Andre Sa

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Up for the Cup! First-Round Davis Cup World Group Preview

Tomas prepares to defend his first Davis Cup title as plenty of intriguing ties await.

Eight first-round Davis Cup ties unfold around the world this weekend.  We discuss the key players and themes that might emerge from each of them.

Canada vs. Spain:  Without any of their top three men, Davis Cup Goliath Spain finds itself at a surprising disadvantage when it travels to the western coast of North America.  Had either Nadal or Ferrer participated in this tie against Canada, the visitors would remain heavy favorites even against a squad spearheaded by Milos Raonic and aging doubles star Daniel Nestor.  Instead, Canada now can rely on two victories from their singles #1 against the overmatched pair of Marcel Granollers and Albert Ramos, forcing Spain to sweep the remaining three matches.  Among those is a doubles rubber that pits Nestor against World Tour Finals champions Granollers and Marc Lopez, who lost three of their four Davis Cup doubles rubbers last year.  If the tie reaches a live fifth rubber, as seems plausible, Spanish champion Alex Corretja might consider substituting Guillermo Garcia-Lopez for Ramos against the net-rushing Frank Dancevic.  Buoyed by their home crowd, though, Canada should find a way to snatch one of the three non-Raonic rubbers and send Spain to the playoff round for the first time in recent memory.

Pick:  Canada

Italy vs. Croatia:  This tie should hinge on home-court advantage and the choice of ground that it entails.  On a fast hard court, the formidable serves of Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig would stifle the less imposing firepower of the Italians.  But Croatia faces Andreas Seppi and Fabio Fognini on the red clay of Turin, a slow surface where the superior consistency of the hosts should lead them to victory.  The visitors will face the intriguing choice of whether to substitute their singles stars on Saturday for a doubles pairing almost certainly doomed to defeat.  Three straight days of best-of-five matches for Cilic, Dodig, or both would leave them even more vulnerable to the Italian war of attrition, though.  At any rate, the contrast of styles between the fearless first strikes of the Croats and the patient baseline rallying of the Italians should provide entertaining viewing.

Pick:  Italy

Belgium vs. Serbia:  One might see Djokovic’s name on the schedule and automatically checking off the “Serbia” box, but a few flickers of doubt persist.  First, the Australian Open champion may have arrived physically and mentally drained from his recent exploits, and he has struggled against Friday opponent Olivier Rochus throughout his career.  Breaking from a long history of Davis Cup participation, Serbian #2 Janko Tipsarevic cannot step into the breach if Djokovic falters.  That duty lies in the suspect hands of Viktor Troicki, who endured a miserable 2012, and in the aging hands of Nenad Zimonjic, well past his prime despite his many accomplishments.  Serbia thus might find itself in real trouble if they played a team with a notable talent, like Canada.  With just the 32-year-old Rochus and the volatile but unreliable David Goffin barring their path, however, they should advance even if their stars underperform.

Pick:  Serbia

USA vs. Brazil:  Tennis Grandstand will feature more detailed coverage of this tie over the weekend.  For the moment, we will note that Team USA stands in promising position with two serving leviathans on an indoor hard court, complemented by the reigning Australian Open doubles champions.  While Isner did not win a match in January as he struggled with a knee injury, and Querrey did not impress in Melbourne, both should steamroll the harmless Brazilian #2 Thiago Alves.  In the best-case scenario for Brazil, which would feature two victories for their #1 Bellucci, their doubles duo of Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares still should fall short against the Bryans.  All of these Americans have played some of their best tennis on home soil and in Davis Cup, including on less friendly surfaces, whereas Brazil has accomplished little of note in this competition recently.

Pick:  USA

France vs. Israel:  Across from one team that often proves less than the sum of its talents in Davis Cup stands a team that typically overperforms expectations at the national level.  Whereas France will bring two members of the top 10 to this tie, Israel can claim no top-100 threat in singles.  The fast indoor hard court should allow the offensive might of Tsonga to overwhelm Dudi Sela and Amir Weintraub, although the latter has developed into a more credible threat over the last several months.  In a tantalizing doubles rubber, a battle of all-stars pits Jonathan Ehrlich and Andy Ram against Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra.  Underdogs in every singles rubber and arguably the doubles too, Israel can hope for an upset only if Gasquet crumbles under the pressure of playing for national pride on home soil as he has so infamously before.  Otherwise, the talent gap simply looms too large.

Pick:  France

Argentina vs. Germany:  Perhaps the most tightly contested tie, this battle on outdoor red clay will unfold in the absence of Del Potro, who would have given the home squad a clear edge.  While Argentina will field a squad of clay specialists, leading Germans Philipp Kohlschreiber and Florian Mayer have acquitted themselves well on the surafce and should not find themselves at a disadvantage parallel to Croatia in Italy.  Much rests on the shoulders of Juan Monaco, tasked with avoiding the daunting 0-2 deficit after Kohlschreiber likely opens the tie by dismissing Carlos Berlocq.  The top Argentine here enjoyed his best season to date last year but did not start 2013 especially well.  Lurking in the shadows, as he so often does, is long-time Argentine Davis Cup hero David Nalbandian.  Argentina will hope that Nalbandian’s contribution in doubles on Saturday will combine with two Monaco victories to give them the points that they need without reaching a live fifth rubber.  There, one would favor Mayer to overcome both Berlocq and the Argentine crowd.

Pick:  Er, Argentina?

Kazakhstan vs. Austria:  In a tie without a singles star of note, the opportunity beckons for someone to seize the spotlight in a way that he could not at a major.  The most likely candidate to do so would seem Austrian #1 Jurgen Melzer, the only top-100 singles player on either side.  His opponents can produce better tennis than their current rankings suggest, though, and Andrey Golubev already has started the tie in promising fashion with a straight-sets victory over Andreas Haider-Maurer.  The doubles edge probably belongs to Austria with the greater expertise of Alexander Peya and Julian Knowle, specialists who will allow the 31-year-old Melzer to rest for Sunday.  Excluded from the initial lineup is top-ranked Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin, whose absence will force #211 Evgeny Korolev to win a best-of-five match for the hosts to survive.

Pick:  Austria

Switzerland vs. Czech Republic:  While Tomas Berdych is the highest-ranked man in this clash between nearby nations, the most intriguing role goes to opposing #1 Stanislas Wawrinka.  After he came far closer than anyone to toppling Djokovic at the Australian Open, the latter may suffer a hangover in a competition where he has struggled lately.  Moreover, Switzerland leans on Wawrinka to win both of his singles matches and contribute to a doubles victory on the intervening day, an enormous challenge for the sternest of competitors when the last of those matches involves Berdych.  The Czech Republic will not enlist the services of Radek Stepanek, a rare absentee this weekend like Tipsarevic, but singles #2 Lukas Rosol intimidates much more than anyone that Switzerland can throw at him.  In the Federer/Wawrinka era, no Swiss team ever has presented the united front that the defending champions have behind Berdych.  The medium-slow hard court should not trouble the broad-shouldered world #6 unduly.

Pick:  Czech Republic

Mondays With Bob Greene: Federer has the potential to win at Paris and at any site in the world

Serbia won the ARAG ATP World Team Championship

STARS

Guillermo Garcia-Lopez beat Julien Benneteau 3-6 7-6 (1) 6-3 to win the Interwetten Austrian Open in Kitzbuhel, Austria

Aravane Rezai beat Lucie Hradecka 7-6 (2) 6-1 to win the Internationaux de Strasbourg in Strasbourg, France

Alexandra Dulgheru beat Alona Bondarenko 7-6 (3) 6-3 6-0 to win the Warsaw Open in Warsaw, Poland

Serbia won the ARAG ATP World Team Championship, defeating Germany in Dusseldorf, Germany

Thomas Enqvist beat Fernando Meligeni 7-6(3) 6-3 to win the AOC Grand Champions Brazil in Sao Paulo, Brazil

SAYING
“I know what I have to do, but that doesn’t make it easy.” – Roger Federer, when asked if he could win the French Open.

“Federer has the potential to win at Paris and at any site in the world. He’s showed that throughout his career. But Paris begins with the first round, not the final.” – Rafael Nadal.

“If I continue playing like I’ve been playing for the past three weeks, I have a very good chance (of winning the tournament). I’m really looking forward to it.” – Dinara Safina, on her chances at Roland Garros.

“Any win on the clay is a great win. I know the Americans don’t do well over here, so it’s good to get us on the board.” – Robert Kendrick, after his five-set, first-day win over Daniel Brands.

“To play him on any surface, he’s so dangerous. (He served) a lot of unreturnables.” – Lleyton Hewitt, after surviving a French Open -record 55 aces struck by Ivo Karlovic to win his first-round match.

“I think it is going to be huge and this is respect because Djokovic was not here. And I think we showed that we are a big tennis nation also if Novak is not here with us.” – Janko Tipsarevic, after he teamed with Viktor Troicki and doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic to lead Serbia to the ARAG ATP World Team Championship title.

“A very, very poor match – probably my worst match in the last two years.” – Jelena Dokic, after losing to Romanian qualifier Ioana Raluca Olaru in the first round of the Warsaw Open.

“I have no expectations for the French Open. This is not a time in my career to have expectations.” – Maria Sharapova, after losing a quarterfinal match in her first singles tournament since undergoing shoulder surgery.

“It’s incredible. I’m so happy to win my first title in France.” – Aravane Rezai, the first Frenchwoman to win the Internationaux de Strasbourg in Strasbourg, France, in the tournament’s 23-year history.

“I didn’t expect to win. I don’t know what happened that I was playing so well. .. I had to use every drop of energy I had to win.” – Alexandra Dulgheru, after winning her first WTA Tour title, the Warsaw Open.

“I think it’s my best moment in my career. I played in my first ATP World Tour final and I won.” – Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, after winning the Austrian Open.

SETS RECORD FOR ACES

Ivo Karlovic slammed a record 55 aces yet still lost his first-round Roland Garros match to Lleyton Hewitt 6-7 (1) 6-7 (4) 7-6 (4) 6-4 6-3. The tallest man on the ATP Tour at 6-foot-10 (2.08m), Karlovic shared the previous record of 51 aces with Joachim Johansson. The ATP began keeping records on aces in1991. However, Bud Collins, the Hall of Fame tennis journalist and broadcaster, in his book The Bud Collins History of Tennis, lists American Ed Kauder as the holder of the most aces struck in a match. Kauder fired 59 aces in a 6-2 3-6 9-11 10-8 6-0 first-round loss to Ham Richardson at the US Championships (now US Open) in 1955. According to Collins, Karlovic’s 55 aces stands as the second-most all-time and the most aces in a match at Roland Garros.

SET FOR LONDON

Rafael Nadal is the first player to clinch a spot in the season-ending ATP World Tour finals to be held in London. Nadal is the reigning Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon champion. He will be joined by seven other player sin the November 22-29 event. Despite qualifying for the year-ending event in each of the past four years, Nadal has twice withdrawn from the competition because of injury and has never reached the final. Last year he missed the finale in Shanghai because of tendinitis in his knee. He lost to Roger Federer in the semifinals in 2006 and 2007.

SURPRISE

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise when Alexandra Dulgheru won the Warsaw Open. She rallied from 7-5 4-2 down to win her opening round in qualifying, then won two more matches just to get to the main draw. Ranked 201st in the world, Dulgheru included among her victims Daniela Hantuchova before she beat Alona Bondarenko in her first Sony Ericsson WTA Tour final. Dulgheru won the title match in two hours, 52 minutes – exactly the same time it took her to beat Lenka Wienerova in the first round of qualifying.

STOPPED

John Isner’s French Open ended before it began. Isner won a wild card into Roland Garros by winning the USTA wild card tournament in Boca Raton, Florida. But he had to pull out of the French Open because of mononucleosis.

Russia’s Dimitry Tursunov and Croatia’s Mario Ancic are also missing this year’s clay court Grand Slam tournament. Tursunov withdrew because of a heel injury, while Ancic pulled out because of a lack of fitness.

SHARAPOVA BACK

Maria Sharapova played singles in a tournament for the first time in nearly 10 months, reaching the quarterfinals before being stopped by Alona Bondarenko. The three-time Grand Slam tournament winner needed nine match points in her opening match before finally downing Tathiana Garbin in three sets at the Warsaw Open. She beat Darya Kustova in the second round before falling to the eight-seeded Bondarenko. The Russian had surgery for a torn rotator cuff last year and missed the US and Australian Opens as well as the Beijing Olympics. She briefly returned to tournament tennis in March, playing and losing a doubles match in Indian Wells, California. “In these nine months the only thing I’ve accomplished is probably a good pasta carbonara,” she said. “At the end of the day, that’s not my specialty. My specialty is to go out and compete and win Grand Slams.” Sharapova has already next month’s Edgbaston Classic in Birmingham, England, a grass-court warm-up for Wimbledon.

STRICKEN

Japan’s Kei Nishikori has an injured right elbow, forcing him to pull out of the French Open. Nishikori has not played since losing in the opening round at Indian Wells, California, in March. Last year Nishikori became the first Japanese man since 1937 to reach the fourth round of the US Open, and he was later honored as the ATP’s newcomer of the year for 2008. He was ranked as high as number 56, but currently is ranked 117th in the world.

STEFFI AND ANDRE, AGAIN

Their act was so good at Wimbledon, Andre Agassi and his wife Steffi Graf will play another exhibition match – this time at Roland Garros on Saturday, June 6. Sponsored by Longines and in honor of the tenth anniversary of the couple’s 1999 singles championship victories, Agassi and Graf will play on Court 7 with ten young players from around the world.

STEAMED

Lleyton Hewitt is upset over the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) decision to fine Australia USD $10,000 because of the country’s refusal to play a Davis Cup zonal tie in India. Tennis Australia (TA) had asked the ITF to move the Asia/Oceania Zone tie out of Chennai, India, but when the request was denied, the Australians refused to play, forfeiting the round. “The way the ITF went about it was a disgrace in the first place,” said Hewitt. “Australia Davis Cup is pretty disappointed about the way they’ve gone about it.” Under ITF rules, Australia could have been suspended for a year. India feels the ITF has been too lenient with Australia and is seeking a review of the punishment.

STUPIDITY

Jelena Dokic’s father is facing up to eight years in prison after threatening the Australian ambassador in Belgrade, Serbia. Damir Dokic was charged with “endangering security” of the ambassador and unlawful possession of weapons. He was arrested after reportedly saying he would blow up Ambassador Clair Birgin’s car if she did not stop negative articles about him from being published in the Australian mea. Searching his house in northern Serbia, police found rifles and hand grenades.

SINGERS WANTED

The United States Tennis Association (USTA) is seeking youngsters to perform at this year’s US Open. The children – 12 years of age and younger as of September 13, 2009 – will be singing “America the Beautiful” before the night sessions at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

STRAIGHT IN

Taylor Dent has been granted a wildcard for the Pilot Pen Tennis to be held August 21-29 at the Connecticut Tennis Center in New Haven, Connecticut. Dent will join fellow American Mardy Fish and Spaniard Tommy Robredo as players already committed to the US Open hard court warm-up event. Dent has reached a career-high ranking of 21st in the world before undergoing back surgery. When that surgery proved to be unsuccessful, he had spinal fusion surgery and has slowly worked his way back onto the ATP tour.

SUSPENSION SHORTENED

Poland’s Radwanska sisters -Agnieszka and Urzula – along with Daniela Hantuchova have lent their support to Habitat for Humanity and their latest building project in Warsaw, Poland. Due to be completed this September, the Warsaw project will provide new homes and a better future for six families. The three WTA Tour stars joined in with the construction on the latest installment of the “women-only” construction program which is designed to recruit, train and empower women. Besides their financial support, the Radwanska sister gave their match play racquets to Habitat for Humanity Poland for an auction.

STAGE FOR UPSETS

The infamous Court Two at Wimbledon, dubbed the graveyard of champions, will be replaced in time for the 2011 grass-court championships. “The new court (Three), containing enhanced spectator amenities, will be built on the site of old Court Two,” All England Club officials said. The work will start immediately after this year’s tournament and will be completed by May 2011. Several Wimbledon champions were upset on the old Court Two, including Pete Sampras in his last visit to Wimbledon in 2002. A new Court Two will be used for the first time when the Grand Slam tournament begins next month, while the retractable roof over Centre Court will also makes its debut.

SPONSORSHIP GONE

The Australian Open has lost nearly USD $10 million in sponsorship, thanks to the current world-wide financial crisis. Garnier, part of the L’Oreal Group, has become the second major backer to pull out of the year’s first Grand Slam tournament. GE Money recently decided against extending its three-year arrangement. Garnier said the beauty products company has recently advised Tennis Australia of its decision not to continue as a sponsor in 2010. A much smaller arrangement between the Australian Open and MasterCard is also over as the sponsorship market continues to tighten locally and internationally.

STANDING TALL

Vera Zvonareva has been named a “Promoter of Gender Equality” as part of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour’s partnership with UNESCO. Zvonareva joins fellow tennis stars Venus Williams, Tatiana Golovin and Zheng Jie as Promoters of General Equality for the program as well as WTA Tour founder Billie Jean King. Zvonareva had her best year in 2008. The 24-year-old enrolled in the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2007 where she is studying for a post-graduate degree in International Relations and Economics.

STRODE ARTHUR ASHE WINNER

The top men’s player on the University of Arkansas’ team, senior Blake Strode, has been named the national recipient of the ITA/Arthur Ashe Award for Leadership & Sportsmanship. Strode beat out nominees from Harvard, Georgia, Toledo, Rice, New Mexico and Pepperdine for the national honor.

SIGNS UP

Alex Bogomolov is the new Touring Professional in Residence for the Napeague Tennis Club in the Hamptons area of Long Island, New York. At one time ranked in the top 100 in the world, Bogomolov will serve as the club’s resident ATP Touring Pro and will be available to Napeague Tennis Club members for private lessons, clinics, and other club events throughout the summer.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Warsaw: Raquel Kops-Jones and Bethanie Mattek-Sands beat Yan Zi and Zheng Jie 6-1 6-1

Strasbourg: Nathalie Dechy and Mara Santangelo beat Claire Feuerstein and Stephanie Foretz 6-0 6-1

Kitzbuhel: Marcelo Melo and Andre Sa beat Andrei Pavel and Horla Tecau 6-7 (9) 6-2 10-7 (match tiebreak)

SITES TO SURF

Paris: www.rolandgarros.com/index.html

Prostejov: www.czech-open.com/

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP and WTA

Roland Garros, Paris, France, clay (first week)

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP and WTA

Roland Garros, Paris, France, clay (second week)

ATP

$170,000 UniCredit Czech Open, Prostejov, Czech Republic, clay

How I Went to the Pacific Life Open for Four Days and Only Saw One Complete Match

Debra Rose covered the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells for TennisGrandStand. In this first part in a three-part series of her reports from the tournament, Debra shares her experience at this tournament.

As I have always done in years past on my trips to the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells, California, when I enter the grounds each day, I make my initial perusal around the practice courts, partially to see who’s there and partially to reacquaint myself, especially on my first day. Grassy field where players warm up and relaxFriday, my first day around live tennis in about a year, was especially exciting. In a bit of a rut due to my inability to land my dream job and toiling away in a boring, windowless office in front of a computer all day for almost two months, I needed this break to go to Indian Wells more than I had in the past. And while I was representing TennisGrandStand at the event as a member of the media, it was important to me to experience the event “on the ground” so that I could relay the best possible accounting of my time at the tournament. I wanted to experience it just like a fan would, so that my reports would be accurate and authentic.

Walking around Friday morning, the intoxicating smell of the plentiful flowers enveloped me; they are everywhere and in perfect full bloom. Marat Safin wandered past me; Carlos Moya, playing a little pre-practice soccer on the big grassy field where the players often warm up ran out of the fenced area to recover the ball that had fallen out, and he nearly fell on his face. And I knew I was back at a tennis tournament, finally. After acquainting myself with the media surroundings (to be discussed in Part Two of this Series), I sat in this beautiful covered area outside the media/player cafeteria to write these notes about my initial reactions. Snow-capped Mountains on Sunday morningIt was mostly empty, as many players and the media don’t come around until later in the day. I sat back, and thought to myself. Somehow, in the midst of the beauty of the snow-capped mountains surrounding the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in all directions, and the bright beating desert sun clamoring in around me from every direction, I realized that for the next four days, I could forget how much it all was costing me; it didn’t seem to matter how much money I was missing out on by missing three days of work. Somehow, being there and soaking it all in was just allowing me to forget it all, live in the moment, and just have a great time for four days. And what a better place to do it than at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, which must be one of the most beautiful tennis venues in the world.

In addition to the stunning natural beauty surrounding th grounds, Indian Wells is an easy tournament to enjoy. The practice courts – of which there must be about ten – stretch around Stadium 3 and behind Courts 7 and 8 in an L-shaped fashion (peek at the tournament grounds here). The main front gate empties the throngs of fans right at the end of the practice courts. When I enter through that way, I enjoy breaking away from the path most of the fans take; instead of walking straight through to the main center, I like to take a left and walk along the practice courts. When I go to any tournament, but particularly Indian Wells, I really love watching practices. So every day when I entered the grounds, I swung around the practice courts.

So on a picture-perfect if slightly breezy Friday, the first match I went into was the 11am first round match between Nicolas Massu and Janko Tipsarevic. Considering that both Chilean and Serbian fan groups are vociferous and plentiful, this was an inevitably boisterous encounter. But Stadium 3 seemed to have an even bigger buzz than normal. In years’ past, the courts have been empty for the 11am matches, especially on Friday, when people are less likely to be able to get off of work or away from school. As you can see in the picture, it may look kind of empty, but from what I remember of the past couple years, this was actually a big crowd. And after the first three games took a long time to finish, I had a feeling this would end up being a long one (and I was right, it ended up taking over three hours to complete). And my premonition about the crowd size turned out to be spot on – the tournament set a new all-time record of over 330,000 spectators throughout the event.

The thing with going to a tennis tournament – especially one as big as the Pacific Life Open – is that there is so much going on around the grounds at any one time that for someone like me who wants to single-handedly try to see it all, it’s nearly impossible to stay in the same place for more than a little while at a time. I love tennis, and I love tennis matches. But sitting down on hard uncomfortable bleachers and under the beating desert sun for three hours or even just one hour to see a whole match from start to finish is exceedingly more difficult than sitting at home watching a match from start to finish. Maybe it’s just my personality, but I just cannot sit through a complete tennis match live when I know that there are lots of other matches and interesting practices to see at the same time.

Adding to my inability to stay in one place for too long is the fact that at the Pacific Life Open, almost like clockwork, new players come out to the practice courts every hour on the hour. Because the Pacific Life Open is a two-week event, players get days off and practice together for the full hour. For me, this is more interesting than seeing matches. I can get up close and personal, observe how players interact with their coaches, how players interact with their fans, and which players practice with each other. I’m an observer, so for me one of the interesting differences between the men’s and women’s tours is the player interaction. On the women’s tour, at least at Indian Wells, the players practice much less with each other and much more with their (usually male) coaches and (almost always male) hitting partners. The men, on the other hand, practice with each other. So for me, watching men’s practices is fascinating because there’s that added dimension of seeing how these players interact with each other. Invariably, I always see a few combinations that I find surprising. This year, surprises included: Andy Roddick and Nikolay Davydenko, John Isner and Richard Gasquet, and Roger Federer and Carlos Berlocq.

One of the most remarkable things about Indian Wells is how the practice courts are so fan-accessible. Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Rafael Nadal, and Maria Sharapova attract the most crowds by far. This year, add Novak Djokovic to that. Roddick could have gone onto that empty grassy field…For them, the sell-out weekend crowds are somewhat of a nightmare. But the way the practice courts are set up help a bit; there are four “main” practice courts where a lot of the top players practice. It’s a little easier for them, because they can hop across one sidewalk from their safe grassy field and avoid the masses. Behind that, there is a stretch of about six practice courts, almost all of which have plenty of viewing space in between them. Something interesting for me to observe is how each player deals with the crowds of fans who want pictures and autographs. Even for those more exposed practice courts, the tournament makes it easy for players to avoid the hordes by setting up golf cart transportation that runs behind all of the courts. So it’s interesting to see which players take advantage and which don’t.

He’s taken an awful lot of bad press lately, but Andy Roddick signs the most autographs of any of the top stars – by far. Instead of crossing the sidewalk and taking refuge in the grassy area like his peers, he actually chooses to walk around – on the public sidewalks – signing and joking with fans the whole way. They may seem like small gestures, but you can hear and feel the buzz when a player treats his or her fans really well; it adds to the tournament experience. And when players pass by without signing – as the case with Jo-WilfriedTsonga (who, as the Australian Open “Player of the Moment,” had a lot of fans watching his practices), who did not sign at all, the disappointment among the younger children he rejected is palpable.

You can to go the rest of TennisGrandStand or a number of other sites to read about the matches I saw, so I won’t bore you with those. Instead, I’d rather talk about some of the more interesting things I saw:

  • They were filming the annual US Open Series commercials. Apparently Justin Gimelstob is going to be some sort of emcee and may have been wearing some cheesy drawn-on makeup… regardless, it made quite a pretty background and I hope that some of the scenery will be used (in the past couple years, the commercials have been exclusively inside the bus pretty much).US Open Series Bus
  • The grounds at Indian Wells are huge, and thousands (as many as 21,000 on Saturday, in fact) of people fill every inch of them each day. Yet somehow, when a big star comes out, that court is packed within 30 seconds. The same thing happened any time there was an upset or a close exciting match. It’s uncanny how fast word travels around the grounds!
  • The first round doubles match between Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra and Marcelo Melo and Andre Sa was held on Court 5, one of the smallest courts. It was an 11am match, and the court was packed. I mean standing room only behind the three rows of seats on each side of the court. All around me, people were talking about how much they love doubles. The guy next to me is asking me about the philosophical differences between Llodra playing with Clement or Julien Benneteau (who he won the Las Vegas title with the week before). The Indian Wells crowd is a knowledgeable and passionate tennis crowd. They want to see doubles, and the tournament makes it so hard for them to do so (but more on this in Part 3 of my series).
  • Also interesting to me from this doubles match: Clement and Llodra won the toss, but actually deferred choice. I’d never seen that before. These little things like paying attention to the coin toss and observing the smaller details are the things we miss on TV and the things that to me, make the sport a more interesting one.
  • One of the funniest moments for me all weekend was watching Luis Horna and Juan Monaco during their “practice.” While a lot of the European and South American players warm up and down on the grassy firled playing soccer, Horna and Monaco did it on the tennis court, and it made for a rather amusing scene. Check out a short video of it here.
  • Shortly after Andy Roddick was upset by Tommy Haas in the second round match, he was outside reuniting with Haas’s new coach, Dean Goldfine’s, family. Yes, Roddick is my favorite player so perhaps this was of more interst to me than it might be to others, but seeing him so soon after his loss laughing and having fun with Goldfine’s young children gave an interesting insight into what he and these other players go through on a daily basis. I suppose Roddick might be better at getting over losses than other players, but it was still interesting to see how quickly he seemed to get over what should have been a fairly disappointing loss.
  • On Sunday, Djokovic and Sharapova practiced at the same time on adjoining courts. Whose bright idea was this?!?!
  • Against Igor Andreev, Mardy Fish won the toss and chose to receive. For a guy with a huge serve that is the cornerstone of his game, I was surprised. Perhaps it was just my fault for not noticing it, but later in the week Fish said he actually prefers to get his feet under him and start off returning where he can. I found this interesting.
  • Although this is a combined event, I think it is a great one for fans of both the ATP and WTA tours. They don’t get in the way of each other. There are enough practice courts so that there are always some men and some women players practicing at any one time and the organization does an excellent job of putting an even number of men’s and women’s matches on each court so it’s easy to focus on one or the other, or both.Guga practicing the backhand
  • I find it interesting that certain players seem to almost never be on the grounds. A few players I almost never saw: Lleyton Hewitt, Maria Sharapova, and Bob and Mike Bryan. I think it’s a shame for the fans that these players aren’t on the grounds more, especially the Bryans since they are pretty much the face of doubles in the US.
  • Gustavo Kuerten practiced several times on the grounds. This was a wonderful surprise as he wasn’t even playing the tournament. He drew very sizable crowds and it was a joy to see backhand up close.


For me, running around between bits and pieces of matches and practices and seeing these interesting tidbits is the best way to see a tournament, and the Pacific Life Open at Indian Wells is a great place to see world-class tennis and learn a lot about the game at the same time. To sit and watch matches in the stadium all the way through is doing a disservice to the other great players in the draw and to those spectators who do it. Had I done that, I’m sure I would have seen some great tennis, but I would have missed an awful lot of special things, too. Over my four days at the Pacific Life Open I tried to soak in as much as possible. It was tiring and frenetic at times, but also reinvigorating, fun, and exciting. Stay tuned for two more parts of my reports, which will give a more behind-the-scenes view of how this event runs.

Please take a look at all of the pictures I took:

Also, I took a few short videos, check those out here

Trophy Watch

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brazil-open-doubles-08.jpg

This one’s for you, Mikey: Our Sa Watch 2008 begins with the duo of Marcelo Melo and Andre Sa — locals — winning the Brazil Open doubles trophy over Albert Montanez and Santiago Ventura. Leave it to Andre to wear yellow socks on the court. Cute. Continue reading

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