Archive for the ‘Western and Southern Open (Cincinnati)’ Category

PostHeaderIcon Rafa v Roger: The Death of a Rivalry That Never Really Was

Roger Federer serving to Rafa Nadal at the Western & Southern Open (Kevin Ware)

Roger Federer serving to Rafa Nadal in the quarterfinals of the Western & Southern Open
(Kevin Ware)

Rafa Nadal played Roger Federer at the Australian Open in a semifinal that was billed as the 33rd chapter of a storied rivalry. And as he’s done many times before, Rafa scored an impressive and comprehensive victory over his disheartened Swiss foe, winning in straight-sets 7-6(4) 6-3 6-3.

I take issue with the term “storied rivalry”, which implies a sense of uncertainty and drama about the outcome. The hard truth about their matches is that the outcome is often not in question. Such is the case for this “rivalry” that never really existed.

Google’s search defines “rivalry” as competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field. When Rafa and Roger compete for the same objective, or superiority in the same field, there’s little competition.

The head-to-head numbers, a 23 – 10 series lead in favor of Rafa, don’t lie. In fact, one could say that it was never a rivalry from the outset. Rafa won 7 of their first 10 meetings, 5 of which came in finals. More to the point, he won them during a period of time that coincided with Roger’s heyday (2004-2007).

Any real chance at a rivalry was effectively over by 2008, the year that Rafa embarrassed Roger in the French Open final with the loss of only 6 games. He followed that with a defeat Roger on “home” turf at Wimbledon’s Centre Court. It’s one thing to dominate someone on your favorite surface. It’s quite another when you beat them on theirs.

Sentiment wants us to believe that Rafa v Roger is one of the great classic rivalries, but it’s not. Take, for example, this sampling of great rivalries: McEnroe v Borg (7 – 7), McEnroe v Connors (20 – 14), Sampras v Agassi (20 – 14), Navratilova v Evert (43 – 37), and even Lindsay Davenport v Venus Williams (14 – 13).

These are rivalries in the sense that whenever these players faced one another on any given day, either player had an equal chance of winning. Or, as in the case of Sampras v Agassi, the presence of one (Agassi) usually brought out the greatness in the other (Sampras).

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Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the Aussie Open
(Ben Solomon/Tennis Australia)

With Rafa v Roger, we generally know who’s going to win. Some might argue that they still qualify because Roger’s presence brings out Rafa’s greatness a la Sampras and Agassi. While that’s sometimes been the case, as in the ’08 Wimbledon final, this is simply an incredibly bad match-up. Rafa is Roger’s kryptonite, and there’s not much he can do about it.

In many ways, their rivalry is reminiscent of Serena v Maria (15 – 2). No matter the circumstances, Serena wills herself to win, and there’s little that Maria can do to stop her. Maria hasn’t managed a win over Serena since 2004, and has tried everything to reverse this trend of perpetual losses to no avail.

The same could be said of Rafa v Roger after Melbourne. Roger came into this match pain-free, and feeling confident with his new racquet. Rafa came into the match with talk centering mostly on his badly-blistered hand. It was Roger’s best chance to notch a Slam win over Rafa since their ’07 Wimbledon final. Instead, Roger was beaten in straight sets…again.

Few, if any, believe this is a rivalry that will ever turn in Roger’s favor.

Context also makes a difference when discussing the gravitas of this rivalry. Their earlier matches felt important because they were meeting in the finals of Slams and Master Series. That importance is diminished when they’re meeting in quarterfinals – which happened twice in 2013 at Indian Wells and Cincinnati.

That’s not to say that good hasn’t come from their many encounters, because it has. Rafa’s early losses to Roger inspired him to become a more complete player on all surfaces, not just clay. Conversely, Roger’s losses have kept complacency at bay, forcing him to improve his backhand and competitive resolve.

Roger’s also gained a large dose of humility from his losses to Rafa. Even a player as great as Roger must admit the inherent duality of holding virtually every modern tennis record while being utterly unable to beat his main foe, regardless the surface.

It’s a shame that the Rafa’s rivalry with Novak Djokovic (22 – 17) doesn’t produce the same level of fan passion (and tournament dollars) as that with Roger, because it’s a better example of a true rivalry. It succeeds where Rafa v Roger fails because, on any given day, either of these gladiators could win. This on top of the fact that each has consistently brought out the greatness in the other. It succeeds on both fronts.

Unlike Roger, Novak has the shots to counter Rafa’s game, particularly his two-handed backhand that he can direct down the line to Rafa’s backhand, or angle extremely back as a crosscourt to expose more court even if Rafa manages a defensive response.

Rafa, on the other hand, has the resolve and defensive skills to draw crucial errors from Novak’s game. In the slim margins that separate a Slam victory from a Slam loss, that’s crucial. Who knows what might have been had Novak not touched the net in the fifth set of their incredible ’13 French Open semifinal?

However, none of that matters if it doesn’t excite passions beyond a tennis audience. Rafa v Roger is known to tennis fans and non-tennis fans alike, Rafa v Novak is not. It’s certainly a better rivalry, but not one that I believe will ever be referred to as “storied”.

Maybe the bottom line for most folks is not necessarily the details of Rafa’s rivalry with Roger, but more the fact that they represent intriguing polar opposites in the game of tennis: much like Borg-McEnroe and Sampras-Agassi before them. Also, they keep us on the edge of our seats hoping that, maybe this time, Roger will find a way to vanquish the Spanish thorn in his Swiss paw.

Odds are that won’t be the case. But you never know.

PostHeaderIcon The Best of 2013 from the Press Room, Part 1: SAP Open & Sony Open

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At my workstation in the Sony Open press room

It’s that time of year where I look back at my tournament travels, and pluck out some of the jewels from my time in the press room to share with you all. I was on the ground at four events this year: SAP Open, Sony Open, Bank of the West Classic, and the Western and Southern Open. For easier reading, I’ll start with the first two tournaments I attended earlier in the year, then finish in Part 2 with the summer tournaments.
So without further ado, here’s my 2013 “backstage tour”.

SAP Open

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Lindsay Davenport and Steffi Graf

The SAP Open ended its’ run with a Milos Raonic three-peat, and way too many empty seats. A notable bright spot was the mixed doubles exhibition match featuring Steffi Graf, Lindsay Davenport, Andy Roddick, and Justin Gimelstob. The best moment for me came when I was sitting in the press room afterward lobbing questions at Lindsay and Steffi. Sitting there, I couldn’t help but think about their ’99 Wimbledon final; their only meeting in a Slam final. They, however, had a different take on past matches. Listen to their press conference, and try not to laugh at their answer to the first question from yours truly.


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Justin Gimelstob and Andy Roddick

Longtime friends Andy Roddick and Justin Gimelstob put on a command performance in their post-match press conference. What hopefully wasn’t lost on those in attendance was a serious discussion of the problematic business model for the modern-day tennis tournaments. The SAP Open struggled with attendance issues, but so do many others. So while players are demanding a bigger share of the revenue, tournament directors are struggling to fill sufficient seats for said revenue and sponsorship monies. Moving tournaments to new markets (other countries) may seem like a good short-term solution, but they’ll probably face the same attendance issues as here in the states. I just hope we don’t lose anymore.


I love pumping veteran journalists for info whenever possible. I ran into Vern Glenn, a prominent Bay Area sportscaster, while he was trying to get his Wi-Fi working on his laptop. He gave me this nugget in reference to working in (and getting paid in) this business: “Always make sure they keep you on scholarship!” I’m trying Vern, I’m trying.


sap-tennis-ball-cookies-editGoodbye SAP Open! I will miss your lemon-flavored tennis ball cookies! There were NEVER enough to truly satisfy my desires, but I enjoyed the few I got. 😉

(BTW, I have absolutely no idea who’s hand that is across from mine. I know I just turned 50, but is my memory getting THAT bad already???)

Sony Open

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Maria Sharapova listens to a question

My personal feeling has always been that you get better answers from a player when you’re clear about what you’re asking, and aren’t antagonistic in doing so. This is especially true when that player is named Maria Sharapova. This was a small part of Maria’s answers to one particular journalist who didn’t get that memo:

MARIA SHARAPOVA: Why are you asking me if you saw it? Why are you asking me if you heard it yourself? I mean, I can’t remember exactly what he said. I mean, there’s a tape. Maybe I can get you a copy.

You can read the full exchange here, and also listen to the full press conference audio.


Goran is in blue warmup on my left

Goran is in blue warmup on my left

Some of the best moments at tournaments happen when you least expect it…like the conversation I had with Jelena Jankovic’s hitting partner, Goran Tosic, in the shuttle back to the hotel one night. Though I certainly could have tried, I didn’t pump him for info on Jelena’s condition after her late-night victory over Roberta Vinci. But I did get a nice insight into the hustling that a lower level player must do in order to make ends meet as a pro tennis player. Nice guy too. I wish him well in 2014.


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Mary Carillo and I in Miami

Mary Carillo is one of the main reasons I make the yearly trek to Miami. I ran into Mary within my first 10 minutes on my first trip, and got a great picture with her that meant the world to me. Fast forward 5 years and I’m sitting with Mary in a post-match presser for Maria after her quarterfinal win over Sara Errani. I re-introduce myself, tell her the “Mary story”, give her my card, and was ready to savor the moment just as it was. The following day, Mary grabbed my arm as she walked by me and said, “Hey Kevin. I went to your site this morning. You kept me very entertained.” Those words continue to mean more to me than almost any other compliment I’ve received.


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The elusive and rare Ivan Lendl smile

Before heading to the airport, I made one last trip out to the Crandon Park to get some photos before the men’s final. And while watching Andy Murray warm up prior to his match with David Ferrer, I caught a rare glimpse of a tennis unicorn: an Ivan Lendl smile. Who knew? And not only was he smiling, he was also joking around with a couple of young Murray fans who were watching practice. I had to rub my eyes a few times to make sure I wasn’t seeing things… 😉


At the airport, my Miami trip ended on a very odd “Twilight Zone” moment. For those familiar with the situation of Kevin Ware the college basketball player, you must surely understand how words can’t express what it was like to check my twitter feed one last time on the plane home only to read about “Kevin Ware’s horrific injury” when your name is Kevin Ware and you aren’t horrifically injured…
(On the advice of one of my twitter followers, I avoided watching the video of his injury — and still haven’t seen it to this day. Thanks Alice!)

*** Next up is The Best of 2013 from the Press Room, Part 2: Bank of the West Classic and the Western and Southern Open

PostHeaderIcon The Best of 2013 from the Press Room, Part 2: Bank of the West & Western and Southern Open

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One final picture at the Western and Southern Open

I started my “backstage tour” with the SAP Open and the Sony Open. Now it’s on to the Bank of the West Classic and the Western and Southern Open, my two summer tournaments.

Bank of the West Classic

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I needed a moustache like this at the Bank of the West Classic

I pulled double duty at this year’s BOTW, starting my week at Stanford first as a line umpire during the qualifying rounds, and then moving into the press room for the start of main draw matches. It was a great experience, and not one player threatened to shove a tennis ball down my throat. But a part of me really wanted to put on a fake moustache or something during my line umpire stint so that players wouldn’t recognize me once I made the switch to media.


This year’s tournament got off to a rough start with the non-participation of defending champion Serena Williams, and the late withdrawals of Marion Bartoli, Sabine Lisicki, Kirsten Flipkens, and Maria Sharapova after Wimbledon. I hate to think the worst, but this wasn’t a good sign for a tournament that’s been struggling to re-discover the deep fields it once saw. I’d hate to see it fall by the wayside like the now-defunct SAP Open, the ATP LA event, and the WTA Carson event.

Western and Southern Open

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Vika Azarenka, relaxed and chatty in Cincy

20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing. While looking back at my WTA All Access hour notes from Cincinnati, it’s easy to see in hindsight every clue for how the tournament would ultimately unfold. Serena came into the event healthy and focused, but a little tired. Vika Azarenka came in feeling no pressure. Marion Bartoli came in as glib as ever, but not particularly motivated. And Maria Sharapova came in with her cap pulled down low and tight-lipped about her work with Jimmy Connors. (For the record, Serena lost in the final, Vika won in the final, Marion retired, and Maria canned Connors after an opening loss to Sloane Stephens.)


Speaking of Maria and Jimmy… I was given a chance to chat with Milos Raonic in the Player’s Lounge with another journalist. While waiting for (a very late) Milos, Jimmy comes over to chat with the other journalist. The only thing I here is “So, what did you think about that?” referring to Maria’s loss. I would have given almost anything to follow up with him on that one!


BTW, the Milos Raonic mini-interview was okay too, but can we talk about the lack of proper and timely apology to Juan Martin Del Potro for your “touching the net” malfeasance at the Rogers Cup?


(Click the arrow to play Milos’ pre-tourney presser audio. He addresses the Rogers Cup incident after the 6:00 mark.)


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Jack and I grabbing food before Rafa v Roger

Covering a tournament can be a solitary experience, which is why it’s great when you can have positive interactions with the other folks in the press room. But more than the interaction, these moments also give one a chance to share ideas and expand your knowledge: something I love to do. I had a few of these in Cincinnati, but one stands out above the others. After one particular post-match press conference, I found myself watching a WTA stadium match with Courtney Nguyen on one of the main interview room monitors. I don’t know how it happened, but the on-court action led to a fascinating discussion of the issues and miscues facing the WTA as it tries to broaden its’ appeal. So here’s a shout out to Courtney for helping my expansion. Honorable mention goes to my press room neighbor, Jack Adam, for sharing a great evening quarterfinal between Nadal and Federer.


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Rafa Nadal in the press room

Rafa played amazing tennis to win the Cincy title, but the wear and tear of his phenomenal season was starting to show on his battered body. As the week progressed, Rafa would sometimes take the stairs one at a time to get to the interview table at his press conferences.Not a good sight! So when asked to write about Rafa’s chances at winning the US Open, I had serious doubts that he could withstand the two week hard court pounding. He proved me wrong, of course. But as the folks at RafaelNadalFans.com reminded me, that’s not a bad thing to be wrong about.


Memorable 1-on-1, #1: Grigor Dimitrov finally started to realize the potential in his game this year, but still lost a heartbreaker to Rafa Nadal 6-2, 5-7, 6-2. After the loss, I asked for and received a 1-on-1with Grigor outside of the men’s locker room. Yep, these are the moments that make the work worthwhile! Click arrow to listen to the audio.


(click the arrow to play Grigor’s interview audio)


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Novak Djokovic in the press room

Memorable 1-on-1, #2: Novak Djokovic completely destroyed David Goffin in the R16. Roger Federer, on the other hand, was pushed to the wall against Tommy Haas in a gripping 3-setter. Because it was my first chance for press with Novak, I went to the main press room when his time was announced. Everyone else in the press room stayed to watch Roger’s match. So when Novak arrived in press, he was greeted by yours truly and the transcribers, and no one else. Though he wasn’t happy with the situation (understatement), he sat down and answered a handful of questions. And that’s how I got my first 1-on-1 interview with a world #1. Click here to read the transcript.


*** That’s all for the tournaments I covered. I could write more, but you get the picture. Have a great Holiday Season, and a safe New Years! And a very special Thank You to Karen P./Tennis Panorama for my media credentials in 2013. See you at Indian Wells in 2014.

PostHeaderIcon My Accidental Novak Djokovic 1-on-1

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Because of the circumstances described in my “Best of 2013“, this was a VERY short interview. There were a lot of other questions I could have asked, but in the end I was glad he didn’t just walk out! 😉

Q. Hi, Novak. Very, very quick match today, and some people were saying it almost seemed like a warmup for you. How did it feel from your end down on the court?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It’s an official match, so I cannot say — even though the scoreline says it was quite straightforward, it’s still it’s never easy. You need to work for your wins and points. That was kind of the mindset I had today before I came to the court. I wanted to just play from the first to last point committed and just aggressive, and I did well.

Q. You’ve been playing really well since you hit the grounds here. What is it about Cincinnati that feels good for you?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I played four times finals, so it’s been one of the tournaments where I’ve performed well actually in the last five, six years when I’ve been coming back to this tournament. Never managed to make the final step, and hopefully this year I can do so. I have an extra motivation and an opportunity to make history in this tournament, so I’m very inspired to play well day after day. Of course, there are still adjustments to be made, but I’m playing better as the tournament is going on.

Q. Your next opponent is John Isner. What are your thoughts on that?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It’s going to be very difficult match for both of us. I mean, he’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest, serve in tennis at the moment in the world. With his height, he can place it anywhere he wants in the box, and it’s what makes a lot of pressure on the opponent. So I need to return well tomorrow and try to get as many balls into play and again serve well. So it’s a big ask, but it’s not the first time I play him and I know what to do.

Q. Would you rather have played Raonic instead?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I’m playing Isner, so I’ll focus on him.

PostHeaderIcon Auto-Awesome with the Bryan Brothers

It’s Friday the 13th, and time to have some more fun with my Google+ Auto-Awesome animations. Today’s lucky victims are the Bryan Brothers.
I used to avoid watching the Bryans play at tournaments because it seemed liked they would start playing poorly and eventually lose the moment I sat down in the stands. But we both turned a corner on that issue this year, and I was finally able to appreciate several of their winning performances in both Miami and Cincinnati.

These pictures were taken in Cincinnati at the Western and Southern Open. This first one makes it seem as if their famous chest bump is merely the random result of flapping their arms and jumping in the air.

Bryan Brothers

On closer inspection, the required height necessitates a solid take-off for maximum impact…

Bryan Brothers

If you want to chest bump more like the Bryans, remember this simple tip: One, two, three, together, jump! If you want to PLAY more like the Bryans, I can’t really help you with that one… 😉

 

PostHeaderIcon The People I Meet – Cincy Edition

Akatsuki and me

Akatsuki

One of the most enjoyable aspects of traveling to tournaments is that I get to meet people from all over. Some are there for work, and some for vacation. But most are there for the same reason as I am i.e. the love of the game. Here are some stories of the people I met in Cincinnati.

Jack an I before Nadal-Fed

Jack and I before Nadal-Fed

 

Maxine

Maxine

 

Danny with language cheat sheet

Danny with language cheat sheet

 

Grandstand usher since '95

Grandstand usher since ’95

 

My "He was just being stupid" savior

My “He was just being stupid” savior

 

Diane and Kevin

Diane and Kevin

 

JJ Ballkid

JJ Ballkid

 

The Keystone BB King

The Keystone BB King

In the Media Room

It’s good to see writers I’ve met before when I walk into the media center. In Cincinnati this included Pete, Bobby, Doug, Courtney, Ben, Erwin, and an honorable mention for finally meeting Jon Scott while waiting for Serena to practice.  (Thanks Mauricio for my “Goodbye Cincy” picture/video!)

One new face I met was Yesh, a very smart guy who reminds me of @MatchPointAce for tennis facts. Another was my workstation neighbor Jack, a local writer.  In the solitary world of media, we had quite a few awesome tennis discussions during his days on site (especially during the Nadal-Federer match).

I don’t write in a vacuum. Whether the topics we discuss are serious or silly, these interactions with other writers make me better. For that, I’m thankful.

(Akatsuki, pictured above, is a Japanese writer I met in Miami at the Sony Open. Nice analysis of the game, and funny too. Said this about the Ivanovic-Cornet match we watched together: “It’s a shame…two pretty girls playing such an ugly match. )

Keeping Score

The workers who control the scoreboard and note match stats sit in the media center because of the vantage point. One of them, Maxine, is someone I look forward to seeing every year. We chatted about scoring, tennis, USTA, officiating, you name it. She’s always smiling, and you can tell that she’s well-respected by her co-workers. It’s easy to see why.

In the Stands

I love chatting with the ushers. Most are volunteers that have travelled near and far for the privilege of being there to hopefully work on their favorite court.

I met one usher on the Grandstand who loves that court, and has made sure she works there since it opened in 1995. Another, Danny, typically works the gate heading down to the court. He’s learned “Hello” and “Welcome” in different languages to help players feel more comfortable as they walk by. How cool is that?

Though I met one bad egg (Ten Final Thoughts, #10), the vast majority are friendly and courteous. I’m including a picture of the usher I talked to the morning after my incident (“He was just being stupid!”). She (and many others) assured me that my experience the night before wasn’t typical. I thank them all.

On Court

Credentialed media have access to sitting courtside during matches. And because there’s A LOT going on courtside, I met several interesting individuals during my time on Grandstand.

The first were Kevin and Diane, the husband and wife team that won the opportunity to participate in the pre-match coin toss for the featured evening match between Jack Sock and Milos Raonic. After the toss, they sat on the court watching the match and chatting…quietly. They were a very nice couple, and I love his name too.

Next on the list was the ATP’s social media guy. Yes, someone has to be there to see the action and put it out in 140 characters or less. Nice job, huh? After him, I met Jan: an IT guy who works for the company that provides the software used in the scoring tablets for the chair umpires. With my web design and officiating backgrounds, meeting him was like hitting the Daily Double!

One of the more notable people I met on Grandstand was a ballkid, which is one of the most thankless jobs in tennis. As an unpaid volunteer, you chase balls on a hot court, handle sweaty towels, and do your best to not get noticed. Too often, they’re treated with contempt by the players.

I saw Jelena Jankovic “giving him the business” while he handed her balls and a towel. She wanted one, then the other, then neither all at once. Nothing he did made her happy, and she let EVERYONE know. I felt sorry for him. When I saw him later, I said “Good job” and asked for a picture. It was good to see him finally smile.

Final Mentions

A couple of final mentions before I wrap this final Cincy piece…

The media center staff was a great help, and have their own stories to tell: like the proud mom who pointed out her ballkid son on center court. They were also full of great food recommendations, like the “BB King” mac and cheese from Keystone with barbecued chicken.

Also, the Western and Southern Open is a very high-profile event, and it’s great when the “bigshots” in this business sidestep any sign of “big shot-ism”. Getting stuff thrown at me by announcer Andrew Krasny, getting the “S’up?” gesture from Justin Gimelstob pre-broadcast, hugging Mary Carillo before she interviews Isner, or chatting up the Times’ Neil Harman on London during Wimbledon are wonderful moments, and well worth passing on.

Lastly, I’d like to mention my Twitter followers (including the new ones I gained via my exposure on Tennis Panorama).  When someone tweets me a thanks for info/pictures I’ve tweeted, or has respectful discussions about the day’s happenings, that’s when I know I’ve done my job.

I know I’ve forgotten a ton of people, but that’s okay. Thanks to everyone mentioned for allowing me to use their pics in this piece, and thanks to the many others not mentioned who also helped to keep me engaged during a long week of tennis.

And now, on to the US Open! 🙂

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