First things first. I need to make a retraction on something: I was totally wrong about the heat. The heat is here, and the week is only going to get hotter. Ack! As I’m writing this it’s just after 8am. The temperature is 86 degress, but the weatherman is saying it “feels” like 94 (What is with that anyway? Do they have a special meterological ‘feel-o-meter’ or something?). Humidity is at 70 percent, which hangs like a damp mist in the air, and immediately turns your clothes and your person into a soaking wet mess. They’re calling for Code Orange today through Thursday, with temps over 100 — plus humidity. Gawd help us all.
By now you’ve heard the big news about Andy Roddick. They popped up Lleyton Hewitt to play the Wednesday night feature match against either Vince Spadea or Roko Karanusic from Croatia. So much for keeping Spadea away from the suburbanites. I hope he starts rapping on court and gives us a show. And speaking of Croats, I realized Sunday night that Ivo Karlovic slipped out of the tournament, but he wasn’t on the withdrawl list. I was looking forward to the big man’s 140mph swerve. Last year during the quarterfinal against Roddick he opened up with a 137mph ace. I was right behind the baseline and told Roddick to watch out for the big man. Then Mr. Andy Ham pushed one of the line judges up to the line and played a peek-a-boo game, much to the crowd’s delight. So much for that this year… We’ll miss them both. Boo hoo.
I got to the venue around 6pm last night and loaded up on the necessary pre-match swag: a couple of little fans, a foam seat cushion, and some drinks. I caught a lot (courtesy of Word Police America) of the Sam Querrey-Wes Moodie match. They went to a tiebreak in the second and Querrey saved a match point, but then lost it on his own serve. Ah well. He’s playing doubles with Scott Oudsema today at 4pm in the stadium against Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram, which I may or may not get a chance to see depending on how my late-day work schedule goes. I forgot to mention in my post yesterday that I saw Erlich and Ram working out the other day. I’m sure I forgot about ten other players I saw though all things told, since Sunday was such a packed spectacle. I cannot stress how great the qualifier rounds are. Your generally less than $10 ticket gets you up close to the pros, and you get to see some terrific up-and-comers to boot. What could be better?
I realize that I’ve been talking a lot about the singles draw, but you should also check out the doubles teams here — we’ve got some great ones this year. Which reminds me: there are a few changes beyond the introduction of Hawk-Eye this year, the most noticeable for me was the lack of doubles matches in the evening. Presumably in an effort to get fans to stick around for the late-night match, they’re putting singles matches up in the stadium after the big night show. In the past, and for as long as I can remember, they’d have the big singles match of the evening, followed by a doubles match. I don’t think I have to tell anyone that the place went ghost town for doubles, save for the few of us who hung around for the first change-over and to avoid the rush to the exit. Given that Marat Safin-Igor Kunitsyn went until almost 11pm last night, Paul Golstein and Andrea Stoppini must have kept the place open until like 1am. I only watched the warm-up, waited until the parking area was clear, and scooted. They still have the same problem with people bailing that they did for doubles, so the only advantage is probably that it’s cooler for the players. James Blake has to play the late-night tonight, against Kevin Kim, so we’ll see if people will stick around for that. I guess we’ll also see if they put the Bryan brothers in the stadium on Wednesday when they put out the schedule tonight.
I watched the first set of the Phillip King-Bobby Reynolds match, which went to a tiebreak, and then walked up to the press box in the tippie-top of the stadium. As you probably know, King came in as a qualie. I watched his matches and I’ve seen him play before. He’s got a great game, but life has got to be rough for a guy like that. He’s 24 years old, his career prize money is less than $100k, and his career high was in 2000 — when he was Number 286 in the world. Gawd bless him.
The press box intrigued me only because a) I’ve never been up there, and b) I’ve always wanted to see Charlie Brotman at work during the tournament. If you’ve ever been to Legg Mason, he’s the “Thank.You.” guy, the one who does the announcing. He is a Washington fixture. In fact, his public relations company handles the tournament. Brotman is the CEO, and he loves to sit behind the mic; which while a little unusual, is also pretty nice. I guess that sums up Charlie Brotman though. CNN did a nice bio piece on him a few years ago, and you can check it out here. He’s got to be approaching 80 now. Gawd bless him too.
From up on high you can also see all the back courts, which is pretty cool. I saw the first set tiebreak between Justin Gimelstob and Ryan Sweeting from up high. Sweeting has a really great forehand and a powerful serve. I know he’s 19, but he looks like he’s 14. A tall 14 mind you, he’s 6-foot 4. I’m sure he hasn’t hit his growth spurt yet.
Right around this time is when Feliciano Lopez was hitting on the next court over, and I send my apologies to all the ladies for not getting pictures. I actually didn’t know he was there, and I know I’ve let the girls down. But fear not! He should start playing on Wednesday, so there’s time. I also missed Andy Roddick doing his hit, and for that I’m glad. I heard that he looked like he was still in a lot of pain.
Around this time I grabbed a drink in the Courtside Club. This is the courtesy for box seat holders, and has undergone a variety of different incarnations over the years from the plush to the sparse. This year is sparse. So sparse, in fact, that there’s no fabric or anything covering the windows. Yes, there are windows, so it’s like being in a giant fishbowl that separates the haves from the have-nots. The fishbowl-effect has its advantages though, including the 60+ year old couple that ran inside and sat down next to me on the couch when the girl at the door wasn’t at her post. They were really hot and sweaty, so I kind of felt bad for them. They have flat-panel TV’s set up in there, which shows the scores on all the courts. The man remarked that it was ‘so cool and nice and comfy that if they were only showing the matches on the TV, he would never leave’. Yea, I’m sure you’d be alone in there pops.
The Safin-Kunitsyn match was pretty predictable. He’s pretty funny to watch. I have a thing about how the ball kids throw player’s towels down on the ground. To me, that is just so gross. You’re then wiping yourself off with a towel that’s been in the dirt. Safin was very specific with the ball kids that he wanted the towel up on the scoreboard, but followed up his request with a polite ‘thank you’. He’s also pretty nice about hitting the ball back to the ball kids, which is something Roger Federer also does, owing to the fact that the Fed-man was once a ball kid. I’m not sure about Marat. Anyone know?
Since it was the first night of the tournament, people are intrigued with seeing Hawk-Eye live and in action. Sometimes you even hear a little chant of “Chall-enge, chall-enge!” It’s good from the perspective that it gets the fans into the match, but it’s also so not cool since the players seem to rely on what the fans are telling them. I guess it’s ok for the young guys like Kunitsyn who don’t have a traveling coach to look to like a guy like Safin does. In fact, it kind of saved Kunitsyn’s tuchas at 4-2 in the first set. Safin was on serve at 40-15, Kunitsyn used a successful challenge to stay in the game and got to deuce. Unfortunately he lost, but it helped him stick in there. For Safin’s part, he looked over to the box for guidance on at least one call.
After the match I talked with Miguel Maeso and his family for a while. Miguel is traveling with Marat, with his wife and son, and runs the tournament in Valencia, Spain. My English is about as good as his Spanish, but with his son serving as partial-translator, we managed pretty well. They couldn’t believe how hot it was in the States and talked about how it was bad at every stop, and then when they leave it seems to cool off. After this week Miguel goes back to Valencia and Amit Naor and Peter Lundgren will join up with Marat in Toronto. They were very sweet people, and I’m sure they’re having a miserable time in America, but I have some great Spanish restaurant recommendations for them at least.
What else? I didn’t get to see any of the women’s matches. Top seed Severine Bremond got knocked out, which really sucks since I was looking forward to seeing her play. Tamarine Tanasugarn and Nicole Pratt are both playing today, not against each other, so maybe I’ll get to see one of them. With so many great matches it’s tough to pick, believe me. I’ve never been to the early rounds of a Slam, but I imagine it’s pretty much the same — but worse.
I’ll leave you with the answers to a couple of the questions posted.
Q: Just wondering…when do players usually show to practice during the week?
A: Well, in this heat, I’ve heard that some people are going to the stadium in the morning, which sucks for you, since you can’t get in. But if you read above, Feli and Andy were there in the evening, so you do what you can.
Q: You speak of Andy and James heading out after their final – any ideas where that hot spot was?
A: Absolutely. It was Mate in Georgetown, down on K Street. I think it was right after the place opened actually. Keep in mind that Andy is managed by SFX in DC, and they also run the Legg Mason. Needlessly, the boys were getting recommendations from folks who are locals like me who know all the hot spots. The industries in DC are tourism and politics, and we know how to take care of both of those things here quite well, thank you.
There are still some nose-bleeder tickets available for tonight’s matches to see Agassi and Blake. Need I say more?
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