Friday, March 8, 2013

Live From Stadium One...It's Time to Party!



Day 2 of the BNP Paribas Open is underway! I admit that I feel a bit cheated as part of my excitement about coming to Indian Wells was the supposed perfect atmosphere, where I assumed it is always 80 degrees, sunny and beautiful women are galavanting around the premises, while smiling at you with knowing glances. As of now, it has generally been cloudy, chilly and the beautiful women I have seen have all been grunting while pounding a tennis ball as a slightly angry coach with a 5 o'clock shadow screams at them in the background. But that doesn't change my excitement about today. I am posted on Court One, where we will have appearances from Maria Sharapova, James Blake, Agnieszka Radwanska and the Bryan Brothers. But that is later, first we have a battle of two warriors attempting to make waves, Pablo Andujar of Spain and American Steve Johnson, currently on hiatus from his duties with the Buffalo Bills. With that type of start to the day, a Running Diary seems in order:

11:01 am: Stadium One here at Indian Wells has a smartly dressed MC, who comes out onto the court prior to the match to try and get the crowd energized about the action ahead. He lets us know that today Stadium One will be "the place to be!" as the action will heat up a rather cold morning. As he introduces the players, the Indian Wells DJ cranks "Start Me Up" by the Rolling Stones so loudly that a woman in front of me jumps and tells her husband "why does everything have to be so noisy?"  Very good question ma'am.

11:13 am: The match kicks off with a loud round of applause for local boy Steve Johnson. Johnson played his college tennis at USC, where he was imminently more successful than Lane Kiffin, but likely paid far less. He has a strong base of support here and they are somewhat rowdy...or at least as rowdy as one can be at eleven in the morning, while sitting in 55 degree wind gusts. Johnson comes out wearing a loud lime green shirt, while Andujar is in all white, refusing to embrace the spirit of the party atmosphere of Stadium One. Advantage Johnson.

11:21 am: Johnson kicks off the match with an early break and the crowd erupts with excitement. I notice that the USC graduate is sporting some snazzy neon green shoes that from this distance seem like the type of thing that I would like to own. This desire to purchase tennis apparel seems to be a common theme for Drew and me throughout our time here at Indian Wells. We have become enamored with what I would call "pro tennis fashion," dry-fit clothes in bright colors that exude both explosive personality and a laid-back, casual vibe. They are exactly the opposite from anything I would ever wear in Kentucky, but since I have been here, I have purchased three such shirts and one pullover. It is the equivalent of when I drove through Texas and bought a custom cowboy hat that has left my closet exactly one time since that trip. You are in Texas and think, "man, women seem to love cowboy hats and they do shape my head well." But then you get home and realize that wearing a cowboy hat in public generally does little but elicit a number of quizzical stares. I fear the same fate may be forthcoming for my new bright pink Roger Federer Nike shirt, but for now, I will remain caught up in the moment.

11:37 am: Early on, Johnson is controlling the match, with Andujar unable to do anything with the Trojan's serve. I decided to do a little research on Andujar and ended up finding this writeup on TennisEarth.com (which by the way is previewing every match in this Tournament...quite a feat and this is the type of thing that separates this site from its competitors such as TennisMercury and TennisNeptune). In the preview, the post notes that Andujar is currently ranked #46 in the world and is primarily a clay court specialist. However in discussing his chances, TennisEarth states, "Andujar comes into this match with 2-7 win-loss record, indicating the problems the Spaniard has had in stringing together match wins."  This is something I have noticed about tennis journalism in my short time in the field. People are very hesitant to ever say someone is playing poorly or may simply not be talented, but instead use terms such as having problems "stringing together match wins." Look no offense to my friend Pablo (another thing I have noticed in tennis, we all are supposed to say we are friends), but he is 2-7 on the year. "Stringing together match wins" might be easier if he wins the first one more often.


Steve Johnson during his USC days

11:44 am: Johnson breaks Andjuar again and wins the first set 6-2. The Stadium One DJ celebrates by busting out "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz.  At this very moment, the Indian Wells janitorial crew has decided that they must mop in the exact area where I am sitting. Even though there is literally no one else in the outdoor media seating area, the spot directly under my feet apparently necessitates attention immediately. The man ringing out the mop water (which is one of the more disgusting sounds imaginable to the human ear), begins casually whistling Mraz's song as he does his work. I think that should become the artist's new slogan..."Jason Mraz...music you can mop to."

11:58 am: The second set has begun and Andujar gets an early break, seizing the momentum from Steve Johnson and his USC entourage. As a long-time viewer of the sport, I have always been amazed at how quickly momentum can swing in a match, especially one involving some of the lower tier players. If a person had only watched the first set, you would think Steve Johnson was a 2013 rising star, serving hard, quicker to the ball and wearing much brighter colors, while Andujar looked like a 80s relic, dressed in all white, not even wearing a hat and with shorts that showcase a bit too much of his thighs. But now Andujar is moving with a purpose, Johnson looks frustrated and another unforced error gives Pablo a 4-1 lead in the second set. The guy next to me responds to the change by continuing to mop and whistle Jason Mraz.

12:08 pm: And just as dominantly as he won the first set, Johnson goes down 6-1 in the second. He seems completely rattled, partially I am sure by the incessant mopping, but also because of the improved play of Andujar. I ask the guy seated next to me what he thinks of Andujar's comeback and he gives me the "who are you and why are you talking to me" look that has become the regular response to all attempts at communication by me. So I simply offer the thought, "he seems much more energetic." My seat neighbor turns away and chooses to watch the mopping rather than engage me in this important bit of conversation.

12:22 pm: With the third set tied 1-1, a ball just skidded off of Johnson's racket on a key point and went deep into the crowd. A woman who I will kindly call "pleasantly plump" had the good fortune to see the ball land at her feet. I immediately felt happy for her as this had become the lady's lucky day. She came to a tennis tournament (seemingly by herself as she is seated three rows away from the nearest human being), and she has the good fortune to have a ball off the racket of former USC star Steve Johnson's racket land in her lap! She now has a souvenir to last a lifetime and a story to tell her grandchildren about when they are wanting to be bored to tears. What a moment! But instead of embracing her good fortune, she stares a gift horse in the mouth and instead attempts to throw the ball back on the court, seemingly worried that Indian Wells has tennis balls on short supply. The baffling decision was made even better when her attempt at reaching the court (she was approximately 20 rows up in the stands) was thwarted by her weak arm, leading to her pegging a woman sitting in the front row on the back of the head. The woman stood up seemingly outraged, but with little outlet for her now righteous anger. She paid good money to sit courtside for Johnson-Andujar and now she is getting pelted in the back of the head with tennis balls from ungrateful commoners above! Without question, my favorite moment of the match.


The Indian Wells Media members actually watching the match right now are me and this guy taking pictures

12:37 pm: This match has become quite intense. Tied 3-3, the players are all giving maximum effort and the Johnson-contingent has become quite vocal. Most of the media members in the media lounge, which is located conveniently right above the Stadium One court and could provide perfect access to watch actual tennis, have responded to the on-court excitement by talking about today's lunch menu. If there is one thing I have learned so far about the tennis media, they seem to watch absolutely no matches at any point. A British reporter who is sitting near me has not looked up from his computer in two days, and seems to be spending most of his time reviewing the various overcoat options online. The vibe here is very laissez-faire, with very few people seeming to care about anything except (a) the time of the next meal and (b) whether anyone is in their seat. Actual tennis viewing is not a requirement.

12:43 pm: "Her name was Lola...She was a Showgirl....With yellow feathers in her hair and a dress cut down to there!" The Stadium One DJ is feeling it!

12:51 pm: After going up Love-30 with a chance to break Pablo at 4-4 and get a victory, our favorite USC Trojan since Harold "Baby Jordan" Miner just lost four straight points to drop the game and remain on serve. It is clearly a match-changing moment and Johnson responds by throwing his racket to the ground, causing an audible gasp from this very pro-Johnson crowd. I am afraid he may have bent the racket's frame, which could cause him to have to replace it, and seriously detract from the shirt-shoes-racket matching colors vibe he has going right now. A potentially crucial mistake.

12:57 pm: Andujar breaks and steals the match. In front of a hostile crowd and in freezing temperatures, Pablo runs off three straight points to disappoint the California masses and get the victory.  In the post-match interview Andujar thanks the crowd for supporting him (which they didn't) and for being such good fans. This is why I couldn't be a professional tennis player. If I were Pablo, my post-match interview would have gone like this:

"Yes I am glad I won, but let me tell you something, it was no thanks to this crowd. What have I done to you people? I come over here, play hard and even wear traditional white to this event. And what do you people do? You root for the guy in green that threw his racket, just because he happened to be born in the continental United States. What happened to the open-minded America I read about in my Social Studies books? And even worse, you had the audacity to force me to listen to Jason Mraz between points to try and distract me with his winning voice and catchy beats. Pablo knows your game. So yeah give me your polite applause, but I know you wanted Steve to win...but guess what, HE DIDN'T AND I DID!" 

drops the mic and exits to thunderous jeering. But that is why I don't play tennis.

1:05 pm:  All in all, a good way to start our second day here at Indian Wells. A solid three set match and now we have a clean floor in our seating area. More fun I am sure is to come.