There are not a lot of movies based on tennis. Wimbledon, a 2004 movie closely based on Goran Ivaniševic triumph at the 2001 Wimbledon is possibly the only decent tennis movie I have seen.
So, what if the movie fraternity wanted to make a tennis movie based on a real event? They don’t have to look beyond this list.
#4 – Brian Baker, the king of all comebacks
Brian Baker was going to be big. In the 2003 Junior French Open, he defeated Marcos Baghdatisand Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to set up a final with Stanislas Wawrinka. He lost the final but he was rated to be the next big thing in tennis.
All the three players that he played against in that 2003 Junior French Open made it big. Brian Baker however didn’t play at the major level for more than 6 years. Between 2005 and 2011, Baker has had five major surgeries in his body – in his left hip, right hip, hernia, right elbow and one more surgery in his left hip.
He could have taken a break. He had put his body through enough but he didn’t. In 2011, Baker entered a few Futures and Challenger tournaments. He qualified his way through 2012 French Open and Wimbledon. He reached a ranking of No.52 from No.458. He gained his first direct entry to a Grand Slam event at the 2012 US Open.
Brian Baker may never win a title. He may never make it big but he personifies what the game is all about. When asked about all these, he replied “I’ve learned that you can’t fight what you can’t control. There were definitely times when you’d ask ‘Why me?’ But you just try to roll with it and hope there are better times ahead.”
#3 – Eric Butorac – No dream is too big
Eric Butorac began playing professional tennis at Gustavus Adolphus College which is in the Division 3. Eric was good, for a player who was playing at Division 3. Then during the National Championships, Eric lost to a player who wasn’t better than him. He had let his team down. That defeat changed his life. He began working hard, putting in crazy hours on the court.
Eric went to Australia for some academic work. He and his friends went to the Australian Open and Eric vowed that he would one day play there. He knew that he had to work hard if he wanted to make it big at the International stage coming from Division 3.
Eric joined a minor European tennis league. He didn’t have money. He slept in cars. At times, he would ask the tournament organizers to let him sleep inside the dressing room and reception couches. Once, Eric defeated another amateur from France. That guy came to Eric and said “You’re lucky, I didn’t get any sleep last night due to a fire alarm at my hotel“. Eric replied that he had slept in a bench at the park last night.
He had the fire in him but he was humble. He was thankful that the European league organizers let him sleep on their stadium couches. He didn’t complain. No one, not even a single person from a small college had earned official ATP rating for more than 20 years.
Today Eric Butorac is the third best ranked American doubles player only behind the Bryans. He has won 13 ATP titles till date. Just five years after he sat at that Australian Open, he competed in it. Today, Eric is the Vice-President of ATP player’s Council which has Roger Federer as its President.
How do you explain a player from a Division 3 college with absolutely no chance of making it big playing ball on regular basis with Roger Federer? Just plain crazy.
# 2 – Arthur Ashe – “Do what you can”
Born in a tennis world that was dominated by Caucasians and Whites, the struggles that Arthur Ashe had to face even to enter the tennis arena were difficult. But that didn’t stop him. Ashe often said, “To achieve greatness, start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.”
And that is what he did. His journey started from Richmond, Virginia and never ended.
Ashe started playing tennis because his father wouldn’t allow him to play football. He lost his mother when he was 8. He is till date, the only black man to have won a singles Grand Slam title at the Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open.
In 1979, Ashe retired from professional tennis due to a heart attack. He underwent surgeries in 1979 and 1983. Later, in 1988, it was reported that Arthur Ashe was HIV positive due to a wrongful blood transfusion that had taken place during his second heart surgery in 1983.
Ashe went public with his story. At that time, people were not much aware about HIV and AIDS. The people who suffered with the disease were discriminated against. Ashe went on a mission. He educated people regarding safe sex and founded the Arthur Ashe foundation for the defeat of AIDS. Sports Illustrated named him the Sportsman of the Year even though he didn’t participate in a single match.
In February 1993, Arthur Ashe died. When the world knew that he was HIV positive, a young child had sent Ashe a letter asking “Why did God choose you for this disease?”, Ashe replied:
“There are 50 million kids who start playing tennis. Only 5 million learn to play tennis. Out of that, only 500,000 learn tennis professionally. Among them, 50,000 are ready to join the tournaments. Then there are 5000 tennis player who make it into the Grand Slam tournament. There are 50 tennis players who join the Wimbledon tournament. Then only 4 make it to the semifinals. Then 2 make it to the final. When I held the trophy with my hands, I did not ask God, “why me.” Today when I am ill, I will not ask God, “why me?”
# 1 – Esther Vergeer, The girl who can’t lose
If you don’t know who Esther Vergeer is, then it is most unfortunate. She is a wheelchair tennis player who according to many, is the most dominant professional sports star that the world has seen.
Vergeer retired in 2013. Prior to that, she had achieved 148 career titles, 21 singles and 23 doubles Grand Slams, 4 singles and 3 doubles Paralympic Gold medals.
From 2003 till retiring in 2013, Esther didn’t lose a single game. Not even one bad day. How do you explain these? In these ten years, she had won 120 consecutive tournaments that amounted to 470 consecutive matches. Over the course of all these matches, she had lost only 18 sets and was pushed to a match point only once.
Despite all these, we judge her because she is in a wheelchair. Esther calmly says, “People judge me based on the fact I’m in a wheelchair. Probably 70 percent of the people have that opinion. It’s our job to let people know. You’re obviously open to it.’’
So, if Hollywood can’t make a movie about the most dominant professional sports player in the history of the world, I don’t know what can it do.