena's game to the next level and adding to her Grand Slam total. And if they succeed, they will be rewriting the history of tennis.

MOURATOGLOU: And you know, it's not about the strokes, it's about what you have inside. She has something really special inside. She doesn't think like other players. She's really unique.


CASH (voice-over): Still to come on OPEN COURT, transforming a London landmark into a world-class sporting arena.




CASH (voice-over): Welcome back to OPEN COURT.


CASH (voice-over): As the tennis season comes to a close, London's O2 Arena swaps hard rock for hard courts.

Here, the top eight singles players and doubles pairs gather for the ultimate show-stopping finale.


NOVAK DJOKOVIC, TENNIS PRO: It's a lot of excitement. It's a high quality of tennis, every single match that you play and it's a packed house.

ROGER FEDERER, TENNIS PRO: There's more rock and pop and loud and it's blacked out, the spectators and it's only lit up like a boxing ring.

RAFAEL NADAL, TENNIS PRO: It's the best (INAUDIBLE), a better place to play (INAUDIBLE).


CASH (voice-over): More than 100 builders and technicians work around the clock to remodel the London landmark.

And in fewer than 72 hours, it transforms from a music venue into a sporting arena. The man overlooking the project is Javier Sanchez Vicario.

CASH: Wow, it's beautiful.

CASH (voice-over): His company, GreenSet, builds courts for over 500 tournaments, and this one is no exception.

Together with his sister, Arantxa, and his brother, Emilio, Javier is from a family with deep roots in tennis. And as it was during his playing days, speed is vital.

JAVIER SANCHEZ VICARIO, CEO, GREENSET: Here it is, the faster we do it, because of the concerts and we take -- we (INAUDIBLE) 42 hours.

CASH: You obviously -- you put paint on the court, it much like the Australian Open or the U.S. Open.

VICARIO: It's similar.

CASH: But what do you put underneath the paint?

VICARIO: It's like a pattern. We make a special pattern --


VICARIO: Panels, a special kind of boot, something like that. We have a special system also under the court. So keeps everything together.

CASH: But the court is only one part of this operation. Players used 5,000 balls, 2,500 meters of string in over 200 racquets. One of the challenges for organizers was to win over tennis fans who favored tradition over the O2's boxing ring setup.

CHRIS KERMODE, MANAGING DIRECTOR, ATP WORLD TOUR FINALS: When we started here, there were lots of people doubting whether tennis event would work in an indoor environment, especially in the winter. And I just saw this as a great opportunity to do something a bit different. And engage with a different type of fan, sort of more of a sports fan as well as the tennis fans.

And the trick really is not to alienate the conservative crowd and to bring in the new one as well.


CASH (voice-over): Over 1.2 million fans have attended the tournament, making this the largest indoor tennis event in the world.

And it's not just the fans who are looking forward to returning next year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People in London love tennis. It's a long tradition of our sport in this city. They do a great job of combining sports with entertaining.


CASH: One of the best things about being at the ATP World Tour finals is that I get a chance to go on court with some of the biggest names in the game.

Fernando Verdasco is one of the best singles and now doubles players in the world. He's a sharp-dressed man with a killer forehand. Wish me luck.


CASH: He's going down.


CASH: I want to see some of your forehand.

VERDASCO: We can try.

CASH: I know they're frightening.

VERDASCO: I'm going to try to break his grip.

That's what I mean.

OK, let's go.

Hold tight the racquet.

Are you OK?

I can play like the '80s or '70s maybe. Look.

That's it. That's better.

CASH: No wonder you're so successful at the back of a court. That is frighteningly hard (INAUDIBLE). I know you're not just a doubles specialist now. You must be enjoying the doubles.

VERDASCO: Yes, it's a different experience. I like to -- I like to be like in teams, you know. I always enjoy so much playing the Davis Cup and now with the doubles, playing with a good friend like David Morelli, it's a nice experience that I'm having this year and I'm enjoying so much.

CASH: In a great era of Spanish tennis, you must be very proud of that.

VERDASCO: Of course with Rafa being maybe one of the best in history, not only in Spain, and Ferrer and then after Almagro and Feliciano, Robredo, myself, you know, it's a great, great team.

CASH: You're still playing singles. You're still (INAUDIBLE) good ranking (INAUDIBLE), around 13 in the world. And a lot of people here in England were almost going to hate you, because you were very close to beating Andy Murray at Wimbledon this year.

VERDASCO: Yes, but they love me because I didn't close the match.


CASH: They may love you now.

VERDASCO: And Andy's a good friend. And of course when you are on the court, you always try to win, even if he's a close, close friend. After I lost, I was happy that he won. He won (INAUDIBLE).

CASH: No wonder Murray couldn't get his serve back for two sets at Wimbledon.

Well, Fernando has not just got a powerful left-handed serve; he's got spin on it as well.

Come on, give me a kick serve.

VERDASCO: Let's go.

Oh, come on. It's over. It's done. Kaput.

CASH: Well, that was very impressive.

VERDASCO: Thank you, man.

CASH: A terrifying set, thanks very much (INAUDIBLE) and good luck.

VERDASCO: Thank you so much.

CASH: Singles and doubles.

VERDASCO: Thank you so much. Yes, thank you. See you.


CASH: Injury prevented Rafa Nadal from playing last year's ATP World Tour finals, and this year it's Andy Murray, the Wimbledon champion has cut his season short to have surgery on his troublesome back injury.

But as the Scottish superstar tells Alex Thomas, he's very much looking forward to playing without pain.


ALEX THOMAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The chants ended months ago, but Andy Murray is still being honored for being the first British Wimbledon men's champion in 77 years.

The tennis star received his Officer of the Order of the British Empire medal from Prince William during an awesome ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

The Wimbledon champion was joined by his parents and long-time girlfriend, Kim Sears.

MURRAY: It obviously means a lot to me and it's just nice having her around to be there. I think they were quite proud this morning, my girlfriend is massively into anything royal. She was so excited about coming to Buckingham Palace for the first time. So, yes, it was a great day for us.

THOMAS (voice-over): Murray said he'd been by the palace many times but had never been invited to drive in.

MURRAY: That initial sort of actually going into the palace was a pretty cool experience, because very few people are able to do that.

My mum and my dad were sitting on the way in there, like, you know, when you first start playing tennis, you never expected to be getting to do things like that.


THOMAS (voice-over): Murray's banner season came to an abrupt end in September when the star decided to undergo back surgery.

MURRAY: For the last couple of years, I've been playing in quite a bit of pain and I'm just looking forward to getting back on the tennis court and not having to be in pain when I'm playing. So far, the rehab's been very, very positive.

THOMAS (voice-over): Meantime, at the All England Club, the match scoreboard remains untouched. The museum has added a special Murray memorabilia showcase and the historian who knew the last British man to win the Wimbledon crown is reminiscing.

JOHN BARRETT, WIMBLEDON HISTORIAN: Well, I was a very good friend of Perry. I think he would have been the very first man to be out on the court to congratulate Andy on his win. He'd always said that he hoped one day he'd be here to see a British player win. Of course he didn't quite make it; he died some years ago now.

But he would have been the first there to say, well, (INAUDIBLE) that he could do it and at last he did.

MURRAY: The last sort of 15 (ph) months have been obviously in all success (INAUDIBLE) tennis court. (INAUDIBLE) like this, away from the court, is great.

THOMAS (voice-over): Now Murray will focus on getting fit in time for the Australian Open. But where would he store his latest award?

MURRAY: Well, it's the first one like this (INAUDIBLE).

THOMAS (voice-over): His prize pooch, Maggie May, may already have the answer.


CASH (voice-over): Still to come on OPEN COURT, the 2013 Wimbledon champion who won't be defending her title next year.




CASH: Welcome back to the program to OPEN COURT.

Marion Bartoli's greatest tennis success happened right here in London. The number 15th seed shocked the field when she won her first and only Grand Slam championship at Wimbledon. In an equally shocking move, she announced her retirement just 40 days later.

But as Max Foster found out, she's not looking back.



MAX FOSTER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Claude Monet's gardens in Giverny, France, a collection of wildflowers, winding pathways and water lilies fill the gardens where the French impressionist once sought inspiration. It's a place that 2013 Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli had always wanted to visit.

FOSTER: This is a moment for you, isn't it, because you're a big fan of Monet, one of your top two artists. Here you are, in his home. What are your thoughts?

BARTOLI: Well, first of all, thank you for inviting me, because obviously I didn't have the time before to come in here. And I love painting and I love Monet. So I'm very pleased to be in this beautiful garden.

FOSTER: Just describe to me the role that art played in your tennis career, because it actually did, didn't it?

BARTOLI: Yes, it did. I think being able to take some stress away and (INAUDIBLE) it was hard to obviously carry my whole brushes and my paints and everything. I always found a way to bring them with me.

The way also I was playing on the court was different and a bit artistic in a way. In my own way, but it was a bit artistic. And I remember the comment of (INAUDIBLE) when I won Wimbledon said she made her whole version of Picasso. And I think that was the best comment I ever received.

FOSTER (voice-over): Marion Bartoli reached the Wimbledon final in 2007. But she was determined to go one better. This year, Serena Williams lost early and the draw opened up. Bartoli knew this would be her last chance to fulfill a childhood dream.

BARTOLI: I was practicing very late because my dad was -- he's a doctor, so he was finishing his day very late. So I was a lot of times finishing my practice at midnight. And I was about 10-11 years old. And I had to go back to the school the next day. So it was very hard mentally.

When I serve at 615440 love and I pick up my ball I look at the ball boy and just before taking my ball, I saw the picture of myself being 10 or 11 years old. And I had the exact picture of me doing that. And I had the voice inside my head of my dad telling me that.

FOSTER (voice-over): As Bartoli made her triumphant run at Wimbledon, she had to contend with some painful headlines off-court. A British commentator criticized her appearance during a broadcast. But the public came to her defense.

BARTOLI: I was very touched by all this love I received, very, very touched. And sometimes I even cried reading all those letters I received or all the support I received from women all over the world. It was even more overwhelming that I received the trophy (INAUDIBLE).

And when he came over the (INAUDIBLE) and said, oh, he didn't mean to say that way, it was not -- it was like, you know what, I have the trophy. That's all matters to me. As I said, I never dreamed about being a model. I dreamed about winning Wimbledon.

FOSTER (voice-over): Just 40 days after winning Wimbledon, Bartoli stunned the tennis world and announced her retirement. The woman who's known on the tour for doing things her own way told reporters that her persistent injuries have become too much and her career was over.

BARTOLI: I never regret any decision. This is --


FOSTER: (INAUDIBLE) going to go back?

BARTOLI: No. This is another aspect of my personality. When I take a decision, it's forever. I never go back. I never rewind.

FOSTER: As you say, you've been so busy, haven't you? You haven't had time for anything beyond tennis. So what's it like being able to do things like this now?

BARTOLI: It's great. You know, I really enjoyed every single bit of my tennis career, I really did. I've been very blessed and lucky of being able to fulfill my dream, my childhood dream. And I will never forget that day.

But it's almost like I'm closing a book and I wrote the happiest ending ever.



CASH: Thanks for joining us on this special edition of OPEN COURT. And congratulations to Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic for winning the season ending championships. For now, it's goodbye from London.