Wednesday, April 22, 2020

On not watching tennis

This isn't my first time to not watch tennis. There was a period, after the Graf-Seles era, when I grew tired of watching and moved on to other things. Gradually, I was lured back in by Martina Hingis, and--also gradually--my fixation with women's tennis became stronger than it had been before.

Several years ago, I decided to severely limit my ATP viewing because I refuse to watch players who consider me inferior because of my gender. This eliminates my watching some of the top (and sadly, most popular) players in the world, as well as many others. (The all-around bigots--the ones who are racist and anti-LGBTQ--repel a lot of viewers, but the sexist ones always get a pass--but not from me. So no Rafa, no Novak, etc.)

I also can't get too interested in Tennis Channel's summaries of recent years and recent tournaments; I'm happier when I don't listen to most of that group. And there are few matches that I want to re-watch, at least, in total; I'm just not a re-watch kind of person, though--once in a while--I'll take a look.

It's sad, though, to have no live WTA matches to watch, and to have no majors to which I can look forward. I don't care for Wimbledon, but I'm sorry, for the players' sake, that it was canceled. I'm sad if any major is canceled. I know that the French Open--my favorite of the four majors--is scheduled, but I'll believe it when I see it.

It's good that lower-ranked players are going to get some financial relief. It isn't easy, being a journeywoman. There is relatively little compensation for all the hard work, and there are so many expenses. This long haitus could break some players' careers if no relief is provided.

I sometimes marvel at the stamina of the tennis journeywoman: She has to travel all over the world, just like the higher-ranked players. Sometimes, she can stay in the homes of fans, but she can't count on that. She has to eat well and do her best to stay healthy; no physio staff travels with her. She has to have a coach. If she's lucky, a competent family member is available It can be a tough life.

For many years, professional tennis players have had to deal with viruses that run rampant through certain tournaments, or with food poisoning. One of my hopes is that the current health crisis will create a climate in which the players' physical health can be better protected in the future. I think especially of players whose health is already somewhat compromised and hope that things can change.

I'm using what used to be my tennis-viewing time to do other things--write more poetry and do more yoga. Tennis viewing gets in the way of my starting some new activities I think I might like, but when the tour resumes play, my best guess is that I'll get hooked all over again.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Charleston on my mind

The Great Lawn (photo by Diane Elayne Dees)
There are people who cannot imagine a year without Christmas, and people who cannot imagine a year without Mardi Gras. And then there are those of us who cannot imagine a year without Charleston, but in 2020, we have one. The tournament, celebrating its 20th anniversary of being held on Daniel Island (it was previously
held on Hilton Head Island), would have begun today. Instead, it is yet another victim of COVID-19.
View from Althea Gibson Club Court (photo by Diane Elayne Dees)

The decision to cancel the tournament was a necessary one, and—while no cancellation comes at a “good” time—it is especially unfortunate that this one came during a major year of commemoration. Entered to compete were the likes of world number 1 Ash Barty, Kim Clijsters, Simona Halep (her first time to enter), defending champion Madison Keys, 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, Garbine  Muguruza, Kiki Bertens, and many more stars.and many other WTA stars and rising stars.

The tournament had also introduced a new website, a new mobile app, a new sustainability initiative, and electronic line calling.

I’ve attended the Charleston tournament—formerly the Family Circle Cup; now the Volvo Car Open—for fifteen years, and I sometimes still struggle to explain to people what makes it so wonderful. Yes, the grounds are beautiful, with the pond and the palmetto trees and the iconic Althea Gibson Club Court. And yes, the event is run with great care and precision, thanks to Tournament Director Bob Moran and Tournament Manager Eleanor Adams and a great staff. Also, the weather is generally just right for tennis and tennis viewing.
Althea Gibson Club Court (photo by Diane Elayne Dees)
But there are intangibles and almost-intangibles that make the tournament special even beyond its physical beauty and its expert organization and execution. For those of us who comprise the tennis media, there are the incredible volunteers who magically meet our needs before we even express them. One of those is Lynn, famous for her “She-e-e’s he-e-re!” announcement right before a player departs the cart and enters the Media Center for a press conference. Some of us count on hearing that call to action for an entire week in April.

And there are the fans, who—unlike fans in most venues—find the humor in everything, including things that trigger boos from “normal” fan crowds. Charleston is the proud location of what is surely the greatest WTA racket break of all time, performed—of course—by Vera Zvonareva. It was 2010, and Zvonareva contested the final against Sam Stosur, who trounced her, 6-0, in the opening set, then went up 3-0 in the second set. The Russian player then destroyed her racket with great style, both smashing it and throwing it, and once it was done for, kicking it while the crowd cheered.

A few years ago, Yulia Putinseva began yelling in the middle of her match on Billie Jean King Court. What did the fans do? They enthusiastically yelled along with her, in a kind of wild woman call-and-response. Because that’s how Charleston fans are. And they love doubles; there is usually standing room only at the doubles courts.

Patty Schnyder (photo by Diane Elayne Dees)
Charleston is also the city that made Patty Schnyder a tennis rock star. The Swiss player—who made it to the final twice but, sadly, never won the title—was simply beloved by the Charleston crowd, who always cheered loudly for her no matter whom she played. One of my fondest memories of Patty in Charleston was having her yell at me repeatedly during a match because her coach was nowhere to be found and she had to yell at someone. I was happy to oblige.

Also burned in my mind was watching Schnyder dismantle Aga Radwanska on green clay. It was a tricky, masterful performance (against a trickster in her own right), in which the Swiss star slid from the baseline to the net, in an “only Patty” twist on clay court sliding.

And then there was Jankovic. JJ was always at her best in Charleston (she won the tournament in 2007), whether she was doing hilarious joint interviews and stunts with her pal Andrea Petkovic, playing some hilarious doubles with Petko as her partner, or giving press conferences that had me in tears, I laughed so hard.
Andrea Petkovic & Jelena Jankovic (photo by Diane Elayne Dees)

It was in Charleston that Jankovic announced, without emotion, that “My hair is like concrete.” and it was in Charleston that she draped a large towel around her shoulders, entered the press conference area, and declared herself a superhero.

The players always look forward to playing at the Volvo Car Open because they are treated like the special people that they are, and they also get to explore the city’s outstanding restaurants.

Normally, on this day, I'd be frantically checking off my list of things I have to do before I leave for Charleston on Sunday. Today, though, I'm checking off my list of chores that will keep me busy while I'm trapped in my house during the national health crisis. The weather is beautiful, which helps. And this, too, shall pass--but, for me, it just isn't April without Charleston.