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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 How to Get on Maria’s Bad Side at a Press Conference (AUDIO)

maria-sony-320I’ve seen awkward exchanges before, and I’ve seen awkward exchanges with Maria before. But this exchange from the Sony Open was a long, slow-moving train wreck that didn’t get any better from start to finish. It occurred during the press conference after Maria’s disappointing meltdown loss to Serena Williams in the final.

<Hint: Don’t let the “laughter” notations fool you. There wasn’t very much that was funny in this question.>

Q. To start the third set, your coach was giving you a very motivational speech for like three and a half minutes.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Three and a half minutes?
Q. Yeah.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I think that’s a little long, but that’s okay. (Laughter.)
Q. It was kind of long.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Did you count it on your watch? Did you have a timer?
Q. Of course.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: You timed it? That’s very professional.
Q. What’s the part that really you couldn’t handle?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: I don’t understand the question at all. I’m sorry.
Q. He was giving you a specific direction what you have to do in terms of, you know, trying to beat Serena in the third set, what you can do.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: So what’s the question? Is that a question?
Q. Yeah, it is.
MARIA SHARAPOVA: Which part of it is a question? He was telling me, but that’s not a question.
Q. What were the things that you can…
MARIA SHARAPOVA: That I did?
Q. What was he asking you to do?
MARIA SHARAPOVA: But you heard it, no? Did you hear it?
Q. I’m asking you.
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. (Laughter.) I’m sure we’ll find it.


(click the arrow to play audio of the entire press conference)

PostHeaderIcon Maria’s French Open Women’s Final Post-Match Preview, Maybe? (AUDIO)

© FFT

© FFT

I’ve recorded almost every post-match press conference I’ve attended while covering the pro tours, because you never know when you may need to refer back to that material.  Such is the case with this post-match press conference for Maria Sharapova after her loss to Serena Williams in the final of the Sony Open.

Maris was up a set and break, but then didn’t win another game. Given her decade-long losing streak against Serena, and a realistic chance for a straight-sets victory having been within her grasp, this was undeniably a loss of tremendous magnitude.

Surprisingly, Maria came into the press room in a fairly upbeat mood. After all, what else could she do? She’s always struck me as a “pick up and move on” kind of gal, and this press conference was no exception. Her answers were honest, thoughtful, and forthright. If anything, she should be commended for not making excuses on an occasion where many other players might.

The sad thing for Maria is that the circumstances leading to this presser will be relived on Saturday after another probable loss to Serena. It’s worth a listen to see if any of her reflections on the Miami match actually do change her approach to this French Open final. Then again, it didn’t help her in Madrid.

PostHeaderIcon The Best of 2012 from the Press Room, Part 1






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.

PostHeaderIcon Sam Stosur, Western & Southern Open Media Hour – August 13, 2012 (AUDIO)


Sam Stosur interview during Media Hour at the Western and Southern Open.

Interview was conducted sitting around a medium-sized round table with Sam and other writers.
Enjoy.

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