Friday, January 18, 2008
Something Different to Do in 2008
When the year begins, one of my favorite activities is to grab the ATP and the WTA calendar and chalk down my predictions, decide which tournaments I can fit into my schedule to attend. I usually go further and write an article full of predictions for the year. This time around, I decided to point out some lesser known events, ones that you will not read about much in the general media coverage.
One bit of advice: if you decide to attend any of these events, try not to be a typical tourist. Get involved with the local people, talk to the workers at the events, as local workers of the events can give you much better tips than the most accomplished tourist guide. I would be more than happy to provide details and contact information to local people and point him/her in the right direction in order to have the best experience possible.
The obvious choice would be the Australian Open, the most fan-friendly Slam of the year. But if you live in that part of the world, and your schedule allows it, you should consider the Gallipoli Youth Tennis Cup (GYTC) to be held at Melbourne Park on April 19-24. As the name indicates, it is an ITF junior event, but its meaning and the people involved in its organization separates it from many other calendar ITF junior events.
The Australian Open's Director, Tennis Australia's Director of Player Development and the former NCAA Men's Tennis Team Champions University of Illinois' Head Coach Craig Tiley announced the tournament to the press, along with representatives of the Australian Turkish Business and Industry Mehmet Ali Karamemis and Umit Oraloglu. Another big name involved in the event is Pat Cash, who will act as the Ambassador of the historical event.
Why so many big names involved, and why is it historical? Gallipoli was the key battle during World War 1, in which Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, and France lost many soldiers battling the Turkish forces. A movie has been made on the historical battle in 1981 called "Gallipoli," directed by acclaimed director Peter Weir, starring Mel Gibson. There is also a commemoration day on April 25th of each year in Australia to honor the fallen soldiers of this period called the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzac) Day. Oraloglu, who has been involved in the organization of the event since its nascent days, has informed me that there will be several junior players from Turkey also participating in the event.
I have always enjoyed watching big ITF junior events and seeing some future champions such as Stefan Edberg, Thomas Muster, and Andre Agassi before they became household names. It is a challenge to predict as you watch these juniors to see which ones could possibly become top-20 players in the following three years. I guessed it right with Muster and Agassi, but I missed it badly with Edberg at the time. That was my first honest confession of 2008!
Another lesser-known event, but one that finds itself on the WTA Tour calendar, is the Palermo WTA event on July 7-13. It is one of the smaller events on the WTA calendar, the atmosphere in the tournament is very intimate, and the beautiful town of Mondello is only a few minutes away from the tournament site. If you like culture, Palermo, only 20 minutes away from the tournament site, is one of the most interesting cities in Italy from a historical point of view. It is culturally different than the rest of Italy, as is the rest of Sicily, and everything from food to architectural tendencies show various influences of past cultures of this island in the very southern tip of Italy.
As to the tournament, I watched Agnes Szavay win her first major WTA title and begin her climb to a top-20 position by the end of the year. The venue is small, therefore you get to see the action up close, and the crowd is very passionate, especially if there is local flavor in the match. The surface is clay, most major European clay court specialists participate in the tournament before they start making their way to United States for the U.S. Open Series.
Finally, squeezed between two Masters Series event and Kremlin Cup, the ATP Basel Indoors event in Switzerland will offer perks for a small tournament that makes it worthwhile. One of the most picturesque towns in central Europe, Basel is the third largest city in Switzerland, whose habitants usually speak at least two or three languages either fluently or at least proficiently. Many fantastic sites to visit are within a short and comfortable train ride from the city, but if you choose to remain in Basel, the city offers the visitor some wonderful restaurants and some smaller art-oriented cultural events.
Once again, the atmosphere is more intimate than bigger tournaments during that period. It's held October 20-26 indoors, the surface is carpet. World number one and Basel native Roger Federer plays it every year and that alone may be worth the price of the ticket.
As I have mentioned in the beginning of the article, any reader whose interest is peaked by this article can feel free to contact me for more information. Believe me, you will not regret any of these trips, and you might just start making this kind of trip an annual habit as this writer has done for many years.