Sweetheart Sunday at the Memphis Open
Championship Sunday coincided with Valentine’s Day this year, which provided the tournament with a theme for several promotions, including a “Treat Your Love to Valentine’s Brunch” and a tableful of chocolate truffles in shiny red boxes.
The truffles, glasses of prosecco, and tickets to a drawing for a $2,500 necklace (compliments of Memphis’s James Gattas Jewelers, whose current Twitter avatar [@GattasJewelers] currently features a photo of Gattas with Kukushkin and Kudla) were sold to raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Ushers handed out ServiceMaster towels, which emcee Andrew Krasny would later encourage fans to wave during his exhortations to “MAKE MORE NOISE!”
Robin Soderling was scheduled to sign autographs in The MO at 1 p.m., which was also the starting time of the doubles final. On Stadium Court, Beg to Differ, an a cappella group from Memphis University School, performed a selection of pop standards, and then the national anthem:
During the course of the final, which featured Mariusz Fyrstenberg (Poland) and Santiago Gonzalez (Mexico) vs. the U.S. pair of Steve Johnson and Sam Querrey, the crowd continued to be fair, clapping after points won by Fyrstenberg and Gonzalez as well as the home team. Australian umpire Simon Cannavan was put on alert early on, with Fyrstenberg and Gonzalez protesting a non-call in the very first game.
It was frankly not a compelling match – Johnson in particular was having trouble finding the court, and after one error hit a ball toward the ceiling – but it had its share of pretty droppers, over-the-shoulder volleys, and body shots, as well as an exchange of moonballs and a round of amused applause for Johnson when chasing one shot propelled him into Fyrstenberg/Gonzalez’s side of the net.
Ultimately, the defending champions would be more on their toes…
leading to their straight-sets victory:
Gonzalez joked that if he were to win again, maybe they could give him a piano instead:
As tour and tournament staff picked cannon-shot streamers off the court and steered the champions to various positions around the court (corresponding in certain cases to specific sponsor logos), the next performers marched on: Memphis’s Renegades of Rhythm, a drumline of children ages 7-18, with neon-lit drums and energetic stickwork:
After the Renegades departed, the DJ spun catchy and bouncy tunes that had some fans waving their flags in time to the music, while others cuddled, contacted not-yet-arrived companions via smartphone, queued up at the concessions kiosk, and so on:
Taylor Fritz and Kei Nishikori are not strangers to each other: they had practiced together at Michael Chang‘s place in California five or six times prior to this tournament. Kei later confessed – perhaps not entirely seriously – that he had been nervous about the final because Taylor had won all those sessions.
At any rate, it was a typically slow start for Kei, with Taylor taking a 3-0 lead. Kei was neither reading Taylor’s serves or handling the youngster’s variety of strokes and pace:
The many Japanese fans in the stadium looked concerned:
As a colleague in the press box muttered, however, “Kei always does this,” and he started to find his groove after four games in. There would continue to be numerous errors throughout the match (my notes include “complete whiff,” “long / wide / long,” “into net,” and “biffed”) but he too would start hitting unreturnable serves and striking winners, winning the first set 6-4.
I was impressed by the younger man’s demeanor during the second set. There were signs that the week of playing tour-level singles and doubles had taken its toll: his racquet could be heard clanking against the floor more frequently – an indication, perhaps, of fatigue eroding form – but no tantrums. After a couple of mishits, Taylor quietly said to his racquet, “Oh my God,” but he also applauded his opponent’s outstanding gets:
It would take three match points for Kei to seal the deal, going airborne for the kill:
It’s been a pleasure sharing my weekend in Memphis with you. Thank you for reading, and maybe I’ll see you in the Racquet Club’s halls some February in the future.