Nishikori, Soderling and Kukushkin, Memphis Open 2016

Friday afternoon at the Memphis Open, part 1

Peg is reporting from the Memphis Open this weekend. Enjoy her first recap:

I first visited the Racquet Club of Memphis six years ago, as a volunteer for what was then a co-ed tournament (ATP 500 / WTA International). I was lucky enough to be assigned practice court duties; highlights included running after balls during a Berdych-Lu practice match and taking in how intense both Sharapova and Roddick were in their hitting sessions. In 2012, I attended several matches with friends and returned for the finals on my own.

The women’s tournament has moved to Rio, the men’s tournament is now a 250, and the title sponsor is now Servicemaster. Some other things have changed since I was last here. For example, there used to be parking spots for returning champions to the right of the club’s entrance:

reserved parking for Roddick

Now, there are different levels of VIP parking inside the gates:

Entrance to the Memphis Racquet Club

The champagne theme extends to courtside tables behind the chair umpire.

chair for Nishikori v. Querrey

Balls still fly into the stands (and occasionally sail over them) regularly both on Grandstand and on Stadium, and sometimes a flute or bottle gets knocked over.

Stadium Court now has Hawkeye – which, given the number of successful challenges (including two in quick succession by Sam Querrey during his Saturday night match, and one later in the set by Kei), is a very good thing. (Fabrice Martin, however, was proven wrong each time.)

Fritz d. Becker

During my earlier visits, Grandstand essentially shared a room with another side court. You could perch at the back of the bleachers if you wanted to pay attention to the matches or practices on the tertiary court, and it felt like being in a high school gym. While Grandstand now seems grander, it’s still intimate enough that a man next to me in the bleachers was chatting to one four rows down without having to raise his voice, and there were maybe a hundred people watching Young vs. Berankis when I arrived just after the start of the second set.

The courts this year are all new, and both Taylor Fritz and Sam Querrey mentioned in their post-match interviews that the surface is notably slow, requiring players to play with more patience. The balls are also new – they are from Robin Soderling’s company, and they are heavy. Soderling himself was here on Friday night for the coin toss between Kei Nishikori and Mikhail Kukushkin, and has been available for an autograph session or two.

Kei Nishikori, Robin Soderling, and Mikhail Kukushkin

(On Saturday, there will also be swirls of smoke and blasts of colored light as the players enter. Those are new, too.)

smoke and lights

Some things are still the same, though. The main flight of stairs between the upper floor (box office, sponsor lounge, media room, transportation office, racquet club bar, and other key areas) and the lower floor (courts, locker room, “The MO” food and activity center, ticket windows, and other shopping/concession stands) still gets congested.

after Nishikori d. Kukushkin

Children and adults still line up in the hallway and at the entrances in hopes of autographs and photos with the players:

kids waiting for Berankis

end of Friday night

The line in the corridor

In 2010, I chose a chair near a man who turned out to be Jarkko Nieminen’s coach. On Friday, I could hear Benjamin Becker’s coach mutter encouragement between points, including “Go Benny,” “Great serve,” and “Ben, c’mon.”

Players Box

Donald Young vented to his team, seated behind the baseline, at one point getting a code violation warning (“I can’t believe this”).

Berankis d. Young

Young also berated himself and/or the ball with phrases like “DON’T DO THAT!” and “C’mon man!” as Berankis fired winners past him.

Berankis d. Young

Berankis d. Young

After that match, the crowd cleared out pretty quickly, with some people heading down the hall to the Fritz-Becker match and others to The MO or the bar for refreshments. Others stayed put for a while, including the victor:

after Berankis d. Young

chair umpire leaving Grandstand

Stay tuned for more pictures and reports from Memphis, and follow us on Twitter and Instagram!

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