© Ella Ling

Juan Martin Del Potro

Top 10 changeover moments


The stabbing of Monica Seles.
Seles, 19, was dominating the women’s circuit and had recently beaten rival Steffi Graf to win the Australian Open. But, as she played a quarter-final match at a tournament in Hamburg in 1993, an “obsessive and mentally disturbed” Graf fan ran on to the court and stabbed Seles between the shoulder blades. She didn’t return to the game for over two years, and when she did, she was not the same player she had been before the attack. “I had grown up on a tennis court; it was where I felt most safe, most secure,” Seles has recalled. “That day in Hamburg everything was taken away from me.”

Del Potro insults Murray’s mother.
The Foro Italico was the venue of some ugly scenes between Andy Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro (above). At the 2008 Rome Masters, Del Potro smashed the ball at Murray at the net to win the point, followed by Murray’s overzealous ‘C’mon’ after Del Potro had framed a ball in to the crowd, and it all boiled over at the changeover. Through Del Potro’s muffled English, he managed to insult Murray’s mum Judy, which Murray did not take kindly to: “He can say whatever he likes about me, but to insult my mum? I don’t think that’s really cool.”

Jim Courier reads a book.
Courier had just lost the first set of a round-robin match at the season-ending championships when, during a changeover, he reached for the novel ‘Maybe the Moon’ by Armistead Maupin. “It was the end of the year; I was fried and looking for solutions.” The reading material would have been labelled a stroke of genius had Courier not gone on to lose, after having four match points in the third set. 
Pete Sampras struggles to control his emotions.
Just a couple of days before he played Jim Courier in the quarter-finals of the 1995 Australian Open, Sampras discovered that his coach Tim Gullikson had been diagnosed with four brain tumours. When someone in the crowd shouted out, “win it for your coach, Pete”, Sampras could not control his emotions and broke down at the changeover. Sampras got up off his chair and fought through the tears by serving numerous aces. Having been two sets to love down, Sampras won the match in five. Months later, Sampras said: “I was embarrassed in Australia; I thought I was strong.” But it was the first time that Sampras, previously so reserved, had endeared himself to the Melbourne crowds.
Venus Williams and Irena Spȋrlea bump shoulders.
A coming together between Williams and Spȋrlea at the net post may well be what the latter is remembered for rather than her tennis. Williams and Spȋrlea bumped shoulders during their semi-final match at the 1997 US Open, leading to an exchange of words and plenty of trash talk after the match. Spȋrlea claimed that “Williams thinks she’s the s—” and “I’m not going to move for her, she doesn’t even try to turn.” Venus however, played down the incident: “I’m sorry she feels like that. I thought we both weren’t looking, it’s not a big thing to me.”

Sampras reads a letter from his wife.
Sampras bowed out of his last Wimbledon, the 2002 Championships, with a second-round loss to the little-known Swiss, George Bastl. When two sets down, Sampras pulled a letter from his bag that was written by his wife, Bridgette. “My head was spinning a bit, and I needed to switch gears. The letter was a positive reminder that I thought would help.” Unfortunately for Sampras, it didn’t, as he lost the match in five sets.

Federer and Hrbaty have a chat.
Towards the end of their first-round match on Wimbledon’s Centre Court in 2008, Roger Federer and Dominik Hrbaty, an old friend and double partner, sat next to each other during a changeover, spending the 90 seconds in conversation. This was greeted with laughter from the crowd and a light-hearted final game where one member of the crowd shouted: “Give him a chance, Roger.”

Federer cusses.
Having been broken in the second set of the 2009 US Open final following a let being called due to a stray plastic cup, Federer was sent over the edge in the third, when umpire Jake Garner allowed Del Potro to challenge after roughly ten seconds. This led to Garner gaining an uncharacteristic earful from the Swiss maestro, which included a questioning of Garner’s knowledge of the rules as well as a couple of expletives. 

Serena Williams: “You’re a hater.”
On a previous visit to Flushing Meadows, Williams had turned on a lineswoman, threatening to “stuff a ball down your throat”. During last year’s defeat to Sam Stosur in the US Open final, Serena had a penalty point given against her for shouting ‘C’mon’ while the point was still ‘live’, which led to a tantrum that John McEnroe would have been proud of. Serena told the umpire: “You’re a hater and you are unattractive inside. Don’t even look at me”.

Baghdatis breaks four rackets.
After a scrappy two sets that left Marcos Baghdatis with the giant task of winning in five in his second-round match with Stanislas Wawrinka at this year’s Australian Open, he decided to vent his anger by smashing not one, not two, not three, but four rackets. The Cypriot didn’t waste any time as he trashed two of the rackets without bothering to take them out of their wrapping. After receiving a code violation for racket abuse, Baghdatis forced out a smile. Serena Williams later described his destruction as “impressive.”

  • http://twitter.com/IrrelevantQuota Roonil Wazlib

    And let’s not forget father Richard Williams calling Spirlea a “turkey” as well, IIRC. Something I’d add to number five, above.  Also, I’d certainly rate the Seles stabbing as a “bottom ten” changeover moment; it was rather jarring to see it listed as a “top moment”, as it were. Perhaps title should have been changed to “most notable moments”?