The past couple of days have been very busy with the quarters and the semis seemingly back to back. I actually slept until 11am this morning, which felt good, but was very confusing when I got up. I’m usually a crack-of-dawn kind of girl. I’ll probably skip a lot since my note taking has been spotty. I opted not to take my laptop to the tournament, which I think was a good idea for my back, but probably a bad thing for readers. If I do this again, I could be convinced to tote my laptop, but only if properly goaded.
Let me start off by getting something out of the way: How great is the Arnaud Clement – Andy Murray final going to be for TV ratings? I don’t think the USTA counted on the only American in the final being Brad Gilbert. I was joking that when James Blake got knocked out that they should pull all the ads down around town and put up pictures of players like Wesley Moodie, Dmitry Tursunov, and Andrea Stoppini. I was clearly joking, but damned if I wasn’t right.
Friday’s first match between Lleyton Hewitt and Arnaud Clement was absolutely stunning and totally surprising. Hewitt doesn’t take well to the heat, despite having won here a couple of years ago… Then again, that year most of the big name players were at the Olympics. But I digress. Clement plays very good, consistent tennis, and I was surprised to see a Frenchman be so good on hard courts. He claims it’s his best surface, and I believe him. Arnaud also played very well against Marat Safin today, with both Safin and Murray noting how well he serves for being such a short guy. That is absolutely true, he’s got placement, and he used that to land some 124mph spinners today on Marat.
The Murray match against Mardy Fish was quite another story. Andy just completely dictated everything, despite the fact that the Fish had the crowd clearly behind him. At one point Murray got scolded by the chair because he took a hard dive on the court and cut his leg. He kept asking the ball girl to give him the towel, which was covered in his blood, and clearly against the rules for her to touch. Murray should probably know better but kept looking at the chair like he was crazy, and the ball girl had no clue so she just kept keepin’ on. The other interesting thing is that Murray seems to be shying away from the outright claim that Gilbert is improving his game. Tonight after his pummeling of Tursunov he said that Gilbert hasn’t really changed his game at all, he’s just been helping him tactically, and he said that at least one other time too. He also said that it’s only been a few days, kinda like, ‘I’m giving it time…’
I was pretty hopeful that Safin was going to take it all. I’ve actually been kind of hanging out with the Maeso’s the past few days. Miguel’s not really a tennis player himself, in fact I doubt he can even hit the ball, so Safin worked out with Igor Kunitsyn a bit. Igor’s been playing doubles with Dima, and had to play last night after Dima’s quarter with Tim Henman. Safin played a great match against Wes Moodie, and this is clearly the best he’s played in a year. He was pretty hard on himself out there today though, and got a warning from the chair when he knocked a ball out of the stadium after he lost the break in the second set. It wasn’t enough against Arnaud today, but to his credit he took down the Number 1 seed and played a great tournament. Vamos Marat! Bueno suerte en Toronto!
I ran over to see the last one and a half service games of the Tursunov-Henman quarterfinal match after the Safin-Moodie quarter, and Tim looked like he wanted to just give up. Tursunov was completely outplaying him, with his super fast hard slapping balls. Tim blew out of the Grandstand pretty fast, and later said he felt like a spectator in the match rather than a player. Poor Tim!
Dima put a beat down on himself tonight in the semis, and if you saw it on The Tennis Channel you might agree that he blew the second set himself rather than Murray taking it away from him. What you didn’t see was that Dima’s coach was goofing around and putting the fan of the Geico Gekko up to his face during the change-over at 3-2 during the second set. Dima was cracking up and giggling, so the coach did it like 3 more times. Right after the first time, Tursunov came out and took the break from Murray to go up 4-2. You saw how it ended, but after the match I told Igor to go chill out his boy since they then had to play their semi against the Bryan Brothers, which is never easy.
On the women’s side I caught the pummeling of Nicole Bratt… erm, Pratt today by the Israeli woman Tzipora Obziler, who put a stop to top seed Severine Bremond. I will clarify the ‘brat’ thing: She kept whining that she was getting “hooked on calls,” which she clearly wasn’t. Finally on a change-over in the second, when she was finally up, she went over and smashed her racquet on the side of the umpire’s chair and rightfully received a racquet violation. Genius that she is then she continued to piss and moan while a bunch of people shouted “Shut up!!” Obziler will meet Camille Pin in the final.
Besides running around to different matches and thoroughly enjoying myself, which is my “official assignment” here at the tournament, I’ve also been wandering around into some of the places I’ve never been before. The Media Center is one, since I’ve never had a reason. It’s basically like any other filing center, if you’ve ever been to one, save for the fact that they have the interview room for press availabilities in the back. For me it’s been a great supply of Diet Cokes, and has quenched my thirst thoroughly. The odd thing is that I usually despise soda, but I’m not picky when it’s hot outside and they’re free and cold. A little while after the match is over, the player will trot in there and do their five to ten minutes with the press corps, who ask inane questions in an opportunity to draft their one decent quote into the story. It’s all very ridiculous but very necessary, otherwise people like me would have nothing to read and the sports page would be empty. I have been tempted to ask questions like, “If you were on a reality show, which one would it be?” or “What’s your favorite beer?” But instead I just get bored and leave. If you live in the Washington area and have Comcast Digital Cable, you can also watch the press conference on-demand, which is kind of cool and you can judge the utter inaneness for yourself.
As you probably read in the “News, Notes, Quotes and Barbs” section the other day, my blog was in The Washington Post’s Express section the other day. Good to know that even an esteemed rag like the Post isn’t above taking a little bribe (joke). I think the woman who runs the file must have gotten it in her clips and then read my smack talk on Vince Spadea because yesterday she slipped me a copy of his new book, saying that it was sent over by Vince’s publicist. We pretty much read the whole thing cover to cover during the change-over, and I can assure you it’s gripping. If Spadea needs a producer for his version of Entourage meets Arlis meets Da Ali G Show, give me a shout.
I’ve also been walking around talking to people. Some I shouldn’t mention, like the person in the French players camp who told me that the tournament has been sending players over to Les Halles, and they weren’t entirely thrilled with it. I don’t know what they could do though, since the meal was probably free, and you can’t expect the best Parisian food in DC. As I said, now if they had simply asked me where to go… Anyway, James Blake, Mardy Fish, and Scott Humphries went one night, and I guess Ramon Delgado and Rick Leach headed over later that same night. Mardy and Scott must have really liked it because they went back on Thursday night with the Bryans.
And speaking of which, I neglected to mention the little bowling excursion on Monday night. James, Mardy and the Bryan brothers slipped away from the fray and bowled three games at Lucky Strike in Gallery Place. Fish was the best bowler of the bunch, averaging 151. Blake averaged 129, Mike Bryan had 109 and Bob Bryan bowled about a 102. They should probably stick to the sticks.
I also ran into the blogging ball kid today in the Media Center and he got to sit in on the Murray press conference. He didn’t seem thrilled, but he seemed like a nice kid. I told him that people are talking about his blog. I have no idea if that’s true, but I know that I read it, and at least one of my friends did too, so that’s not a complete untruth.
On my way out tonight I stopped in on the racquet stringing place and talked with the guy a bit. Kenneth Carlsen was by far their biggest customer. Carlsen usually had 4-5 sticks strung up before each match. Paradorn Srichapan was next on the list, then Vince Spadea, then James Blake. The lightest customer seemed to have been Dima, who carries his own brand new racquets around with him, which seemed surprising to me given that he was playing both doubles and singles. It costs $25 per racquet, but the players bring their own strings, so that seems pretty reasonable. The players run a little tab with the tournament for stringing and laundry. I’ve seen the carts go by with the laundry in it, so I’m assuming they do it off-site. Murray came into the Media Center with his laundry tonight and dumped it next to me on the floor before he went back to talk to the reporters, so I can attest to the fact that it’s probably way cheaper than the hotel.
Alright, one question today, so let’s get to it:
Q: bet you had a great time at the safin match! looking forward to your report. someone said they were at the match and afterwards, safin played with some kids on court? did you catch that? any pictures of that? sounds very nice of him. sounds like he is getting back to top form and obviously really happy about it!!
A: Hi Jane, yes, they did do a little hit with the fans but I didn’t take any snaps. I know there was a photo on the court, so if I find some, I’ll toss them in with the rest of my pictures. The hit with fans is a staple at the tournament every year that they do in between the evening matches. It’s emceed by Wayne Bryan, with the match winner, from the quarterfinals on if memory serves. The event was a little hitting match with Marat where the contestant had to return the ball in increments of 1, 2, 3, and 4. A little girl won who had a pretty mean backhand, and actually returned above the requisite number of balls, getting 5 in.
Last year my buddies “the idiot twins” showed up in the Courtside Club with a woman who got to take part in the hit. She was in town for some training seminar in her new job “selling lubricants” (her words, not mine). Anyway, the tournament picked her out of the crowd ahead of time because she was wearing tennis shoes, which seems to be the key. This year they didn’t have the foresight to get people out of the crowd and just solicited volunteers off the sidelines. I’m not sure what the prizes were this year beyond the picture with Safin, but I know she got some stuff from Tiffanys. So, word kids: wear your tennis shoes!
I should also mention that the coin toss for the match between Moodie and Marat was done by some returning veterans of the war in Iraq, who obviously received a standing ovation. Moodie was unfortunately on the other side of the net, and had to run over for the picture, and Marat was the first one to run over and shake their hands and was very gentlemanly.
Also, after today’s afternoon match, Arnaud Clement received the Raymond Weil 2006 Award for Sportsmanship, which was very nice, and I’m sure he’ll enjoy his new fancy watch. Felicitations Arnaud.
Tomorrow’s the final, and I am assuming that they will do a moment of silence for Ambassador Fitzgerald, the stadium’s namesake before official play. Fitz passed on this year at the tender age of 96, and did a lot for the game of tennis, for the District of Columbia and our amazing local tennis programs, and for our country as Ambassador to Ireland. I wrote a little something about him earlier this year, which you can read here.
Speaking of DC tennis legends, I heard that The Tennis Channel had the good sense to do an interview with Donald Dell tonight. If you’re not familiar with him, Dell is the head of SFX, who runs this tournament. He started the company as ProServ with some dude named Arthur something…(wasshisname? Ashe maybe?) as his first client and longtime friend. Anyway, I guess Dell knows a little sumptin’ about the sport, or so I’m told. Seriously, props to Mr. Dell for keeping tennis alive in Washington, and for starting this tournament.
(Btw Donnie, I’d like to have a word about that whole failed deal of taking over the Acura Classic and bringing it to DC… We’ll talk.)
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