Saturday, July 28, 2012

Pushing the pause button on ALTA and USTA league tennis

Last night, our neighborhood's (first ever) senior men's ALTA team lost its semi-final playoff match to a very good team, that should win a city championship. Last Sunday, our B-2 winter city champion mixed doubles team lost its quarterfinal playoff match to the team that should win the A-9 summer city championship. In two weeks, our 2012 city champion USTA mixed doubles team will be heading for Augusta to defend its 2011 Georgia state championship title; wish us luck!

In short, by the grace of God, my last two years of tennis have been blessed, especially this year since the teams I have played on have won six out of six division titles - I have five 2012 ALTA bag tags, which may be the most possible to this point in the year, and a USTA one - and two city championships. Personally, I have been involved in 23 wins out of 28 matches (winning 82% of 'my' matches) in 2012; two matches were suspended, else my and my various partners' record would likely be 24 out of 30 matches (80%) won.

Having played so much tennis - every team has made at least the second round of playoffs, and two went "all the way" - this year, it's time for me to take a break from league tennis. I may or may not make the trip to Augusta this year - my skills aren't likely to be needed - and I didn't rejoin my men's spring ALTA team for the fall. However, I did just sign up for my first season of flex League Tennis, to play singles again after a 5-year layoff, and will likely play "over 50" T2 with my partner from last fall again, so I'm not giving up the sport.

I've just decided to take a break from the 'politics' of team league tennis for now, with my year's bag tag streak unblemished, to refocus on my own game and improvement of skills; I might even hire a coach. Who knows, given the serenity I'm likely to earn by changing the things I can, I may not be so keen to join the fray where I have to accept the things I can't;-)

Monday, July 23, 2012

BB&T Atlanta Open – Sunday’s Finals recap with photos & videos

Sunday was a beautiful if hot (90+ degrees) and humid day for tennis on which to conclude the inaugural BB&T Atlanta Open with the singles and doubles finals. First up was Luxembourgian Gilles Muller versus American Andy Roddick, which was followed by Australian Matthew Ebden and American Ryan Harrison vs. Belgian Xavier Malisse and American Michael Russell.

The view from our seats for the finals

With Steve Ulrich in the umpire’s chair, Muller came out firing much as he had throughout the tournament, dominating Roddick with his lefty serves, deft volleys, and booming overheads. The American hardly knew what hit him; a combination of his opponent’s left-handed serve and crosscourt forehand to Roddick’s weaker wing – backhand – favored Muller, who went on to win the first set 6-1 in about 30 minutes. The points were short and Muller mixed up his shot-making such that Roddick couldn’t find any rhythm, despite the partisan crowd’s urgings. It also seemed as if the Luxembourgian made very few errors in the set.

Muller's volleys confounded Roddick
As did the Luxembourgian's lefty serve (to the American's backhand)
Roddick needed his right arm/shoulder stretched by the ATP trainer
After receiving treatment, Roddick served much better
Under the watchful eye of wife Brooklyn Decker and coach Larry Stefanki

At the end of the set, Roddick consulted with an ATP tour trainer, then received treatment to his right shoulder. It must have helped because the American had a much easier time holding his serve in the second set, which was cruising to a tiebreaker until Muller was serving at 4-5. Saving set points in that and then his subsequent service game, the lefty appeared to get tight in the tiebreaker and lost the second set earning just two points to Roddick’s seven. Here is the point that evened the match at one set each:

At 1-all in the third set, Roddick broke Muller with a backhand pass; momentum was now solidly in the American’s pocket.
After another break to 4-1, Roddick served a love game to a commanding 5-1 lead with the following combination: down the middle (126 MPH), kicker out wide (102 MPH), down the middle (125 MPH), and kicker out wide (107 MPH) – all four to Muller’s backhand, either aces or service winners. After a Muller hold, Roddick served another love game to take the set and the match for his thirty-second career title:
In the first set of the doubles final, all four men – Harrison, Russell, Ebden, then Malisse – held serve through seven games until it was the Belgian’s turn to even it; however, he was broken and Harrison next held to take the set 6-3. I was very impressed with the younger American’s (Harrison is just 20 years of age; Russell is 34) volleying capability – very sound.
Ryan Harrison serves to Xavier Malisse
Michael Russell serves to Matthew Ebden
In the second set, Russell held three straight break points from 15-40 at 2 all to lead 3-2, and in the very next game, Harrison double faulted twice in a row while leading 40-15, before his service winner evened it at 3-all. After holding his serve to 4-3, a Malisse shot was the decider in breaking Ebden and Russell held on to take the second set 6-3, evening the match to force a 10-point super tiebreaker.
A dark cloud shades the Stadium Court
Malisse was broken first serving at 1-all in the deciding breaker, but two points later Ebden was broken and it was on serve again with Russell to serve at 2-3. That’s when the black cloud above began to leak rather large drip drops of water on the court, and there was a conference between the four players and chair umpire Jake Garner near center court:
The players gather with the chair umpire to discuss the conditions
After a several minute unofficial delay and a raucous crowd urging them to play on, the umpire and several ball kids dried the lines using sponsor Gatorade’s towels so that the match could begin again. Russell and Harrison held their two points, but Malisse lost both of his such that Ebden possessed two mini-breaks when he stepped up to the line to serve leading 7-4 and held both to earn 5 match points at 9-4. Russell then held both of his to delay the inevitable, which Harrison closed out on his serve to win the breaker 10-6 and the match:
All in all it was a great tournament at a fantastic new venue (Atlantic Station); hope to see you there next year!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

BB&T Atlanta Open – more photos, ‘insider’ stories from the week

It looks like the BB&T Atlanta Open is here to stay, thanks to the anchor sponsor and the unique venue built at Atlantic Station, which has been well received by players and fans. I had a terrific time working as a volunteer (my second straight year as a scorekeeper/court monitor) and, since I didn't attend the semi-finals yesterday, I thought I'd share some 'insider' stories and photos from the week.

For instance, while my first post this week showed the terrific view from our booth, here is what it looked like while sitting in a chair:

The real view from the scorekeeping table

But I'm not complaining! Especially because when I wasn't scorekeeping, I could stand and watch from where the main Stadium Court television camera was installed and have this view:

Taken from the main TV camera mount

By the way, the red circle on the picture below shows where I was working as a scorekeeper; the photo was taken from the seat I'll have today during the finals, as a spectator:

Where the scorekeeper sits (tent to the left houses the Hawkeye "guys"

While I was leaving the tournament that first night, I took pictures of Grandstand and Court 3 ... and since I haven't posted any photos of these parts of the venue, I'm doing so now for archival completeness:

Grandstand Court
Court 3

After working during the day, I would stay for some of the night matches, many of which I've detailed on these pages. While I posted a picture of Ryan Harrison from Tuesday night's match, I didn't share this one of James Blake (who ended up schooling the youngster):

James Blake (waiting to see if his challenge is successful)

Wednesday was by far the worst night for rain (e.g. to have tickets), which is a shame since I had some friends in attendance that night. Initially, it looked as if the rain would stop after only an hour or so, and the squeegee patrol came out in force (below). Unfortunately, it was all for naught because they were unable to play again on Stadium Court until after dark (9 PM) more than 4 hours later. But I took this picture court-side and it made me wonder: "Don't these people know about the "circle technique" for squeegeeing a court?"

Start at the "T", make an ever increasing circle until off the court

It's so much more efficient! Also, shortly after this, the rain really started to come down and some lightning struck nearby the facility that not only sent the ball-kids running for cover, but its thunder caused all of us in the booth to gasp. As if that wasn't enough, we're elevated 30+ feet above Stadium Court and, because of a faulty tent 'gutter', the floor beneath us was wet such that we were standing in water during the electrical storm; thankfully the equipment was off the floor (if only just barely, and after a scramble):

Heavy rain invaded the tents, encroached on the electronics

Since I posted some beefcake pictures of Andy Roddick from his practice session with Ryan Harrison on Thursday morning, it's only fair that I post one of Ryan Harrison, right?

Ryan Harrison practicing (with Andy Roddick) on Grandstand

I would have earlier, but he wasn't shirtless! Thursday was a big day (hence the length of my post about it Friday morning), but I failed to mention something that happened which I found 'funny'. Before Mardy Fish (literally) crashed out of the tournament, he or his opponent (and now semifinalist) Gilles Muller (I'm not sure which, sorry) initiated a change that has had implications for the rest of the tournament. One of them 'complained' about not being able to see the ball when the other was serving because the background (behind the ball toss) included white chairs. So here is a series of pictures of the South End seating (the North End was likewise changed) before, during, and after the change (to black chairs):

"End-zone" seating is populated with white chairs
During the change from white (stacked on the right side) to black chairs

By Friday morning, when I took this picture of Xavier Malisse warming up (his doubles partner, and) quarterfinalist Michael Russell, the change was complete (notice the improved visibility of the ball):

Xavier Malisse (practicing  with Michael Russell Friday morning)

For some reason, I like this picture of Steve Johnson serving (to Jack Sock), which also shows how very closely contested the match was (see scoreboard):

Steve Johnson serving (to Jack Sock) in the second set's tiebreaker

Lastly, I want to say thanks to all the people I met during the tournament: the PA announcer Kevin Payne (a fellow entrepreneur; check out his cool chairz), and Bill, Danny, Emil, Jimmy, Sean, Will and others, whose names I have forgotten (sorry!), my coordinator and fellow volunteers for all their help, the (learning) experience, and a truly unforgettable week.

Kevin Payne and yours truly

Saturday, July 21, 2012

BB&T Atlanta Open – recap of Friday’s quarterfinals

With rain in Marietta yesterday morning, I was worried about Friday’s full slate of tennis matches at the BB&T Atlanta Open. Fortunately, when I arrived at Atlantic Station for my scorekeeper shift on Stadium Court, it was barely ‘spitting’ rain. Warming up were Belgium’s Xavier Malisse and American Michael Russell, who are doubles partners in the event; Russell was to play in the third quarterfinal match against fourth seeded Andy Roddick at 7 PM.

Belgium's Xavier Malisse
American Michael Russell

For whatever reason, perhaps the weather, the 1 PM quarterfinal match between Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller and Australia’s Matthew Ebden started a little later than the scheduled time, the players taking the court for warm-ups about 10-15 minutes late. Although TV cameras were now set-up in the Stadium, they would not be used until the second quarterfinal – an historic matchup between Japanese players eighth seeded Go Soeda and third seeded Kei Nishikori – at 4 PM. Also, there was now an ESPN-Tennis Channel broadcast booth erected on the site, off the southeast corner of the Stadium Court where there used to be a Corona refreshment station.

With the advent of television, and the arrival of statistician Marty, my scorekeeping duties changed. I would no longer be assigning points won to each player. Not only would Marty now be handling those responsibilities, he would be recording another layer of statistics for the commentators: forehand winners, unforced errors, etc. This required adding another computer to work in tandem with the one I was operating, but unfortunately they were not in sync during the first few games of the first match. No worries, Marty has been doing this since 1999, and was able to record all the goings-on by hand until the technicians were able to resolve what turned out to be a network issue.

Muller broke Ebden's serve once in each set

Muller broke Ebden early the first set, and was able to hold on to win it 6-4; he used a combination of big serves – 7 aces in the first set helped him to win 100% of his first serve points – and aggressive play, always looking to come forward to finish with an overhead or a volley.

Muller's big serve
and finish with an overhead
or a volley

The second set went much the same way, with Muller breaking Ebden’s very first service game, then holding on to win it by the same tally. The match only lasted 72 minutes, so there was a long break between the first and second semifinal. A trend that would continue when Soeda upset Nishikori 6-2, 6-1 in almost exactly the same amount of time on the court, leaving plenty of time for the day’s patrons to shop or visit the other activities at the venue. Roddick took perhaps a minute longer to best Russell 6-4, 6-3 before the 9 PM start of top seeded John Isner vs. wild card Jack Sock. Breaking the trend, the two Americans battled to a tiebreaker in the first set (each breaking the other once), which Isner finally won 9-7. The second set was also won by Isner, after a rain delay which caused the 2 hour 15 minute match to take much longer than that to complete.

Because of my senior men’s ALTA playoff match last night (which we won), I was unable to stay for any but the first quarterfinal yesterday and, because of my mixed doubles ALTA playoff match today, I won’t be attending (or working at) today’s semifinals matches – Soeda-Muller at 1 PM; Isner-Roddick at 7 PM – either. But I will be posting some additional photos from the week along with some personal reflections and anecdotes tomorrow morning before I head to the finals as a ticketholder for the third straight year.

Friday, July 20, 2012

BB&T Atlanta Open – Thursday’s wild ride of tennis, without rain but with photos

Because some of Wednesday’s matches were rained out, Thursday’s tennis started early at the BB&T Atlanta Open, at 1 instead of 4 PM, and all three courts were utilized. Although I wasn’t supposed to be at Atlantic Station yesterday, I was called into action for my fourth consecutive day of volunteering as a scorekeeping, and also got the opportunity to renew my court monitor role (from last year) for a couple of hours, during which I witnessed a two great doubles matches on the Grandstand Court.

Andy Roddick under the watchful eye of his coach Larry Stefanki

As usual, despite having to hurriedly type & post yesterday morning’s blog entry, I arrived early for my shift and was rewarded with a chance to catch Andy Roddick practicing on the Grandstand Court with Ryan Harrison. Both players had their coaches with them: Roddick’s is Larry Stefanki, whom I recognized; I assume that the other was Grant Doyle. Roddick, who’s still in the draw as the #3 seed, was the one in charge of the session, and directed the 20 year-old Harrison to serve to his backhand: “intermix first and second serves, but don’t tell me” (e.g. which it will be).

Roddick practicing backhand returns

After watching for a little while and taking these pictures, I headed to the Stadium Court where the first match was to be the fading American veteran James Blake versus Australia’s Matthew Ebden, who had more success initially as a doubles player (and won last year’s Atlanta event while paired with Alex Bogomolov Jr. – but now finds himself ranked #82 in the world in singles, coming off a career high of #69 in May). With Magdi Somat in the chair, Ebden took the early lead, breaking Blake’s second service game to lead 3-1. But a couple of games later, Blake broke right back to 3-4 and the two traded holds into a tiebreaker, which the American won 8-6.

Unfortunately I was unable to watch and score all of the first set on Stadium because I was called into duty as a court monitor on Grandstand before 2 PM. When I arrived, Atlanta’s Donald Young and his South African partner Raven Klaasen (ranked #88 in the world in doubles, he hit some terrific volleys and overheads) had already taken the first set 6-2, and were on-serve 5 games into the second. It remained that way until Young was broken at 5-all, giving their opponents and the BB&T Atlanta Open’s #2 seeded doubles pair – American Scott Lipsky and Mexico’s Santiago Gonzalez – a chance to serve for the second set. But the latter pairing (ranked #71 in the world) was unable to hold their serve, allowing Young and Klaasen to take the second set, and the match 7-6 (5).

Next up on Grandstand was the top seeded doubles pair from Great Britain Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins, ranked #64 in the world vs. France’s Nicolas Mahut (a singles player fresh off his second round Wednesday night loss to Roddick) and the Czech Republic’s Lukas Dlouhy, a doubles specialist that was ranked as high as #5 in the world just 2 years ago despite his rather slow serve. Although the latter pair earned an early break, they were unable to hold it, eventually losing the first set to the Brits in a one-sided tiebreaker and then getting rolled (2-6) in the second. It’s unfortunate that – even though I’m on the court, right behind the chair umpire (who was Jack Garner) – I was unable to get any pictures while in my official role. I did manage to get a picture of the British pair after I was relieved of my duties, but only because Hutchins stuck around to hit some practice serves after the match.

Great Britain's Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins

The next scheduled match on Grandstand was to be Harrison-Ebden vs. the third seeded pairing of the Philippines’ Treat Conrad Huey and Great Britain’s Dominic Inglot, but since Ebden had just won a three set match over James Blake, who was exhausted by the heat, the start was delayed from 4 to 5:30 PM. Since I was now ‘free’, I returned to the scorekeeper’s tent above the Stadium Court where the tournament’s two-time defending champion (American) Mardy Fish was playing Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller, a semi-finalist at last year’s event. I got there just in time to see Fish break back to 4-all, after losing his previous service game; he then held and broke Muller for a second straight time to win the first set 6-4.

Gilles Muller serves to Mardy Fish

I have to admit that I was starting to get fatigued and, honestly, even a bit tired of watching so much tennis this week. However, I’m glad that I stayed with it long enough to see a rather bizarre occurrence: at 2-all, 30-all, Fish serving, Muller hit a drop shot that Mardy scrambled forward to his left to retrieve, only to slide, slip and fall in the doubles alley and into the Corona sign and net post. Fortunately, he managed to miss banging his head as James Blake had done (breaking his neck!) on the clay court in Rome while practicing with Robby Ginepri in 2004.

Fish slides for a drop shot, slips and injures his ankle

Both his opponent Muller and chair umpire Steve Ulrich rushed to Fish, who was sprawled on the court for some time before returning to his seat to meet with a trainer at approximately 4:45 PM. Amazingly, Fish was able to return to the court, erase the break point and hold his serve to lead 3-2 in the second. But he had another visit from the trainer on the changeover and, after watching Muller’s first serve (an ace) of the next game, Fish retired the match. Mardy, who has chronic ankle problems, apparently injured his ankle such that he couldn’t continue … so we’ll have a new Atlanta champion in 2012.

Steve Johnson serving (to Jack Sock)

Next up on Stadium Court was a hard fought, tight battle between two of the tournament’s three wild card entries, both Americans: Jack Sock and Steve Johnson, the winner to likely face the tournament’s #1 seed and two-time finalist John Isner. It was a two set affair, both went to tiebreakers, and both were won by the same tally (7-5) by Sock. Johnson had a chance to even the match in the second set tiebreaker, leading 5-4 and serving, but failed to convert, losing the next 3 points in a row, and the match.

Sock serving (to Johnson)

Some 'housekeeping': Ebden-Harrison won their doubles match in two sets; Brits Fleming-Hutchins received a walkover into the semi's (their would-be opponent of Mulller-Bogomolov Jr. retired, since Muller made his second straight Atlanta quarterfinal), and Sock will face Isner, who won a surprisingly close 3-set match (I didn't stay for it) over a qualifier from Belgium named Ruben Bemelmans, currently ranked at a career high of #125 in the world, in a match that was delayed for 25 minutes when a Stadium Court light circuit breaker overheated (I guess this week’s rain kept it from happening earlier in the tournament).

Thursday's crowd to watch former UGA 'star' John Isner

Thursday, July 19, 2012

BB&T Atlanta Open Day 3 - Roddick-Mahut match report w/pics

Wednesday started out much like the previous two days at the BB&T Atlanta Open: the tennis began on time, only to be interrupted by rain, and yesterday’s delay was longer than Monday’s or Tuesday’s. The scheduled match between 5’8” American Michael Russell and 6’8” South African Kevin Anderson – rematch of last year’s Atlanta Tennis Championships Round of 16 contest; Anderson won in straight sets – began a few minutes late at around 4:18 PM, but lasted just 2 games (tied 1 all, with Russell to serve) and 6 minutes before the rains came.

Wednesday's rain came earliest, lasted longest

Unfortunately Wednesday’s delay lasted over 4 hours, forcing tournament officials to scramble and drastically alter the schedule: to utilize all 3 courts and pushing the Russell-Anderson match to the Grandstand so that headliner Andy Roddick’s match against 2010 Wimbledon’s marathon man, France’s Nicolas Mahut, would be first up on Stadium Court for the evening’s docket, with Magdi Somat in the umpire chair. The match began at approximately 9 PM.

Andy Roddick is in the house

When last they’d met – on clay in May, in Paris at Roland Garros – Mahut beat Roddick in 4 sets. But last night’s affair would be different. The first set was close with the Frenchman actually out serving the American ‘gunslinger’ (10 aces to 4). In fact, Roddick was perturbed by the camera flashes of so many point-and-shoot cameras as he stepped up the line to serve, even during his ball toss (idiots!), and he also probed the court’s surface with his fingers, as if the weather had caused it to pucker. It appeared he was able to pick and peel up small pieces of it.

Roddick's backhand earns the first break

The contest was even until Roddick broke Mahut’s third service game to lead 3-2 before the changeover. His backhand down-the-line had been called out, but a successful challenge confirmed the break. After Roddick and Mahut both held, the Frenchman broke back to even it at 4-all. Both men were serving well and a first set tiebreaker seemed inevitable, but fans were clueless as to the velocity of their serves until the tenth game; the earlier weather had forced the serve speed radar offline, and it had to be rebooted.

Roddick's serve still has pop

Once the tiebreak began, both men continued to hold up their end serving until it was 4-all: Roddick earned the mini-break to lead 5-4 with two serves of his own coming, and he didn’t waste the opportunity. Two service winners and the set was his in 56 minutes.

Radar showed 130+ MPH on several of Roddick's serves

The second set was even until Mahut was serving to even it at 4 games each, but that’s when Roddick broke to lead 5-3, then held to take the second set 6-3 and the match even though Mahut had out-aced him 15-10 in the contest.

11Alive's Sam Crenshaw interviews Roddick after the match

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

BB&T Atlanta Open – second day of ‘insider’ notes, photos, delay and upsets

Tuesday at the BB&T Atlanta Open started under ominous clouds, which opened up and poured rain less than 30 minutes into the first round matches that had begun at 4 PM. But the rain abated and the radar showed clear weather for the rest of the day/evening less than a hour later so that – at around 5:30 PM – the squeegee and blower patrol descended on the Stadium Court. Unfortunately, it was for naught as a light drizzling mist continued for the better part of another hour. It was around 6:45 PM before the initial matches begun could be resumed, meaning the evening docket would be pushed back for the second night in a row.

Tuesday's two hour forty-five minute rain delay

The first match on Stadium Court featured the tournament’s eighth seed, Japan’s Go Soeda (#54 in the world) versus Belgium’s Xavier “the X-man” Malisse, returning to Atlanta for the third straight year. But, 20 minutes into the contest, at 2-all with Malisse serving at 30-love, play was suspended. The last point played was a long rally in which both men were pulled wide, each slipping on the lines, which are usually the most treacherous when wet relative to the rest of the court.

Xavier Malisse serves to Go Soeda

When play resumed, each player continued to hold serve until the tenth game of the set, when the Belgian broke the Japanese to take it 6-4. The second set proceeded much as the first, the two men playing long rallies in every game but the server prevailing each time. In the tenth game of the second, as in the first, Malisse again had break opportunities to win the match in straight sets by the same tally, but failed to convert and subsequently lost his serve. In fact, serving at deuce, Soeda won a point when his short angled volley clipped the tape, making it unplayable for the X-man, who threw his racquet to the ground. After he double-faulted the game away, Malisse broke his racquet over his knee (on the third attempt) while making his way back to his chair. For some reason, chair umpire Magdi Somat did not penalize the Belgian player even though he’d given him a warning for taking too much time between points earlier in the set. Soeda then held to take the second 7-5. Malisse, who is known for getting discouraged with himself and mental meltdowns had complained to Somat earlier about crowd noise coming from the patrons ‘watching’ the match from the Champagne Suites, which are located behind the west stands on the street level of Atlantic Station.

The colorful Belgian's 3rd set attire

The third set was close, featuring just one break of Malisse at 3 all; Soeda then held out to win it 6-4. According to the post match statistics, each player won 103 points during the closely contested match.

Heartthrob Ryan Harrison

Tuesday evening’s featured match on the Stadium Court was between two Americans: the tournament’s sixth seed, 20-year-old Ryan Harrison versus the fading veteran, 32-year-old James Blake. After holding his serve to open the match, Harrison broke Blake’s first service game to lead 2-0. However, Blake broke right back, but then Harrison made it three breaks in a row to lead 3-1. Harrison then closed out the set with a hold-break-hold to take it 6-1 in just under 30 minutes.

James Blake returns Harrison's serve

But Blake was just getting starting; having learned his opponent’s game, the veteran broke Harrison to lead 4-2 in the second, then held on to win 6-3. By now it was past 10:30 PM, and I had to head for home. Despite what happened in the second set, I expected the youngster to pull it out and was surprised to learn that Blake won the deciding set 7-5. Next up for Blake is Harrison’s BB&T Atlanta Open doubles partner, Australian Matthew Ebden, so it seems likely that we’ll have a James Blake-Mardy Fish quarterfinal on Friday.

The 3-set match ended around 11:30 PM