By David Kane
Tennis is unique in that it completely lacks the often fraternal team aspect so prevalent in nearly every other popular. One may have their favorite baseball or football player, yet fans of those sports ultimately support the team as a collective entity. When singles players take the court, they do so alone; in doubles, the pairings are typically too heterogeneous for one to look at the two players as a “team,” matching outfits aside. If players take the court alone, then fans take their seats in the stands or in front of their televisions to support them alone.
In tennis, unbreakable bonds can be formed between fan and player, ones that are much more personal than those found in other sports. Fans are knowledgeable about every aspect of their players’ lives, off-court activities, even the outfits they plan to wear next spring as early as last summer. Social media strengthens this connection, as fans can literally “follow” a player around the world, waiting for a new 140-character-or-less update on baited breath. Truly, this bond heightens all the senses that come with athletic fandom. It makes the victories sweeter, and the defeats more painful.
When those defeats invariably occur, it is only human nature for the fan to look for someone to blame. Barring a cataclysmic injury, how could fans ever point the finger at their player? They have watched their practices, stayed up to ungodly hours to watch them play early rounds a world away. They have conferred with the opinions of analysts and journalists, all of whom agreed that victory was assured. Then how did they lose? They can do no wrong. With nowhere else to look but across the net, fans usually place the heavy burden of blame on the unlucky soul who beat their guy or girl.
If a fan’s favorite player is infallible, then the opposite is true of a player that fan dislikes. Observed under equal scrutiny as a favorite, a disliked player can do nothing right, least of all win tennis matches. Their shrieks become more piercing, their fist-pumps become more obnoxious, and their attempts at humor only seem to bely their cruel, calculated nature. They even seem to lose matches when fans don’t want them too. Indeed, the hierarchies of a fan’s favorite and least favorite players can be as rigid as a caste system.
These extreme opinions of people fans don’t actually know were all well and good in the comfort of home (or locked inside the mind) until social media arrived and everyone jumped into the same proverbial ball pit. On twitter, Sharapova fans are suddenly confronted with her “haters,” fans who actively campaign to “save the grunt” are forced to resist the urge to enter typographical combat with those who think all on-court noise ought to be abolished. Sometimes, a fan’s opinion of a player can be completely influenced by his or her fan group (for better or worse).
One would be shocked, then, to see the apparent symbiosis that occurs on nearly every tennis fan’s Twitter timeline. It goes without saying that a tennis fan cannot join Twitter and expect an echo chamber of like-minded fans. The lines between fandoms are instead blurred as Sharapova fans follow Azarenka fans, Kvitova fans follow Wozniacki fans, and everyone follows at least twenty Ivanovic fans (in sheer numbers, Ana Ivanovic is the tennis twitter equivalent to Justin Bieber). The bonds tennis fans have formed with each other is arguably as strong as the bonds they’ve already formed with their favorite players. The average Serena Williams fan can expect congratulatory tweets when she wins, and condolences when she loses. Despite often strict party allegiances, tennis fans have realized that, no matter the player, they as fans have all experienced the same emotions at one moment or another. The only thing that differs is the player for whom the emotions are felt.
This is not to say that feelings aren’t sometimes hurt, the #equalprizemoney debate can grate, and that unless you’re a fan, logging off is encouraged during Novak Djokovic matches. But by and large, social media (Twitter in particular) does so much to unite tennis fans around the world, share information at lightning-fast speed and, most importantly, give what sometimes feels like a live-or-die tennis match some much needed perspective.
Regular watchers of the sport we love are well aware of the concept that as an individual sport, tennis is often more than just about the game: It’s about the people. Team loyalties are out of the window, and aside from an affinity to watch prettiness – the Del Potro forehand, the Gasquet backhand, the impeccable moves of a Djokovic, Nadal or Federer – there are those colourful personalities that make any match in this sport always worth watching.
Which is why when the presence of said personalities in a final comes round, everyone gets to share in the joy, and this Sunday, we did. We met Benoit Paire.
At twenty-one-years-old this Frenchman boasts an impressive physique where his long legs and long torso meet with a perfectly sculpted piece of facial hair that would make American hipsters cry in envy. It’s not Benoit’s athletics that give him his fans, it’s his fabulous repertoire of on-court theatrics that does.
Catch him drinking cans of sugary Coca-Cola during changeovers in his matches, or pointing angrily at the heavens as he mutters away in French to all and sundry. Watch him stalk around in little circles between points and try to strategize as he alternates between flubbed misses and shots of absolute brilliance. Meet the French hurricane that is Benoit Paire, and you’ll never look away from the side courts again.
I won’t lie and pretend I noticed Benoit on a practice court once upon a time and discovered the genius within. Nor will I pretend I found him in a no-name match and was intrigued by his display. No, the only reason I found Benoit and added him to my arsenal of favourites was thanks to the draw gods of Flushing Meadows, where in 2010 he qualified and made his way to a second-round meeting with the also-pretty-and-hence-very-popular Feliciano Lopez of Spain.
It was a typical outer-court match on the third or fourth day of a Grand Slam. With many favourites still present in the draw, spectators ringed both show courts and not-so-show courts, watching epic battles present themselves as fighting qualifiers overcame seeded favourites; hometown heroes pushed against former champions; and the draw narrowed down from overwhelming 64 to a manageable 32.
Crowd favorite Feliciano Lopez is there, shaking out his long blond locks (let’s not lie, they’re a secondary character on court on any day) as he battles out a third set with French qualifier Benoit Paire. The 18-year-old’s height is only emphasized by an added three or four inches of hair – or perhaps it’s just the shape of his head. Between strokes of brilliance and flubbed shots that came out of a children’s clinic, Paire yelled at his coach in French, yelled at the crowd using body language and gibberish, and finally joined in their cheering of his opponent with an eyeroll, clapped hand to racket, and ironic, “Lopez, Lopez!”
In one word, he was hilarious.
By the end of the fourth set, we are in stitches and torn between the two oh-so-pretty yet completely lost souls on court. We are all behind Feliciano, but somehow it doesn’t seem so wrong to cheer the Frenchman for the occasional perfectly placed backhand winner, or alternatively, a dramatic display as he falls over, lies on the ground, points his racket at the sky and hurls out theatrics in French.
We’re in love.
Four months later at the Australian Open, Paire’s French superiors have appreciated his efforts in Oz, and granted him a wildcard. I find him wandering the courts on day one, standing in the shade as a crowd of Australians gather to watch Ryan Harrison hurl insults at our homeland while losing to Adrian Mannarino in the first round.
I’m always feeling a little sorry for these soldiers on their first day, like privates wandering the grounds of a Grand Slam, far cry from their usual challenger haunts. So I’m all, “Hi, Benoit?” And he doesn’t speak English, and I didn’t make it past year ten French, so all I say is, “congratulations on the wildcard… I saw you in New York.” He looks at me and there’s a glint in his eye. “You know, against Lopez.” He cracks a smile. “Great match… Very funny.” He mumbles at me, almost blushing, and walks off. It’s only later, on his profile at the ATP website, that I learn that match wasn’t memorable just for me: The US Open 2010 is Paire’s favourite tennis memory.
That is, if we don’t count what happened today. Following upsets over Fabio Fognini, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Jarko Nieminen and the number one seeded Pablo Andujar, Benoit Paire made it to his first ever ATP 250 final – and semifinal, and quarterfinal… For those of us tuning in for some Paire-patented expletive-yelling; self-pummelling or Coca-Cola-swigging, it was slightly disappointing, with Benoit staying relatively (the key word) calm as he saved break point after break point, set point after set point, match point after match point – only to be eventually broken, with both sets and the match going to his opponent, the Italian Andreas Seppi.
Disappointing? I don’t think so. Paire is a talented tennis player – his marathon match against Lopez as a teenager was testament to that, and he’s only shown it further over his last two years on the tour since. Advancing to the final in Belgrade was no fluke: the Frenchman posted win after win over higher-ranked, more experienced and certainly more consistent tennis players than he – yet he followed up each upset with another one of a higher grade. His old-school Coke swilling on the sidelines and entertaining commentary paled this week next to more old-school persistence, focus and buckets of tennis talent. More focus, less frustration and we should be getting lots more entertainment when it’s time for Flushing Meadows this year.
There’s always a point of no return.
For Brad, it was seeing Steffi Graf’s ponytail fly up and hit her in the face when she hit her forehand in a 1990 match against Jennifer Capriati. For Chris, it was watching a teenage Andy Murray at the 2005 Wimbledon stand up to then 14th seed Radek Stepanek by mocking his lucky net-cord kiss. For Kelly Padgett, it was stumbling upon one of Andrea Petkovic’s infamous videos on youtube, and laughing as Petkovic pretended to pay Novak Djokovic for an interview.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the psyche of tennis fans lately. What is about this sport and the people that play it that makes us rearrange our schedules, worry for days on end, and get up at all hours of the night to watch a fuzzy yellow ball be hit back and forth from one side of the court to the other? Why do we care so much? Why does it matter?
To try and make sense of it all, I asked for volunteers to answer some questions for me about their experience being a tennis fan. Overall, I received thirty-one completed “fandom surveys” from fans of twenty-one different players. I laughed and cried as I scoured through them for days, re-reading the candid stories and over-analyzing the similarities and differences between them. I was overwhelmed by the honesty and poignancy. At the end of the day, I’m not sure if I solved any great mysteries, but I did come away with a deeper understanding of the power of our sport.
Melissa has been a Xavier Malisse fan since 1998- fourteen long years of ups and downs. “I just started following him, and never stopped,” she said. “Once I start following a player, I support him through good and bad times, even if that is sometimes hard. I don’t abandon a player because of negative results.”
Ruby, a Marcel Granollers fan, feels the same way. “Pathetically enough,” she told me, “I almost see it as my ‘job’ to stick by him.”
Melissa and Ruby are far from the only loyal tennis fans out there. Thirty of the fans I surveyed said that there was nothing they could imagine (besides a flippant mention of manslaughter) that would make them stop being a fan of their favorite player. Y. Jones, a Kei Nishikori fan, was the lone exception. She told me that she’d have to re-think her commitment to Nishikori if he ever got his ear pierced. “I just cannot stand a male figure wearing (an earring) in general,” she confessed.
Of course, a loyal tennis fan usually endures more lows than highs. Linda started following Flavia Pennetta in 2006, and became a die-hard fan when she saw an injured Pennetta enthusiastically cheering on her teammates in the Fed Cup Final that year. She couldn’t have picked a worst time to start being a fan. Between “the wrist injury, the struggle to come back, the breakup with Carlos Moya, and the struggle to recover from that,” Linda describes the events of 2006-2007 as “twelve months of horror” for Pennetta. But Linda stuck by the fiery Italian, and her loyalty paid off. She got to experience the joys of Pennetta’s two wins over Venus Williams, and her incredible run in the summer of 2009 when Pennetta won Palmero and L.A. back to back and became the first Italian woman to enter the Top-10. Linda describes the entire summer as “magical”.
As an Andy Murray fan, Hannah has been on a roller-coaster ride, but it’s how Murray has reacted during the low points that has secured her as a fan for life. She started following him during the 2010 Hopman Cup, but after his 2010 Australian Open Final loss to Roger Federer, there was no looking back. It wasn’t necessarily his play on-the-court that she admired, but rather his heartfelt display on the podium afterwards that made an impression. “Oh that speech.”
Similarly, Hannah was deeply impacted by how Murray acted after withdrawing from the World Tour Finals in London last November. “I was waiting for him (after his press conference announcing his withdrawal), just wanting to wish him luck for the next season and a fast recovery from that groin injury. As he walked out the venue, he was clearly very disappointed with not being able to play. However, he was still kind enough to give fans his autographs and thank everyone there for waiting and cheering him on.”
“His decentness as a guy is just admirable,” she concludes.
Curtis, an Ana Ivanovic fan, can relate. He recalls being “on cloud nine for an entire month” after (Ivanovic’s) 2008 French Open win, and has stuck by her through all the tough times since. “I have always considered myself a bigger fan of Ana Ivanovic the person, than Ana Ivanovic the tennis player,” he said. “While her results on court have changed over the years, she hasn’t changed as a person, which I really admire. She never let her fame or her struggles change the person who she was. That’s not easy to do. That’s why I keep coming back.”
In order to “keep coming back”, even in the rough times, most tennis fans maintain a delicate balance between their hopes and expectations. Charlotte, an Andy Roddick fan since 2003, realistically expects him to just win a few more minor tournaments, but deep down lets herself hope that he will “win many slams and beat Roger Federer as many times as he damn well likes.” Linda says that she’s learned the hard way to “never really have high expectations for (her) favorite players. The lower your expectations, the smaller you chance is of being disappointed!”
There are rare occasions when hopes and expectations merge together. For fans of players such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic, this happens more often then not.
Freelance sportswriter Matt Zemek became a Federer fan in 2004. “(Federer) played a brand of tennis that was more eye-pleasing and stylish than anything I had seen before.” He vividly recalled the first breakthrough moment he witnessed as a fan, Federer’s 2004 U.S. Open Quarterfinal against Andre Agassi. “When Agassi forced a fifth set in very windy conditions on that Thursday afternoon – the second day of the match – the American had the advantage. Federer somehow found a way to turn the tide in the fifth set and play particularly focused tennis. When he won, he let out a particularly primal roar and tore at his shirt. (He’s not Djokovic, so he didn’t succeed in tearing the shirt!) Federer seemed to know right then that he had conquered New York and all of its distractions. Sure enough, he didn’t lose another U.S. Open match until 2009.”
After such an immediate and long-term payoff, it’s no surprise that Zemek calls becoming a fan of Federer, “the most rewarding fan investment of (his) life.”
Zemek’s experience is unique. Most of the time becoming a fan, even of the greatest players, isn’t instantly rewarding. Aleksa became a fan of Novak Djokovic in 2005. “I first saw him play Marat Safin that year in the first round of the Australian Open,” she remembered. “He was crushed, of course. He was just a baby with porcupine hair. Six years and six months later he won Wimbledon.”
Anna became a Novak Djokovic fan a little later- in 2010 to be exact. She hoped that he would win another Grand Slam or two, but she never saw the 2011 season coming. “I felt constant surprise, joy, and elation. Never in my wildest dreams did I think he’d pull off all of that,” she said. While Anna admits that she does “hope that (Djokovic) wins all the Grand Slams from now on”, she realizes that is unrealistic. She is going to have to start managing her expectations again, keeping her hopes in check. Angela, a Rafael Nadal fan, is having a hard time doing just that. “Though (Nadal) has accomplished so much already, I would like him to have even greater successes,” she admitted. Angela does, however, realize that he may never reach the same heights he did in 2010, and says she will “deal with it as it comes.”
That’s the thing about reaching the top of the tennis world, whether as a player or as a fan- eventually, there will be a decline.
Siva, a Federer fan since 2001, is trying to come to terms with this. “Decline is the one constant in the game. I am fairly certain that Federer is declining. I am not sure I am prepared to deal with it.” Zemek disagrees. “Watching Federer handle tennis mortality is something to relish, not cringe at (for now),” he says.
Lawrence, another Federer fan, sides more with Zemek. “If (Federer) doesn’t become number 1 in his professional career again the Earth will still twirl around the Sun. Yes. It doesn’t matter.”
Aisha has been an Ana Ivanovic fan since 2005 when she was a ball-girl during her match against Nicole Vaidasova in Miami. Throughout the match Aisha recalls that Ivanovic “was an absolute sweetheart.” Aisha has stuck by the Serbian through the thick and the thin past seven years, but sometimes the losses are hard to take. When Ivanovic lost to Petra Cetkovska at Wimbledon last year, Aisha momentarily lost control and smashed her iPhone to bits. (Luckily she works at Best Buy and was able to get a replacement one quickly.)
Romi Castagnino promised herself that if her favorite player, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, ever won a Major that she would go sky-diving. Mattek-Sands won the Australian Open Mixed Doubles Championship with Horacia Tecau last month. Castagnino is rapidly trying to overcome her fear of heights.
Though the above examples are extreme, it was clear after reading through the surveys just how strong of an affect tennis players have on their fans. I was expecting to read about the loss of sleep, the occasional (or not-so-occasional) skipped class, and the general emotional highs and lows of fandom, but it became apparent that the influence runs deeper than that.
Many fans have drawn messages of hope and fortitude through their relationships with their favorite players. Maureen has learned about toughness by watching Maria Sharapova battle through matches and injuries. “I’ve learned not to give up easily,” she reflected. Christy has taken similar lessons from David Ferrer. “He has shown me that perseverance can overcome almost anything,” she told me. “Just because you’re ‘too short’ or whatever, doesn’t mean you can’t reach (your goals).” Karen Williams added, “Becoming a fan of Venus (Williams) has made me realize personally that through times of adversity you can accomplish much.” Suman has tried to adopt Roddick’s “never-say-no attitude”.
For Hannah, being a Murray fan has made her a much more independent person. She has traveled, often alone, all around the United Kingdom (and beyond) to see him play. For Lawrence, the impact Fed has had on his life is simple. “Be yourself. Stay cool.”
For some, the connection runs even deeper than that. Besides being pushed to face her fear of heights, Castagino has been inspired by Bethanie Mattek-Sands comeback from injury. “This was extra inspirational for me because around the same time she had her injury I broke my psoas muscles and it was pretty serious thing. I am still in rehab but seeing Bethanie come through her injury gives me extra motivation to push harder and keep my mind positive.” Similarly, a Rafael Nadal fan (who chose to remain anonymous), also found inspiration in Nadal’s transition from knee problems in 2009 to three-time Grand Slam Champion in 2010 . While struggling with personal matters during the time of his Wimbledon and U.S. Open triumphs she reflects that, “it was Rafa who got me through the bad days, the ones where I felt there was no hope.”
Most of the time in sports, you become a fan by default. You root for a team because you were born in a certain state, or went to a certain school, or were brought up a certain way. Being a tennis fan is different. It’s a relationship. It’s personal. It’s intimate. We don’t become fans of groups of people, states, or organizations- we become fans of human beings.
Sometimes we choose the players we are going to be fans of. Other times, the players choose us. Whether there’s something about them that we relate to, or something about them that we aspire to become, once the connection is made it’s virtually unbreakable. It’s why we get worked up when our favorite player is insulted. It’s why we get anxious for the matches, sad for the defeats, and exuberant over the victories. It’s why we do care. It’s why it does matter.
If I’ve learned nothing else from reading the stories of thirty-one passionate tennis fans, it’s that our favorite players aren’t just an extension of us, they’re an integral part of us. Most of the time, that’s a good thing.
(Eternal thanks to all those who took the time to fill out a survey and help me with this article: Curtis @curtos07, Charlotte @crystaleyesd, @eternal_elenea, Angela @4allsurfaces, Rhian @rosso_neri, Kelly Padgett, Siva, Lawrence, Chris @scoobschris, Matt Zemek @mzemek, Kelly @mikomonstr, Jane @jb10is, Géraldine, Suman, Karen Williams, Christy @triplebagel, @thriding, Melissa, Sarah @thetennisstorm, Aisha @Isha312, Brad @bradhunter, Maureen @drewsmama, Dianne @champingthebit, Anna @anna_tennisfan, Romi Castagnino, Ruby @ficcanasa, Y. Jones, Brooke, Hannah, Linda, and Aleksa.)
by Stephanie Neppl
Seville is set for what should be an epic Davis Cup final between two of the most likeable teams in tennis: Spain and Argentina. Take a look at pics of the teams interacting this week and you’ll see smiling faces between the players and endearing moments. It’s clear there’s mutual respect and friendship between many of the teams’ top players.
Spain is the favorite, without question. The team is the host and has won four titles in the past 10 years, with the slow clay certainly helping them. And yes, it boasts Rafael Nadal, arguably the best clay court player ever as well as #5 David Ferrer who’s had a career best year.
This Davis Cup final yields so many storylines and so many questions. Will the Argentineans be healthy enough to be competitive , particularly with Davis Cup veteran David Nalbandian still battling injuries? Will Nadal, mentally exhausted from a topsy-turvy year on tour, find the strength to lead his team to another title? Will Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez redeem themselves after losing badly in Spain’s narrow victory over the US in the semifinals? Will Juan Monaco, Argentina’s most in-form player of late, step up against his good friend Nadal in the opening match of the tie?
The emotional tugs for tennis fans may mostly surround Nalbandian. He’s never been part of a winning Davis Cup team, and most feel 2012 will be his last year on tour. Nalbandian has always been fiercely passionate about Davis Cup and most tennis fans would be pretty ecstatic should he finally win one.
And then, there’s the crowd. Having been to all four grand slams and the Beijing Olympics, I’ve seen my share of partisan crowds. Davis Cup ties are legendary for being noisy and full of very patriotic fans. Will the crowd be fair to both teams or are all bets off? At the Beijing Olympics, the partisan crowd lost all touch with good fan behaviour while its own were playing. Will the Seville crowd behave?
Thus far, the atmosphere in Seville has been fantastic. Somehow the tennis gods smiled down on me as my accommodation is directly across the road from the Spanish team’s hotel. I’ve already been within hand shaking distance from Nadal twice, and have seen the entire team. Last night, I saw Verdasco and David Ferrer quickly race into their hotel from their courtesy van while Nadal and Lopez lingered to bring their bags into the hotel. The number of fans outside the hotel has been rather small, and Nadal has been welcoming to his fans and has posed with a fair few (this professional tennis fan was not quick or assertive enough to ask for a photo either time).
Local shops have also gotten into the Davis Cup spirit with tennis signs and displays (a butchery near Team Spain’s hotel has even crafted a tennis court in its window using huge pieces of jamon as rackets). A Davis Cup museum has been set up in the city centre showing off programmes and signed memorabilia from past ties while a big screen plays highlights of classic matches.
Today, the draw was held at the beautiful Teatro Lope de Vega. Sadly, only media were allowed inside and a noisy rally by striking workers (apparently over a migrant worker issues) created a huge distraction from the joy of the Davis Cup draw. My group saw all the teams pull up in cars but that was as close to the draw as we could get since it was not open to the public.
Practices inside Estadio Olímpico de Sevilla have also been closed to the public, though the team’s practice times have been published online. So the excitement and anticipation builds and builds for the many fans who’ve been in town waiting for the tie to begin. The long wait is over at 1pm Friday to see the teams and the stadium. A ceremony will kick off at 1pm, followed by Nadal versus Monaco then Ferrer versus Del Potro.
May the best team win! Vamos!
Stephanie Neppl is in Seville, Spain covering the Davis Cup Finals as a guest contributor for Tennis Grandstand. She is the author of the website I Have a Tennis Addiction and you can follow her on twitter @StephInNZ for further updates.
by Stephanie Neppl
By the time the final round robin match was ready to begin at the ATP World Tour Finals on Friday night, the O2 crowd was truly energized. Not only were they promised an intriguing match between David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych, but the result would decide whether Berdych or world #1 Novak Djokovic would advance to the semifinals.
Ferrer had been the in-form player coming into the match after defeating both Djokovic and Andy Murray in straight sets to lead his group. Berdych, on the other hand, saw both his previous matches decided by third set tiebreaks. He wasn’t able to close out Djokovic, but defeated Janko Tipsarevic after surviving a match point.
The O2 Arena delivers such an amazing experience when players enter the court. The lights dim, the blue court literally glows and superb graphics on the big screen and all around the court are dazzling. Add in the smoke machine and music and the tennis players must feel like grand celebrities. It’s an amazing sight and made this tennis player proud to be present to cheer on the ATP’s top stars during the week.
From the first point, Ferrer continued the form he’d shown all week and he fought off early break points to take the set 6-3. Berdych played evenly throughout the match, but it was Ferrer who was winning the rallies, which often ended on a Berdych error (43 in total).
But when serving up a break at 4-3 in the second set, the Spaniard tightened up and handed the break back. Seemingly from nowhere, Ferrer’s play, particularly his serve slumped and Berdych seemed to have an extra spring in his step throughout the third set. He sprinted to a 5-0 lead (winning seven straight games), before Ferrer held serve to escape a bagel, and then took the match 3-6,7-5, 6-1.
Watching a player as likeable and hard-working as Ferrer suddenly struggle to find his shots was not easy. But Berdych, who seemed an afterthought on the tour for much of the first half of the season, was delighted with the way he hung in there and he was rewarded for his perseverance.
“The turning point, I think, was just the one that I made on set point to win the second set, because all the time before I was down,” said Berdych. “When I made the second set, it just gave me a lot of confidence [and] energy. I started to feel really great on court.”
The Czech moves into the World Tour Finals semifinals for the first time, and will face Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Ferrer, who has already qualified after winning his first two matches, faces Roger Federer whom he has a 0-11 record against.
Stephanie Neppl is in London covering the ATP World Tour Finals as a guest contributor for Tennis Grandstand. She is the author of the website I Have a Tennis Addiction and you can follow her on twitter @StephInNZ for further updates.
by Romana Cvitkovic
Being a tennis fan can be both exhilarating and cruel. Just ask anyone sitting in the upper deck of the world’s largest tennis venue, Arthur Ashe Stadium, at this year’s U.S. Open. From that high up, the players look more like specks playing ping pong than tennis, but the atmosphere of the crowd is electrifying as cheers for both players echo off the grandiose stadium.
As a devout tennis fan, we are addicted to the euphoria, the stress, and the drama of the sport. Sure, we go for the entertainment value and the sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves. But what makes tennis unique is that it is an individual sport. Instead of cheering for a basketball or football team passed down through generations, we gravitate towards individual players who reflect parts of our own personality, such as the fierceness of Serena Williams or the humor-driven game of Novak Djokovic. With no teammates and coaches to look to, each player is out on court alone, putting their hard training and mental strength to the ultimate test. And that’s where fans come in, making up the difference.
With essentially no off-season and no hometown advantage for any one player due to constant travelling, tennis is a year-round battleground. Players enter tournaments on a weekly basis, travelling from continent to continent, in search for glory. A player may play six or more matches in any given week, possibly win the tournament if they are lucky, catch a red-eye flight to the next city, and start fresh without a day off. As fans, our schedules reflect their grueling weekly battles, and we progress with them through their journey of elated wins and deflated losses, week after week. Loyalty and patience are as much of a factor in a fan’s life as euphoria and stress, and the players are dependent on the crowd’s energy as they travel the globe.
After her epic win over Maria Kirilenko earlier this week, 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur recalled the intensity of the history-setting second set tiebreak (which ended 17-15 in Kirilenko’s favor), and the crowd’s influence on her psyche.
“I lost track of the score. Didn’t know at one point if I was serving or receiving or when we should be changing ends, what was going on … it was super-exciting. The crowd was really into it. Couldn’t really hear myself think at times because it was so loud out there.”
2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro echoed Stosur’s thoughts on fan contribution. “I really enjoy the crowd, the fans are crazy, and they are very excited … the crowds are full every match. For me, that helps me to fight.” In reference to playing on the intimate Grandstand stadium, the third largest at the site, he added that “we are pretty close to the fans and we can hear every word.” Del Potro goes on to reminisce about his win in the final two years ago stating that “I was two sets to one down and [the fans] help me, started cheering more for me than Roger [Federer], and that help me a lot to win the final.”
Prior to his title in Flushing Meadows that year, Del Potro was a relative unknown in the United States. But loyal fans who had watched him mature from the junior circuit to the men’s tour caught glimpses of his brilliance early on in his career. Although celebrity players such as the Williams’ sisters and Federer generate high television ratings, the back courts of tennis are where stars are created. This is the place where casual spectators turn into lifelong supporters of players, following their careers unwaveringly through all the ups and downs.
And no two other players have more ups and downs than France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils. Although utilizing vastly different playing styles, they are self-proclaimed entertainers, winning and losing in equally spectacular fashion. As a fan, it’s both maddening and gratifying as you can never anticipate which version of the player will strike: the controlled genius or the self-imploding fatalist. But we continue to support them. Why? Because although their potential exceeds their current form, it may one day translate into a history-making run or title at a Grand Slam, as it has with Tsonga during the U.S. Open.
In our increasingly transient and insular society, it’s welcoming to identify with a particular player. When we equate ourselves with someone who has made a breakthrough, we revel just as deeply in their joy as they do, and in some parallel universe believe we had something to do with their win. And that’s all fans require sometimes: belief in a player. It’s not always about cheering for the winner; they’ve learned to win whether they are in a stadium viewed by 5 or 50,000 people. Rather, we cheer for the underdog because that is when a fan’s voice makes a difference.
And then I went to watch the kind of tennis where they actually write down what you do on these big thingys that blast the numbers out in lights and on chalk and on iPhone applications and scoreboards across computers everywhere. The kind of tennis called Grandslam tennis.
Turns out being day one, we were in for chockablocks, which as a tennis fan, is amazing because it means people are loving my sport. But as a tennis fan, it sucks for me because I want to see my boys, dammit!
Bypassed the showcourts and arenas, just missing out on Sammy Q’s epic fail against Kubot. With the hopes of America failing left, right and center (or courts 3, 5 and 7, to be precise) I skipped the flailing Fish and went straight for Ryan Harrison. I fell in love with my giant-sized Justin Bieber at his epic Grandstand match against Stakhovsky in the US Open, but was completely disappointed to see that Mr America had also imported a serious atitooood to Aussieland.
To be precise, whingeing about the wind. Comparing the conditions to winter in Florida. In a decidedly whingey tone that seemed to question why he bothered coming out to Australia at all.
Because it’s a grand slam, dude.
Felt a tall shadow behind me and looked behind to see none other than my favourite wildcard and current top-rated Frenchie (in my all-important book, to be clear) Benoit Paire behind me. Figured I’d say hi but alas, the English was limited. The hotness? Not at all.
Meandering about next was when things really got interesting. Stopping by to see Xavier Malisse take on Pablo Andujar, I ducked around the corner to find a full-blown fight between some red-shirted Spaniards and security.
My humble understanding of the conversation I cheerfully eavesdropped included a situation where Xavier, unhappy with the Spanish noise-making, had motioned for these spectators to shut up. This was allegedly mid-point, although he had already won the point. Or something. Either way, the red-shirts were adamant that being that he talked to them, they had a right to talk back. And when he asked security to take them away, he should’ve first contacted the umpire. Props go to the lovely Aussie blokes who heard out the whole story and soothed them in that gorgeous Aussie way (beer cups in hand), along the lines of “Yep, but those are the rules… Yep.. I know it’s ridiculous… Happened to us too… but you gotta abide by the rules.”
I love my country.
With time to kill before the long awaited Serbian-army attack, I came to see Rebecca Marino, up-and-coming Canadian girl who was looking just lovely.
Couldn’t decide where to go next, but luckily my decision was made for me as I contemplated the scoreboard:
Rainbow-suspender clad Kangaroos, playing the trumpet to the tune of “Tequila!” in Garden Square. Too good.
Waiting for entry between change of ends behind the lovely Pammy who was looking quite the frazzled Mom, I headed in to catch the end of the five-setter between Mardy Fish and Victor Hanescu on Show Court 3. I love our Aussie audiences. The same guys cheering “Victor, Victor” were also the ones clapping enthusiastically when Mardy won a point. Two young girls clutching plastic cups of Jacob’s Creek were enthusiastically cheering for Fishy, and over on the other side, we heard “Fishy, Fishy, Fishy, Oi Oi Oi!”
I settled in near Pammy and the Fish family. Pascal got into a few narrow scrapes, being in a huge show court without Hawkeye, and Victor switched on fire the moment a match point arrived.To quote the kids nearby, “This guy should just always play as if he was on matchpoint.” My three-game stint turned into a half hour ordeal as deuce after deuce rolled by, the Aussie kids cheered the ballboys “You’re the best roller I’ve ever seen, woooo”, and Mardy was – well, looking really svelte, if I must say. Tee hee hee.
And then Pammy ran – nay, sprinted – for her post-match interview. It was funny. I laughed.
Then I heard a thump and a thud. It was Nikolai Davydenko, falling down down down the rankings. Alas.
With tennis being in its off-season – wait, tennis has an off-season? – we thought we would give you daily content courtesy of Randy Walker’s book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY, so you can have your daily tennis fix. ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com), makes for an ideal companion for the tennis fan and player. It fits perfectly under your tree or in a stocking for the Holidays. The following are events that happened ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY….
Martina Navratilova defeats Chris Evert Lloyd 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 to win the Australian Open in Melbourne for her 17th victory over Evert Lloyd in the last 19 matches and her third career Australian singles title. “That was tough on the nerves,” says the 29-year-old Navratilova after the match. “It seems Chris and I always play great matches. Even though I lost the second set, I felt in control. I knew this was it. I knew it was for the No. 1 ranking. I was going to go after it, and I did.” Navratilova previously wins inAustralia in 1981 and 1983. Says Evert, the defending champion, “After the second set, there was a lot of pressure on both of us, and she handled it better.” In men’s singles, Mats Wilander advances into the final, finishing up a 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 rain-delayed victory over unseeded Slobodan Zivojinovic of Yugoslavia. The other men’s singles semifinal between Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg is suspended due to rain after only 10 minutes of play, Edberg leading 2-1.
Ivan Lendl defeats Mats Wilander 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 to win the year-end Nabisco Masters Championship for a fifth time. Says Lendl, ”Today may have been the best I hit the ball and moved. I think I still can get better, though. I can work on new shots and my physical strength and conditioning.” Wilander implements a more aggressive strategy against Lendl, coming to net more often and using his one-handed chip backhand in an attempt to close the gap between he and Lendl. Earlier in the week, Wilander says that his goal is to become the No. 1 player in the world. Says Wilander, “I tried to come in on his backhand, but that didn’t work. After a while, you don’t know what to do. A couple of times I was thinking, ‘he’s just too good for me.’” Says Lendl of his goals and how he can he can improve his game, “”There are millions of ways I could improve. There are new shots, new ways to hit the shots, ways to become more flexible, stronger…There are still so many things I want to do. Everyone in tennis would like to win a Grand Slam…I paid my dues on and off the court and now I’m enjoying the fruits of it.”
December 7 becomes a day of infamy for Pam Shriver as the American blows seven match points in losing to Wendy Turnbull of Australia 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (6) in the final of the New South Wales Open in Sydney. Turnbull trails 6-2 in the final-set tie-break against the 18-year-old Shriver.
If you were a tennis fan in the late 90s then you surely must have heard of Anna Kournikova and Martina Hingis. Those two were my favorite players back then. Anna , who is underrated by most tennis fans, never won a singles title but did win two Grandslam Doubles titles. Martina Hingis has won many titles including three Grandslam titles (the US Open 1x, Wimbledon 1x, Australian Open 3x) and nine Grandslam Doubles titles. And she was the number one of the world for 209 consective weeks.
So when I read that the two of them were returning to play the WTT tournaments this summer I was more than happy. Why? Because it meant I’d get to see photos of them playing. Things were even better when they entered the Wimbledon Legends doubles tournament. It was the return of the Spice Girls all over.
Fans and pundits from all over the world were elated to see Hingis and Kournikova team up again for doubles and play singles. Ofcourse this also ignited rumors that Hingis may make a return to the WTA Tour. She told the press that she may play a few doubles games with Lindsay Davenport. But we haven’t heard much of that ever since. As a fan I keep hoping that Hingis will return for at least more doubles tournaments.
I even dug up some videos of the two of them interviewed by Harry Cicma for World Tennis Magazine.
Enjoy the photos and videos. The photos are Anna Kournikova at the St. Louis Aces Vs Newport Beach Breakers match and Martina Hingis at the World Team Tennis tournament at Villanova University. Check the guy Martina Hingis is talking to. Rumor has it that he is her new beau.
I have also added extra bonus pics of Anna Kournikova At The Laureus Charity Gala At The MBB In Stuttgart.
By Ritesh Gupta
The way Francesca Schiavone reacted after her quarterfinal victory over Caroline Wozniacki in the French Open is something what a tennis fan longs for.
A tennis pro can’t express much in the playing arena especially when there are a series of matches lined up. But the manner in which Schiavone expressed herself was touching to say the least.
She held her head in disbelief. Taking a few steps, standing in the middle of the court and acknowledging the applause from the crowd, Schiavone wrapped up her celebration by kissing the coveted surface. Definitely an emotional moment, which Schiavone would cherish throughout her life.
And why wouldn’t she?
For one, who will now appear in a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time, such reaction is quite understandable. She is also the first Italian woman in the Open era to make it to this stage of the French Open. Schiavone next plays Elena Dementieva.
Schiavone, who will be turning 30 this month, has been on the professional tour for more than a decade. Though she has never been in the top 10, she still has the ability to pose a threat to anyone.
Schiavone’s 6-2, 6-3 triumph over third seeded Wozniacki showcased her athletic ability. She backed up up the same with an array of fluent strokes. The Italian was clearly in her elements today, hardly letting Wozniacki to get into rhythm.
On this day, Wozniacki not only lost the baseline duel, but she was also found wanting at the net. Wozniacki only won 5 of 13 points at the net. In fact, on quite a few occasions, even when Wozniacki had an opening and rushed to the net, Schiavone made up for it with her speedy recovery, setting up winners by either forcing her opponent to play tough half volleys or passing her at the net.
Schiavone remained in front throughout. She won three games on the trot at 3-2 in the first set. Wozniacki, who conceded an early break in the second set, levelled to raise hopes at 3-3. But Schiavone, who seldom hides her emotions while playing, motivated herself whenever Wozniacki showed signs of catching up. The Italian showed her aggressive intent as she to chose to serve and volley to set up her first match point. She capitalised on the same with a gutsy smash. And post that she celebrated her win beautifully.