CIGARETTES, BEATING THE WILLIAMS SISTERS, AND LIFE ACCORDING TO KARSTEN BRAASCH
Karsten Braasch will forever be remembered as the man with the uncoachable serve, who smoked like a chimney, scared Pete Sampras at Wimbledon, and beat both the Williams sisters in the same afternoon. Braasch is a polite, intelligent man, but even at 33, his tennis days are far from over, as he proved last week at the Mallorca Open in doubles with partner Jens Knippschild. So what is it that keeps the German going? "I’m still having fun," he explains. But how on earth did he learn that remarkable serve, which sees him run, jump and launch his body at the ball in the most bizarre fashion? "I think everyone learns his own style," says Braasch. "Agassi, Sampras - nobody taught them to play the way they do. With me it was just a normal development, and as long as it is working, it doesn’t matter."
Sampras found out just how well it worked at Wimbledon in 1995. Returning as the defending champion for the second time, the American walked onto Centre Court for their first round encounter probably expecting to steamroller Braasch in about an hour.But the German played by his own rules, and with a mixture of delicate chips and thunderous drives he won the second set to level matters at one apiece, and looked capable of pulling off one of the biggest shocks in Wimbledon history. Digging deep, Sampras prevailed, but he paid tribute to his opponent. "He’s a pain to play," said Sampras. The Williams sisters, Venus and Serena wouldn’t argue with that assessment. Their request for a male opponent at the 1998 Australian Open was met by the German, who had been on the golf course all morning.
This is how Braasch remembers the day: "They came into the ATP Office and said that they would like to play one of the men," said Braasch. "I just happened to be in the room and they were saying that they thought they could beat someone who was ranked 200 in the world. At the time I was No. 203 and I said: "If you think you can beat me, we can go out there right now." With Serena, the score was 6-1 and then Venus came and asked to play, and I said, ‘if you want to play, we can play’. That was 6-2." "When they first came in they were looking at the media guide because they had seen someone practicing who they thought they could beat, and they wanted to know who it was. It was Francisco Clavet. When they said that, there were 10 guys on the floor."
"Afterwards, Venus spoke to the press and said that maybe she could actually beat someone who was 350 in the world. But the thing is that I was due to lose all my points from the 1997 Australian Open the next week so I told the press "OK, we can do it again next week when I am 350 if you like!" But three years on he has no plans for a rematch. "I don’t think it’s necessary," he says. "I don’t think after that match that you heard anything about men and women’s tennis from the Williams sisters. Sometimes when I walk past them at a Grand Slam, they don’t say anything, maybe they don’t see me, but maybe they are a little bit embarrassed," he said. Braasch is known for having a rather unusual fitness regime to go with his unorthodox style of play. Generally smoking 15 cigarettes each day, and fond of having a beer or two (he admits to having drunk a couple of ‘shandies’ the morning of the match with the Williams sisters) Braasch showed that he could still compete with the best. In a career spanning 14 years, he racked up wins over Stefan Edberg and Ivan Lendl among others, and his proudest moment was playing in the Davis Cup for Germany. At 33, he won’t be around forever, but retirement isn’t on the cards yet. "As long as I can still compete, and as long as people still want to watch me and don’t say ‘what’s this old guy doing out there?’ I will play," he said.