Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Remembering my early years in Charleston

Patty Schnyder (photo by Diane Elayne Dees)

Watching the Volvo Car Open on television feels really weird, but there was a time when I always watched it on television. Finally, in 2005, I decided to attend part of it. I booked a room in Summerville and arrived in time to watch the round of 16.

The first match I saw couldn't have pleased me more because it featured Patty Schnyder, a big favorite of mine. She played Klara Koukalova, and it was so cold, the players kept their warmup clothes on for the entire match. Schnyder won. Later in the morning, Justine Henin played Lindsay Davenport, and Davenport was winning when she sustained an injury. I don't recall whether she retired (I think she did), or whether she was just hampered for the remainder of the match. Henin would go on to win the tournament.

My place in Summerville was quite nice, and the resident cat stayed in my room at night. There was also a resident parrot who talked to the cat. My host told me a hilarious story about the parrot which I cannot repeat on this blog, but which I've told many times. 

I liked everything about what was then the Family Circle Cup--the green clay, the proximity to the players, the beautiful Althea Gibson Club Court, the Grand Lawn.

The next year, my then-husband accompanied me, and this time, we attended the entire event. Summerville was a bit dull and far away, so we stayed in Mount Pleasant, and would continue to do so for many years.  

I forget what year it was, but on one occasion, the night doubles match was canceled because of a walkover. I don't care for exhibition matches, as a rule, but I'll never forget the one that was thrown together for us that night. Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta played Liezel Huber and Katerina Srebotnik. Lynn Welch was the chair umpire. Dulko and Pennetta's antics were so hilarious that I was in tears half the time; they could have put their show on the road. I wanted a video of the match, but none was available.

One year, Schnyder was playing on one of the outer courts, and was quite irritated about her performance. Her coach was nowhere to be found, but she spotted me in the stands near the court and began yelling at me. This went on for the remainder of the match.

Back in those days, it would get very hot in the daytime, but then extremely cold at night, and if you didn't have a blanket, you were in trouble. And then, of course, there were the storms. In 2007, we were walking on King Street on the weekend before main draw play began, and--having experienced many hurricanes--I saw the color of the sky and smelled the flint-like odor I know only too well. I insisted that we drive to the hotel immediately.

Sure enough, a tornado hit Charleston, and very strong winds rocked the stadium, blowing down all sorts of things, but not the banner with Justine Henin's photo on it. No storm would dare mess with Henin. The final that year was wild, with strong winds blowing all over the court and debris flying. Jelena Jankovic handled the wind like a boss, and won the title, defeating Dinara Safina (who yelled at the wind a lot).

I also met my friend Daniel during those early years (though we "knew" each other from my blog), and he went on to take photos for Women Who Serve.

Photo by Diane Elayne Dees

It's hard to explain the Charleston tournament to someone who has never attended it. The grounds are beautiful, the vibe is very laid back, and the event is run with great efficiency. The crowd is very savvy and the people who attend place a premium on having a sense of humor. When Vera Zvonareva performed what was the greatest racket break of all time, the crowd--instead of booing her--cheered her on. (A few years ago, when Yulia Putintseva began yelling on the court the way she sometimes does, the crowd yelled with her.)

It will be so nice, next year, to not have to watch the Volvo Car Open on television, but in the meantime, I'm grateful to be able to watch it any way I can.


Todd.Spiker said...

Laughed out loud at Schnyder deciding to yell at you when no one else was available. Sounds about right. :P

Diane said...

One-of-a-kind, that one :) I miss her game, and I miss her.

Erik Gudris said...

Thanks for sharing your memories Diane. Hope we all can return to Charleston next year.

Diane said...

Thanks, Eric :) It will be great when we can all be there again.