by Kevin Craig
The Davis Cup final being played between Belgium and Great Britain saw exciting action on Friday, as David Goffin was able to come back from two sets to love down to beat Kyle Edmund, while Andy Murray was able to level the tie with a straight sets win over Ruben Bemelmans. While the tie is being played on clay in Belgium, the Brits had an advantage coming into the tie as they have the No. 2 player in the world on their side, as well as a dominant doubles pairing. This advantage was not lost with the results on Friday, but was actually almost given a boost as Edmund was a set away from pulling off a major upset.
Goffin was able to outlast a blistering start from Edmund in the first match of the day, winning 3-6, 1-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-0, to give Belgium the early lead. The incredible start from Edmund was a shock to the tennis world, as it was his first Davis Cup match and that the match was being played in Belgium, on clay, against a Top 20 player. Edmund had been in great form recently as he had just won a challenger tournament on clay in Bueons Aires. Despite the good form, no one expected Edmund to shoot out to a two sets to love lead, including everyone on the Belgium sideline. Edmund was able to take advantage of Goffin’s poor first service percentage, 44 percent in the first set and 38 percent in the second set, to apply pressure on the Belgian’s serve. Combine that with 13 unforced errors in the first two sets, compared to Edmund’s four, and you have a two sets to love lead for the Brit. That hot start was unable to last, though, as Goffin was quickly able to turn things around, getting a break early in the third. This was the clear momentum shift in the match, as everything started going Belgium’s way from this point forward. Goffin only lost 17 points on serve in the last three sets and was able to begin dominating play as Edmund’s legs appeared to disappear from beneath him. Edmund started the match brilliantly given the situation, but it was disappointing to see him barely able to move around the court in the last few games of the match. While the win for Goffin gave them a much needed point in the Davis Cup final, Edmund and the Brits can take a positive out of the fact the match was not as much of a must-win for them as it was for the Belgians, as the Brits have Murray to rely on in three of the five rubbers.
Murray was able to take care of business in his match and pick up Edmund, beating Bemelmans 6-3, 6-2, 7-5. Murray was able to take control of the match early and never lose his grip, breaking Bemelmans six times total and making 18 less unforced errors than his opponent. Bemelmans made a lot of new fans around the world on Friday as he was able to put up a fight with the World No. 2 and showcase his exciting style of play, littering the stat sheet with 34 winners. Bemelmans efforts in this tie are far from over, despite the loss, as he could possibly feature again in the doubles rubber and a potential live fifth rubber. Murray, on the other hand, knows for sure that he will be playing two more ties, and will be able to take the Davis Cup tie into his own hands as he has the potential to win all three points for Great Britain.
The end results of the matches from Friday finished as expected, but the tennis world is still buzzing about the performance put on by Edmund in his Davis Cup debut. While he was unable to get a pivotal win for his side, he instilled fear into the Belgian team and let the world know that he will be a force in the future. Murray’s win set up a very interesting doubles rubber on Saturday that could be viewed as a must-win for the Belgians. In a Davis Cup final match-up that no one would have predicted initially, fans around the world are being treated to as much excitement as they would from any other match-up.
by Kevin Craig
Both the No. 1 singles player and No. 1 doubles team were able to win the ATP World Tour Finals titles on Sunday, as Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer, while Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau took down Rohan Bopanna and Florin Mergea. The match between Djokovic and Federer was their 44th, and Djokovic was able to even up their record at 22 wins apiece. Rojer and Tecau were able to continue their impressive form in London as they won the tournament without dropping a set along the way.
Another classic match-up between two legends of the game saw Djokovic dispatch Federer in rather routine fashion by a score of 6-3, 6-4. After their match in the round robin stage in which Federer beat Djokovic, Federer surely must have come into this match with confidence, but Djokovic was able to play simply at a higher level than he did in that first match-up, as he played great defense all match and played high quality tennis on the pivotal points. The two men were only separated by four points total in the first set, but Djokovic was able to win the more important points, saving both break points he faced and winning 71 percent of his second serve points. Federer’s 57 percent first serve rate also didn’t do him any favors as he allowed Djokovic to step up and get good looks on a lot of returns, leading to two breaks. The second set saw the Serbian continue to dictate play as he was able to lose only six points in his five service games, and force Federer to face five break points. Out of those five, Djokovic was only able to convert on one, but that was all he needed to seal the match, as the break gave him a 5-3 lead. He would go on to comfortably serve out the match and claim the World Tour Finals title for the fourth year in a row and a fifth time overall. This title was his 11th of the year to go along with his wins at three of the four grand slam events, as well as six Masters 1000 events. Djokovic’s 2015 season will surely go down in the record books as one of the greatest seasons of all time, and winning the World Tour Finals in London was the icing on the cake.
The doubles final took place between two teams that had gone through their first four matches of the tournament undefeated, as Rojer and Tecau teamed up to take down Bopanna and Mergea, 6-4, 6-3. After clinching the No. 1 year end doubles team ranking on Saturday, Rojer and Tecau were brimming with confidence heading into the final. This showed as they were able to win a very tight first set by dominating on their second serve points, winning eight of nine, and saving both break points that they faced. Add on the six aces they hit in the first set, and Rojer and Tecau were tough to touch in their service games in the first set. The level of play from Bopanna and Mergea dropped significantly in the second set, as they only managed to make 42 percent of their first serves and just barely managed to win more than half of their service points overall. This resulted in Rojer and Tecau applying a lot of pressure in their return games, as they broke on both break points they saw, including a break at love to finish off the match. Rojer and Tecau dictated play with their serve again in the second set, only losing five points on serve total. This title for Rojer and Tecau was their third this year, and their 11th as a team. After a very successful year for the Dutch and Romanian pairing, they will surely take some time to relax in the offseason and enjoy their accomplishment of finishing the year as the No. 1 doubles team.
An interesting note about the two winners on Sunday is that Djokovic and Rojer/Tecau both also won Wimbledon in 2015. These players must really like something about London as they were impossible to match this year at Wimbledon and the World Tour Finals, and they must surely be happy to see that the year-end championships will be staying in London until at least 2018. Not only will they be able to bring home the title, but both Djokovic and Rojer/Tecau will also be heading into the offseason with their respective year-end No. 1 rankings, a true testament to how dominant they were throughout the year.
by Kevin Craig
Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer set up their anticipated match-up in the final of the ATP World Tour Finals with wins over Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka, respectively, on Saturday in London. Djokovic and Federer played dominant levels of tennis, making fans around the world eager to watch the final that will take place on Sunday. The doubles event also witnessed very important tennis action as the team of Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau were able to clinch the year end No. 1 doubles team ranking by beating Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan in the semifinals. Rojer and Tecau will face Rohan Bopanna and Florin Mergea as they were able to continue their impressive form at the event by beating Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo.
Djokovic was able to defeat Nadal 6-3, 6-3, in a match that was much closer than the score line may suggest. The two players who have been in the best form this fall were unlucky to go up against each other, but it was Djokovic who was able to play the better tennis and win the bigger points. Nadal played well throughout the match but played one sloppy service game in the first set, which Djokovic gladly took advantage of. The first set was very tight as both men won an equal amount of points on the return, but that one bad service game from Nadal to start off the match was enough for Djokovic to run away with the set. The second was similar to the first as just a couple sloppy points from Nadal on his service games led to a comfortable win for Djokovic as he was able to get two breaks in the set. Nadal didn’t play poorly, he just simply could not hit through the wall that is Novak Djokovic. The incredible defense from the Serb, mixed in with his shot-making brilliance, was too much for the Spaniard to handle, as Djokovic was the one who saw his way into the final. Djokovic was able to avoid pressure situations in his service games as he didn’t have to face a single break point all match. He was able to dominate with the first serve, winning 89 percent of the points when he got the first ball in.
Federer won the all-Suisse semifinal against Wawrinka, 7-5, 6-3. After a tight first set that saw breaks exchanged early, Federer was able to break in the 12th game, giving him a one set advantage. This match saw a similar pattern to many Federer-Wawrinka matches, as Wawrinka was unable to raise his level of play after beginning to feel scoreboard pressure. Federer was able to grab a break early on in the second set and take control of the match as he saved the only break point he faced in the set. Overall, the difference in the match came from Federer’s ability to control his second serve points, as he won 65 percent while Wawrinka only managed to win 42 percent. That led to Federer being able to see six break points in the match and win three of them. The win now boosts Federer’s record to 18-3 against his compatriot, as well as sets up an appearance in the final at the World Tour Finals against Djokovic.
Rojer and Tecau were able to dethrone the Bryan brothers as the No. 1 doubles team in the world by winning their semifinal match-up, 6-4, 6-4. Similar to the Nadal-Djokovic match, it was a much closer affair than the score line would suggest. After trading breaks in the early stages of the first set, Mike Bryan was serving for his team at a deciding point late in the first set, but was given a time violation right before he started to serve, which according to him was the first he had received all year. This may have gotten into Mike’s head a bit, as he would go on to double fault, giving the break to Rojer and Tecau. After winning the first, they went on to control the second with ease, as they went a perfect seven-for-seven on their second serve points, only losing four points on serve total in the set. This win not only gave Rojer and Tecau the No. 1 doubles team ranking, but also saw them turn around an 0-4 record against the American brothers.
Bopanna and Mergea were able to continue their hot streak at the World Tour Finals as they took down the team of Dodig and Melo, 6-4, 6-2. In a match that lasted under an hour, Bopanna and Mergea were simply the better team, dominating on their first serve and converting on all four break points they had. Their level actually dropped in the second set, but luckily for them it dropped on the other side of the net, as well, as Dodig and Melo failed to win more than half of their service points. The win sees Bopanna and Mergea head into the final with a perfect record so far in London.
Federer and Djokovic set up the final that many fans expected to see by winning their matches on Saturday. Surely their final on Sunday will be a treat for fans as there will be high levels of tennis played by both men. The doubles final will see a Romanian on each side of the net as the 2015 Wimbledon champs Rojer and Tecau will face Bopanna and Mergea. The surprise team of the tournament, Bopanna/Mergea will hope to see their good run of form continue as they will need to play a high level of tennis against the team that will finish the year in the No. 1 spot, Rojer/Tecau.
by Kevin Craig
Rafael Nadal is a man on a mission and he is taking no stops along the way. At the ATP World Tour Finals Wednesday, the Spaniard was able to easily dispatch the No. 2 ranked player in the world, Andy Murray. With many tennis fans around the world writing off Nadal and not expecting him to return to the top level of the game, he has been given extra motivation at the end of this year that he hopes will carry over into the 2016 season. For now, though, Nadal will be pleased with his current run of form and that he has advanced to the semifinal round of the World Tour Finals.
Nadal’s win over Murray came with a 6-4, 6-1 score line. The match started off very tight as Nadal and Murray exchanged breaks to begin the match, and went on to play six games in the first set that went at least six points, including one that lasted 11 points. Nadal was able to get a break in the 10th game of the set, though, to earn himself a one set advantage. It was no looking back from there as the 14-time grand slam champion didn’t have to face a break point in the second set and won two-thirds of all the points played. Nadal’s consistently high level of intensity was able to fluster the British star, as Murray struggled throughout the match with his serve, only making 43 percent of his first serves and winning less than half of his service points overall.
In the second singles match of the day, Stan Wawrinka was able to fight off a hot start from David Ferrer to win 7-5, 6-2. The first set looked like smooth sailing for David Ferrer as he went up an early break, but appeared to tighten up a bit in the latter stages, allowing the 2015 French Open champion to win five games in a row from being down 2-5. Wawrinka got off to a bit of a sloppy start, as he was unable to hit through Ferrer’s great defense, but as soon as the smallest glimpse of an opportunity opened up to the Suisse, he took advantage of it and turned the match around. Similarly to the Nadal-Murray match, it was smooth sailing in the second set as Wawrinka broke in the first game and grabbed another break a couple games later to boost his lead and cruise to the win. Ferrer’s struggles on serve continued over from his first match, something that he will hope to fix in his final match at the World Tour Finals before heading into 2016.
In the doubles, the team of Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau were able to go to 2-0 in round robin play, setting themselves up in a great position heading into their final round robin match. Their win on Wednesday came over Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo, 6-4, 7-6(3). Rojer and Tecau were able to get through the first set without much difficulty as they only lost three points on serve and didn’t have to face a break point. Needless to say, the second set was much more intense as the two teams exchanged breaks and ended up needing a tiebreaker to decide the set. The No. 2 team in the world were the better team on the day, though, as Rojer and Tecau were able to tough out the tiebreaker by a 7-3 score line.
The other doubles match saw Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut bounce back and give themselves a much better chance of advancing to the semifinal round by beating Marcin Matkowski and Nenad Zimonjic, 5-7, 6-3, 10-8. The French duo were the steadier team throughout the match as they won at least 85 percent of their first serve points in every set, including going eight-for-eight in the super tiebreak.
Not only did Rafael Nadal clinch his spot in the semifinal round, he was also able to clinch the first place spot of the group. This means the second place spot will be decided by the match between Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, which will surely be an exciting affair on Friday. As for the doubles, despite the loss on Wednesday, Matkowski and Zimonjic still see their semifinal hopes alive, as a win is needed over Dodig/Melo and Herbert/Mahut would have to lose to Rojer/Tecau in straights.
by Kevin Craig
The last tournament of the ATP calendar sees the eight best singles players and doubles teams battling each other for the title of World Tour Finals Champion. In the round robin format, every participant is able to overcome a loss, or possibly even two, but the teams that win on day one take the first and most important step towards the title.
The opening day of the ATP World Tour Finals in London saw the two main attractions of Group Stan Smith easily win their matches as Novak Djokovic dispatched Kei Nishikori 6-1, 6-1, and Roger Federer defeated Tomas Berdych 6-4, 6-2. Djokovic was able to continue his out-of-this-world form, only dropping two games to the 2014 US Open finalist. Djokovic didn’t face a break point in the entire match and only lost nine points on serve total. While Nishikori may not have been 100 percent healthy, the Serbian was able to keep his game at an incredibly high level, playing insane defense on almost every point, allowing himself to get some breathing room before his matches with Berdych and Federer.
Roger Federer played the last match of day one and was able to sustain the powerful game of Tomas Berdych, winning easily in straight sets. After exchanging breaks early in the first set, Federer was able to turn his game around and didn’t face another break point for the rest of the match. Meanwhile, Berdych struggled with his serve throughout the match as he only made 44 percent of his first serves and faced six break points, losing four of them. The Suisse maestro was able to overcome hitting four double faults by winning 86 percent of his first serve points and almost 50 percent of his return points.
Meanwhile on the doubles side of the tournament, the first-seeded Bryan brothers were upset in rather routine fashion by the team of Rohan Bopanna and Florin Mergea by a score line of 6-4, 6-3. The first set was tight as both teams won the same amount of points, 26. The teams exchanged two breaks each early in the set, but the eighth-seeded Bopanna/Mergea were the better team on the day as they were able to get one break more to win the first, and saved both break points they faced in the second set to get the straight sets win. The Bryans are now 0-2 against Bopanna and Mergea in London, after they lost to them in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon earlier this year.
The home favorite team of Brit Jamie Murray and Australian John Peers won a very tight match over Fabio Fognini and Simone Bolelli, 7-6, 3-6, 11-9. The exciting doubles affair was the first match of the tournament and many fans were eager that the rest of the matches would follow suit. Instead, this was the only match of the four played on day one that went three sets. The fourth-seeded Murray/Peers gave the London crowd the win they wanted and also gave them a very exciting match. Despite the loss, the Italians set themselves up well by winning a set and only losing 10 games. This could come into play in their favor if the group ends up seeing three teams with the same record.
With these results, the Bryan brothers find themselves in a bit of trouble after day one of the tournament, as they failed to win a set and are now forced to play well against the Australian Open champs Bolelli/Fognini and the US Open and Wimbledon finalists Murray/Peers if they hope to make a run at the title. On the singles side, these opening matches only gave further proof as to what many fans already believed; Djokovic and Federer would be the class of Group Stan Smith. If either Berdych or Nishikori hope to make a run at the World Tour Finals, they’ll have to greatly raise their level in their remaining matches.
by Kevin Craig
The USTA Collegiate Clay Court Invitational at the Tennis Resort at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando is not the biggest or most prestigious tournament in college tennis, but it serves an important event for experiences gained and lessons learned for not just players, but for everyone involved in the event.
In an event that is meant to give college players as much actual match experience as possible – and on the important developmental clay surface – every player certainly found strengths in their games that they would like to build upon, while they also may have found weaknesses that they will want to work on when they return to the courts at their respective campuses. The players weren’t the only people at the event that learned, though, as spectators, coaches, ball kids, and the tournament directors each had their own experiences and observations that will help them build upon this weekend.
On-court success came from a variety of schools as South Carolina, Pepperdine, Clemson, North Carolina State, Florida State, and Florida were all able to bring home titles. Each of the players that were able to win their respective tournaments will use these results to springboard them into successful spring seasons, while the players that came up short will certainly look back at this event and figure out what needs to be improved upon before the regular season comes around. With every tennis match played comes an opportunity to learn, allowing for constant growth and skill improvement. This doesn’t only apply to the players, though, as everyone involved with tennis can take something away from every match.
Coaches of every team in attendance got to see what each of their players can do in an actual match environment and were able to figure out the best coaching strategies and tactics for their team. One match of interest was the Men’s Gold Draw final that was played between two members of the South Carolina team – Harrison O’Keefe and Gabriel Friedrich. Coach Josh Goffi was forced into an awkward situation having to support and advise both of his players, but him and the rest of his staff and South Carolina players were able to do a great job of helping out each player through the difficult match. The rest of the tournament saw coaches running from court to court as they were helping their players during matches that were taking place far from one another. Every minute a coach can spend with his or her players is extremely valuable, so this event was very important for the coaches as it helped them develop their ideas as to how they can most effectively support their players and get the best possible on court result out of them.
The spectators of the event also had plenty to take away from the weekend. Not only did they have the pleasure of watching high quality tennis, but they were able to develop some tips for their own games by watching the highly-skilled players, talk with other tennis fans about their experiences in the tennis world, and some were even able to show their young kids what it can be like to be a tennis player with big goals. Throughout the weekend, parents could be seen with their young children all around the grounds, talking to them about everything from the game of tennis in general to how playing on clay is different from playing on a hard court. It is important for young kids who are passionate about tennis to be immersed in it as much as possible so they can develop a true understanding of the game and possibly develop into a star of the future.
After another very successful edition of the USTA Collegiate Clay Court Invitational, a huge congratulations must go to Florida State University, the USTA, and Carlos Goffi and his entire staff at the Tennis Resorts at the ESPN Wide World of Sports for putting on a fantastic event. A great venue like this one definitely deserves this great event and can hopefully attract more events throughout the calendar year. Every single person who attended this event will be able to take their experiences from the event and use them to help have a bigger and better future in the tennis world. This includes players, coaches, umpires, spectators, and ball kids, as there is something to be learned from every experience.
by Kevin Craig
I had the chance to attend the USTA Collegiate Clay Court Invitational at the Tennis Resort at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando on the second day of the four-day clay-court event and experienced many high quality matches while able to take in the unique atmosphere of collegiate tennis.
There is no better site for this event than the Tennis Resort at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. The intimate feel of the complex helps develop the intense atmosphere of the event as teammates and coaches are able to cheer each other on from anywhere on the grounds. In fact, if you take a walk around the concourse of the center court, you are able to have a great view of every court at the complex, allowing for fans to be able to watch every bit of action that takes place throughout the day. (See video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1yqsH-rTis)
Every tennis fan should try to attend a collegiate event as the atmosphere is completely different from any pro event. At one point during the matches today, two Georgia Tech players were playing at the same time on adjacent courts, and they would often shout encouragement to each other when they were both in between points. On top of this, if there were multiple players from one school playing at the same time on courts that were further away from each other, the schools would make sure that at least one or two members of the team were supporting their teammates that were currently on court, ensuring that they would have some sort of support at all times.
If a fan is hesitant to attend a collegiate event because the players aren’t the big names that casual tennis fans may know, they must be aware that these players are still able to make the matches entertaining for the fans. These athletes are on court truly for the passion of the game, and this is made evident as you are sure to hear a “come on!” or “vamos!” from anywhere around the grounds at any given time. They leave everything on the court and give 100 percent effort until the very last point, ensuring an exciting watch for any one in attendance.
Not only are the matches fun to watch, but the people that you can meet are interesting as well. With the players and coaches of the teams walking around the grounds all day, you are able to strike up a conversation with any of them when the opportunity comes up. You may also run into former ATP World Tour players, employees of the ATP and USTA, and many others who have a great knowledge of the tennis world throughout the day, opening up the opportunity to have lengthy conversations and make new friends.
Great Britain and Belgium go head-to-head in the Final of the Davis Cup next month, in one of the most unlikely match ups in Davis Cup history – Britain last reached the Final in 1978 and haven’t actually won it since 1936, whilst Belgian haven’t made it since 1904!
The current world number two, Andy Murray, will be leading the charge for the Brits, having beaten Australia’s Bernard Tomic in straight sets in the semis. His main opponent will be David Goffin, who is currently ranked 16th, but who lost to Murray in their last meeting at Wimbledon in straight sets.
Can Andy Murray Handle The Clay Surface?
Belgium, the hosts, have the advantage of being able to choose the surface for the Final, and have opted for an indoors clay court at the 13,000-capacity Flanders Expo in Ghent. Whilst using clay doesn’t particularly suit the Belgians, they will have calculated that playing on the game’s slowest surface is their best chance of beating Murray, who says it is his least favorite surface.
Murray tweeted after the decision was announced: “So Ghent on the clay for the Davis Cup final – very pumped! Think clay is a good surface for us”. However, this could be a bit of a bluff: notice he says good surface “for us”, and not “for me”.
Murray has, in fact, had quite a good season on clay so far (for example, he managed to beat Rafael Nadal to win the Madrid Masters), so he might be more concerned about adjusting to the slower surface, right after playing a run of games on hard courts at the World Tour Finals. He said in an interview: “If you reach the final and play on the Sunday you also need to take time off – you can’t just play five matches against the best players in the world and then not take any days off.”
Will Murray sacrifice his spot in the World Tour Finals for the Great Britain team though? It would be a historic occasion for the nation. However, Chris Kermode, executive president of the ATP, has categorically ruled out Murray missing the final, which therefore puts his Davis Cup Final in doubt. Murray would have to forfeit £570,000 or so in bonus-pool payments for the 2015 season, in order to bolster his chances in Belgium – certainly not a decision to take lightly.
Will The Belgian Team Rise to The Occasion?
A lot of Belgian hope rests on the narrow shoulders of David Goffin. At 24-years-old, Goffin is light, agile and certainly a dangerous opponent for Murray. This year he won all four of his Davis Cup singles matches to help take Belgium into their first final in 111 years.
But despite his excellence, the Belgium team lacks strength in depth. Their second singles player is likely to be Steve Darcis, ranked 81st in the world, with Ruben Bemelmans (86) and Kimmer Coppejans (116) expected to complete the line-up. But on the other side, Andy Murray, Jamie Murray and Dominic Inglot all make formidable options in the British doubles team.
Can the Belgian’s pull together for the occasion?
by David Foster
(The following is written by David Foster, who heads up the U.S. Davis Cup Team’s cheer squad “The Netheads.” David was the one and only non-USTA delegation fan from the United States to travel to Tashkent, Uzbekistan for the recent USA vs. Uzbekistan Davis Cup series. To get involved with the Netheads, email David at [email protected] and mentioned “Nethead” in the subject line)
Going to Tashkent, Uzbekistan for the USA vs. Uzbekistan Davis Cup Playoff Round was an unbelievable trip! There were super friendly Uzbeks, super pretty girls (for some reason as I get older girls keep getting prettier), awesome American support from the Marines and the Embassy staff, a beautiful city and beautiful weather.
I arrived in Tashkent at 2:45AM on the Wednesday before the Friday start. The USTA provided a special envoy to get me to VIP customs and then a ride to hotel. That was a nice start.
After a few hours sleep, I headed for Amir Temur park to see the statue of this great Uzbek leader from the 1300s. Within half hour of my first walk in Tashkent, two pretty Uzbek girls (students) asked if they could ask me survey questions on video. Never being able to turn down a pretty girl in any country, I consented. They asked me to compare US (60 years for me) to Uzbekistan (30 minutes on street). All I could say is Tashkent is much cleaner than American cities. After videos were done, one for each girl, they asked me if I thought Uzbek girls were pretty. Geez, did they pick the right person to ask? But what was funny was that in one article I read about going to Uzbekistan it stated you should not comment on ladies’ looks. Well, I bypassed the article and stated, yes, Uzbek girls are pretty.
I then sat on bench in park to watch people. Watching moms with their kids showed me once more people are all the same in the world. I just wish governments could get along. I had two folks ask me for directions before I could say “Ingliz.” It happens everywhere I go.
Then I committed my first American error. I stopped at ATM to get some “som” (Uzbek currency). The ATM had English on the initial screen but after I entered my card, there was no English option. Being a smart American, I thought I know what it is asking (pin number first, then do I want withdrawal) even though it was in Uzbek. I finally got to screen that had 50, 100, 150, 200, 300, 400. So I assumed this is stating how much in US dollars to I want to be given in som. I hit 100 and low and behold a Ben Franklin $100 bill came out of the machine. I have never been anywhere where foreign ATM had an option for US dollars.
To tell you what prices are like in Uzbekistan, when I went to hotel exchange desk to convert my Ben Franklin, the lady questioned why I would want to convert the whole thing. She asked “are you sure you are going to spend all that?”
The draw was held in courtyard at the hotel, the Lotte Palace Hotel. After draw I went on long walk (4 miles each way) to visit the US Embassy. Unfortunately, I followed the Google map directions I had and I never found it. I asked several Uzbeks for help but they couldn’t even recognize the street names. After wandering around neighborhood for a while I just headed back to hotel. But I did get to see non-downtown section of city and see mucho people so all was not lost.
On Friday, I took a taxi to tennis facility and had driver who had lived in Pittsburgh for awhile. The road to the tennis went by government offices so he pointed out presidential building (president works there and lives elsewhere) and Uzbek version of Pentagon. The highway signs on this road not only showed the speed limit but also signs indicating no pictures/videos allowed, for security purposes. The Pittsburgh driver pointed out that road was in great shape until after road where president turns to go home. Then two lanes have been under construction for years, finally turning into dirt and gravel before we got to tennis courts.
In Uzbekistan, they have instant Uber. As my Pittsburgh driver told me, every car in Tashkent is a taxi. Folks stand on side of road. A potential driver stops, they discuss location and price, and if agreement, the passenger climbs in for ride. On my taxi ride back to hotel, my driver picked up two extras and dropped one off. No official name for process – may be they should call it Uzber.
The tennis facility was interesting with seats only on one side. The capacity was maybe 2,000. Admission was free. School kids, probably age 12 to 16, filled the stadium on Friday and Saturday. They were wearing school uniforms consisting of a white shirt and black pants or skirts. We had a couple of folks from the U.S. Embassy and three U.S. Marines joining me in our small U.S. cheer section
After first match between Steve Johnson and Denis Istomin finished (Istomin winning in five sets), the students all left – but not before 50 or more stopped by me to ask for a selfie. I went off to concession store and had my picture taken with ball kids and two very pretty girls who then asked if I could get them a picture with players (never understand why they are not satisfied with me). The second match went quickly for Jack Sock in front of probably less than 300 fans. It rained, a light shower, during the match but they kept going on the clay.
In addition to selfies, I had a gentleman hand me some pictures at the end of the first match. When I got back to hotel, I discovered in middle of pictures was a visa/immigration request. I showed this info to one of embassy folks and he just assumed the person was asking me to help with visa process. That was very Interesting.
On Friday night, the Marines picked me up at hotel and we went to the embassy annex for movie and hot dogs night with embassy folks and families. They couldn’t believe I got visa to come to Uzbekistan in seven days.
On Saturday, I took a taxi early to stadium and posed for another twenty to twenty-five pictures before match. Students were there again in uniform. One young lady sat down next to me and when I told her USA girls do not go to school on Saturday and do not have to wear uniforms, she was ready to head to America. Before the match, I was able to get large group of students to do the “USA” cheer. Randy Walker, press guy for USTA, got the USA cheering on video and posted it here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56KVDZGeREQ
Three Marines joined me for doubles and we won pretty easily in three sets. We had two good players (Johnson and Sam Querrey) against one good (Istomin) and one fair player (Farrukh Dustov). After the match, the Marines gave me a ride back to hotel. It’s nice to have those guys looking out for you.
On Sunday at breakfast, a Japanese lady decided I had interesting face and asked for obligatory picture. After I finished eating, I went upstairs and came back with Nethead on and she was really excited to take another picture. She asked for an autograph and was super excited when I signed “Robert Redford.”
At the match, there were more adults than students for a change. Besides the Marines, there were probably 25 embassy folks there, including the ambassador, who sat with the USTA folks. I did not get to meet her since she was gone after I had my last session of stadium selfies. It was a good match on Sunday with Sock trying to serve it out for tie and went back and forth several times with Istomin. It let our fans experience some tension before with Sock closed it out. I got a final ride back with the Marines and thanked them for their service for us.
After the matches on Sunday afternoon, I took another walk around Amir Temur Square. (A video of this area can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-mf7VtKO8E. I saw two pretty girls ahead of me taking pictures towards the statue and, as I got close, I got another request for pictures with each one. I figured it was pictures No. 99 and 100 for the trip.
Everybody in the USTA contingent left on Sunday night, leaving me alone on Monday. I took a personal tour with an English-speaking guide, who was a very knowledgeable guy. He explained that Independence Square was originally Red Square under the Russian Empire and Lenin’s square under Soviet rule. At the 1966 earthquake statue, he explained how Soviets came in to rebuild and add new housing after earthquake damage. I then saw the World War II memorial which had books of gold with names of 500,000 Uzbek men who never came home. I also saw Osman’s Koran which many believe is oldest Koran in existence. The Koran shows Osman’s blood stains where legend is he was stabbed while reading the Koran.
My tour guide explained there is freedom of religion in Uzbekistan but not freedom of where to practice it. Muslims cannot pray in public. Minarets at mosques are for looks only. One cannot issue any calls to prayer. The government does not want religion to be involved in government at all, trying to avoid the problems of other countries – a true separation of church and state. He also told me the building secured with guards with AK-47s I had jogged past for five days was the National Security building, the old KGB. I never saw any indication of street crime during my time in Tashkent. I felt safe wherever I went. My guide indicated Uzbekistan is considered in top five safest countries in the world. In discussion on security with one of embassy staff, she stated there is security in a police state.
I left the hotel at 5PM (Monday) EST time (2AM Tuesday Uzbek time) and got back to my condo in Atlanta at midnight EST Tuesday – 31 hours of travel. It was an uneventful trip except for a two-hour delay on my Paris to Atlanta flight. In Moscow, I saw the prettiest TSA person I’ve ever seen. It was the only time I’ve ever wanted to set off the buzzer and require a pat down! I told her she was prettier than agents in USA, but either she did not understand or she was just giving me the normal cold shoulder I usually get!
by Andrew Eichenholz
In the middle of the summer I got a phone call from one of USOpen.org’s managing editors, who controls content production for the US Open’s official website. I never thought that a few months later I would be sitting here writing about how I got to be the last writer to publish a feature on one of my idols, sat front row in the press conference following arguably the greatest upset in the history of tennis and walked away with a wealth of experience that I never dreamt was imaginable when I published my first tennis story a year and a half ago.
Covering a Grand Slam was epitomized for me by Day 12 of the event— my eighth day reporting on the best tennis players in the world.
The impossible was happening— world No. 1 and history-chasing Serena Williams was down in the final set of her semifinal match, just three sets away from winning her fifth consecutive Grand Slam.
That may not mean much to people who do not follow tennis, but only 12 women have won five Grand Slams in their entire career during the Open era (since 1968), forget consecutively. Williams also would have tied Steffi Graf’s overall record of 22 with a victory. I was doing the “match of the day” story, and when arguably the best player ever is going down, that is a pretty big deal.
Generally, we tried to get all match stories out to our audience within ten minutes of the last point. Every single one of us in our office thought that Serena was going to find a way to survive. Her opponent, Roberta Vinci, would later admit that she thought the same. So, not only was it a matter of trying to pump out a quality product in a short amount of time, but both the writer who was covering the match itself and I were basically writing two stories, not knowing who would come out on top until Vinci hit a winner on match point.
At that point, we had a bit of a problem—few fans knew who the unseeded Vinci was and we did not know all that much about her ourselves besides her results and ranking. Who is she? The world wanted to know and our team had to make that happen, so after filing the “match of the day” story, I did some research on my phone as a few of us ran over to the Italian’s press conference so that I could file a quick piece to help people get to know Vinci.
It was a packed house at the presser— the Italian writers were still on cloud nine, shocked that two players from their country would be playing for the title the next day when not one had made the US Open final before.
If it seems like there was a lot of stuff going on at once, think again. Keeping in mind that this whole series of events happened in the span of an hour or two, I also was responsible for wrapping up the junior tournament and American Collegiate Invitational for the day.
The world outside of our office may have frozen in disbelief, but we still had work to do. That was my day every day at the US Open— there was no sitting for one match, writing it up and getting on the train home. There were always tons of things going on at once and I embraced that.
I would not have had it any other way.
My favorite part of covering sports— not just tennis— is writing feature stories. It is nice to sit back and take in a match to tell the reader what happened and why, but there were 256 players in the men’s and women’s singles draws alone at the US Open. Each of them had a unique story.
From a 19-year-old who spent plenty of time during the summer and the Open itself practicing with Roger Federer to a little-known American woman who went without seeing her mother for four years to pursue her dreams, there were so many stories that nobody had touched yet, so why not go for it?
The freedom my editors gave me was one of the nicer parts of working for the tournament’s website compared to a newspaper. I noticed that a lot of print writers spent their entire day focusing on one thing and one thing only, simply because their newspaper did not have enough space for more.
One of the pieces I wrote that got a lot of fan interaction was probably the piece that I turned around the quickest, believe it or not. Victoria Azarenka was the No. 20 seed because of injuries she sustained last season, but for years has been considered a top-five player.
Everybody in the media center at one point or another had done the same story on her competitive spirit shown on and off the court, including myself. But, a couple of days before I filed, I found her agent on the grounds and asked if her practice partner, who is in reality like a second coach, would be willing to talk to me. He never got back to me, so I was about to send my story in, but a couple of hours before her match, the practice partner texted me, apologizing for not getting back to me sooner.
It was well worth the wait, as even though he is a member of her team and is not going to say anything close to bad about her, I got a glimpse into a different side of Azarenka that really made the story unique.
Walking past the likes of Roger Federer and many of the game’s greats every day and talking to them when they were in press was interesting, but not new. I had been a ballperson at the US Open for a number of years; so being around the best of the best was not nerve-wracking.
That came into play one morning at about 9:00 a.m. when I was walking through the grounds toward our office while the juniors were practicing — juniors and lesser known players typically have to take what they can get in terms of practice courts, so they were out and about bright and early. I glanced around just out of curiosity, and saw a former world No. 1 coaching a couple of Russian girls.
I did not think anything of it at the time, but when the team finished our morning meeting, I realized that it would be interesting to catch up with a top player who was forced out of the sport by a back injury for our readers. So, after covering my matches for the day, I walked around the grounds only to find Dinara Safina watching one of her students’ matches.
During a break, I asked if she would not mind chatting for a bit once the match was over, but she was more than happy to catch up then and there. Safina was known as an extremely emotional player on the court, and it was not out of the ordinary to see her visibly angry with herself, as if she was not having any fun whatsoever. Yet, readers seemed to enjoy what she had to say— namely how much she loved tennis and despite being forced out of the sport as a player, would love to stay involved in it in some capacity for the rest of her life.
Perhaps the most completely reported story I wrote and the one that I spent the most time on was a long form painting of Lleyton Hewitt’s career. Hewitt, who played his final US Open, spent plenty of time atop the world rankings over a decade ago and has become known as the prototypical warrior. Despite many injuries and a physical deficit in terms of size that he faced, Hewitt always seemed to find a way to beat players he should not have. My job was to not simply write about what made him an all-time great, but to talk to people who were or are around him to get insight into what he is like behind the scenes.
To do this, I even reached out to people Hewitt has not played or even spoken to since last millennium to get an authentic idea of what he was like before the Australian reached the top of the world, following his coaches and friends every step of the way until where he is now, laying out his career through the eyes of those around him.
I can go on for days about each and every story, but the one I may remember the most is one that I did not write.
The men’s final was widely anticipated throughout the entire sports world. A colleague and both agreed that we had never, ever been exposed to such an electric atmosphere in our lives. Roger Federer— who has won more Grand Slam titles than anybody— was the underdog against world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
There were constant momentum shifts and the crowd responded every single time. Looking around at other press members chuckling as the waves of roars rushed through the chilly night, there was no doubt that something special was happening.
When my colleague and I walked down the stairs to head back to the office for the final time, there was one thing I knew for certain— that special match was the most fitting way to finish what was a more-than-special experience and I will never forget it.