Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Observations from the Pilot Pen

I went to New Haven yesterday and caught a day of action at the Pilot Pen, the last tournament in the US Open Series. It was a great day. It got a little hot after noon which just meant one opted for seats that perhaps were not as good but in the shade. The Yale Tennis Center is a pretty good facility except that they only have one set of bathrooms and they are at center court which is at one end of the complex. And when you're drinking lots of water to stay hydrated have to plan well.
But the tennis was good. Here's what I saw and thought.
1. Anna Chakvetadze will not be a consistent top ten player. Why? Because she seems to have some issues with the mental game. Chakvetadze was the player who withdrew against Hingis last week at the Roger's Cup in Montreal. It was the match that prompted that entry below about "drama" on the women's tour and Gimmelstob's comments. I didn't doubt the injury the way Gimelstob did and it was taped yesterday but Chakvetadze's behavior in her match against a qualifier was abhorrent. At match point for the qualifier, Chakvetadze went to the chair, said something (I was on the other side and didn't hear) and sat down, putting a towel over her lap. It appeared she was calling for the trainer. There was a significant pause and puzzlement and it seemed some conversation before the chair announced that Chakvetadze was retiring. I don't know if she was told that she couldn't call the trainer and just opted not to go back out and wait for opponent to serve a ball while she stood there.
Anyway it was a crappy thing to do. Not the same way that Henin's withdrawal at Australia was--but in the same vein.
2. Watching the Chakvetadze match ( I arrived late in the second set) I overheard some older men behind me complaining that the match was still going on--some of them had left and come back hoping the second match of the day would have started. "How can you sit here and watch this?" one asked a woman in the group. They felt it was too slow. Grrr....Comments like these baffle me. First, this was, despite the withdrawal, a well-fought match. Second, they hit hard and they constructed points. Maybe these guys want the wham bam point's over ma'am version of tennis that if often played in the men's game. If so just shut up and wait for the next match. And lastly the comment irked me because the Pilot Pen used to be a women's tournament before going mixed. I like co-ed tournaments but I wonder where this one if headed as it continues to grow (according to tournaments organizers). The women's draw is smaller--half the size of the men's. But it's stronger with Henin, Davenport, and Mauresmo all playing. And with Blake being knocked out last night the men's side of things looks pretty ho-hum.
3. Watching Amelie Mauresmo practice in person may just be better than watching her play a match.
4. Arnaud Clement is a bit particular. At first I though Clement's little quirks were endearing. OK so he wants all the ball persons in their proper spot when he serves--Agassi is like that too. But when he condescended to a ball boy for not opening up the folded towel before giving it to Clement to wipe his sweaty face, that crossed the line. Clement went into an exaggerated display of how to open a towel before handing it to him. Ball persons are often, at best, ignored, and at worst, subject to the odd and arrogant behaviors of players. The term "indentured servitude" frequently entered my thoughts as I watched players--men and women--toss their towels and balls back with little regard for who was doing all the fetching.
Oh, and Clement was all pissy about the noise coming from a nearby court where kids' activities were taking place. How is he ever going to survive the cacophony that is the US Open?
5. Pretty girls get all the applause. Tatiana Golovin and Svetlana Kuznetsova played a good (well I didn't see the first 6-0 set) match and it seemed that no one--except me--was rooting for Sveta. I don't hate Golovin and I am glad she has recovered from her ankle injury earlier this season but I wanted to see Kuznetsova have a good tournament going into the Open, the site of her only major to date. So what's the deal? Is it because she doesn't wear a halter dress while playing like Golovin? Because her hair isn't as long? Her demeanor not as "feminine"?
6. When men play 2/3 rather than 3/5 the game is very different. I don't bother showing up to watch until the end of the set because it seems that more often than not the men are just biding time until things get serious at around 4-4.
7. I really like Gael Monfils. I don't know why exactly but I like him. I saw him in person for the first time yesterday and I just liked his on-court presence. His forehand seems a little erratic but he stayed positive the whole time. He jumped around and was lively despite the lack of crowd encouragement (see #8).
8. Small tournaments are a little different. It was very quiet. When the Monfils match was over there was a little polite applause. Even in Center Court the crowd was very staid. This was my first live tournament in a few years and maybe I have been hanging out in hockey rinks a little too much but I still thought that there could have been a little more crowd enthusiasm. Even when challenges were made (on Center Court matches only) there was little crowd response.
9. Katerina Srebotnik has a good serve. The Serbian known mostly for her doubles, was placing first serves--some out wide--in the 90s and even over 100 mph at times with her second coming in at 80 or so. (She has nice legs too but I try not to objectify female athletes in that way. For example, it took great restraint not to comment above on Mauresmo's excellent abdominals which she leaves unadorned during practice sessions.) Anyway I was a little surprised she has such a good serve given her lack of success in singles. Though I suppose if you play a lot of mixed in the tour you have to develop a stronger serve given that you are serving to men half the time.
10. Lindsay Davenport is back. I saw her first match in several months and she did well. I was curious as to how she would close out the match up a break in the second but after a few deuce points she did manage to do so in fairly good form. We'll see what the rest of this week brings. I am a little worried for the Open given that the draw is likely to be a little screwy--Serena Williams not seeded, Clijsters out, Hingis in the top 8. Should be interesting.


Diane said...

Thanks for the report, Ken. I totally agree about Chakvetadze, who is very talented, but she is also very immature. She could grow up, though, and then she would be more consistent. I am still waiting for Vaidisova to grow up. She isn't throwing water bottles anymore, but I understand she is still brutal with the ballkids.

Srebotnik is underrated! Not only does she have a good serve, but she is a really good volleyer. I don't know why she doesn't do better in singles.

Anonymous said...

If I'd known you were going to get so close to Mauresmo, ken, I never would have let you go by yourself.