Posts Tagged ‘Western and Southern 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.
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.
Here are a few thoughts on Federer and the humbling end to his woeful 2013 Slam season. Let’s start with a few notable quotes:
Andy Roddick: I think experience is overrated in sports. I think confidence is paramount.
Robin Soderling (to Federer during the French Open trophy ceremony): Yesterday, me and my coach were joking, you know you beat me nine times in a row before this match, and we were saying that nobody can beat me 10 times in a row. But we were wrong. But just so you know, for next time we play, nobody can beat me 11 times in a row. I promise you.
Swap out Andy Roddick’s name for Roger Federer, and Tommy Robredo’s name for Robin Soderling, and you have a fairly accurate summary for Federer at this year’s US Open.
Unless you’ve been living under a tennis ball rock for the past couple of days, you’re probably aware of the fact that Federer lost to Spain’s Robredo in Monday’s R16 on Louis Armstrong. That’s right… he lost to a Spaniard not named Nadal, and one round earlier than expected.
I’m not saying this to belittle Federer given his current woes, because he’s still a very good player. His days of “greatness”, however, are in short supply. Between his back, his head, his small racquet, and the top-notch level of competitors he must face on a week in-week out basis, it’s only going to get harder for him to win the big matches.
Tracy Austin is one of the few commentators I like because of her clear assessment of players’ strengths and struggles. I’d like to paraphrase what she had to say after Federer’s loss. She basically said that Roger used to be able to win matches on talent alone. But now that he can’t do that anymore, is he willing to do what it takes to keep his stay competitive? Can he win through changes in strategy when his A game, B game, or C game aren’t working?
I’m not so sure.
His troubles with his body, or more specifically his back, can’t be ignored. There’s a reason why professional athletes in certain sports have diminished production at a certain point in their careers. Struggling with pain and injury doesn’t help when you’re, for example, pinned in a corner defending the Rafa Nadal crosscourt forehand.
There’s also the issue of his stubborn nature. It’s part of what’s made Federer such a great champion. His iron-clad belief in his abilities powered him to his record haul of 17 Slam titles. It’s also hurt him in very big ways over the years; particularly when it came to tactical decisions with this equipment and game plans.
The first is his refusal (until this year) to consider playing with a larger racquet. Like Sampras, he stubbornly refused to capitulate to the new technologies to better compete with the power and spin of his contemporaries. Though he’s recently experimented with making a change for the 2014 season, it feels like a case of “too little too late”.
The second is his refusal to change tactics when faced with an obvious loss. That belief that “I can win with my best shots” has cost him dearly when his best shots aren’t working. His match against Robredo was a prime example. He kept aggressively trying to win shorter points and, more often than not, missed badly (43 unforced errors). This particularly hurt him on break points, as he converted only 2/16.
All players have bad matches over the course of a season. Roger, however, has had several bad matches over the course of a bad season. And even if he’d gotten through Robredo in order to meet Nadal in the quarterfinals, he would have met a similar fate against the top Spaniard.
I found an unfinished piece from my week in Cincinnati, titled “Rafa and Roger: A Rivalry Renewed for One Night”. It was a piece that I started after watching Federer v Nadal for their 31st meeting at the Western and Southern Open.
There’s always a buzz in the air when Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer meet in a tournament. In recent years the buzz hasn’t matched the actual results, though this particular match was a good one. Roger played tough deep into the second until Nadal put the pedal to the metal and pulled away.
We still like to think of their matches as a “rivalry”, but that would overly-generous. Rivalries are best when the matches mean something (Wimbledon 2008 for instance), and aren’t quite so one-sided. Nadal leads Federer 21-10 in their career head-to-head, an amount that will NEVER be surpassed before his retirement.
Nadal was suitably diplomatic, as always, when asked about playing Roger before their quarterfinal meeting in Cincinnati.
Q. Rafa, you played so many meaningful finals with Roger. Now you’re meeting him in the quarterfinal. Did you approach it any different being a quarterfinal versus a final?
Rafael Nadal: “It’s a match. That’s all. But always the emotions are there when we play each other, I think. But the emotions in the final are always more special than when you’re playing quarterfinals.”
If Federer had beaten Robredo, I could imagine sitting in the press room listening to the same question and the same answer by Nadal after his win over Kohlschreiber. It’s sad to hear Nadal work so hard to give Federer his due, but what else can he do with such a great champion facing such a marked decline in a one-sided rivalry?
Carole Bouchard, a French journalist, tweeted this after Federer’s post-match presser following the loss.
Federer when he loses is generally coldly pissed off & not in chatty mood. Today he was disappointed but calm/chatty.Not a good sign either
— Carole Bouchard (@carole_bouchard) September 3, 2013
I felt the same in Cincinnati, particularly when Federer was asked about the lack of a challenge on what was shown to be an “out” ball on the baseline. It was as if he had resigned himself to the loss. So why bother with a challenge if he was going to lose?
It’s not an Eeyore type of “doom and gloom” resignation. But at the expense of pissing off the Federer fan base, it certainly feels more like an annoyance of “if I’m not going to win, then why bother?” And for anyone who would challenge that assertion, I’d just say look at the 2008 French Open final against Nadal. If he had toy blocks, he would have taken them home and left after the second set.
I’m not saying that he doesn’t care, because he does. The root of his annoyance, like Serena Williams’ in similar circumstances after a loss, is because he hates losing; and feels he should never lose. So now that he IS losing, and losing often, what is he going to do about it?
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.
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. )
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.
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.
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! 🙂
(Re-Post from Tennis Panorama)
Champions have been crowned, nets have been taken down, and the past week in Mason is fading as we turn our attention to this last week of tournaments in the US Open Series. But before we move on, let’s take a look at the lasting, and dramatic, moments from this year’s edition of the Western and Southern Open as we head toward the start of the US Open.
Rafa wins the men’s title, beating John Isner 7-6(8) 7-6(3) in a final that featured no breaks of serve. It’s his 9th title of the year, his fifth Masters Series title and third hard court Masters title of the year, and is his record-setting 26th Masters Series title. All of this from a guy who everyone counted out this season because of his bad knees. I hate to use the term “favorite”, but if Rafa isn’t one of the favorites for New York then we’ve got a problem.
Vika beat Serena Williams 2-6, 6-2, 7-6(6) in a match that perhaps didn’t showcase their best tennis, but definitely finished with a bang in a third-set tiebreaker. This was her second hard court win over Serena (Doha) and puts her back into the conversation as a threat to Williams’ chances for a title defense. It’s good to see that her Wimbledon injury issues are behind her.
Big John beat three players in the Top 10 for the first time in his career en route to the finals (Raonic, Del Potro, Djokovic), playing some of his best and most aggressive tennis ever. He was extremely upbeat in his post-match press conference, and for good reason. Though he was beaten by Nadal in the final, his serve was never broken, and he made Rafa play his best tennis to come out on top. He’ll still struggle at the US Open because of the best of 5 set format, but you can bet that no top guy is looking forward to THAT match.
Serena lost the final against Vika in quizzical fashion. She raced through the first set, but let her level drop badly in the second. She then battled back from behind in the third only to get broken while serving for the match at 5-4. In the tiebreak, she was behind until 5-all, and then double-faulted to go behind again. The best server and mover in the women’s game served poorly and moved poorly. One can only hope that she leaves this behind heading into New York.
The buzz of the tournament was decidedly off-court as Marion Bartoli called it a career after a three-set loss to Simona Halep. It was a decision borne in the moment of feeling that she just didn’t have the desire to go on and deal with the pain in her body. It’s a decision that many pro athletes face, and not an easy one at that. Though there was much shock and second-guessing of her decision, she seems to be at peace with it for now. Let’s check back in a year or so when her body is feeling better.
Bob and Mike Bryan
The Bryan brothers defeated Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez of Spain 6-4, 4-6, 10-4 to take the men’s doubles title. It was their fourth Cincy title, their 10th on the year, and the 92nd of their career. It was also their 25th Masters Series title. No matter how many titles these guys add to their resume, for them it’s still all about the fans, as evidenced by the fact that they signed every item and took every picture asked of them by the waiting throng on the Grandstand court. A class act.
Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai
Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai defeated Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Kveta Peschke to take the women’s doubles title in Cincy: their third title of the year (Rome, Wimbledon, and Cincinnati). The pair is 7-0 in finals, which is a remarkable statistic for any doubles team. They are adding more events to their schedules in the hope of qualifying for the year-end championships in Istanbul. It would certainly be a great accomplishment if they are able to do so.
The US Open Series
Serena Williams has taken the top prize for the women in the US Open Series. The men’s top spot is still up for grabs, and is dependent upon whether or not John Isner plays this week in Winston-Salem. He’s currently just a few points behind Rafa, so could take it with a good week of play. But with the US Open coming up in a week, he’s going to have to think long and hard about the effects of all this tennis on his fitness heading into one of the toughest Slams.
The Roger-Rafa Rivalry
Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal squared off for the 31st time in their careers in a Friday quarterfinal match in Cincy. Though the rivalry is not nearly what it was a few years back, this match more than brought back a taste of the glory days. Rafa battled back from a set down to win in dramatic fashion as Roger began to falter in the third. These are the kinds of moments that you dream about as a tennis fan. And on Friday, we got a chance to experience it.
Maria and Jimmy
After months of waiting for “the reveal” of the Sharapova-Connors partnership, Maria Sharapova was unceremoniously bundled out of Cincy in a loss to Sloane Stephens that could only be described as puzzling. She flew through the first set, and then couldn’t keep the ball in play for the latter part of the second and third sets. A few days later it was announced that Jimmy Connors would no longer be her coach, to no one’s surprise…
In general, doubles got the short end of the stick in Cincinnati, with most doubles matches relegated to outer courts throughout the week. Even in a tennis-savvy town like Cincinnati, the rule of “out of sight, out of mind” still holds true. Doubles attendance was low at many matches, and the attendance at the men’s and women’s doubles final could greatly have benefitted from being played in tandem with the singles finals as they do in Miami. I hope it’s something that’s considered for 2014.
There’s more that could be pulled from this week, but we’ll end the list here and turn our attention to a new week of tennis in New Haven and Winston Salem. Goodbye from Cincinnati. See you next year!