Pacific Life Open

Why the Tennis Establishment is Out of Touch With Tennis Fans

This is the third and final part of the three-part series of Debra Rose’s reports from the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells this past March. Debra covered the event for TennisGrandStand.

Unfortunately, the most disappointing aspect of covering the 2008 Pacific Life Open was some of the negative things I witnessed. In this third and part of my report, I’ll share some of what I saw and why I find it so disconcerting. I want to preface this by saying that this is just based on my own observations across four days. I’m not pretending that I saw everything and everyone and that I have all the answers. There are always exceptions to the rule and different ways to look at things. I also don’t intend for this column to be a reflection upon the individual people working at the Pacific Life Open or in the media; all of them, just like all of us, are just getting up every day to do our job and do it the best that we know how. This is jus tanother take on things.

Mainstream Tennis Media is Out of Touch With the Fans

I’ll just be blunt: the mainstream tennis media is out of touch with the fans; they seem to have no idea what we want, the players we like, and how we view the sport. One of the most shocking things I witnessed in my time at the tournament was how little these journalists actually watched matches. As I said Part Two of my report, I never saw another media member sitting in a media seat with me. How can we tennis fans expect the media to properly promote this sport if they don’t even get out and see it? The vast majority of the media seemed to sit at their computers while they watched Stadium 1 and Stadium 2 matches on a small 13 inch or so television. From time to time, some would sit at the bar inside, or go out into the Press Box and actually watch the ball being hit live. But rarely did I see this happen. They’re analyzing matches based on what players say in their press conferences and the stats sheets that are handed out after each match, not based on what they actually viewed.

Perhaps the most shocking thing I saw was during the match between James Blake and Carlos Moya. Tennis legend Bud Collins came and sat in the press box with his lunch a few seats away from me. He tells someone else more or less: “I can only come out here to eat my lunch; otherwise they make me stay attached to my computer all day.” I could not believe my ears. Here we have one of the best tennis journalists – and fans – this sport has ever seen, and instead of going out and watching these matches, and assuming he was serious, his employer forces him to sit at his computer and watch the matches on a small TV Screen?? What’s the point? Why even send him to the event? What a shame, and what a waste of a person who has done such good things for the sport over the past several decades.

Joel Drucker and Brad Falkner were the only two journalists I saw out and about watching practices (and perhaps this explains why Joel Drucker is one of the best – he actually had a notepad and was taking notes as he watched players practice); it was so impressive to me in light of everything else I observed that I felt it deserved special mention. Of course, there are other great tennis writers who understand the fans’ perspective; I would be ignorant to pretend there are none. But what I witnessed was less than encouraging.


The Players Can Do More

Something disappointing about Indian Wells is that because of the great golf and tennis community in the area, many of the players’ hotels have tennis courts. Thus, many players choose to practice at their hotels instead of on the tournament grounds. I think this is a shame, and I think that players should be encouraged if not required to practice on the grounds at least some of the time. There were certain players I always saw on the grounds practicing, and certain ones I rarely saw, like Maria Sharapova, Bob and Mike Bryan, Lleyton Hewitt, and others.

These are all stars of the game, and seeing players practice is one of the best fan experiences of attending a big tournament like the Pacific Life Open. I understand the convenience for a player to be able to roll out of bed, go out and hit, and go back to his or her hotel room to shower instead of dealing with fans and peers and media and cafeteria food, but I don’t think asking players to make appearances on the grounds to interact a little with fans is too much to ask, considering that tennis is nothing without its fans, especially its fans who pony up the money to attend these tournaments and support them when they play.

 

Let the Fans in Early!

One of the changes at this year’s Pacific Life Open was that instead of opening the gates at 9am, they waited until 10am, only one hour before matches start. At an event where the day session crowds peak at over 20,000 people, this is just an illogical and poorly-reasoned decision, for many reasons. The line of people waiting for the main gates to open was so long it extended out into the parking lot. Fans got tired and cranky before even entering the grounds.

Of course I understand that certain things need to be set up for the day, but the tournament misses a real financial opportunity by making people wait another hour to get in. Because no matches started until 11am, fans entering at nine could check out the practice courts, then get a coffee or go to one of the many tournament shops and vendors and spend money. So not only did the tournament make the beginning of each day difficult for fans, it lost a real money-making opportunity.

 

Stadium Seating Problems

For some reason, the Pacific Life Open organization has decided that half of the lower seating on Stadiums 2 and 3 should be sold as separate tickets. Well, it’s easy to understand why; it’s a better money-maker; they can give people the feeling of being up close on smaller show courts, but charge more than the regular session tickets. This is just plain ludicrous. No matter how full these stadiums were, the side reserved for seats bought specifically for each court was nearly empty. During the first round match between Tommy Haas and Julien Benneteau, fans who waited deep into the cold windy evening to see this match were turned away while over 100 seats were empty because they were reserved for people who bought seats specifically for that court. Clearly there is either no interest for those seats or the people who buy them aren’t using them. But the real tennis fans are the losers here, and it’s a real shame.

For all its faults, something Wimbledon does so well is provide fans the opportunity to obtain seats on the big show courts after the ticketholders return them. For a significantly reduced cost, die-hard fans can get to see their favorites on the big court, and all of the seats are used. There is no reason the Pacific Life Open cannot do this for all of those special reserved Stadium 2 and 3 seats and all of the Stadium 1 Box seats that are always so empty. Besides the logistics of setting up a couple ticket windows and hire a couple of staffers to deal with the logistics, I see this as a win-win for everyone. The seats are full, which pleases TV broadcasters and advertisers and players who love the support. The fans are happy because they get the chance to see the top players, and the tournament is happy because they get to re-sell and make extra money on these returned tickets that have already been paid for once.

Fans Love Doubles!

There’s no other way to say it: fans love Doubles!!!! It’s such a shame to see the Pacific Life Open organization shove Doubles on the smallest courts – Court 5 and Court 7 – that have almost no seats (Court 5 has three rows of seating on each side and none at the ends, Court 7 has three rows of seating on ONE side and none at the end). While I was at the event, a string of doubles matches were put on these courts, and the crowd control was nearly impossible! There were no Roger Federers or Andy Roddicks playing; just doubles specialists and lower-ranked singles players. But the fans were there, fighting and clawing to get in and see these matches.

I understand that singles is the priority; there are TV deals for the Stadium 1 and 2 courts at Indian Wells; the stars of the game are mostly in singles, but the fans actually play doubles more. They understand it better because it’s what the fans who play do. They know the players, and they want to see it. While the ATP has improved somewhat with it’s Doubles Rules campaign, both the tours and the tournaments can – and need to – do a better job with promoting doubles, because from what I witnessed, the fans are there and are interested.

There Are Some Positives

I don’t want you to finish reading this and think it’s all bad news. The Pacific Life Open is a very fan-friendly tournament and in a lot of ways is better than most.

The Pacific Life Open does a better job than most in regards to having several autograph signings a day, and they also run events like fashion shows and other things that allow fans to get up close and personal with the sport’s biggest stars. But still, every little bit counts and some very small changes in player accessibility would go miles to increasing the fan experience. And because of the number of match and practice courts, fans do get a lot of opportunities to see everyone they like.

Fans are allowed to bring food into the venue and are also allowed to leave and come back in. This can help defray the expensive cost of sporting event food, and allow more families to attend when parents know they can save money and bring healthy snacks and water for their kids. By allowing fans to leave and come back, it’s easier for fans to stay properly hydrated and they can bring a change of clothes for the cooler nights.

Ticket prices are very reasonable. This year, General Admission (which even included unreserved seating at the top of the stadium) was only $30. This is right in line with much smaller events that have fewer stars. It’s still not cheap, but considering you can enjoy as much as 12 hours or tennis or more on one ticket, it’s really not bad.

But some improvements would be easy and inexpensive to implement. But if the fans are always put last, the fans will start to attend other tournaments or just stay home and watch on TV. The Pacific Life Open is a great event that, if they could fix these few problems, could be amazing.

As for the tennis media, what I saw was disconcerting. If those journalists who ostensibly have the task of promoting this sport and covering it to make it accessible to the average sports and tennis fan don’t even get out of the media room and experience the sport, how can we die-hard tennis fans, who badly want to see this sport grow, expect the situation to improve? In this case, the outlook seems a little bleak.

Mondays With Bob Greene

7 April 2008

STARS

Nikolay Davydenko became the first Russian to win the Sony Ericsson Open men’s singles crown at Miami, Florida, by crushing second-seeded Rafael Nadal 6-4 6-2.

Serena Williams outlasted Jelena Jankovic 6-1 5-7 6-3 to capture her fifth Sony Ericsson Open women’s singles title.

Bob and Mike Bryan finally won their first doubles championship of 2008, beating Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles 6-2 6-2 at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami.

Katarina Srebotnik and Ai Sugiyama won their second doubles title as a team, edging Cara Black and Liezel Huber 7-5 4-6 10-3 at the Sony Ericsson Open.

SAYINGS

“I have only one (racquet). Surprising I didn’t break a string. Warm up and play match, warm up and play match, every match, and I finish with the racquet. I’m going to keep forever this racquet.” – Nikolay Davydenko, who said he used the same racquet in all six matches to win the Sony Ericsson Open.

“People write more about Roger (Federer), about me, about Andy (Roddick). People outside tennis can think different about Nikolay, but we know he’s a very, very good player.” – Rafael Nadal, after losing the Sony Ericsson Open final to Davydenko 6-4 6-2.

“She looked so nervous out there. I could never believe that a girl who has won so many Grand Slams, so many tournaments, could be that nervous closing out a match.” – Jelena Jankovic, after losing the Sony Ericsson Open women’s final to Serena Williams 6-1 5-7 6-3.

“I smashed a racquet? Are you sure it was me? I guess maybe my hand must have been oily.” – Serena Williams, who drew a code violation when she smashed her racquet after blowing a 5-2 40-0 lead in the second set of her three-set victory over Jelena Jankovic.

“This tie is important for the team, as a win would give us the opportunity to compete in a playoff to make it back in the World Group, where I believe Australia belongs.” – Lleyton Hewitt, saying he plans on playing Davis Cup against Thailand.

“Losing in the finals four times just makes you hungrier and hungrier. When we went out there … we didn’t take anything for granted.” – Bob Bryan after he teamed with his brother Mike to win the Sony Ericsson Open men’s doubles.

“Winning in September and staying in the World Group is obviously a key focus for us, but just as vital is working with hose younger players who may be capable of thriving in a Davis Cup environment in the near future.” – Paul Annacone, who has been named coach of Great Britain’s Davis Cup team, succeeding Peter Lundgren.

SPLAT

After he hit a backhand into the net during his third-round match at the Sony Ericsson Open, Mikhail Youzhny showed his displeasure by angrily whacking himself in the head three times with his racket strings. That sent a stream of blood running from above his hairline down his nose and nearly to his mouth. The Russian became a celebrity when a video of his tantrum was put on YouTube and drew more than a half-million hits.

SUFFERING SUCCOTASH

Here it is April and the world’s top two men players are still looking for a 2008 tournament title. Top-ranked Roger Federer’s best results this year have been semifinal appearances at both the Australian Open and the Pacific Life Open. Federer has been limited to just three tournaments because of mononucleosis. World number two Rafael Nadal has been in two finals – the Chennai Open and the Sony Ericsson Open – losing both. He also was a semifinalist at both the Australia Open and the Pacific Life Open. And, the top-ranked men’s doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan won their first title of 2008 at the just-concluded Sony Ericsson Open.

SUCCESS FINALLY

Playing in their fifth final of 2008, twins Bob and Mike Bryan finally came away with the title when they defeated Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles 6-2 6-2 at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami. Beginning with the 2007 Australian Open, the Bryans have reached 20 finals in 27 tournaments. And this championship was their 45th career title together.

SELECTED FOR BEIJING

Players from El Salvador, Togo and Liechtenstein will compete in Olympic tennis for the first time at the Beijing Games. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and International Tennis Federation (ITF) selected four players to compete in the Summer Games: Rafael Arevalo of El Salvador, Komlavi Loglo of Togo, Cara Black of Zimbabwe and Stephanie Vogt of Liechtenstein. Only 21 years old, Arevalo has already played 22 Davis Cup ties for El Salvador. Loglo, 23, is the first African Junior Champion from Togo. Vogt, 17, has played eight Fed Cup ties for Liechtenstein. Black, currently co-ranked No. 1 in the world in doubles, played singles at the 2000 Sydney Games.

SQUEAKER

By nipping Cara Black and Liezel Huber in a Match Tiebreak (7-5 4-6 10-3) to win the women’s doubles at the Sony Ericsson Open, Katarina Srebotnik and Ai Sugiyama were just repeating themselves. The Miami, Florida, tournament title was their second doubles crown as a team. Their first came last year in Toronto when they also beat Black and Huber in a Match Tiebreak in the final.

STEERING TENNIS EUROPE

Jacques Dupre is the new president of Tennis Europe, succeeding John James of Great Britain. Others elected to the board at the meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, were Peter Bretherton of Great Britain, Michele Brunetti of Italy, Philios Christodoulou of Cyprus, Gunther Lang of Germany, Aleksei Selivanenko of Russai, Jose Antonio Senz de Broto of Spain, Stefan Tzvetkov of Bulgaria and Ayda Uluc of Turket. There were delegates from a record 43 member nations at the 34th annual general meeting.

SOUTH AFRICA ON TOP

South Africa successfully defended its African Junior Championships in Gaborone, Botswana. Tunisia finished in second place, followed by Egypt in third and Morocco in fourth. Points are earned in singles and doubles in three age groups. South Africa captured two of the six singles titles and reached three other finals. The winners dominated the 16-and -under age group with Jarryd Botha defeating fellow South African Japie de Klerk 6-2 6-2 in the boys singles final.

SENIORS DOING IT

A record 376 teams have entered the 2008 ITF Seniors & Super-Seniors World Team Championships in Antalya, Turkey, in October. More than 220 teams from 38 countries have registered for the Seniors age categories – women and men 35 to 55 – while 150 teams will compete in the Super-Seniors: women 60 to 70 and men 60 to 80. The team event will be followed by the ITF Seniors & Super-Seniors World Individual Championships.

SORE BUT READY

Despite possibly having tendinitis and a hip tendon tear – or a combination of both – Lleyton Hewitt says he will play for Australia in its Davis Cup tie against Thailand. Doctors had advised Hewitt to rest his sore left hip and continue treatment. He has suffered hip pain since losing to Mardy Fish in Indian Wells, California, in March.

SUPERHERO

India’s Davis Cup captain Leander Paes will be a superhero in a cartoon television series in his home country. According to the Indian Express newspaper, Paes will play a miracle man who helps school kids in each of the 26 half-hour episodes being planned. The cartoons, called “The Magic Racquet,” are aimed at promoting an active lifestyle in children. According to the newspaper, a date has not been set for the start of the series.

SWINGING AGAIN

Two retired Wimbledon champions will play each other on grass once again. Martina Hingis and Jana Novotna will play an exhibition match in Liverpool, England, in June. Hingis beat Novotna in the 1997 Wimbledon final to become the youngest champion in the Open Era. Novotna, who also lost in the final at Wimbledon to Steffi Graf in 1993, finally won the Championships in 1998.

SITES TO SURF

Amelia Island: www.blchamps.com

Davis Cup: www.daviscup.com/

Olympic Tennis: www.itftennis.com/olympics.

Family Circle Cup: www.familycirclecup.com

Estoril: www.estorilopen.net

Valencia: www.open-comunidad-valencia.com/

Houston: www.riveroaksinternational.com

ITF Seniors: www.itftennis.com/seniors

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

WTA Tour

$600,000 Bausch & Lomb Championships, Amelia Island, Florida, clay

DAVIS CUP

World Group Quarterfinals

(April 11-13)

Czech Republic at Moscow, Russia

Sweden at Buenos Aires, Argentina

Spain at Bremen, Germany

France vs. United States at Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Europe/Africa Zone Group 1 Second Round

Italy at Zagreb, Croatia; Netherlands at Skopje, Macedonia; Switzerland at Minsk, Belarus; Georgia at Bratislava, Slovak Republic

America’s Zone Group 1 Second Round

Canada at Santiago, Chile; Colombia at Soracaba, Brazil

Asia/Oceania Zone Group 1 Second Round

Thailand at Townsville, Australia; Japan at New Delhi, India

Asia/Oceania Zone Group 1 First-Round Playoffs

Chinese Taipei at Almaty, Kazakhstan; Uzbekistan at Manila, Philippines

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP TOUR

$370,000 Estoril Open, Estoril, Portugal, clay

$370,000 Open de Tenis Comunidad Valencia, Valencia, Spain, clay

$436,000 U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships, Houston, Texas, clay

WTA TOUR

$1,340,000 Family Circle Cup, Charleston, South Carolina

Photos of Miami:

Pacific Life Open: What the Fans Don’t Get to See

Debra covered the 2008 Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells for TennisGrandStand. In this second part in a three-part series of her reports from the tournament, Debra gives a behind-the-scenes look at the workings of the media center.

Something about coming back to a familiar place instantly puts me at ease. Knowing where to go, what to do, and how to do it is comforting. But going somewhere familiar in a different capacity changes everything. So when I stepped onto the grounds for the 2008 Pacific Life Open as a member of the Media for the first time, in some ways it was as if I had never been there before.

In years past, I would get to the grounds early each day, but I would still not be able to get into the gate before all the other fans. But with a media credential, I could pretty much come and go as I wanted. Getting to the grounds before the gates opened gave a totally different picture that I had never seen before. Marat Safin, the first player I saw upon my entry on Friday morning, ambled past me without any security. Even Roger Federer could take the court for his 10am practice without the need for security. Somehow, it felt as though the players knew that the gates weren’t open yet, and they were savoring those last few minutes of “safety” before the hordes were let loose upon them.

So when I got there on Friday, my first day covering the event, I had no idea what to do. The day before when I picked up my credential, the kind older man showed me where the media entrance was. I went into the media area and saw a desk. Hooray, someone to answer my questions! She asks where I’m from, I tell her I’m with TennisGrandStand, and she hands me a booklet: ten dollars in meal coupons for the player/media cafeteria each day… excellent. In this small room, there is a large Coke fridge with hundreds of cans, a water cooler and a couple of folding tables, one with coffee and a TV showing the stadium and the other with donuts and healthier snacks like apples and bananas.

To the left of the room there is a small almost-hidden staircase that leads up to where the magic really happens, the media room. There is a reception area, with all of the necessary information – the draws for each tour, the order of play, tournament programs, other tennis-related magazines, a file folder with all of the interview transcripts, and a stack of clippings from the night before written by people covering the event. Behind the desk, an older, inviting woman decked out in hundreds of tennis pins from around the world asked if I needed anything. I admitted to her that I had no idea what to do. Since I was intent on covering the event “from the ground” (as you read about in Part One of my reports), I didn’t request a desk or locker; I knew if I brought my laptop up there that I’d miss great tennis if I spent time on it. I wanted to be out there covering the event like a fan, to give the best view. To do that, I needed to not spend much time in the media center.

The pinned woman kindly showed me around the media room. The media room is a long skinny hectic place. Little computer stations are everywhere – at each one is a phone and TV that seemed to get a variety of cable stations (I saw someone watching the Food Network…). There must be close to 100 Along the right side of the room, there is a bar of sorts with a great corner view onto the stadium. Outside some doors is the “Press balcony,” where members of the press go out to watch stadium matches.

After my little orientation, I took a seat outside the player/media cafeteria in a lovely covered section so that I could jot down some notes. A few tables over, Richard Gasquet sat with his coach Eric Deblicker, who lit a cigarette and looked rather aloof. Players, coaches, player guests, other members of the press, tournament officials, started whizzing by. Being a part of the press is definitely different. As I went to Stadium 3 to see some tennis, I found the media seating. Four seats right at the edge of the box seats area were reserved for the Media. Let’s just say that in four days, I am the only media person who I ever saw sitting in a “Media Only” seat. But more about that in Part Three of my reports.Novak Djokovic Press Conference Friday 3/14/2008

I figured a good way to indoctrinate myself to what being a part of the media was like would be to attend some pre-tournament press conferences. First up was Novak Djokovic at 12:30pm. Members of the media started arriving in the interview room right on time. Djokovic was a few minutes late. Sitting in the front row, Matt Cronin of tennisreporters.net was whining about Djokovic’s tardiness and I could not help but wonder what the big deal was about waiting ten minutes. So Djokovic finally enters a couple of minutes later and the questions pretty much just start coming the moment he sits down.

Fans get to read all the questions and answers in the transcripts that are released at big tournaments. But what fans don’t get is the little side comments that aren’t included in the transcripts and the facial reactions of the players. Near the beginning of Djokovic’s press conference, someone who clearly – like myself – had not attended many press conferences in the past asked a rather ridiculous question:

Q. Who would you like to play in the finals?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Excuse me?

Q. Who would you like to play in the finals?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: I think it’s still a long way to finals. Still playing first round. Second round, actually. I won’t talk about the finals yet.

What the transcript doesn’t evoke is the look on Djokovic’s face, and the chuckling amongst the more experienced media that someone would have the gall to ask something so dumb.

Roddick looks in disbelief But this was nothing compared to what happened a few hours later. Andy Roddick, pretty much right on time for his 4:30pm press conference, bounded in and started answering questions immediately. While Roddick’s stellar press conference performances are well-known, I don’t think any of us have ever seen anything like this (do watch, if you haven’t seen it already). Thankfully for all of us, it’s crystallized on video for all to experience, because the transcript would never do this justice. Of course, what that video does not capture is the aftermath. Despite the fact that the press conference continued on without drama, the air contained a distinct buzz, as if all hell could break loose at any moment, even though it didn’t.

Afterwards though, the young woman who somehow procured a Media credential, had to face her actions. The head of the Media Center, a very kind and busy young man who spent most of his time running between the media center, interview room, and press balcony like a controlled chicken with his head cut off, spent some time speaking to this woman about what she had done. He’s not stupid: anyone who runs a big tournament knows full well that the cooperation and support of the US’s #1 player is vital. Not that Roddick seemed upset in any way, but you can see his point. A professional press conference is no place for, quite bluntly, an idiotic fangirl who somehow got in there. Anyway, she got quite a talking-to. To be fair, it seems she meant no harm, but clearly did not ponder the effects of her actions or realize that this kind of thing was tactless and unacceptable.

Unfortunately, my three remaining days at the tournament did not provide this same kind of drama. But I still have some things to share.

The press balcony gives a fantastic view of the Stadium Court. I watched bits and pieces ofView of the Stadium from the Press Box several matches there over the days – some men, some women. It’s a little hard to tell when balls are flying out, but it’s excellent for watching spins and speed of the ball as well as players’ movement and court placement. The only thing missing from the press balcony was… well… members of the press. But more about that to come in Part Three of my series. The thing about the press balcony – and I do feel that anyone with any common sense would realize this – is that it’s supposed to be an unbiased area. It doesn’t look good if members of the media and press are cheering for a player. So, during Andy Roddick’s second round upset to Tommy Haas, a nice enough local photographer covering the event for a Palm Springs area magazine was screaming and loudly whistling for Roddick; it was one of those whistles that in between serves when it’s quiet and one spectator makes a loud cheering noise from way up in the stands, you can hear on TV. He did not understand why he was not allowed to cheer and why the Press Box was supposed to remain an impartial area. I’m not even really sure how to explain something like that.

One of the most interesting things to me is how “out in the open” the players are at Indian Wells. Their outdoor eating/relaxing/warmup spaces are all in plain view of throngs of fans. It is not like this at other tournaments I have been to. I was catching some tennis (an exciting match between Fernando Gonzalez and Mario Ancic) on the TV in the player/media cafeteria; Nicolas Massu was there with his team, watching his friend; when Gonzalez lost, Massu left. Later, Mario Ancic and his team sat at the next table over. They ate their meal just like any normal group of people would, all the while a member of the media was sitting with them chatting. The beloved umpire Mohammed Layanhi came and sat down at the next table over, and what ensued was quite interesting. After normal friendly greetings, Layanhi started complaining to Ancic about something that happened during the David Nalbandian/Ernests Gulbis match that he had just finished umpiring. I couldn’t help but find this scene bizarre. Aren’t the umpires supposed to be completely impartial, and is it really proper behavior for an ump to complain to one tour player about the actions of another? it seems to me not, but the two didn’t act like this was abnormal interaction. After Ancic and his team left, Layanhi commented to the reporter that Ancic was “one of the tour’s good guys” – again, I found this fairly surprising behavior for one of the sport’s top umpires. Donald Young Press Conference

The free entrance, parking, and meal tickets aside, the most fascinating and valuable aspect of attending a tournament as a member of the media is that I got the wonderful opportunity to see these players as the normal people that they are. They hang out with their family, they read, they eat, they relax, they chat, and they support their friends; they just happen to be blessed with a particular talent and have a high-profile job that attracts Beatles-esque fan hysteria. This was no more apparent than in Donald Young’s press conference on Monday; he had just lost a match to Rafael Nadal. It was his first match on a huge stadium against one of the game’s big big stars. Young gets a bad rap sometimes for saying arrogant things and for not always being that tactful. But this day in his press conference, he was humble, thoughtful, articulate, and good-humored.

I hope this has given you a bit of a better idea of what it’s like behind-the-scenes at a major tennis tournament. Unfortunately, some of what I saw was very discouraging in terms of how the tennis executives and media relate to the fans and the sport. I will address that in my third and final part of the report.

 

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

Weeks 11 & 12 Preview: Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells

The first ATP Masters Series event of the year kicks off in the California Desert. Boasting a 96-player field (which gives all 32 seeded players a bye), the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells should be home to some fantastic tennis over the next week and a half or so. Here’s our take on the draw.

Rafael Nadal 1The first quarter is arguably the toughest, as it arguably contains three of the five biggest favorites going into the tournament: #1 Roger Federer, #6 Andy Roddick, and #11 Andy Murray. Federer, coming off of mono and a disappointing opening-match loss here last year, will be looking to do well, and should advance to the quarterfinals without too much drama. We’ll go out on a limb here and say his opponent will be named Andy. Which Andy, we cannot say. Murray and Roddick are projected to face each other in the fourth round. Murray might have a tough third round match against Ivo Karlovic, and Roddick might have to get by Tommy Haas (or in-form Julien Benneteau) and Fernando Verdasco. Interestingly, if Roddick and Verdasco face each other, it will be the third time in four years they will play at this tournament.

While it perhaps doesn’t contain as many title favorites as the top quarter, the second quarter of the draw is still full of potential threats in #4 Nikolay Davydenko, #7 David Nalbandian, and former champion Lleyton Hewitt. It will be interesting how local boy Sam Querrey, fresh off winning his first title last week in Las Vegas, handles himself in a much larger tournament. A second round match between him and Hewitt could be interesting, as could a third-round match Nalbandian and in-form Radek Stepanek. While Davydenko should make the quarterfinals, he faces potential threats in compatriot Mikhail Youzhny. As for who Davydenko or Youzhny (or Hewitt or any one of the other solid players in that section) might face, the obvious favorite would be Nalbandian, but who knows which Nalbandian will show up, so we could easily see Stepanek or Fernando Gonzalez (if he can find his form in time) in the quarterfinals instead.

Last year’s winner, #3 Novak Djokovic, and Finalist #2 Rafael Nadal head up the bottom half of the draw. In the third quarter, which contains Djokovic and also #5 David Ferrer, doesn’t have as many lower-ranked threats, but there are still some interesting potential matchups to look forward to. An intriguing fourth round match could pit Ferrer against #10 Tomas Berdych. The winner of that match should face Djokovic in the quarterfinals, but the defending champ faces a potential test in the third round against Philipp Kohlschreiber and might have a difficult match against Guillermo Canas, who made a name for himself last year as a lucky loser who upset Federer in the second round. Still, we expect to see Djokovic in the quarters here, and probably farther.

In the last quarter of the draw, Nadal seems the obvious favorite to make it through his section, but this quarter of the draw is full of players who have the game to beat the Spaniard on hardcourts. His first test could come as early as the third round, where he will likely face serve-volleyer Feliciano Lopez, his occasional doubles partner. Lopez is coming off his impressive final showing in Dubai, where he beat a slew of top ten players before losing in the final. It won’t get easier from there for Nadal, as whoever wins the potential match between Frenchmen Paul-Henri Mathieu and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who took Nadal out of the Australian Open, could pose problems for Nadal. Should Nadal advance to the quarterfinals, he could face yet another player who has given him difficulties, James Blake or Richard Gasquet. Blake has had particularly good success against Nadal on hardcourts, but if Gasquet were to get his backhand firing and make it to the quarterfinals, he could also pose a tough test for Nadal. Also in that section is Robin Soderling, and while his results outdoors are not as good as indoors, he has the potential to post good results and his powerful baseline game can give any of these top players trouble if he finds his form.

As you can see, the first Masters Series event of the year is full of potentially fascinating matches and hopefully some upsets here and there! Our blogger Debra will be at the event this weekend and will have lots of pictures and reports to share when she gets back!