As I was watching the mano y mano between Spaniard countrymen Juan Carlos Ferrero and Tommy Robredo in the grandstand yesterday, I overheard someone nearby say, “The stadium’s got the names, but out here, we got the games!”
That is a totally accurate portrait of how the Legg Mason has been unfolding this year.
Large crowds are packing the outer court stands to cheer on elder statesman of the sport like former world #1′s Ferrero and Lleyton Hewitt taking on seeds in matches that are tests of endurance as much as skill. At the same time, we’re witnessing some young American guys like Wayne Odesnik and John Isner, plus French qualie Sebastien De Chaunac, dropping seeds in tough three-setters to put together their W’s.
D.C. plays host to a well-run tournament that feels both large and small at the same time. The big names draw both a vocal and earnest local tennis crowd, like yesterday’s cheer-off between Israeli and Aussie fans, but the venue is small enough that a lot of the players come out of the locker room to watch the matches on the outer courts and mingle in with the crowd. Though oftentimes they watch from behind the windscreens, other times they actually sit in the stands, like Robredo, who was sitting in the grandstand the other night watching Ferrero take on Nicolas Lapentti. Dudi Sela watched a good portion of the match between his buddy Andy Ram and Max Mirnyi against Mark Knowles and Mahesh Bhupathi, while Ram reciprocated by sitting in the stands last night watching Dudi take on Lleyton Hewitt.
The crowds this year have been best ever too. In previous years, during the Andre Agassi era, tennis fans packed the stadium and left when the match was over. The mantle of top-dog in D.C. has been handed to Andy Roddick, but many people didn’t leave after his 55-minute drubbing of Benjamin Becker, and instead jammed the outer courts to capacity.
That’s not to say that the FitzGerald Tennis Stadium is some hulking behemoth either. It’s actually 2,500 seats smaller than Indianapolis, which hosts an ATP 250 event, and you’re really hard-pressed to find a bad seat in the house. I know quite a few Washingtonians who could easily spring for a box or even a suite, who are content with their view in the upper-decks.
While Isner and De Chaunac, Hewitt, and Ferrero, will all play their matches in the 7,500 seat stadium tonight, Odesnik will play out his match against fourth seeded Fernando Gonzalez in the grandstand. They’ll be joined on the outer courts by big man Ivo Karlovic taking on local fave Somdev Devvarman; Phillip Petzschner, who took out Mardy Fish last night to create a match-up against eigth seeded Tomas Berdych; and fifth seed Robin Soderling against Marc Gicquel, who got through on a walk-over after last year’s finalist, Viktor Troicki, was forced to retire with a foot injury.
As we head to the quarters, and even higher-quality, it doesn’t matter where you see it, as long as you can get a seat. If you’re able to get into the grandstand, the top tier offers a great view of the court next door. Barring that, if you don’t want to watch through the windscreen, a trip up to the balcony on the south side of the stadium offers a limited view of both the grandstand and court #2. And there are tables and chairs up there, if you’re just interested in enjoying your dinner while you take in the action.
Though the weather has been (untraditionally) stellar all week, off and on showers may cause some play disruption today. Adding to this will be transportation issues: Grass-covered Parking Lot B is National Park Service land and must be closed down if it rains, forcing many people to use off-site parking and shuttle buses.
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