My 2012 Tennis Top Ten
Steve Fogleman, TennisEastCoast.com
The end of 2012 marks the end of my first full year as a blogger. This scribbling also marks the blog’s 500th post. Milestones abound. Here’s my memories of 2012 laid out as a nifty quasi-top ten just in time to say my final goodbyes moments before the Mayan calendar runs out.
As the name Tennis East Coast would portend, I travelled to Charleston, Newport, DC, New Haven, New York, Charlottesville and Atlanta to cover events in 2012. I mostly stayed in cheap hotels to keep costs down. Those experiences could spawn a top ten list of their own, and it’s possible that some of the cities in which I stayed reflected on my tournament experiences. Like the guy at the front desk in an unnamed city who told me “the hotel internet don’t work real good when it rains”.
To the list:
1) My Biggest surprise (TIE) : Loving the Washington Kastles and the success of a combined WTA/ATP event in Washington.
When I found out that Legg Mason was replaced as the corporate sponsor and that the new event had consumed Maryland’s only tournament, the WTA CitiOpen, I was devastated. That meant one less week of tennis for local fans and the loss of the last Maryland link to the DC ATP event in the sponsorship of Baltimore-based Legg Mason. It all changed for me by actually attending the tournament. The focus was still squarely on the men, but that meant unprecedented access to the women. The new show court at Rock Creek Park and a Saturday night women’s final made for a memorable experience that will only get better with age.
When I finally decided to go to a Kastles match, I was a long-term skeptic on world Team Tennis. I’m a pro tournament guy of any denomination. I want points for the winner, a trophy and an over-sized check. And I want it all done within a week. I figured it was the closest thing to an exo without being Pam Shriver’s Baltimore Tennis Challenge (which I used to attend) where pros played Oriole legends. And where Maria Sharapova showed up in jeans and phoned it in. How mistaken I was.
Instead, it’s fired-up pro tennis, with the big names among the lesser-knowns. Those lesser-knowns are the ones who really put on the show. It’s uber competitive for those who rank inside and outside the top 100. The fans are raucous, the little stadium guarantees that everyone can hear everyone else, it’s on the water, and it’s the ultimate in family friendly tennis. Not to mention, the Kastles are the elite team in World Team Tennis. In the words of a famous former California Governor, “I’ll be back!”
2) My Favorite meals at tournaments: Charleston/New Haven. Tournaments feed their media in two different ways, so I have two winners. Some provide a bag lunch. Some cater into the media tent. While the food ran delectable at most, one catering job stood out above the rest. Charleston’s chef stuck to ribs, barbeque and corn muffins with artisanal cheeses. Other offerings included home made soups with fresh baguettes. You never needed to leave the grounds to get the best Charleston had to offer.
The New Haven Open did it differently. They privatized it by giving you a $12.00 lunch voucher each day to use at the ’food court’ erected on outer courts. My wife is from Rhode Island and I am a snobby Maryland seafoodie. Imagine my surprise when I tasted some of the freshest tender clam strips in my life, and I was eating them at a pro sports event. Later, I tried and loved the grilled cheese with a homemade Gazpacho. You don’t need credentials to enjoy the offerings at New Haven. Just bring an appetite.
3) My Favorite tournament: Family Circle Cup. This is the toughest category, because all tournaments are a blast. With the camaraderie in the press room, the all-access media hour with the top 8 seeds, the daily trivia contests, the great big little stadium, the aforementioned grub, the media tennis tournament and former Media Director Mike Saia (who we will all miss), Charleston offered the biggest bang for the drive down 95.
4) My Least favorite media center/grounds: New Haven Open at Yale. The gargantuan mothership stadium houses the huge mostly empty media center in its bowels three flights of stairs down from the tennis upstairs. It was the quietest media room I’ve ever entered and the worst. There was little chatter or camaraderie among the media, except for the constant smarmy bantering of three caddy media boys about how Melanie Oudin had gained weight. Seriously, this is ALL they talked about for three days and it made me sick to my stomach.
5) My Favorite grounds: Newport. The old Casino and Tennis Hall of Fame event is the photo-perfect setting for shooting tennis, family and wooden scoreboards that blow over. If you get a free moment, you happen to find yourself in one of the greatest summer destinations in the world, just minutes from history, beaches and shops. It’s also as open as a Challenger in terms of fan access. The players are all on display in the open-air player’s lounge, so if a fan wants an autograph, she won’t have to wait long to stake out her favorite.
6) My Favorite interview: Andrea Hlavackova. When I spoke with Andrea Hlavackova in Charleston in early April, neither of us knew that she was about to become (almost) a household name. Her silver medal exploits were still a few months off and she was a lucky loser at the Family Circle Cup. She warmed up to me when I wanted to talk about her hometown and her brewing legacy, which was not well-known at the time. Her family story has been repeated many times now in the big league press and I like to think I got that ball rolling. It’s now the #1 most read interview on this blog. I’ve asked a lot of players about their love for their hometown and none reacted with such effusive praise than Hlavackova. Go Plzen!
7) My favorite tennis blog colleague: Mike Barber of WTAToday.com. Not only has Philly Mike provided excellent exhaustive coverage of the tour, he’s also been a great resource as an early adopter of everything web-related. He’s taught me about self-hosting, reddit and google plus. I’m behind the times. He is not. He’s also become a good friend and I’m watching his latest project with wide eyes: as President of the USA Eintracht Frankfurt Football Fan Club.
8) My favorite moment(s) of 2012: They happened within the same hour. First, standing on Ashe interviewing Carly Rae Jepsen at Kids Day, who clearly knew very little about tennis despite being mobbed by the tennis press and (2) watching US Open Media Director Jean Marie Daly push back against pushy photographers who had decided their own pecking order. Some of the NYC photographers had decided that only the ones who had signed up on their own list would get the prime positions for shooting. They complained loudly to Ms. Daly, who shot back, “Your list means nothing to me!” and let the little people keep their spots. She could run a day care or a country and the USTA is lucky to have her. Well played.
9) My favorite media director: (Male) Mike Saia, (Female) Anne Marie McLaughlin. Family Circle’s Cup Mike Saia served as a fantastic media host at Charleston for the reasons mentioned in #3 above. Besides, he was knowledgeable and highly approachable. Same goes for Newport’s Anne Marie McLaughlin, who catered to the bloggers and treated us like equals. She not only invited bloggers to the exclusive, members-only draw ceremony, but graciously allowed us to help pick the draw, too. She’s hard-working, fun and really seems to enjoy the different perspectives that bloggers bring to the table. Bravo!
10) My biggest breaking story of 2012: Tweeting that top seed Aga had withdrawn from the Family Circle Cup. Someone announced it in the media center and I sent it to the tweeps. It was almost an hour before the story appeared on mainstream news sites and it always reminds me that micro-blogging is so much more fun than macro-blogging.
That’s a wrap for 2012. The experience was unforgettable and I hope you’ll have me back in 2013. Except to that one place that I don’t think I’ll return. The Days Inn in West Haven.
2012 CitiOpen Interview: Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova
Steve Fogleman, TennisEastCoast.com
Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, a doubles specialist with 17 doubles titles, is a lion on the court. She’ll also try to defend her only singles title at Quebec City after the US Open. After watching her argue calls with the Chair while banging her racquet against the metal net post in a first round singles loss to Edina Gallovits-Hall at CitiOpen on Monday, I wasn’t even sure I’d get an interview with her. Not only did I get an interview, I got the serene, happy off-court version of the woman tennis fanatics call BZS.
You had 76% of your first serves as winners in the second set. What happened in the third?
Really? It didn’t feel like it! I wasn’t playing so good the whole match. I was really tight. I was not playing my best. The third set was so fast to Love-2. I played pretty good, but she passed me at the net. I didn’t really believe that I can pull it through.
On opponent Edina Gallovits-Hall:
She’s a tricky player. She puts every ball in the court and you have to be really focused and you have to play really aggressive. That’s what I was trying to do, but if you don’t believe that you can do it, it’s tough to win the matches.
Your doubles partner, Iveta Benesova, is also in singles in DC. Why aren’t you two playing in doubles?
We’re not playing because we’re playing in Montreal next week in qualies. We don’t want to miss the qualies. We were thinking if we play doubles (here), maybe we could go through! That’s why we aren’t playing here.
What do you think of Washington, despite losing your match to a member of the Washington Kastles?
I was thinking about it. It doesn’t feel like I’m in the States. It’s feels so clean. It reminds me of Europe a lot. It’s nice! I didn’t see much, but I went to the White House. The White House looks so small. On pictures, it looks really big, but if you go there and you see it, it’s small.
I interviewed Andrea Hlavackova recently and she talked about your shared home town of Plzen. What are your thoughts on Plzen?
Well, we grew up together. Her father is the one who is tasting the beer and sending it into the world. I love my hometown. It’s a small city and everybody knows each other. I grew up there and I think I’m going to stay there for the rest of my life.
How neat is it to be able to see Pilsner Urquell, your hometown’s famous beer, where ever you are in the world?
It’s great and if I order it, it reminds me of Plzen. It reminds me of home. The beer is unbelievable. I love it. I like to drink beer. Surprise! At least something is in the world that reminds me of home, because I’m never home.
Like the pop quiz I gave to Andrea Hlavackova in Charleston, do you know the four ingredients in beer?
Yeah, but I don’t know the words in English!
I’m sure you’re looking forward to the U.S. Open, having made the doubles quarterfinals there last year.
I’m looking forward, but I still have more tournaments to go before the US Open.
I love New York. My favorite city. I would live there, but we’ll see! I’m going to focus on my singles first.
Montreal, Dallas, Flushing Meadows and Quebec are the next stops on Barbora’s North American summer tour.
FAMILY CIRCLE CUP FEATURE INTERVIEW: ANDREA HLAVACKOVA
By Steve Fogleman, TennisEastCoast.com
Who was that doubles specialist on Family Circle Cup’s Stadium Court who very nearly took down the world #13, Sabine Lisicki, this afternoon?
Answer: She’s not just a brewer’s daughter.
After going through the biographies of the player field at the 2012 Family Circle cup a few weeks ago, I decided that there was one player with whom I really had to speak. As a lawyer, beer lover, alcohol regulator and tennis fan, Andrea Hlavackova was the natural choice for me. She’s in law school and has a deep family brewing heritage. That would be interesting enough if she weren’t also a Grand Slam Doubles Champion.
When I caught up with the 25 year old native of the Czech Republic on Monday, she had just defeated Irina Falconi and was looking forward to playing Sabine Lisicki in the next round.
“I don’t think I ever played (Lisicki), not even when we were younger. I’m very pumped for the match, It’s clay court, so we’re both hard court and grass court players. I have nothing to lose. I was a Lucky Loser.”
Though she is mainly known for her doubles work with ten titles, she made it clear that she’s here to compete in singles as well.
“I won a Grand Slam in doubles (2011 Roland Garros), so I guess that’s why they call me a doubles specialist. I’m top ten in doubles. I guess I am a doubles specialist, but that doesn’t make any difference with singles.”
After the tennis formalities, it was time to talk business. Beer business. I asked her about her family’s legacy with barley, yeast, water and hops.
My family was 80 years in brewing and my great-grandfather was the General Director of the Pilsner Urquell Brewery (in Plzen, CZE), my grandfather was the General Director, my father (Jan) is one of the heads there right now and he’s going to now become an External Advisor because he wants to slowly retire from it. He doesn’t have a follower in the family, so it’s kind of sad. I’m sure its tough on him right now to deal with the change in career, but he was the General Brewer.
Does she know how to make beer?
I’m not sure if I know them in English. I know the water is important, the sugar is important, the green stuff (hops) is important. I’ve been through the brewery, not because of my interests. My boyfriend was in town and his parents, so we went through the brewery, saw the process, saw the history, so I know a little bit about the process.
She’s proud of the ubiquitous beer. ”I see it in regular supermarkets!”, she said. In case you don’t know, Pilsner Urquell is one of the most famous beers in the world, and 90% of the beers consumed on the planet are based on its recipe. It’s also been around for about 170 years, and her family can lay claim to almost half of the brewery’s storied history.
How important is beer to her hometown?
Huge. Plzen is a beer city, so if you are entering Plzen, my home city, you see signs ‘Welcome to the Beer City’. The factory is huge. You have to take buses to go around it. I’m really proud of my dad. I’m entering the brewery and I’m like ‘Hlavackova’! They’re like, ‘yeah, park where your Dad’s car is, wherever’!It’s a really proud feeling.
When I won the French Open title last year, they were not talking about me. They were talking about ‘Oh, you’re the daughter of the brewer’. Yeah, finally I made something. She’s the tennis player and the daughter of the brewer, not ’she’s the daughter of the brewer’. I’m so proud of him and I had a really close relationship with my grandfather before he died so I really got to know the brewery and everything around it through him a lot, and my heart was in it through him a lot.
Hlavackova is working her way through a law degree at Plzen University.
I have two and a half years, five semesters . I had to stop because it was not possible to make it with all the travel. According to the law, I can only have four semesters off. So this winter, I have to get back into studies. I will definitely work on a special exception and get another postponement because I want to keep playing but I don’t want to lose that. If they don’t give it to me, I’ll try to combine it as much as I can.
Should we expect a judicial appointment in her next career?
I definitely want to get a degree. I’m not really planning to be a lawyer. I would like to be a journalist or something, but who knows? A law degree always helps you. It shows somebody that you were able to finish a really tough university.
You would think that her career would speak for itself on her ability to finish a tough assignment after her Grand Slam success. And today, with nothing to lose, she nearly created one of the biggest upsets of the tournament, narrowly defeated by Sabine Lisicki on Stadium Court by a count of 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.
Sabine Lisicki was the first player to get Stadium Court practice time at Family Circle Cup in Charleston. She faces “Lucky Loser turned Second-Rounder” Andrea Hlavackova, the subject of our FCC Feature Interview, in her 2012 Chucktown debut. An interview with Lisicki will also be available on The Youtubes tomorrow.
This is a salute to two players: Shelby Rogers of Charleston and Andrea Hlavackova of Plzen (CZE) who had admirable weekends but did not make the main draw. There were many others, but this is a blog, not a network.