Peg is covering the Western & Southern Open for Tennis Buzz. Enjoy her behind the scenes of the tournament (more to come!):
At the Western and Southern Open, interviews are conducted in a variety of settings, including on the ESPN stage, which was set up Sunday morning:
By mid-week, swarms of spectators crowded around the broadcasting tent whenever a post-match interview was in progress, craning their necks to see Serena and other stars:
There are also on-court interviews, interviews in the mixed zone (which I’ll report on in a separate entry), and the WTA All Access Hour (a time — in this case, Monday at noon — when the top eight seeds were all present for interviews, prior to their opening matches), as well as “one on ones” (interviews between an individual journalist and an individual player) and other configurations.
The scheduling and location of press conferences is dictated in part by the requests submitted to the ATP and WTA before the start of the day. To quote from the instructions reiterated within in each morning’s e-mail from the media center manager (Pete Holtermann), “Each request should clearly state if the interview is for match coverage or for a feature interview, and if the request is win-only or win/lose.” The WTA interview form also specifically asks the requestor to indicate the need-by time, the duration of the interview, and the subject of the interview. The ATP fields requests primarily via e-mail.
Near the end of the first Saturday (i.e., the first day of quals), the Sunday schedule of pre-main-draw press conferences was released, with Isner scheduled for 2 p.m., Murray for 2:30 p.m., Djokovic at 2:45 p.m., and Azarenka at 4 p.m. When these conferences took place, there were also second-round qualifying matches taking place on six courts, as well as practice sessions on eight other courts. On Monday and beyond, the day session featured main draw matches on eight courts and practices on all the courts. In other words, there were times when I wanted to be in fifteen or sixteen places all at once. Since that wasn’t feasible, I sketched out Plans A, B, and C in my notebook and revised them on the fly throughout the day. On the first Sunday, this meant I caught part of Tomic vs. Ebden (second-round qualifying), part of Goerges vs. Wickmayer, and most of Hewitt vs. Melzer (the first main draw match) but missing other matches in order to attend the Murray and Djokovic pressers:
The Sunday pressers were not transcribed, but on Monday, the ASAP team was in place:
The media center volunteers distributed some transcripts as soon as the hard copies were made (“Anyone for Isner? Anyone for Ivanovic?”), particularly during stretches of heavy production (i.e., when the media center was populated with many writers, videographers, and editors hunched over their laptops, racing against deadlines) . Other transcripts were obtainable via the handout wall, where OOPs, press releases, scorecards, and other documentation could be found.
In the course of attending multiple conferences, I was able to pick up on some trends in questioning (and thus what those writers or producers had in mind for their features). A USTA writer asked several players about language skills. (Madison Keys: “Christina McHale speaks Spanish fluently and she also knows some Chinese. So I strive to be like Christina, but it probably won’t happen. . . . I want to learn like Chinese so Christina and I can start speaking Chinese in front of another person and just totally confuse them.”) A Cincinnati journalist asked every player about bad tosses when on serve. Ben Rothenberg asked several players about crowd noise (and when Ben wasn’t present, I did). Being a strategy nerd, my go-to questions were about court speed and conditions.
A preliminary schedule of interviews was distributed each morning, with additional interviews announced via closed-circuit TV (and sometime via intercom or walkie-talkie or volunteer walk-throughs) during the course of the day. Because the timing of 95% of the interviews depended on when a match ended (and sometimes on the result of said match), there were periods where I felt compelled to remain at my carrel in the media center instead of going out to the courts, the better to race down to the mixed zone or the main interview room upon the conclusion of certain matches. I also took to annotating my order of play in order to reconcile who might be available (and in what format) vs. practices and matches I hoped to cover:
My assignments were the top priority in my planning, of course. One of my tasks was to photograph Stefan Edberg. Having seen the Timberland deck packed to the gills on Sunday for a Stan-Novak practice — as well as fans lined up not only along the top rail of Grandstand, but along the edge of the Svensk Vodka lounge as well — and, having chatted with Cincy regulars who reminisced about a four-hour wait for a Nadal practice, I knew that I had to stake out my spot at least an hour in advance. (Not having access to the Center Court photo blind, I had concluded that a Federer practice would provide me with the best opportunity for good pictures.) The stands of Court 15 were already packed when I planted myself on the back row of Grandstand, seventy-five minutes early; by the time Federer, Mahut, and their people arrived, there were at least two more rows of people standing behind me, and I didn’t dare cede my spot, even though I could hear oohs and aahs of appreciation for the show Wawrinka and Becker were putting on for the folks actually watching their match. Part of me desperately wanted to see the actual match in progress, but another part of me was engrossed in capturing the interactions among Federer, Edberg et al., including the post-match pleasantries, which (among other things) featured Federer taking a photo of Edberg and a kid-minder on Mahut’s team:
Federer’s pre-competition interview was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. On my way back to the media center, I parked myself in the mixed zone, since I knew that Stan would arrive shortly:
I didn’t stick around for the English questions posed to Stan, but I was still a hair late to Roger’s presser — he was already answering a question about his new racquet by the time I reached the third floor:
The French broadcasters approached the dais after the conclusion of the English questions. As I left the room, I could hear Roger saying to the moderator, “Yes, we go back a long way…”
More reports from Cincinnati:
On the way to the Western & Southern Open
The Western & Southern Open main draw party
Friday evening at Lindner Family Tennis Center
Seeking relief from the heat
Extract from Hard Courts by John Feinstein
Cincinnati had been favored stop on the tour since 1979, when it had become The ATP tournament. For years it was the only tour stop that contributed funds to the players’ pension funds. It was also a prime example of how a tournament could grow by promoting itself as an event rather than by just showcasing name players.
Paul Flory, the tournament direct, was a minster’s son who had grown up in Dayton and worked most of his life for Procter&Gamble. He had been tournament director since 1975, when the Cincinnati tournament was still the Western Open and was played on clay in a small club down by the Ohio River.
The tournament had moved to Kings Island in 1979, when the ATP offered itself to Flory if he could find a site with hard courts. Flory moved the tournament and had built the stadium slowly, adding stages each year as the tournament became a summer staple in the Cincinnati area.
The tournament benefited the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and a number of players visited during the week. Some took this responsibility quite seriously. Jim Courier went back three times. Miguel Nido, a qualifier, went around the players’ lounge one day trying to round up players. Benji Robins, the tour’s marketing-services coordinator, worked all week trying to encourage players to go to the hospital. It wasn’t easy. A couple of players asked tournament officials if they could get paid to visit the hospital. On Friday, eight players were scheduled to go. One – Nido – showed up.
That afternoon, the tournament got a bit of unexpected bonus, when Edberg beat Chang in a superb three-set quarterfinal and officially moved past Lendl to become No.1 was no small thing. Edberg was only the eighth man to be No.1 since the start of computer rankings, in 1973. The women’s No.1 club was even more exclusive – it had only six members.
Edberg actually appeared excited about becoming No.1. Remembering his twenty-four hours as No.1 in 1988, after the ATP staff’s error, he smiled and said,
“I hope this time they got it right. It’s nice that I can say I was number one in the world, even if I don’t keep it for long. Not many guys get there. For years, people told me I could be number one. I’m glad I made it.”
Tennis is a game that takes players to all corners of the earth. It was therefore fitting that on the night he became No.1 player on the planet, Edberg, a Swede who lived in London, sept in room 536 at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Blue Ash, Ohio.
Regardless of where he was, Edberg was playing brilliant tennis. The Wimbledon victory had clearly given him renewed confidence. He won in Los Angeles in his first tournament since Wimbledon, and he won rather easily in Cincinnati. The Chang match was his most difficult. He beat Gomez and Gilbert in the semifinals and final respectively, without losing serve once. The score in the final was 6-1 6-1. It was over in fifty-nine minutes. When someone asked Gilbert if anyone could have beaten Edberg, he shrugged. “All I know is there’s no way I could have beaten him, that’s for sure.”
Edberg was feeling good about things, he even made a joke in his postmatch press conference. When someone jokingly asked if President Bush had called to congratulate him on becoming No.1, Edberg shook his head.
“No, he didn’t”, he said, deadpan. “But he did call and ask me about that Iraq thing.”
The most fun part of the Edberg-Gilbert final was the awards ceremony: it took exactly seven minutes.
Thanks a lot to Simon for sharing his brother’s pictures from Toronto!
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeats Novak Djokovic 6-2 6-2
David Ferrer defeats Ivan Dodig 1-6 6-3 6-2
Over the weekend, I’ve been learning just how close the courts are to each other. Many practice sessions take place at the same time as live matches, and it’s not uncommon to overhear the line calls for another match (or more) while anywhere (even on Grandstand or in the stadium). The concerts in the food court area take place at the same time as the matches, and that sometimes adds to the confusion: on Saturday, at the start of Townsend v. Riske, which was on Center Court, I at first assumed that a DJ was sleeping on the job when the chair umpire called out, “Thank you, music, thank you” — and, like the umpire, belatedly realized a minute or so later that we were hearing the performers from outside the arena, rather than a recording being piped through its system. (As Andy Murray noted during his Sunday afternoon press conference, however, players can adjust to noise if it’s a consistent presence — it’s sudden changes [such as people yelling out of turn] that they find disruptive.)
Center Court can at times seem quite close not only to the other courts, but to the rest of Mason. If one has binoculars on hand (or, in my case, the zoom lens on my camera), and is sitting in an upper row, it’s possible to sneak glimpses at the activity on other courts. During the Melzer vs. Hewitt match, I could discern part of the Court 3 scoreboard (Lepchenko v. Tatishvili), some of the players practicing on Courts 7 and 8, and a roller-coaster looping around its loops over at Kings Island:
When I arrived at Lindner Family Tennis Center Sunday morning, around 10:45 a.m., I walked into a lesson on star power. There was scant interest in the players practicing on Court 16 …
… but the stands for Court 15 were already packed.
By the time Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka entered the court (around 11:07 a.m.), fans were crowded along every available inch of the Grandstand’s top rail, standing on its back bleacher, and lined up along the rail of the vodka patio as well:
(I felt rather sorry for Ebden and Tomic, the players actually competing on Grandstand, as there were arguably more people watching the practice than their match. The crowd eventually thinned out, as Novak and Stan practiced for two hours [with at least one shirt change for Stan], but the situation was problematic for the ushers — it was impossible for them to stop so many people from walking down and around during points and other non-changeover instances, though they gamely tried.)
By the time Tomic and Ebden shook hands, Court 16 had amassed a sizable audience as well. The fans at the top of Grandstand could alternate between watching Jelena Jankovic (also in at least two outfits) and Nole and Stan:
At Cincy, a player such as Benoit Paire can slip into a match with little fuss (in this case, to watch Adrian Mannarino abuse his racquet in the course of beating Marcos Giron):
Later that day, he was practicing with Somdev Devvarman…
… adjacent to a court with onlookers all along its far fence:
The fences see a fair amount of crowding. Saturday morning, I was delighted to see Kimiko Date-Krumm among the many players assigned to Court 11 ((that’s Heather Watson looking on, and I think it’s Barbora Zahlavova Strycova on her left):
It can all easily get overwhelming, though. The Date-Krumm practice, for instance, was just a few feet away from the Ormaechea vs. Hercog match on Court 10. For a while, I couldn’t resist walking back and forth between the two:
Sometimes, though, it’s just smart to take a break:
Thanks a lot to Peg for sharing her experience from Cincinnati!
It’s been in at least the high 80s (Fahrenheit) all weekend here in Mason. That’s cooler than where I’m from (Nashville), but it’s still plenty hot. Players such as Lleyton Hewitt were reaching for ice towels even around 6 p.m.:
Jurgen Melzer iced down his legs as well as head and neck (he was looking stiff toward the end of the match), and applied a bare bag directly to his head at one point:
Earlier in the day, the umbrellas were out in evidence on Grandstand, especially around noon, during Tomic vs. Ebden. They were opened for the players during changeovers:
In the audience, I counted at least fifteen. Some were beat-up and basic, some were flowery, some were fashionable …
The crowd tended to cluster under overhangs and other shaded areas:
It was also a fine day for hat-admiring, both of serviceable and stylish chapeaux:
Sometimes, though, a mere cap needed help:
It was bright enough that today’s human statue wore shades:
The Grandstand umpires sit under a canopy. (Richard Haigh chaired the Ebden-Tomic match.)
I also overheard folks complaining about sunburn and reapplying sunblock. To help with the latter, the Andy Caress Melanoma Foundation has representatives handing out packets of SPF 30 sunscreen. These wonderful people were on duty near Court 16 (where loads of fans were waiting for the Djokovic-Wawrinka 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. practice to get underway):