Check out our pictures from Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Santiago Gonzalez victory over Steve Johnson and Sam Querrey in the final of the Memphis Open, read the report here.
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:
The Featured Match on the daily draw sheet handed to fans entering the racquet club was Kei Nishikori vs. Mikhail Kukushkin. Nishikori had won their previous four meetings, and would prevail in this one as well, hitting shots that had the Kazakhstani player standing with his hands on hips, shaking his head at the ball he hadn’t expected to come back over the net.
Kukushkin did get the better of Nishikori now and then, reeling him in for some errors at the net, and the crowd applauded his winners as well as Kei’s. Find more pictures here.
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.
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):
At the Western and Southern Open, the “mixed zone” is an area to the left of the entrance to the players’ lounge. The windows are similar to the backdrop in the main interview room, so that the logos of the tours and the sponsors appear in the photos and broadcasts of interviews conducted there. This doesn’t always go accordingly to plan, however — such as, for instance, when Benoit Paire plays what I’m told was a stinker of a match and just wants to go home. He had been scheduled for a “win or lose” interview in the mixed zone, however, so the French journalist I had been waiting with followed Paire to the parking lot and asked his questions while Paire changed his shirt:
Steve Johnson, the winner of the match, arrived in the mixed zone a few minutes later. He discussed baseball with an ATP staff member while waiting for the session to begin. Nick McCarvel then conducted a “Tennis Moments” interview, and there was time for me to add questions about conditions (like others, Steve said the ball was “light” and “flying” out there, and that the “pretty fast” surface suited him well) and the recent change in D-1 college tennis scoring (he’d heard about it from his coach only two hours earlier, and thinks it will be interesting — it will create excitement, and it will be good to see guys learning how to play pressure points).
Like Johnson, Safarova had not appeared on the preliminary interview schedule, but I’m guessing some requests had been filed by the time she and Venus began the decider:
I’d peeked in on the end of Julien Benneteau‘s match on Court 9, and I barely beat him to the mixed zone.
His interview was entirely in French. Wawrinka‘s was mostly in French:
Vasek Pospisil drew a half-dozen of us, and we were instructed to limit ourselves to one or two questions each.
There were often cries for autographs from nearby fans after the interviews. Some players ignored the clamoring and head straight inside, and others answered the pleas:
More reports from Cincinnati:
On the way to the Western & Southern Open
The Western & Southern Open main draw party
Friday evening at Lindner Family Tennis Center
Seeking relief from the heat
Interviews and Press Conferences