Taylor Fritz a,d Kei Nishikori handshake, Memphis Open 2016

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.

truffles for St. Jude

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!”

Servicemaster towels

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:

National anthem
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Taylor Fritz, Memphis Open 2016

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
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