Thursday, August 15, 2013

First Round Men’s Notes From Cincinnati

By Mert Ertunga

Since you can read about the match reports and what the players have said to the microphone in plenty of sites around the web, I will stick with I usually prefer to do, which is to share interesting anecdotes about what is going around the grounds in the early days of the tournament.

First of all, I must express once again how impressed I am with this tournament. This is the first time I have attended this tournament since they began their renovation plan back in the fall of 2009, prior to combining the men's and women's event in 2011. The expanded and renewed facilities have transformed what was already a very relaxed, easy-to-circulate, and well-organized tournament into possibly the most fan-friendly tournament that I have seen in quite some time.

Practice courts are accessible, fans get to watch the players up close, and moving from one court to another is almost like a walk in the park. Players often go through fans to get to the players' area and it is possible to catch a player to ask for a photograph or an autograph, as I have seen one German fan do with Tommy Haas followed by a smile on her face for the following few minutes after the photo.

I am not sure how much Haas or the other players enjoy that particular aspect, but there is no doubt that for a top-level ATP and WTA tournament, Cincinnati offers the fans plenty of opportunities to get close shots of their favorite players. For those coming with cars, there is plenty of parking and volunteers are very helpful with directing traffic once you arrive to the site.

We are barely done with first round matches and there have already been few strange mental collapses. One of the post-Wimbledon clay court circuit stars was the Italian Fabio Fognini, whose meltdown in the last game of his first round match was so strange and extreme that his opponent Radek Stepanek probably won the easiest game of his career without ever having to touch the ball. One set and 5-4 down, Fognini double-faulted twice to go down 0-30. Then, out of sheer disgust, he nailed a ball outside the court, which led to a penalty point since he was already warned once for doing the same thing earlier in the match.

Fognini actually tried to argue that he did not know he was warned earlier. When finally he walked back to serve at 0-40, he lost all common sense and desire, and purposefully foot-faulted twice for another double fault. Game, set, and match, Stepanek! It was so ridiculous that I believe that even the winner Stepanek desired to leave the court quickly after the handshake.

If that sounds like Fognini needs to grow up, Jerzy Janowicz needs to take a chill pill ... in a hurry! Monday night after his loss to James Blake, Janowicz was apparently in such a foul mood that when he was asked to present his credential badge as he was walking out to the car that he was driving (each player is given a car to drive around during the week by the tournament, a tradition in Cincinnati), he got mad for being asked to produce his badge and got into an argument, eventually shoving one of the marshals against the wall. He then got into his car and drove off so mad that he allegedly came close to hitting another car as he began driving. Needless to say, he should be glad that only his driving privileges were taken away and nothing more.

Finally, in a much more minor meltdown, down 6-3, 5-1, Brian Baker slammed his racket against his shoe, breaking either several strings or the frame, or both. He was up 40-15 in the game when it happened. As he began walking to the chair to get a new racket, he actually slowed down, even came to a stop, contemplating just playing with the broken racket the next point or two, then shook his head one second later and resumed walking to the bench.

What was he thinking? That he could win one more point with the broken racket and win the game, thus avoid the trouble of going to the chair to pick up another racket? That the distance from the baseline to the chair was so great that it was worth risking playing with a broken racket to see if he could just win one more point before heading to the chair for the game change? In any case, a solid Grigor Dimitrov did not let Baker's misery last and closed it out in the next game. But still, Baker's momentary loss of common sense was nothing next to the first two above.

Quote of the tournament so far? When asked about his reflections on why there are no Americans in the top 20 for the first time ever, Sam Querrey had the following "reflection": "I mean ... John's 21 or something?"

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