Monthly Archives: July 2014

Roland Garros and Wimbledon Reprise: The Fans (Part B)

Last Saturday in ‘Part A’, the focus was on how the French approach Roland Garros. Interviews with the fans in Paris mainly underlined their sentimental attachment to the nostalgia surrounding Roland Garros and the importance they place on their own countrymen and women competing in the tournament. This second installment will put into perspective how the English approach Wimbledon. In contrast to Roland Garros fans, Wimbledon fans are less emotional and more serious, and their attachments to tradition and to the sport outweigh all others. Watching great tennis supersedes the outcome of the matches. For example, Mark and Claire, a tennis-loving couple traveling from Yorkshire to London every summer for three decades to watch some Wimbledon, have a rather rational disposition when it comes to their expectations of Wimbledon. I found these two lovely characters at the Champagne Bar at Wimbledon, celebrating their arrival to the grounds with a rather large champagne bottle and anticipating a full day of tennis (pictured below).Resim2 - Mark and Claire

When I asked the same question to them that I asked the Roland Garros fans – if they had the power to change one thing with regards to their Slam tournament with the snap of a finger, what would it be? –, Mark quickly brought up the presence of a number of fans, who come to Wimbledon not because they understand tennis or love the game, but simply to make an appearance and “be trendy.” Mark did remain a gentleman about it – “not really a major complaint,” he added – nevertheless suggesting a rather abrupt solution: “The LTA should probably prioritize members of tennis clubs and players who really support the sport and not just make it a complete free for all for those that just want to be seen!!!! A bit harsh maybe… but sadly true.” Both Mark and Claire mentioned the high prices on the grounds but seemed to accept it as a fact of Wimbledon: “Be prepared to be parted from your dearly beloved cash, very swiftly” Mark added while Claire pointed to the bottle on their table and said tongue-in-cheek: “I’m not sure there is anything I would change other than maybe the price of the champagne.”

When it came to tradition, Mark started out mild-mannered at first, and then finished fairly firm: “I personally think that if the changes are better for the sport and improve the general game then we should be open-minded. Having said this and from the stand point of what is a traditional British competition, we should not be in a hurry to lose its heritage and appeal. I love the etiquette that remains staunch and changing (for example) the ‘all white’ would be a travesty. Embrace the modern game but don’t forget the tradition!” Claire’s disposition could not be any clearer either: “I think we should stick with tradition as much as possible. The British are so good at it. I would hate the all-white rule to be lifted. The smartest person I have ever seen on court was when Roger Federer walked out in traditional whites a few years ago. How lovely!”

Perhaps the most striking contrast with the French fans at Roland Garros appeared when I asked Mark and Claire how they approached their countrymen and women and if it mattered to their routine of watching tennis at Wimbledon. Unlike their neighbors from France (see Part A), if forced to decide between a potentially high-quality tennis match vs. a match involving their compatriot, they would choose to watch the match that promises the best tennis, even if it did not involve a British player – and not simply go to the court to cheer their compatriot: “I think it important to remember that this competition is not a national championship” Mark added, “these players are there for themselves first and foremost and so it’s not like supporting a team at the Olympic Games. Everyone has their own favorite and it nice to have your own opinion rather than just following your own nation’s players.” Claire’s reply was less analytical but just as clear: “Always for the love of tennis!”

Danielle, a nurse in a London hospital and fresh out of university, had the same type of reactions to my questions as Mark and Claire did above. One notable difference in her responses was the emphasis on weather. Her Wimbledon program essentially gravitated around the weather conditions. She insisted that she never bought tickets in advance, and thanked Wimbledon for keeping the tradition of selling tickets as late as the day of competition, understanding that there was no guarantee that she could get them. Danielle said that she has been coming to the grounds since she was 12 years old and praised Wimbledon for thinking of its “faithful fans.” As far as she is concerned, the weather was too “upsy-downy” to make plans in advance. She preferred waiting until the morning of the day in question, watch closely the weather forecast, and then make the decision to purchase tickets or not. She accepted that she may get left out in the race to buy the tickets online once they go on sale, but added quickly that she has “become an expert on the particular art.” Apparently, she has succeeded to buy tickets on the same day for the last 6 years in a row, and even got to see the 2012 men’s semi-finals through that procedure.

This article would not be complete without mentioning Maurice, a wonderful man and the most authentic Wimbledon follower that I have ever seen. He was on the grounds with his lovely grand-daughter Sylvia to enjoy a full day of early-round matches (pictured below).Maurice
He was sporting a classy looking summer suit and carrying around an extremely vintage racket that, according to him, belonged to William Renshaw, the 7-time Wimbledon champion in the 1880s. I happened to sit next to Maurice and Sylvia by chance on court 12. Maurice’s outfit and the racket piqued my interest for obvious reasons but it was rather his knowledge of the game and its history through his comments while watching the men’s singles first-round match on the court that drove me to talk to him further. He has been coming to Wimbledon for 65 years! He was a true gentleman, engaging me in small dialogues here and there about the history of Wimbledon. He had excellent comments about both players on the court and their tactics (it was the Marcos Baghdatis vs. Dustin Brown match) and it was truly remarkable to listen to him compare the players and their strokes to those from years or decades back. By the time he gave me his card and informed me that he was a tennis writer and a coach for many years, I felt more than lucky to have spent a whole match sitting next to him and listened to countless past anecdotes, the kind you don’t necessarily find in historical data sheets. If Wimbledon valued tradition, Maurice represented it by his mere disposition.

In conclusion, it would be unfair to set the parameters of the comparison between the French Open and Wimbledon on reductive dichotomies such as “emotional vs. rational,” “nostalgia vs. tradition,” or “complainer vs. solution-seeker.” That being said, distinctions in the ways that fans approach both tournaments foreground certain inclinations: the fans of one Slam tournament do not resemble the fans of another, and by extension, there is hardly anything similar about two Slams other than the fact that they are two of the four Majors in the ATP calendar, thus shell out the largest money prizes in the professional tennis circuit. Just as the surfaces differ from Paris to London, the expectations of the fans also vary largely from those of Roland Garros to those of Wimbledon.
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Roland Garros and Wimbledon Reprise: The Fans (Part A)

The densest portion of the professional tennis season has come to an end last week on the grass courts of Wimbledon. The European clay and grass court season, featuring two Majors and a plethora of Masters 1000 and Premier tour events in men and women, can overwhelm even the most insatiable tennis fan. This article takes a closer look at the contrast between the fans of the two Majors, Roland Garros and Wimbledon, through a few in-person dialogues that I had with some fans in both locations. It was interesting to notice certain traits that were unique to each Major with regards to their fans. Especially, the striking attachment to nostalgia and ambience manifested by Roland Garros fans, and the remarkable appreciation of tradition and the sport itself among Wimbledon fans impressed me tremendously.

For French fans, Roland Garros is not just about watching quality tennis. They live and breathe all that comprises the makeup of the grounds and the atmosphere of the tournament. They also show no reluctance in saying that the results of the French tennis players matter, a lot! Although I talked a large number of fans here and there, I selected a few that may describe the best the approach of the fans. Catherine (pictured below), who is married and a mother of a wonderful boy named Clément, immediately noted that the pleasure of attending Roland Garros was something that she tasted for the first time as a youngster in the 1970s, one that she never get tired of experiencing again and again since then.
catherine

Christian, a mild-mannered man in his 50s, sporting a hat and a backpack, has been coming to Roland Garros every year for a decade. This year, his daugther Aurélie, a university student, decided to join him for the first time. They were accompanied by Alain who is a “Roland Garros nut” in the true sense of the expression (see picture below).
RESIM1 - Christian-Aurelie-Alain

Both Christian and Alain expressed how addictive it was to come to Roland Garros every year and watch world-class tennis. Aurélie let it be known that, despite her first time, she felt the ‘virus’ of Roland Garros invade her as well. Then, there was also Ombeline, a high-school teacher in Paris, who confessed that she could not think of life without attending Roland Garros every year!

Most French fans take their countrymen and women seriously and will support them before any other player. It was no exception with this group of fans. I still wanted to put them on the spot and hear them admit it! So I first asked straight forward if they are coming to Roland Garros to watch their compatriots play or simply to watch some good tennis. While Alain and Ombeline flat out said that they would first like to see the French win, the other four said they wanted to see good tennis without neglecting to add that they are also there to support their compatriots. As I suspected, the question did not put them enough on the spot, so I decided to push further with more specific questions: if two top 10 players took the court at the same time as a match between Gasquet, Tsonga, or Simon and a player ranked around no. 100 in the world, which would they watch? Alain and Ombeline once again preferred to watch the French player over a top-ten match-up. Catherine said if one of the top 10 players were Federer or Nadal, she would prefer to see them, but if it was Djokovic playing she would rather see the French player’s match. I did not feel the need to ask her feelings about the current number 1 player in the world from Serbia! The father-duo combo of Christian and Aurélie said the top 10 match-up without hesitation.

My next question was even more precise. I talked to these people in the middle of the first week, so there was still a chance to have a Djokovic vs. Federer semi-final on one side of the men’s draw, and a Nadal vs. Gasquet (or Monfils) semi-final in the other. Given that they could only attend one of the matches, which one would they prefer? Surprisingly, Ombeline and Alain, who have been choosing the French players so far, went with the Federer-Djokovic match, while Christian, Aurélie and Catherine all took the Nadal-Gasquet match. I could not make sense of that deviation from the norm in the answers to that specific question, but then again, when talking to fans, must we look for logic in every answer? I think not! In the case of a choice of a ticket between the women’s final involving a French player vs. Maria Sharapova and the men’s final between Djokovic and Nadal (nos 1 and 2 in the world), Aurélie proved to be the only one who said she would “naturally” watch the ladies’ final with a side-eyed look at her dad and Alain who did not hesitate a second in choosing the Djokovic vs. Nadal final. In this case, Ombeline and Catherine also chose the men’s final over Sharapova and the French player. Alain did however add a caveat: if I gave her the choice of a women’s final between Gabriela Sabatini and Anna Kournikova, his answer would have been completely different!!

Nostalgia took over when I began asking questions about what they like about Roland Garros, and what they could change if they had the power to do it with the snap of a finger. With the exception of Alain, the difficulty of circulating around the grounds and the lack of space came up in all conversations (see picture below for an idea of how stifling the crowds can get). Aurélie, a fairly tall girl, complained that the seats at Suzanne Lenglen had no leg room and that her legs were aching after watching Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeat Jerzy Janowicz in straight sets. Catherine was adamant about the negative effects of over-crowding: she said that she brought her son for the first time to Roland Garros, and that he was so disappointed by the stifling lack of space that they were going to have to leave early because he lost his enthusiasm to watch matches.
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Alain’s expression turned pensive, and he said that he is not a good person to answer a question about ‘changes’, because he always loved Roland Garros with all its pluses and minuses. He even began talking about how it was “at that spot, right there” (fixing his eyes and pointing to a location close to the player’s tunnel on the way to Suzanne Lenglen court) that his son saw Steffi Graf in the 80s and got her autograph on a picture. Apparently, they framed that autographed picture and it still sits in a prime spot in their home. He also affirmed that the demolition of Court 1 in the upcoming years as part of the renovation plans makes him sad because of the endless great moments that were staged on that court: “history will be demolished, not just a tennis court” he said. Christian added that the round stands – thus called ‘the bull ring’ by the Anglophone media – made it unique in that there were no bad seats in the stadium. The two ladies, Catherine and Ombeline, both took a serious tone about the issue of high prices at Roland Garros. Catherine kept rolling her eyes, citing the prices of some items. Ombeline took it a step further: “A shirt for 55 euros? An umbrella for 65 euros? A towel for 75? Allez! I don’t want to hear anyone complain in this country about not having any money if these items are selling left and right in Roland Garros, or else the managers of these boutiques live in a dream world!” Ombeline went on and on, stretching her comments all the way to the President François Hollande, without much regard to the type of vocabulary used, mind you!

Stay tuned for Part B of this article for a comparison of the above, with how English tennis fans react to similar questions about their beloved Wimbledon. Coming soon!

Wimbledon in Pictures – 2

We have reached the semi-finals of the 2014 edition of Wimbledon. Here are some more pictures from the beautiful grounds with little tidbits of info, stories, or in some cases, ‘tales’ attached to them… Enjoy!

1 Court First, to rehash how quick the courts get worn out… Here is the baseline on Court 16 toward the end of the first week.

2 CourtAnd, here is that same baseline 5 days later! Got it?

Court 3One of my favorite courts at Wimbledon, Court #3, also one of the “show courts,” meaning in this case, ticketed separately.

Court18Immediately after the “show courts” in the pecking order – meaning Centre Court, Court 1, 2, and 3 – there is Court 18 where John Isner defeated Nicolas Mahut in 11+ hours in that historical match in 2010.

5 Court17One of the outside courts, Court 17. They are used mostly in the first three rounds. The picture above is from the Tereza Smitkova vs. Bojana Jovanovski third-round women’s match.

Baghdatis - Mayer WaitingQuestion: What are Leonardo Mayer and Marcos Baghdatis doing on this picture? (Answer, next pic)

Sick FanWaiting for one of the spectators to get carried out on a stretcher after she fainted from heat exhaustion. To everyone’s relief, she left the court smiling on the stretcher accompanied by cheers and applauds. Everyone wished her the best.

7 Davenport With FansLindsay Davenport, always smiling, always accommodating fans..

8But then again, some fans prefer pictures with the look-alike of Andy Murray…

fan reading newspaperAnd some fans prefer to read the newspaper instead of the live Wimbledon match in front of them! Seriously Mister? Really Sir?

FedererRoger Federer warming up on Court 4, in the morning hours before the crowd gets to the grounds. He warmed up with his coach and Stefan Edberg.

BallboyBallboys & Ballgirls take their task very seriously. this is how the ball boy stood throughout one match unless he was picking up balls and giving them to the players in a military fashion. You don’t believe me? Watch this clip to see how clinical this ballgirl’s movements are: Soldier-like ballgirl (15 mb)

KudlaThe answer is “Yes!” The question: “Did Denis Kudla get to this ball?” It’s called scrambling for balls, and Kudla’s effort payed off. He eventually won the point and got rewarded for making his opponent hit one extra ball.

13 Mauresmo 1aCaption — Amelie Mauresmo to an unidentified friend: “What did I get myself into with this Andy Murray character?”

Tennis Balls BreastsYes! Tennis can be a fashion statement indeed!

RaonicIf you thought Roger Federer’s hair stays immaculate through hs matches… He’s got nothing on Milos Raonic! This guy’s hair never moves! This is a shot taken late in the third set of one of his matches!!

CentreCourtLet’s end it with the most beautiful sight in tennis: Centre Court at Wimbledon!

Until next time!

Of the Importance of 2nd Serves…

Back in my college coaching days, my ex-roommate and life-long friend named Michael Kreider originally from Buffalo, NY, and a current tennis pro in Atlanta, said to me one time “you are only as good as your second serve.” At the time, I would make my team practice second serves as part of our daily serving routine. However, after Michael’s reminder, I began designing drills specifically geared towards making my players feel under pressure, and force them to serve second serves under those circumstances. Eventually, I got on the same page with Michael and began believing that second serves were just as important as any other single shot in tennis, if not more. You may have even read one of my pieces where I praise Raonic, Federer, and Isner for being, in my opinion, the best second-serve hitters in the game.

Let’s take a quick look at the Wimbledon Men’s Draw from the perspective of second serves.

2nd serve

There is a stat called “2nd serve points won” and you can find it on Wimbledon’s website. Three of the quarter-finalists are in the top 8 of that list (see picture above). At number 1, there is Tatsuma Ito whose percentage is based on one match only since he lost in the first round, thus not very indicative of the overall second-serve effectiveness. At number 2, 3, and 4, we have Roger Federer (68%), Feliciano Lopez who lost today (66%), and Milos Raonic (65%). At number 7, there is the guy who took Lopez out, Stan Wawrinka (62%). I will also add as a side note that, on the women’s list in the same category, after Kristina Pliskova, who also played only one round, you can find Petra Kvitova at #2 with 64%, and Simona Halep at #3 with 63%.

But wait! It does not end there.

It is generally accepted that the serve is an essential factor in playing successful tiebreaks. Until today, Lopez was 6 out of 7 in tiebreakers in his first three rounds. Today he lost two tiebreakers to Wawrinka who is third on the list among the players still alive in the tournament. Additionally, Federer is the leader of the career tiebreak winning percentage category on the ATP Tour.

No, it still does not end there.

Here is an incredible stat from today: against Tommy Robredo, Federer lost only one – yes, ONE – point on his second-serve points in the first two sets combined! Furthermore, since second serve is the shot that determines if you double fault or not, I should add that Federer had 0 – yes, zero! – double faults today, despite hitting them well enough to serve-and-volley on several of them. In fact, today’s four quarterfinal winners had a total of only 8 double faults between them. Half of those came from Nick Kyrgios who more than made up for that with his 37 aces against Rafael Nadal.

Is it becoming clear how important second serves are yet? If not, here is one last tidbit…

Out of all 8 men left in the singles draw, Dimitrov and Kyrgios have the highest number of double faults per match. They both average just below four double faults a match. They also average 10 aces (Dimitrov) and 26 aces (Kyrgios) per match. Next, there is Marin Cilic at less than 3 double faults per match and he is averaging 24,5 aces per match. The other five quarterfinalists are averaging less than two double faults per match.

Three of them are still in the tournament in the men’s draw. Watch Raonic, Wawrinka, and Federer, on their second serves, and you will see the variation on the spin, slice, speed, and placement. That is why these three players love the pattern of putting the next shot away with their big forehands (or even volleys in Federer’s case who serves-and-volleys on second serve occasionally), because they get a number of returns back from their second serves that are placed exactly where they want them for the winning shot.

Does all this mean that a tour player cannot win without a terrific second serve? No, but it does mean that if a player wants to succeed at the highest level, second serves will have to be incorporated into his/her practice routine, just like any other shot in tennis. Not just “serves,” but specifically “second serves”.