I went to watch the Legg Mason Tennis Classic yesterday. I've been to this tournament maybe three times, usually attending early rounds, since they're much cheaper. Semifinals and finals cost around $40, which, if you earn a reasonable income, isn't all that much.
I used to watch tennis all the time. That was back when I had cable. I'd read about it all the time. I was rather consumed by tennis. This was mostly in the 80s and early 90s. Tennis has always been considered something of a second tier sport. Part of the reason, long realized by Billie Jean King, is that tennis is not a team sport. Team sport succeed because fans support the team, not the players on the team.
As long as the team wins, who cares who is on the team? Oh, I know, people cared the Michael Jordan lead the Bulls to six titles, or Joe Montana won the Super Bowl, what, four times? But would Chicago have cared if Scottie Pippen had won the Bulls six titles or Charles Barkley? As long as they win, they can cheer whoever got them there.
Individual sports, like tennis, do not have the built in support that team sports have. In many ways, I find that more appealing about tennis. It's about the individuals, their personality, and how they play. Sure, there are times when national pride matters, especially, say Tim Henman and the British, but even Boris Becker and Germans. While American fans are likely to root for their own, many are just as fond of players from other countries.
Plenty of Americans were Steffi Graf or Monica Seles fans. Plenty like Edberg and Wilander, or Becker, or Borg. I bet there were even a few who like Nastase.
Last night, I watched the evening semifinals, which pitted James Blake against Tomas Berdych. I had hoped to watch the other semifinals which was Andy Roddick and Paradorn Srichaphan, which should have been the more "exciting" match. Andy Roddick is a top 5 player, and has previously won. I've never seen him play. Paradorn is, I'm sure, the highest ranked Thai player ever. Both, if I'm not mistaken, have won the Legg Mason tennis classic.
Hmm, I am mistaken. Roddick won the title in 2001 (a while ago!), and Paradorn was a finalist.
It turns out James Blake won the Legg Mason in 2003, over Paradorn Srichaphan. Tennis players like playing at tournaments they have historically done well in. They tend to get psyched up to play well again. Blake, alas, has not won a title since the Legg Mason, due to, I believe, injuries.
This year, after looking at the website, I decided to go to the tournament taking the Metro, where a shuttle service would take us to the tennis grounds. My friend, Adam, got tickets for both of us, so we could sit near one another (as all seats were reserved). I arrived about half an hour early, and decided to go get coffee at the Sirius Coffee shop. Alas, it was closed, so I went to the Epicurean, which features a bar, a store of some sort, and a sushi bar.
I decided to see if they had some obscure sushi. I usually look for "uni" which is sea urchin. Of all the toppings, sea urchin is generally the most frightening to most. Yet, it tastes fine, sort of like egg yolk. I also had some other kind of bonito thing. I've never had it before, since I've never seen it before. That was pretty good too. All in all, I was impressed with the sushi, even if, prices were a tad expensive.
In the meanwhile, as I was sitting, I was watching Mary Pierce easily dispatch some Chinese woman named Peng. Peng can hit the ball hard, but Pierce can too. When she was asked shortly after her win what her strategy was, it was simply to hit hard. Pierce isn't what you would call an intellectual as tennis players go. Her dad, Jim Pierce, used to berate her, and was the prototypical tennis dad, who was living vicariously (does anyone ever use vicarious with any other word than "living") through her daughter.
Mary's French mom finally separted from Jim, and he got banned from women's tournaments for behaving badly. After that, Pierce seemed to play better. These days, much like Jennifer Capriati, she has good weeks where she does very well, and so-so weeks where she does poorly. Pierce recently lost to Henin-Hardenne in a poorly played French Open final, but has otherwise been doing quite well. In women's tennis, you can last a long time if you hit the ball hard. Witness Pierce, Capriati, the Willaims sisters, and Davenport.
Adam was going to drive, but at the last moment he took the Metro in. We decided to have dinner at Dehli Dhaba. There's a Dehli Dhaba in Bethesda as well, and apparently in places like Alexandria. Adam is a vegetarian (or at least, on and off again, he is), and Indian typically is safe if you want to go some place that's vegetarian. He informed me that he would be a father soon (ie, his wife was pregnant) and I congratulated him on that. He had just returned from Mexico, having gone by himself for a few weeks.
Adam was sporting a beard which he didn't have the last time I saw him. The beard looks pretty good on him, but he plans to shave it off when he begins a new year of teaching preschool kids. If Adam had his druthers, he'd probably write for a living. He decided being a programmer might work out better in the long run, but within one year, he suffered from repetitive stress injury, and basically couldn't type again. So teaching has become a new career for him, and he seems reasonably happy. I suppose he manages to get past all those "what-ifs", as in, what if I hadn't decided to do computers just for the money.
At dinner, I decided to get a mixed drink. I've been trying a few lately, including martinis, Tequila Sunrises, magaritas, Mai Tais, and lately a White Russian and Singapore Sling, and yesterday, a Cosmopolitan (and the night before, a Cape Cod). I'm not sure what's in a Cosmopolitan, but it looked nice and tasted pleasant enough.
We then took the shuttle to the tennis center. Too bad it's so far away from the Metro. Without the shuttle, you have to drive, or use the bus.
We went to watch James Blake play Tomas Berdych. Berdych is from the Czech Republic. Blake is American. Furthermore, he is African American, and by most standards, a good looking man. He's done modelling. I'm sure sponsors would have loved Blake to be the Tiger Woods of tennis. Tennis wants an African American star, and a guy who could be a model doesn't hurt either. Alas, Blake, while good, is not great.
This match turned out to be fairly even, at least, initially. Berdych actually looked better, at least, initially. Blake doesn't have a great backhand. Berdych, on the other hand, hits his forehand very hard down the line. Most players, when running around their backhand, play an inside out forehand (ie, to the other person's backhand). Berdych strikes his down the line, to the opponents forehand.
This seems like an odd strategy. Blake's backhand is clearly weaker, and Berdych should have attacked it all day long. Instead, he went wild on a lot of shots, double faulted a lot. Blake won mostly because Berdych self-destructed. Berdych got more upset easily, and did not concentrate, especially down the stretch.
It's hard to believe, after so many years of watching tennis, how many players pout when shots aren't called their way. Hands on the hips, walk to the umpire. Worse still, they don't know how to focus when they're losing.
While watching the match, I figured whoever won would lose to Roddick. To be sure, Roddick barely made it to the final, and so he must have been playing poorly. Still, Roddick has a great serve, while these two were OK.
I saw this in slight amusement because I used to watch tennis in the 80s. A big serve was maybe 110 mph. 120 mph was considered shockingly fast. Nowadays, 120 mph is nothing. Roddick can hit in the 140 range, and probably routinely hits around 130. I was told by Adam that they might have better equipment to measure speed, so it's possible, all those years we saw 110 mph serves were really 120 mph. I don't know.
There are other depressing signs about tennis watching these two. Somehow, outside a player like Henman, serve and volley has died. These players rarely charged the net, didn't chip and charge, didn't drop shot. They just rallied from the backcourt. You would think, for a change of pace, they would come to net. Nope. Hardly did it.
After Berdych fell down a break, Blake merely held on to win the match. Final score was 7-6, 6-3.
Then, we took a small break. I wanted to get beer. Singha, a Thai beer, was a sponsor, so I'm sure this pretty much guarantees Paradorn will show up each year. I also decided to get a crab cake sandwich. Prices at a tournament are generally outrageous, comparable to the cost of any sporting event, and/or a movie theater, were a theater so inclined as to make crab cake sandwiches. Adam decided not to eat nor drink, nor give the tournament anymore money than the cost of admission. Smart man.
We then watched the Bryan brothers play Martin Damm and Mahesh Bhupathi. Bhupathi and Leander Paes used to be top doubles players from India, and were the first serious doubles team from India in a long, long time. However, the two have long since split up. Happans all the time in doubles. After a while, you get tired of the partner, and split up.
Except the Bryan brothers are twins (Mike and Bob). They dressed the same. Hard to tell them apart except one is a lefty (Bob) and the other is a righty (Mike). I don't know what happened in doubles, but the old rule about hitting a 75% first serve seems to no longer hold. Bob, in particular, would serve bombs, often into the 130 mph, hitting harder serves than not only anyone else on the doubles court, but even Blake and Berdych. Possibly only Roddick serves harder.
They dress the same, they look the same. They're twins! So why must they knuck it up, and slap hands, and do encouraging stuff like all other doubles teams? Yet, they do. I find that peculiar for some reason. But I guess why wouldn't they? If other teams are doing it, why shouldn't they do it too.
This was actually a close match. Even though the Bryan brothers looked better, both sides held serve, despite troubles. In the end, it came down to a few mistakes by Bhupathi in the tiebreak. As it turns out, the Bryan brothers are the number one doubles team in the world. Still, ever since top singles players shunned doubles, doubles has never had the popularity of singles. TV rarely covers doubles, and they make a fraction of what singles players do.
Even so, good doubles teams make enough to be comfortable. You can specialize in doubles and do pretty good for yourself. Tournament perks apply to both doubles and singles players. You won't make millions, but 6 figures is reasonable, and I'm sure there's more in it for the Bryans to play together than not.
I'd love to be able to tag along with, say, the Bryan brothers as they tour the world and see how life is like for a top doubles team. Even though they are elite players, it's in doubles, which is a distant second when it comes to popularity.
After the match, we walked to the place that picked us up. I was feeling a bit stuffed up and allergic, so I wasn't particularly chatty. We had to wait a while before the bus came. There were so many people there, that we couldn't get on the first bus, and while other lines to other locations had plenty of busses, we waited like 20 minutes before a bus finally arrived, but then they had two busses, so we were good.
Both Adam and I took the Metro. He got off at Metro Center, and I at Gallery Place. Our hope is to play tennis at some point. Adam should be in much better shape as he's played a fair bit recently, and I've hardly played at all, mostly playing racquetball.
I decided not to watch the finals, which would have cost another $40. Odds were that I wouldn't have been able to get tickets anyway, and while watching Roddick would be nice, I'm hoping I can see him at some other point.
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