I have attended multiple professional tennis events as a fan, but at Cincinnati 2009 and Indianapolis 2008 and 2009 I was able to attend with media credentials. I think it is important to shed light on the effort that under girds these events and makes a sport we all enjoy possible. Tennis tournaments also provide an opportunity to appreciate the brilliant eccentricities of human behavior (I don’t just mean the guy juggling while walking on stilts at Cincinnati either).
Tennis tournaments are not like a seasonal sport that stretches over several months. Outside of select events, the tour comes to town for roughly 10 days, if the qualifying draw is included, puts on singles and doubles matches and then leaves. Sports with defined seasons can anticipate various needs and have a staff on hand to meet those needs. Tennis tournaments have a fleeting existence in a given city, and players may be eliminated in a single day. Imagine if media members from Cyprus were following Marcos Baghdatis in 2006 and expected a long stay at an event only to see him bounced in a first round upset. The end result might be a less crowded press box, and the Greek translator gets to go home early. Tennis tournaments have to be flexible as they are more like putting on a carnival than putting on a series of home games over 4 months time. This all necessitates a lot of sustained volunteerism to pull off an event.
At Indianapolis and Cincinnati many volunteers served as security guards, ushers and concession workers. Girl Scouts sold draw sheets at Cincinnati while Boy Scouts collected recyclables and trash at Indianapolis. One of Tennis-X’s own readers gave up vacation time and volunteered at the women’s and men’s events to help Cincinnati put on the back-to-back tournaments. Many tennis players in the greater Cincinnati area volunteer to drive players to and from the airport as they arrive and leave. Various groups give time in order to raise funds for a given cause. At Cincinnati, I talked to food service volunteers raising money for building a school in Kenya. At Indianapolis, another set of food service workers were raising money to pay for the physical therapy needs of people who suffered serious brain injuries. The Andy Roddick Foundation had a booth at the Cincinnati event raising money to be distributed to organizations dedicated to helping children and to promoting fitness through youth tennis.
The throng of volunteers present at both Cincinnati and Indianapolis is best epitomized to me by Bud and Norinne Werner who have manned a booth at the Cincinnati event for fourteen years raising money for the Tim & Tom Gullikson Family Support Fund at the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. At the booth, rackets autographed by Pete Sampras, Roger Federer, Venus Williams and Serena Williams were raffled off this year. Shirts, hats and posters are also sold to raise money for the fund. For full disclosure, I bought a hat this year, and have never won the raffle. Volunteers provide all of the labor and the items are donated, so 100% of proceeds are put forth to support a worthy cause. The Werner’s do this every year because they have known Tim and Tom Gullikson since Tim had a connection to the Kettering Tennis Center in Kettering, Ohio. These efforts helped fund 249 scholarships during the 2008-09 academic year for children who lost a parent to brain cancer. I know every volunteer has a story at these events, but I think the story of how the Werner’s have honored and continue to honor the memory of a friend is one that needs to be shared.
I grew up going to the King’s Island amusement park most summers, but I still find it odd that the Cincinnati tournaments takes place with a 1/3 scale facsimile of the Eiffel Tower across the street.
A fan may not get to see the press facilities at these events, but I would like to share a few oddities I encountered at both Cincinnati and Indianapolis:
1. The Indianapolis press facilities are underneath the stands and feel distinctly like entering a somewhat creepy labyrinth.
2. At Indianapolis, I could drink all of the bottled water my body could handle, but Cincinnati asked that we preserve bottled water for photographers working courtside. Cincinnati offered free cookies to the media so it all evened out.
3. The Cincinnati interview room is the size of a small office due to the construction of the women’s lockers. It felt like players were entering a confessional more so than an interview room.
4. I heard a media member mention that their dog only eats barbequed ribs.
5. At both events, The ATP handlers make sure an Evian bottle is in plain sight with its logo facing the video equipment prior to the start of each interview.
6. As I mentioned previously, the sound check before broadcasting consisted of a mind-numbingly boring job of a camera crew member standing in front of microphones clapping slowly from various angles to see how much sound registered.
7. Jon Wertheim went on a sandwich run for several people, including me, sitting near him in the press box.
8. My press credentials in Cincinnati had a picture of me that was so grainy at best a person seeing it could say “male, ages 18-80, ethnicity indeterminate.”
9. The pizza being sold at Cincinnati for $4 per slice or $24 per whole pizza can be bought this week in Ohio for $5 for an entire pizza due to a back to school promotion. I now see the power of monopolies…
10. A team in the press box was doing biomechanical skeletal studies on tennis technique by triangulating three recordings of the same swing. I saw an animated skeleton hit a forehand and could tell it was Roger Federer’s swing. Federer has a smooth swing even looking like a Ray Harryhausen skeleton from Clash of the Titans.
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