Djokovic and Wawrinka

Thanks to Peg, who covered the Cincinnati Masters for Tennis Buzz, a few pictures of players practicing:

Sam Stosur:

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Svetlana Kuznetsova:

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Lucie Safarova:

Lucie Safarova

Jelena Jankovic:

Jelena Jankovic

Jelena Jankovic
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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:

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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

Two months after her French Open victory over Martina Hingis and one month after her loss to Lindsay Davenport in the 1999 Wimbledon final, 22-time Grand Slam champion Steffi Graf announces her retirement.

Boris Becker is playing golf with Franz Beckenbauer when he learns the news, read what Boris Becker had to say about Steffi in his autobiography, The Player:

‘Steffi has retired’. So, Steffi as well. It’s Friday 13 August 1999, six weeks after my Wimbledon farewell. Officially she played 994 professional matches; I played 932. She won twenty-two Grand Slams; I won six. If the friendship between Steffi and me turned into a book or a film, nobody would believe it. She was six and I was eight when we met for the first time.

I rode my bike to Leimen. She came with her mother. In those days I often had to play against girls, which felt like a kind of punishment, especially when then older boys – who later wouldn’t have stood a change against Steffi – used to say, ‘Look at the redhead, fighting it out with the little girl!’ It also got on my nerves when the coach, Boris Breskvar, ended the game just at the moment when I was set for victory. My mother conforted me: ‘He really doesn’t know how to handle children.’

Even as a child, Steffi was focused and introverted, and sometimes trained like a robot. Thanks to these supposedly typical German characteristics, it took quite a long time for her to become internationally popular, rather like Michael Schumacher in Formula 1, who always comes across as so brusque – as though all he’s missing is the spiked helmet. Steffi was too determined for some people’s liking – too correct, too cool, too ‘Made in Germany’. Her sign is Gemini. Perfection is in her nature. That’s how she did her job. On the other hand, she’s an extremely sensitive and compassionate person. This shows every now and then, but for a long time she didn’t really live out her emotions. The most important thing for her was tennis success, and that’s why she worked like a machine. It was much the same in my case, but from time to time other things mattered to me. She probably told herself: To hell with my feelings, what I want now is to win Wimbledon for the eight time.

The tax scandals concerning her father, the court case and his imprisonment took their toll on Steffi. I believe this also changed her way of dealing with her feelings. Steffi cried, and the people at home in front of the television cried with her. At last, something came from the heart, and the nation took her into its embrace.

We’ve been comrades in arms over the years. We didn’t have to explain to each other about the pressure we were both under. We’ve always been in the same boat, from Brühl and Leimen to Wimbledon and back.

As a woman she fascinated me. It wasn’t the infantile falling-in-love of a teenager that made me want to get to know Steffi better. It was a deep feeling of affection, an unexpressed understanding between like-minded people who shared the same fate. And, naturally, I was curious about her too: where did she get the power, the motivation, the inspiration that made her so successful? What had she got that I hadn’t? And we all know that success is sexy – not to mention Steffi’s legs! The Steffi I got to know was an exciting person, not in the least shallow, with a sombre side and a lively side. These weren’t visible in the tennis player. Early on, she moved to Florida, and took an appartment in the heart of New York’s SoHo. Black has always been her favorite colour, and she’s always had a weakness for expensive clothes. According to media reports, she had a relationship with Mick Hucknall of Simply Red. These things don’t really fit the image of the Tennis Duchess (Graf means Duke) from Brühl, and Steffi was clever enough to keep this side of her life from the public. I didn’t succeed in this endeavour, but then maybe I didn’t want to.[…]

A little later I called Steffi. She was relaxed and happy. I congratulated her on her career and on making this decision at the right moment. We both knew what retiring felt like. I had no idea of her new love, Andre Agassi; she didn’t mention him at all. But I wasn’t surprised when I did learn of it. I knew that Agassi had had a crush on Steffi for some time, but first he had to get over the break-up with Brooke Shields, and Steffi had to get used tothe end of her career. Now they are tennis’ dream couple. Their son Jaden Gil is already seen by the British bookies as a potential Wimbledon winner. Maybe he’ll play Elias in the final one day.

Novak Djokovic at practice, Cincinnati Open

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:

kings island roller coaster

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 …

sparse crowd for BoJo

… but the stands for Court 15 were already packed.

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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:

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(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:

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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):

Benoit Paire and his partner

Later that day, he was practicing with Somdev Devvarman

1139

1127

… adjacent to a court with onlookers all along its far fence:

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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):

Kimiko Date-Krumm

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:

Polona Hercog

Sometimes, though, it’s just smart to take a break:

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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