Thursday, July 28, 2011

Final thoughts on the 2011 ATC

I thoroughly enjoyed working at and attending this year’s Atlanta Tennis Championships at the Racquet Club of the South. The experience of volunteering was fabulous: the volunteer coordinator for scorekeeping and court monitoring was exemplary, my fellow volunteers were friendly and professional and, as an attendee, the event was fantastic. You may have noticed that I’ve added a summary page of the tournament on the right-hand side of the page.

In other news, it was announced earlier this month that NBC lost its contract to broadcast Wimbledon – after 43 years! – to ESPN. While this is just another data point in the larger trend and transformation of television, particularly the coverage of sporting events, it’s possible that the dissatisfaction expressed by tennis fans (like me, in these pages) was heard by the “powers that be” at our sport’s most prestigious event. I will certainly miss being able to display the tournament’s middle and final weekend’s coverage on my basement wall with the over-the-air HD projector setup I have, but I also look forward to seeing more of the event’s matches and an end to the tape-delayed broadcasting I’ve ranted against more than once here.

August promises to be an exciting month of tennis, not just because it marks the culmination of the US Open Series with the start of the 2011 US Open on August 29th, but because it will feature my USTA 7.0 mixed doubles team’s second consecutive trip to the Georgia State Championships in Augusta.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Photos and video of the ATC 2011 final between Mardy Fish and John Isner

Sunday’s final at the 2011 Atlanta Tennis Championships was won by Mardy Fish over John Isner 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-2 which was a repeat of the 2010 ATC in more ways than one: Fish also lost the first set to Isner in last year’s final before prevailing in three, though the tiebreaker set was the last (instead of the middle) set of that match.

The match started unusually – a foot fault was called on Isner’s first serve, a let on the second (video) – before Fish won the match’s first point (video). But Isner broke Fish’s serve early in the first set, and held on to win it 6-3 by bouncing a serve over Fish’s head and extended racquet in ad court (video).

Isner squandered opportunities to win this year’s final in straight sets; he took a commanding 5-1 lead in the second set tiebreak, serving for it at 6-4 and receiving at 6-5. But Fish had a service winner to even it at 6-all (video), enabling Mardy to win the last 4 points, taking the tiebreaker 8-6, and the set 7-6, on Isner’s errant forehand (video), to even the match at one set all. Watching the second set transpire, it was obvious that the heat was beginning to affect the big man from the University of Georgia, who’d started conserving his energy during his opponent’s service games early in the set. Fish held a couple of consecutive service games at love before it was 4-all (and then 5-all) when a break for Isner would mean serving for the set and the match (and John stepped up his effort). It was readily apparent that, if Isner didn’t somehow manage to win the second set, he’d be done for the third (despite his marathon effort to win the longest match in history at Wimbledon 2010) … which is exactly how it played out. Fish won the third set easily, breaking Isner’s slowing serve twice, with a crosscourt forehand winner (video) 6-2.

Also played on Sunday at the Racquet Club of the South was the ATC doubles final, which was won by American Alex Bogomolov Jr. and Australian Matthew Ebden over Germany’s Matthias Bachinger and Frank “Franky” Moser 3-6, 7-5, 10-8 which featured a championship point that was also rather unique because Bachinger’s return of Bogomolov’s serve had to be verified by shot spot, resulting in a delayed celebration (video).

We had terrific seats for both matches, so terrific that the Atlanta newspaper’s cameraman setup right behind us and captured this photo of our backs. Ironically, Bill from Special Pops, who I'd seen earlier in the week, was sitting right in front of us, though he wasn't very happy about Isner's loss.

For those who've read my earlier account of the tournament, the tent in the upper right of the picture above is where the scorekeepers sit; the bottom level (down to the left) tent is where TV commentators Darren Cahill and Cliff Drysdale sat. Naturally, Brad Gilbert was "in the house", court-side in black and long sleeves despite 90 degree temperatures.

This year I stood at the back of the throng of fans that gathered behind ESPN2's commentator booth at 3 PM EDT on Sunday, but you'd have to look closely (and know what I look like) to find me on TV;-)

Friday, July 22, 2011

ATC photos - rain, rain, go away and don’t come back another day

Thursday’s tennis was marred by a nearly 2 1/2 hour rain delay, which interrupted the first matches at the ATC, causing a rescheduling scramble that could have been worse had a sore-shouldered John Isner not withdrawn from his doubles match with James Blake, which was scheduled to be the fourth and last match on the Stadium Court last night.

I received an exciting assignment yesterday afternoon: to be a scorekeeper on the Stadium Court with a lineup of second round matches that began with American teen Ryan Harrison (video) against the fourth seeded Belgian Xavier Malisse, “the X-Man”, at 4 PM which was to be followed by Australian Lleyton Hewitt’s match against American Rajeev Ram, an upset winner over the fifth seed Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov. The 7 PM match was to be defending champ and top seeded Mardy Fish’s first match (after receiving a bye in the first round) against France’s Nicolas Mahut, who’d famously played in the longest men’s match in history against the ATC’s third seeded Isner at Wimbledon in 2010.

But the best laid plans often go awry and, after a thrilling battle that featured Malisse taking the first set in a tiebreaker and Harrison breaking Malisse in the tenth game of the second set to even the match, dark and ominous clouds moved in and lightning interrupted the American as he attempted to even the third set at 2 games apiece (serving at 1-2, 40-30). At about 6 PM the chair umpire suspended play and shortly thereafter, the downpour came. I had scored the second set, a task which was much easier the second go-round, and was looking forward to possibly scoring the first set of Hewitt’s match as well. But it was not to be. By the time the rain stopped and the Stadium Court could be thoroughly dried, it was near 8:30 PM before the players took the court to warm-up to resume their match. During the delay, my shift expired and I turned over the walkie-talkie to my replacement, had my dinner, and changed out of my volunteer shirt so that I could sit in an unoccupied seat to watch the rest of the match & hopefully some more tennis before I’d have to head for home.

Harrison lost his serve to go down 1-3 in the third (he spun, dropped & attempted to kick his racquet on its way to the ground) but broke back immediately to get back on serve 2-3. On the changeover, he and the X-Man had a heated exchange. Being all the way across the court, I couldn’t make out what it was all about, but believe it had something to do with Harrison making Malisse wait a moment between his first and second serves at “ad out”. After both men sat down, Malisse and the umpire had words. Impressively, the nineteen year-old American kept his cool, held his serve, broke to lead 4-3 before the next changeover, and then closed out the third set and the match by holding serve twice more, winning it 6-4.

Tournament officials had moved Hewitt’s match to Court 1, where India’s Somdev Devvarman was soon to close out his second round win over Japan’s Tatsuma Ito – he was up 6-1, 3-1 before the rain delay, and eventually won the second set 6-3 – so that Fish’s match could start on the Stadium Court next. I stayed as late as I could (10 PM) but only got to watch until the American broke the Frenchman’s serve in the first set, to lead 4-3. Mardy went on to break again and win the first set 6-3, and took the second by the same score. There was no sign of his lovely wife Stacey Gardner at the match.

It’s been a fun week and I had a feeling of melancholy in my heart as I left last night realizing that my volunteer time had come to an end. Of course, I look forward to watching the quarterfinals on TV, if not live then on my DVR, and attending the finals in person on Sunday, which I’ll write about as I resume my regular posting schedule – every Monday and Thursday – next week.

One final note: There was a Special Pops exhibition on the Demo Court (east of the Stadium Court) last night; it was great to see Bill – who was hosting it – again.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Third day notes from the 2011 Atlanta Tennis Championships

Day 3 @ the ATC, it looked like severe weather was going to alter Wednesday’s match schedule especially since heavy rain started to pelt Marietta – west of the Racquet Club of the South – at about 3 PM. However, in an unusual pattern, the storm clouds travelled west instead of east, leaving Norcross clear for another beautiful day of uninterrupted tennis at the 2011 Atlanta Tennis Championships.

At about 9:30 PM on Tuesday night, a decision was made to put all the singles and doubles matches on either the Stadium Court or Court 1, but because of how the matches played out Wednesday, that decision had to be reconsidered, and Court 2 was prepared for action. I was assigned to work as a court monitor on Court 1 and, after the young American team of Ryan Harrison-Donald Young lost their doubles match in a third set tiebreaker to Germany’s Matthias Bachinger and Frank Moser, Australia’s Marinko Matosevic and Taiwan’s Yen-Hsun Lu – who famously upset a fifth seeded Andy Roddick at Wimbledon in 2010 – were next up. I’d seen Matosevic – who looks and moves a bit like Max Mirnyi – win his third set against Kudla in Monday’s final qualifying round, so I knew what kind of game he had. The Australian’s bigger game threatened to blow his smaller Taiwanese opponent off the court in the first set, which he won 6-3 after having set points off Lu’s serve at 5-2.

During the match, I made sure that court umpire Steve Ulrich had all that he (and the players) needed but also had to inform several fans that they could not use their professional (e.g. long lens) cameras to record the action. Late in the first set, I noticed a man that kept putting a satchel on his lap every time the action started who had his knees pointed toward Lu’s end of the court, yet during changeovers, he’d put the satchel back on the bench beside him. Occasionally, he’d even bend over and look into the bag. I found this curious, and asked my partner to watch and see what she thought he was doing; we came to believe that he was hiding a video camera between his legs. Instead of calling security immediately, I first hustled across the court after the first game of the second set – technically I should have waited until the changeover after 3 games – and approached the man. Later, my partner told me that his body language and demeanor changed significantly when he saw me coming. I asked him if he had press credentials and what was in the bag, but he ‘pretended’ not to speak English, asking me to speak slowly. I gestured “point-and-click camera O.K.” but that he couldn’t use a professional camera to record the match. He seemed to understand this and since I couldn’t cross back over until two more games were completed, I sat a couple of rows behind him. Bottom line – the satchel never left the bench beside him for the rest of the match.

Lu raced to a 5-love lead and won the second set 6-1 and, although the third set was closer than its score, he wore down his big opponent by playing exceptional defense, taking the third set (and the match) 6-2.

Between sets, I met the next (and much friendly) chair umpire Antonio Zapatero (not a 100% sure of his last name), who was to officiate the doubles match between Great Britain’s Colin Fleming-Ross Hutchins and the pairing of young American Ryan Sweeting and Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, who’d been the fifth seed in the singles draw before his first round upset at the hands of American qualifier Rajeev Ram, who plays Lleyton Hewitt next. For the 5 or so closely contested games that I saw before my shift ended, it was clear that the two singles players, while impressively big off the ground, were playing a couple of doubles specialists who would likely prevail, and they did (though it took a third set tiebreak to win it). I’ve subsequently learned that Fleming-Hutchins were the first British pair to reach the quarterfinals – where they lost in 5 sets – at Wimbledon 2011 since 1993.

Unfortunately, as it was now 9 PM and my carriage would soon turn into a pumpkin, I was unable to see or stay for more than the first set tiebreaker of John Isner's first set (and eventual match win) over James Blake on Stadium Court which, as a volunteer and without a ticket, I had to watch standing behind an usher's rope.

More tomorrow ...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Second day insider notes from the Atlanta Tennis Championships

Tuesday was another beautiful yet hot day for tennis at the ATC, featuring several great matches by top (formerly marquee) players. To continue my behind-the-scenes look at this year’s tournament, I’ll detail how scorekeeping – compiling the match statistics for the TV commentators and analysts – is accomplished.

First up on Stadium Court – the only court where statistical data is recorded – was former World number 1 (& 2-time Grand Slam singles champion) Australian Lleyton Hewitt’s match against American qualifier Phillip Simmonds. Two of us were assigned the task of scorekeeping the match, although only one can operate the computer at a time. So, my partner scored the first set and I did the second. Match stats are entered via a keypad (pictured below) which also controls the radar gun that records the speed of each serve. In fact, the first step is to turn on the radar as the player approaches the line to serve. The second task is to record the placement of the serve – wide, body or center – and whether it was an ace, a service winner, a let, or a fault (if applicable). The third step is to record the rally count via “forehand” and “backhand” keys. Lastly, one has to enter the point winner and get ready to turn on the radar for the next serve. Mistakes can be corrected via the Windows application which receives input from the keypad. Although the radar display that the crowd sees comes directly from the scorekeeper’s actions, the actual game and match scores are controlled by the chair umpire. All the other match statistics that are recorded – aces, service winners, speed and direction, double faults (which are highlighted orange), rally count, who won the point and the game & match score audit trails – are available (but presumably provided in a more readable report format) via the computer to the analysts and commentators.

As you probably know by now, Hewitt won the first & second sets (and therefore the match) by the same score 6-4. Because the match finished around 5:30 PM and the next scheduled Stadium Court match wasn’t until 7 PM, the Ryan Harrison-Yuichi Sugita match originally scheduled on Court 1 – where the 4 PM match between Igor Kunitsyn and Marinko Matosevic (who prevailed) was headed for a third set – was moved to the Stadium Court. The decision appeared sound as the promising 19-year-old American Harrison thumped the Japanese 6-1 in just over 20 minutes, which was scored by my partner. Taking my seat for the second set, I had no idea it would go the distance, Harrison winning the tiebreak 7-5 at approximately 7:30 PM. Bonus – I got to score two sets of tennis – working and watching two full matches – instead of just one!

After calling in the match scores and rushing to the Volunteer Services tent for dinner, which ends at 8, I returned to the Stadium Court as a spectator for the Robby Ginepri-Tommy Haas match and got to see all but a few games of the Marietta resident American’s 6-4, 7-5 win over the German. The umpire on the Stadium Court for the night’s premier matchup was again Mohamed Lahyani. Just so you know, volunteers aren’t allowed to sit in numbered seating, so I stood for the majority of the match.

More tomorrow … I’m hoping to score (and control the radar) for some of third seeded John Isner’s match against James Blake, this evening’s 7 PM match on Stadium Court.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

First day notes from the 2011 Atlanta Tennis Championships

It was a beautiful Monday at the ATC, which featured several compelling matches and cooler than usual temperatures because of some late afternoon cloud cover. The only downside was a late evening rain delay which interrupted James Blake’s comeback win over Ernests Gulbus by more than an hour.

I arrived for my shift as a scorekeeper-court monitor about 20 minutes early, which gave me time to get the scoop from some fellow volunteers that had worked over the weekend. My assignment for the day was to be a court monitor on Court 2. After a brief orientation and walk around the grounds, I arrived at the most remote court from the Racquet Club of the South clubhouse where 18 year old Denis Kudla from the Ukraine had just won the second set 6-1 after having lost the first set 1-6 to Australian Marinko Matosevic. The third set went the distance with the big serving Aussie winning over Kudla’s world class backhand. I met Kudla’s coach Frank Salazar, who had another of his tennis prodigies in tow, because he sat behind us (under our umbrella) during the match.

While waiting for the next match, I met and introduced myself to the umpire Jake Garner, because, as a court monitor, my responsibility is to make sure that he has everything he needs for the match, that the water and Gatorade tubs are adequately stocked and iced, and that there are enough clean towels and ice towels available for the players et al. Additionally, the court monitor looks to see if anyone in the crowd needs assistance, is being disruptive to the match or is using a professional camera (except, of course, if they’re among the press corps), and calls in match related updates. Plus, I also had a most informative conversation with a couple of the lines persons who told me about their jobs, how they learned their tasks, what they get paid, how their travel and expenses works etc. I’d share more, but it’s getting about time for me to leave for my second day on the job!

The next match on Court 2 was a first round match between Japan’s Tatsuma Ito and Germany’s Michael Berrer. It was a tight first set decided by a tiebreak (8-6) and won by Ito, who was able to beat the big serving but weak backhanded German with spectacular crosscourt passing shots every time his taller opponent approached the net. Ito went on to win the second set, and his first ATP tour level match, 6-4, just after 7 PM, when my shift ended. BTW, during the match, a ball bounced towards me and I noticed that it looked pretty beat up, even though they change balls every 8 games. I also noticed that it had red streaks on it which must have come from the big red “W” (for Wilson) stencils on the racquets that both players used.

After a brief yet satisfying meal – provided for volunteers – I decided to stay and watch as much of the Blake-Gulbis match – which was refereed by Mohamed Lahyani , who’d done the Isner-Mahut Wimbledon 2010 marathon – as I could before I’d have to leave. Because of Blake’s comeback, down 4-5 in the second, he broke the Latvian and later came back from 0-4 to win the tiebreaker, I left later than I’d intended, but still a lot earlier than everyone who stayed for the rain delayed 3rd set;-)

More tomorrow …

Monday, July 18, 2011

It's finally here, the 2011 Atlanta Tennis Championships

The draw is out for this year's ATC, for singles and doubles.

Since I’ve already written (however briefly) about the 2010 Atlanta Tennis Championships , I thought I’d share some pictures that I took at last year’s event to get you excited enough to attend this year’s tournament.

Last year, I attended two quarterfinal singles matches (and one doubles) on Friday afternoon (there were others that night) and then the finals of the doubles and the singles on Sunday. Here is the view I had for the quarterfinals:

I also snagged a picture of where our seats were going to be for Sunday's final:

John Isner was the most notable player that Friday afternoon, and I took a picture of a warm-up serve:

While walking the grounds of the Atlanta Athletic Club, I grabbed a couple of pictures of the announcers, Darren Cahill:

and Brad Gilbert (who I got a better picture of on Sunday, when he signed my copy of his book Winning Ugly):

On Sunday, the finals featured Mardy Fish and John Isner; I don't remember who won the coin toss:

One of the line umpires there had been part of the Serena incident - when she lost me as a fan - at the U.S. Open in 2009:

Get your tickets now; don't miss a chance to see men's professional tennis as the ATP Tour comes here to Atlanta, kicking off the 2011 Olympus US Open Series with the main draw starting today and running though Sunday, July 24th.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Coming to a city near you, men’s professional tennis!

With qualifying starting this weekend, and running through the finals on Sunday, July 24, the ATP Tour will visit Atlanta for the 2nd Atlanta Tennis Championships (ATC), thus begins this summer’s Olympus US Open Series, which culminates in the 2011 U.S. Open at the USTA’s Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, August 29 - September 11.

The 2010 ATC was a terrific event with a thrilling final that featured Mardy Fish beating John Isner in a third set tiebreaker; I uploaded the last point of the match and the awards ceremony to YouTube. Last year, I had the pleasure of attending some quarterfinal matches and the finals of that event and decided to volunteer at this year’s event. I’ll be a scorekeeper and/or court monitor in the late afternoons to evening Monday through Thursday, and will also be attending the finals (again) as a spectator.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Slumping - could it be my new racquet?

I haven’t been playing well for several weeks now and, yesterday for the first time, began to suspect that perhaps it’s my new racquet.

As detailed here in this blog, I did extensive research demoing and selecting my new stick, and won the first time I played with it in an ALTA match, but I haven’t really played well since, including practices. While my partner and I did win another match a couple of weeks later, our opponents weren’t very competitive and we probably could have won it playing with the old wooden racquets – one of which is a Jack Kramer Signature – that my team recently rewarded me with as a gag gift.

So I have a dilemma: I can either stick with it for a while longer to see if it’s my self confidence, lack of match play, or some other reason for the slump OR I can try switching back to my original racquet which I haven’t played with since early May. This is a tough choice, but an important one.

This coming Saturday, we’ll be playing the last place team in our division, so I don’t expect to learn very much from that match, the last of this season. However, I’ve been asked to play tomorrow night with some men I’ve never played with before, so it’ll be safe either way (I don’t really care if I impress them or not). I guess I could play the first set with my new racquet and see how it goes; if I’m still not playing well, I can get the old stick out of the bag for the second set and see what happens. Of course, if I don’t play any better, what have I learned re: my new racquet? That it’s O.K.? That the problem is something else? At least I’ll have that much information, right?

It’s critical that I get my game back on track soon. My men’s season practices start soon and, more importantly, the USTA mixed doubles state tournament is less than 5 weeks away!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Never underestimate the value of a familiar doubles pairing

I’ve been playing tennis for several years, and captaining ALTA teams for almost as many, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s the value of good doubles pairings. Once you find a couple that plays well with each other, try to keep them together for as many matches as possible during the season. It will give your team the best chance for success.

When I captained my first ALTA team some 10 years ago, I tried everything I could to improve our chances of winning a bag tag. I didn’t have one, but several members of my team had earned at least one during their tennis playing years. I hired a coach to help us to improve our games but that didn’t work out as well as I had hoped. Most of the team reverted back to the way they usually played in our Saturday matches vs. how they’d been taught during our coached practices. In fact, our team’s performance actually deteriorated from the previous season.

The next season, I tried to come up with a consistent lineup week in and week out, putting the same players together at the same position every week whenever possible, and we won our division. Of course, it could be that we’d dropped down a level per our previous season’s failures, but I choose to think that it was due to the pairings. In fact, my subsequent experience has shown me that it was the pairings that made the difference. Unfortunately, the team that I continued to captain for many seasons was challenged by availability problems. Some players moved away, others got injured, one even died, and I was never able to keep the same players together every week, or even for a majority of the time, during a given season. Hence our team usually languished in the unenviable position of 3rd to 5th place in our division, never winning enough to make the playoffs, or losing enough to be moved down a level, and we remained ‘stuck’ for years.

When playing with the same doubles partner consistently, one learns the other’s tendencies, how fast they are, their strengths and weaknesses, and what they’re going to do in a given situation. This value of this information is incalculable. Knowing that your partner is comfortable (or uncomfortable) at the net, or whether he/she can get to a ball that’s lobbed over your head when you’re at the net will enable you know whether or not you need to get to the net or stay back, or take an overhead even if you’re not sure whether you’ll be able to hit it aggressively enough. Does your partner have a good serve or not, or is their second serve so weak that you need to either move back or be prepared to be drilled? Do they like to serve and volley? While some of these latter issues can be alleviated with hand signals, perhaps your partner doesn’t have the capability to put their serve where they want to without double faulting. What about your partner’s backhand (or forehand)? Is it weak? Are there strategies you can employ to lessen exposing their weaker wing to your opponent to keep them from exploiting it to their advantage? What if your partner’s forehand is a significant weapon? Which side is best – ad or deuce – to use it in a match? If they can’t hit a down-the-line forehand well, but their crosscourt forehand is a killer, the answer could be obvious. In fact, the issue of what side to play is the simplest yet most important issue to resolve, and playing with a new partner every week where you say “I’ll try the ad side first, and if it doesn’t go well we’ll switch after the first (lost) set” isn’t a very good strategy for your team’s long term success.

If you’ve played with the same person for a dozen or more times in a year, you’re bound to have learned and even compensated for your doubles partner’s game in ways that you may not realize. Knowing and adjusting to another’s ability should happen automatically unless you really just aren’t paying attention out there on the court. Having that information ingrained in your doubles pairings will enable your team's success like nothing else.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Wimbledon virgins

I was right, it was someone else’s turn;-)

Twenty-one year old Petra Kvitova won her first – of what appears will be many – Wimbledon and/or Grand Slam titles and Novak Djokovic won his first Wimbledon title (to go with two Australian Open titles) this weekend, wresting trophies from three-time Slam champion Maria Sharapova (and winner of the 2004 title) and defending champ Rafael ‘Rafa’ Nadal, a 5-time finalist, 2-time winner, and holder of 10 Grand Slam titles, respectively.

It was an exciting weekend that including Bob & Mike Bryan winning their second Wimbledon doubles title, and eleventh Grand Slam title overall; the Americans tying Australians Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde for the most ever. The Bryan Brothers have the most men’s doubles titles in the Open Era, adding their 73rd on Saturday (after the women's final).

Let the hard court season begin, starting with the Atlanta Tennis Championships July 18-24.