As I approached the grounds of the William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center in Washington, DC, I was surprised to see the parking grounds almost full. And it was only noon. The first day of qualifying was already underway, but I didn’t expect such a turn-out. Then I remembered. Not only were three locals in the draw, teenagers Denis Kudla and Junior Ore, as well as UVA alum Michael Shabaz, but it was also Kid’s Day, moonbounces and all.
The weather was near perfection, warm with partly cloudy skies. But the courts were a different story. They felt least 40 degrees warmer. Each player that stepped off the court was drenched in sweat and even the surprisingly dry heat wasn’t cool enough for these pros. Enough about the weather, let’s check out what was happening around the grounds today
- The first player I spotted was Croat Marin Cilic practicing. He was on-hand for the draw ceremony yesterday that included DC Mayor Adrian Fenty, who named the week of July31-August 8 as “Tennis Week.” Cilic was sporting new red Fila shorts and they popped with color. I approve.
- Behind me a crowd started gathering and I noticed a legend, well, a legend to me at least. 28-year-old David Nalbandian was hitting with Viktor Troicki. I only caught the end of their session, but while Troicki looked like he could go on for another 3 hours, Nalby was dying in his own sweat. His fitness has definitely improved and his forehand is as strong and dominating as ever, but he still needs better footwork and to lose those ‘last few pounds.’ Later in the day, I spotted him practicing again with Radek Stepanek. Not sure how to read Stepanek’s game today. He would fire 10 aces in a row, hit some great down the line shots, and then come up empty for the next 10 minutes. I’m still not decided on whether being a newlywed is helping or hurting his game.
- Gilles Simon was on the practice courts for quite a while. Surprisingly, he looks much stronger in person and his game is much more explosive standing 15 feet away. The camera does not do him justice. He was friendly and personable taking ten photos with fans and stopping to sign autographs. With each photo, he didn’t just stand there like most players. He reached his hand around and practically gave each person a hug. He is a hugger, ladies! This warms my heart. Girls got giddy around him, men stood staring in confusion, and I was happily enjoying viewing a former top 10-er in person.
- I then checked out some of the Devin Britton/Brian Dabul match and I was startled when Britton stood in at tall 6’4’’ next to me. Somehow he always looked smaller to me on camera, but not today. And his eyes are a piercing blue color. Sadly, he is still very much a serve-and-volleyer. If he hasn’t changed his tactics by now, he may not for a long while. Point proven: he lost today after being up a set to Dabul.
- I then had more French action. A shirtless Michael Llodra was practicing with Julien Benneteau and they were enjoying themselves and the heat. I would try to analyze their play, but I was in awe of Llodra sun-glistening. I had forgotten how good tennis players look sans shirt.
- Kevin Anderson won his 1st round qualifying match earlier today, but his coach got him back on the horse. He was out working on his cross-court forehands and down the line backhands. At one point his coach said was trying to tell him to make his point-of-contact with the ball more in front of him, but it came out like this: “Take a smaller swing on your forehand so you can go through the motion more.” Anderson tried this new tactic with hesitation and the next ball went straight into the net. Coaching fail. Anderson then exclaimed: “I’ll just prepare earlier!” and he went on his way to hit winners. Whatever works.
- I was able to sit in on center court for a while because a friend happened to have box seating his family bought 20 years ago. Now, that’s my fail not knowing this in years past. Anyway, I watched Michael Shabaz stay neck-and-neck with youngster Donald Young. Young has been the talk of the town for the past few years, but his talents never translated into a higher ranking than 73 two years ago. Maybe that will change this year as he won this matchup.
- The #1 seed of the tournament, Tomas Berdych, was on the grounds today. As I was watching Troicki practice with Kei Nishikori (more on that hilarity later), a friend told me to turn around. To my shock, it was Berdych. In full view, with his coach. If you know me, you know I follow his game and love his style on- and off-court. As I walked closer to take a photo, I noticed not a single spectator was around him. Did they not know who was standing 10 feet from them?! How could they not realize that the Wimbledon finalist was right there!? Well, I’m sure most people are as concerned about this as me, but when I started taking photos, people finally started asking if it was Berdych. I coolly replied “Yes” trying to at least not seem like a fangirl. He was doing squats with resistance bands. And I’m not just talking about those dingy resistance bands you and I have, no. His were heavy-duty, dually-strapped silver magic bands. I now no longer have to wonder how he gets those legs into such amazing shape. It’s those damn bands. I’m making my boyfriend buy some. Well, if I had a boyfriend. Moving on …
- As Berdych was practicing with Niskikori, I stood in awe yet again. Berdych continues to embody balance in tennis. Some may think his open stance, that looks as if he’s almost sitting in chair, is “awkward.” Not me. It takes so much strength to look like that and still keep your balance and poise. And he does it all with a smile. What’s not to love?
- Back to the Troicki incident and the best moment of the day. We all know Troicki is hot-headed, but perhaps more so if you’re Serbian or Croatian and understand his obscenities. As he was hitting with Nishikori, balls kept rolling across his side of the court from the neighboring court occupied by Andrey Golubev. He was as patient as any man could be on a hot day in the sun, but after the 20th ball rolled across, he walked towards it and started yelling and swearing at the ball. In Serbian. And it was beautiful. He said something to the effect of “$#@ the $#*)* in the %#*)$+ ball %(*#_)@ every time!” On the next point on Golubev’s court, guess what happened? Yes, the ball started rolling onto Troicki’s court. What followed next was even more impressive than Troicki’s outcry. Golubev started swearing at the ball for about 10 seconds. In Russian. This moment was pure gold and only a few understood what even happened.
I’ll leave you on this warm thought for today and will be back tomorrow to report more. It will be the second and final day of qualifying as well as the first two main draw matches consisting of Giraldo vs. Malisse and Przysiezny vs. Zeballos. Ciao!