I visited my first ITF tournament yesterday: the new Prince George’s County International Hard Court Championship in College Park, Maryland. Covering the ITF is another important stamp in my tennis blogger passport. “P.G. Hardcourts” is a Grade II event and it was my first opportunity to witness the “Mama Drama” that attends such events. The action was intense and frightening at times, and I’m naturally talking about what I saw from a parent, a coach and an absent-minded caller of balls and strikes. Luckily, there was a responsible adult there: ITF Referee Steve Reitman.
Now, a robbery in Prince George’s County is not all that rare, but the robbery I witnessed yesterday occurred on Court 18 and was pretty brazen. It involved the lone official of the duel between Marika Akkerman of Toronto and #1 seed Ching-Wen Hsu of Taiwan. The Chair seemed to have his eyes on everything but his match. I saw him watching other matches, watching the faces of the people he chatted up during the match, and I saw him checking out the sky a few times. Mind you, there were no storm clouds brewing overhead.
But there was a storm brewing inside the coach of Marika Akkerman and to a lesser extent, her father, who were both nearly ejected. Every few minutes, a player would complain, “Didn’t you see that?” It was usually Akkerman, but to be fair, Hsu gave up on a few balls expecting them to be declared long. Akkerman’s coach started riding the official after a while.
Then, the ITF boss showed up and suggested that Coach pipe down, since he was talking trash about a man who could eject him from the match. He protested again to the ITF’s Reitman, and was told that if he said another word, he was outta there. Then, coach refused to answer Reitman on whether or not he was Akkerman’s coach upon multiple requests. You remember the game. When your parent or teacher told you to be quiet one minute and then asked you a question the next. You enjoyed their inconsistent commands, turned it against them and said nothing when they wanted to hear from you.
Long story short: The ITF’s Reitman said, “I don’t know who you think you are, but I didn’t come to hear all your nonsense. If you say another word, that’s it”. He then camped out behind the coach and Akkerman’s dad for the rest of the match, just waiting for testosterone to play itself out to a nasty end. Mind you, the Chair was still not paying full attention to the match and it was 4-3 Akkerman in the third. I forgot to mention something. I keep calling him the Chair, but he had no chair. If it matters.
I felt sorry for Akkerman. It was bad enough that all those long balls by Hsu weren’t being called out, but now she had the pressure of worrying whether her ride home was about to get tossed. At a tournament like this one, players can hear everything that goes on off the court. She heard every single word of the protracted exchanges. Her nerves got the better of her, and the #1 seed took the third set 7-5.
Not surprisingly, Akkerman went out of her way to avoid a handshake with the Chair. The Chair didn’t even go in her general direction to shake hers, either. As she left the court, her dad tried to gently grab her by the arm to speak to her, but she jerked away from him with a big swing of her racquet bag and ran like wildfire to the locker room. I am not certain who she was mad at, but she had every right to be with the Chair and with the Coach for compounding the trouble.
As for me, I’m hooked. This is entertainment at its finest. And the tennis was pretty good, too.
[UPDATE 8/27/12: I've been told that roving umpires do not usually shake hands with players at these events. However, Hsu and her father made sure to shake with the ump after this one. This was also the first ITF match I watched. The rest weren't nearly as dramatic in off-court antics.]