This week 20 year-old Naomi Osaka beat her idol Serena Williams in straight sets to win the US open final and become the first person from Japan to win a Grand Slam singles title. Born, ironically in Osaka to a Japanese mother and Haitian-American father, the family moved to the United States, when Naomi was three, where she now lives with dual citizenship. Her father registered her with the Japanese Tennis Association when she started her tennis career, turning pro in 2013.
This year has proved to be a watershed year for the strong-serving, aggressive base-liner, winning her first Grand Slam as well as the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and seeing her ranking rise to Number 7 in the world. Naomi was only a year old when Serena won her first Grand Slam in 1999. She wrote a project about her at school, and always wanted to be like her. “Serena is the main reason why I started playing tennis,” she said.
Often, when she’s in a difficult spot during a match, Naomi will think, “What would Serena do?” Naomi says it’s a dream to play her, which she has done twice this year, winning both encounters – the second at the Miami Open in March, when Serena was returning to the circuit after the birth of her first daughter.
Naomi signed my sketch at a WTA pre-Wimbledon event on London’s Southbank a few months ago.
China’s Li Na is Asia’s most successful tennis player, regarded as the trailblazing pioneer for the sport in the region and responsible for an ‘explosion’ of players, calculated at 15 million.
An estimated 116 million watched her beat Italy’s Francesca Schiavone to win the French Open in 2011. It was the first of her two Grand Slam singles titles, adding the Australian Open in 2014. She was also runner-up in both those tournaments, a semi-finalist at the US Open and a three-time quarter-finalist at Wimbledon, rising to the world’s Number 2 ranking in February 2014. She was also a singles semi-finalist at her home Olympics in Beijing in 2008.
Li appeared on the cover of TIME in 2013, named in its annual list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. She retired in September the following year. She signed my drawing at this year’s Wimbledon Championships where she was competing in the Invitational Doubles.
Conchita Martinez became the first Spanish player to win the Wimbledon Ladies Singles title, beating Martina Navratilova in the 1994 final. She was also runner-up in the 1998 French and the 2000 Australian Opens.
In an 18 year career, Conchita won 33 singles and 13 doubles titles and was also a member of the successful Spanish team that dominated the Fed Cup during the 1990’s, winning the premier team competition five times. At the Olympics, Conchita won two silver medals and a bronze in doubles, at Barcelona, Athens and Atlanta respectively. She was the part-time coach of fellow Spaniard Garbine Muguruza, guiding her to the Wimbledon Singles title last year.
Conchita signed my sketch of her lifting the silver Venus Rosewater salver after her Wimbledon win at this year’s Championships, where she was a media commentator and a participant in the Ladies Invitational Doubles.
While Monica Seles is regarded as one of the greatest female tennis players of all time, many believe she had the potential to be the most accomplished in the sport, if it wasn’t for the stabbing that took place at the height of her career that kept her out of the tour for two years.
Born and raised in Yugoslavia from Hungarian descent, Monica started playing tennis at the age of five, coached by her father, a professional cartoonist, who used to drew her pictures to make the lessons fun. She turned professional in May 1989 at the age of 15 and won her first Grand Slam, the French Open, the following year, the youngest ever to win at Roland Garros. It was a tournament she would win for three consecutive years, adding three Australian and two US titles to collect 8 Grand Slams before the age of twenty, becoming the year end Number 1 in 1991 and 1992.
On April 1993, while playing in Hamburg, a deranged fan of Stefi Graf (her main rival at the time) rushed onto the court and stabbed her in the back with a 9 inch knife. While the wound healed relatively quickly, it would be two years before she returned playing tennis again and was unable to consistently find her best form.
Monica did however win her fourth Australian Open in 1996 and a Bronze medal in the singles at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. She played her last professional match at the 2003 French Open, but officially retired in 2008.
Monica was a special guest at the WTA pre-Wimbledon ‘Tennis On The Thames’ event on London’s Southbank a few weeks ago, where she signed my drawing.
Wimbledon continues-Day 2. Seven-time singles Champion Serena Williams returned yesterday to SW19 after missing last year, waiting the arrival of her daughter Alexis Olympia in September, although she did win the Australian Open while two months pregnant. Fun fact: hence her daughter’s initials AO. It was a successful first day back in ‘the office’, beating Holland’s Arantxa Rus in straight sets. Serena’s first Grand Slam back after her hiatus was the French Open last month, where she had to retire before her fourth round match with Maria Sharapova due to an injury sustained while playing doubles with sister Venus.
Many consider her to be the best player in the history of the sport, but agree it is difficult to compare from different eras. Four names are constantly in the mix for the women’s debate – Margaret Court, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Serena. Her record speaks for itself. The WTA have ranked her Number 1 on eight occasions between 2002-2017. Serena’s 23 singles Grand Slam titles is the most by a player in the Open Era, second behind Margaret Court (24). She is the most recent player to have twice held all four Grand Slam titles simultaneously in 2002-3 and 2014-15, the third person to do this after Rod Laver and Steffi Graf. In addition, she has won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles with sister Venus and two mixed doubles, along with four Olympic gold medals and winning the Laureus Sportswomen of the Year Award four times.
Serena walked the purple carpet at the WTA TENNIS ON THE THAMES pre-Wimbledon event, honouring women who have shaped the world with their achievements both on and off the court at London’s iconic OXO tower last Thursday where she signed my sketch.
Wimbledon starts today. What better way to herald in the greatest tennis event on the planet than acknowledging, what many consider to be the world’s best ever female player, the Czechoslovakian-born, Martina Navratilova. In 2005 TENNIS magazine selected her as the greatest player between 1965-2005, but it’s hard to find anyone better from any era.
Her amazing record stands alone and too numerous to list here, other than a not-so-brief highlights summary. She held the Number 1 spot for 332 weeks in singles and a record 237 weeks in doubles, making her the only player in history to hold the top spots in singles and doubles for over 200 weeks. Martina has won 18 Grand Slam singles, 31 doubles (another record) and 10 mixed doubles Grand Slam titles. This includes a record 9 Wimbledon titles, with a run of six consecutive victories from 1982-87. She is one of only three players to have achieved a ‘Career Grand Slam’ in singles, doubles and mixed doubles-known as the Grand Slam boxed set’, a distinction she holds with Margaret Court and Doris Hart. Martina’s record is widely regarded as the best performance ever of any professional player-male or female at a major event.
I have been keen to get a signed Martina sketch for a number of years. She is a permanent fixture during The Championships at SW19 these days, as a commentator and competitor in the Invitational Doubles, but has remained elusive, until yesterday, when I happened to be hanging around Gate 13, as one does on the day before ‘hit-off’ and she happened to walk out and down the road with a purposeful stride, followed by a handful of devotees in hot (30 degree heat) pursuit. Mission accomplished.
The funniest and equally informative British cricket commentator David Lloyd, known as ‘Bumble’ has been the staple diet on the TV broadcast menu since he left the England coach’s job and joined the Sky commentary team in 1999.
His credentials are second to none, having been involved in all aspects of the game. A stellar career with his home county Lancashire, including a four year shift as captain and later as coach, nine tests for England, with ‘a splendidly fluent’ 214 not out in his second test against India, a top ODI score of 116 and later as the National coach after a brief stint as a first-class umpire is a summary of his involvement of the game he knows and loves.
The nickname ‘Bumble’ derives from his similarity to facial profile to Michael Bentine’s children’s TV characters THE BUMBLIES.
I caught up with him as he arrived for the third days play of the England-Pakistan Test match at Lords last Saturday. The home team were struggling. While he was signing my sketch I asked him if the English batsman would save the day he replied, “No show,” which proved correct.
Former World Number 1 tennis player Marat Safin returned to the court last year, making his Royal Albert Hall debut at the Champions Tennis, where he was beaten in the final by another former World Number 1, Juan Carlos Ferrero. The Russian, known for his powerful offensive play and strong, accurate serve won two Grand Slam titles in a career that began in 1997 until he retired in November 2009.
He beat defending champ Pete Sampras to win the 2000 US Open and local favourite Lleyton Hewitt on his way to the Australian Open title five years later. He was also a member of the successful Russian Davis Cup teams in 2002 and 2006. Marat achieved the Number 1 ranking in November 2000, for nine weeks. His sister Dinara Safina also achieved the same status, making them the only brother/sister tandem in tennis history to do so. In 2016 he becam the first Russian to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Marat was also known for his emotional outbursts and fiery temper. By his own admission he broke 1055 racquets during his career. I didn’t enquire how many sharpies he had destroyed and thankfully he was completely the opposite when I meet him at Royal Albert Hall and kindly signed my drawing.
In 2011 he became an elected politician and member of the State Duma, representing the United Russian Party, so I’m not sure if that environment would mellow ones temperament, but I guess you do practice more diplomacy.
Dusseldorf-born professional golfer Sandra Gal began playing the sport at the age of six and competed in her first competitive round at 14. The 6′ tall 33 year-old German turned professional in 2008 after a stellar amateur career and qualified for the LPGA tour on the first attempt. In 2011 she won the Kia Classic and was a member of the successful European Solheim Cup team that same year. Sandra resides in Florida and annually hosts the Sandra Gal Charity Challenge benefiting Volunteers of America. Away from golf she models, paints and plays the violin.
I sent this sketch to Sandra during the 2017 British Women’s Golf Open at the Kingsbarnes Links in Fife, Scotland, which she signed and dedicated for me.
One of the greatest alpine skiers of all-time is Frenchman Jean-Claude Killy. I was reminded of this fact during the coverage of this year’s Winter Olympics in South Korea.
He dominated the sport in the late 1960’s, which included a clean sweep of the 1968 Olympic alpine events in Grenoble winning three golds, in the downhill, giant slalom and slalom. He also won two World Cup titles and six World Championship gold medals. I grew up watching him compete and later was a big fan of his two television series including THE KILLY CHALLENGE.
In one episode he skied down the eastern slope of the previously unskied down the side of Mt Ngauruhoe a volcano in my home country New Zealand. For LORD OF THE RINGS fans it’s the mountain used by Peter Jackson to represent Mt Doom in the screen adaption of the Tolkien trilogy. On the 35 degree slope he reached speeds in excess of 100 mph.
Jean-Claude won his first International event at the age of 18 and was included in the French team the 1962 World Championships. Unaware of his selection, he was still trying to qualify at an event in the north of Italy. On his final run, in typical reckless style he hit an ice sheet, before the finishing line, which propelled him into the air, landing on one ski, but crossing the line with the fastest time and the other leg broken. He watched the World Championships on crutches.
During this year’s Games, his name repeatedly came up in the TV commentary, so I suddenly thought I must get him to sign a drawing and quickly sent him this sketch at his home base in Geneva. He returned it within a week signed and dedicated.