Lewis Tennis Interview
Chris Lewis (1983 Men's Singles Wimbledon Finalist) was kind enough
to join us in the Tennis4you Forums for a Q&A session. Below you
will find the questions asked by our forum members and Chris Lewis'
responses. Tennis4you would like to thank Chris Lewis for the time
he spent answering the questions below, we enjoyed every minute of
Chris Lewis is also the webmaster of www.tennis-experts.com
and also has an online tennis store at www.tennis-experts.com
some day when you have time, will you tell us a little about your
encounter with the super brat (Johnny Mac)? I remember Kevin Curren
(the guy you beat up on at Wimbledon), a South African who was an
all American at university of Texas if my memory serves me correctly.
He must have been tough with his monster serve on grass. Finally,
did you ever play Borg? What was he like?
Chris Lewis: Yes,
I played Bjorn once (on clay in the quarters of the Swedish Open in
the late '70's). I lost 7-6 6-3. I also toured with him in an exhibition
series playing him a number of times throughout Asia & New Zealand
at the end of '83. And I often practiced with him on the court at
his house on Long Island when he was living in New York. He even wrote
the introduction to a book I released in New Zealand in the early
Bjorn was one of the few tennis players who achieved rock star status
around the world. Like Vitas Gerulaitis, it didn't matter where you
were, Bjorn turned heads. But he wasn't a publicity seeking sort of
guy at all. In fact, just the opposite. In true Swedish fashion, he
was -- and I imagine still is -- private and reserved. On the court,
he possessed an iron will that wasn't all that evident off it, unless
you spent some time around him.
He was an incredibly driven, single-minded, individual who was universally
liked by the rest of the guys on the tour.
Tennisfan78: Chris, along with your other successes,
I have noticed that you played Cincinnati Masters Final in 1981 with
Johnny Mac. I would love to hear your experiences.
First, I played John three times -- final of Cincinnati ('81), semis
of Queens ('82), final of Wimbledon ('83). I lost all three matches.
What made him so extraordinarily difficult to play was his ability
to hold the ball later than everybody else. You'd commit to moving
one way, he'd go the other.
I could get around the court pretty quickly, and had decent anticipation,
but John successfully neutralized those aspects of my play with his
uncanny ability to delay his swing until I was sure he'd committed
to a shot in a particular direction only to see him hit it in another.
Even though I'd seen him play numerous times, I didn't appreciate
just how good he was until I was up the other end of the court. Each
time I played him, it was in the later rounds when he was hitting
the ball well. Having also played Bjorn, Jimmy, and Ivan, I found
John to be the most difficult opponent. His unique style, combined
with being a left hander, meant that you never played anybody with
even a remotely similar game. Needless to say, this made life very
difficult when you played him.
Kickserve: You talked about Mac's game, what
was it like facing his personality? Did he 'act up' in any of encounters?
In the final of Cincinnati, a reasonably close match (From memory
I had eight or nine break points, he had two), which he won 6-4, 6-3,
I remember serving an ace, which the umpire overruled in John's favor.
Get this...John yelled at the umpire on my behalf! The umpire wouldn't
budge, and I'm pretty sure that John tanked the second serve return.
There were also other occasions in the match when John let the umpire
know what he felt about him.
For sure, the way he was on court did add something extra to a match
that you had to contend with, but during the three matches I had with
him, he never gave me reason to complain about anything he did. Got
to say here, too, that I got on very well with him off the court.
In fact, when he played an exhibition in New Zealand a few years ago,
upon my request, he went a long way out of his way to help a charitable
organization that I was involved with.
Regarding his personality, one of the many interesting things about
John was that he never treated Bjorn with anything other than with
the utmost respect. However, there were many guys who were literally
driven crazy by his antics. And they weren't shy to express their
feelings towards him in the locker room after the match.
TennisFan: Hi Chris, glad to have someone who'd
been in the competition. I read somewhere on the net that you reached
rank 19 in singles. You also coached Ivan Lendl and C U Steeb. I wonder
if you want to put your thoughts into the level of competition in
today's tennis as opposed to the 80's and 90's? Many thanks.
There's no question that in absolute terms tennis has moved on. However,
the technology is different; the racquets are different, the strings
are different, the balls are different, even the surfaces are different.
Personally, I don't think that it's possible to objectively compare
one era with another. To do so, you have to completely drop the context
of the conditions that prevailed in a particular era compared with
For example, take Borg. He played his career with a wooden racquet
that was extremely heavy as it had an extra layer of laminated reinforcement
around the head in order to support his string tension of 80lbs. Bear
in mind that the head size of the old Donnay (a heavy racquet to begin
with) that he played with was 70 something square inches. That's the
equivalent of stringing a mid or mid plus frame today at an enormously
high tension. I'm just guessing, but likely somewhere in the vicinity
of 95lbs in a 100 sq" head.
If you were to put the same Donnay racquet in the hands of one of
today's promising juniors, he or she wouldn't be able to play with
it. They wouldn't be able to maneuver it properly, and neither would
they get the ball to behave anywhere near like what they were used
to. They would have to adapt to playing a completely different game
in order to win points.
My point being that the context was vastly different twenty five years
ago. To a huge extent, the racquets (& strings) limited what you could
do compared to today.
In the mid to late 70's & early 80's, it just wasn't possible to generate
the sort of power that you can today. It required a different approach.
With the arrival of Borg on the scene, generally speaking, juniors
developed games that enabled them to construct points by relying more
on consistency and accuracy rather than power. Heavy topspin and solid
baseline play became more prevalent. Vilas, Solomon, Dibbs, Wilander,
Clerc & many others were all top players who belonged in this category.
Many matches turned into wars of attrition.
(As an aside, I've got to add that this is a complex question, making
a short summation virtually impossible. I say this as there were also
many pros in the early 80's that didn't fit into the baseline mold.
My observations are generalizations at best. My intention is to convey
my impression of what were emerging styles that were evident during
a particular period. I fully realize that there were numerous counter-examples
of the atypical 80's baseliner, with Johnny Mac being an obvious example.)
By comparison to the mid 70's & mid 80's, in the 60's and early seventies,
when Australians were very dominant, serve & volley tennis was the
order of the day. Much of that had to do with the number of tournaments
that were played on grass. And much of it also had to do with the
aggressive approach of great Australian players like Laver, Hoad,
Rosewall, Emerson, Newcombe & Roche, all of whom volleyed as well
or better than anybody in the history of the game (settle down guys).
It was fascinating to watch the game make the transition from the
s&v style of the Australian greats to the baseline games of Jimmy
And then, when Ivan came along, he upped the power level. He had flatter,
harder shots, and a particularly lethal forehand that he used very
effectively to take early control of a point before closing it out
with a forehand winner off a short ball.
In the 90's, when Pete dominated, he had much more in common with
the Australian style of play. During this era, a player who had even
more in common with the Lavers & Rosewalls was Pat Rafter. To me,
Pat was a throwback to the 60's and 70's. Don't get me wrong, I don't
say this in a derogatory sense, just the opposite. Pat was a *great*
player who was more than competitive in the 90's, but also a player
who I envisioned fitting in very comfortably at the top of game with
previous Australian greats thirty years earlier. With his style of
play, when comparing him to players in the 60's, I almost felt as
if I *were* comparing apples with apples.
As far as today's players go, I would say Federer is as complete a
package as the game has ever seen. But I wouldn't go as far as to
say he is the best. I just don't know. It's an entirely subjective
call. To me, it comes down to context. Would Roger have beaten Pete
or Bjorn or Laver when they were all at their best, and in conditions
that created a level playing field for all? Unfortunately, we'll never
Britbox: Hi Chris. A bit of a coup for tennis4you.com
getting a Wimbey finalist on board! I remember your Wimbledon final
well. Would you rank making it to the final as your most satisfying
achievement in tennis? Also, I didn't know you worked with Lendl -
how did you find that?
Chris Lewis: As for your first question -- yes.
Re Ivan: I spent three years working with him.
It was both a thoroughly enjoyable & memorable experience. We've kept
in touch over the years. In fact I saw him a couple of months ago.
He hasn't changed one bit. Intelligent, ambitious and *always* purposeful.
He could be the most goal-oriented person I've ever met.
Anyway, he spent an afternoon with me watching and giving advice to
promising young players in a junior tennis program I'm closely involved
with in California. He was absolutely superb.
Tennis4you: I want to know what you did the
day/night before the 1983 Wimbledon finals. Did you practice much?
Did you get much sleep or were you up most of the night like I assume
most players are. Even Federer before this last USO win said he had
problems sleeping the night before the finals and he is suppose to
be an expert at it by now.
Chris Lewis: The
night before the final, I ate dinner with Tony Roche and a few friends,
during which we discussed the following day's strategy. In London,
the public attention I was receiving everywhere I went was staggering.
My semi-final against Kevin Curren was a long five setter and had
drawn a wide television audience. I slept okay, unlike the night before
the 16's as I didn't get a minute's sleep.
My daily pre-match routine involved an hour's warm up at 10:00am,
but after missing a night's sleep, it was tempting to opt out of practice
and instead try to sleep.
I ended up sticking to my routine, & then grabbed some sleep on the
floor of a bath cubicle in the Wimbledon locker room. After being
0-40 down on my serve in the first game, I won 6-1, 6-3, 6-3. Hardly
missed a ball.
Hercules: Great stuff there Chris. That super brat really was
born to play the game. He also picked up 77 doubles titles which showed
that there was nothing he could not do on the court. I remember some
players saying that the best doubles team is Johnny Mac and anybody
he plays doubles with.
By the way, is Peter Snell a big name in New Zealand
Chris Lewis: Huge. He was voted NZ's
sportsperson of the 20th century. I've met Peter on a number of occasions
as I sit on the Board of an organization called the Peter Snell Institute.
It's an entity that raises and distributes funds to promising young
Dmastous: Can you see serve/volley as a consistent tactic (ala
Pete Sampras' early days, John McEnroe or Paul Annacone) being successful
again. I have to say I feel it's would be nearly impossible to succeed
with such a style in today's tennis with the variety of shot available
to today's players, both from the middle of the baseline, or on the
Chris Lewis: I think it's still possible. However, it's hard
to imagine a young player developing a successful enough serve and
volley game to take him or her to the very top in the current environment.
Today, winning in the juniors with serve and volley tennis is also
And as the S&V game takes longer to fully mature than one played from
the baseline, the chances of seeing a dominant serve and volleyer
in the near to medium future are certainly not high. Guess that puts
me in the "nearly impossible" category with you.
OSUBuckeye: Hey Chris, I am wondering if you still play much
or are you too busy with everything else? By the way, what is the
everything else nowadays?
I still spend a stack of time on court. I love working with promising
juniors, doing what I can do to help them realize their ambitions.
Since arriving in California two years ago, I've been heavily involved
with a wonderful junior program at the Woodbridge
Tennis Club in Irvine, Orange County, Southern Cal.
I also own an online tennis equipment business called Tennis-Experts.com,
and I run the pro shop at Woodbridge. I also publish my own tennis
which I would classify as my hobby.
Every spare second that I have, I spend with my wife and three children,
aged 14, 11 & 9. Almost forgot, I also have to find the time to walk
the dog. He's waiting for me now.
Hercules: I enjoyed your post about the intricacies of Johnny
Mac's game. He really could hold that ball for the longest time on
his racquet. That also explains why he strung those racquets with
such little tension. I think something like 50 pounds. Contrast that
with Borg's racquets which were strung at 80 pounds+.
After having seen Nadal play Nalbandian today and Murray yesterday,
what would you conclude about his hard court game? Is there hope for
him and should he even worry about being proficient on hard courts?
My take is that the mechanics of his heavy topspin strokes just do
not work out on fast hard courts. The ball sits up and these cats
today have the ability to take it early go for the first strike advantage.
They also do it on their serves and their return games. The name of
the game on fast hard courts is to be assault minded and capitalize
on the first strike advantage or somebody else will. The only person
who won't is Nadal and it is because he can't. Not having a much of
serve and relatively weak return puts him at a massive disadvantage
from the start. What are your thoughts? Thanks in advance.
Re Nadal, I was too busy to watch him play this week. But, interestingly,
one of the questions that was put to Ivan Lendl when he visited my
club recently was how he thought he would compare with Nadal. First
of all, Ivan prefaced his comments by saying that he thought the standard
is much higher now than when he was playing. But he also said that
of the top players, he would find Nadal the easiest to play.
Ivan's reasoning was that he thought neither he nor Nadal would have
any physical advantage, but that he, Ivan, would be able to hurt Nadal
more than Nadal could hurt him. And I would wholeheartedly agree with
that. One of Ivan's strengths was his ability to take control of a
point, and then progressively force his opponent into either an error
or to hit short, in which case Ivan would (usually) hit an inside-out
or inside-in forehand for a winner. On a hard court, for the reasons
you state above, I can't see how Nadal could have prevented this from
When it comes to tennis analysis involving himself, Ivan is as objective
as it's possible to be. When evaluating and subsequently commenting
on his perception of how he sees things, the only thing of interest
to him is the facts. He's as straight a shooter as you'll ever meet.
Kittens25: Is the reason the serve-volley game is now dieing
off completely when it was in such strong prominence back in the 60s,
and both the 70s and 80s when you played, just due to the players
themselves and being a period where the players are less proficient
at that type of game? Or is it some other factor, be it the surfaces,
the increased power of the game with the upgraded technology and equipment
making it harder to employ that game (along with many more players
developing the two handed backhand due to the much more baseline-oriented
game style of today), or maybe even the way the game is being coached
Right now almost everyone is a baseliner. So who is on top comes down
to who has best baseline game, which right now is Federer and Nadal,
and to an extent Djokovic, so they are on top since the baseline game
seems to be all there is today.
Kittens, this serve and volley issue is really an interesting one.
For there to be such a swing away from serve & volley tennis, there
have to be very good reasons. The difficulty is identifying what the
reasons are. The question I ask myself is whether there is a *fundamental*
reason; i.e., is there a single reason that gives rise to all the
other factors that have led to the decline in S & V to the point where
it's virtually extinct?
For instance, let's say it -- the fundamental reason -- was the slowing
down of the courts, which was brought about as the answer to the criticism
that was being directed towards the game because many were saying
it had become boring. Even Wimbledon has slowed the grass down considerably
in order to deflect criticism of "rallies being too short," and that
"tennis has become nothing but a serving competition," etc.
Now, as a result of slowing down the courts, let's say that players
who were previously winning with a S & V game all of a sudden started
losing to players whom they could previously beat. Inevitably, those
players would have to change their games if they wanted to remain
To concretize the dramatic effect that different surfaces have on
players' games, you don't have to look any further back than the example
of a totally-dominant-everywhere-else Pete Sampras being unable to
win the French. Now, if there's an international tendency towards
slower courts around the globe, it has to have a dramatic impact on
the way tennis is played, in the same way that Pete would have had
to adjust/change his game if tennis were suddenly played on clay for
12 months of the year.
There's no question that, generally speaking, guys (or girls) who
develop their games on slower courts tend to play a different game
than players who were brought up on faster courts. With (much) slower
courts having now become more universal, juniors today don't even
get to see examples of players who served and volleyed, unlike Sampras
who, when he was a junior, would study videos of Laver.
Just wanted to pause for a second to say that I absolutely am not
offering what I've said above as the definitive reason for the death
of S & V, I'm putting forward some food for thought out of which I'm
sure we'll get many different opinions. At the end of the day, we'll
all most likely come to different conclusions, but they'll hopefully
be more informed opinions than yesterday or last week.
Kittens, in further answer to your original question(s), I just wanted
to list a few of my own observations of what I think have also contributed
to the dominance of baseline tennis:
- Grips...The trend (started by
Borg) toward the semi-western/western grips (unnatural to volley
- Prevalence of two handed backhands
(incompatible with backhand volley)
- Slice backhand quite often not
taught anymore (slice backhand/backhand volley go hand in hand.
- For juniors, lighter, more powerful
racquets make finishing a point with aggressive groundstrokes
far easier and less risky than venturing to the net to close out
a point (less incentive to develop approaches & volleys)
- Strings...Luxilon and its equivalents
allowing players to take giant swings, yet still able to maintain
control of their shots (making it easier to pass & making it even
more difficult to come to the net for fear of being passed)
- Generally speaking, for a number
of years, junior development coaches (many of whom now can't volley
themselves) have devoted far less time to teaching volley technique
than in the past (far fewer junior players developing competent
- Aside from the introduction of
slower bouncing courts, there's also been examples of the introduction
of higher bouncing surfaces like Rebound Ace at the Australian
Open (far more difficult to hit a penetrating, low bouncing volley).
In Australia, the impact of digging up most of the grass courts
around the country had to have a massive impact on the way tennis
is now played there. And it sure has.
Tennisfan78: Chris, it was a true pleasure
to hear your opinions. we appreciate it very much. I don't know
if you have time to answer any more, but I would like to know what
was the most memorable experience you had as a player???
The elation I felt as I watched Kevin Curren's return go wide on
match point on center court in the 1983 Wimbledon semi-final. When
I served for the match at 7-6 in the fifth, I was down 15-40 & then
another breakpoint at ad out. I then won three points in a row.
As I came out of the chair to serve for the match, I had goose-bumps
and my hair felt as if it were standing on end.
Hercules: Chris did you ever play the mad man
(james scott connors)? What impressed you the most about him?
Chris Lewis: I played Jimmy once -- at Wimbledon in 1981. I
lost 7-6, 7-6, 7-3. There was only one break in the match.
His return impressed me the most...and his *fiercely* competitive
Britbox: Just a quick one - what did you think of Stefan Edberg
as a player (I believe you met once when he was a young buck)
Chris Lewis: Stefan
was one of the nicest guys you could hope to meet. I doubt there was
anybody on the tour who disliked him. He was exactly the same in private
as he was in public. Both on the court and off, he was a class act.
And yes, he surprised me the first year he entered the pros. As I
was playing him, I recognized that it was a foregone conclusion that
he had a brilliant career ahead of him. Among other things, his coverage
at the net was extraordinary.
Kittens25: What was your biggest head to head
win ever, as far as a specific player you beat?
Chris Lewis: I
had a hot patch mid-late '78. In the quarters of Kitzbuhel, I beat
Vilas on clay 6-1 6-4, (then Clerc in the semis 6-1 6-2, and Zednik
in the final 6-1 6-4 6-0). I won the tournament losing 19 games, and
also won the doubles.
After a pretty successful US summer circuit that year, I injured my
shoulder badly. I couldn't serve or hit backhands for six months,
then couldn't play on a fast surface (no serve) for well over a year.
It took another year after that, to get back to anywhere near where
I was. '79 & '80 were two extremely difficult years.