Contributed by Veronica Jackson
While walking from the grassy parking lot, where they line up cars very tightly in neat rows at the Legg Mason Tennis Tournament on Friday, I met a fine young gentleman parked next to me who said, “I have no idea about this sport.” He was attending the daytime matches because a work colleague had given him tickets and the day was “too beautiful to pass up.” I gave him my brief rundown of why I love this game. It’s such a mental sport. One can be incredibly physically fit and have great technique, but if you don’t believe in your abilities and that you can beat your opponent, one can lose matches. I also assured him that it was an easy game to follow and he would enjoy himself. Besides, sitting anywhere in the Stadium at 1 PM on a sunny afternoon is a beautiful way to get a tan. We continued to walk towards the entrance. He went to Will Call as I bade him good luck and I continued through the entrance gates.
I like going to Legg Mason during the daytime matches because the crowds are a bit more tame and the true tennis lovers have come to watch. There’s less chattering and more intense viewing during the points. The Fernando Gonzalez (CHI) vs. Tommy Haas (GER) match had already started, so as I waited at the mouth of the Stadium court entrance for the next change over, I was scoping out a place to view the match. My buddy and fellow tennis blogger Paula hipped me to the fact that watching from the ends of the court is better. It’s less dizzying because you are not moving your head back and forth following the ball during the points. Thus I was searching near the corners for a seat. I found the perfect spot and headed in that direction. It was great, 3 empty box seats in the second row from the court. Now, I’m a Gonzalez fan and as I was watching play, I realized that I had unknowingly waded deep into Haas’ camp. So deep in fact, sitting in the adjacent box was Haas’ trainer, his body guard, and the girlfriend. I recognized her from TV but it was totally confirmed when I heard the words “Get back in the zone!” and “Now fight!” Yes players have fans who encourage them, but her tone was on another level almost like a demanding mother, “C’mon Tommy WAKE UP!” and “This is your match, focus on every point!”
I felt bad for the guy but every player has their methods. Even though she’s petite she has a fieriness about her that is intimidating. I was almost fearful to cheer for Gonzalez. I did say ‘almost’…it was a great match. Gonzalez has a vicious forehand that is so beautiful to experience up close. And he moves well on the court, despite the taped knee and blister on his foot he said he acquired after his first day of play. Gonzalez seeded 4th won the first set 7 games to 5. He was up in the second 4 games to 2 when Haas attempted a comeback. Serving at love-40, he pulled out the big serve to attempt to climb back in the match. But he constantly berated himself after every missed point. His words were mostly in German and occasionally in English as he looked over at the girlfriend. Haas’ body language and attitude on the court is an example of what I mentioned earlier about the importance of one’s mentality or mindset in tennis. Alas, Gonzalez broke Haas and served for the match at 5 games to 2. Gonzalez won and moved on to the semifinal round. His next opponent is the tournament’s defending champion Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG), seeded 2nd.
Tommy Rebredo and Fernando Gonzalez
A little over an hour later, Gonzalez was back on the Stadium Court with doubles partner Tommy Robredo (ESP). Their match was bumped up because the Soderling vs. Del Potro match was cancelled. Soderling (SWE) pulled out because of a right elbow injury. The Gonzalez/Robredo team played against Daniel Nestor (CAN) and Nenad Zimonjic (SRB). I like watching doubles. The pace is quicker and you really have to pay attention. The crowd really gets involved. There’s a lot of action. At times it is like a well timed dance with four players who inevitably wind up at the net. Gonzalez’s first service game was brilliant with two aces. The scorching forehand still had heat. But Nenad/Zimonjic’s ballet was too much for their opponents. They won the first set. In the fifth game of the second set, on Gonzalez’s serve it seemed that he started to lose steam. Robredo did not step up to help out and Gonzalez lost his serve. Even though that monster forehand reared its brilliance several times in the match, it started to also let him down. Gonzalez’s forehand errors mounted. Balls flew long past the baseline. On the other hand, Nenad/Zimonjic’s double play was much more choreographed. They switched sides and communicated well; metaphorically finishing each others’ sentences. The Canadian/Serbian team’s timing worked beautifully to earn them the second set and the match, 6-3; 6-4.
The final doubles match of the day pitted Chris Guccione (AUS) and Lleyton Hewitt (AUS) against Travis Parrot (USA) and Filip Polasek (SVK). This match confirmed for me that great singles players don’t always make good doubles players. As witnessed in the previous doubles match, Gonzalez and Hewitt’s games don’t necessarily translate well into the doubles arena at a certain level of play. In both of the doubles matches today, the better “team” players triumphed.
Lleyton Hewitt in doubles action
It was a great day of tennis and sun. And even though I am an avid sun worshiper, I had to cry “uncle”. As I made my way back to the grassy zone, I wondered how my parking lot buddy fared on his first day at the tournament. I can only assume he took advantage of the beautiful day as much as he could. His car was gone when I arrived at mine.
Happy Tennis everyone.