Despite a nice two days at the Nielsen Pro Tennis event in Winnetka - my third trip in three years - not everything was a bed of roses. As with anything there were plusses and minuses. In many ways it's a fine event, and I'm sure it's delightful for the North Shore folks who make up the bulk of attendees. But I feel obligated to bring up a few concerns I have with the tournament, along with the good parts. So here they are, five of each:
Good on ya: Layout & accessibility to the players. Of the tournaments I've been to over the years, I don't know that I ever felt as close to the players, who were unfailingly gracious when I asked for a photo. Jack Sock last year, Kudla, Redlicki, McDonald, King & Sarmiento this year. All the complaining I do later in this post is definitely tempered by that bit of awesomeness.
Let's work on: It's too expensive. $25 for a day session followed by $25 a night session? For a *challenger*? If I'd decided to stay for both sessions each day, it would have run me $100. $200 for two of us. FOR A CHALLENGER! It's not healthy for building a culture of tennis in a metropolitan area with a wide range of income levels.
Good on ya: Mike Cation. I know that it has more to do with USTA than the tournament, but I have to yet again give a shout-out to a really solid commentator. He goes around the country and gives us insightful and entertaining commentary, which is not as easy as it sounds. He's possibly the perfect fit for these events. I wish the big women's USTA Pro Circuit events had a Cation.
Let's work on: Better communication/publicity/outreach. In February I emailed the tournament about volunteering. Never got a response. Also on Friday (July 4) it was unclear where attendees should park after the lot filled up. And more to the point, it was a little weird that upon doing a Google News search for "Kudla Winnetka," only articles from Wilmette Life and Winnetka Talk (both suburban papers affiliated with the Chicago Sun-Times) show up.
More to the point, I didn't get any email via USTA. The *only* pro event in the Chicago area, the third largest metro area in the country. Easily reachable by train. And while attendance was good compared to other challengers, it just felt super "country club" - like this was Winnetka's little party. If Chicago's ever going to get a main tour ATP or WTA event, we need to do better. All of us.
Good on ya: Nice sized crowds. Especially for the evening quarterfinals and finals (the former conveniently falling on the night before Independence Day, the latter on Saturday evening) - perhaps not the most educated group (yes I know how snobby that sounds) but definitely sizable and relatively engaged.
Let's work on: Less weirdness. After my I tweeted about yesterday's blog post, I got a response from the tournament's Twitter account:
I was doing some housecleaning (honestly) and so missed this, and then it was taken down after some haranguing by my tweep Kevin (@3GamesToLove). There's nothing on the website about this policy and no signs on-site. Perhaps there's no actual policy and this was an honest mistake on the part of the tweeter. Nonetheless, it left something of a bad taste in my mouth.
Good on ya: Wildcards. Okay here's where I go nationalistic. I really like that they gave all four main draw wildcards to US players. Specifically, to US NCAA players. Two are local (Evan King & Jared Hiltzik) and two highly ranked recently-out-of-collegers (Marcos Giron & Raymond Sarmiento). Unfortunately none was able to record a victory.
Let's work on: Wheelchair access? As I mentioned yesterday, a belligerent, foul-mouthed guy in a wheelchair had some issues with entry and sightlines. I can't speak to the specifics of his situation but it is worth mentioning that the only seating I saw for those in wheelchairs was in the corners next to benches. Not ideal viewing. No ramps into the stands and no seating up there.
So overall, a nice couple of days and a happy tournament with Denis Kudla doubly victorious. Hopefully they do a few things better next year and into the future, because it's an amazing opportunity for us CHIers to see top-level players in a beautiful environment.