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Todd’s Tennis Takes – A Day at Indian Wells

  So with all the best tennis players in the world just 100 miles away in the desert this week, I decided to drive out with a friend to catch the action. I took a dictaphone with me to record events as they happened for the blog below – here’s how the day went:

 — Got to the gate shortly after the 11am starting time, went straight to the
practice courts and saw Dustin Brown playing fellow German Florian Mayer.
Brown, a dreadlocked Jamaican born in Germany and currently ranked  100,
has a very lively arm, able to serve  well over 130mph and sting sharp, flat 
forehand winners. Consistency and decision making has always been the 
issue with him, but he has top 50 talent for sure.
 — We wandered next to the Tipsarevic/Tobias Kamke match, expecting it 
to be late 1st set, but instead Tipsy is destroying him 6-2, 5-0. Shortly  
thereafter he takes the 2nd set 6-0. Match took less than an hour. Ouch.
 — After leaving the Tipsy match, we stumble upon a large rectangular, 
tower-like scoreboard that updates all the players practice schedules with  
court numbers and times, a very nice bonus for fans. We make a note to see 
Dolgopolov and Cilic, scheduled to practice on Court 12 at 5pm.
 — Hit the Addidas tennis shop and found a nice shirt for my 3 year old, using 
a random 3 year old girl as a model to check the sizing. Nothing in my size
was to my liking.
 — Get to an outer court to finally settle down and watch some tennis for a set 
or so, watching Adrian Mannarino vs. Somdev Devvarman. Mannarino is 22 
and has risen sharply in the rankings lately, going from 180 to open 2010 to  
#59 currently. Devvarman, from India, is the only person to reach the NCAA 
finals 3 straight years, winning his last two years at Virginia in 2007 (beat John 
Isner in the final) and 2008. Mannarino is having a rough day, already down a  
break at 4-2 and soon going down a 2nd break to 5-2 after we arrive. We are 
both fairly unimpressed with the fast-rising Frenchman with very little pop 
on his serve (never got much above 110), and very mediocre wheels as well.
Meanwhile, Devvarman is content to get balls back and use his vastly superior 
speed & defense to counteract Mannarino’s sharp groundstrokes. Mannarino 
looked anguished the entire time we were there, like he’d rather be getting a 
root canal, and eventually lost 6-2, 6-3. Not a pretty match.
 — We stopped by the Vitalyte booth for an electrolyte-replenishing drink.
The Vitalyte sales girl had some very funky eye-liner, midnight black with silver 
above it and then some pastel orange/pink above that. I asked her how long 
it took her to put on and she explained it only took 10 minutes. Quite a funky 
look, but because she was young & cute, it worked for her.
 — We then came upon Ryan Harrison practicing, a very large crowd watching. 
 At first it looked like he was hitting with Rainier Schuettler, but upon closer 
inspection it was Michael Russell. It occurred to me they have very similar  
builds and looks.
 — We then left to look for Court 8, found an umpire to ask, and it turns out it 
was Carlos Bernardes, one of the better, more well-known umps on the tour.
He was very nice, and I told him I recognized him. Immediately afterwards a 
grown man asked for his autograph…seemed a little much.
 — After a $9 sausage for lunch (that didn’t even come close to comparing to 
my local ‘Jersey Dogs’ $5.25 sausage), we sat down in prime baseline seats to 
watch the 3rd set of Illia Marchenko vs. Tim Smyczek, a qualifier. Marchenko  
is a young (23 yrs) Ukrainian ranked 99 while Smyczek is also 23, an American,  
with a career high ranking of only 158, achieved just last month. Smyczek was
fun to watch, scrambling all over the court, sliding every other play it seemed, 
and generally frustrating Marchenko by playing at a level far above his current 
ranking of 163. The 5′ 9″, 145 speedster was basically in the zone the last 4 
games of the set and cruised to 6-2 win to secure his spot in round 2, where 
he will be taking on hard-hitting Philipp Kohlschreiber, the 32nd seed (more  
on the merits of seeding 32 guys at Masters Events later – not a fan).
 — We stayed on the court for the next match – Xavier Malisse vs. another 
qualifier, Flavio Cipolla. Cipolla is a little dude, 5’8″ 160, with a one-handed 
backhand and basically no power in his game. Like Smyczek, he scrambles &
defends, but also looks to come to net whenever the opportunity presents
itself. Alas, against the very talented 30 yr old Malisse, those opportunities
were very rare as the little Italian was completely outplayed, losing 6-1, 6-4.
This despite receiving plenty of illegal advice from his coach who was sitting
just 15 feet away from us – illegal coaching in tennis is hardly ever enforced.  
Malisse picked on his backhand relentlessly, provoking soft slice returns, 
while his underrated serve was very sharp, garnering him 8 aces. He was a bit
distracted & bothered by the commercial announcements from the
loudspeaker on the next court over, muttering snide remarks under his 
breath regarding the obtrusive noise. We were both impressed by the 
demeanor of the Italian, as he kept his cool throughout the entire match and 
was even polite with the ball boys & girls.
 — We left the match to see the Dolgop/Cilic practice session, and caught  
Leander Paes, a doubles specialist wrapping up his practice session. The only
benefit to catching the very boring Paes was to get a look at his beautiful
girlfriend, who had to be at least 12-15 years younger than the 37 year old 
Indian. After waiting another 10 minutes for the boys to show up, we instead 
got Guga Kuerten’s old coach Larry Pasos showing up to play some player we 
didn’t recognize. We waited another 5 minutes, but grew tired of Pasos’ 
grunting on every shot and walked away to grab a quick bite – Cilic & Dolgop
never did show up, unfortunately.
 — My buddy got an iced mocha and immediately complained about it. After
drinking just a quarter of it, he said I could have it. I sip it, and it’s mostly air
bubbles with tan, very slightly mocha flavored water, and ice. The worst drink
ever. For $5.50. I tease him about it the rest of afternoon/evening. The stands
also ran out of tuna sandwiches and kettlecorn –  a rough way for them to   
close out their day.
 — We finally made it over to Court 3 for our last match of the day – Alex
Bogomolov Jr vs. a talented, rising youngster from Lithuania named Richard 
Berankis, only 20 years old and ranked 74, up from 324 to close 2009 just 14 
months ago. I was expecting to see Berankis crush the 27 yr old journeyman 
whose highest career ranking was 97 back in 2003, but Berankis started off 
the match in deep funk, making a myriad of unforced errors and barely able 
to get a first serve in. He lost the first set 6-1, and it was some of the ugliest
tennis I’ve ever seen. No decent rallies, a world of unforced errors, and a
talented youngster looking totally lost. We left 5 games into the 2nd set, as 
it felt like punishment to have to watch this match being played in front of
stands that were less than 10% full. We were rather surprised to see that 
Berankis turned things around rather smoothly shortly after we left, winning
the next two sets 6-3, 6-4 to advance to round 2, where he’ll take on Spain’s
Fernando Verdasco.
 — Finally we left the premises, the sunlight completely gone and our bellies
looking forward to some In-n-Out Burger on the ride home. The weather was 
perfect all day, even if the tennis wasn’t.

So that was the day – the best player we saw was Malisse, by far, while the most interesting/exciting player we watched was Smyczek. I mentioned earlier that I’d have a thought on 32 seeds at a Masters event – I don’t think it’s necessary, and it is definitely a bad idea to give all of them 1st round byes. That’s two days of tennis that fans go to where they don’t see a single top player – this from a sport that is already hurting enough for attention and popularity. The night match on Center Court was Michael Russell vs. Kevin Anderson…yes, I’m serious, it really was! The 40th ranked South African Anderson that no one knows about or cares about versus a longtime veteran journeyman whose claim to fame in the sport was 10 years ago, holding a match point on Gustavo Kuerten in the 4th round of the French Open in 2001. That is only slam event that he’s gotten beyond the 2nd round at.

ATP executives, the players, and the networks need to revisit a format and strategy that ended up with this kind of ‘marquee’ matchup at a Masters Series event.


One Response to “Todd’s Tennis Takes – A Day at Indian Wells”

  1. Somehow forgot to mention that after the Berankis match, we watched 5 games of Ivo Karlovic playing qualifier Marinko Matosevic. This was my first time seeing Karlo live – he’s HUGE! As he follows thru on his service motion the racket is halfway to the service line. This was just 1 week after he recorded the fastest serve ever on the ATP – a ridiculous 156mph! Amazingly, Matosevic won 3 straight points on Karlo’s serve during the 2nd set tiebreak, winning it 7-3, before losing the match 6-2 in the 3rd.

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