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.


colt13 said...

Charleston holds a rather unique place on the schedule, being the only US clay event.

Hopefully Volvo and other sponsors can come back in 2021.

Diane said...

I think it's going to be fine next year. This tournament is run extremely well by people who really care, and Volvo has been great.