Bagel, Anyone?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011 /by

Jh by Pete Bodo

I don't think I'll ever hear the words, "double bagel" (a euphemism for a 6-0, 6-0 blowout) without thinking of Bud Collins. Coming up with the term may not be Bud's biggest contribution to tennis lore and legend and, let's face it, popularizing that expression may not be right up there with the discovery of penicillin. But the expression has become part of the tennis fan's  lexicon, unlike many  other Collins-isms ("Fingers Fortiscue," anyone? Sheesh!), and I'll never hear of it without thinking of old Bud.

Actually, I might just as soon think of the American former top 10 pro, Harold Solomon. For it was Solomon, a former French Open finalist who once ranked as high as no. 5 in the world, who came up with the term. Being a feisty Jewish lad (he was often called "the human backboard") who was born in Washington D.C. but lived most his adult life in Florida, Harold knew from bagels. After he casually described a 6-0 set as a "bagel" in a conversation with Collins, TennisWorld was never the same. I doubt that Bud ever called a six-game whitewash anything but a bagel, or double bagel, and over time the descriptive term caught on.

I got to thinking about this the other day, after Galina Voskoboeva hammered her first round opponent in the Baku Cup tournament, 6-0, 6-0. Winning a match without the loss of a game is still considered so noteworthy an achievement that it merits a news story. Google "double bagel" and third entry from the top is our Tennis.com item on Voskoboeva's feat; punch it into the Yahoo Search bar and a similar story comes up fifth. Unlike the "golden set" (winning an entire set without the loss of a point, a feat that was a periodically attained goal for one of Solomon's junior tennis rivals, prodigy Dick Stockton) the double bagel is a feat within reach for most good players, including the pros. A double bagel happens just often enough to merit special mention, but not so rarely that it's considered extraordinary.

I decided to poke around and pay tribute to some of the more noteworthy double bagels we've witnessed over the years. Here are a few:

Amelia Island, 1981: Chris Evert d. Martina Navratilova - Evert was in the sweet spot of her career in 1981; she already had 11 Grand Slam singles titles. Navratilova, however, was just beginning to tap into the vast potential  suggested by the two titles she'd already won at Wimbledon. Amelia Island was home to Evert and her husband of the time, British player John Lloyd. And the courts at the tournament site were the same green, Har-Tru clay on which Evert had been raised in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

Given Evert's clay-court prowess (her 125-match clay-court winning streak may be the most secure record in tennis. Even more impressive, Evert lost just seven sets during that run) and Navratilova's mercurial nature and somewhat fragile mentality, the double bagel is less than shocking. Still, I'm not sure that any pair of comparably successful players ever had so lopsided a match.

And lest you think Navratilova had not a prayer against Evert under those conditions, at that time, consider this: the very next year Navartilova got her revenge. She fell just two games short of feeding Evert a double-bagel at the same stage (6-2, 6-0) at the same event.

To this day, Evert cites that second meeting at Amelia as her worst match. And the first as one of her best.

Roland Garros, 1988: Steffi Graf d. Natasha Zvereva -Graf was in the middle of her "golden slam" year when up-and-coming baseliner Zvereva slashed her way to what many felt might be just the first of her many Grand Slam finals. After all, she was just 17 and had been to the fourth-round of Wimbledon one year earlier, in her first-ever appearance there. The Russian's steady baseline game and impressive mobility made her a great threat on clay, but Graf didn't get the memo. She won the match in an astonishing 32 minutes.

That win by Graf remains the only double bagel served up in a Grand Slam final in the Open era, and just the second going all the way back to the turn of the century. And it wasn't like Zvereva had many chances to get a game, either. She won a grand total of 13 points.

Surprisingly, Zvereva never made a Grand Slam final again, and just one semi (at Wimbledon in 1998, a full decade later). She had a great doubles career, but was inconsistent and emotionally unreliable as a singles competitor. You have to wonder, did that devastating loss to Graf in Paris in 1988 contribute to her puzzling singles record?

Tmf Shanghai, 2005: Roger Federer d. Gaston Gaudio - It's harder to record a double bagel in men's tennis, partly because the serve of most men is strong enough to win the at least a few games per set on the strength of aces, unreturnables and effective serves that put the returner at a huge disadvantage.That helps explain why The Mighty Fed, as dazzling a ball striker as has ever played the game, had never turned in a double-bagel up to that point.

And it's truly uncommon to see a double bagel at a Grand Slam or Masters-grade type event. In fact, Federer's pasting of Gaudio remains the only oh-and-oh served up by anyone in the history of the year-end ATP championships.

In some ways, the match was an omen for Gaudio. He had won the French Open in 2004, in one of the most sensational upsets of the Open era (d. Guillermo Coria). Although we tend to think of Gaudio flaming out shortly thereafter, he continued to play top 10 - and better - tennis throughout 2005. But by the end of the following year, he was in a free fall (he finished 2006 at no. 20) that landed him at no. 187 by the end of 2007.

Federer's double bagel is that much more impressive because he laid it on while Gaudio, no slouch himself in the talent and creativity departments, was still near the peak of his game.

Madrid, 2007, Justin Henin d. Marion Bartoli -  Double bagels have been as absent from the WTA year-end championships as from the men's version of the tour finale, and this one seems to have been motivated partly by revenge. Earlier in the year, Bartoli had halted the woman who was fast-becoming a WTA juggernaut at Wimbledon in a three-set semifinal upset. Henin had been hoping to win her first Wimbledon title and thus become one of the very few women to complete a Channel Slam with back-to-back victories in Paris (where Henin defeated Ana Ivanovic for the title) and Wimbledon.

The double bagel was posted in the third of the round-robin matches for both women; Henin had already qualified for the knock-out semifinals thanks to a pair of straight set wins in her first two matches. She was free to swing from the heels with nothing more - or less - satisfying than payback on her mind. The rout is also memorable because Bartoli was fast on her way to becoming one of the most determined and pugnacious of competitors.That Henin (wo)manhandled her with such ease was a testament to her shotmaking ability.

Roland Garros, 1993, Sergi Bruguera d. Thierry Champion - This is one of the only five triple bagels ever posted at a Grand Slam event, and it's worth acknowledging here because it underscores just how formidable a player Bruguera was on that red dirt. One of the great tennis surprises in my life was hearing Pete Sampras heap praise on this two-time (1993-94) French Open. He called him "fast as a deer" and named him one of the best athletes he'd ever seen - Sampras's own aversion to clay nonwithstanding.

In some ways, Burguera was a prototype for Rafael Nadal, although Bruguera was much leaner and taller. Bruguera's technique, also heavily reliant on topspin, was just as eccentric-looking as Nadals's when  he first came on the scene. Much like Nadal, Bruguera was often accused of having an "ugly" game, and unlike Nadal he was unable to transcend that rap - partly because he failed to find success on other surfaces. The Nadal model was greatly improved because the current no. 2 plays far less defensively, and from much closer to the baseline.

Bruguera ultimately had no chance of succeeding on faster surfaces than clay and perhaps even, after some time, on French clay because he played from so far back. It also hurt him that he was nowhere near as charismatic as Nadal (It's worth contemplating the extent to which Nadal has won people over on the sheer strength of his personality and looks). The Frenchman Thierry Champion was no slouch on clay, and after the triple bagel Bruguera went on to win a tough five-setter (d. Courier) in the final.

Double and triple bagels are like hailstorms in more ways than one. It takes a number of special circumstances to make them happen, on both sides of the net. We'll see when the conditions conspire to bring us another one.

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