Posts Tagged ‘Justin Gimelstob’
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”.
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.
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.
(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???)
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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
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
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.)
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.
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)
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.
There’s been a sharp increase in the number of gay-related search terms used on my blog. I first noticed it a few days ago when my blog dashboard showed an increase in internal site searches for variants of “marion bartoli lesbian”. Yes she had a dramatic first-round match at this year’s French Open, but why were there searches for her sexual orientation?
Here’s the list from that weekly top 10 (in order from 1-10): taylor townsend, kevware.com+tennis, marion bartoli lesbian, marion bartoli gay, aggie Radwanska, marion bartoli lesbi, tennis gay, graphene speed pro discussions, logo head speed mp 315 djokovic, bartoli marion homo.
Four of the ten were about Marion Bartoli’s sexuality, which is surprising given that there isn’t anything I’ve seen or read that would lead anyone to that conclusion – other than Marion’s inability to walk in high heels.
Delving deeper, I took a look at the all-time top 500 search terms used for internal searches on my blog. “Taylor Townsend” was number one, probably owing to my heavily-read piece about Taylor Townsend and her past issues with the USTA. The second was “Aggie Radwanska”, again owing to my heavily-read “What’s the Deal with Aggie Radwanska?!” The third struck gold with “grigor dimitrov gay”, and from there the flood gates opened.
Nearly 100 of the terms were a player name along with “gay”, “lesbian”, or “homosexual” in various languages. After cleaning, the list yielded the names of 14 players and 2 hitting partners:
Grigor Dimitrov, Sara Errani, Milos Raonic, Marion Bartoli, Dani Vallverdu (hitting partner), Sam Stosur, Francesca Schiavone, Justin Gimelstob, Xavier Malisse, Angelique Kerber, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Sascha Bajin (hitting partner), Andy Murray, Victoria Azarenka, Marin Cilic, Ryan Harrison.
(click here for complete list in pdf form)
Why the increase, and why searches for these particular players? There are a few reasons I can think of, legitimate and otherwise. But the main one that comes to mind is Jason Collins’ decision to come out as the first openly gay player in the NBA, and its’ effect on the public psyche about gays in professional sports.
Immediately after Jason came out, there was speculation across all sports as to who would be next, and how they might be received by fans and fellow athletes. Given the high profile nature of his decision, it stands to reason that people might come to the site of an LGBT writer for information on potentially gay athletes.
But even if the “Jason Collins Effect” is the primary reason for these increases, I’m fairly certain that there are a few other reasons as well. Let’s start with the women.
For a few of these players, I’d say that the user is looking for confirmation. At least one of the women listed is quietly going about her business on tour with her partner in tow for support. If someone sees pictures of this player with the same woman multiple times, they’re looking for confirmation.
Others are most assuredly on the list because of their on-court mannerisms. Schiavone, Errani, and Kuznetsova all come across as fairly masculine when they play, fueling speculation about their sexuality. I love them as players, but all three walk like truck drivers between points. Walking like a truck driver, however, is hardly proof of someone’s sexual orientation.
With others, the speculation seems silly, as with Azarenka. Anyone who’s followed the top women is aware that Redfoo of LMFAO has been heavily linked to Azarenka. Her inclusion on the search list feels like a tabloid talking point.
As for the men, good looks have always had a lot to do with perceived sexuality. There is an unspoken belief that a good-looking and well-groomed man must be gay. Several athletes have dealt with gay rumors because of their looks, including Derek Jeter, Oscar de la Hoya, David Beckham, Cullen Jones, Jeff Gordon, and Cristiano Ronaldo. Nothing has been proven, but the perception exists.
Similarly, there are guys on my site search list that are likely questioned for that reason. Grigor, Dani, Milos and Sasha are excellent examples of how good looks probably lead to a false perception on their sexuality since they’re all very good-looking, and highly desired by both women and gay men. (So I hear.)
Conversely, you have players who have never been questioned about their sexuality because they could care less about their looks. Juan Martin Del Potro isn’t in the search list, but then again he often wears a scruffy beard like Wolverine of the X-Men. Outside of the gay “bear” community, scruff doesn’t convey gay.
Justin, Andy, and the others are harder to figure out. There could be genuine interest in their personal lives; though searching for Andy’s orientation makes no sense because his girlfriend Kim Sears is well-known on tour. And Justin’s beautiful model-esque wife is clearly not his “beard”.
As with some of the women, I imagine that a few of these searches were done for gossip sake. But it’s curious that this list doesn’t contain names of guys who’ve actually been rumored to be gay. Richard Gasquet, for example, dealt with rumors about his orientation for years because of a friendship with an older businessman. Rumors have also existed, to a lesser degree, about Rafa. This suggests that maybe the searches are more about desire than reality.
The one good thing about all of the search terms was that none were negative or pejorative. This suggests that, at least in theory, the searches were more out of curiosity and less about finding dirt or creating hate.
For the record, being gay gives me no greater authority on or knowledge about a player’s sexuality than it would their taste in furniture. Furthermore, I’d never engage in an irrelevant discussion of a player’s sexuality. Even with this piece, I make no claims about the sexual orientation of any player. My goal is to always show as much respect for the game and its’ players as I can. A discussion of a closeted player’s sexuality has little to do with respect of any kind.
That’s not to say that I haven’t written pieces from an LGBT point of view, because I have; and I think they’re pretty decent. These include “Dominika, Sam, And A Very Poor Choice Of Words”, “SAP Open 2012: 15 Thoughts Before The Quarterfinal From an LGBT Perspective“, or “Sara Errani is a Tough and Spunky Gal”. I’ve also written many pieces on the United States Gay Open (USGO), the GLTF’s big annual tournament. (I’ve been a GLTF member since ’98.)
Topical and relevant pieces about LGBT perspectives, or pieces about players living life as out gay athletes, a la Amelie Mauresmo, is one thing; outing someone for amusement and titillation is another. If you’re here for the latter, I’d suggest Perez Hilton.
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.
There were many times during matches, press conferences, or even just waiting around when I would hear something that made me chuckle. I tried to keep notes when this happened so that I could share them after the tournament.
Here are some of the things that struck me funny during the SAP Open (in no particular order):
- Because it’s in my notes in front of me, Justin Gimelstob tweeted “congrats 2 @milosraonic on defending his title @sapopentennis @SAPSponsors 2 titles already in 2012 4 big Canadian, big year ahead 4 him!”. The second set score was 5-2 at the time, a game away from the end of the match. Matt Cronin immediately tweeted back “@justingimelstob it is still 5 2. Dewey vs truman?”.
- “I didn’t see it at all, but I challenged to make sure it was in” – Denis Istomin on the 151mph bomb that Milos Raonic hit to start the second set in their final.
- Steve Ullrich sometimes struggled while sitting in the chair to umpire matches with Denis Istomin. I knew there were troubles when I heard “Estonia to serve” or “Game, Estonia”. I turned to Matthew Laird and said, I didn’t know this was a Davis Cup event?
- I forgot to see which umpire was chairing the final between Mark Knowles/Xavier Malisse and Kevin Anderson/Frank Moser, but he definitely warrants a mention here. Though Steve Ullrich had troubles with Istomin, this guy completely butchered the pairing of Knowles/Malisse. Here is a random sampling of his pronunciation for this team:
– No Expense (as in spare none for that volley technique)
– No Spice (doubles, plain)
– Nose Mass (about 50 grams, more if your surname is Nalbandian…no offense meant)
– No Spanish (good thing Verdasco wasn’t here)
– Noel Spice (Xmas tennis spice?)
Finally at 8-4 in the championship tiebreaker, he finally said it correctly. I was pretty much rolling in the aisles by then.
- I asked a fellow scribe how he managed to maintain a sense of neutrality in the press box, to which he replied “I don’t give a shit who wins, though I prefer that someone wins who gives me a better story to write about”. Hmmm…
- Best caption to accompany a Malisse winner in the Ginepri match: “Thank you for not making me move”. From Matthew Laird in reference to the X-man’s lack of singles fitness and footwork.
- If you didn’t listen to my audio of the Stan Smith interview, his contribution to the comic relief section came when I told him about my first racquet: a Stan Smith racquet. He said that was great, and that it had been good for two things. I could play tennis with it, then I could start a fire with it. THAT was unexpected.
- Will finish this section with “I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I may get upset” – John McEnroe jokingly putting the kibosh on a question regarding June 1984… would have loved the reporter to press that one a bit more.