Thursday, April 5, 2012

When the match is close

View from my seat at the club court

Barbora Zahlavova Strycova knocks the clay from her shoes
If you're on Daniel Island during the Family Circle Cup--and especially if the weather is mild and a bit breezy--there probably isn't a better place to be than the Althea Gibson Club Court. There is so much green--the court clay, the trees surrounding the court, the view of grass leading toward the Grand Lawn. Look up, and you see palmettos, as well as a few bits of Spanish moss. Or you see the clubhouse itself, where the players' lounge is located.

As attractive as this scene is, however, fans will tell you they are drawn to the club court because of the sense of intimacy they experience there. Every seat is good, but if you're sitting at or near the front, you can easily lose yourself in the rhythm of the match being played. You can see the players' facial expressions clearly, hear them speak, see the twitching of their leg muscles under towels during changeovers.

The sound of tennis shoes sliding across clay is prominent on the club court, and perhaps nowhere else at the tournament is the sound of the ball being struck against the racquet strings as satisfying as it is when you hear it on Althea Gibson.

Sitting in the stands in the club court, I can let my senses take over. The weave of the fabric on the players' skirts, the opponents' increasingly labored breathing, the smudges on the baseline--all of these elements, plus the verdancy of the environment, allow me to absorb the tennis, rather than just watch it. I've never checked, but I rather suspect that the very rate of my breathing adapts to the pace of the ball as it bounces off of the green clay.

It's the rhythm of tennis that makes watching (and hearing) it such a pleasure, and in Charleston, that rhythm is somehow calming and exciting at the same time when you feel it from a seat at the Althea Gibson Club Court.

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