The last day of qualifying and the first day of the main draw here at the Legg Mason Tennis Tournament in Washington, DC has come and gone. With it, we welcome six well-deserved qualifiers to an already full list of notable names lined up in the main draw. Let’s recap some of the excitement around the practice courts today!
- The first practice session I walked into was the world #1 doubles’ pairing of Nenad Zimonjic and Daniel Nestor. Sometimes fans are so focused on the top singles players, we forget how truly amazing the top doubles’ game is. As I was watching Nestor hit from the baseline and Zimonjic volley, I was struck by two things: Nestor’s lefty forehand is strikingly powerful and Zimonjic’s forehand volleys are so precise and crisp. I started wondering how these guys weren’t better singles players in their time.
- As I was snapping their pics, John Isner was roaming the grounds behind me until he appeared to my left. “There he is!” yelled Isner, pointing to Nestor, “What court is this?” Nestor jokingly replied: “You’re on the other side, aren’t you? Isn’t that where the big guys hang out?” Cue crowd laughing.
- Nestor obviously knows his way around the grounds unlike Isner, who continued looking for his court until he nearly made a round-trip back to where he started. But then we got a glimpse of the big man in his yellow ‘Livestrong’ t-shirt. I had forgotten how extended his elbows are when he makes contact with the ball on the backhand side. Look unreal!
- He was in good spirits, but it took him a while to loosen up his right shoulder. Hopefully it’s not an indication of any kind of injury. Isner then took on his coach in a game utilizing only the cross-court backhand slice. First one to hit out loses, and they played some points. The video below is some of the fun footage.
- Radek Stepanek was waiting for his court by doing some in-place running drills, swinging his arms while increasing the speed.
He practiced with Xavier Malisse who had a first round match later that afternoon, which he ended up winning in three sets. Nothing really of note on their practice other than the fact that Stepanek was sporting a red, white and blue racket. Looked like he was supporting Team USA — isn’t he Czech?!
- Other notable players waiting for a court: Tomas Berdych, Julien Benneteau, Benjamin Becker and Rendy Lu.
Berdych seemed to be the only one actually stretching. Maybe that’s how you get to be the #1 seed in a 500-level tournament like Legg Mason. Boys, take notes!
- When Berdych walked over to the middle court, he promptly took off his t-shirt. And it stayed off the entire practice. The sun was fairly strong but not strong enough to burn from it. He then seemed to dare Benneteau to take his off as well, which he willingly accepted. For such tall slender-looking men, they are very fit and lean. Their practice session covered all the shots and when they took breaks, they chatted up a storm, along with Berdych’s coach.
- The next stop in my day was one of the best sights I have yet to see in tennis. Andy Roddick was taking on Mardy Fish in a grueling set. Recalling that Fish had recently beaten Roddick in Atlanta, this was any tennis fan’s highlight. Fans were pouring in on all possible sides and I was lucky enough to get a bird’s eye view to catch all the action. There were laughs, jokes, yelling, high-fiving, and, as the theme of the day seems to be, both were shirtless as well. Sidenote: Roddick’s left, yes, LEFT arm is ripped! Mardy Fish, on the other hand, is looking quite slender. Yes, he has lost 30 pounds in the last year, but seeing it in person, I’m starting to think he needs to bulk up a little.
Near the end of their session a hilarious moment occurred to top it all off. Roddick, loving being the center of attention, shot a 1st serve that was a questionable line call. Roddick kept asking what his next serve should be “1st? 2nd? 1st? 1st?” wanting to try again for an ace. Fish got ready to receive, and then asked: “Wait, 1st or 2nd?” “2nd, 2nd,” Roddick repeated. Fish then moved in closer to the baseline. Unfortunately, Fish doesn’t seem to realize he’s playing against a trickster, and Roddick fired an explosive serve down the line … which Fish miraculously returned while standing just inside the baseline. Roddick followed behind his serve and tried to volley the return, but his attempt went straight into the net. Karma. The crowd roared in laughter. What a sight to behold!
Here’s footage of the best video I was able to capture. This point was brilliant. Roddick was hitting winner after winner, but Fish was able to return each one. His footwork is evident here and the crowd clapped in amazement at the level of both players’ play.
- I then made my way over to the Marin Cilic and Viktor Troicki practice session on the opposite side of the grounds. Both players looked strong, but were all about business. Seeing as these two speak the same Serbo-Croatian language and played each other in Davis Cup recently, it was surprising to see once again, that not many words were exchanged between the two. I remember them practicing last year with each other, so they must be friends, but on-court, you would think they were simply matched together for a hit due to space constraints. Either way, it was fun to be reminded of the wind-up to Cilic’s serve. It’s surprising his legs muscles are not bigger for the incline he takes in preparation.
- I made my way back to the media center at this point to check on the scores of the qualifiers. “Nothing too surprising” I said to myself. I then went on twitter to upload some photos, and guess whose feed came up? Fernando Verdasco. “Going to practice in 30 minutes!” As I was walking up to the media desk to check what court he is slated to practice on, I crossed my fingers that he was actually IN town. To my relief, he was and the media desk did their magic and spewed out a court number to me.
I walked over to the court about 5 minutes before the hour and caught his hitting partner just arriving to the court, dressed in a grey Adidas shirt, white shorts and hat, and black Adidas shoes. I was the first one there and so I sat down and waited. A moment later, I happened to look up to my right, and there was Verdasco, walking in from the parking lot by himself on the other side of the fence. I nearly jumped out of my seat in anticipation.
He walked onto the court coolly and seemed to be in a good mood. He started hitting and then something made me laugh. Verdasco was dressed in the exact same clothes as his hitting partner! Twins! Only difference: Verdasco was in white shoes. Who raided who’s closet, here?!
I was surprised to see that it took about 5-7 minutes for fans to start showing up for his practice. But at the same time it was nice: not crowded, no kids trying to climb over me for a peek, nobody stepping on my toes. All-in-all, a pleasant hitting session to view. The tennis wasn’t bad either. I’m just kidding! I was completely taken aback by Verdasco’s forehand when he started to let it rip! He would hit a few strong forehands and backhands, and then all of a sudden, take flight and practically levitate off the ground with an explosive forehand winner. Each time he did this, “ooohs” and “aaahs” came from the crowd in admiration. By the time I left, it started raining and cut his practice short, but not before showcasing his incredible talent. I’m looking forward to seeing him play this week and expect him to go deep in the draw.
- And as a bonus (because I’m so nice), a close-up of hunk Michael Llodra. Shirtless, of course!
Enjoy the day and I will be back later this week with more coverage from Legg Mason. As the main draw begins, I will start focusing more on the actual matches. But don’t worry, the practice courts always have someone on them and I will be there to catch the action as well.