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Another Typical Day Watching San Jose

San Jose 2013 -1

The ATP 250 tournament currently called the SAP Open, and currently hosted in San Jose, California, has been continuously operating in some form since 1889, making it the second oldest tennis tournament in the United States. The current edition will be its last. Next year the tournament relocates to Memphis.

One would hope that in its final year the SAP Open would make a strenuous effort to honor its golden past. If today was anything to go by, the tournament instead appears content merely to showcase its dreary present, and to illustrate just why it had to go.

Last Saturday night an attendee at the San Jose Sharks ice-hockey game tweeted their disbelief that within twenty-four hours the playing surface would be replaced by a tennis court. Attached pictures attested that the floor of the HP Pavilion was indeed composed of ice, and that the stands were packed with people. Really, one must have greater faith in modern technology. Stage-managing the set switch from a hockey rink to a tennis court is relatively easy to accomplish. Convincing the people to hang around, on the other hand, is apparently an insurmountable problem. As ever during the SAP Open, the stadium today looked like it had been converted into a storage facility for unused bleachers.

It is debatable whether the prevailing vibe is more depressed in San Jose than it was in Montpellier last week, which attained transcendent new levels of banality in striving to entertain its few attendees. (The best moment – if ‘best’ is the word – came when the court was invaded by a dance troupe pretending to be synchronized swimmers. Unfortunately for those of us watching, the impression was uncanny, achieving a manic exuberance unmatched anywhere outside of a North Korean military parade.) The SAP Open boasts nothing as overtly weird, although ones awareness that this is its last edition certainly helps to deflate proceedings. It didn’t have to, though: you’d hope the imminence of its loss would lend proceedings a bittersweet piquancy. But the organisers seem determined that blandness will prevail, at least until the weekend.

It shares every other current event’s penchant for incongruous and blaring music at the changeovers. This is staple fare during the slow month of February, and each region has its own preferred playlist, although the selection never seems quite to align with local tastes. Montpellier had a great time with ‘Part Time Lover’. San Jose differs in that fans may make requests of the DJ via Twitter. So far today I’ve heard Bon Jovi, Nickelback, Bruno Mars and Chumbawamba, among others. It is therefore theoretically possible to track down those responsible.

In the spirit of commercialism, the SAP Open periodically alleviates these pop-medleys by advertising local businesses. I now know that Blue Mango was recently voted best Thai restaurant in Silicon Valley, which will come in handy the next time I want to travel 8,000 miles for dinner. Admittedly the ads are intended for those in the stadium itself, but given that there were only about twelve people there today, I’m not convinced Blue Mango is seeing a decent return for its advertising dollar. Along with sparse attendance, the tournament has struggled with sponsorship for years. The impression, across the board, is that the event has been left to drift aimlessly for a good decade, a far cry from the days when Barry MacKay toiled tirelessly in its promotion. As ever, the whole thing feels provincial, and, despite its cavernous venue, cramped.

For those fans who unfortunately cannot attend in person – apparently nearly all of them – the television coverage hardly encourages them to tune in. It is seemingly directed by Terry Gilliam in full Twelve Monkeys mode, and assembled from whatever security footage he has at hand. The default camera is positioned along the doubles sideline on the umpire’s side of the court, on a shallow angle. This is periodically switched out for a useful low-angle behind the opposite baseline, or to another less-useful camera suspended from the ceiling. The perspective and the ends switch about restlessly, thereby making it easier to lose track of which player is which. I know this is the tournament’s last year, but could they not have positioned a camera in the conventional spot?

Ryan Harrison today was the tiny but vociferous figure who wasn’t wearing a hat, while Benjamin Becker was the one in white, with his hat turned backwards. Harrison was by all accounts unwell, although as far as I could make out from the bird’s nest vantage he was competing with undiminished gusto, especially when he fought to break back in the final set. The crowd went wild, although their meagre cheers were immediately drowned out by the sound system’s efforts to entertain them. Alas, Harrison was broken again immediately, and Becker eventually served out the match. The best points came at the end, as Harrison saved a couple of match points.

Jack Sock was clad in yellow, and like Becker wore a hat, which counts as a highlight. Marinko Matosevic was hatless, in white. Sock led by a break throughout much of the first set, lost it, then lost the set in a tiebreaker. Thereafter he lost interest, and soon afterwards, the match. The hatless Ryan Sweeting fared no better against the presumably be-goggled Denis Istomin (the security footage made it hard to be sure), losing in straight sets. Later on Tim Smyczek upset Fernando Verdasco, thus saving Milos Raonic the trouble.

It was thus a mixed day for the young American men, but a bad day for an old American tournament. At least for the former there is some hope that better days will come. For the San Jose tournament the best days, in which the world’s top players would do vigorous battle for a coveted title, are only fading memories. The ATP website put up a nice video to commemorate the passing, appropriately valedictory in tone, rich with recollection, and entirely contrasting with the limping haggardness of the event so far. Thankfully, they’ve planned something special for the weekend. I hope it’s an appropriate send-off.

Women Grab Some Limelight From Men in Memphis

Sofia Arvidsson ©Rick Limpert

by Rick Limpert, Special for Tennis Grandstand

With names like Isner, Roddick and Raonic in the men’s draw at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships this week, it’s easy to overlook the WTA’s Memphis International also going on through Saturday in Memphis.

A deep and international field came together on the women’s side and close matches throughout the week have been the rule rather than exception at the Racquet Club of Memphis.

In quarter-final play, Marina Erakovic of New Zealand held off a stubborn Michaella Krajicek 6-4, 6-7, 6-4 to reach Friday’s semis.  Erakovic was dominant on serve in the decisive set winning 71% of her first-serve points and a whopping 73% of her second-serve points to take the win.  Up next for Erakovic is 89th ranked Vera Dushevina of Russia.  Dushevina defeated Stephanie Foretz Gacon of France 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 in a two-hour match Thursday morning.

The remaining semi will feature Italian Alberta Brianti who was a straight set winner over Varvara Lepchenko, the last American in the draw and former Memphis champion Sofia Arvidsson of Sweden who was a 6-2, 7-6 winner over Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine Thursday afternoon.

Two very competitive women’s semis will be on tap for Friday in Memphis.  Memphis’ favorite son Elvis had a hit in 1962 called “Good Luck Charm”, these four girls will be looking for their good luck charm and a spot in the finals on Saturday.

 

Rick Limpert is a freelance writer/photographer that covers sports, technology and the intersection of sports and technology.  He is based in Atlanta and his writings can be found on Yahoo Sports and Yahoo News, Examiner.com and CBS Atlanta.  You can follow Rick on Twitter at @RickRoswell.

Roddick, Isner Motivated For Memphis

John Isner ©Rick Limpert
by Rick Limpert, Special for Tennis Grandstand
One may be playing the best tennis of his life, the other is struggling to stay healthy.  That would be a quick synopsis of the top two seeds heading into this week’s Regions Morgan Keegan Championships, an ATP 500 event going on this week in Memphis.Coming off what he called “the best win of his career”, John Isner has passed his countryman Andy Roddick in the ATP rankings and is the No. 1 seed this week at the Racquet Club of Memphis.

Looking cool and confident, Isner seems to be taking this all in stride.  “Now something is expected out of me, so I have to be ready, explained the 6′ 9″ righty.
Now ranked No. 13 in the world, a good week might get Isner closer to the top-10.  It’s a goal, and it’s something I’ve worked hard for,” added Isner.

The indoor courts in Memphis seem to suit Isner.  He’s a former finalist in singles and a past doubles champion here.  He opened play Tuesday night against a tough lefty in Gilles Muller of Luxembourg and Isner showed why his serve is one of the biggest weapons in tennis.  After basting 26 aces in a 7-6, 7-6 win, Isner moved to 3-0 in his career against Muller, but they have all been close affairs.Even though he may be the defending champ and a three-time winner of this event, Andy Roddick remains a question mark heading into his first match on Wednesday.

A win over Canadain player Milos Raonic last year in the finals is etched in the memories of tennis fans, but Roddick remembers the diving forehand he hit on match point to clinch the victory.
“Listen, there’s probably about 10% skill and 90% luck on that one,” Roddick said in a conference call. “I used all 90% of that luck. But it was a shot I certainly couldn’t believe at the time.”
Injuries sustained earlier this year in Australia and last week in San Jose have left Roddick a bit short on match play heading into this tournament. he opens with play with Xavier Malisse of Belgium.Roddick also said he enjoyed watching the marathon Australian Open final last month between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.  The high level of tennis impressed Roddick.

“It almost looked like kind of the tennis you see when you play XBOX, where the guys really don’t get tired and they just hit whatever shot they want,” Roddick stated.Should Isner and Roddick both reach the finals on Sunday, fans could expect some big serves and great shot making by these two American players.  It’s a big event on American soil, so there’s plenty of reason for motivation.

Rick Limpert is a freelance writer/photographer that covers sports, technology and the intersection of sports and technology.  He is based in Atlanta and his writings can be found on Yahoo Sports and Yahoo News, Examiner.com and CBS Atlanta.  You can follow Rick on Twitter at @RickRoswell.

Young Americans Looking to Avoid the “Blues” in Memphis

Madison Keys
Avoiding the “blues” is tough in Memphis when it comes to the city’s vibrant music scene, but that is what a number of young Americans will be looking to do when it comes to play in the ATP and WTA events this week in the largest combined indoor professional tennis tournament in the world.On the men’s side, Ryan Harrison will be looking to build off the semi-final showing he had last week in San Jose with a run at the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships.  Harrison will face a familiar foe in Jack Sock, another young American in the first round.
Sock, who won the 2011 U.S. Open Mixed Doubles title with Melanie Oudin, has embarked on his first full year out on tour and has made the necessary changes a young tennis professional needs to make.
“I’m a lot more professional with the way I go about my business,” offered up Sock.  “Unlike juniors, there are no easy matches and if you aren’t ready, the losses can start piling up.”
Donald Young has made tremendous strides in the past year when it comes to his game and ranking, and he’ll be itching to get on the court after his opening round loss in San Jose.  Young, currently ranked No. 40 will take on an opponent he has never beaten in Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria.The Memphis International’s women’s draw is loaded with rising Americans and this could be the perfect event for one or two of them to make a run.

All three tournament wildcards went to young Americans.  Madison Keys, Lauren Davis and Melanie Oudin all received the free pass into the main draw.

Teenagers Keys and Davis are looking make moves into the top-100,while Oudin is looking to halt a slide that has hurt her confidence for the better part of a year.
Also in the mix are Jamie Hampton, Sloane Stephens and Irina Falconi who just lost her first round match to Evgeniya Rodina of Russia on Sunday.
Many of these same players will also be participating in the doubles events, and that is a great opportunity to get close to the action and see the stars of tomorrow.
Over the years, the Racquet Club of Memphis has showcased the biggest names in tennis, but it’s also a great opportunity for these younger stars to prove themselves on a big stage.
Rick Limpert is a freelance writer/photographer that covers sports, technology and the intersection of sports and technology.  He is based in Atlanta and his writings can be found on Yahoo Sports and Yahoo News, Examiner.com and CBS Atlanta.  You can follow Rick on Twitter at @RickRoswell.
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