© Ella Ling

Andre Agassi

Top 10 worst pieces of advice


1. “Here, Andre, have some of this”.
Andre Agassi’s admission in his 2009 book, “Open” that he had taken crystal meth in 1997, failed a drugs test, lied about how it happened and got away without a ban, rocked the tennis world but came too late for officials to do anything about it. The Las Vegan may have dashed around his house in a fit of domestic frenzy: “I’m seized by a desperate desire to clean,” he wrote, but he soon saw the error of his ways and the advice that led to it. Agassi told the ATP he had accidentally drunk a spiked drink belonging to the infamous, soon-to-be-sacked, Slim and got lucky. Very lucky.

2. “Hey, Serena, let’s celebrate your Wimbledon win with a trip to Germany. There’s this nightclub I know”.
Fresh from winning her fourth Wimbledon title in 2010, Serena Williams fancied celebrating, not surprisingly. So the American went to a Munich nightclub, where she duly danced away, stepped on some broken glass and suffered a toe injury that not only kept her out of the game for a year, but led to a blod clot which left her “close to death”. Now Serena’s a strong character and probably not one to yield to peer pressure anyway, but next time someone suggests an impromptu nightclub trip, we suggest she thinks about it pretty carefully first.

3. “John, how about running uphill, backwards?”
In 1987, John McEnroe was stuck in the worst period of his career, his six-month sabbatical in 1986 costing him dear as the likes of Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, Mats Wilander and later Stefan Edberg came to dominate the game. Heading into the French Open that year, the former world number one had realised he needed more strength in his legs and took some advice which included running backwards up steep hills. The result? A first-round loss to unheralded Mexican Horacio de la Pena. “I was doing a little extra trying to strengthen the hamstrings and the calf muscles,” McEnroe said. “I think I overdid it”.

4. “OK, Tim, take some pace off your first serve and kick it for placement”.
Tim Henman finished in the top 10 for six years out of seven, reaching six grand slam semi-finals and winning 11 career titles. The Briton was one of the very best serve and volleyers in the game and yet when he teamed up with the American Larry Stefanki in 2002, things went badly wrong. Stefanki, who has also coached John McEnroe, Marcelo Rios and Andy Roddick, wanted Henman to hit with more spin on his first serve, theoretically to give him more time to get closer to the net for his volleys. The result was a disaster. As Ivan Speck wrote at the time, Stefanki’s only achievement: “was changing the Briton’s service motion so drastically that Henman’s shoulder almost fell off”. The two parted, Henman went back to the tried and trusted and reached a career-high number four in 2004.

5. “Pat, why don’t you give this this young Spanish kid a game?”
In 2001, Boris Becker had been lured to Majorca to play an exhibition match against a young local kid who was showing a bit of promise. Becker, who had only retired from the sport the previous year, pulled out injured but organisers were lucky to have Pat Cash on hand to fill in. The Australian had been retired for a few years but was only 36 and even on clay no doubt considered it easy money as he took on a boy not yet even 15. That teenager, though, was Rafael Nadal and the Spaniard duly cleaned up the former Wimbledon champion. You can imagine what Cash thought of that at the time.

6. “Marion, forget dieting and get this down you”.
For all her eccentricities – and there are many – France’s Marion Bartoli is one of the best ball-strikers in the women’s game and with one grand slam final appearance under her belt, she is well inside the top 10. The only thing un-French about her is her weight, which has always been an issue though is only struggling in the strictest of sporting terms. Marion herself has a very healthy attitude to her body, saying she does not diet and her father Walter believes that having a bit of extra mass can add power. Martina Navratilova is among those to disagree and it would be interesting to see how good she could be if her movement was up there with the very best.

7. “Jelena, crank up those weights”.
Forgive us for focusing on weight in the women’s game again but we hope you’ll agree with the choice. At the end of 2008, Jelena Jankovic was ranked number one and had shown enough to suggest that one more big push could see her win that coveted first grand slam title. The Serbian and her team – led by legendary fitness trainer Pat Etcheberry – felt she needed extra power to compete at the top and so embarked on an off-season programme to add muscle. But while she was stronger when 2009 began, the speed and agility that had helped her get to the top deserted her and she slid down the rankings. Thanks Pat

8. “Need some more energy, Greg? Try these”.
Unbeknown to him at the time, Greg Rusedski was about to hit rock bottom when he played in Indianapolis in 2003. The Briton tested positive for the steroid nandrolone but always protested his innocence and insisted that the drug must have come from supplements handed out to the players by the ATP. The ATP later claimed the drugs may not have come from their supplements but Rusedski, and six others who failed a similar test, were exonerated. Rusedski, we guess, probably steered clear of any similar advice thereafter.

9. “Kim, I’m getting married – bring your heels”.
Similarly to Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters probably thinks twice before strutting her stuff on the dancefloor these days. The Belgian was at her cousin Tim’s wedding last spring when she fell and injured her ankle to such an extent that she missed Wimbledon. There was no broken glass involved (we’re told) and Clijsters did return eventually but it cost her a solid few months that could have been better spent adding to her grand slam tally. We’re thinking she’ll be wearing flats next time.

10. “This McEnroe kid’s a bit tasty. Throw in the odd bad call”.
OK, so this might not have been the actual advice one junior was given when playing a young John McEnroe in a match in the US, but whoever made the decision, it was a bad one. Back then juniors called their own lines (it still happens in many events) and McEnroe’s opponent was making some very dodgy calls, to put it politely. The young Mac didn’t get angry, he simply asked his opponent if he was sure. When he got the expected response, McEnroe just set about tearing him apart on the court. Nice work.”