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

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… 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

Cincinnati Open

Thanks a lot to Peg for sharing her experience from Cincinnati!

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

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.:

seeking relief from the heat

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:

seeking relief from the heat 

seeking relief from the heat

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:

seeking relief from the heat

In the audience, I counted at least fifteen. Some were beat-up and basic, some were flowery, some were fashionable …

seeking relief from the heat

seeking relief from the heat

seeking relief from the heat

seeking relief from the heat

seeking relief from the heat

seeking relief from the heat

The crowd tended to cluster under overhangs and other shaded areas:

seeking relief from the heat

It was also a fine day for hat-admiring, both of serviceable and stylish chapeaux:

seeking relief from the heat

seeking relief from the heat

seeking relief from the heat

seeking relief from the heat

Sometimes, though, a mere cap needed help:

seeking relief from the heat

It was bright enough that today’s human statue wore shades:

seeking relief from the heat

The Grandstand umpires sit under a canopy. (Richard Haigh chaired the Ebden-Tomic match.)

seeking relief from the heat

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):

seeking relief from the heat

Cincinnati Open

Peg is covering the Western & Southern Open for Tennis Buzz. Enjoy her Friday evening recap (more to come!):

At the end of the stage presentation, the guests were directed to head outside toward the food court, where they could purchase drinks and listen to the SunBurners:

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At the champagne stand, customers who purchase a serving of Moet Imperial in a souvenir glass ($18) also receive a shiny tennis ball with a charm inside:

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There were other attractions beside the concert and the booze, though. Right outside the Grandstand tent, there was one of those human statues…

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….who later made his way closer to the beer:

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Other fans visited Grandstand — meandering around, sitting where they liked, and watching the children on the court:

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There were souvenirs for sale at the MidwestSports.com tent:

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I eventually headed toward Court 7…

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having seen this announcement:

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But wait. I know that player. That isn’t Mr. Falla, that’s Mr. Gulbis!

Ernests Gulbis

Ernests Gulbis

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On the other side of the court, Mr. Thiem:

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There were fans watching alone …

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… and with friends:

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(I owe these women thanks — not only did they help me identify Dominic Thiem, they were just great fun to chat with. You know you’re among kindred spirits when you’re reminiscing about tan lines from wicked hot tournaments [e.g., a couple of them attended Melbourne in January; I watched Isner-Anderson in Atlanta a few summers ago ]

And my evening in Mason ended with a last look at some of the 10,000 flowers planted by LaMond Design within the last week:

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The campus beautiful

Jack Sock

Peg is covering the Western & Southern Open for Tennis Buzz. Enjoy her draw party’s recap (more to come!):

At the W&S Open, most of the drawing takes place behind the scenes. The women’s qualifying draw was already available in handout form by the time I reached the media center (around 4:30 pm); according to one source, the men’s qualifying draw was to take place at 9 p.m., but not as a event open to the public. The placement of unseeded players in the main draw is office-work as well; Denis Istomin reportedly helped with this year’s ATP lottery.

In short, the drawing during the big fête concerns only the top 16 players on each tour. And no, they don’t pull the word “bye” out of the cup for the top 8; it’s names that get drawn out of the cup, and the subsequent announcement by Pete Holtermann (the media center manager) is something like “Maria Sharapova will play either Alize Cornet or Madison Keys.” There are subgroups within the seeds as well — I failed to note the specific breakdown, but the upshot is that not all 16 names are in the cup all at once. (For example, if I’m remembering right, Azarenka, Cibulkova, Ivanovic, and Wozniacki — nos. 9 through 12 — were one of the subgroups; it was pointed out that there were three former #1s in that quartet.)

Before the microphones are switched on, though, there are the buffets and the bars. The party is a ticketed event that takes place in a huge white tent with a trellis (covered in wisteria, I think) at its entrance:

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Inside, there was a table advertising the Princess Diana exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center (one of the tournament sponsors), three buffet lines (with offerings such as potatoes spiked with truffle oil and goat cheese), and a wall lined with Coke fridges and cash bars. Over a thousand guests were expected — at 5:15 p.m., the room wasn’t yet full…

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… but it certainly would be by the time Andrew Krasny, the emcee, took the stage.

During his opening remarks, Krasny rejoiced in it being his fifth year at the tournament, adding a crack about how some members of the audience had wanted him fired: “You know who you are.” Unhappily, over the course of the evening, I too developed a ferocious dislike for his schtick, which contained far too much fake-flirting and innuendo for my taste. I get that he was trying to be friendly and funny, but there are so many ways to achieve that (especially when everyone present has an obvious, common interest in tennis) without incessantly drawing attention to the girls’ and women’s ages and attractiveness. (An example: him saying to one woman, “You are adorable. Are you religious? Because you are the answer to my prayers.” Another example: him explaining at length that he refrains from asking women how old they are if they look to him like they might be over twenty, so a woman he mistook for an adolescent should take it as a compliment.)

Some people were laughing, and many people probably thought nothing of it (for that matter, many people were simply not listening — there was a steady stream of chatter throughout the whole presentation, with the mics loud enough to be heard over the socializing), but odds are I wasn’t the only person who found the quips at best lame and at worst borderline creepy. I gather that Krasny is a nice guy and a genuine tennis fan, so I’d like to think he can do better.

Also, in all fairness, I do have some idea of how hard it is to wing through on-stage banter with unknown quantities — as in game-shows, some audience members naturally exude enthusiasm and personality, and others don’t give the host any energy to feed off of. (To behold an example of the perfect stranger-from-the-audience, please see the photo sequence at the end of this entry.)

When it was finally time to draw names out of the cup, audience members wanting to appear onstage (with the promise of having their pictures taken with the guest player) were asked to raise their hands. Two tournament volunteers — Mason and Hannah, if I heard the names right — walked through the crowd, with sheets of paper to be handed to the would-be participants who looked the most interesting to them. Variety appeared to be one of the criteria — there was a good cross-section of ages among those selected, and at least three ethnicities in the mix.

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(If you’d like to see snapshots of some of the other participants, I’ve posted them in an album of additional photos from the party.)

The sheets of paper served as cue cards for Krasny — the participant wrote their name on it and where they were from.

This man, for instance, is a native of Iran and a resident of Cincinnati. I wonder what he said to Simona Halep, who was the WTA guest star:

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(These photos are fuzzier than the others because I brain cramped and pointed my camera at the projection screen rather than the people on stage at that point.)

There was plenty of people-watching to be enjoyed, including Simona’s stint as draw party guest of honor:

Simona Halep

Simona Halep

And the happiness displayed by a fan named Marietta was so infectious that Jack Sock greeted her with arms open wide:

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Jack Sock

Jack Sock