Posts Tagged ‘SAP Open’
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.
Now that I’ve finally recovered from both my Hawaiian vacation and a weekend of provisional umpiring (that finished my volunteer requirement… YAY), I’m closing the book on this year’s SAP Open with an audio clip of Steffi Graf and Lindsay Davenport.
The clip was recorded during their post-match press conference after (an entertaining) mixed doubles exhibition match with Andy Roddick and Justin Gimelstob. Please accept my apologies in advance for the quality of the recording, and the incessant clicking of cameras any time that Steffi opened her mouth to speak. I was blocked from the front row by unruly photographers. You’ll have to turn up the sound at times to hear them.
The voice next to me is Bill Simons of Inside Tennis. He’s a great guy and a very knowledgeable tennis source. We made a pretty good team. If you have any questions on their responses, let me know and I’ll see what I can do to fill in the blanks.
(click the arrow to play the audio)
 Milos Raonic (CAN) d  Tommy Haas (GER) 6-4, 6-3
Milos Raonic completed a week of dominating tennis by defeating Tommy Haas in straight sets to become only the third man to three-peat in the SAP Open’s 125 year history, and the first in the Open Era. Though some great players have won this tournament 3 times or more, the three-peat hasn’t been accomplished since Tony Trabert (1953-55). With this win at the final SAP Open, Raonic has indeed joined the ranks of an elite few.
The term “dominating” is actually an understatement for Raonic’s play when you look at his accomplishments at this tournament. He won without dropping serve the entire week, and only faced one break point in 39 service holds. Additionally, Raonic has never dropped a set during his three year run at the SAP Open, winning 24 sets in a row. These are remarkable numbers from a player who’s won three of his four career titles in San Jose, and who jokingly said that he should “roll up the court, put it in his bag, and hope that it doesn’t get lost” on his next flight.
THE X’S AND O’S
Raonic’s first service game set the tone for the match with four aces, ranging in speed from 123mph to 148mph. By the end he would have a total of 19. Many expect Raonic to ace his opponents with pace, but many of his aces in this match came on serves between 115-120mph with great placement. By contrast, Haas had 1 ace in the third game of the second set; his only ace of the match. It’s tough to overcome that many free points in a match that might be decided by only 5. (Raonic had a total of 58 aces for the week.)
Raonic has talked a lot this past week about the work he’s put in on his return game, and the results were evident in today’s final. Whenever Haas served out wide to the Raonic backhand on the ad court, he ran the risk of getting burned by Raonic’s backhand down the line. It was a risk that hurt him greatly. But there weren’t many other options open if he wanted to avoid the Raonic forehand, which could hurt him worse: either as a crosscourt return from the deuce court or an inside out shot from the ad court.
Raonic put Haas under pressure with an early break in the third game, and finished the match with a total of 7 break point chances while facing none on his own serve. To put this into the larger context of the tournament, Raonic faced (and saved) one break point the whole tournament. It happened in his match with Denis Istomin. His opponents (Michael Russell, Denis Istomin, Sam Querrey, and Tommy Haas) faced a total of 27. It’s impossible to take a set off of someone if you can’t break their serve.
Unlike his match against John Isner, Haas had to face an opponent with a strong ground game on both sides who also wasn’t afraid to come in and attack the net. In his post-match press conference, he referred to Raonic’s strategy as “taking risks” and being rewarded.
I understand Tommy’s need to chalk this up to a player rolling the dice and getting hot. But that would be unfair to Raonic, because it’s not possible to explain the Raonic game in such low-percentage terms, especially given the consistent execution. Raonic didn’t have one spectacular day of shot-making. He’s had three years of spectacular shot-making, so it doesn’t seem like there was much risk-taking involved.
It should also be noted that Haas didn’t play badly. In fact, his play in the final was very much on a par with his play against Isner in the semifinals. He served decently, hit his backhand well and tried to finish points at the net when possible. But as the match wore on and the pressure wore him down, Haas’ execution suffered. Either he cut his margins too fine when going for the lines, or was forced to block shots back in the hope that they would stay in and prolong rallies. More often than not he was left watching shots whiz by with a plaintive look on his face.
Sadly, his reactive tennis seemed more of a risky strategy than the Raonic’s game.
Did you feel any pressure today?
“Yes, at the beginning. But I made a conscious effort…to hit harder to get the energy out.”
Even with your dominant level of play in the final, is there one thing you could have done better?
“When I’m playing well and my opponent is playing well, mixing it up a bit more.”
Did Raonic’s play how you expected him to play today?
“Yeah, he didn’t give me too many looks on his serve. He served extremely well and has a lot of confidence in that serve. He played risky when he had to and he got rewarded for it. That’s his game and what’s so tough. It puts pressure on me trying to hold serve, and he was feeling it.”
 Xavier Malisse (BEL) / Frank Moser (GER) d [WC] Lleyton Hewitt (AUS) / Marinko Matosevic (AUS) 6-0, 6-7(5), 10-4
After falling to an embarassing 6-0, 4-0 deficit, the Aussies made a match of it; winning the second set but ultimately losing the match tiebreaker.
(Originally posted on Tennis Panorama, 2/17/2013)
Day Six Semifinal Results
 Tommy Haas (GER) d  John Isner (USA) 6-3, 6-4
 Milos Raonic (CAN) d  Sam Querrey (USA) 6-4, 6-2
After watching Tommy Haas and John Isner the past few rounds, I had an uneasy feeling about Isner’s chances against the resurgent German in the first semifinal. Isner needed to start aggressively, serve well, and keep the points short. Haas needed to challenge the Isner second serve, take his chances, and work the big man over with baseline play. The Haas strategy proved to be the winning one, as he took out the No. 2 seed in straight sets.
When asked about his success in seeing the Isner serve, Haas said, “I mean, that’s the key against somebody like John, obviously. I think early on in the beginning he didn’t hit his first serves in so I tried to jump on the second, tried to make something happen, get it back in play, and then take my chances in the rally.” That’s exactly what he did; getting balls back into play and making the big man hit the proverbial “one more shot”.
“You have to play aggressive and play the type of tennis that you want to play. It can be tricky, but I did see his serve really well today and that obviously helps.”
For his part, Isner missed on all aspects of his “key to the win”. He started slow, missed some first serves, and found himself caught in baseline rallies he had little chance of winning. Lack of rhythm on his serve was at the top of the list in Isner’s honest assessment about his difficulties in this match.
“Yeah, that’s really what decided the match. I feel like normally I serve better than I did. And against a guy who is and was playing really well in that match, I need to serve better.”
The serve was just one aspect of Isner’s loss. When Haas drew Isner into baseline rallies, his speed and movement gave him a huge advantage over the taller Isner. When asked how he felt his ground game held up against Haas, Isner admitted, “It let me down a little bit. This court it stays low and it skids. I would prefer the ball to get up a little bit higher for me. But still I got a ways to go with just my game and going for my shots, and trusting my shots a little bit more. I just didn’t have it today.”
With this win, Haas reaches his 25th ATP World Tour final and has a chance to become the first German winner of the SAP Open.
Milos Raonic completely dismantled Sam Querrey, breaking the American’s serve in the very first game of the match. From there, he never looked back as he gave Querrey a comprehensive lesson in “big boy tennis”.
Raonic dominated Querrey with big serving, big forehands, big backhands and, most importantly, solid returning that kept Querrey under continual pressure in his service games. Every aspect of Raonic’s game was working in the match, and it became clear after a few games that Sam had little chance of stopping the Raonic juggernaut.
It can’t be overstated just how dramatically Raonic’s off-season work on his return game impacts a match like this. The stats tell much of the story for these two big servers.
Aces: 12 for Raonic, 7 for Querrey
Double Faults: 0 for Raonic, 4 for Querrey
Break Points Saved: 0/0 for Raonic, 6/9 for Querrey
By breaking Querrey early, Raonic put him on notice. Instead of the 20 aces that he hit in both of his earlier matches, he only got 7 against Raonic. That’s a ton of free points on which he usually relies that were no longer available. On top of that, pressing on his serve led to more double faults. Raonic had, for all practical purposes, taken the Querrey serve out of the equation.
When your weapon is no longer a weapon, and you can’t break your opponent’s serve while defending yours in each service game, the odds of success drop dramatically.
Raonic’s continually improving game is the result of hard work in the off-season, and the confidence it’s given him on court is palpable. “(I’m) returning well, moving well, getting into position to hit the shot and when I have the opportunity I’m going forward and I’m pretty successful. And I’m serving well. So sort of everything’s on the right track, in that sense. Then confidence comes with that. The work’s paying off.”
Sam acknowledged what was painfully obvious to all in attendance. “He served unbelievable, and I was never even really close to getting a look on his serve. On my serve I wasn’t getting a ton of pop and he was doing a good job of putting the pressure on me. He returned hard and deep and I felt like I was under pressure the whole time.” “He hit the ball big all around. He was really sharp today.”
To the contrary, Raonic has been sharp for the past three years. Two of his three career titles have come at the SAP Open, and he’s never dropped a set in San Jose. If he wins this final SAP Open title, he will be the first man to three-peat in the Open Era, and the first since Tony Trabert in the fifties. Judging by his play so far, this outcome appears likely.
 Milos Raonic (CAN) vs  Tommy Haas (GER)
Head-to-head: Raonic and Haas have never played.
Keys to the match: Raonic just needs to keep doing what he’s been doing in order to lift the trophy. But in order for Haas to have a chance in this final, he needs to do everything that he did in his semifinal match against Isner, and do it all BETTER! That’s a formidable task for most players, let alone a guy who’s spotting Raonic twelve years before they even step onto court.
Raonic can pressure Haas in ways that Isner couldn’t. He serves as big if not bigger than Isner. In addition to the big forehand, he also possesses a stronger backhand. He scrambles well to short balls and isn’t afraid to take the net. To make matters worse, he really likes the court surface and feels that it suits his game nicely. To say that this is an uphill battle would be the understatement of the day.
The good thing about tennis, however, is that titles aren’t handed out to the winners because it looks good on paper. Even though Raonic is the overwhelming favorite, he still needs to win the match. And lest we forget, Isner was the overwhelming favorite over Haas in the semifinals. His odds aren’t good, but there’s always a chance for the upset.
Pick: Raonic for the win in straight sets.
(Originally posted on Tennis Panorama, 2/16/2013)
Day Five Quarterfinal Results
 T Haas (GER) d [WC] Steve Johnson (USA) 6-4, 6-2
 J Isner (USA) d  Xavier Malisse (BEL) 7-6(8), 6-2
 Milos Raonic (CAN) d  Denis Istomin (UZB) 7-6(0), 6-3
 Sam Querrey (USA) d Alejandro Falla (COL) 6-3, 4-6, 7-5
Steve Johnson bemoaned his lack of aggression in losing to Tommy Haas in the first quarterfinal of the day, feeling that he let Haas take control too often at key moments. For his part, Haas is feeling good and grateful to be playing some of his best tennis towards the end of his career. He’s especially happy to be able to do so in front of his 2 year-old who’s here in San Jose with dad. “I know she probably won’t remember watching me play today, but maybe I can continue on playing and she’ll get to be around a couple of these tournaments and see me play competitively at a high level.”
John Isner didn’t play his best tennis in his quarterfinal match against Xavier Malisse, but he raised his level when needed to get by an opponent who was more than capable of a big upset. This was especially true in the first set tiebreaker after Isner dug a 0-3 hole with a mini-break on the first point. The tide turned with a monstrous return on a Malisse serve to level at 5-all. He closed out the tiebreak with some mad scrambling on the baseline before flicking one final running forehand winner that was netted by the Belgian. First set to Isner. Malisse’s level dropped off quickly in the second set. Isner, with the first set in his back pocket, kept up the pressure on the slumping Malisse to close out an uneventful second set for the win.
The quarterfinal match between Milos Raonic and Denis Istomin turned out to be almost a carbon copy of their match in last year’s SAP Open final. Both guys held serve easily and played to their strengths for most of the first set, with Istomin looking to be the stronger from the back court. But once again, the tiebreaker was the deciding factor with Raonic sweeping all seven points for the first set. After that, Istomin’s resolve slipped and Raonic’s confidence soared, and it was only a matter of time until Raonic closed it out.
Sam Querrey‘s win over Alejandro Falla was easily the best match of the day! It looked to be on track for a routine straight sets win by Querrey after a 6-3 first set. No one told that to Falla, however, as the Colombian left scrambled with even more intensity in the second set. In tennis, anything can happen when you make your opponent hit “one more shot”, and that was the case for Falla. Querrey’s level dropped, and a few key misses gave the set to Falla. The tension was high for both guys in the third set, with neither giving an inch until the eighth game when Falla broke Querrey for 4-all, then held serve for a 5-4 lead.
A straight-sets victory was a distant memory with Querry playing loose shots on the deuce court to find himself at match point, 30-40. A crucial 133mph ace out wide to Falla’s backhand saved the point, and lit the fire under Sam that he needed to hold serve, break Falla for a 6-5 lead, then serve out the match. That’s not to say that Falla didn’t have his chances, because he did. Two netted shots for a game point at 5-all could easily have put the pressure back on Querrey’s serve to stay in the match. But it was not meant to be for Falla, and a chance for a huge upset.
 T Haas (GER) vs  J Isner (USA)
Head-to-head: Isner leads 3-1
Quick Keys to the match: Isner needs to start aggressive and keep Haas from feeling like he has a chance. He must serve well to blunt Haas’ return opportunities, and keep the points short by coming forward as he’s done in other matches. For Haas, if he can get a handle on the Isner serve and make this a running match, he will have the edge for Isner.
Pick: Sticking with Isner for the win.
 M Raonic (CAN) vs  S Querrey (USA)
Head-to-head: Querrey leads 2-0
Quick Keys to the match: Raonic is going to come out firing on all cylinders with high intensity. Conversely, drops in his intensity level have been Querrey’s main issue in both of his previous matches. For Querrey to win this match against the two-time defending champion, there can be no drops. He has to maintain focus, serve well, and stay strong on the baseline. If Raonic can maintain focus and intensity from first point to last, something that Querrey typically can’t do, he’ll have the edge.
Pick: Sticking with Raonic for the win.