It is said that the winners write the history books. The Christmas edition of the Tennis With An Accent Podcast tries to study and appreciate tennis history from a different vantage point. We can talk about superstars and icons anytime, but tennis — like any sport — is so much more than the names we all remember. This week, TWAA contributor Mert Ertunga joins Matt Zemek for an extended conversation which explores “the other players” in tennis history who didn’t win eight or more major championships, but carved out impressive and highly successful careers nonetheless. Mert and Matt explore the careers of these players primarily to celebrate and remember them for what they did, but also to underscore the point that in past decades, the focus of a professional tennis player was different from what it is now. The major tournaments did not have nearly the same level of significance — or media centrality — they possess today.
Mert’s analysis is not just about facts or figures, or about scores and trophies. Mert emphasizes a broader, fuller way to appreciate a player’s contributions to the always-evolving story of tennis.
Mert begins by sharing his own experiences as a tennis player, highlighted by the 1990 Davis Cup European Zone tie involving Malta and his native Turkey. Mert shares an amazing story from that competition.
Mert’s life as a tennis player included a period of instruction as a student at the legendary Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. Andre Agassi was a fellow student of Mert’s. You know you want to hear more about this, don’t you? Mert dishes up some classic anecdotes, especially one in which Agassi was involved.
Mert also talks about European tennis culture and European attitudes toward tennis in the late 1970s and early 1980s, influenced by his level of exposure to tennis on television, and in his travels to different countries. Mert circles back to media coverage at a later point in the conversation.
With his personal immersion in tennis serving as a background to the conversation, Mert then mentions some of the notable tennis players from the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s who — he feels — don’t receive as much attention or admiration as they should.
Mert identifies several players in this category. Some of the featured names include Manuel Orantes, Tom Okker, Wendy Turnbull, Hana Mandlikova, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, and Victor Pecci. A discussion encompassing these players branches into other segments on numerous other players who are better known in tennis history, the bigger names such as Martina Navratilova, Guillermo Vilas, Jimmy Connors and his epic 1974 season, and Mats Wilander.
Mert’s mention of Victor Pecci flows into a specific recollection of the Paraguayan Davis Cup teams of the 1980s, which authored memorable Davis Cup upsets of France (1985) and the United States (1987). Mert recalls a specific detail of the 1985 Paraguay-France tie and shows why a Wikipedia entry about that contest is factually incorrect. Mert also remembers the 1987 tie, when a well-known American TV analyst for Tennis Channel suffered a stunning defeat.
Personal experiences, European culture, Nick Bollettieri’s Tennis Academy alongside Andre Agassi, underappreciated great players, and classic Davis Cup upsets — Mert Ertunga serves up a Christmas banquet you are sure to enjoy as you celebrate the holiday season. While sitting by the fireplace or enjoying quiet time during a holiday vacation, listen to a special look at the past in the latest Tennis With An Accent Podcast.
Thanks for listening!
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