Monday, August 12, 2013

Western and Southern Open: Day 1 Wrap-Up

All pictures were taken by me and thus are not of professional quality. But that is part of the charm

It has been a tremendously exciting day here at the Two Directions Open, with lots of entertaining matches, off-the-court happenings and a number of tennis media members that we are starting to dislike. All in all, it is a perfect "The Outer Courts" experience. Some notes from Day One:

--- For most media members, the highlight of the day was the first American appearance from Andy Murray since his Wimbledon victory. Andy Murray is not Mr. Personality (as a matter of fact, he isn't even distantly related to Mr. Personality), but he seems like a good bloke and he obliged the media's dumb questions well. People asked him the usual drivel, but two questions were noteworthy for what they said about the questioner more than the interviewee. A British writer (and they treat Murray as if they are interviewing Elvis moments after the "Ed Sullivan Show") asked Murray "where are you on the knighthood situation?"  Murray said there was no update, and the journalist looked as sad as Paris Hilton finding out there is no news on the Kardashian front. Then a writer for the NY Times (who has become "The Outer Courts" favorite target for mockery during our tennis interludes) told Murray that he had seen tweets from Andy suggesting he was watching Challenger tournaments online from Vancouver. The cherubic writer then inquired, "are you just a tennis junkie or do you find it difficult to get away from the sport?"  Murray then responded with a look a 4th grade teacher gives her students and said, "no, I just had a friend playing that I wanted to watch." Tennis pre-tournament press conferences...where there is nothing to say but that stops no one from still trying.

--- I approached the night match of Venus Williams with much trepidation. The eldest Williams had not won a match since April and I was worried that we were trapped in the midst of a "Willie Mays dropping fly balls in center field with the Mets" situation as she headed towards the end of her career. I had seen the results on television, but watching one of the sports' true pioneers fall right before my eyes was likely to make me sad. The opening of the match confirmed my worst fears, as Venus dropped the first three games and looked a step slow in the process. But then, as if a switch had been turned on, Venus won 12 of the next 14 games over Jana Cepelova and cruised into the second round. I am still unsure whether Venus has another run up the rankings in her, but I am now less worried that we are headed for a precipitous fall. Maybe this is just the slow grind towards a final comeback. The rest of the week will help us know for certain.

---  There was no more disappointed person on Earth today than an Italian journalist who walked up to me to ask if Fabio Fognini had won his first match. I shared with her the ending of the match, which saw Fognini lose his mind and angrily foot fault on purpose in order to throw the final point, and watched as her face slowly melted into sadness. She looked at me with puppy dog eyes and said, "really, Fabio did that?  That is so disappointing."  I wanted to console her, but we have to maintain a level of professionalism.

--- To be quite honest, most of the matches today were excruciatingly boring. I knew little about the people playing and was trying to follow, while also keeping my head from nodding off. With that said, I was paying significantly more attention than anyone else in the media room. This was an actual conversation I heard two people having this afternoon:

Reporter 1: "The thing I like about this tournament is that we don't have to just watch tennis we can eat."

Reporter 2: "Well can't we eat at all the tournaments."

Reporter 1: "Yeah but not like at this one...the chili is right next to the chicken which is right next to the mexican. It's all in one place. That is why it is the best tournament...well that and the field."

"The Chili is Next to the Chicken, Which is Right Next to the Mexican!"....maybe that should be the slogan for the Two Directions Open next year.

Without further ado, a couple of accolades:

Match of the Day: Maria Kirilenko over Anna Tatishvili (4-6, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (4))

While the overall match day left something to be desired, this battle between the Russian and the Georgian was an absolute joy to watch. The two players grinded it out in a match that saw numerous momentum swings and some unbelievable play. The third set was particularly high quality as Court 9 saw a packed house upon completion of play everywhere else on the grounds. The energy was wild as both players crushed the ball during furious rallies. Tatishvili was particularly impressive, pounding forehand winners that kept her in the match after a late Kirilenko run. Unfortunately she called time, asked for her coach, and saw her mentor berate her (below) in a way that didn't seem to be of great help. She let a couple of close official calls frustrate her (she bickered after nearly every point) and let a huge win slip away in the final moments. Still, it was a tremendous match that produced not only a great viewing of Kirilenko (who still has the title of official Matt Jones crush) but also the best tennis of the entire evening in Cincinnati.

Best Moment: The Coach Yelling at His Pupil

When Tatishvili asked for her coach to come over, I can't imagine what she hoped for was for him to sit right next to her yelling and motioning with his hands while she looked the other way. Or maybe she did...I don't know their relationship. What I do know is that for two minutes, I couldn't stop laughing at his wild hand gestures and diverse attempts to motivate his player for the final moments. It didn't work...Kirilenko still won, Tatishvili gave her an icy greeting at net following the match (a common occurrence I am noticing) and the coach left with his Tommy Bahama shirt, sunglasses and a loss by his pupil that must have made his evening very unpleasant.

Upset of the Day: Brian Baker defeats Daniel Istomin (7-5, 6-3)

When I looked at the final draw for the event, I thought Brian Baker being involved had to be a misprint. He has barely played this season, is the lowest ranked player in the field (besides an amateur qualifier) and generally seemed unworthy of his wildcard. But then he came out and showed how fickle this game can be. Playing his best tennis in quite some time, he took out Istomin, who came into Cincinnati hot, having taken a set off Djokovic in the Montreal quarterfinals. Baker now moves on to face Grigor Dimitrov, where one would think he is a decided underdog...but who knows. Maybe the story of the week will be a Baker run and a corresponding head slap by The Outer Courts for mocking his entry into the field.

So that is the story of today. Tomorrow should be loaded, with Federer taking the stage, my rivalry with Jack Sock reigniting and Sharapova versus Sloane Stephens. Check in tomorrow, tell your friends, neighbors and everyone else. And if you see that NY Times writer, don't tell him that his a target of our scorn...let that be our little secret.