Posts Tagged ‘Bank of the West’
It’s not easy winning the matches that everyone expects you to win, especially when the expectation is that you WILL always win!
That’s the simple fact for Sloane after her loss to Urszula Radwanska in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open. Sloane went into the match as the new No. 17 (versus 37 for Radwanska) with many expecting her to easily get through to the next round. It didn’t quite happen that way, as Sloane lost to the younger Radwanska in straight sets, 6-3 6-4.
The same was true for Sloane in both the Doha and Dubai tournaments after her semifinal run at the Australian Open. Sloane lost in Doha to the lower-ranked Klara Zakopalova in three sets, and then lost in Dubai to the lower-ranked Sorana Cirstea, also in three sets.
Those of us who play tennis already know that a player’s ranking isn’t the best indicator of winning a tennis match. To the general public, however, a higher rank gives the impression that you’re the better player, so wins are expected. That’s the dilemma right now for Sloane. She’s worked hard in her fledgling career to reach this new-found position as a Top 20 player. But having achieved this goal, she’s now expected to win and keep improving so that she can, inevitably, step into Serena’s Hall of Fame-sized shoes as the top American woman.
That’s a tall order!
Sloane may not realize it, but she’s partially to blame for the burden of expectations that’s been placed on her shoulders. Her ability to do well at the Slams i.e. an ability to do well in high-pressure and high-profile matches, has created a narrative that she can play just as well in all other events; and that’s not the case when you look at her many of her results outside of the Slams.
In 2011, Sloane made it through qualifying rounds into the first round of the French Open. She followed that with a run to the third round of the US Open. She was ranked 143 and 106, respectively, and only 18 years old. One year later, she bested herself by making the second round of the Australian Open, the fourth round of the French Open, the third round of Wimbledon, and a repeat third-round performance at the US Open. Big wins with big rankings points that helped her rise dramatically in the rankings. In combination with her looks, smile, and bubbly persona, they also put her squarely in the public eye as the next great hope for American tennis.
That label has hampered several young US talents, most notably Melanie Oudin. After a “Cinderella run” to the US Open quarterfinals, she labored under the burden of expectation with a game that was ill-equipped for it. After falling on hard times the past few years, she’s slowly finding her way back to respectability with the public, but it hasn’t been easy.
One could say that the expectations laid on Melanie were, perhaps, unfairly placed. With her smaller stature and incomplete game (at that time), she was ill-equipped to become the next great American. Sloane’s in a slightly better position than Melanie because she has a bigger game and more weapons. But she’s still young and only just beginning to find her way in terms of the most effective use of her tools.
Many, including John McEnroe, have encouraged the hype by claiming great things for Sloane. “She’ll be in the top ten for sure. I think she’s pretty close already.” Martina Navratilova, however, put it best. When commenting on Sloane’s game after one of her losses, she correctly pointed out that Sloane sometimes loses focus during matches, and doesn’t seem to have a clear idea about her shot selection.
After witnessing Sloane’s loss to Heather Watson in the 2012 Bank of the West, I would agree. Sloane came out hitting the ball well, but then completely lost her focus. Watson realized quickly that all she needed to do was keep getting balls back and Sloane would eventually make the error. It was hard to watch, because the match was completely on Sloane’s errant racquet. And I’d much rather watch a match where a player “wins the match” as opposed to one where a player “loses the match”.
The ever-thoughtful Tracy Austin interviewed Sloane at Indian Wells and had this honest assessment. “Sloane has said here that she has been overwhelmed with the expectations since getting into the semis of the Australian but maybe she is just going to take a little bit more time.”
“She certainly has huge weapons. But we are used to champions in the United States. We want champions. We don’t want someone who is top 20, we want someone who is winning grand slams and those are big shoes to fill. When Serena retires, it’s going to be a very sad day.”
One of the many good things about Sloane, and I reiterate that there are many, is her ability to face the music head-on with respect to her performance shortcomings. After defeating Serena in Australia, the 19 year-old Sloane said, “I was like, I’m in the semis of a Grand Slam. I was like, Whoa. It wasn’t as hard as I thought.”
After her loss to Radwanska at Indian Wells, her reaction was understandably more subdued and reflective. “I mean, I would have definitely been used to playing first on at 11:00 on Court Timbuktu back there. But, I mean, definitely, it’s tough like being, you know, night match on a Saturday. All your friends want to come and this and that. It’s definitely tough, but I guess that’s just what happens when you’re slightly good.”
Sloane begins her Sony Open campaign in the second round against No. 64 Olga Govortsova or a qualifier. She’s in the same quarter as Aga Radwanska, and the same section of the quarter as Venus Williams. It’s clear that the glare of the spotlight isn’t going to dim anytime soon. Hopefully, Sloane’s aware that this is the next step in her development, particularly if she wants to live up to the label of “next great American”.
Part 2 showcases my favorite 1-on-1 media moments of 2012. Through a combination of persistence, timing, and luck, I had the opportunity to chat with some great tennis personalities, past and present. All were definitely “Pinch me” moments!
Hall of Famer, Stan Smith
Chatting with Stan Smith at the Bank of the West was a surreal (but awesome) moment for a guy who’d grown up using a Stan Smith racquet on public courts in Cleveland. He was very accommodating, and quick to joke about how his wood racquet had two purposes: playing tennis and starting fires.
Mental Tennis Guru, Dr. Allen Fox
After my interview with Dr. Fox, I was left wishing that I’d met him back when I first started to get serious about the game. Maybe I could have saved myself some of the mental anguish that we all needlessly go through on court during a match. His clarity on the mental game is astounding.
ATP Chair Umpire, Fergus Murphy
Now that I’ve begun training to become a USTA official, my ten minute chat with Fergus seems all the more amazing to me. Officials aren’t supposed to talk to the media without prior approval, but Fergus gave me ample time to find out more about his life and the world of tennis officiating for the ATP and ITF.
Hall of Famer, Pete Sampras
When Pete hurt his calf at the tail end of his exo against Michael Chang at this year’s Bank of the West, the last thing I expected was to be led into the locker room with a handful of other writers so that we could hover over Pistol Pete and talk as he iced his injury. But there I was! It was an unbelievable experience.
Hall of Famer, Andre Agassi
The PowerShares event in San Jose gave me a chance to meet one of my biggest tennis idols. In stark contrast to the few words I barely eked out when I spoke to him at his signing for “Open”, I think I managed some fairly coherent questions for the 8-time Slam champion and humanitarian.
WTA #5, Angelique Kerber
A sponsor tie-in with TennisFlex gave me a foot in the door for my first major WTA interview, and Angie didn’t disappoint. This surprisingly shy German with piercing blue eyes was a real pleasure in a 20-minute sit-down that covered everything from her thoughts on her 2012 success to her favorite foods.
2011 US Open Champion, Sam Stosur
I sat down with the plain-spoken Australian during media hour at the Western & Southern Open. After breaking the spell her biceps had cast over me, I really admired her honesty and friendliness. In the midst of a disappointing year, she was candid and ever-hopeful about the remainder of the season.
US #5, Ryan Harrison
Short and sweet, my quiet moment with Ryan consisted of this exchange in an empty interview room after his semifinal loss to Milos Raonic at the SAP Open:
Me: Rough match, huh?
Ryan: Yeah, you could say that.
Retired Pro and Commentator, Justin Gimelstob
Though Justin rankled many with questionable comments early in his broadcast career, he’s worked hard to get better, and I wanted to show him that appreciation. In spite of an inappropriate remark made by the person who took our picture when he put his arm around me, it didn’t ruin the moment. Justin even says “Hi” when he sees me at other tournaments. Nice.
Chair Umpire, Mohamed Lahyani
Mohamed had just finished chairing a match at the Western & Southern Open when I took my opportunity to approach him and get a picture. He was just as friendly in person as he appears while in the chair. Maybe one day I can officiate a match that he’s chairing.
Tour Veteran, Paul-Henri Mathieu
After some great wins in qualifications at the Western & Southern Open, Mathieu ran out of gas in the main draw. To my surprise, I found myself in line with him at Starbucks in the Cincy airport. This was my one total breach of “media” protocol, and well worth it in order to let him know that he had many fans who were glad to see him back on tour.
Other Media Personnel
My experience at tournaments has been greatly enhanced when I’ve gotten to know other writers/photogs covering the event. This is a list of media types I got to know while covering events in 2012. I’ve included their Twitter handles and/or website URLs for easy reference.
Kimberly Bennett – @DoubleFaultDiva
Matthew Laird – @MatchPointAce
Michael Roberson – @mr_ice
Matt Cronin – @TennisReporters
Lindsay Gibbs – @linzsports
Ben Snyder – @WriterSnyder
Pete Ziebron – www.tennisacumen.com
Bobby Chintapalli – @bobbychin
David Sweet – @davidsweetphoto
I had a great time in the pressroom this year, and look forward to more of the same in 2013.
Stay tuned for Part 3, the last piece of my year-end wrap, when the talk turns to the best (and worst) of the ATP and WTA.
It would be tempting (and easy) to do a "Best of 2012" piece with the usual cast of characters in their usual roles. But after some thought, I figured it might be better to do a “Best of” piece from my new perspective and experiences as a journalist. By doing this, I can maybe highlight and help people appreciate the things that you don’t see "behind the scenes" when all you have available is crappy network TV coverage.
So without further ado, here’s Part 1 of my “Best” moments for 2012, in no particular order.
(Note: This will be a multi-part series so that it doesn’t end up being the size of ‘War and Peace’)
Best Post-Match Press Conference under Adversity (WTA): Yanina Wickmayer, Bank of the West
Yanina had just lost a hard-fought (and very winnable) 3-set semifinal match against Coco Vandeweghe in the midday sun, and was pretty disconsolate. One could see that she’d cried after this one by her red eyes. With her previous back injury as an excuse, or with the heavy strapping on her thigh, she could easily have begged off for post-match treatment. But she didn’t. She came to the press conference, red eyes and all, sat down, and answered questions on her loss while making no excuses her performance. I came away from that press conference with immense respect for this young lady. Her game my escape her on court, but she’s sure got a lot of heart.
Best Post-Match Press Conference under Adversity (ATP): Andy Roddick, SAP Open
After yet one more injury (and another injury-related loss) to start his 2012 season, Andy came into the pressroom at the SAP Open in an understandably foul mood, trademark cap pulled down tightly on his head. It was one of those moments when you knew that if he thought there would be no fine, he would already have left the arena. The drumbeat for his retirement had been growing louder over the past year, and he himself could not deny that it was getting tougher and tougher to weather the injuries. Yet there he was, doing his best to not just walk away from it all… at least not yet. The timing wasn’t right. Fast forward to the US Open, and the rest is history as he was finally able to walk away from the game on his terms.
Mr. Personality (ATP): Novak Djokovic, Western and Southern Open
The big tournaments typically use the services of a transcriber to record all player interviews. The transcriptions are then emailed almost immediately to all journalists on the official lists. When Novak sat down at the table for his pre-tournament media Q & A, he got there before the transcriber had a chance to get situated at her machine. This is what happened at that moment, as she tried desperately to jump over media to get to her machine and start typing:
This is Novak at his best. He’s toned it down after criticism of his antics from other players a few years back. But Novak is what Novak will always be: a fun-loving guy who will find any opportunity to make a joke, even if he’s dog-tired and just arrived on-site after winning another tournament only days beforehand. The presser started and ended with laughter, a rarity in the very serious world of pro tennis. When you see this first-hand, it’s easy to understand why he is so well-liked wherever he goes.
Ms. Personality (WTA): Serena Williams, ANY TOURNAMENT
Whether you love her or hate her, there’s no denying that Serena is one of the more interesting players on tour. At a time when we are treated to the same WTA talking points in interview after interview, Serena will (more often than not) toss the script on its’ ear and talk about everything from her favorite TV shows to dating to fashion. Of course this is presuming that she’s just won her match before she comes into the interview room…which she usually does. Some of my favorite pressroom quotables from the Bank of the West are listed here. By the time she got to the Western and Southern Open she was a little tired, so the quotables weren’t as "tasty". But it doesn’t matter. I’d still try to make a Serena presser over a Caroline or Aga presser (just as examples) any day.
Most Impressive College Duo (WTA): Nicole Gibbs and Mallory Burdette – Stanford University, Bank of the West
These two young players were both given wildcards into the Bank of the West draw based on their performance at the NCAA tourney, and both made good use of their opportunity by making it to the second round. Even though Nicole lost to Serena Williams and Mallory lost to Marion Bartoli, both young ladies comported themselves well and did Stanford proud. In the pressroom, both were intelligent, articulate, engaging. They’re impressive young ladies, and I’ve become a huge fan for each. Nicole also gets a second mention in my "Best of" list…
Most Surprising Press Conference Moment (WTA): Nicole Gibbs, Bank of the West
Nicole garners a second mention in my list because of her connections with the Cleveland area. After mentioning that high school friends had told me I went to high school with her uncle, she came up to me afterward and said, "Well you must know my dad too" and motioned to him at the back of the pressroom. Sure enough, I did. It was a very odd, but great, "small world" moment in the world of professional tennis.
Stay tuned for Part 2.
I posted this piece listing some of the best Serena quotes I could gather from a week’s worth of press conferences. But here are a few choice gems in mp3 format so that you can get the full effect of Serena in a presser.
On thinking about her 14th major while flying back from London
In the first she talks about coming back from London and not having much time to reflect on her achievements.
The 14-time Grand Slam champion on playing World Team Tennis
The question started by reminding Serena she had only previously played Coco in a WTT match. This got her on a roll…
On who is the true No. 1
In deference to a good photog friend of mine (cough David cough) who accused me of cherry-picking this quote, I wanted to post the whole answer so you could decide for yourself whether or not you think she’s talking about herself as the real #1 and Vika being #1 in her own heart…and nothing else.
Her approach to playing at the US Open (very tongue in cheek, with laughter)
The facial expression really said it all in this one for those of us present. Serena is well-aware of the consternation she has caused at the US Open, but is still willing to poke fun of herself with it all.
I sometimes get asked about why I did or didn’t ask a question in a particular player’s post-match press conference, so I thought it might be worthwhile to do a post on how these events tend to go down, so to speak.
When thinking about press conferences, you must always remember that you are talking to another human being, complete with their own sets of thoughts, goals, fears, hubris… all of the same emotions and “stuff” that we all have. They are no different than you and me. Yes they are very good at playing the game of tennis, but that is the only difference.
We tend to think of players in caricature-like terms because we only see them on TV doing one of two things: winning or losing. TV coverage rarely lets you see other aspects of their personalities and lives, unless it makes for good TV drama (i.e. good ratings).
Melanie Oudin’s slogan on her tennis shoes at the US Open during the year she made a run… Mardy Fish’s weight loss and life change that spurred his rankings climb…Marion Bartoli’s father, Walter, and how his odd training techniques are viewed by the tour. Or famously, Pete Sampras’ puke moment at the US Open while battling Alex Corretja. Stuff like that. We’ll see those bits of personality because they add sensationalism to the story.
What we don’t often see is the side of a player’s life where they deal with less-than-glamorous daily grind to get into shape (or stay in shape), rehab injuries, deal with travel/coaches/practice time, and all those aspects of job logistics while also dealing with personal issues, including relationships, health, motivation and worrying about how to pay the bills if they don’t make enough tournament main draws.
Robby Ginepri is coming back from an injury that could easily have sidelined his career permanently. He is 29 years old and currently ranked 235 in the ATP rankings. That’s a pretty tough position for someone to be in who was once ranked as high as #15 and was one of the top 3 Americans. Outside of the top 100 to 150, it’s hard for these guys to make any money on the tour. Any money made goes for coaches, travel, food, and accommodations. 29 is also not the best age to mount any kind of comeback even when you’re a relatively healthy player, let alone someone coming back from this type of injury. Robby has a certain amount of cache left over from his pre-injury days. But surely he must look at his future and not quite know what to expect from his current efforts, or if it’ll ever pan out for him the way it did before.
Back to last night’s session at the SAP Open… By the time a player arrives at a press conference and is sitting in front of you waiting for questions, a writer must acknowledge the subtext beyond the particular match that was just completed. None of these elements (the match, pre-match warm-up, travel to an event, can your coach afford to travel with you, how your body is feeling in PT, etc) exists in isolation.
Robby’s win over Xavier Malisse in the first round was a decent win. One could also say, however, that it was a win as much by Malisse’s bad attitude and almost “tanking” the match as it was a win because of Robby’s good level of play. I opened the press conference by asking him how he felt about the match and how he played. His response was generally positive about his level of play, as one would expect from someone trying to be remain positive while making a question-filled comeback to the tour. But having seen the disinterested performance of his opponent firsthand, I wanted to pursue a line of questioning to see if he would acknowledge Malisse’s bad performance.
Therein lies the dilemma: at least for guys on my level within the press room. How do you bring up a question like that while also not implying that maybe he didn’t play as well as he thought he played. In a sense, how do you NOT pour cold water on someone else’s thoughts, goals, and aspirations when that may be the only thing motivating them to endeavor against the odds?
I mentioned in an earlier post after my interviews with Grigor Dimitrov and Kevin Anderson that this process of talking to the players sometimes feels a little like a first date… and a speedy one at that.
This is where it sometimes gets a little tough. One friend said, just go ahead and ask the question. Leave it to the athlete to answer or not as they see fit. It’s easier to believe that is the case when the person isn’t staring you in the eyes with their hopes for a comeback so clearly apparent and desired.
My goal as a journalist is also part of the equation, especially because I’m just starting in this business. Maybe Jon Wertheim, Matt Cronin, Bruce Jenkins or Doug Robson can ask those questions. But I’m not so sure that’s the best course for me at this time. These players don’t know me, and the media guys running the tournaments don’t know me. I want their trust and their respect. Do I get that by asking insensitive questions as a “nobody” blogger?
Not to say that I’m a nobody, or that by asking tough questions that I would be asked to leave an event. It’s not like I’m asking about circumcision, their taxes, or their last break-up. Still, these interactions between the interviewer and interviewee do not exist in a vacuum. To this day I remember the writer who asked Maria Sharapova one of the dumbest questions I have ever heard (at the Bank of the West last year) clearly because he wanted to act like one of the “big guys”. Instead, he came off sounding like a blowhard who doesn’t really know much about tennis or her career. Not a good thing if you are writer at a tennis tournament where she is one of the stars.
So that is the context behind me as I sat in the interview room with Robby Ginepri last night. Given his hopes and goals, and given my hopes and goals, I mulled the potential pitfalls of asking further questions related to his thoughts on his play versus Malisse’s lack of play, and said nothing. Maybe soon it will be easier to see that “fine line” of what questions to ask and when is it best to ask them.
(photo courtesy of Matthew Laird)