Rishe Groner

Rishe Groner grew up in Melbourne, where endless tennis matches on TV were the only company on long hot January nights, and summer afternoons meant sipping beer in front of the big screen at the Australian Open. An Australian Open addict, Rishe is learning to embrace tennis on courts that are red, purple and green, completing a near Calendar Grand Slam in 2010 by camping out at the Australian, gatecrashing Roland Garros and volunteering at the US Open. Rishe writes her fangirlish musings, faux critical analyses and spectator accounts from the outer courts at Court Thirteen, and spams her Twitter feed @rishegee with tennis randomness during as many matches as her livestream can handle.

Tales of the “Tennis Bracelet” and other tennis bling

By Rishe Groner

We spend so much time on this site talking about tennis. But lately, there’s been gold and silver and even lovely bronze flashing in front of our faces during Olympic season, which means it’s not far off to start looking at the bling in tennis. So moving on from fuzzy yellow balls, let’s move on to other things. Let’s talk about… pretty things! Jewelry things! Tennis jewelry things!

That’s right, let’s talk about tennis bracelets!

Over the years, the gap has widened between the original players – and lovers – of this sport, with tennis players moving across the spectrum from upper class white gentlemen and gentleladies to the baseball-cap wearing, expletive-yelling muscle-tank-clad players of today. Fans have gone from wearing tennis whites and pleated dresses to matches to swathing themselves in national flags and smearing faces with greasepaint as they wave around beers and make up chants to support local favorites.

It’s from those days of yore that the favored attire of some gentle-ladies, the tennis bracelet, earned its moniker. Of course, nowadays when we think tennis jewelry, it’s all about Maria Sharapova’s or Serena Williams’ flashy accessories. Both ladies now also have their own ranges of jewelry too, but they’re far from being pioneers when it comes to tennis players influencing jewelry fashion design: This story dates back to the lovely Chrissie Evert, star tennis player of the 1980s.

Back then, there existed a diamond bracelet known to many as the ‘eternity’ or ‘inline’ diamond bracelet, which was essentially a chain with a line of symmetrical diamonds, all evenly sized. Chris was playing her match at the US Open in 1987 when a bit of a flick of the wrist service motion had the bracelet snap on court – and the match suspended for a brief moment while she collected her diamonds from the surface. Now, Carlos Ramos can stop when a ball flies into the microphone, or an umpire might let players take a breather if there’s a dead spot on court. But stopping play for collecting diamonds is a classic, much like those pretty gemstones themselves, which as we all know, are a girl’s best friend.

These days in tennis, it’s not just about the ladies though: Roger Federer’s deal with Rolex and Rafael Nadal’s endorsement with Richard Mille means the gents are wielding wrists on court that are worth more than just the forehand motion: Nadal’s watch he wore at the French Open was valued at over half a million dollars. Wearing jewelry on court is risky, though, which is why after Chris Evert’s mishap, the newly-named “tennis bracelets” featured the same diamond design, with a safety catch.

In these blinged-out modern times, of course, the bracelets have evolved ever so fabulously: The typical tennis bracelet might feature colored gemstones of a variety of sizes and designs, though many remain as a classic diamond bracelet. But for those of us wanting an accessory that actually reflects the roots of this sport we know and love, you can’t go wrong with a charm bracelet that represents the beautiful weapon our favorites wield on a daily basis: the diamond tennis racket.

So will you be blinging while you’re swinging?

Andy Murray will.

Benoit Paire: the French hurricane

Regular watchers of the sport we love are well aware of the concept that as an individual sport, tennis is often more than just about the game: It’s about the people. Team loyalties are out of the window, and aside from an affinity to watch prettiness – the Del Potro forehand, the Gasquet backhand, the impeccable moves of a Djokovic, Nadal or Federer – there are those colourful personalities that make any match in this sport always worth watching.

Which is why when the presence of said personalities in a final comes round, everyone gets to share in the joy, and this Sunday, we did. We met Benoit Paire.

At twenty-one-years-old this Frenchman boasts an impressive physique where his long legs and long torso meet with a perfectly sculpted piece of facial hair that would make American hipsters cry in envy. It’s not Benoit’s athletics that give him his fans, it’s his fabulous repertoire of on-court theatrics that does.

Catch him drinking cans of sugary Coca-Cola during changeovers in his matches, or pointing angrily at the heavens as he mutters away in French to all and sundry. Watch him stalk around in little circles between points and try to strategize as he alternates between flubbed misses and shots of absolute brilliance. Meet the French hurricane that is Benoit Paire, and you’ll never look away from the side courts again.

I won’t lie and pretend I noticed Benoit on a practice court once upon a time and discovered the genius within. Nor will I pretend I found him in a no-name match and was intrigued by his display. No, the only reason I found Benoit and added him to my arsenal of favourites was thanks to the draw gods of Flushing Meadows, where in 2010 he qualified and made his way to a second-round meeting with the also-pretty-and-hence-very-popular Feliciano Lopez of Spain.

It was a typical outer-court match on the third or fourth day of a Grand Slam. With many favourites still present in the draw, spectators ringed both show courts and not-so-show courts, watching epic battles present themselves as fighting qualifiers overcame seeded favourites; hometown heroes pushed against former champions; and the draw narrowed down from overwhelming 64 to a manageable 32.

Crowd favorite Feliciano Lopez is there, shaking out his long blond locks (let’s not lie, they’re a secondary character on court on any day) as he battles out a third set with French qualifier Benoit Paire. The 18-year-old’s height is only emphasized by an added three or four inches of hair – or perhaps it’s just the shape of his head. Between strokes of brilliance and flubbed shots that came out of a children’s clinic, Paire yelled at his coach in French, yelled at the crowd using body language and gibberish, and finally joined in their cheering of his opponent with an eyeroll, clapped hand to racket, and ironic, “Lopez, Lopez!”

In one word, he was hilarious.

By the end of the fourth set, we are in stitches and torn between the two oh-so-pretty yet completely lost souls on court. We are all behind Feliciano, but somehow it doesn’t seem so wrong to cheer the Frenchman for the occasional perfectly placed backhand winner, or alternatively, a dramatic display as he falls over, lies on the ground, points his racket at the sky and hurls out theatrics in French.

We’re in love.

Four months later at the Australian Open, Paire’s French superiors have appreciated his efforts in Oz, and granted him a wildcard. I find him wandering the courts on day one, standing in the shade as a crowd of Australians gather to watch Ryan Harrison hurl insults at our homeland while losing to Adrian Mannarino in the first round.

I’m always feeling a little sorry for these soldiers on their first day, like privates wandering the grounds of a Grand Slam, far cry from their usual challenger haunts. So I’m all, “Hi, Benoit?” And he doesn’t speak English, and I didn’t make it past year ten French, so all I say is, “congratulations on the wildcard… I saw you in New York.” He looks at me and there’s a glint in his eye. “You know, against Lopez.” He cracks a smile. “Great match… Very funny.” He mumbles at me, almost blushing, and walks off. It’s only later, on his profile at the ATP website, that I learn that match wasn’t memorable just for me: The US Open 2010 is Paire’s favourite tennis memory.

That is, if we don’t count what happened today. Following upsets over Fabio Fognini, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Jarko Nieminen and the number one seeded Pablo Andujar, Benoit Paire made it to his first ever ATP 250 final – and semifinal, and quarterfinal… For those of us tuning in for some Paire-patented expletive-yelling; self-pummelling or Coca-Cola-swigging, it was slightly disappointing, with Benoit staying relatively (the key word) calm as he saved break point after break point, set point after set point, match point after match point – only to be eventually broken, with both sets and the match going to his opponent, the Italian Andreas Seppi.

Disappointing? I don’t think so. Paire is a talented tennis player – his marathon match against Lopez as a teenager was testament to that, and he’s only shown it further over his last two years on the tour since. Advancing to the final in Belgrade was no fluke: the Frenchman posted win after win over higher-ranked, more experienced and certainly more consistent tennis players than he – yet he followed up each upset with another one of a higher grade. His old-school Coke swilling on the sidelines and entertaining commentary paled this week next to more old-school persistence, focus and buckets of tennis talent. More focus, less frustration and we should be getting lots more entertainment when it’s time for Flushing Meadows this year.

Who’s Left to Qualify for London?

So we tearfully farewelled Elena Dementieva, my favourite, the “Slamless Swan” and saw “Little Miss Sunshine” Caroline Woznaicki and her magical yellow panties, cement the world No. 1 ranking for the year, and Sam Stosur reminded us (with the help of Fran Schiavone) that sadly, all the love in the world can’t stop a choke. Vika Azarenka stuck around Doha for another girlie sleepover while Jelly Jankovic limped home. And finally, Kim Clijsters reminded us that her best days are far from over. There is credit going where credit is due, and that is to the fabulous field of eight women who showed us some beautiful, well-crafted, athletic and gutsy tennis last week in Doha.

It’s time to turn the volume back up now for my legitimate favorites, the boys of the ATP. It’s a big week, as the contenders for the Top 8 to reach the World Tour Finals in London scrabble to pick up as many loose points as they can, even if it means stealing it from an old lady. (Oh no wait, Kimiko Date is in Bali!)

While the Big Four (And Sod!) have already qualified, competition for the last three spots is tight, most of it depending on this week’s 500 tournaments in Valencia and Basel. Next week’s Masters in Paris Bercy will clinch the lineup.

There are six guys competing for the last three spots, and they’re all awesome. (And hot. Random, amazing, true.) These guys have all had a great season, for one reason or another, and would be great additions to challenge the “B4AS” and give us some depth in London. (Except Tomas, sorry – unless he leaves his brain at home).

Tomas Berdych

With the 3665 points he picked up from basically being a badass this year, upsetting big ‘uns at the important moments, he had us all thinking he could do it before running back to the happy choking cave and refusing to win since Wimbledon. He’s in Basel for the week, but so are Nole and Fed, which means it’s likely the head case came too, packed and wrapped in a shiny red ribbon. Sweet.

David Ferrer

The sexy Spaniard’s been aiming for this goal all year – unlike the dudes who pretend they have no interest whatsoever – and he’s done pretty well to get there, with an incredible clay season and consistent hard court results throughout the year. With 3325 points, he has an almost sure chance of getting in, even if he doesn’t pick up any spares in his backyard in Valencia.

Andy Roddick

It looks like a lackluster season, but we forget how well he did on hard courts at the start of the year, in Miami and Indian Wells. His 3305 points make it very easy to catch up to Mr Ferru or even Tomas, should Tomas lose early and Rod make it all the way. Though honestly, it’s Basel that he’s chosen for the week, and scary Fed is there. Boo.

Fernando Verdasco

Fernando Verdasco is trying to remind us of the inspired second half of a match he played in New York when he stole our hearts with that incredible matchpoint, hoping for a deep run in Valencia that’ll supplement his 3150 points. Got to remember though, that even if he takes the whole thing, that still leaves him shy, and who knows what else the other boys might pick up during the week.

Mikhail Youzhny

My boy Misha is a worry. His 2910 points could have put him in contention if he’d done what he was supposed to do after beating Dima, and actually finished off Kukushkin for the St Petersburg title. Instead, he waltzed around the tennis court for an hour and now has to show us his stuff in Valencia or risks falling back down into top 20 land. He made the final last year, so Race aside, he could also fall significantly, dammit.

Whatever, Jurgen. We know you had a great year, but take what you got in doubles and shuddup now, okay. You got your Vienna title, but there’s no way you’ll make it to London for singles unless you somehow take Paris. I’ll snigger at the prospect now but let me bite my tongue – hell, this is tennis.

Honorable mentions go to Jo and Marin, who everyone’s going, what, them? They haven’t had such great seasons –until we remember they were our Melbourne semifinalists, though Marin has basically reached irrelevance and Jo’s pulled out of Valencia with an injured knee. Nico’s done great, and I’m proud, but that’s enough for now boy. Leave the Valencia points to the boys who need them.