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Davis Cup In Uzbekistan – Clean, Safe, Secure and Photos with Pretty Girls

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!

Behind The Scenes Covering The U.S. Open

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.

Master Class – Djokovic Overcomes Federer In US Open Final

In one of the sport’s great rivalries, two of tennis history’s best competed in Sunday’s US Open men’s final, as No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic defeated No. 2 Roger Federer 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. “Winning a Grand Slam is very special for any tennis player when you are dreaming of becoming a professional,” Djokovic said after the match. “To win against one of the all-time Grand Slam champions, somebody that always keeps on fighting till the last point, keeps making you play an extra shot … all these things are very special to me.”

Photo: Chris Nicholson, www.PhotographingTennis.com

Perfectly Pennetta – Italian Veteran Wins US Open, Promptly Announces Retirement

Flavia Pennetta

Saturday’s women’s final was destined to guarantee two US Open superlatives: the first Italian winner, and the oldest first-time Grand Slam singles champion in the Open Era. Flavia Pennetta, 33, claimed both distinctions with a 7-6, 6-2 win over countrywoman Roberta Vinci. The final also marked another final, as in Pennetta’s last Grand Slam match. Before even accepting her champion’s trophy, she announced she would retire at season’s end. She said she made the decision a month ago, but began considering the option in late spring. “Sometimes we are more scared to take the decision because we don’t know what … we’re going to do after, how is going to be, the life after,” Pennetta said. “But I think it’s going to be a pretty good life. I mean, I’m really proud of myself. I think I did everything that I expected.”

Photo: Chris Nicholson, www.PhotographingTennis.com

Slam-Seek Suspended – Unseeded Vicci Stops Serena

Roberta Vinci accomplished the biggest upset in tennis history Friday, coming from behind to defeat formerly Grand Slam-destined Serena Williams 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. Gracious and commendatory, Williams praised the victor. “I thought she played the best tennis in her career,” Williams said. “You know, she’s 33 and, you know, she’s going for it at a late age. So that’s good for her to keep going for it and playing so well. Actually, I guess it’s inspiring.”

Photo: Chris Nicholson, www.PhotographingTennis.com

Historic Rain – Weather Washes Out US Open For Perhaps Last Time

Rainy US Open

Precipitation poured on Flushing Thursday, creating what may be the last rain-out ever at the US Open. The women’s semifinals were postponed until Friday, creating a stellar daylong extravaganza of penultimate men’s and women’s matches (Super Friday?). Next year Arthur Ashe Stadium will be roofed, so in the future, whatever the weather, the game will always be on.

Photo: Chris Nicholson, www.PhotographingTennis.com

Power Ranger – Halep Uses Deceptive Strength, Apparent Speed To Move Into Semis

Simona Halep

On Wednesday No.  2 seed Simona Halep powered past the taller and stronger Victoria Azarenka, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4. Their size difference (Halep is 5-foot-6, 132 pounds; Azarenka 6-foot-0, 148) was referenced earlier in the day by Flavia Pennetta, who also noted that fact’s irrelevance. “It look like she’s not that powerful, but she is,” Pennetta said. “To make a winner to her you have to finish the point seven times. She is always there, always in, the ball is always coming back.” Pennetta and Halep are due for a Friday semifinal showdown. “It is going to be like a marathon,” Pannetta said.

Photo: Chris Nicholson, www.PhotographingTennis.com

30-All – Vinci Victory Propels Her Toward Another Vet

Roberta Vinci

While in one Tuesday quarterfinal a 30-something woman proceeded exactly as expected, in another a 30-something woman explored new territory. Roberta Vince, 32,  reached her first Grand Slam singles semifinal with a 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 win over the decade-younger Kristina Mladenovic. “I’m not young, so probably my experience helped me a lot,” she said. “I think I’m at the end of my career, so my first semifinal, it’s incredible.” Her upcoming semi will be an Ashe Stadium showdown with that other 30-something, Serena Williams. In this matchup, Vinci doesn’t expect her age and wisdom to much affect the outcome. “I know that I have a lot of experience, but when you play against Serena, that doesn’t matter. You have to play better, then better, then better.”

Photo: Chris Nicholson, www.PhotographingTennis.com

Superserves – Federer And Isner Battle From The Baseline

Roger Federer

Roger Federer has won more night matches at the US Open than any other man in history. John Isner’s serve hadn’t been broken in Flushing in two years. Odds were that one of those two stats had to give in their fourth-round match Monday night, and at the end it proved to be the latter. After winning tie-breaks in the first and second set, Federer finally broke the American in the last game of the third, winning 7-6, 7-6, 7-5.

Photo: Chris Nicholson, www.PhotographingTennis.com

All Clear – Cilic Healthy And Ready To Defend

Marin Cilic

Last year Marin Cilic surprised most of the tennis world by winning the US Open, whilst charting a route through Tomas Berdych, Roger Federer and Kei Nishikori. This year he may have surprised tennis again by not winning another title since—or even advancing to a final. A few months of that drought can be attributed to the cloud of a shoulder injury that now appears to have cleared. And that timing is good, as his path to the semifinals also is relatively clear, with Novak Djokovic being the only other Top 10 player left in the top half of the men’s draw. Cilic’s 6-3, 2-6, 7-6, 6-1 Sunday victory over Jérémy Chardy brings him into the quarterfinals, where he’ll face No. 19 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Photo: Chris Nicholson, www.PhotographingTennis.com