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Paris Tennis Diary: From the Photo Pit

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a professional tennis photographer covering the ATP and WTA tours, scrambling to capture the top players, racing back to edit and post your photos and catching the best angle on tennis? Our resident photographer Rick Gleijm has been in Paris all week covering the WTA Open GDF Suez tournament featuring players such as Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, and Na Li. This is his personal and candid feature “Tennis Diary: From the Photo Pit.”

Check out all of Rick’s photo galleries from Paris this week! Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.

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Sunday, February 4, 2012

Yesterday really wasn’t my day. I woke up at 2 am to make my way to Paris on the icy roads, but it had already been a terrible winter’s day the day before. I arrived to the Stade de Coubertin in Paris just to find out the tournament wasn’t ready to receive press. Wrong accreditation, no press center, no internet connection and worst of all, no parking spot. Since I didn’t fancy to leave most of my belongings in my car in a very expensive, but public garage, and also didn’t like the prospect of lugging around 20 kilos of equipment (and $20,000 in value as well!) I decided to check into my hotel early and try it again in the morning. Some things are just unexpected bumps in the road!

Sunday February 5, 2012

6:30 am: Woke up this morning to a very white world! As if I didn’t have  enough problems getting to Paris yesterday, I have to drive a few kilometers to the tournament site from my hotel. Usually I am happy to stay a little further away from the site, in a quieter place, but now that means I have to travel over snowy roads. Roads? Well, there were some cars driving on a white plain, so I guess I must be on the road… Luckily the circumstances meant even the French will drive carefully.

9:45 am: Arrived at the venue without any more scratches or dents. I even found a safe and guarded parking spot right across from the entrance of the Stade de Coubertin. As I approached the accreditations desk, I noticed the staff was happily waving my prepared media card, the press center was open, the Wi-Fi was working —  the tournament could start for me now! First up is to take a few shots from the second-round qualification matches before I go to the draw ceremony at 11:oo am.

[singlepic id=3377 w=320 h=240 float=right]1:05 pm: Quickly went to see a couple of points of the first two qualifying matches of the day and tried to take a couple of shots on court, but discovered the lighting is horrendous. On center court, there is a strange yellow/red glow around everything, while on court one everything is green. I took some time to adjust my camera settings but totally forgot about the time and thus, the draw ceremony. I quickly made my way to the VIP-village for the draw ceremony, but got completely lost in the corridors of the Stade de Coubertin. Thanks to a very nice hostess, I managed to arrive in time, just to find out everything was delayed for 15 minutes. After the draw, it was back to court one for Lepchenko versus Domachowska. I still had trouble getting my camera settings right, so that means there will be a lot of post-processing on my part to adjust for the color shift. The next match I’ll shoot will be Mattek-Sands, so that leaves me with a bit of time to edit some work.

4:55 pm: Shot the last three matches. After a time, the ligh on Center Court becam very decent after all. I will be doing some post-processing for Tennis Grandstand first and  see if I can upload the pictures, before trying to slide back to the hotel where I can make a back-up of the portfolio. I do need to find some place to eat though — noticed there is a big M nearby so perhaps I’ll try that. I have survived a tournament or two just on junk food, so that’ll be no problem — although I may then easily star in the sequel to the movie “Supersize Me”. Starting tomorrow though, the tournament will offer full hospitality, so that’s one less worry.

Monday, February 6, 2012

[singlepic id=3407 w=251 h=188 float=left]9:30 am: Matches start at 12:00 pm today, so I was able to stay in bed a little longer, but that rarely happens at tournaments. Usually the qualification tournament finishes in the morning to make way for first-round matches in the afternoon. In Paris though, today will only feature the finals of the singles qualification tournament and one main draw doubles match with Lucie Safarova and Klara Zakopalova. Anyway, made myself a cup of coffee and went on my way to the site!

11:55 am: As luck would have it, I arrived at Stade de Coubertin together with Jelena Jankovic, but regrettably had my gear in my trunk so no candid photo opportunity with the Serbian. Some parking problems again, but I was saved by the lovely girls in the press center. Thank you ladies! Dumped my gear in the press center and went for my first match, Arn versus Muguruza Blanco. Hope I have plenty of time to catch before the end of the match between Brianti and Barrois.

[singlepic id=3380 w=215 h=161 float=right]1:05 pm: Checked the score on Center Court: Barrois is having Brianti for lunch! At the first possible change-over, I left Arn-Maguruza, just to witness the last couple of points by Barrois. Unable to get a decent shot of Brianti, I decided to wait it out on center court and stay for the start of Mattek-Sands versus Craybas.

2:15 pm: Went back to the press center to start editing the first three matches, but am keeping an eye out on the scores — don’t want to miss out on the last two matches. I’m hoping Craybas can make it a three-setter, and Barthel seems to have an easy start against Lepchenko.

3:05 pm: Time to get out of the press center and shoot the last two matches of the day. Everything turned out just fine: when Barthel was finished, I left for center court and the doubles teams were just being introduced.

5:05 pm: Back in the press center now to finish the pictures for Tennis Grandstand. Funny story:  as I was walking back to the press center, I went by the WTA players’ desk where I saw Julia Goerges and Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova explaining that they were really players and that they were on the entry list. “Look right here, that’s my name on the list, Julia.”…….. It was quite a site to witness.

7:00 pm: Finished for the day, time to go back to the hotel.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

10:55 am: Today is sure to be busier. I arrived at the tournament, set up my laptop, readied my photo gear, and went to see Cetkovska versus Brianti. When the second set of Zahlavova-Strycova versus Barthel began, I moved over to center court.

12:25 pm: Back at the press center. Started post-processing pictures of first two matches, and have some time as Pironkova versus Li is not to start before 1:00 pm.

1:15 pm: The Pironkova vs. Li match has begun, but I have decided to go for the second set after Jankovic’s scheduled press conference – which should start soon. While waiting, I’m continuing work on photos.

[singlepic id=3421 w=100 h=75 float=left]2:00 pm: Jelena Jankovic arrived for her press conference to announce she was withdrawing from the tournament due to a left thigh strain she sustained in Fed Cup last week. I decided to then make my way over to the Pironkova vs. Li match. [singlepic id=3432 w=150 h=112 float=right]But, as irony would have it, at the change-over when I could finally enter the court, Na Li needed a medical timeout on her back. I took a couple of shots of Pironkova as she waited and tried to stay warm, bundled up in towels. When Li returned, I decided to stay with the Bulgarian for the game and then switch to Li. At 40-0, Li decided she couldn’t continue and had to retire from her match. So, no pictures of Li in action.

5:05 pm: With all that has happened, I almost forgot to update this! Not much currently happening though, just processing my pictures, uploading them etc., taking a few new ones along the way. Just when I nearly finished my editing, I noticed that I have to hurry if I want to take some photos at Goerges’ match. That girl is in a hurry to win!

[singlepic id=3420 w=150 h=112 float=left]5:45 pm: Got my pics. Am trying to finish them and upload them. There’ll be a post match interview which I’ll try to be present for as well. When I’m done with those I’ll call it a day.

Maria Sharapova on the Verge of Something Big in ‘12

The period of time when Maria Sharapova was sidelined by a career-threatening shoulder injury seems like an eternity ago.

Next week, the Russian superstar is guaranteed to return to the number-two spot in the WTA rankings. She’s also notched final-round appearances at two out of the past three Grand Slams: last year’s Wimbledon and this season’s Australian Open. Had she won one of those two, odds are that she would be back in the top spot.

As it is, though, her two opponents in those matches—Petra Kvitova and new world number-one Victoria Azarenka—handled Sharapova quite easily. Sharapova’s experience was expected to play a huge role in her match against Kvitova, but she was unable to keep pace with the young Czech. As for Azarenka, she established herself as the tournament favorite early on with the way she romped through her matches.

On the other side of the Melbourne draw, Sharapova was doing some romping and routing of her own: In her first three matches, she only lost five games total. She dropped sets to Sabine Lisicki and Wimbledon conqueror Kvitova in later rounds, but those two going into the event had dark horse and contender status, respectively, and were true tests of where her game is.

After the Australian, Sharapova resurfaced this past weekend for Fed Cup duty against Spain won her opening rubber match. Fed Cup participation sets the stage for one of her major goals for 2012: the summer Olympics.

The tournament venue will be one she’s quite familiar with: the players will be competing at the All-England Club, the site where a young teen shook up the tennis world in 2004 by defeating the legendary Serena Williams in the final.

There are many players on the tour who have a strong grass-court pedigree, and Sharapova is definitely one to them. Realistically, she could walk away with either a Grand Slam or Olympic Gold, or both, all within the span of a few weeks.

This week she’s the top seed at the Open GDF Suez in Paris, which features top 10 stars, such as Marion Bartoli and Li Na, in the mix. Coming through a tough tournament could possibly spur her to solid runs at the U.S.’ two biggest tournaments outside of the U.S. Open: Indian Wells and Miami. Sharapova won Indian Wells in 2006, but hasn’t pulled it off in Miami yet.

Should her good form carry over in the months ahead, Miami could end up being hers—and propel her to major heights over the course of the season.

Paris: Jankovic, Li Withdraw; Goerges, Safarova, Pironkova in Action

The Open GDF Suez WTA event in Paris saw seeded players Na Li and Jelena Jankovic both withdraw due to injuries today: Li with a sore back and Jankovic with a left thigh strain she picked up in Serbia’s 3-2 win over Belgium in the Fed Cup last week.

[singlepic id=3426 w=320 h=240 float=right]Li received a medical timeout, with a trainer massaging her lower back, before playing a few more points and eventually retiring after trailing in the second set to Tsvetana Pironkova.

“It was so painful,” Li said. “That’s why I called the physio to come to the court. I tried to tape and then tried to play the point, but it didn’t work. I’ll go to the hospital to take an MRI to see what happened.”

“I hurt myself in the Fed Cup at the weekend,” elaborated Li. “It had gotten better since and this morning it didn’t hurt. But the stab of pain returned, very strong and I couldn’t continue. I don’t know if it’s because of the Fed Cup, maybe I’m getting old as well,” added Li, who turns 30 later this month.

Likewise, Jankovic picked up her injury while playing Fed Cup against Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium last week and wasn’t able to heal in time to play in Paris.

“I had hoped that after treatment I could still play here but unfortunately it’s impossible,” said Jankovic. “Australia (Open) and the Fed Cup and then here, that’s a lot. But it’s important for me to play for my country… I don’t know when I will be able to resume playing but I don’t regret having played in the Fed Cup.”

Although the third and fourth seeds are gone, the tournament still has it’s top two marquee players scheduled to play, Maria Sharapova and Marion Bartoli.

[singlepic id=3416 w=320 h=240 float=left]Other winners include sixth seed Julia Goerges who dispatched of Shahar Peer 6-1, 6-3, while ninth-seed Angelique Kerber defeated Lucie Safarova 6-2, 7-6. Chanelle Scheepers defeated Polona Hercog 6-2, 6-2. Qualifier Mona Barthel easily dispensed of Barbara Zahlavova Strycova 6-3, 6-2, while Petra Cetkovska defeated Alberta Brianti 6-3, 6-3.

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Catch all the great action our photographer Rick Gleijm caught during the first round main draw matches today! And make sure to check out his feature “Paris Tennis Diary: From the Photo Pit.”

Stay tuned all week for full coverage in Paris and catch Rick at the ATP Rotterdam tournament next week!

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Open GDF Suez Paris Photo Gallery with Bartoli, Mauresmo, Mattek-Sands

Follow professional tennis photographer Rick Gleijm as he covers the Open GDF Suez WTA Tour event in Paris this week. The gallery below includes the draw ceremony that features Amelie Mauresmo, Marion Bartoli and Mary Pierce, as well as day two qualifying matches featuring Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Julie Coin, Marta Domachowska, Varvara Lepchenko, Mona Barthel, and Naomi Broady among others. For full qualification results, go here.

Also make sure to check out Rick’s feature “Paris Tennis Diary: From the Photo Pit.”

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