Kei Nishikori, Memphis Open 2016

Semifinals Saturday at the Memphis Open

The match schedule for Saturday consisted of two sessions, with the afternoon session beginning at 2 p.m. At “The MO,” which opened at noon, fans examined Robin Soderling‘s tennis balls…

Soderling's shop in "The MO"

sipped smoothies, played ping-pong, and danced to live music — sometimes all at the same time…

Kids dancing to the music while playing pingpong

and watched the goings-on in Rotterdam and Buenos Aires:

Watching Rafa vs. Thiem

All the Saturday matches took place on Stadium. For the afternoon matches, guitar picks instead of coins were flipped to determine who would serve first. The chair umpires, in sweaters on Friday, wore suits and ties. There were more requests from those umpires (and sometimes the players themselves) to the crowd — to take a seat quickly, to refrain from yelling during points. The smoke and light machines at the entrance were set up.

The first set of Fyrstenberg/Gonzalez vs. Marach/Martin had me wondering if I should have remained at The MO. It was error-filled and dull enough to remind me of a Bercy Fyrstenberg/Matkowski match in 2011, when they’d played so poorly that a friend asked me if they were tanking. After one point, when Gonzalez smacked the ball against the court in disgust, it nearly brushed the ceiling. Marach and Martin had at least one devoted fan in the bleachers, though — a woman calling out “YEAH!” and “Whoooo!” after winners — and they would not only serve to stay in the first set but then take it, notwithstanding failed challenges, a time violation warning, and moments of serious miscommunication:

miscommunication

The players didn’t require much time between the first and second set, and the quality of play fortunately got much better. At the start of the set, my thoughts were in the vein of “So help me, I am never voluntarily attending another Fyrstenberg match…” But then Gonzalez hit a beautiful drop shot, and Fyrstenberg followed that with a volley winner. Rallies and gets by both teams were rewarded with more ooohs and ohhhhs of approval from the crowd…

Gonzalez and Fyrstenberg

along with groans and laughter at the more spectacular errors:

mishit

Throughout the match, both teams did their share of conferencing and signaling…

Fyrstenberg/Gonzalez d. Marach/Martin

Fyrstenberg/Gonzalez d. Marach/Martin

Mariusz Fyrstenberg

and twenty points into the tiebreak, Marach would push his luck too far, with umpire Fergus Murphy penalizing him for yet another time violation by taking away a first serve. Marach hollered in frustration after losing that point, but refocused quickly: he and Martin would save the next point to stay in the match, and Martin would hit another winner to put them up 12-11. Marach could be heard saying both “C’mon” and “Allez” before the start of some of the points. The crowd was loving the suspense — and the excellent rallies contributing to it – as the teams dueled to the end: a slow ball gave Gonzalez plenty of time to whale in point 14 for his side, and Fyrstenberg got the last word on match point — at last! — by racing up to the net:

Mariusz Fyrstenberg

Fyrstenberg/Gonzalez d. Marach/Martin

There wasn’t much time allocated to the celebration. Less than ten minutes after the doubles players’ closing handshakes, Taylor Fritz and Ricardas Berankis had entered Stadium Court and greeted the guitar-pick flipper:

player entrance

guitar pick toss

Small as the Racquet Club is, it’s still impossible to be everywhere at once, or to cover every event. I knew that many of my US colleagues would have their lens and pens in action for this match, what with the surge of interest in “Fritz Carlton” (to quote one of the nicknames I heard over the weekend). My assignment was to take lots of pictures of Kei Nishikori, so I decided it was time to eat dinner and work on my laptop for a while. On my way to the media center, I glanced through the stairwell windows, which look down into The MO and one of the workout room — where, as it happened, Fyrstenberg, Marach, and Martin could be glimpsed cooling down on the bikes:

players after the match

When I headed back downstairs — three hours after the end of the doubles final — the corridor was full of fans waiting for Kei Nishikori and Sam Querrey‘s walk from the locker room to Stadium Court:

The line in the corridor

Sam won the toss and chose to serve, which pretty much defined the first set. Kei failed to read or return the first three serves, and while he displayed some lovely leaping footwork, Sam pretty much dictated play throughout the set, slamming in aces and moving Kei around the court. There were some late but accurate calls by the linespeople. Kei was going to have to come up some answers…

Nishikori v. Querrey

which he promptly proceeded to display in the second set, taking a 3-0 lead before Sam got back on the board. Sam helped Kei out with an impressive array of errors, ranging from “Oh no!”- and “D’ohhhhhh!”-inducing attempts to strike winners down the line to comically bad approach shots. Sam was also justifiably peeved at the linecalling, which he successfully challenged twice five games in.

Sam Querrey

There was plenty of encouragement for Sam from the crowd, and plenty of appreciation for Kei’s quality of play. The audience roared its approval when Kei hit forehand and service winners, and cheered loudly when Sam successfully rushed the net and blasted more aces past Kei. Ultimately, the shorter but higher-ranked player would prevail:

Sam Querrey and Kei Nishikori

That was hardly the end of the night for Kei Nishikori, however. First, there was the on-court interview:

Kei Nishikori

Then there was English-language press conference, which took place in the mixed zone (the interview area on the way to the locker room):

Kei Nishikori

He asked the staff to let him proceed with his cool-down before continuing his media obligations. So the Japanese-language press conference was held upstairs in the interview room, around 45 minutes later:

Kei Nishikori

Also read:
Friday afternoon at the Memphis Open, part 1
Friday afternoon at the Memphis Open, part 2
Nishikori fans at the Memphis Open
Friday night at the 2016 Memphis Open

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