The semifinal action at the Indianapolis Tennis Championships was intense. Both matches went a full 3 sets and a rain shower or two was dodged along the way. My first impression of the Indianapolis event was that the entire atmosphere is laid back and welcoming. I attended this event as a fan in 2001 but did not make a great effort then to soak in the surroundings. For those who have never attended a live ATP Tour event Indianapolis has the regular festival atmosphere filled with booths and various activities that give fans something to do in between match play.
Life in press row is not half bad either. Free bottles of water, an indoor work station and of course an exceptionally close view of the action was available to me as I spent my first day as the member of the press corps at a tennis event. I do not want to paint the tennis tour as something akin to a Grateful Dead Tour, but I do think a book could be written on the tennis subculture by interviewing fans who travel from near and far to the events, getting an inside scoop from vendors and tournament volunteers, and cataloguing the unexpected quirks that emerge during tournaments. From my brief interactions with the tournament volunteers, it strikes me that many untold stories are out there for an industrious ethnographer to catalogue.
Gilles Simon d. Sam Querrey 6-3, 4-6, 6-4
The hot and humid weather was a factor in this match. Second seed Gilles Simon defeated Sam Querrey 6-3, 4-6, 6-4. It looked to be a quick match with an inconsistent Querrey falling behind 4-0 in the first set. Big Sam got 1 break back, but still lost the set 6-3. Simon jumped to a 4-2 second set lead, and the match looked to be over before Querrey won 4 consecutive games to set up a decisive 3rd set. The humidity seemed to get the better of Querrey due to the fact that he hunched over in exhaustion both after points he lost and after points he won. Simon impressed me with his toughness as he saved 16 break points, but self admittedly did not play great tennis. At 4-4 Simon fell behind 0-40 despite Querrey looking as though he was suffering from heat exhaustion. Simon mastered his nerves and held serve. Serving at 4-5 Querrey was barely able to break 90 mph on his 1st serve. The match ended quickly.
Querrey can leave this match knowing that conditioning is a key to him moving up in the game. At 6’6” he also looks awkward at the net even on put away shots after a big serve or big forehand. Sam failed to put away a routine overhead when Simon was serving down a break point in the 3rd set. Simon said in the post-match interview that he knew he did not play great, but that he will remember a match like this “for a long time” as a reminder of how to fight through poor play. Simon also noted that he was aware of how tired Querrey was and that he just wanted to “make him move.”
Dmitry Tursunov d. James Blake 4-6, 6-3, 6-4
Weather played a different role in this match. Blake looked imposing in the 1st set as he jumped on 2nd serves and was aggressive throughout. To see the power Blake generates with his forehand up close was a real treat. Tursunov also has an ability to crank his forehand and serve. This match had more of a heavy weight feel to it than did the first semifinal. Blake led 6-4, 1-2 40-15 when a rain delay hit. Tursunov had not played poorly to this point, but Blake was not giving him any room to impose his will on the match. That changed after the rain delay. Blake’s first serve percentage was 40% in the first set and 38% in the second set. Tursunov took better advantage of this and got some deep returns to Blake’s backhand and broke serve to take a 5-3 lead after missing an opportunity to make a similar dent when Blake was serving at 2-3. Dmitry held at deuce to level the match by winning the 2nd set 6-3.
Tursunov took advantage of 3 second serves and grabbed an early break in the 3rd set. The defending champion toweled off after every point in the 3rd set in a smart move to maintain composure. Blake broke back to level the set at 3-3 giving the partisan crowd some optimism, but he then proceeded to miss 7 first serves and was broken in the next game. At 3-3 deuce, Blake double faulted and Tursunov then made sure to return to Blake’s backhand and reclaim a break lead in the 3rd set. Each man then held serve routinely. This left Tursunov serving for the match at 5-4. The final game brought out the best in both men. Tursunov got a 15-0 lead by crushing a forehand. Blake hit two forehand winners en route to earning a break point at 30-40. Tursunov played an intelligent and aggressive point that moved Blake from side to side as Dmitry took the net and put a tricky forehand volley away under pressure. The next two points saw Tursunov hit heavy ground strokes into Blake’s backhand wing to end the match.
Blake and Tursunov: Post Match Interviews
I was surprised to see James Blake sitting down when I entered the interview room less than 1 minute after the match ended. To lose a match and be expected to comment upon it intelligently so quickly thereafter was an inside aspect of tournament play that I was unaware of before today. Blake did not say much and was visibly unhappy with his performance. He repeatedly said he had no idea what went wrong with his first serve, 44% for the match, but he also acknowledged that sometimes a stroke just does not work. While he did not say much, I was impressed that he was able to comment at all so shortly after a tough match.
Tursunov entered the interview room in a decidedly different mood. He explained that his level of play did not change much after the rain, but he said he noticed that Blake’s level of play had dropped. Tursunov expressed belief that his form had improved as the tournament had moved forward and that he was not superstitious enough to eat at the same places he did last year when he won the title. He jokingly noted that some players on tour are a little crazy when it comes to superstitions. I asked Tursunov about what he was thinking when hitting the winning volley he made at 5-4, 30-40 in the 3rd set. He smiled and joked that he could not really say what was on his mind because it was too vulgar for TV cameras, but then made a point that I think players at every level can take as a lesson. He said most of that sort of stress is “self-inflicted pressure.”
Dmitry Tursunov struck me as a humorous and intelligent guy in his interview. Gilles Simon played gutsy tennis in not allowing the 6-3, 4-2 lead that he lost to derail his chances at victory. Both finalists overcame tough opponents, less than ideal elements and missed opportunities. Dmitry Tursunov may not be 6’6”, but his power gives him an edge in the championship match. His conditioning is also unlikely to fade. Still, Simon has shown resolve in his wins over Tommy Haas and Sam Querrey. I think Simon has a chance to win due to his tenacity, but Tursunov has a 60-70% chance of repeating as champion in Indianapolis.
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