press conferences

ATP Rotterdam Day One Roundup & Photos: Lopez, Gasquet, Mathieu, Dolgopolov

Catch all the action this week and follow professional tennis photographer Rick Gleijm as he covers ATP Tour’s ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. The gallery below includes day one action.

Three top players were surprised to find themselves on the losing end of their first-round matches.

  • Paul-Henri Mathieu came to Rotterdam as a wildcard into the qualifying draw only to find himself in the second round of the main draw, after stunning Spaniard Feliciano Lopez 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-4.
  • Jesse Huta Galung dispensed of former world number 3 Ivan Ljubicic 7-6(6), 6-3.
  • Sixth-seed Alexandr Dolgopolov also saw his time in Rotterdam come to a premature end as he was defeated by Lukasz Kubot 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-2.
  • Richard Gasquet also came through in three sets beating Flavio Cipolla 6-3, 1-6, 6-1.

For a full recap of Roger Federer‘s and Juan Martin Del Potro‘s press conferences from earlier today, go here.

Full Tuesday schedule below.

SCHEDULE – TUESDAY, 14 FEBRUARY, 2012

CENTRE COURT start 11:00 am
[Q] R De Voest (RSA) vs A Seppi (ITA)
[WC] I Sijsling (NED) vs J Nieminen (FIN)

Not Before 1:30 PM
[7] V Troicki (SRB) vs [WC] T de Bakker (NED)
F Cermak (CZE) / F Polasek (SVK) vs J Del Potro (ARG) / P Petzschner (GER)

Not Before 7:30 PM
R Haase (NED) vs N Davydenko (RUS)
M Youzhny (RUS) vs I Kunitsyn (RUS)

COURT 1 start 2:00 pm
A Bogomolov Jr. (RUS) / D Norman (BEL) vs [4] M Bhupathi (IND) / R Bopanna (IND)

Not Before 3:30 PM
[8] M Granollers (ESP) vs P Kohlschreiber (GER)

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Davis Cup build up, Roger happy with year end and Sharapova to play Fed Cup?

*Serbian star Novak Djokovic says that having the home support in Belgrade will be crucial to his homeland defeating France in the upcoming Davis Cup Final. Over 16,000 will be present at the Belgrade Arena when play kicks off this Friday, only 1,500 less than at the ATP WTF in London last week. “It’s going to be an unpredictable match against a very strong French team and the crowd’s support can play a key role,” said Djokovic. “We’ve always had huge home support, and you can feel the interest and the passion of the people who want to come here and support their team.” French captain Guy Forget also acknowledges how important a part the crowd could play in proceedings. “We are not afraid of anything, we know how good Novak and the other Serbian boys are,” he said. “We also know that when you play away the atmosphere is sometimes hard and you have to be ready. It’s going to be a great match, a tough match and we are really looking forward to it.”

*Guy Forget also expanded on that point by insisting the partisan home support could put pressure on the home players to perform for their country. “If we have pressure the Serbia players might have even more,” he said. “We have been talking about the crowd and we know it can get very loud at times. The only way to deal with it is to be quiet and forget about it. If the match gets close any Serbian player will feel the pressure. He is not just playing for himself, he is playing for his friend, he is playing for the whole country and if things don’t go well he will have the feeling to deceive a whole nation and that’s not easy to deal with as well.” The full interview can be seen on the ITF website as well as listening to what the opposing players and coaches were saying at the pre-Final press conferences.

*Roger Federer described his recapturing of the Barclay’s ATP Tour World Tour Finals as “amazing” after putting rival Rafa Nadal to the sword on Sunday evening. The 29-year-old triumphed 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 to lift a trophy he last did so three years ago in Shanghai. “It’s fantastic, I’m really thrilled the way I played all week,” he told journalists. “To win a fifth time is obviously amazing, for the third time in a different place. Like I said before, it would be great to win in Houston, Shanghai and also now here in London. I’m just really happy the way I was able to finish the season in style, playing some of my best tennis, really saving the best for last. Obviously, beating Rafa in the final makes it extra special because of the year he had.” The full interview can be seen at the BBC Tennis website in which he talks about plans for his future.

*Shamil Tarpishchev, both president of the Russian Tennis Federation and their Fed Cup captain, has confirmed that Maria Sharapova will join the squad for their first round match against France next year, according to the Malaysian Insider. “Sharapova has agreed to play the first round,” he said. “She is now fully recovered from the problems with her shoulder and again could challenge for the number one spot.” Sharapova has only played Fed Cup once before; a 4-1 victory over Israel in February 2008. She needs to play at least one round to qualify to play the 2012 Olympics and there are murmors she could be involved further. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dinara Safina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will make up the rest of the squad. However, a source from Camp Sharapova claims that she is only “very likely” to play, according to Tennis.com.

*Lleyton Hewitt will again join forces with new Davis Cup coach Tony Roche in a bid to stop his world ranking slide, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. The two-time Grand Slam winner has recently suffered with injury problems but will once team up with Aussie legend Roche in 2011 as well as another former player Josh Eagle. “I’m really looking forward to working with both guys and feel that if I can keep the body performing then I can climb back up the ranks again,” said Hewitt, who is currently No.55 in the world. “I have been discussing this with Rochey for a few months now prior to him accepting the job as Australian Davis Cup coach, and when he asked me about taking that role with Pat, I thought that would work in well with what we were planning for myself.” Roche previously coached Hewitt between July 2007 and August 2009.

*Czech star Tomas Berdych has revealed that his continuing disappointment over comments made by Roger Federer after Berdych’s Wimbledon victory over the Swiss led to him voting for Rafa Nadal for the ATP Sportsman of the Year Award. “I was trying to just decide between two names, him and Roger,” he said. “I just decide to go for Rafa. I think he really deserves it. Just was a little bit disappointing after what I read in London, when I play against Roger and beat him. He was a little bit complaining about how he was injured and stuff like that. It was just kind of surprise for me. So maybe that was just the reason I vote for Rafa.”

*2009 US Open Champion Juan Martin Del Potro has confirmed he will be returning to the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships in 2011. The tournament is played from February 18-27 next year. American trio Andy Roddick, Mardy Fish and John Isner have already signed up to play while John McEnroe and Mark Philippoussis headline the Champions Tour Event.

*Mardy Fish has become the first singles player to commit to the 2011 US Men’s Claycourt Championships at River Oaks Country Club, Houston. The 2006 winner ends 2010 at No. 16 in the world after what has been a magical and resurgent year. The Bryan brothers have committed to the doubles event for next year.

*British No. 1 Andy Murray has been reflecting on his 2010 in the latest entry of his column for BBC Tennis. “I’ve got to look back and think it’s been a good year overall, bar the US Open, which was terrible,” he says. “It was a bit inconsistent throughout but at two of the four Grand Slams I had a chance of winning. The Australian Open was very good, Wimbledon was very good and then I won in Toronto and, after New York, in Shanghai too. And it was great to end the year playing well in London with two good wins and a very tough match against Rafa. I’ve now got about five days at home before I leave for Miami, possibly via the Bahamas depending on whether I play in a charity event there first. This time next week I’ll already be back in training and thinking about 2011. I go to Miami every year at this time and I plan to work even harder than ever. That might involve longer sessions, more hours, and just making sure everything is even more professional.”

*Three Aussie youngsters have been banned from competing in the playoffs for next year’s Aussie Open after reports surfaced about their conducts at various tournaments. Brydan Klein, Nick Lindahl and Dayne Kelly are the offending parties. “This action has been taken following reports of numerous accounts of unacceptable behaviour at tournaments both locally and internationally over the past few months,” Tennis Australia’s Todd Woodbridge said. “All players are expected to abide by Tennis Australia’s code of ethics and behaviour. The opportunity to participate in the Australian Open playoff is a privilege, not a right. This decision will send a clear message to all Australian players that breaching this code will not be supported by Tennis Australia through the granting of wildcards or other financial support.” Klein has previous including spitting at his coach and an opponent during a tournament at Wimbledon while Kelly is reported to also have problems with his temper.

*All in all, the ATP Player Portraits reported in last week’s Tennis People raised a total of $127,755 for charity. Most surprisingly was a late surge in bidding for Andy Roddick’s masterpiece which saw it finish as the highest valued painting at $33,100.

Roger Federer ($27,300) and Rafa Nadal ($26,500) were the other highest earning portraits.

Celebrity Smash Hits Boasts Entertaining Tennis, Charming Personalities, and AIDS Awareness

It’s one thing to root for your favorite players on a dimensionless TV, coaching them through the screen. It’s a completely different matter to interact with them directly and observe their personalities in a relaxed, yet competitive, setting. And that’s exactly what happened Monday night at American University’s Bender Arena where current and retired professional players took part in bringing awareness for a great cause while entertaining patrons with power-hitting tennis and charming on-court exchanges. On hand were several greats, including Elton John himself and the always entertaining Billie Jean King.

As I made my way into the arena, the atmosphere was calm, yet the anticipation of the night’s event was palpable. Patrons walked in joyful and carefree, as if entering a new world disconnected from a cold and dreary outside. For the next five hours, all that mattered was tennis and raising awareness of HIV and AIDS through the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the Washington AIDS Partnership.

Media Room

After winding stairs, small corridors, and sweaty campus athletes running by, I found myself in a room full of photographers and reporters. I felt lucky to find a spot in the third row and settled in for two press conferences. First up was Team Billie Jean King which included Rennae Stubbs, Mark Philippoussis, Martina Navratilova, Eric Butorac, and Billie Jean King. Philippoussis replaced an injured James Blake, and Butorac (given only 24 hours notice) replaced Mark Knowles who qualified for the year end doubles championship in London.

As soon as the players sat down, the noise level increased exponentially and it was only then that I realize how many photographers were present. The clicking and snapping shook me to the point where I half-believed a motor vehicle was being started right inside the room. It took more than a few minutes to adjust but the players didn’t seem to notice a difference. I guess that’s what happens when you travel the world and get grilled by media everywhere you go.

It was my first time seeing several of these players in person, including Billie Jean King whose presence filled the room. Her take-charge attitude took me by surprise but she didn’t get this far in the tennis business without her candor and resilience. Philippoussis was also incredibly microphone-shy but I completely forgot about that when he opened his mouth to speak. His Australian accent was inviting and his devilish smile put me in a trance. Navratilova was also a class act and raised awareness of one of the evenings’ causes while giving us some hard statistics: “93% of the time when a gay kid is bullied, teachers do not correct the action.” But if “any other name [had been used], they would have corrected it.” Although no source was stated, she went on to say that “a gay teenager is six times more likely to be bullied over their sexual orientation than a straight kid. It’s astonishing.” It’s truly heart-breaking to see the recent deaths of youth and it begins within our educational system she added.

Team Elton John, consisting of Anna Kournikova, Andre Agassi, Stefanie Graf, and Jan-Michael Gambill, elaborated on this phenomenon. Elton John pleaded saying that he was “worried about the current climate in America.” As much as he loves America and what we stand for, he sees the difference between us and other nations. As Americans, “we’re not talking to each other, whether it’s spite, sexuality, etc. It’s time to change and talk to each other.” He likened the situation on a global scale with his example of the Burmese woman who is in talks with the military to bring peace to her country. It’s only through communication that we can begin to solve our differences.

The mood then changed to a more light-hearted topic and Agassi’s foundation was also touched on. Graf looked calm and exquisite, while Kournikova remained relatively quiet. What Kournikova didn’t say was made up for with the amount of makeup on her face and enormous square-cut yellow-gold plated engagement ring (isn’t she supposed to be married by now?). Regardless, she was beautiful and became more engaging when her fans were present during the next stop in the evening: The very loud auction, headed by none other than Baltimore, MD-native Pam Shriver.

Live Auction

As I had never attended a live auction before, I didn’t know what to expect. But as soon as it began, it was clear who was in charge. The players were assigned to help Pam auction off the items, but she single-handedly commanded the room with her charm and humor, talking football, modern art, and even tennis. The rallies were intense and the attendees were smitten into bidding hundreds of thousands of dollars. Kournikova privately commented to Billie that Pam was “brilliant” in the way she took charge. Pammy, if commentating doesn’t work out, you’ve always got a career in auctioneering.

The auction went as follows:

  • Two signed Sir Elton John Piano Benches and a photo with Elton John went for $10,500 each.
  • 2011 BJK’s Wimbledon Package included two tickets to the Men’s and Women’s Finals in her box, private tour of the grounds with Billie Jean King and 4 nights’ accommodation, and went for $32,000.
  • 2011 US Open Package included two suite tickets in BJK’s suite for two sessions during Labor Day weekend, air transportation, and 2 nights’ accommodation, and went for $17,000.
  • Andre Agassi Grand Slam Limited Edition watch from Longines, 18-carat rose gold case set, with 56 VVS quality diamonds, and a gold ‘8’ representing his grand slams. Billie herself got a bid in for $10,000 and Elton John outbid her for $12,000. Agassi then came to the microphone and surprised everybody with his offer: “I’ll hand [the watch] to you personally, I’ll sign it if you want, … and you can kiss my wife!” The crowd roared with laughter and cheers, with Pam exclaiming to Stefanie to “pucker up” when it sold for $16,000.
  • 2011 French Open Package included tickets for the first two days, 4 nights’ accommodation, a meet and greet with Tennis Channel on-air personalities and a visit to the Roland Garros set among other things. Navratilova then took the mic and said, “We’ll see you in the booth. We might even get you to answer a couple questions during the match. I’ll be there!” She sold the package for $25,000.
  • 2011 Super Bowl Package included four tickets, two hotel rooms for a three night stay. Stubbs even bid on the item but it was taken home by an attendee for $11,000.
  • Tennis lesson and hitting session with Andre Agassi and Stefanie Graf for two people for 60 minutes was the most expensive event of the night. As the rallying became heated, Agassi even bid “$25,000 NOT to do it.” Elton John bid twice among others as well. In the end, it went for $50,000.
  • An original limited-edition Herb Ritts Photograph of Madonna went for $18,000 to Billie Jean King.
  • Agassi’s Grand Slam Experience included two tickets to his “Grand Slam for Children” event in Las Vegas, two nights’ accommodation. There were two packages sold for $12,000 each.
  • 2011 International Tennis Hall of Fame Tournament and Induction Ceremony included two tickets to the induction ceremony as well as two tickets to the semifinals to the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships next July, and one night accommodation. Agassi will headline the ballot for induction. There were two packages and the winning bid was for $11,000 each.

In total, $267,000 was raised during the auction, with half of the proceeds staying in the Washington, DC area to benefit the Washington AIDS Partnership. The total money raised for the evening was around $500,000 and this took the World Team Tennis Smash Hits event over the $10 million mark during its eighteen year history. The remaining proceeds will go to the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Court Battles

After the auction, it was time for what everyone had been waiting for, the on-court matches. It began with a celebrity mixed doubles showdown, and then went into the World Team Tennis match format, consisting of men’s doubles, women’s doubles, men’s singles, and mixed doubles.

As the player introductions were being made, I noticed that although it was Team Elton John pitted against Team Billie Jean King, it might as well have been Team Nike versus Team Adidas. Elton John sported Rafael Nadal’s white/lime green Nike Court Ballistecs while the majority of his team sported other Nike shoes. Meanwhile, Billie Jean King was clad in white/dark blue Adidas Barricades, with the rest of her team also in Adidas. During the press conference Billie had mentioned that there was no method to the way teams were chosen this year, but I believe I figured out their secret.

The celebrity showdown consisted of Elton John with Martina Navratilova taking on married couple Andre Agassi and Stefanie Graf. As Elton John walked onto the court, I began to wonder if he could actually play tennis. He started this pro-am event when he was 45 years old and today he stood at a sturdy 63. My doubts completely vanished when he hit several unorthodox forehand winners and “out-lobbed” Agassi on two occasions.

It was more than once that Navratilova and Graf got into heated cross-court volley rallies while the crowd cheered and applauded. But what took me most by surprise was the level of hitting from Graf. As I had seen both Navratilova and Agassi live at the US Open the year they both retired (2006), they looked just as strong and animated in their play tonight. However, I had never before watched Graf play live. Her attitude and poise on court was unmatched. She graciously applauded unreturnable shots but hit booming cross-court forehands when she had the opportunity as well. She was not only quick on her feet, but had a gentle smile permanently glued on her face. And why not? It was a good evening to have fun for fans, for a cause, and she was playing with her hubby as well who was cheering her with “come on, baby!” and “you got this!”

The first match in WTT format was men’s doubles consisting of Agassi and Gambill taking on Philippoussis and Butorac. From Philippoussis’ first serve, it was clear that I chose the wrong seat to sit at. With media sitting directly behind the baseline, Philippoussis blasting powerful serves right at us, and no barrier between the two, I was quickly reminded how easy it can be to get hit if you’re looking down for a split second. The crowd applauded his aces and Agassi even stood baffled a few times. When Team Billie Jean King went up 4-1 due to Philippoussis’ serve it seemed like it would be over quickly, but Agassi and Gambill stepped up their games and put pressure on Team Elton John with better returning. In the end, Team Elton John came out victorious with a 5-4 win.

The women’s doubles that followed was considerably livelier with players taking body shots left and right! Of course, none were intentional as Graf and Kournikova teamed up against Navratilova and Stubbs.

At one point, Graf perfectly aimed a forehand for Stubbs’ right shoulder which playfully knocked her down before Graf ran over smiling and helping her up. The next time it was Kournikova’s shot that accidentally hit Navratilova. Stubbs retaliated by chasing Kournikova around the court and bringing the crowd to their feet. What amazed me was that as small of stature as Kournikova is, she has a piercing forehand and splendid accuracy on her volleys. Navratilova and Stubbs walked away victorious giving Team Billie Jean King the win 5-3.

In possibly the most anticipated serving clinic of the night, Philippoussis took on Agassi with both players served blinding balls that the crowd responded by “Oooing” and “Ahhhing.”

When points were actually played, it wasn’t hard to see how Agassi had won his 8 grand slams or how Philippoussis attained world number 8 in his prime. The only difference I could notice between retired players such as Agassi and Philippoussis and current pros such as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic was the level of consistency. The power of these retirees was still as compelling as ever and their precision to paint the lines was evident. It was only their somewhat decreased level of consistency that separated them from their younger and stronger counterparts. Although Philippoussis walked away with the win, 5-3, the match wasn’t without giggles from both the players and the ball kids as Philippoussis once held up play to direct the ball kids to where they were “supposed” to be standing.

In the night’s final match, Agassi once again teamed up with his wife Graf and took on Philippoussis and Navratilova. By this time, the players were even more comfortable on court and it showed by their increased interaction with fans.

Several times Agassi apologized to Graf after fumbling a point “Sorry babe, here we go!”, but it was Navratilova’s stamina that amazed me most of all. She was the oldest on court at 54 but moved like someone nearly half her age slicing backhand winners down the line. At 2-2, Graf sustained a minor injury to her upper left calf and Kournikova stepped in to finish. The baseline duel between the men continued until Kournikova stepped in to put away a perfect short volley confusing both of her opponents, Philippoussis and Navratilova. On the next point, Philippoussis took it easy on Kournikova as they hit cross-court baseline shots to each other. After 8 rallies someone in the crowd yelled “boring!” This was enough to make Philippoussis lose his focus and smile while his next shot went straight into the net. The match went to a tiebreaker but Philippoussis and Navratilova were just too much for Agassi and Kournikova, who won 5-4. This brought the final cumulative score to 19-15 for Team Billie Jean King and the 18 year record of this event was evened out at 9-9.

As the evening was brought to a close and the players began walking off court while signing autographs, I realized that I had never attended an event like this before. As a tennis fan, I appreciated the competitive yet animated edge of the evening’s festivities. As a supporter of bringing goodness and awareness into this world, I was proud to be a part of history. But I think it’s the players most of all who make this positive energy possible. They search for ways to educate and interact with their fans and the causes that are important. May we each take time in our own small ways to bring prosperity and awareness to others, and stand in the footsteps of our favorite tennis players who set the supreme example of charity.

To view a video of the evening, go to USA Today’s Tennis page

Video courtesy of USA Today Sports

Until next time, cheers!

Jump On The Nalbandwagon

Anyone else ready to jump on the Nalbandwagon?

While I can’t claim that nifty term as my own, I have no doubt that many tennis fans and members of the media will be starting to mention Nalbandian’s name as a real threat as the U.S. Open approaches. The Argentine is sure to be on many people’s list of darkhorse candidates. Giving Nalbandian the underdog tag however, is not doing him any justice. The reasons for his fall in the rankings has nothing to do with a lack of talent or work ethic.

Few players have had to endure the injury troubles that Nalbandian has faced in the past couple of seasons. I’d put him up there with Tommy Haas in terms of veteran players with tons of skill and little luck. Having reached the finals of Wimbledon in 2002, Nalbandian is one of only a few players who have made the semis of every other Grand Slam as well. (U.S. Open in ’03, Australian Open in ’06 and the French Open in ’04 and ’06.)

Nalbandian’s injury troubles began in May of 2009 when he was sidelined for the rest of the ATP season after undergoing hip surgery. When he came back for the start of the 2010 season, an abdominal injury sustained during practice delayed his return until February. He managed to squeeze in two months of play before a right leg injury derailed his progress shortly before Wimbledon. Nalbandian was seemingly unable to remain healthy.

A month ago he made his return to the tour and since that time has been absolutely on fire, winning 11 matches in a row including his victory this morning in Toronto over 5th seed Robin Soderling, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. No wonder he seems so uncharacteristically cheerful in his press conferences this week. I feel like Nalbandian’s biggest surprise in his comeback so far has been his noticeable attitude adjustment rather than the crisp ball-striking that I figured would surely return to him.

“I’ve been a long time out of the circuit, and I’m really enjoying this time now,” Nalbandian revealed after the match. Talk about an understatement!

He went on to say that the injuries, “…made me think about that and get more motivation to come, to play, to enjoy it, and work on my last few years on the tour.”

Nalbandian’s impressive winning streak began with a 3-2 Davis Cup quarter-final victory by Argentina versus Russia in July. He was instrumental in that win by knocking off both Nikolay Davydenko and Mikhail Youzhny in straight sets.

He followed up that impressive display by marching right through the draw at the Legg Mason Classic in Washington, D.C. His path of destruction left top-thirty level guys like Wawrinka, Cilic, Simon and finally Baghdatis in its wake.

Toronto has provided players like Nalbandian with an excellent platform towards recovery in the past. Two years ago it was Nicolas Kiefer of Germany who reclaimed his game by marching all the way to the finals where he lost to Rafa Nadal. While Nalbandian came into the tournament with a good number of wins under his belt, this is a Masters 1000 tourney with a much tougher crowd to face.

The journey for Nalbandian will only get more difficult each day he stays alive in Toronto. Next up is either world number four, Andy Murray or Gael Monfils. Once again Nalbandian will be labeled the underdog, but other players should beware if they treat him that way or they might be joining Robin Soderling with an early visit to Cincinnati.

Behind the Scenes at the Rogers Cup: Stenographer Linda Christensen Plays Vital Role

Who’s got the fastest hands on tour? Rafael Nadal or Justine Henin perhaps, or were you thinking of Andy Murray or Elena Dementieva? Try thinking outside of the box, or, more specifically, outside of the court. I’m not talking about the video review operator on center court or Roger Federer’s racquet stringer. Take your search into the players and media area and you will find a woman whose fingers are infinitely faster than any of the above.

Meet Linda Christensen, one of the ATP and WTA Tour stenographers. Able to type between 260-300 words per minute is a regular occurrence for this behind-the-scenes specialist who captures every sound uttered by the players in their post-match press conferences. Employed by ASAP Sports, Christensen gets the transcripts completed within moments of the players leaving the press room and into the hands of reporters and tournament organizers who can then share these valuable moments with tennis fans all over the world. In her spare time she also works as a CART provider (Communication Access Realtime Translation) which specializes in translating classes for deaf children who are in junior high and college.

A tennis enthusiast since the 1970s when her grandmother got her to watch Chris Evert, Christensen was initially trained as a court reporter, a role she fulfilled for 23 years. After years of working in the high-stress environment of the legal world, Christensen, a self-described sports enthusiast, decided to make the transition into the world of professional sports transcribing. Since the fall of 2007 she has covered college football, golf and most recently tennis where she began at the 2008 Australian Open.

I had the chance to talk with Linda last summer while covering the Rogers Cup in Toronto. There were many late nights where the two of us left the press room well past midnight. Getting back to the hotel past 2am is one of the tough realities of her job that she balances with the many positives she described to me one afternoon. Here is a unique behind-the-scenes glimpse into the vital role that Christensen plays in professional tennis.

Q: How does this fantastic process work with the machine and the audio and how do you put it all together?

A: It’s a training where you learn to write phonetically and it’s a different language. So instead of typing one individual letter on a keyboard like your laptop, phonetically we make words and phrases and even whole sentences at a time so that we’re able to take down up to 260-300 words a minute. And then that data is sent wirelessly into our laptop, fed into our database, and it is translated into English.

Q: And phonetically, it’s a hard concept to grasp for someone who is used to just your typical keyboard. But when I look at that machine there, you’ve got far less keys, they’re not labelled at all. So does each key correspond to a sound?

A: A sound. Or combinations of keys. Lets just take the word “much.” If you were on your laptop you would type m-u-c-h. When we write “much” it could be the initial “m” the “uh” and the final “ch” sound so we can write “much” all in one stroke. Or in court if you want to just say commonly used phrases, when an attorney addresses the jury he or she might say, “ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” and we have that in one phrase, one stroke of our shorthand keyboard.

Q: Would you do the same thing in the tennis world then?

A: Yeah. “Backhand,” “cross court,” “hard court,” “grass court,” “clay court” are all pre-programmed in there as one stroke on the keyboard.

Q: Is it conceivable that someone could, with a regular keyboard, keep up with it all?

A: I don’t believe so. I don’t think anybody’s ever been able to type that fast.

Q: What’s your evaluation process like? How are you evaluated or how are you reviewed each year or what kind of process do they have in place for that? Or are you just on your own when you go to tournaments?

A: A little of both I guess. People read our transcripts in the company and we usually work with colleagues. This kind of tournament (Masters 1000 level) we work solo because they’re smaller, but at the Slams we work in tandem with a computer person and a writer. And so we evaluate each other and challenge each other to be faster and more accurate.

Q: How hard is it to pick up? When you started in 1983, how long did it take you to become comfortable with this process?

A: Well, I can say that the attrition rate in court reporting is very high. If I were to say a beginning class, let’s say, is 25, I would be hard-pressed to say that maybe one or two other people that started when I did are still doing it. It’s a very high-stress job. I’m talking legally. And then there’s a whole other part of the business end and dealing with personalities like lawyers and paralegals, and deadlines. If they’re in trial and they need something right away, you have to pull an all-nighter to get that transcript to them. And, you know, with ASAP, we say “When all is said we’re done” – journalists have a deadline to meet and we know we’re under the wire to get them their quotes from these interviews.

Q: In terms of tennis, who are some of the more difficult players to keep up with or understand and transcribe?

A: At the French Open in 2009 – the Serbians all speak very good English but they’re very fast and fortunately they have a good cadence with how they speak. And Ana Ivanovic can be very quick, very rapid-fire. I was working as the writer for her interview at the French and I had a scopist – meaning the computer person – a young man working with me, and we are able with our software to gauge how many words a minute people talk. Anyway, Ana Ivanovic came in from a win and she just “took off,” and my colleague, after the interview, said that she had at times during the interview gotten to 330 words a minute. She was pretty quick. Others have very heavy accents. Dinara Safina can be very difficult to understand, as is her brother Marat. They have a very heavy accent. James Blake,(laughs) all the journalists know that he speaks very fast. And it’s kind of a joke and he realizes that he’s our nemesis, because he’s even looked at us and said, “I know you hate me.” ‘Cause he just really likes to talk.

Q: Do you ever get to a point where you’re struggling to keep up or has it ever happened to you that you’re falling behind – how do you compensate for that? How do you deal with those situations?

A: Yes, that is difficult. You learn a skill called trailing or carrying where you learn to be behind a sentence or two and you keep it in your mind and you catch up. If we have any questions, everything is also recorded to our hard drive simultaneously, so if we think we might have missed something or misheard, we can listen to that at the time we edit it before we send the final transcript.

Q: Any memorable moments in particular? Particular tournaments or interviews that stand out for one reason or another?

A: Well, yeah, the Australian Open of ’08 my colleague and I – there were just really long matches, and everything for the women went three sets and everything for the men went five. And it being Australia, we took Lleyton Hewitt, he won over Baghdatis, and we took Lletyon’s interview at 5:30am. We stayed up all night waiting for that. And the tennis fans of Australia are true fans. There were kids in the audience and nobody left (early). Last year at Montreal Marat Safin threw in some choice words. He’s funny. He’s very funny. He was retiring and was asked a question about his sister and just held nothing back and let the expletives fly. So that was fun.

Q: Do you have to transcribe those expletives word for word, verbatim?

A: Yes, pretty much.

Q: Any awkward moments between reporters and players

A: I can’t think of a specific. Only when players lose and they don’t like to be asked what they think are seemingly stupid questions. So they get kind of testy.

Q: Favorite tournaments for you in the year and a half that you’ve been doing this?

A: Indian Wells is wonderful, as is the Sony Ericsson in Key Biscayne. The Slams – the French is great, everything is translated and the translators are great. The US Open is gruelling because they have lights that they can start matches very late at night. So last year every other night is 3 to 4 AM into bed, and that gets a little tough after two-plus weeks

RODDICK AND FRIENDS ENTERTAIN ATLANTIC CITY

By David Goodman

There was plenty of good humor at the Caesars Tennis Classic in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall Saturday night. Emcee Justin Gimelstob remarked that at least Ivan Lendl, who lost 6-3 to Mats Wilander, wasn’t wearing the tight shorts he sported in the 1980s and 1990s, and Andy Roddick taught courtside fans how to play a tennis drinking game during his 6-4 win over Pete Sampras. But the best line of all may have been the courtside announcer’s remark that the 7,300 fans in attendance represented the largest tennis audience in the history of Atlantic City.

Perhaps that was funny because there were likely no more than 5,000 fannies in the seats, or because Atlantic City has never hosted an actual ATP or WTA Tour event. (The city has hosted a Fed Cup match, a couple exhibitions and the Atlantic City vs. Pennsylvania Athletic Club match in 1931.) It wasn’t brought up in any of the press conferences, but I’d bet last night’s after party at Dusk Nightclub in Caesars was the loudest and most crowded tennis after party in Atlantic City’s history.

All kidding aside, tennis fans – no matter how many were actually there – had plenty to smile about. They saw Wilander and Lendl renew their rivalry from the late 1980s, Sampras bang serves, Marat Safin hit winners, and Roddick hit and giggle his way to victories over both Sampras and Safin. They also watched as event “host” Venus Williams – with a little help from the more experienced Gimelstob – bantered about with her male counterparts between sets.

It was undoubtedly a feel good event, and great for tennis lovers to see six former world No. 1s having such fun. And Caesars deserves credit for getting in on the action by decking out their hotel and casino with tennis posters, giant tennis balls and nets hanging from the ceilings, and tasty tennis cupcakes (free!).

Who knows if the promoter made money or Caesars got enough bang for their buck. Let’s hope so. This type of evening can be a real win-win. Pay the players, entertain the fans, fill up the hotels, attract paying sponsors and make tennis the story of the day. And don’t forget the after party.

Cut Richard Gasquet Some Slack

 As you know by now, French player Richard Gasquet has been suspended for testing positive for cocaine back in Miami this spring.  I am by no means suggesting drug use is appropriate, only that this punishment seems a little harsh for him.

How many athletes use drugs or alcohol off season when they aren’t being tested, when they are away from the public eye?  That’s right.  You can claim they probably don’t.  Honestly, you don’t know what people, these role models, are doing around the end of tournament season.  All we know of these players is how they conduct themselves at press conferences.

Worse, why is there a double standard in sports that partying with alcohol is given a “cool” pass while drugs are “bad?”  For anyone wanting to make the argument about being a good role model for kids, I want to hear your side on why overdoing alcohol is acceptable for NBA and MLB stars at the same time when Michael Phelps gets grilled in the media over one pot incident, possibly losing huge sponsors.

Hollywood actors can make comebacks after a few stints in rehab and if Britney can return with a concert tour, come on, give Richard Gasquet a chance.  I personally would have banned the guy from a few tournaments until he cleans up his act.  Keep in mind, this is a young man who probably spends most of his life not acting his age to become a top player.  Cut him a break and see if he can keep his promises.  If by then, he is still doing drugs, that is when you need to think about long term bans.