Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

At the Western and Southern Open, I saw lines for autograph signings stretching out from the Midwest Sports tent (where Berdych was stationed Monday morning) and the Western and Southern tent (where ticketed signings were conducted with Sharapova, Murray, Wozniacki, and others).

line for Berdych autographs

line for autographs

The crowds at the entrance to the players’ center were thick at the start of the week, but thinned out considerably by the second and third rounds. The marshals no longer needed to move the barriers (to clear a path to the entrance) each time a recognizable player approached.

Martina Hingis

Gilles Simon

Recognizability wasn’t always a criteria with the autograph hunters. Near the entrance, I overheard one child ask another, “Who is she?” as the rest of the crowd called out, “Sam! Sam!” During the first round of qualifying, I watched a gaggle of kids gather at the far gate of Court 7 after Teymuraz Gabashvili suddenly won his match (Jimmy Wang having retired in the third set after just one game, with a right leg problem). Some of the girls had been watching Jelena Jankovic practice over on Court 8, running over when their guardian gestured to them. When Gabashvili left the court through the center gate instead of the far gate, the kids chased after him:

children chasing after Gabashvili

After they obtained his signature, two teenagers walked past me, looking at the balls he’d signed for them. One said to the other, “So what’s his name?” “Oh, we’ll never know.” Then they caught sight of the scoreboard and tried to sound out “Gabashvili.”

Who knew that Adrian Mannarino was so popular?

autographs and selfies

The tournament prides itself on offering plenty of non-tennis diversions (the headline for one ad reads, “Not a tennis fanatic? Not a problem”). Among its many committees is a crew of horticulture volunteers. In tandem with LaMond Design, the official landscape company of the tournament, they planted thousands of flowers (mostly annuals) around the tennis center before the tournament started.

Flowers at the Western & Southern Open

Flowers at the Western & Southern Open

There were two plant sales that I know of at the end of the tournament. One was to the volunteers, and one was to the public (with proceeds going to the Mason High School boys’ tennis team). I returned to the center near the end of the sale to see what “everything must go!” looked like:

cincy tennis plant sale 006

at the end of the tournament

Here’s a last look at the flowers as they were, after the Wednesday night session:

at the end of the evening session

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
Proximity
Interviews and Press Conferences
The Mixed Zone

Steve Johnson

At the Western and Southern Open, the “mixed zone” is an area to the left of the entrance to the players’ lounge. The windows are similar to the backdrop in the main interview room, so that the logos of the tours and the sponsors appear in the photos and broadcasts of interviews conducted there. This doesn’t always go accordingly to plan, however — such as, for instance, when Benoit Paire plays what I’m told was a stinker of a match and just wants to go home. He had been scheduled for a “win or lose” interview in the mixed zone, however, so the French journalist I had been waiting with followed Paire to the parking lot and asked his questions while Paire changed his shirt:

Benoit Paire

Steve Johnson, the winner of the match, arrived in the mixed zone a few minutes later. He discussed baseball with an ATP staff member while waiting for the session to begin. Nick McCarvel then conducted a “Tennis Moments” interview, and there was time for me to add questions about conditions (like others, Steve said the ball was “light” and “flying” out there, and that the “pretty fast” surface suited him well) and the recent change in D-1 college tennis scoring (he’d heard about it from his coach only two hours earlier, and thinks it will be interesting — it will create excitement, and it will be good to see guys learning how to play pressure points).

Steve Johnson

Like Johnson, Safarova had not appeared on the preliminary interview schedule, but I’m guessing some requests had been filed by the time she and Venus began the decider:

Lucie Safarova

I’d peeked in on the end of Julien Benneteau‘s match on Court 9, and I barely beat him to the mixed zone.

Julien Benneteau

His interview was entirely in French. Wawrinka‘s was mostly in French:

Stan Wawrinka

Vasek Pospisil drew a half-dozen of us, and we were instructed to limit ourselves to one or two questions each.

Vasek Pospisil

There were often cries for autographs from nearby fans after the interviews. Some players ignored the clamoring and head straight inside, and others answered the pleas:

Lucie Safarova

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
Proximity
Interviews and Press Conferences

Taylor Townsend

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:

broadcasting stage

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:

crowd craning to see Serena

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.

Jelena Jankovic

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:

Andy Murray

Novak Djokovic

The Sunday pressers were not transcribed, but on Monday, the ASAP team was in place:

ASAP transcriptionists

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.

Madison Keys

Sloane Stephens

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:

game plan

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:

1922

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:

Stan Wawrinka

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:

Roger Federer

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…”

Roger Federer press conference

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
Proximity

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.

Tsonga, Toronto 2014

What a week for Tsonga! He beat four top 10 opponents in four days: Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Grigor Dimitrov and Roger Federer en route to his 11th ATP title.

Federer

Tsonga

Tsonga

Roger Federer
Read More

Toronto Rogers Cup

Thanks a lot to Simon for sharing his brother’s pictures from Toronto!

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeats Novak Djokovic 6-2 6-2

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Novak Djokovic

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

David Ferrer defeats Ivan Dodig 1-6 6-3 6-2

David Ferrer and Ivan Dodig

Ivan Dodig
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