All this week I will be blogging live from the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, D.C. Check back daily and feel free to ask questions. I love comments!
Today was the first qualifier day. I live in DC and have been going to the tournament for about five or six years now. I also happen to play at the Rock Creek Tennis Center, the tournament site, several times a week. Although it’s probably one of the hottest weeks of the year, the Mason gives us Washingtonians a great reason to stay in town and not hit the shore during the first week of August.
This year is a little different for me because I’m both a box seat holder and I got a media credential to cover the tournament for the X-Blog. The whole controversy with bloggers and whether or not we’re “media” is also a very Washingtonian kind of issue, so I feel pretty well-situated. Political bloggers, for example, who to a large degree have led the way with many things in the blogging world, have gone through the media wringer already. They made alot of headway with the last presidential elections and their coverage of the party conventions, which makes me part of a rich tradition.
Washingtonians are smart and cosmopolitan people, and have also managed to lend influence to the sports blogging world. For example, one day last November, DC hockey blogger Eric McErlain got an interesting email: it was from Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis inviting him to a Caps game. Leonsis was apparently surfing the ‘net looking for info about his team, and stumbled upon McErlain’s hockey blog, offwingopinion.com. Not only did Leonsis take him to the game, Eric got to spend time in the owner’s suite with the big man himself. Needlessly, the whole thing played out on Eric’s website, and the episode highlighted what will be the next wave for sports of all kinds & at all levels: to use the ever-expanding world of new media. I think I’m safe in saying that Leonsis is a pretty savvy businessman and saw a good opportunity to reach out and connect with real fans, and it was a win for everyone. Not everything’s roses and sunshine though. You may have read that this year has been particularly hard for tennis bloggers and Internet press with the ATP (if not, go here or here for a quick and dirty 411). As we all know, tennis is undergoing some major overhauls, so let’s hope they remedy this deficiency pronto.
Alright, enough chatter about that.
In the morning I got the injury pull list. If you read my blog, Off the Baseline, you’ve seen it already. If not, you can go check it out. The X-dudes were good enough to pull it into this site almost as soon as I posted it. Not to veer off into the blog world again, but they’re pretty good about keeping up with blogs and tennis news in general. In fact, they’re probably the best at it on the ‘net, but you obviously know that because, well, here you are. Anyway, all told, I wasn’t surprised about anyone except maybe Fabrice Santoro. Mostly I’m just bummed about it because I was looking forward to seeing the Magician play in person. C’est la vie.
I know I’m going to sound alot like Tursunov now, but I also had an experience with the drivers this morning. A bunch of my friends are off at a birthday party (Happy Birthday David!) at the shore today, so I was flying solo — meaning, no ride. I headed up to catch the shuttle over to the Creek from the Van Ness Metro. The first day of an event is always crazy and the new staff people are trying to figure out what’s going on, but the shuttle drivers are beyond ridiculous. The guy on the way to the tourney blew past the entrance without even knowing it. I was in the front listening to my iPod and kind of spacing out, but figured it out right away. I managed to direct him back over to the event and not make him look like a jackass in front of the other passengers. The driver was very sweet and embarassed, so no biggie I guess. It just took longer. The guy on the way back must have forgotten that he wasn’t going to the other shuttle drop and drove us on a tour of beautiful Chevy Chase before getting us back to Van Ness. That wouldn’t have been so bad had I not been hungry and kind of tired. I won’t be on the shuttle for the rest of the week thankfully, and since I schooled up at least one driver, I feel like I’ve made my contribution.
When I walked into the site, I saw a cluster of people hanging out by the first court (court #10 if you play there), so I banged a left to check it out. Brad Gilbert and Andy Murray were going through some volley drills. I actually don’t know if this is the first time they’ve worked out together, but it’s definitely got to be one of the first. Gilbert was pretty funny. He walks around with a cardboard box full of balls and talks non-stop. After volleys they did some overheads and then serves and Murray got quizzed by his coach, “Djokovic. First serve. Where’s it going? How fast? Rusedski. Second serve. Where’s it going? How fast?” I don’t know if Gilbert got the news that Rusedski pulled and Djokovic was never in the cards. Hmmm. A guy next to me asked Gilbert about his son Zach, and he put on a proud papa smile and said, “He’s doing great. He’s down at Bolliterri’s. He thinks his old man is nuts though.” His son’s obviously a Rhoades Scholar. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, it was about 11:30am, so Murray’s still pretty much working out at the crack of noon. I heard that Tim Henman was on-site at around 9am, and we all know that Tiger Tim knows a little something about being UK Numero Uno.
So I walked around for a while and saw top seed Nathan Hanley dive to fellow Aussie Sadik Kadir. Later I saw Andy Ram lose to a great young Indian player named Sunil Kumar Sipaeya. The kid acted like it was the biggest win of his life, and was walking around the site with a bounce and a big smile. He played a great match and I hope we haven’t seen the last of him. They switched UVA’s Huey Treat from the Grandstand into the Stadium, which was nice, and the crowd was happy to see a local-ish kid win.
A little while later I found myself over under the shade near court one again, watching Lleyton Hewitt hitting with Roger Rasheed. Maybe it’s my issue, but I don’t think pasty white dudes should take their shirts off in public, no matter how cut or famous they are. He still managed to get some squeals from the ball girls though. Fifteen feet away on the other practice court, Paradorn Srichipan was warming up with Kenneth Carlsen, so I was walking back and forth between them.
Srichipan is a guy who definitely can get away with the no shirt thing. DC has a ginormous Thai population who comes out for him every year. The Thai Tennis Organization in America (TTOA) has their own seating section and they bring giant red clappers to cheer on their man. They’re totally hilarious. One girl has a very distinct “We love you Para-dorn!” cheer that echoes the tournament week as a nice meta and brings smiles without fail (well, at least until the 123rd or 124th time). Let’s also not forget that Singha Beer sponsors the women’s side of this tournament, a $75k USTA Pro Circuit event, which debuted last year. Big up’s for Thai tennis. Respeck.
Srichipan had to do a tennis clinic out at the Asian Festival in Reston at 4pm, and I saw him around 2pm. I hope he didn’t get one of my shuttle drivers or he would have wound up in Baltimore. Make no mistake that he was keeping an eye on Hewitt when he had a chance, particularly when he was waiting as Carlsen stretched mid-hitting session on a fluffy hotel towel for about 10 minutes. Hewitt and Srichipan both left the courts at roughly the same time, and while Lleyton got bum rushed and had security walk him back to the locker room, Srichipan just signed a couple ‘graphs and was out. I’m sure he knows his real fans were out in the V-A. Then again, Janko Tipsarevic was on the court next to Srichipan with no one watching him besides me and one other guy who may have just liked his forehand.
Other than that, Jan-Michael Gambill got through his first round match after a little hiccup in the first, 7-5, 6-1 which was good. I only caught the end of it since I was over at the practice courts. It’s pretty crazy to think that someone who had a career high at Number 14 is now at Number 393 and playing qualies — and isn’t even seeded in said qualie. DC was lucky for Andre Agassi when he was counted among the unlucky, and with his retirement, maybe some of that luck will rub off on Jan-Mike.
I took off after the first round due to extreme hunger and tiredness, thoughts of a sandwich from my favorite French cafe, and to watch the semis at Stanford. A bunch of my friends are coming tomorrow and we’re all hoping to see Feliciano Lopez or Marat Safin hit around without a shirt on. And when I say “everyone”, I mean the ladies and maybe one of my dude friends (the jury is still out). Everyone in DC is still buzzing about whether Andy Roddick will be fit to play. He has until Monday to pull out, and since he’s defending champion, let’s hope he’s ok. Last year A-Rod hit in the mid-day with James Blake on the second day of the qualies. We’ll take some shirtless Blake brothers tomorrow. We’re really not picky.
That’s the thing about DC. It’s hot, but with the heat, the players go topless. But let’s hope Murray doesn’t dial-in on that. ((shiver))
P.S. They just posted the draws as I was writing this. Check ‘em out!
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