Taylor Fritz, Memphis Open 2016

Friday afternoon at the Memphis Open part 2

The main court (aka Stadium) at the Racquet Club of Memphis can be simultaneously intimate yet spacious. Even the uppermost rows of the bleachers aren’t that far from the court — in fact, a couple of fans told me they didn’t get around to sitting in their assigned spots because they felt they could see more of the court from further up.

That said, during the marquee matches, fans were encouraged to compete for courtside seats by demonstrating how much noise they could make during the changeover between games three and four. The winners were then reseated in the Stash Home Furnishings box, which was right behind the player(s) seated to the chair umpire’s left, with leather armchairs, champagne, and snacks. This couple had previously been sitting high above the baseline to the right of the main entrance; they are now behind Mikhail Kukushkin’s chair.

winners of courtside seats

This isn’t to say things don’t get crowded or congested — just ask folks trying to leave right after a match. But to date, the stands are rarely filled to capacity (there’s been only one match where I couldn’t find a seat, and that was Maria Sharapova vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands in 2010), and it’s usually OK to discreetly move down a few rows or find a more congenial spot if, for example, a nearby stranger literally cannot hold their liquor (an incident I heard about from an Arkansas fan — after the third spilled glass, she opted to move, stating that while she herself liked wine, she wasn’t interested in wearing it).

At any rate, no matter where you end up sitting in Stadium, you get to hear and see quite a bit. The crowds this year were supportive of both American and foreign players, applauding great points no matter who played them. While the majority of players aren’t household names, they are still among the best 200 in the world; while the disparity in skills and experience is often notable (2010 champion Sam Querrey is in a different league than qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka, Kei Nishikori likewise significantly better than Kukushkin, and Challenger circuit habitues Wesley Koolhof and Matwe Middelkoop no real threat to Querrey paired with Steve Johnson), the lower-ranked players are still capable of powerful rallies, astonishing volleys, and wicked serves that kick into the stands, which means that even the straightforward straight-set not-really-in-doubt matches can be fun to watch, rewarding spectators with fantastic points to ooh and aah over.

The Friday afternoon session started at 3:00 p.m. I was able to catch the final set of the Benjamin Becker vs. Taylor Fritz quarterfinal on Stadium. It was chaired by Australian silver badge umpire Simon Cannavan, who has a deep, resonant voice (shown here following a ball as it hit the ceiling):

Simon Cannavan

Both players drew oohs and aahs and applause for beautifully placed winners (Fritz’s forehand is particularly attractive — he whipped some shots down the line during the tiebreak that had me sitting up straight), and there was a solid round of cheering and clapping for Becker as he left the court. The crowd was happy to have witnessed two players so dialed in; during Fritz’s on-court interview, he admitted to asking himself “Could [Becker] be playing any better?” while working past his frustration.

Fritz d. Becker

Fritz d. Becker

This was my first time watching Fritz play. In addition to the sweet forehand, I also admired the way he was moving the ball around the court on both wings. He’s a tall kid, and as several people observed during the weekend, he’s got some strength work ahead of him (one woman exclaimed, “Those legs are scrawny! I was afraid they were going to snap!”):

Fritz d. Becker

The final afternoon match on Stadium was Yoshito Nishioka (Japan) vs. Sam Querrey (United States). The court was slow, the balls heavy, and the stadium warm, with both Nishioka and Querrey both changing shirts midway through the proceedings.

Querrey d. Nishioka QF

Nishioka’s playing style is energetic — he hustles, slides, twists, and lunges for points — which on the one hand is quite entertaining, but on the other hand seems sadly disproportionate to the results: his second shirt was soaked with sweat a few games in, and the balls don’t land inside the lines often enough for all the effort put into getting to them.

Querrey d. Nishioka QF

Querrey d. Nishioka QF

Querrey d. Nishioka QF

Querrey d. Nishioka QF

Querrey d. Nishioka QF

Still, it was enough to make Sam work for the win — afterward, he said that the match was closer than the score (63 64), and that he’d had to keep swinging harder and harder and to be patient in order to earn the win.

Querrey d. Nishioka QF

Querrey d. Nishioka QF

A big thanks to Peg for her pictues and reports!

Also read:
Friday afternoon at the Memphis Open part 1

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